American born Jazz Musician, Lee Oscar titled one of his classics “Before the Rains”. But I am captioning my topic today, “After the Rains”
Owerri, the capital city of Imo State is situated in a valley. Therefore, it has ever remained an erosion- prone town even before the White men led by Douglas arrived there.
Therefore, it is not news that flood is carrying people away, homes eaten up by water or vehicles disappearing in floods in the town following the few rains that just dropped in the last three days in the ancient city.
It is just “rain drops,” because when we step into July and August, the heaven would open up and more houses will go down and cries will rent the town.
For those who have lived in the city for years, or were born in Owerri, like us, the strange development now is the rate at which flood is ravaging the town. You may ask, why?
Well, the answer is that previous administrations understood the topography of Owerri and pursued the necessary engineering and social works that would contain the valley nature of Owerri and its excesses against flood.
Navy Captain Ndubuisi Kanu, the first Military Governor of Imo State who drafted the Owerri Master plan, out-layed the city based on the studies carried out by experts.
Luckily for Imo State, when Dr Sam Mbakwe became Governor of the State, the Obowo born Legal luminary and patriot to a fault, built Owerri like he would have built his ancestral home, Obowo, by following the instructions in the Owerri Master plan. Everything he constructed was made to last for years.
Mbakwe laid the under-ground Tunnels which channeled water out of Owerri city into Nwaorie River. It was built by world acclaimed Experts.
Governor Evan Enwerem could not last in office and therefore left without tampering with Owerri master plan.
Then came Chief Achike Udenwa, who was an Accountant with Monier Construction Company, MCC, the company that handled the construction of Owerri Roads during the Mbakwe regime.
However, at the time of Udenwa, Owerri had started witnessing a deluge of residents who trooped into the town for permanent sojourn because of the peaceful nature of Owerri.
At this time, the Owerri master plan began to get distorted with illegal structures, including shanties and unauthorized stores, markets, motor parks and a massive flow of hawkers from neighboring States, who litter Owerri with left- over from their wares along the major roads like Douglas, Bank Road, Okigwe Road-round about , Wethral Road etc.
In fact, Udenwa’s administration did not give any attention to environmental sanitation to the capital city as Owerri town was taken-over by refuse bins and over flowing drainage systems.
But luckily for Udenwa, the Ozone layer system was not unpredictable and dangerous then like now, because Owerri residents managed to live without serious floods, even though some parts of the town witnessed horrible environmental challenges.
However, in 2007 when Chief Ikedi Ohakim arrived, he took environmental campaign as part of the pivots of his administration’s policy.
The regime began by evacuating the thousands of tones of dirts left unremoved by the Udenwa administration for Eight years.
For weeks, Trucks were carting away refuse, including thousands of reptiles and rodents killed in the process of fumigating Owerri.
The Ohakim regime started planting Trees, Flowers, and grasses. And at this period, the masses wondered what Environmental Engineering was all about, as all they cared about was food on their tables and not the neatness of their environment.
But the Ohakim regime continued the work, saying that only the living eat food, and therefore that the citizens needed to live in healthy environments to survive for the next day’s meal.
The regime began removing illegal structures, and in the process ran into the ignorance of the majority, who said their means of livelihood had been demolished.
The regime in order to restore the pride of Owerri man and woman as naturally neat and clean people, began beautifying Owerri city.
To prove its seriousness in restoring the environmental status of Owerri, the administration went to Switzerland to bring in Mr. Fingerhaut, the Consultant who designed the Owerri city drainage.
The old man who was about Eighty Seven (87) years in 2010, arrived Owerri with his two children who are now managing the company.
He took Gov Ohakim and a selected member of his Executive to all the Manholes in Owerri, through which the waters pass through the entire gutters into Nwaorie River.
And the regime began the clearing of all debris blocking the under-ground drainage up to Okitankwu River at Mbeiri.
