By Henry Ekpe
Owerri became the capital of Imo State in 1976 when the new State was created. Since then “innocent O Town” has been disvirgined.
But it was for the better, because ever since Owerri was made a State capital, though it lost its innocence, it gained in a lot of other things.
Obviously, Owerri would not have gained this stupendous development if not that it became a State capital. This is the reason whenever the town is compared with Okigwe and Orlu towns reminiscent feelings reigns the air with envy and jealousy.
But Owerri has paid its price for serving as a State capital. While other surrounding towns remain for their indigenous owners, Owerri now is a metropolitan town, occupied by persons from every nook and cranny of the world.
This situation over-stretched the city, as social amenities available are no more enough for the now over-bloated population arriving Owerri everyday in search of greener pastures.
However, Government envisaged this scenario, and the first military Governor of the State, Ndubuisi Kanu created what is known today as Owerri Capital Development Authority, OCDA to maintain the building plan of Owerri State capital territory.
As an envisaged modern model Town in the making, there was an Owerri Master Plan which laid out the original plan of the town, which ought to be followed to the letter.
The first civilian Governor of Imo State, late Dr Sam Mbakwe, followed this Master Plan in the various constructions he did. He was the fellow that invited Fingerhaut of Switzerland to carry out the Drainage construction system of Owerri, which had remained one of the best in Nigeria, until Governor Godswill Akpabio replicated what is now more Modern in Uyo, Akwa Ibom today.
Therefore, it is a shame that rather than improve on what Ndubuisi Kanu and Mbakwe left decades ago, Owerri is now a danger waiting to happen, whenever it rains in the State.
As a “Home Boy” who was born and have lived in Owerri till date, there has never been any time Owerri was threatened by flood, even though it is a Town in a valley like now.
No matter the amount of rain, flood usually will clear off the streets within a short time.
But these days, God should help you if you are trapped in any part of Owerri as it rains. No area of the town spared any more.
The question is, why is it that Owerri gets flooded now with each rain drop? What are the causes?
Well, the truth is that Owerri now is more populated than it was years back. Many buildings are springing up in every corner.
Refuse are no more taking good care of unlike the Mbakwe days when we had SULO, and Governor Ikedi Ohakim era when there was clean and Green.
Against the original plan of those who designed Owerri, subsequent administrations did not make proactive plans for the State capital, and never bothered about the environmental consequences of erecting buildings indiscriminately, without following layed down rules concerning Town planning.
However, Owerri Town got totally disvirgined by the Owelle Rochas Okorocha administration, when he embarked on what he called “Urban Renewal”.
In the beginning, it was a welcome development and Owerri indigenes and inhabitants cheered the project, which they thought would change the face of Owerri, and place her side by side with other modern State capitals.
But in the end, it whould have been better if Okorocha had left Owerri the way he met it.
Today, Owerri is like a city pummeled in a war. In a bid the carry out his “Urbanization” of Owerri, the Town has completely lost its essence.
For those of us born in the Town, it is a total regret that Okroocha embarked on the fictitious “Urban Renewal Program” that has now destroyed Owerri land scape.
Today, all the solid drainages built by Mbakwe have either been destroyed and replaced with narrow cement-coated tracks, or blocked completely.
It was under Okorocha’s own “Urbanization” that Tree-planting was not factored as a major project in the entire process.
Rather than plant trees that will serve in erosion control, as a wind breaker, shade and ecosystem, the trees planted by Mbakwe, Udenwa and Ohakim were cut down by Okorocha, leaving Owerri at the mercy of heavy winds.
Instead, Okorocha “planted” heavy Block pillars at the centre of the roads, and complemented them with dangerious Iron rods used in “roffing” the roads, thereby planting dead traps for road users.
All the landmark sites in Owerri were pulled down. The Mbari effigy, Shopping Malls at old and New Stadia, Old Library, “Douglas House” at Government House, FSP Premises, Water Board and its Reservoirs, Ugba Trees that lined up Okigwe Road, Meliana Trees that protected gutters and flood along MCC/Uratta Road are all gone with no replacements.
With this scenario, whenever it rains, the deluge of water that hitterto went through the gutters therefore look for other ways of escape and then, Owerri is flooded.
In all my life in Owerri, I have never seen where Government House Round about at Okigwe/Wetheral Road got flooded except these days.
