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May 21, 2018

Urban renewal or urban destruction?

urban renewal of owerri
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From all indications, urban renewal is a top priority in the Governor Rochas Okorocha’s administration in Imo State. It is a laudable idea, and more so if in line with the original Owerri master plan.

The master plan designed by Fingerhaut, a Swiss company, in 1976 envisages Owerri Capital Territory to be developed with the concept of a twin city. The area regarded as the Old Owerri, occupied mostly by indigenes of Owere Nchise, would continue to develop with motorable roads and streets, functional drainage system, regular electricity supply and pipe-borne water etc, while the development of a new Owerri is fast-tracked by the construction of Housing Estates, link roads, viable industries, government secretariats and agencies and a new Government House.

The idea was not to destroy the old city, demolish structures or render the peasants and low income residents of the old town wretched by destroying their means of livelihood – stores, workshops etc. The master plan envisaged that satellite towns in remote areas like Avu, Umuguma, Uratta, Egbeada would provide accommodation for public servants, business people, and others, so as to decongest the old Owerri and still work in the various places in the state capital. The new Owerri was intended to be the new city with modern infrastructures.

Unfortunately, what is going on as urban renewal under the present government, which revolves around the old Owerri is a misplaced priority. Whereas, former Governor Achike Udenwa built two housing estates, the Redemption Estate Avu and, the high profile Udenwa Estate, his successor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim built none. Unfortunately, Rochas Okorocha’s concept of implementing the Master Plan has been largely on demolition of structures in the Old Owerri and widening of roads. Victims of these demolished markets and shops have been told they must relocate immediately to uncompleted markets and business areas at Naze, Egbeada and Avu.

In Enugu State for instance, while satellite towns are being opened up and their development being fast-tracked, no house or structure in the Old city of Uwani, Coal Camp, Ogui etc was destroyed in the process. Instead, effort is made to ensure that their internal roads and streets are adequately cared for and that social amenities like pipe-borne water, regular power supply and functional drainages are there. What Enugu State did was to expand roads to such areas as the Independence Layout, New Heaven,Abakpa Idaw River Layout etc. By building over 12 housing estates in new areas of the state capital territory, the Enugu Government has succeeded in decongesting the old city without tampering with the Master Plan of the city. The government of Enugu State has succeeded in uplifting the old city with good maintenance.

 

Similarly, in Anambra State, roads in the old city are not wide but rather than destroy houses and demolish people’s businesses, in the name of expansion or renewal, government moved into other places like Awka and Amawbia to develop them.

The present Imo State Government seems not to have a template for its urban renewal programme, which explains why it has embarked on massive demolition of existing structures, including some of those it built such as parts of Imo City Girls College, Akwakuma Girls, Government House and other Round Abouts as well as street gates, thus lending credence to the current slogan: “Owelle builds and Okorocha destroys.”

Underground pipes for water and drainage and optic fiber cables installed many years ago have been destroyed and are not replaced. When it rains the new shallow gutters being built can’t carry the drainage requirement of the town.

The right thing should have been to develop new Owerri as in the master plan, while maintaining the old city by ensuring that its roads and social amenities are functional.

We call on the present government to halt further demolitions in the Old Owerri town and move to other parts of the Capital Territory to carry on its urban renewal or development.

 


 

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