That was the reason, throughout the regime of Ikedi Ohakim, there was no flooding in Owerri. This was the reason pure water was banned then, as its water-proofs blocked the drainage, and you know that water-proof does not decay.
Therefore, it was not for nothing that the Ohakim regime won the cleanest State in Nigeria for two consecutive times running.
During that regime, there was monthly clean up excercise, which takes place every last Saturday of the month. This regular exercise kept Owerri and other towns in the State sparkling clean.
However, in 2011 when the administration of His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Okorocha came into office, it stopped monthly clean up, allowed motor parks to spring up at every junction in Owerri, Hawkers returned to the streets, the Trees, Flowers, Grasses planted by the previous administrations with tax payers money, were up rooted for whatever reason.
Within a period of time, Owerri, the cleanest city in Nigeria, became one of the dirtiest in the entire country till date.
Many had expected that government was a continuous process, and hoped that some of the good policies of the previous administrations would have been retained by the incumbent regime.
However, as part of its policy, the current administration in Imo led by Okorocha embarked on Urban Renewal, which is a lofty idea, as it would not only develop Owerri, but improve its infrastructure to the enjoyment of its residents.
But today, flood has ravaged Owerri and its environs, with residence scurrying back home whenever it rains, to watch over their children and property. Those who are not in town continue to pray, while in constant touch with neighbors, incase “water over flows its bank”
How did Owerri come to this pass? Simple. The incumbent administration refused to heed to the law of nature, which Ndubuisi Kanu, Mbakwe, Udenwa, and Ohakim obeyed in carrying out restructurings, constructions and reconstructions in Owerri.
One, the Okorocha administration ought to have timed the period of its constructions, to avoid raining seasons. But it is unfortunate that the same roads, and areas who suffered horribly during last years raining season are still to face the same ugly situation again this year, which marks the administration as not caring for its citizens, and not marching its priorities with action.
Last year, my house was submerged with flood for the first time since after ten years I built that building in Owerri. I had to save my kids by lifting them unto of vehicles, where they remained for hours, until pump machine arrived. The situation is even worse now.
And again, the administration is not using qualified professionals to carry out the Urban renewal projects. Large drainage are not constructed where they ought to. The existing drainage are being destroyed entirely and others being blocked.
And one observation is that even the amateurs handling the jobs are not supervised by Experts, hence they construct structures without specifications and details.
Government projects are handled by professionals so that they will last. No money should be spared to deliver the best to the masses. It is not acceptable that a road built with tax payers money could wash away in two months, yet the same administration refuses to correct itself through more standard projects. Professionals, concerned Journalists etc had raised concern over this matter for months of substandard projects to no avail, rather government sees such commentators as enemies. But the chicken has finally come home to roost with the raining season now with us.
In Owerri today, over ten roads are under construction at the same time, and none has been completed since over two years now. The masses would have loved that the roads are pursued stage by stage, phase by phase so that one area would be completed and completed well, before moving to other areas.
The wholesome and massive construction of all roads at the same time without completing any makes the masses not to see the goodness in the projects, as what over shadows government’s good will now is the suffering the masses are passing through daily while waiting for the completion of the roads.
What Okorocha is doing in Road construction ought to have received commendation from the masses, but the bad situation has led the masses to now ask; shall we be alive to enjoy these roads?
Therefore the Okorocha administration should change its style. Nothing is wrong if the administration listens to the cries of the majority of Imo people as regards the administration’s policies especially the burning issue of erosion and floods in Owerri, following substandard roads and wrong timing.
The situation in Owerri now is dicey. Except the administration hurries up with completion of some the major roads, nobody would be spared when the seven-day rain arrives in July. The last rain nearly pulled-down the roundabout at Okigwe Road by Government House junction. Natural disaster, either man-made or by itself knows no class.
The construction of roads in Owerri should have been celebrated if Government had listened to earlier warnings and involved construction Experts. Therefore the Government should put its acts together, or else a good omen will turn to bad, which will trail the Okorocha administration for years to come. But God forbid!