What urban renewal left of Owerri

I encouraged myself to go and see what is left of Owerri following the on-going urban renewal. I said I must write an article on it and pick out the gory details and facts that do not easily meet the eye.  I asked my self, when I returned from survey: has the renewal ended?
I don’t know. I am not sure it has. If it has, real Armageddon is in Owerri and Imo state at large. The work is not progressing. It is progressing in the negative. I mean, more destruction is going on.  If it has ended what it left is simply devastation. Owerri will suffer it for years. There’s no other way to describe it. And from what I saw, it is not likely the repair work will be concluded by the time this government steps down middle of next year, IF the elections will be held conclusively. I say this because there is no sign that if Uche Nwosu is not the flag bearer for APC and eventually win the election there will be peace in Imo. It is a fight to a finish between the governor and all the people. Somebody tells me the governor must have his way from his body language and statements. It is unusual for incumbents to be beaten in their game of election rigging. He assures me that the governor’s son-in-law will surely succeed him.
To start the assignment, I leave the house on foot, to see as much as I can and also interact with people along the way. I take a cab from Shoprite roundabout along Egbu Road to Fire Service. The cab driver starts me on the experience I am going to have. While driving he murmurs all the time, talking to himself. That gives me no joy and ask him, “my friend what is wrong”?
He flashes back at me, “oga, what’s your business? Just sit and let me drop you off and go my way. Don’t you see there is no passenger anywhere? Where are they? Rochas has driven everyone away. Since 6 a.m. I started work, what do I have to show for it? What I have here is not up to 300 naira. But I have used fuel worth more than 1,000 naira. It’s nearly 12 now. Is that how I will survive with my family? We are seven in the family. They are waiting for me to have their morning meal.”
He drops me off, snatches the miserable 50 naira, the cost of the ride and zooms off in anger which I’m sure I do not cause him. Thank goodness he does not break my fingers as he takes the money off my hand with all amount of violence. Just before I drop at the roundabout, other commercial drivers swarm us. They all are shouting on top of their voices, “offload. No more work. No more ENTRACO. Their trouble is too much”. One other driver joins him and complains to me. “Just imagine, oga, the government is charging us every day to be on the road, big money. Yet there are no passengers. People have gone home to sit down and die. People don’t travel again. They have no money to move about as before. Businesses have closed down. Still ENTRACO is all over the place demanding money, beating up people. If you say you do not have money, when they stop you, they are prepared to search your pockets and take all they can get from you. They have inflicted wounds on a lot of innocent drivers who are in hospital right now as I speak to you. In fact life in this Owerri has no meaning again. Each day we come out for work, it is to fight a bloody war with ENTRACO people until we close”.
“My wife (poor woman) boils water waiting for me to come home with wounds. That’s what she does every day. When I leave our house every day she is crying hoping and praying that I will come home alive. I have come home countless times bleeding with wounds. I will be aching all over. And there is no money to buy panadol. The entire family is always in sorrow thinking about what might befall me. That’s nothing compared with the fact that there is nothing at all to eat, pay house rent, buy ordinary biscuits and sweets for the kids. No, for Entraco, it’s over, today. My family has told me to sit at home instead of going to die in their hands. Tell me, sir, what are we going to do?”
I am taking along a faulty mini still camera I want repaired. The man I am going to stays on Douglas Road. I come in from Onumiri street. The first thing to behold is mountain of smelling refuse along a stretch of about 200 meters in the middle of the road. I see a pleasant gentleman and ask of Ikeogu. He takes me by hand and points at his workshop three buildings from the junction. Ikeogu is sitting with a customer under a large umbrella. I say to him, I am looking for Ikeogu. Yes, he replied?
Are you Ikeogu, I asked?
Yes, I am Ikeogu. Come in and sit down, if you are strong enough to fight. Yes, I will fight. We laugh over it. He attends to me very nicely. He is an unforgettable gentleman, very pleasant and competent. He is a man you’ll love to meet again. He solves the problem of my camera instantly, something I thought will need my leaving it behind and coming later to claim. I am lucky Ikeogu’s workshop is still intact and to get the service he renders. But hundreds of others like him have been dislodged together with people like me needing their services.
With that satisfaction, I trot athletically out of Ikeogu’s workshop and hit the road to see for myself what is left of Owerri. I deploy all my natural senses – of sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. My power of taste was used to taste the edibles on display – groundnuts (boiled and fried), anara, plantain chips, snacks, pure water. There is no clean or decent place to find all these things. Yet they are in high demand and much consumed. How wholesome are they for human consumption after display in the open unhygienic environment? They are all unacceptable places for sale. I did taste all that and found out that all those things are virtually expired things which people consume all the same to keep body and soul together. Where they end up with that is for you to imagine. Any of such I tasted, I had to spit out. Talk of everybody feeding on poison. Owerri is currently such a place. It is a case for the World Health Organization it has no idea exists. The deadliness of the situation will take ages to discover without one going to look closely professionally at it.