It ought not to, because that area is the “Headquarter” of all water Tunnels on Owerri Roads.
While growing up, we gather at the Gimbaz-constructed Cooperative and Commerce Bank to listen to the flow of flood into the Tunnel at the library junction.
This takes me to our old Owerri, our beautiful Owerri with amazing sights and tourism attractions.
How did Owerri come to this pass? Was this what Ndubuisi Kanu and Mbakwe envisaged?
These late Sages would be turning in their graves now.
It is a sorry situation that a serene and wonderful Town like Owerri has been rendered a water pool in recent times.
Oh! Our Owerri ! I remember those days when we visit the old library to borrow books for our leisure and examinations.
Then there was a “Journey Walker” Clock at Ama JK, where late Nze HSK Osuji held court. Near Ama JK was Rex Cinema, by Royce Road. There was Ozims Commercial School in that area too. Don’t forget Aforo Inn, just at Oparanozie Street.
At old Okigwe road was Golf course where we go for Disco during children’s day.
Towards Ajoku Street was “Awareness Hotel” which bubbles more during children’s day because it was located opposite old stadium where the march pasts hold.
There was Kemo and Coconut Inn around Cherubim junction on Wetheral Road, and GelGil Supermarket.
Across Christ Church Street was Kakadu, and by Amaram Extension was City Commercial that had “fine Girls”.
You go to the other end of Owerri and you get Chase Side, and Tourist Guest House at Mbaise road and Ephraim Stores. Towards Lobo Street is James Hotel.
The grandfather of them all was White House, with Afuruluola Night Club at No 4 Christ Church close, where we lived.
Late Eze Zeb Phillips Nwosu was the chairman and owner. That was where I first met legendry Geraldo Depino with Komi Bassy.
The biggest Eatery then was Ihioma Hotel by Kagha/Christ Chruch. Near Nda Sunny’s Chemist store. On that street also was Dona Summer Electronic store.
By this time there was no Ikenegbu Layout. It was a big forest then for those who want to “smoke” and “shit”.
However, there was the pre-fabricated Estate, which we now call “Prefab”. Later Aladinma joined, before the new set of upstairs now that dot MCC road, which exploded into Ikenegbu layout.
Sorry before I digressed. Owerri city needs to be revisited, especially now that there is a new administration. The town has suffered a collateral damage in the hands of Okorocha’s administration.
But one pertinent question here; why is it that all administrations that came after Mbakwe concentrated on “Old Owerri” either by erecting more structures on the already over-populated old Owerri, or destroying and rebuilding old ones?
Does Owerri begin and end with Douglas, Okigwe, Wethral and Mbaise Roads?
Why is it that each administration that comes concentrates on these roads, without thinking on how to expand the town?
Owerri State capital city extends up to Irete, Agbala, Avu, Mbieri etc. Must every Government project be sited inside the main Owerri?
In London, the old Manchester is now preceded by “Greater Manchester”. Lagos State Government House has since moved from Ikeja to Aluasa.
The Old GRA Enugu, has been extended to ‘New GRA”. In Rivers State, the “Greater Portharcourt” is now the new toast of the naveau rich of that State.
It is high time New Owerri is developed so that the population of the “Old Owerri” can be decongested.
It sounds funny that rather than move into New Owerri where lands are begging for development, Imo past administrations concentrate on Wetheral Road each year, as if that Road can never be completed while other parts of the Town get attention.
With Hon Emeka Ihedioha now on the saddle, he should focus on New Owerri after he must have restored Old Owerri back from the injury Okorocha inflicted on her.
There is a permanent site mapped out for Government House in the Owerri Master Plan. That area should be developed so that “political power” can shift to New Owerri to fast-track the development of New Owerri, while the old Owerri can heave a sigh of relief and have serenity.
Any other concentration of projects in Old Owerri will be counter-productive, as Okorocha’s Urban Renewal has caused havoc that moving to New Owerri is the only alternative.
Therefore, it would be unacceptable if the next raining season affects Owerri inhibants as now. We should begin immediately to tackle the matter, because we already know the problem.
Ihedioha should come to the aide of Owerri town by giving it the proper attention it deserves, because everyone knows that Okorocha destroyed the city.
We want our Owerri back, and Ihedioha can do it