By Henry Ekpe
One of my popular Jazz Artistes, Lee Oscar titled one of his songs “Before the Rains”. Each time I listen to that beautiful Jazzy sound, a remember Owerri, the Capital of Imo State.
I came to Owerri as a toddler with my family, and have lived in the Ancient city till today. And Owerri has done me good as I am one of the Entrepreneurs in the City, happily giving back to Owerri what Owerri gave to me.
Owerri was like heaven to those of us who began our lives in the town, until it became the Capital of Imo State in 1976.
Even though it lacked some modern day facilities then, but we were happy and enjoyed the city. We wake up dead in nights to fetch pipe borne water, which usually flowed only at nights. And we must fill up our empty buckets, cans and drums till next time.
There was electricity, which only goes off with warnings from “NEPA” at which points, the light blinks twice, and then shouts of “Bring the lantern, or light the candle” from my mother. Some of us were privileged to watch Black and White Televisions because of the status of our parents.
The roads were smooth and easy to pass. Anyway, there were only Wethral, Okigwe, Royce and Mbaise Roads, until Mbakwe changed the face of the roads in Owerri, with the tarring of inner roads around “Imeonweghe”.
However, in search of mordernity, subsequent administrations in Imo State have altered the face of Owerri, in a bid to meet up its latest Metropolitan status.
Till date, it is only Late Gov Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe that could be said to have left a lasting mark on Owerri.
The reason was that he intentionally embarked on developing the State capital and not on the lookout of how much he would make in the disguise of demolition and rehabilitation of roads in Imo State.
Uptil now, all the structures erected by the Sam Mbakwe administration still stand solid decades after.
It was Mbakwe who laid the drainage system that channeled every water coming into Owerri into a source that put it away without causing flooding or erosion in Owerri.
Years ago, immediately after rains, all the floods and drainages in Owerri go dry. It would seem as if it never rained.
Unfortunately today, Owerri the Imo State capital has turned to a flooding site, sending heart wrenching stories after rains, as each administration after Mbakwe failed to find a final solution to the latest flooding in Owerri.
Certainly, development and migration have compounded the situation of flooding in Owerri, accessioned by increase in population and relocations caused by those moving in to Owerri from other parts of Nigeria.
However, if administrations in Imo State had thought out a plan on how to curb the erosion and flooding problems in Owerri, the scenario would not have been as devastating as it is today.
It is quite shameful that Owerri is still under erosion and flood attacks after Mbakwe had laid a foundation from where other administrations should follow.
As we now approach the raining season, it is yet another suffering period for the inhablitants of Owerri, as if the raining season came suddenly for Government to have done anything to remedy the ugly situation.
Since after Mbakwe, what each administration in the State does is to demolish whatever the previous administration built. That is the reason every administration must construct Wethral road.
One could say that the Governor Achike Udenwa era did not embark on the demolition crase, as he succeeded a military administration that built nothing but to claim millions of naira for fencing the old sub Treasurer in Government House.
Gov Ikedi Ohakim who succeded Udenwa added new face to Owerri, with “Clean and Green” which won Imo State the cleanest State capital in Nigeria Award for three consecutive times.
Fifteen years after, roads built by the Ikedi Ohakim era are still standing; like the Yarauda Drive, Orji Road, Osina/Dekenafai road, Ngor Okpala/Eche Road etc.
Even the Ahiajoku Centre still stands firm.
The Ikedi Ohakim era introduced Traffic Light System in Owerri, and Mass Transit Transport System that modernized Owerri to an extent.
The drainages built by Mbakwe were constantly maintained by the Ohakim era, leading to free flow of water, and less flooding and erosion in the State capital.
When the Gov Rochas Okorocha administration that succeeded Ohakim swept in, it began by making sure that all the projects built by Ohakim were demolished; whether they were functioning or not and whether they were of world class standard or not.
That was how the demolition of past projects built by an out gone Government by an incoming administration commenced in Imo State.