Then the sight: Owerri has roads that are indescribably unsightly. On both sides are swarms of smelling humanity, looking like people losing breath, tired, sickly and about to die. I see a woman and what look like her children from school. They tried avoiding the rain as it was drizzling. There was no shelter they could run to anywhere. I halted to take full view and appreciate their problem.
All the other masses of people are in the same predicament. They run helter about as mad people in a pandemonium. The rain is the problems. It is bedlam, confusion and a sort of internal displacement of people by mere rain. What if we have snow and hail storm? These people are driven out of all the markets to go and trade in open spaces in Owerri. You wonder what the sense in that is. Nothing is provided for them as an option or saving grace. They are just sent away into the open to go and be hassled and stressed and die? To whose pleasure this is, I don’t know. The people don’t know whether to protect their persons or their wares when it rains. This woman has her four children additionally to protect, perhaps her hubby too. This is what the privileged man or woman in his/her cozy office and at home in Owerri will never appreciate. What will this family do with the cold and malaria that will come with their circumstance? Perhaps one or two of the children will die. Think of the nightmares, the anxiety, the heartbreak, the hunger, the trauma, loneliness and loveless-ness. Who cares for this type of people? How did they come to their condition? They are left for God to take care of. What then is the responsibility of fellow human beings who run the state and in whose charge they should be?
In fact what I saw was humanity in distress. It is also disgraceful. They hardly have any hope again of survival.
They will come to that street again everyday to fight for a place to stay -  to live and do business, a temporary abode where both they and their children have no place to sit or lie down all day, and go back to a home where there is no food or any sort of convenience, talk less of comfort. Is this possible in this wide, bountiful world which the Almighty God has provided with everything? If you see people in bulk you will never see what each individual is really going through. The group is nameless. The group hides the intricate and intimate horrible experiences. The group does not show you the tear drops, the pains, the head ache and emotions of a starving man, woman or child.
In Owerri gutters and drainages are broken and scattered. They are wide open. They are gaping dumps of smelling refuse and stagnant water all over. You must cover your nose with the hand to traverse the roads of Owerri, driving or trekking. You must hold your breath. Broken gutters have narrowed the roads that are meant to be widened. How come?
In avoidance of the wide gutters on both sides of the road motorists and pedestrians cannot find separate pathways again, but get locked up and clash all the time yielding no space for one another to pass. In the melee it is easy to fall into the gutters where all names of human waste are lodged freely, with nobody making attempt to remove it as a matter of official duty. Cars fall in them more frequently and their owners live to regret the experience.
The gridlock on the roads is permanent and interminable, especially when it rains, making people abandon their cars where they are total road blocks in order to go and find some rest and something to eat, and manage to get home to assure their families that they are alive. The emotional outbursts involved in this are unthinkable as well as indescribable. There are fist fights. People rain curses and abuses on one another and mark themselves as bitter enemies from there for the rest of their lives. Any wonder that the society has become filled with hate and acrimony. Hardly can people work together anymore. It is all suspicion and apprehension, even at the family level.
How do I now get home? I have gone too far from home on foot. I have to brave it and trek. Many people on the roadsides, some waiting fruitlessly to get transport, like me, are shifting along before night fall. Indeed no car came. I get home about 9 pm, when everybody in the family was all eyes looking out for me to return. They were worried because mum told them that going to Owerri was these days life-threatening. She says it all with that statement.   It is quite an experience. And I doubt if I will take such a risk again. The issue is not how destroyed Owerri is, but how to restore it or when it will be Owerri again, the once vibrant, free-flowing city, know to be the cleanest place in the whole of Nigeria.
Lest I forget what my sense of hearing gathered. Owerri to all intents and purposes is what they call a hullabaloo. It is a hell of a place in terms of noise. Noise, noise and noise! If all the noise from quarrels is put together as they are the noise pollution will be in the dimension of a tsunami. And I believe we have plenty of broken eardrums and hard of hearing people than we can imagine. If noise can kill, a lot of people would have died so needlessly. In noiseless places in the world they would be living.
Finally my sense of touch has no place to test it. I can only say about this that since the destructions in Owerri, anything I have touched carelessly has been hot and vibrating. You will be electrified. Don’t go about touching things in Owerri. You will be electrocuted. You can never know where the electric wires have been exposed during urban renewal. I warned myself early about this. Even the people you meet on Owerri roads vibrate. It is how the renewal has rendered people. That’s how reckless the thing is.