By Nick Chi bunna , Gid Ahanonuand Chukwudi Ikpe
Imo State govt has begun a full scale war against traders and ‘illegal’ cab and bus drivers who are yet to comply with its directives to keep away from the city.
Gov Rochas Okorocha of the state who took to the streets to lead the war on the recalcitrant traders at the weekend, personally gave orders that the traders should move to designated markets which his administration had provided them before the demolition of the Eke Ukwu Owerri and the New Market which were the central markets in the metropolis.
The designated markets included the Alaba in Naze, the Relief Market at Egbu Road, the new market at Egbeada among others, where the government had directed them to acquire stalls for the display of their goods.
Buses and taxicabs without the approved state colour were barred from entering the metropolis while bulldozers moved into Douglas Road, School Road and the environs of the demolished Eke Ukwu, destroying remnants of shanties and the wares inside them.
The traders were seen retrieving what was left of their wares in the demolition.
The development has brought untold hardship to commuters who were stranded at various entry points during the operations.
Commuters who bargained to be taken to Owerri from Orlu were forced to alight at the Egbeada new market park while those from Orji, Okigwe and Enugu came down at Ama Wire.
At Arugo Park on Onitsha Road, Naze Road safety junction, Ama Wire, Egbeada and other places, the commuters were seen quarrelling with the bus drivers.
Government directive had been that the Imo Black Cab, Taximo and Imo Transport Corporation (ITC) branded vehicles were only ones allowed into the town.
It was, however, discovered that these were very few on the streets, leading to the clogging of passengers at the various entry points.
The few branded vehicles on the road cashed in on the situation to hike fares up to N150 and N200 to the state secretariat on Port Harcourt Road, a distance that attracted N50 to N100 fare.
An Owerri-based surveyor, Mr. Sunday Etusim, described the situation as ‘wicked’, wondering which government would take delight in the sufferings of the people.
Mr. Uche Okere, an oil marketer in the state, said that he was moved by the sight of the elderly and children trekking to school and other destinations under the sun, and volunteered to help them in his private vehicle.
He described the restriction as inhuman and anti-people.
Ezekiel Ekeanyanwu, a motorist who plies along Okigwe-Amaraku – Atta, said that he was not happy with the restriction order, adding that it was an onslaught on the people.
Commercial drivers who spoke to Christian Voice said they could not afford the high charges of the state government for the repainting of their vehicles.
According to them, the cost ranges between N73,000 and N100,000.00 and that official receipts were not issued, making them to think that it was a rip off.
The drivers called on members of the state House of Assembly as well as the National Assembly, religious leaders, traditional rulers, opinion leaders, top politicians and other notable people in the state to appeal to the government to take measures that will mitigate the suffering of the people.
“We are finished”, one driver said in disgust and wondered why the government policies in Imo has no human face. “It’s painful” he said.
Meanwhile, the State Commissioner of Transport, Lasbrey Okoroaforanyanwu, who inaugurated a task force recently, unveiled new rules for cab operators. In the new rules, it is an offence to operate unbranded and non-fleeted taxis or bus within Owerri Municipality, no Taxi or bus driver should carry more than one passenger on the front seat and not more than three persons at the back seat, passengers are not enter unbranded taxi or bus cabs, and there should be no dropping of passenger(s) at non-designated areas or locations.