Vanguard (Lagos)

24 January 2013

Nigeria: Re - Onitsha Bridgehead Demolition

opinion

WRITING on the recent series of demolition of illegal shanties at the bridgehead, Onitsha, Emmanuel Obe of the PUNCH Newspaper (Saturday Punch of January 19, 2013, page 14), among other things, stated thus: "Tales of woe and despondency hung in the air as bulldozers deployed by the Anambra State Government roared through all the markets on the River Niger bridgehead end of the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway some days ago".

Yes, there were series of demolition at the bridgehead axis of Onitsha , the commercial nerve centre of Anambra State . That axis is the major entrance to Anambra State . Whatever one sees at this strategic point, as one enters Anambra State , says a lot about the government and people of the State.

A visitor or returnee coming from Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Edo and Delta States or from Abuja or even outside Nigeria, forms his or her opinion about the hygiene, sense of aesthetics, and decorum or lack of it and the people and government of Anambra State based on what he/she sees at the bridgehead.

Before now, that is before the demolition, the bridgehead area on both sides, was home to filth - animal dung, birds' feathers, muddy and oily soil- where decayed tomatoes, onions and other condiments were recklessly displayed to the discomfiture of the residents of and visitors to Onitsha and those on transit to Enugu, Imo, Abia, Cross -River, Rivers, Kogi and the Northern States of the country.

It is only imperative that such dirty, such unhygienic and such unsightly scenario could not continue to be tolerated by any responsive and responsible government.

What is going on in Onitsha and in some other cities and towns in Anambra State under Governor Peter Obi's watch, are the right things: They are logically defensible; they emanate from a clear conscience and what is more, they serve the interest of the majority of the people.

It is on record that for more than five years, Governor Obi's administration has been appealing to traders at the bridgehead, Onitsha to vacate the area so that it could be worked on - cleared of refuse and rubbish, asphalted and beautified so that traffic from the Asaba end (in neighbouring Delta State) can flow freely and people entering Anambra State can feel the effect of civilisation.

The Governor had visited the traders several times, appealed to them on several occasions to see reasons to relocate to an area in Ogbunike - Umunya axis on the Enugu-Onitsha expressway so that work could commence at the bridgehead.

Sensing that some of the traders may read etnicity into his appeals, he took on different occasions heads of different Security agencies in the State - Army Commander at the 301 Artillery Regiment Onitsha, Commissioner of Police, Anambra State Command, Director of the State Security Service, etc to the new site for them to help assess its suitability as an alternative to the rather chaotic, congested and dirty scenario at Onitsha.

All the Security heads agreed with the governor that with the proximity of the express road, the Police Post already built, etc, there was no reason traders and their clients would insist on staying at the bridgehead.

It is important to point out that some of the traders literally ridiculed the governor on some occasions when he spoke to them at the bridgehead. They would engage him in unending argument without due respect to his office.

On one occasion, one of them boasted that the Hausa community at Onitsha had petitioned the Sultan of Sokoto and that they were actually waiting for his directive on whether they should vacate the premises or not.

And as if that was actually true, the Sultan, His Eminence, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar came to Anambra State . Amazingly, during his courtesy call on the governor at the Executive Council Chambers of the Government House, Awka ,the Sultan shocked all who assumed the governor was a tribalist.

Recalling his Military Service days at Nsukka town as an Army Captain (or was it Major) and knowing Mr. Peter Obi as a student at the prestigious University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in the 1980s, the Sultan announced to the chagrin of some of the people present that he had known citizen Peter Obi for more than 29 years, adding that he (the Governor) could not "hurt a fly".

As if that statement was not enough, the governor later took his guest, the Sultan to the Palace of the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe where he was treated to the usual royal ceremonies before the governor accompanied the Sultan to a ceremony in a mosque near Onitsha Main Market.

It is important to note that the relationship between Governor Obi and the Muslim/Hausa/Yoruba community in Anambra State has been very cordial. This is because the governor welcomes everyone in open arms regardless of his/her state of origin, religion, ethnic or tribal inclination. During the last Sallah, for instance, the Governor personally worshipped and broke the fast at an Awka mosque to the admiration of everyone.

It is therefore surprising to notice that tribal meanings are being read into an action that is basically dictated by the urge to create a decent and civilised environment which will be to the benefit of all.

For the avoidance of doubt, the bridgehead axis of Onitsha is peopled by a variety of persons - Anambra traders, people from Enugu , Ebonyi, Imo, Abia States and some from the South west and Northern parts of the country. So the argument that the relocation order was handed down to Hausas and Yorubas to the exclusion of Igbo people, does not hold water.

Elsewhere at Nkpor, Ogidi, Ekwulobia, Awka, Nnewi and even Otu-Ocha, the headquarters of Anambra East Council Area, to mention just some places, demolition of illegal structures was carried out for the same reason as that of the Bridgehead area of Onitsha .

In fact, the demolition exercises were in accordance with the decision of Anambra State Executive Council, a decision basically taken with a view to creating order, decency and civility in the State.

Needless to add that actions of this nature are also carried out in other States of the Federation for similar reasons. Let no one therefore single out the case of Anambra and imput politics to it.

It will be quite unfair to play politics with everything much in the same way in which it will be both naïve and wicked to give a dog a bad name just to hang it.

Mike Udah, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Anambra State, wrote from Awka

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