Why I Did Not Consider Relocating Ekeukwu Owerri – Ohakim
By Austin Echefu
Former Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State has denied the allegation that he planned to demolish and relocate the Ekeukwu Owerri Market while he was in office as Governor between 2007 and 2011 but did not have the political will to carry it through, saying that he did not at at any time plan relocating and demolishing the market.
It could be recalled that Governor Okorocha had demolished the Ekeukwu Owerri Market on Saturday, August 20, 2017, leading to the death of 10 years old Somtochukwu Ibeanusi. The demolition of the market by Governor Okorocha was said to have been in disobedience to a subsisting court order bareing him from demolishing or relocating the market, against public outcry against it.
But in a press statement on Friday in Owerri by the Chief Press Secretary to the former Governor, Mr. Collins Ughalaa, he said that in the course of the urban renewal programme of his government and faced with the challenge of easing traffic and sanitizing Douglas Road, his government decided during exco meeting to set up a committee to consult with stakeholders.
According to the former Governor, the Committee completed their consultation and presented their report which had two recommendations.
“For the records, at no time did the administration of Ohakim contemplate relocating the market, rather in pursuit of the urban renewal programme of the government, how to ease traffic and sanitize Douglas Road were discussed at the State Executive Council meeting and a committee was set up to consult with stakeholders and make recommendations to the government.
“In its report, the committee came up with two recommendations: one, outright relocation of the market, with a caveat that in the course of consultation with stakeholders, the traditional ruler, late Eze Njemanze, advised against the relocation because of the historical, cultural and traditional significance of the market to the people of Owerri Nchi Ise.
“The second recommendation was to modernize the market without destroying these values which the people are very sentimental about”, he said.
He further explained that his government did not consider relocating the market because it was a “listening government” and considered the happiness of the people, saying that his government believed in wide consultation.
He said: “As a listening government that was sensitive to the feelings of the people and believed strongly in consulting widely, knowing that the welfare, happiness and public support should be critical in shaping policies, the Ohakim government settled for the second option.
“To achieve the option of modernizing the market, government through Exco decision that was documented, directed the committee to visit Tejuosho Market in Lagos State to see first hand what a remodelled Ekeukwu Owerri Market would look like on completion.
“When the final report was submitted, the State Executive Council considered it and approved that a firm of architects be enlisted to come up with design for the execution of the project. This was the stage before the change of government and the details were contained in the handover notes”, he added.
The former Governor who is aspiring for a second term in office added that it is “preposterous and divisive for anyone to allude that an administration that banned okada operations (though introduced keke simultaneously) and embarked on urban renewal that led to clearing of shanties, lacked the political will to execute a project.
“The Ohakim administration was not deficient in courage but was sensitive in the face of viable options that would not hurt or bring economic hardship on the citizens, thus making the welfare and happiness of the people the centerpiece of government’s policies and programmes”.
He wondered that “If stakeholder-interface and buy-in is not a critical component of driving government business in a democracy, the legislature at all levels would be churning out laws from their legislative chambers without public hearing to get inputs that would aid making laws for good governance”.
He reassured the people that “The Ohakim administration therefore never at any time contemplated the relocation of Ekeukwu Owerri Market, neither did it find itself in a situation where court orders were disobeyed in the course of executing any government programme.
“Any allusion to the contrary amounts to a misrepresentation of facts as it concerns the then government’s position on the Ekeukwu Owerri Market issue, and those spreading the false rumour should better get their facts right”.