Published On: Sat, Oct 22nd, 2016

The Gains Of Owerri Main Market Relocation – By Onwuasoanya FCC Jones

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Successive administrations in Imo State, at least from 1999, have always seen the present location of the Owerri Main Market, otherwise or more preferably called Ekeukwu Owerri market as unsuitable and variedly made attempts to relocate the same market, albeit, unsuccessfully. The only reason why these past administrations did not succeed in relocating the market is either because the heads of those administrations lacked the needed political will to execute this dream or they were thinking more of the next election than the next generation. If not for the kind of calumnious politics we like to play in this part of the world, the idea of relocating this market should have been the most popular government policy, with support from across Party lines. But we like to play politics with everything, including the lives of the people we aspire to lead.

Should the Owerri Main Market, alias Ekeonunwa or Ekeukwu Owerri remain at its present location, the chances of expansion of that market and even improving on the facilities that surround it may have been completely foreclosed as the market leaves no space for expansion and improvement. Any little expansion work that the market in its present location may accommodate cannot also be done, while the traders remain in the market.

There are few people who will blindly argue that the market as it presently is, befits a modern day city, not to talk of a the capital city of a State acclaimed as producing some of the brightest minds in the country. Those who love Imo, even though they might not like the present administration in the State have reasons to support the immediate relocation of that market to a new and more viable location. The government’s choice of Ubomiri, an outskirt town of the old Owerri Federal Constituency but presently delineated as being in Mbaitoli LGA has received varied reactions. While a good majority of the people, especially those with good knowledge on urban development see the idea of siting the market there as wonderful, there are others who suggest that the government must have to engage the services of a good construction company to ensure that flooding is averted in the market, as some trained surveyors had suggested that the topography of the market site is prone to flooding. It is my hope that the government must have taken this possibility into consideration and put the necessary infrastructure in place to ensure that such is averted.

There won’t be any painting of words in putting forward my conviction that the planned relocation of the market serves the best interest not of not just the Owerri people, but also the entire Imo people. It is actually one of the best things that any government can do. The government that has the best opportunity to do it is also the present government. Should the people of Owerri succeed in stopping the relocation of this market at this point in time, then, the market may never be relocated in our lifetime, and this will seriously impinge on the chances of developing and modernizing the State capital.

First, I will want to say that the market as it is presently structured has lost the original design of Owerri-Nchi-ise founding fathers, which gave the market both traditional and religious roots. Having allowed government and private individuals to corrupt the original setting and practice of the market over the years, the people of Owerri Nchi-Ise may have unknowingly ceded that market to Imo people as their main market, as the market has grown to become one of the biggest markets in the State, and its location in the State Capital positions it as the most patronized general goods market in the State. This therefore, faults the argument by some people that relocating the market will be an affront on their religious and cultural life as a people. The theory about a goddess of Nworie or some other gods holding sway in that market has being denounced by a good number of the people of Owerri, who feel that their Christian beliefs are being called into question by such idolatrous ideology.

The people who stand the biggest chance of benefiting from the successful relocation of this market to a new site are the Owerri people, who will have a new lease of life and begin to enjoy a better and more lucrative recreational and commercial infrastructure in the site where the market is presently located. According to functionaries of the State Government, the government’s plan to relocate the market to a new area will be of more benefit to those who presently occupy that market and the natural owners of the land where the market is sited; the Owerri Nchi-Ise people, as the government plans to build modern shopping malls in the present location of the market, while improving on the road infrastructure connecting the market to other parts of Owerri and also ensuring that the right facilities necessary for a modern market environment are made available. These improvements on the infrastructural status of the main market will not be possible unless those presently doing business in that market relocate to the new site, thereby affording the government the opportunity to carry out the necessary rehabilitation and upgrades needed in that market.

The relocation of the market will also open up doors of opportunities for new business owners to emerge as there are many young people who have concluded their apprenticeship program but are not able to find a space to open their own businesses because of the congestion in the present location of the market. Recently, when this issue was discussed in a radio phone-in program where I was a live guest, one of those who called in is a young man who complained that for over seven years that he concluded his apprenticeship, he has being struggling to find a space where he can effectively practice his welding trade, because there is scarcity of stalls in the present market place. Young entrepreneurs and Small Scale Enterprise operators like this young man shall have a wide range of options to choose from by the time the market is relocated from its present location.

The rate of pollution being experienced by the people of Owerri-Nchi-ise as a result of the garbage being generated from that market is so much that it is a surprise that there hasn’t being an outbreak of epidemic within that place. There are actually indigenes that have their family houses located right inside the market. Those who have enough knowledge about Owerri claim that the original location of the market as planned by Owerri founding fathers have being seriously overshot as people have built shops and erected kiosks in places that were originally residential areas. Markets and residential areas should not be sited side by side, as this is both unhygienic and unsafe. The relocation of that market to a new site will offer the people of Owerri Nchi-Ise the opportunity to enjoy the privacy and comfort they require in their homes, instead of having to share their houses with total strangers who come to the market everyday to carry out one transaction or the other.

Relocating this market will also be a good thing to parents raising young children and resident within or around the market environment. This will ensure that their children are not exposed to unwieldy influences that may corrupt the good morals imparted in them by their parents. It is hardly in doubt that an environment plays a crucial role in determining how children turn out in life. Children who are raised in a market environment will most definitely not be the same with children raised in areas specially designated as residential.

People who are hygiene sensitive would have long had issues with continuing to buy things from that market as it presently is. Hygiene seems to be a far-fetched practice for those who buy and sell from that market. Owerri people are actually some of the cleanest people around, but the present state of that market makes it difficult for the people to really take the necessary action to ensure that the market is as clean as a place where foodstuffs are sold should be.

Relocating the market to a new and more expansive location also offers great opportunities for Imo to become a commercial hub of the southeast. The Owerri Main Market as presently located cannot compete with either Ahiaohuru in Aba nor Ochanja Main Market in Onitsha, but a new and more expansive market can, if not now, but in the nearest future become the hub of commercial activity, as it will be the most modern market East of the Niger. With good planning and management of the new market, Imo can be the central market for, if not motor parts like it is in Aba and Onitsha, but foodstuffs, fabrics, shoes or some other wares that are not yet very popular. Owerri is closer to Lagos than Aba, yet Aba enjoys more commercial success than Owerri. This can change with a modern, well-planned and creatively managed Owerri Main Market.

There are very few young people between the ages of 30-45 who may own a shop in the present location of the Owerri Main Market because most of these shops were built long before most of us who fall under this age bracket were born. The new market site will provide opportunities for younger people from Owerri and Imo State in general to buy, build and own their shops. This is an opportunity to create new millionaires and new landlords. This is part of the reasons why it is the youths, more than any other age group who should be at the forefront of lending support to this noble government initiative. This is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for low income earners like civil servants, petty traders, etc. to own their own shops and also become landlords in a market that has the potentials of becoming one of the biggest markets in the Southeastern part of Nigeria.

Relocating this market will also ensure that development spreads to other parts of Imo State, especially, within the Owerri district without reducing the development of Owerri main city. Relocating the market to Ubomiri or any outskirt will make it possible for a good number of those presently doing business in that market to gradually relocate to Ubomiri to continue their businesses, while those already living in Ubomiri and surrounding suburbs will now find it easier having to do business or make purchases in the new market, without necessarily having to visit Owerri. This will go a long way in decongesting the Owerri main city and as well opening opportunities for modernization and beautification, thereby opening  a floodgate of foreign investments in Owerri and Imo State in general.

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