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Friday, 23 September 2011


For three days in mid-September yours faithfully headed a four member study team to Imo State as part of the final stage of our report gathering on the persistent bloody violence in Jos, Plateau State which we intend to file with the International Criminal Court (ICJ) in the Hague, Netherlands and the United Nations HUMAN Rights Council to urge these two international bodies to press charges against perpetrators of the series of mass killings/murder of hundreds of innocent persons by armed hoodlums in the last couple of years.

Our first stop was the capital of Imo state where we were scheduled to interview some displaced families that fled Jos, the capital of Plateau State, in the wake of the gruesome killings.

But our visit to Owerri was anything but smooth because of the total collapse of basic infrastructure of roads that has given rise to the frightening experiences of traffic gridlock and flooding of almost the entire streets whenever the rain poured down as it did on this auspicious occasion.

Apart from the collapse of basic socio-economic infrastructure of roads in Owerri, the City which prior to 2007, used to pride itself as one of the cleanest in the entire nation has assumed very frightening and dismal environmental situation because the entire streets were littered with all conceivable refuse which constitute grave health hazards to the populace.

For four years, Nigerians were regaled with unverifiable and dubious media claims of huge expenses spent by the immediate past administration in Imo State which said it initiated an ambitious environmentally friendly project that was beautifully code named “Clean and Green” initiative.

As a frequent visitor to Imo State, I also observed before April 2011 that nothing concrete was put in place in most cities and towns of the State to assure the citizenry that their taxes were prudently utilized to clean up the state so as to avoid the kind of floods that recently ravaged Ibadan, the Oyo State Capital and left a trail of blood, misery and deaths in its wake.

The chicken has come home to roost because my last visit confirmed the apprehensions of most observers that our political office holders spend so much in empty media rhetoric even as very little was done that would positively impact on the living condition of the tens- of -thousands of inhabitants.

The new political order is barely three months in office, but as the wise saying goes, ‘the early morning shows how the rest of the day would be’ or rather to quote the great Greek Philosopher Mr. Socrates who said that the ‘first impression is the most important in everything we do’, the same old order of environmental anarchy is intact in parts of the state capital. There are also signs of total absence of governance in most rural areas visited.

Most people spoken to said they were prepared to give their new governor Mr. Rochas Okorocha the benefit of the doubts; but again for how long shall owerri remain the city of living chaos?

Flashpoints of where traffic Chaos, environmental anarchy and unmitigated lawlessness are alive and kicking include Wetheral Road by Emmanuel College, Douglas Road, and Nekede by Lagos Street, Okigwe Road by Imsu junction, tetlow by Bank Road and Mcc by Chukuma Nwoha Junction. Others are Wethedral by Aladinma Road, Bank Road by Ware-House, and Royce Road by Douglas Road.

For hours, commuters would be held down in endless traffic gridlock on these streets and the tricycle operators have become largely indiscipline and lawless that most of them break simple traffic rule by plying on one way lane thereby creating unprecedented gridlock by inhibiting free flow of oncoming vehicles. To compound this ugly situation, the traffic wardens from the Nigeria police are more interested in extorting motorists than doing their statutory duties. State run agencies created to protect the environment from abuses have conveniently gone to bed.

Painfully too, is the fact that one is sure to be confronted by several road blocks by armed policemen and soldiers who are now engaged in the open, brazen and criminal bonanza of extorting an average of N50 from every motorists plying these derelict roads even as little is done by these armed security operatives to check the proliferation of social crimes.

 These armed security operatives through their dubious extortionist agenda also contribute to making the state as a home of living and organized chaos.

This ugly situation calls for very urgent actions from both the federal and Imo state administration to put an end to these scenarios and return sanity to that once beautiful, peaceful and environmentally friendly state prior to the years of the locusts.

There is need for the current administration to put their mouth where the public fund is by reconstructing these dilapidated portions of the state owned roads in the streets of Owerri and also institute a regime of traffic discipline to save the members of the public from the unwarranted waste of productive time and resources.

We also observed that several street children from some neighboring countries of Chad, and Niger have invaded major streets of Owerri and constitute avoidable nuisance. The presence of this large army of destitute made of malnourished children and their parents on the streets of Owerri paints the picture of a failed State.

In the wake of the spate of bomb attacks at certain targets across the country by suspected insurgents, it is inconceivable to observe that Imo State is now home to hundreds of foreign and undocumented destitute.

Why for instance has the state administration not worked out modalities for ensuring that the very extremely poor members of the public are offered meaningful assistance to keep them out of the streets and for unauthorized illegal immigrants to be disallowed from constituting environmental and security nightmares to the law abiding members of the public?

On the issue of mass housing, the returnees we met in Owerri told us that the few available flats in the city centre are extremely high making it impossible for them to afford. They also said there is total absence of business outlets or standard markets where some of them could revive their battered businesses. What has happened to the international market that the last administration said it was building in Owerri or was it a deliberate ploy to misinform the public?

Urban planners are of the knowledgeable view that the features of a city in trouble include multiple deprivations for its poor, high rates of infant mortality, rampant knife crime, and multinational companies shedding jobs as they head for the exit, and broken down public transport. These features are alive in Owerri.

Deyin Sudjic wrote an article in the Times of London published on September 3rd 2008 in which he responded to our interrogation on what makes the perfect city. Sudjic argued that building a perfect city is impossible but admonished administrators not to rely on what he calls the ‘generous civic investments’ of the past. “Successful cities, he said, are the ones that remain open to change and unsuccessful ones are trapped in rigid pattern that limits future possibilities”.

To rescue Owerri from the notorious appellation as a city of living chaos, the Governor and his team must wake up from post-election slumber and vigourously pursue aggressive environmentally friendly policies to clean up the city and institute workable and sustainable regime of cleanliness by ensuring that agencies set up to maintain the beauty of the state capital are put to effective and efficient work. Governor Rochas truly has his job cut out for him and generations unborn will judge him by how well he handles this historic challenge.

+          Emmanuel Onwubiko heads HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS’ ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA, and writes from  


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