Urban Renewal and Governor Okorocha’s Demolition Exercise
Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened, and then it is the job of the people to decide whether they have faith in their leaders or government. We are faithful to our profession in telling the truth. That’s the only faith to which journalists need adhere. – Walter Cronkite
The French boulevards were made possible by Napoleon Bonaparte to facilitate the movement of troops. Consequently, streets were widened. After the war, aesthetics were infused to enhance the beauty of the street layouts. The modern beautiful city concept could, therefore, be said to be of French origin. Paris was once described as the Pearl of the West.
The city or urban area is an artificial creation. That assertion is made palpable during prime perennial events like the Christmas and the New Year. During those periods, population movement from the city to the rural areas is so outstanding that some cities in Nigeria seem like ghost towns.
But the attraction of the city is irresistible hence rural to urban migration is a world-wide phenomenon. The quest for jobs, the allurement of better life made impulsive by the existence of infrastructures like good rood networks that engender interconnectivity, availability of healthcare facilities, schools, all manner of institutions that promote the acquisition of skills and knowledge, places of worship and recreation, markets, shops and shopping malls are a marked contrast to the daily, dreary gossipy life of ruralism. The hustle and bustle of life in the city is like the heartbeat. It hardly stops. The scuttle and scurry of workers on twenty-four hour shifts in developed countries; the whoosh and zoom of hasty vehicles; the buzzing sound and glitter of lights at night clubs make city-life exciting to some and irritating to others.
THE MASTER PLAN
The Master plan is the chief comprehensive guiding tool of city planning and, in fact, the concept of Master Plan embraces all kinds of developments that are meant to be on a permanent site like the university. The Master plan, therefore, is a document that covers all types of developments which use land within the planning area. It aims at maximising the overall benefits of such pieces of land to the ultimate populus bonum et progressum (for the common good and progress of all). It promotes the good health, safety, welfare, convenience, aesthetics of the inhabitants of the planning area. Therefore, when developments do not promote a feeling of physical, social, mental, aesthetics and well-being of the people, they are regarded as a failure or catastrophe.
The city, after all, is the people! The Master plan comes into existence by an interplay of town planning with relevant disciplines like engineering, architecture and surveying. The diverse development proposals/plans within the Master plan are projected upwards of fifty years. The Master plan as a planning tool is not dogmatic. It is subject to review because change is the only permanent element in any given situation.
The Imo State Master plan was commissioned by Ndubuisi Kalu, a one-time military Governor of Imo State. A German Company, Figerhuth and Partners Limited, won the contract. Any structure that is erected without the approval of the relevant government agency, is said to be illegal. The site of all sorts of structures, open spaces, parks, green belts, precisely the determination of uses on land is principally the job of town planners since they have the professional skill not only for controlled development, but to engender equilibrium in the ecosystem.
It is evident that Governor Rochas Okorocha has executed and is executing a demolition exercise unprecedented in the history of Imo State. One question that readily constantly pops up is why did past governors not demolish structures in the state as the present governor?
Some of the structures being bulldozed had approval from the government agency in charge of such before they were erected. Who gave the approvals? Were they corruptly approved? Have the documents disappeared the Nigerian way? It is equally true that some structures sprang up without even applications for approval. At whatever angle of perspective it is viewed, it is obvious that an overwhelming percentage of the demolished structures is occupied by tenants some of whom have paid rents for so many years in advance and most of whom had no knowledge whatsoever with regard to the legality or illegality of the structures they paid to occupy.
Why would not the government paste notices for at least six months on all structures to be demolished, to enable tenants relocate or make some necessary adjustments before the demolition exercise? Why is the demolition fast on the heels of harsh and crushing economic situation foisted on the people by their leaders, rendering some destitute, and dispatching some to untimely death? Hundreds of retired workers have not been paid their gratuities nor received their pensions some up to two years and beyond.
Why must the state government erect some structures, concrete road divides, only to demolish them for another? What happened to the numerous giant concrete gates that sprouted here and there in Owerri that were said to be conceived to engender better security? How many have been completed? Why are rural roads grossly neglected? Sometime in the past millions of naira were said to be paid out to contractors for the tarring of some rural roads in the local government areas without proper bidding for the contracts. Who was responsible? Why is the tarring of intra-city roads not last up to six months before they are again inundated with potholes? Can the present Imo State government, in all sincerity, fix or complete the project for which there is massive demolition before or by 2019?
To be contd.