The industrial revolution taking place in some other cities of the country could be as a result of its citizens and government's direct attention to the production of goods and services that enhance the overall development of the economy of state where they are sited. But in Owerri, capital of Imo State, hotel development has taken the upper hand
An average Igboman is noted for his knack for self reliance and industrious ability to be a self-made person. This effort has indeed assisted to liberate him from the bondage of 'slave' masters or 'begging' all the time in order to get what he wants.
It was through the interest exhibited by him in industry and commerce that made the Premier of former Eastern Nigeria, Dr. Michael Okpara to establish several industries and farm settlements, such as the former Golden Guinea Breweries, Umuahia, Adapalm in Ohaji, Palm Plantation in Obehe, Aba, Rislon Palm in Rivers, Rubber plantation in Calabar, and the rest of them.
From the inception of the civilian regime in the old Imo State, the first civilian governor, Chief Sam Onunaka Mbakwe, of blessed memory did not waste any effort in industrialising the state. The monumental projects erected by Mbakwe span all the nooks and crannies of the old Imo State.
Such industrial projects included the Avutu Modern Poultry at Obowo, Aluminum Extrusion Industry, Inyishi, Resin Paint Industry in Nguru Mbaise, Ezinachi Clay Industry, Mbano, Imo Concorde Hotel, Owerri, Independent Power Plant, Amaraku, Izombe and Ohafia now in Abia State, Owerri Ebeiri Paper Industry, Orlu, Standard Shoe Industry, Owerri and so many others that cannot be mentioned here. Unfortunately, almost all these monumental projects that created huge employment to people then are no longer in existence. The subsequent military regime and other administrations could not nurture or maintain them, while others were arbitrarily sold off to the detriment of the people of the state.
All those dreams of our heroes past are now a forgotten issue. However, since the advent of the third and fourth republics the quest for industrialisation had gone and this has been replaced by hotel development for possible promotion of tourism. The administration of Chief Achike Udenwa and Chief Ikedi Ohakim made significant effort to promote tourism in the state. Most of the hotels spotting all the nooks and crannies of Owerri, the Imo State capital were actually built during these administrations.
Ohakim had wanted the state to be a stop-over destination, being the Eastern Heartland. Owerri is regarded as the epi-centre of the former Eastern region. His vision was that Owerri could have played host to the visitors and investors that were to invest both in the state and in the neighbouring states of Abia, Anambra, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Rivers States. He had also felt that due to the incessant kidnapping incidents going on in those neighbouring states then, Owerri would have been the rallying point of the visitors and investors.
Within this period, such hotels with good services include: All-Seasons Hotel and Suites, Links Hotel, De Legend Hotel and Suites, Suncity Hotel, Owerri Hotel Plaza, Optimum Hotel, Disney Hotel and Suites, Summer Suites, Evatel Hotel, Hollywood Hotel, Rapour Hotels, City Global, Protea Hotel, Landmark Hotel and others.
Already names like Imo Concorde Hotel (which is the only five-star hotel built by Mbakwe remains the best of all), the Modotel initially owned by former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, has been sold to Chisco Transport and it is under rehabilitation, while Pinewood Hotel and Bestway Hotel are the old names in hotel business in Imo State and they are still waxing strong.
The present regime under Chief Rochas Okorocha has also continued from where his successors stopped by taking hotel project as his main cardinal agenda. According to him, the promotion of tourism is dependent on the hotel infrastructure available in the state. To this effect, the governor has not hidden his desire to erect a five star hotel in each of the three senatorial zones of the state. His plans to build a monumental hotel in Owerri, Prince and Princes hotels in Orlu and Okigwe respectively is an area he does not want to relent on. But the question now is having spent about 18 months in office, he has barely one year and two months to work and realise those projects, bearing in mind that one year to the next election year is normally used to prepare for the re-election and definitely not to work for the people. How could he raise the money needed to complete those projects?
The thinking of government has been that the hotel developments in the city of Owerri are beneficial to both people and government. They are of the belief that since hotel develops and promotes tourism, then the more the merrier. However, these hotels provide cheap employment to the youths but there is no job security. The owners of the hotels only hire and fire at will because they believe that since there is scarcity of job, so the cheap labour which is very much available had to be manipulated. The hotels no doubt have created a kind of safe haven for guests and visitors from the eyes of kidnappers. Visitors to the state now prefer to stay in the hotel instead of staying in their houses or friends home. The incessant cases of kidnapping in the state have created a lot of insecurity and hotels have been identified as a safe place to lodge when in Imo.
The presence of too many hotels in Owerri, some parents say, has created bad influence, especially among the youths, mostly the girls. There is no more decorum in the state now because everybody is now wise and these hotels host ladies of easy virtue. At night girls hang out in front of these hotels probably waiting for patrons. Not only that, the cost of land in Owerri has astronomically increased since land speculators are ready to offer any amount for the purposes of potential hotel developers.
A resident in Owerri, Chief Rufus Eke told THISDAY that with the rate hotels are being developed in Owerri, very soon there would be no space for people to build residential houses. He suggested that a law should be put in place to segment areas for development of commercial and residential buildings so that people could be able to acquire land at the designated area to build their residential houses.
One recalls with nostalgia the feelings of the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Benjamin Njemanze at the heat of the land dispute between the government and the indigenes of Owerri in one of the Town Hall meetings where he braced up, not minding any persecution resultant from his position in Government and told government that "Owerri people and Owerri land have enough Hotels" and therefore suggested that "Owerri will only welcome and accept meaningful industrial development".
The present administration in the state has imposed a high tariff on hotels and entertainment industries in the state as a way of raising internally generated review by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. The same tariff is also being demanded by the Ministry of Commerce. According to government sources, these entertainment industries need to pay extra tariff for investing in the state as a way of promoting tourism. But these tariffs are being kicked against by the operators of the sector because they have argued that government had not been able to provide conducive environment for them to operate.
Reacting to government directive, a proprietor of one of the hotels, who pleaded anonymity told THISDAY that they provide their own power, water even work on their roads, there is nothing government had done to enable them demand extra tariff from them. They however have been charging customers and guest extra fees to be able to meet government demand.
There have not been any indices to evaluate that the existence of many hotels in Owerri has brought the needed development in the state, other than the vices associated with hotel business. The general view of the people of Imo State is that enough is enough of hotel business, as they want promoters to divert into small scale industries and other areas that could create manageable employment to the youths.