Author Topic: OWERRI: A disappointing reality  (Read 3115 times)


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OWERRI: A disappointing reality
« on: January 11, 2006, 08:37:42 AM »
Owerri: From gold to dunghill
By Luke Onyekakeyah

FROM time immemorial, cities form a major indicator of civilisation. The emergence of cities often marks the march to civilisation from open country to village, town and finally to a city. When a city expands in size, complexity and function, it becomes a metropolis. In ancient times, the primary factors that determined where a city was built were presence of food and water along with the raw materials for shelter, tools and industry. These were in addition to a site that was secured. The modern city has moved from being concerned only with the provision of basic human needs to meeting other high-tech necessities that make the modern man in a civilised society.

Modern cities have amenities such as electricity, diverse and efficient multi-modal transport system, including road, rail, trams and airport, telecommunication, water supply, security, etc. A major attribute of a city is the fact that it is planned. In this vein, every facility occupies a pre-determined location in space. Roads and streets, residential, commercial and recreational areas occupy their designated location. Parks and green belts are provided; sanitation and public health are given priority concern. The presence or availability of these amenities and their orderliness make the city liveable and differentiates it from a rural area.

Cities are assessed on the basis of liveability. For the city to be liveable there must be a responsible authority to manage, maintain and care for its complex infrastructure and their functionality. Without such an authority, the infrastructure breaks down and the city disintegrates. A decadent city constitutes a public health hazard. It is attractive to live in an efficient clean city. Contrarily, a decadent city is repulsive.

Owerri is the primate and Capital City in Imo State. Before the creation of the state in 1976, Owerri was a small town with a population of about one million people. Owerri was more or less an agricultural town. The indigenes cultivated cassava, yams, maize and other farm crops in the surrounding farmlands and sold them in the market in the centre of the town.

During this period, there was only one major Douglas Road, which runs through the centre of the town. Mbaise Road in front of the popular Mbaise Stores, Okigwe Road at Ama JK, Orlu Road by Government House, Onitsha and Port Harcourt roads at Control joined it. There was only one industrial establishment, namely the Owerri Shoe Factory. The Assumpta Cathedral, Holy Ghost College, Emmanuel College, Owerri Girls and St. Paul\'s Church were the most important landmarks in the town. Owerri was in this state until the wind of change blew and Imo State was carved out from the defunct East Central State. Owerri was selected as the capital of the new state.

Between 1976 and 1979 there was little or no change in Owerri. The real transformation came from October 1979 when the military handed power to a democratically elected civilian government with Governor Sam Mbakwe elected as the first Executive Governor of Imo State. The Mbakwe administration fought like a wounded lion and within a short period the face of Owerri changed dramatically. Chief Mbakwe took on the city roads and gave them a face-lift. Douglas road, which was muddy and dilapidated, was reconstructed into a dual carriageway. To easy the traffic on Douglas, Chief Mbakwe constructed the Wetheral Ring Road linking Okigwe Road Roundabout with Mbaise Road at Fire Service and finally Douglas Road off Emmanuel College going to Aba.

The capital status of Owerri ushered in state administrative infrastructure. The state secretariat offices were set up at Okigwe and Orlu roads. There began a massive influx of population into the town. Housing estates were built at Aladimma, Egbu Road and World Bank estate in the new Owerri capital. Water supply and sanitation were given priority attention. Transportation was enhanced through a vigorous road building programme, which impacted not only Owerri but also the entire old Imo State. Chief Mbakwe single-handedly embarked upon and built the Imo Airport. Despite the opposition from the federal authorities, he remained dogged until the airport was completed and put into operation. The Concord Hotel, a masterpiece luxury tourist hotel of international standard was another important landmark the Mbakwe administration gave to Imo State.

There is no doubt that the Mbakwe administration transformed Owerri from a town to a city. Chief Mbakwe took it upon himself to make Owerri an efficient, clean and beautiful city. To achieve this sanitation was given unprecedented attention. The Imo State Waste Disposal Board was established under the Ministry of Environment. The Board embraced the culture of neatness, cleanliness and beautification of Owerri. The residents were re-orientated to keep the city clean. A programme of tree planting was introduced to add value to the beauty of the state capital.

The state government purchased several silos and waste disposal trucks. These ran to and fro the length and breath of the city and its suburbs collecting wastes and garbage and disposing them efficiently far from the city. The pavements on major highways were painted. Many house owners repainted their houses to conform to the new city culture. Throughout the period of Mbakwe\'s administration, Owerri earned the reputation of being the most beautiful and cleanest city in Nigeria. That was the golden age of Owerri as a city.

Regrettably, the Mbakwe administration was replaced by a military administration that lasted for almost six years. The military administrations had no mandate and so were not accountable to the people. Consequently, the structures and institutions in place before their inroad were left to disintegrate. The growth and development of Owerri was stalled. The glory of the city dwindled.

In 1999 however, another civilian administration took the reigns of power at the Government House, Owerri. The expectation was that the new government would retrace the steps of the previous civilian administration and return Owerri to its lost glory. But this is far from being the case. Rather, the whole scenario keeps changing for the worse. Owerri has practically been abandoned.

A drive around the city reveals a pathetic state of decay. There is waste and garbage littered all over the place. The major passageways have been overtaken by garbage. On Douglas Road and a section of Mbaise Road near the Fire Service Roundabout, heaps of garbage have overtaken the roads. Many Imo indigenes that came home for the Christmas and New Year holidays were astound by the utter state of neglect and abandonment of the city.

Douglas Road, which forms the Central Business District of the city, has been converted to a garbage dump where fire and smoke spill day and night to the chagrin of the residents. This is happening right in front of the St. Paul\'s Catholic Church. The Water Fountain Statue at the Fire Service Roundabout is as dry as the Olumo Rock. Water is a luxury in Owerri and electricity is a no go area. The security situation is among the worst in the country.

Going round the city, one is convinced that the Governor Achike Udenwa\'s administration does not care for Owerri. Being a small city, managing it to ensure liveability ought not to present a big problem. The Tinubu administration has been able to keep the Lagos Metropolis neat despite its complexity and teeming population. The Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) daily sweeps the major highways in Lagos.

The ugly state of affairs in Owerri raises some pertinent questions: Why is the state government not interested in Owerri where the seat of government is based? What happened to the State Waste Management Board? What happened to the equipment in its possession? Is there no budget provision for the maintenance of the state capital? What happened to the budget in the past six years?

Furthermore, I am tempted to ask could it be that the Udenwa administration deliberately abandoned Owerri and shifted focus to Orlu in anticipation of the proposed Orlu State? That is tantamount to misplaced priority. The Governor had been vocal in calling on the state indigenes to come and invest in the sate. Is it surprising that Imonites in Diaspora see little attraction to come to Owerri? If this were the case, how would foreign investors see the city?

Against the backdrop of the despicable state of affairs in Owerri, the question is can the Udenwa administration have a rethink and retrace its steps and accord Owerri the deserved city status? It is inconceivable how a people would be sitting on garbage to carry out daily activities. The State Government should change the present deplorable condition of Owerri. What legacy is the Udenwa administration bequeathing to posterity? That should be a matter of concern.
*****Accept criticism with a spirit of gratitude. Ego tripping is the dance of fools and has no place in the pursuit of excellence.*****
*****Michael Grant*****