Re: Onitsha Bridgehead Demolition – By Mike Udah


Writing on the recent series of demolition of illegal shanties at the bridgehead, Onitsha, Emmanuel Obe of the PUNCH Newspaper (Saturday Punch of January 19, 2013, page 14), among other things, stated thus: “tales of woe and despondency hung in the air as bulldozers deployed by the Anambra State Government roared through all the markets on the River Niger bridgehead end of the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway some days ago”.

Yes, there were series of demolition at the bridgehead axis of Onitsha , the commercial nerve centre of Anambra State . That axis is the major entrance to Anambra State . Whatever one sees at this strategic point, as one enters Anambra State , says a lot about the government and people of this State. A visitor or returnee coming from Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Edo and Delta States or from Abuja or even outside Nigerian shores, forms his or her opinion about the hygiene, sense of aesthetics, and decorum or lack thereof of the people and government of Anambra State based on what he/she sees at the bridgehead.

Before now, that is before the demolition, this bridgehead area on both sides, was home to filth – animal dung, birds’ feathers, muddy and oily soil- where decayed tomatoes, onions and other condiments were recklessly displayed to the discomfiture of the residents of and visitors to Onitsha and those on transit to Enugu, Imo, Abia, Cross –River, Rivers, Kogi and the Northern States of our dear country, Nigeria.

It is only imperative that such dirty, such unhygienic and such unsightly scenario could not continue to be tolerated by any responsive and responsible government, least of all, one under the watch of a caring, health-conscious Peter Obi, the Governor of Anambra State – a governor who believes that leadership is doing the right things for the people independently of insinuations or appeals to sentiments, recourse to propaganda, innuendoes and the like. He would tell you with relish that governance, unlike the Entertainment and Sports Industries, has nothing to do with popularity. For him, the reason Margaret Thatcher was not popular when she was British Prime Minister was that she took tough decisions to salvage the British economy at a time when her counterparts in her Continent were not courageous to emulate her. But for her tough stature, British Airways and other corporations would not have survived till today. Is it not interesting to note that several years after she held sway as Prime Minister , Thatcher who was once derogatorily referred to as Iron Lady ,is today celebrated in Britain as the woman who saw tomorrow ?

Even the venerable Elder Statesman, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo could not agree more with Mr. Peter Obi on leadership and what it entails. In a recent occasion organized in Abeokuta to celebrate him as an international icon, the former Head of State among other things, held that “it is inevitable for a leader who wants to succeed in Nigeria (and I dare add, anywhere on the surface of the Earth) to step on toes”, adding that “those who lack the courage to step on toes for the right reason, should not aspire to any leadership position”(THE NATION Newspaper, Saturday, January 19, 2013, page 57).

What is going on in Onitsha and in some other cities and towns in Anambra State under Governor Obi’s watch, are the right things: they are logically defensible; they emanate from a clear conscience and what is more, they serve the interest of the majority of the people.

It is on record that for more than five years, Governor Peter Obi’s administration has been appealing to traders at the bridgehead, Onitsha to vacate the area so that it could be worked upon – cleared of refuse and rubbish, asphalted and beautified so that traffic from the Asaba end (in neighbouring Delta State) could flow freely and people entering Anambra State could feel that civilized human beings who eke out decent existence reside there.

The Governor had visited the traders, countless times; appealed to them on several occasions to see reasons to relocate to an area in Ogbunike – Umunya axis on the Enugu-Onitsha expressway so that work could commence at the bridgehead. Sensing that some of the traders may be reading tribal meanings into his appeals, the governor had on different occasions taken the heads of different Security agencies in the State – Army Commander at the 301 Artillery Regiment Onitsha, Commissioner of Police, Anambra State Command, Director of the State Security Service, etc to the new site for them to help in assessing its suitability as an alternative to the rather chaotic, congested and dirty scenario at Onitsha. All the Security heads agreed with the governor that with the proximity of the express road, the Police Post already built, etc, there was no reason why the traders and their clients would insist on staying at the bridgehead.

It is important to point out here that some of the traders literally ridiculed His Excellency on some occasions when he spoke to them at the bridgehead. They would engage him in unending argument without even showing due respect to his office. On one occasion, one of them boasted that the Hausa community at Onitsha had petitioned the Sultan of Sokoto and that they were actually waiting for his directive on whether they should vacate the premises or not.

And as if that was actually true, the Sultan, His Eminence, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar came to Anambra State . Amazingly, during his courtesy call on His Excellency, at the Executive Council Chambers of the Government House, Awka ,the Sultan shocked all those who had wrongly thought that Governor Peter Obi was a tribalist.

Recalling his Military Service days at Nsukka town as an Army Captain (or was it Major) and knowing Mr. Peter Obi as a student at the prestigious University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in the 1980s, the Sultan announced to the chagrin of some of the people present that he had known citizen Peter Obi for more than 29 years, adding that he (the Governor) could not “hurt a fly”.

As if that statement was not enough, Governor Obi later took his guest, the Sultan to the Palace of the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe where he was treated to the usual royal ceremonies before the governor accompanied the Sultan to a ceremony in a mosque near Onitsha Main Market. It is important to note that the relationship between Governor Peter Obi and the Muslim/Hausa/Yoruba community in Anambra State has been very cordial. This is because the governor welcomes everyone in open arms regardless of his/her state of origin, religion, ethnic or tribal inclination. During the last Sallah, for instance, the Governor personally worshipped and broke the fast at an Awka mosque to the admiration of everyone. It is therefore surprising to notice that tribal meanings are being read into an action that is basically dictated by the urge to create a decent and civilized environment which will benefit even those shouting condemnation.

For the avoidance of doubt, the bridgehead axis of Onitsha is peopled by a variety of persons – Anambra traders, people from Enugu , Ebonyi, Imo, Abia States and a few Hausas and Yorubas. So the argument that the relocation order was handed down to Hausas and Yorubas to the exclusion of Igbo people, does not hold water.

Elsewhere at Nkpor, Ogidi, Ekwulobia, Awka, Nnewi and even Otu-Ocha, the headquarters of Anambra East Council Area, to mention just some places, demolition of illegal structures was carried out for the same reason that they were done at the Bridgehead area of Onitsha . In fact, the demolition exercises were in accordance with the decision of Anambra State Executive Council, a decision basically taken with a view to creating order, decency and civility in the State.

Needless to add that actions of this nature are also carried out in other States of the Federation for similar reasons. Let no one therefore single out the case of Anambra and ascribe an ulterior motive to it. It will be quite unfair to play politics with everything much in the same way in which it will be both naïve and wicked to give a dog a bad name just to hang it.

Mike Udah, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Anambra State, wrote from Awka


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