The people of Amakohia and Akwakuma communities in Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State have been thrown into anguish following the ongoing demolition along the popular Owerri/Orlu road by the state government.
The demolition exercise aimed by the government to expand the road has rendered hundreds of residents of the communities homeless.
Equally not spared by the bulldozers were shops and business premises situated along the road as they have been reduced to rubble.
According to the natives, the rampaging bulldozers did not also spare the graves of their loved ones who have been buried several years ago as they were ripped open with their remains excavated by the heavy earth moving equipment.
Prominent among the graves that were opened, they said, was that of the mother of the late traditional ruler of Ihitte Oha Community, Eze Onu Egwunwoke, and two time chairman of the old Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers and former Chancellor of the University of Jos, who died in April 2000.
They said that the tomb was desecrated and the marble grave ripped open by the bulldozers, making the remains of the departed princess to be exposed which caused a stir in the community and the natives pouring invectives on the state government for its insensitive.
Angered by the rampaging bulldozers, the natives decided to mark other graves of their departed loved ones with fresh palm fronds even as they invoked curses on whoever would violate the graves of their ancestors.
They described the demolition as wickedness on the part of the state governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, disputing the claims of the governor that the exercise was carried out in order to restore the master plan of Owerri, the capital city.
Speaking, Chief Egenti Anolu from Ihitte Oha in Akwakuma community described the demolition as an act of wickedness, wondering how the state government would describe people’s ancestral homes as illegal structures and a distortion of the Owerri master plan.
“Several people who are indigenes of this community have not only been rendered homeless, but their sources of livelihood have equally been destroyed as you can see every shop and business premises along Orlu/Akwakuma has been completely destroyed and without any compensation of any sort. Now, the governor said that he wants to restore the Owerri Master Plan and you ask which master plan? Most of these houses have been built for several decades before the creation of the old Imo State in 1976, during the administration of Chief Achike Udenwa when the Orlu /Owerri road was dualized those whose property were affected were compensated, but in this case nothing was given,” he said.
He said that to make the matter worse only seven days notice was given to the people to vacate their homes and shops, pointing out that even the shops built by the Catholic Church in Akwakuma was demolished.
Mrs Juliet Ogaraku who was affected by the demolition exercise at Amakohia told Daily Sun that on the day that her shop was demolition that she had gone to the hospital because she was not feeling well, adding that before she came back in the afternoon her shop had been refused to rubble and all the goods inside destroyed.
The mother of two disclosed that the Owerri Capital Development Authority (OCDA) had earlier issue a seven-day notice, but the exercise, she said, started before the expiration of the day, making many of the people to be taken unawares.
Her words: “I had gone to the hospital because on that Wednesday morning I was not feeling fine, but I came back in the afternoon the bulldozers were already pulling down houses and shops in the area and when I got to where my shop used to be it was all rubble. So, I lost all the goods in the shop and it was the same for most people because they had thought that the OCDA would come at the expiration of the seven days notice, but they came four days after the quit order. The government said that it will not pay compensation to anybody.”
She disclosed that her husband who is a judicial worker has not received any salary for the past six months, saying that it was from the proceeds from the shop that they were to feed the family.
Also pathetic was the case of Madam Agnes Nkwo, a widow who said that she was yet to recover from the shock of the demolition of her restaurant which has sustained her and her three children in the last six years since the death of her husband.
Madam Nkwo appealed to Okorocha to assist those of them who have no one to help them to survive the hard economic situation in the state.
“Now, that my only source of income has been destroyed, how am I going to take care of my three children? So, I am appealing to Governor Okorocha to have pity on the poor people”.
When visited in his palace, the visibly disturbed traditional ruler of Akwakuma Community, Eze (Engr) Charles Osuji declined to comment the ongoing demolition of structures and shops in his community, apparently not to incur the wrath of the state government.
But Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho, former Internal Affairs Minister, who house on Orlu road was affected, has condemned the demolition exercise.
The fence of his house was marked ‘remove,’ but he told newsmen last week that he would not allow any part of his house to be pulled down.
“I have just come home with my family to rest for a few days when my attention was drawn to the mark of ‘remove’ on the wall of my fence and there has been no correspondence to that effect as to why my house has been marked.
“But on inquiry I was told by some officials of the government that it was done by an engineering company working for the state government. I want them to clean it off because my house is not an illegal structure because I have been living there with my family for several years before this administration.
“I don’t want to have any problem with the government because I will resist the demolition of any part of the house and I have already alerted the police and the DSS,” he said.
Iheanacho said that the state government cannot destroy people’s homes for the expansion of an already dual carriage way in the city, noting that the Orlu road was one of the best roads in the state with good drainage systems.
“I learnt that the governor has appealed to those affected to understand and the question is would the governor understand if told that a road will now pass through his palatial Spibat Estate. So, I will not be disrespected by anybody by trying to demolish any part of my house which is not obstructing anything, neither is it a shanty or did it violate the Owerri Master Plan,” he said.
Equally, the Nigeria Bar Association, Owerri branch, has warned the state governor to immediately halt the exercise, describing it as an illegal demolition of people’s homes and business premises.
The association threatened to institute a legal action against the state government if it continues with the demolition exercise.
Governor Okorocha upon the launch of the “Imo My Pride Project” immediately his re-election for the second term in office had hinted that it would longer be business as usual as he vowed to beautify the state by clearing all illegal structures in and around the state capital.
Daily Sun gathered that the Owerri Capital Development Authority had earlier issued a three-day quit notice to those whose shops and houses were located along the road to vacate.
However, most of the residents were caught unawares when the demolition squad eventually arrived with a contingent of armed security personnel, including soldiers and as a result could not salvage their goods and values as they watched helplessly as the bulldozers reduce them to rubble.
Similar demolition exercised had earlier been carried out at Mbari Road for the expansion of the road.
But as condemnation has continue trail the ongoing demolition exercise, Governor Okorocha has insisted that certain development decision must be taken by the government no matter how painful and that Owerri as the capital city must be cleaned up. (Daily Sun)