– As fear grips traders over rumored plan to demolish Int’l market, others relocate IMSUTH
Fear and tension have gripped traders, indigenes and residents of Orlu over rumoured plans by the Imo state government to extend it’s urban renewal programme that is said to have caused havoc in Owerri, Mbano and other areas in the state to Orlu LGA. The Imo State University Teaching Hospital (IMSUTH) and the International market, both in Orlu are said to be the prime targets.
To that effect, there is presently a bill board, strategically positioned opposite the Orlu Timber market, with the inscription, “urban renewal is coming soon”. Besides, the Eke Umuchima market, on the Orlu – Akaokwa road, before Ogboko, was demolished last Friday, 12th January 2018, to the consternation of traders and people of the area.
It was also gathered that the Urban renewal team also visited the ancient Okporo market, Orlu LGA same day and was fiercely resisted by the people of the area, who threatened to set them ablaze, alongside their operational vehicles, if they dare to demolish any shop. When the heat became so much, the government’s agents, left the scene and vowed to reinforce and come back later to achieve their aim.
When our reporter visited the scene, he saw some of the traders whose shops are located around the Eastern Palm University roundabout, formerly called Obohia roundabout, dismantling their shops and packing their wares. On enquiry, one of them who simply identified herself as Nkechi, said they were told that their activities deface and demean the university environment, hence the need to send all of them packing, “to enhance the aesthetic beauty of the area”.
When contacted, the former Mayor of Orlu, Dr. Goddy Esom Obodo “Prince of the oil kingdom” frowned at government’s perceived insensitivity. According to him, “Orlu is presently under developed and needs comprehensive and accelerated development. This should come before renewal because you don’t renew what you don’t have. We should, for now be concerned about compensating those whose properties were destroyed in the urban renewal programme that has been fruitlessly executed in the past six years of this administration. Where are they now and how are they faring, considering the ravaging hardship. How can one be talking about urban renewal in Orlu and Okigwe where there is presently nothing on ground to be renewed?”
In his reaction, the former State Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), Chief Damian Ezeagu, advised government to build more structures for traders, instead of demolishing existing ones that are not even enough for those that need them”. The idea of demolishing the international market for whatever reason is anti people and unacceptable to Orlu people. He should also desist from relocating the Imo State University Teaching Hospital (IMSUTH) with the intention of using the location and it’s facilities as a campus of Eastern Palm University. Let him equip the hospital to be more functional and effective. These institutions are worthy legacies of our former governor, Chief (Dr.) Achike Udenwa (Onwa)”. He recalled how he lost his brother inlaw in the once functional and well equipped hospital as a result of poor medical facilities.
Similarly, Hon. Onuora Olumba who represented Orlu State Constituency in the State House of Assembly, wondered if the government and it’s officials really understand what urban renewal really entails. “Well concceived and properly executed urban renewal programme is acceptable because it will enhance development. But a situation where those whose homes, offices and shops were destroyed during his first tenure in the guise of urban renewal were not paid compensation and still, nothing has been built or constructed on the vacated sites till date, is counter productive”.
Another stakeholder, former trade leader in international market who doesn’t want his name in print said, “at the inception of his administration, almost seven years ago, he used Ichie Best Mbanaso, who was then the Mayor of Orlu, to destroy properties along Amaigbo road and has still not done anything there, till date, same thing happened at Umuna, Owerre-Ebeiri-Umuowa road, where victims of the massive demolition exercise were neither compensated, nor anything constructed there, till date”.
Some prominent stakeholders in the area, who confided in this reporter, also availed that Chief Mbanaso falsely acquired a wide expense of land at little or no cost by telling the people of Nkume and Umuowa communities that he was facilitating the construction of an NNPC mega filling station on the land. But to the people’s astonishment, he is now building his personal filling station on the land and the project is nearing completion. “It was also at about the same time that he rendered the family of one Gogo Imo of Amaorji, Umuna, Orlu homeless by destroying his ancestral home, located along Owus avenue, also in Orlu, and sited a four star hotel, suspected to be a joint venture between him and the governor on the land. The demolition of the said property and it’s forceful acquisition, are alleged to be the cause of the paralysis that has kept Gogo bedridden since then”.
They also accused the Imo state government and it’s agents of ejecting all the traders, artisans and food vendors at the old Onitsha motor park, demolished their shops and compelled them to pay non refundable sum of N10,500 each for expression of interest in the proposed shopping plaza. When the project was eventually constructed on the site, the over 15,000 original applicants were short changed as the shops were allegedly allocated to friends, relations and associates of officials and agents of the government.
On this premise, most of the prominent stakeholders who spoke to this reporter, called on the government, to concentrate on completing the several abandoned projects that litter the entire state as a result of the ill-conceived, urban renewal programmes that have lingered since the inception of the government in 2011.