There has been persistent public outcry by traders, business owners and residents of Owerri, over extortion, harassment and terror unleashed on them by some overzealous and unscrupulous staff of Owerri Capital Development Authority (OCDA) and Environmental Transformation Agency (ENTRACO), who have derailed from the noble objectives of setting up the agencies in pursuit of pecuniary benefits, at the expense of traumatized Imo people, whose patience seem to have been over stretched.
A scene, akin to the Somtochukwu incident of the Ekeukwu Owerri demolition saga, would have played out on Wednesday 22rd July, 2020, at No 34 MCC/Uratta road, Owerri, where “Top 10 Designax” and “Styles by Stainless”, a fashion outfit and hair salon respectively are located, if not for divine intervention and the obvious visible determination of people in the area to resist the onslaught and defend themselves.
According to eye witness account, some staff of ENTRACO, had come in the morning to extort money from the shops along the area, under different guises, including the projections in front of their shops. Few hours later, staff of OCDA, came and insisted that the shop owners will pay them N200,000 for the same projections for which ENTRACO, had earlier been settled. When the shop owners tried to explain that they had earlier paid to ENTRACO and demanded explanation for the duplication of functions by the two agencies of government. “The OCDA staff invaded the shops and impounded an embroidery machine, driers, television sets, etc, beat up and tear gassed occupants of the shops, including women and a nursing mother, while the police men that came with them cocked his rifles and threatened to shoot. If not the crowd that gathered and shouted, the story would have been different”.
“As if acting with superior backing, OCDA men backed by gun wielding police men exhibited bravado, descended on and beat up anybody that attempted to record their violent, uncouth and reprehensible actions on phone and impounded the phones”. “You can go and report to whoever you want to. Heaven will not fall. Nothing concerns us with the money you paid to ENTRACO. We run different accounts and are accountable to different people”, they shouted repeatedly.
Most people who spoke on condition of anonymity wondered why the activities of touts and miscreants operating in different guises in the state have increased in the past few months. “It is absolutely unfortunate that when other state governments, out of compassion are distributing palliatives, initiating policies to aid business owners and cushion the effect of the harsh realities of the moment on the people, what we see in Imo State is a violent and insensitive craze for revenue drive”.
Drivers and hostel owners in the state have also lamented vicious and persistent harassment by ENTRACO and OCDA officials respectively. “Vehicles are impounded without cause. Passengers can no longer enter or alight from vehicles safely as we are pursued about as thieves by ENTRACO officials. Does it mean that we can no longer carry or drop passengers peacefully?”.
Some hostel owners in their own lamentation, stated, officials of OCDA parade their areas asking for one frivolous and unnecessary payment or the other. If we refuse to comply, they harass occupants, beat them up and threaten to impound their properties, for no just cause”.
“In the case of traders, their goods are impounded and most times, looted. Going to the office “to settle” and retrieve your impounded goods, becomes a mirage as they would have developed wings and flown away”.
They called on Governor Hope Uzodinma, to prevail on the Heads of the two parastatals of government “who pretend not to know of the atrocities perpetrated by their unscrupulous staff to call them to order, or incur the wrath of Imo people”. “The Hope Uzodinma led government and it’s rebuilding, restructuring and restoration agenda will soon incur the wrath of the people, if the present ill will, arising from insensitivity, unnecessary extortion, non-payment of salary, pension and other emoluments that have subjected the people to hardship continues unabated. If the police men had shot at anybody that day, the state would have been set on fire with violent protests that may have led to a breakdown of law and order. If the people are pushed to the wall, amidst suffering, lack and deprivation, they will be compelled to take their destiny in their hands and react”, they chorused.
Recall that, Nigeria Watchdog Newspaper, in it’s July 3rd, 2020 edition, published a report about alleged serial extortion, harassment and intimidation of traders and business owners along School road, Tetlow and adjoining streets, who are threatened to part with between seven (N7,000) and ten thousand naira (N10,000) or their wares would be impounded.
The report also narrated how a woman who followed them to their Port Harcourt road office, where she eventually paid N100,000 before she was allowed to open her shop for business.
According to the Watchdog report, in question, “they made inscription like “remove, by OCDA”, “come to OCDA office within seven (7) days, etc. when the victims eventually went and parted with some money, they were asked to go back and clean the inscriptions on their shops”.
Efforts to reach the General Manager of OCDA on phone proved abortive, as he neither responded to our phones calls nor text messages. We could also not reach the General Manager of ENTRACO on phone, as his line was switched off.