By Luke Onyekakeyah
The deplorable state of Douglas Road at the centre of Owerri is a huge embarrassment to Imo State. Both residents and visitors alike are appalled by the terrible state of the strategic city road. With hordes of unruly traders struggling over every available space, the entire road is filled with all manner of ramshackle used to display assorted wares for sale. The result is the perpetual gridlock that now defines Douglas. Trailers, cars and innumerable tricycles compete for space on the seriously constricted road. Luckily enough, commercial motorcyclists (Inaga) have since been chased out; otherwise, Douglas would be total bedlam.
The stretch of Douglas from Ama JK down to the Wetheral Road junction (off Emmanuel College) has been turned into a huge city incinerator, where piles of garbage burn day and night without ceasing. The epicentre is the section facing St. Paul’s Catholic Church. The obnoxious stench, emanating from the burning garbage heaps lined up on the decrepit median, constitutes a serious public health hazard. Sadly enough, nobody is talking about the adverse effects the daily exposure to carbon monoxide is having on the citizenry.
The air quality in Owerri is sickening as a result of the obnoxious fumes spilling from the smoldering garbage. Douglas Road is so dilapidated, messed up and abandoned. Neither the federal authorities that rightfully have responsibility over the road nor the Imo State authorities that have jurisdiction over the road seem to bother. The question is for how long is Douglas going to be left in its present appalling state? Something has to be done to give Douglas a facelift and bring succour to Owerri.
The anarchy and chaos on Douglas are nothing compared to the bedlam that was Oshodi in Lagos, which Governor Fashola confronted overnight and transformed. Prior to that, Oshodi was, for decades, impassable, as all the highways that passed through the axis were completely blocked by street traders. Nobody thought that sanity would ever come to Oshodi. Different administrations in Lagos – military and civilian alike – did nothing on Oshodi. It was not until former action Governor Babatunde Fashola took charge that the unthinkable happened.
Lagosians woke up one morning to see that Oshodi, the hitherto impassable jungle of Lagos, had been cleared in an overnight operation by an unprecedented task force. Stern-looking soldiers and mobile policemen were stationed all over the market. The same action was replicated in several parts of Lagos metropolis, where street traders had taken over access roads and streets. That marked a new dawn in Lagos. The roads that hitherto had been swallowed by street traders were opened up. If sanity could be restored to Oshodi and other parts of Lagos like that irrespective of the complexity and diversity, how much less Douglas and its adjoining streets?
It is from that angle that the task force recently deployed by the state government to clear Douglas of traders is a step in the right direction. But how forceful and effective is the task force? And what plans are on ground to simultaneously rehabilitate Douglas and the adjoining streets to demonstrate the seriousness of government? It is not clear to what extent the action of the task force would bring sanity to the monstrous Douglas. This is not the first time that the traders had been driven away and yet they staged a comeback. That is why the present effort should be approached differently for a lasting impact.
Governor Okorocha’s administration took off with massive urban roads rehabilitation in Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe. At the same time, rural road projects were embarked upon in each of the 27 local councils in Imo State. Many parts of Owerri have been given a facelift by the opening of access roads. Governor Okorocha should extend his roads development programme to Douglas. Within the next four years, a facelift on Douglas would be a lasting legacy for his administration, the way Wetheral Road remains a legacy for the Mbakwe administration.
So far, the effort of the state government to relocate the traders to the Relief Market, even with a promise of free stalls has met with stern resistance. But the obduracy of the traders stems from the fact that there has been no counter obdurate force by government. The problem on Douglas Road took roots because over the years, the traders were allowed to occupy the road and nothing was done to stem it, which amounts to an assault on the city.
Besides, somehow, the two city markets – Owerri Main Market and Ekeukwu Owerri – have coalesced into one big amorphous market that has spilled unto Douglas and its adjoining streets. Consequently, Ekeonunwa, School Road and all the other access roads linking to Douglas have been taken over completely by the stubborn traders. That has given rise to endemic traffic gridlock in Owerri. It also raises the question of urban management in Owerri.
It is incomprehensible how the entire sector of Owerri Central Business District (CBD) has turned into one big chaotic market that constitutes an obstacle to the efficient running of the city. The ugly state of affairs on Douglas betrays the efforts of the state government to give Owerri a facelift. A drive round parts of the New Owerri Capital, World Bank and areas around the Concorde Hotel, shows a different scenario; indeed, the commendable effort of the state government to transform Owerri.
Douglas is the main arterial passageway at the centre of the Imo State capital. As such, it should be the cynosure of attraction for shopping, sight-seeing and tourism, as in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, the shocking state of the road over the years leaves much to be desired. It gives the wrong impression that the authorities are unperturbed.
Certainly, the decay and chaos on Douglas raise questions as regard urban management. There is no doubt that Douglas presents a negative picture of governance in Imo State, irrespective of whatever strides the administration is making to transform Owerri. Governor Rochas Okorocha should seize the opportunity, under his rescue mission, to rehabilitate Douglas and remove the shame this road has brought to Imo State.