October 1, 2013

The ‘Gate’ of Umuahia

It  is 12 noon this sunny afternoon in Umuahia, capital city of Abia State.   The tricycle (popularly called keke) in which I am riding has suddenly screeched to a halt.

I have struggled to shuffle my body out of the compacted shelter of the automobile and I am now standing at the popular “gate” of Umuahia.  I have looked around but I cannot see any wall, no sentry, no gatemen and actually no gate. What I see is commotion on the prowl.

Umuahia is not the ancient medieval city of walls and mighty gates, with gun-toting soldiers at the ready.  But, here, where I stand, is designated as the “gate”. To every resident of Umuahia, this central point of the city is the ‘gate”.

Quite significantly, the gate identifies the main market at the centre of the metropolis and the many loading points of several inter-state transport companies. The place is a melting pot that captures the heartbeat of the city.

It is the Lagos version of the old Oshodi or the old Marina where man and mermaids compete for the available space within a 100 square metre radius of land. There is an overhead flyover that has been ignored and hordes of street traders with a stream of men moving in all direction. There are noise and commotion.

As I meander around the “gate” this afternoon, admiring a live movie of urban pressure, with all its tension and conflicts, the word “gate” comes to me as a euphemism for chaos. There is a conscious effort, I suppose, to be sarcastic about the real life situation at this place with the word “gate”. Are there historical resemblances with activities at the old gates with the commotion and environmental pollution that are the hallmarks of this central place of Umuahia? Could the indigenes have been alluding to a historical place notorious for rowdiness in their choice of the word “gate”?

Thank God, a Daniel has come to judgment! Governor Theodore Orji is set to cure the menace of the “gate” of Umuahia. Orji is set to bring order and decency to this perimeter of land that has taken a bold identity for rowdiness.

He is set to arrest the environmental challenges occasioned by this boiling point of Umuahia. Early in his first tenure, the Governor identified that the main issue with this place was   the main market which ought not to have been located at such a central place of the metropolis.  He immediately set out to relocate the market to a more conducive place away from the hub of the city.

Today, the 4000 units of malls at the Ubani-Ibeku Ultra Modern Market at the outskirts of Umuahia have been completed and the Governor is set to execute his vision.

The stalls and other facilities, including water, electricity, security posts, clinic, fire station and access roads have all been completed. The Governor has, therefore,   put a deadline to the final evacuation of traders to the new market and has gone ahead to inaugurate a   Relocation Committee headed by Chief Ebenezer Offor.

But,   there are murmurings in the land. As would be expected, some traders who would surely be affected by this movement are expressing some form of apprehension. This is quite understandable. People always resist change. People always prefer to remain in their comfort zones no matter how cold or hot the zones might be. But, the world is changing fast.

Innovation is the order of the day. Therefore, the gate of Umuahia cannot continue to remain the sully spot and the nuisance that it is to the capital city. Umuahia must be part of the modern world metropolis where order and decency reign. This, precisely, is the vision of Ochendo in the planned relocation of the market.

All over the world where such social transformation vision has been executed successfully, the experience has always been the same. But, my humble advice to the Umuahia traders is that one cannot make omelet without breaking eggs.

If Abia State must be part of the new emerging society of orderliness and decency, we must endure the necessary sacrifices   towards   infrastructural renewal and the building of the new society of our dreams.

Indeed, the beauty of the relocation exercise is that traders and all interest groups in Abia State have been duly carried along since the beginning of the project. A notice to this effect has been publicly announced since a year. To also cushion the effects, Governor Orji has procured   buses to assist in moving people’s goods to the new market. The Governor also made concession to the traders, including slashing the price of the shops and extending the payment period to four years

Earlier, the Governor has also relocated the timber market which adjoined the World Bank and Low Cost residential areas of Umuahia. Like the main market, the timber market was also located in a wrong area of town. It brought about untold hardship to the residents, causing heavy traffic gridlock, pollution and general environmental problems to the area. Today, the traders have adjusted to their new location at Ahiaeke, on the Umahia-Ikot Ekpene Road.

With the relocation of these markets, there will be ample room for the redesigning and re-beautification of the city to bring it to its pride of place as the capital of a progressive state. Already, a new housing estate is springing up at the former location of the timber market. By the time the main market is fully evacuated and the shanty stalls demolished, government   will also redesign the area. This, no doubt, will change the face of Umuahia.

These efforts fall within Ochendo’s programme of   restoration of the lost glory of Abia. From Aba, the commercial hub of the state through Umuahia to the communities, it has been a concerted effort at building the state afresh.   At 22 years of Abia, it is now that the solid foundations for the state are being laid.

Today, the “gate” of Umuahia might be the satirical metaphor for urban commotion. But, by the time Ochendo is done with it, it will surely be a lucid narrative about the rebirth of a city and of a state.

*Mr Adindu, President-General of Abia Renaissance Movement, ARM, wrote from Umuahia.