That administration mauled down functional Traffic Lights, up rooted medians dividing the roads, cut down trees and flowers planted by out-gone Government, demolished Buildings, Offices, Shops etc built by previous Governments in Imo.
In a bid to modernize Owerri, which was a noble idea, the Okorocha Government could not follow the normal Environmental procedure for such projects.
In the end it only succeeded in removing solid structures like drainages, constructed by Mbakwe, and replaced them with substandard ones constructed with shovels and Head pans.
Instead of expanding Owerri by developing new Estates by focusing on New Owerri, that administration uprooted every structure around Old Imo Government House, and replaced them with new ones, thereby choking the Old Owerri, and abandoned New Owerri. It rather left the Government House permanent site in New Owerri.
It was during the Rochas Okorocha time that Owerri witnessed the deadliest flooding in its history. And that was because of the hapzard nature of constructing new drainages to replace those by Mbakwe.
The new drainages were narrow, substandard, and were not channeled to any sources to empty into the flood “resovoire” at Bank Road.
Okorocha left Owerri in this sorry State until Emeka Ihedioha arrived.
From his efforts in the short seven months he spent in office, there was no doubt that Ihedioha would have left a mark behind.
He had assembled some of the best construction companies around, their machines had arrived and many Roads awarded and constructions started before the Jan 14, 2020 tsunami that cut short that administration.
Gov Hope Uzodinma who took over from Ihedioha, no doubt has concentrated on the roads in Owerri, that even his people from Orlu zone are saying he is doing more in Owerri than other towns in Imo.
But what has changed in Owerri before the rains? The little rain drops in the State capital now has proved that what Uzodinma’s supporters call “Road Revolution” in Owerri is a mirage. The so called Ballon Technology to contain floodings in the State capital has collapsed. And the project we are told gulped Billions of Naira!
The rain has once again exposed the short-comings of administrations in Imo State to once and for all at least, curb the flooding in Owerri.
One bizarre act of Imo Governments is to award contracts immediately raining season approaches.
Sincere administrations and contractors know the right and proper times to commence construction works.
In Imo State, they wait until June, July, and August at the peak of the rains to move to site. Is it deliberate or that Governments are not aware that except Farmers, nobody does real job within the months of May, June, July and August.
Uzodinma has been busy reconstructing the deadly roads in Owerri Okorocha set as traps for motorists.
But Egbu, Orji, Works Layout, Umuguma, World Bank etc are still flood areas, as every Government in Imo only think of Owerri town, forgetting the neighbouring areas that make Owerri a Capital City
Even Imo Government House Round About is flooded every rainy day. Is the issue of flooding in Owerri insurmountable despite how much money Government brandishes every fiscal year as amount spent or road construction in the State capital?
Today when we see Owerri, our Owerri, so defaced by development and urban renewal, one begins to wonder if it would have been better the Old days when we had the Jonny Wallker Clock at Ama Jk, Golf Course at the present day Okigwe road Motor Park.
Do you still remember Old Sub Treasurer and the Library? What of Coconut Inn at Cherubim Junction? Rex Cinema at Royce Road, Afro at Oparanozie street, Imo Hotels at Bank Road, Kemo Snacks at Ikenegbu, Awareness Hotel, City Commercial School at Amaram Estation and Ozims commercial.
What of Aluma’s Joint at Wethral Road? Kakadu at Christ Church, and Iheoma Hotel on same street and (Afuruola Night Club) White House at Christ Church. What of the old rustic Ekeonunwa Market that frequently caught fire.
Have you visited the Shell Camp that used to be Commissioner’s Quarters?
What of Ghana stores, Chiritex, Amadi Gum Shop, Soul scissors on Tetlow, Angy Lodge, Chase side, Geodora Fashion School, Unit One Snacks, Tourist Centre etc.
All these have given way for a new modern Owerri, but is it really a new Owerri Before and After the Rains?