Owerri, the Imo State capital, has been in the news lately for diverse reasons bordering on the good and the bad, according to the perceptions of the people. But of all the recent incidents and events recorded in the city, the ongoing demolition of structures has featured more prominently in the news as it continues to draw a lot of tears and scathing criticisms.
Indeed, it has been outrage and lamentations galore since the state government commenced the demolition of properties as a prelude to the planned expansion of some roads in the state capital.
The demolition, which started along the Amakohia/Akwakuma axis, saw the destruction of several ancestral homes, residential buildings, business concerns, the desecration of graves, parts of the premises of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Akwakuma, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Amakohia and several others.
Within the past week, some bank premises, the state headquarters of the Peoples Democratic Party and the residential home of the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Captain Emmanuel Ihenacho have been visited and pulled down by bulldozers. Establishments like the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri and the Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, AIFCE, also suffered same fate after being marked for demolition.
Irked by the planned destruction of their institution’s properties by the Governor Rochas Okorocha administration, students of AIFCE last week stormed the streets of Owerri in protest. Although the students pleaded with Okorocha to drop the idea of destroying any part of the school premises, their pleas obviously fell on deaf ears as parts of the institution were later demolished. The incensed students have, however, vowed to do everything possible to ensure that the state government does not carry out its threat of also destroying the pedestrian bridge, perimeter fence, gate and other parts of the school.
Some of the placards carried by the students read: “Okorocha, spare our pedestrian bridge”, “Okorocha cannot destroy the beauty of our College and security of students”, “Okorocha, leave us alone and continue your demolition exercise elsewhere”, and “Okorocha, please don’t provoke us”.
Similarly, economic activities were held up for hours in Owerri, following a massive protest against the proposed plan by Imo State Government to move artisans from the Orji and Nekede Mechanic Villages to Avu in Owerri West local council area of the state.
Vanguard reliably gathered that Governor Rochas Okorocha invited the artisans to a meeting but it was not very clear at press time, what went wrong before the aggrieved self-employed workers stormed the streets in a protest march. Some of the protesters expressed regret that the Governor had made up his mind to forcibly move them to a virgin land where no amenity is in existence.
“I can tell you that we are not against his (Okorocha’s) government. If he insists that we should move to Avu, he should also do us the favour of putting some social amenities in place,” Mr. Edward Okoli said.
“Some of us have built houses and other immovable structures in the Mechanic Villages, which cost us millions of Naira. Today, government wants to move us to a place that has nothing to support us and our jobs,” he added.
Another artisan, who simply identified himself as Sylvester, said “there is no access road into the place, no electricity, no potable water and no buildings”.
Court issues restraining order
Apparently alarmed by the threat of imminent destruction of his personal residence, Captain Ihenacho approached the Federal High Court, Owerri, presided over by Hon. Justice Ambrose Lewis Allagoa. After listening to Ihenacho’s counsel, the court issued a restraining order against the Attorney General of the Federation, the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, the Governor of Imo State, Attorney General of Imo State, Commissioner of Works, Imo State, the Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Planning, Imo State and the Imo State Government. This order of court was disobeyed.
Capt. Emmanuel Ihenacho reacts
“The signboard of Lamonde Guest House, owned by Rochas Okorocha, is located just one metre from the culvert on Orlu Road. The gate of Lamonde Guest House is located less than 10 metres from the culvert. Neither the signboard nor the gateways was destroyed by Okorocha for road expansion.
“The same Okorocha personally came to my residence with armed soldiers and other security officers on Thursday, July 7, 2016, to supervise the demolition of my residence, up to 14 metres from the edge of the culvert, barely three days after a High Court order restraining him from the demolition”.
Some affected victims speak
Similarly, some residents of Amakohia and Akwakuma communities in Owerri North Local Council Area of the state, have decried the demolition of their homes and business outfits by government. A victim of the demolition, Nze Obinna Emereole, told newsmen that he recently accessed a loan from a micro finance bank, which he used to erect a building at Amakohia.
While saying that the Owerri Capital Development Authority, OCDA, approved the building plan before he commenced the construction, Emereole however wondered why the Governor would personally supervise the destruction of his house. “Are we animals? Why must a government and governor we brought on board, treat us like animals? It is indeed most unfortunate. God is watching,” Emereole lamented.
Governor’s Chief Press Secretary responds
Reacting on behalf of his boss, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Sam Onwuemeodo, had this to say: “Former Minister of Interior and the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in the State, Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho, has been very supportive to the Rescue Mission Government in the State since 2011, and that is why efforts by certain politicians in the state to incite him against the government has failed.
“It is also against the backdrop of this development that Captain Iheanacho would see the demolition of the fence of his house that was very close to the main road, and that is Orlu/Amakohia Road, as an action sincerely taken in the overall interest of the state and her people, and not out of malice.
“And seeing the good work going on, on Amakohia/Orlu road, Captain Iheanacho would not have gone to court for an order to stop the good work; and that is why we had doubted the report on court order when we read it on the pages of newspapers; and that could be the reason that, up till now, nobody has seen a copy of the reported court order.
“The Governor and indeed the Rescue Mission government will continue to appreciate the support and understanding of Imo people, including Captain Iheanacho, whose fences or kiosks have been touched in the course of the expansion work going on, on some major roads within Owerri and environs in line with the Governor’s determination to make Owerri a model city.
“The Governor will continue to work for Imo people with sincerity of purpose until his ambition of building a state of our collective dreams and aspirations is achieved.
Imo PDP’s office is intact
“The state office of the Imo State Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, on Okigwe Road, Owerri, is intact and has not been touched or demolished as being falsely claimed by certain elements, especially in the social media, in the course of the expansion work going on, on that road.
“But the front fence of the building housing the party’s office was touched because it was built very close to the main road and there was no way it would not have been affected by the on-going expansion work on that road.
“It is very unfortunate that few indigenes of the state who have sworn not to appreciate any good thing being done by the government of Rochas Okorocha have been working tirelessly to use the expansion works on some major roads in Owerri and environs to blackmail the Governor vis-à-vis the government.
“Most people in the state appreciate what the government is doing at the moment to add a lot of values to Owerri as the state capital and make it a model city.
“The Governor has continued to appeal to the people of the state, especially those whose fences, kiosks and other structures have been touched for understanding. The Governor’s ambition is to leave the state better than he met it and all hands must be on deck to encourage him in his effort to achieve that lofty goal.” (Vanguard)