A group, under the umbrella of Concerned Owerri Indigenes, has petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari accusing the Imo state governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha of victimising the indigenes of Owerri by demolishing several buildings in the old Owerri city while nothing was being built.
In the petition, the group argued that the governor’s intention to expand or turn roads and streets in the old Owerri City into dual carriageways is an act in bad faith as the roads exist within indigenous homesteads of Owerri people and were duly captured in the Owerri Master Plan.
According to the petition, this is tantamount to an attempt at uprooting the indigenes from their ancestral homesteads. The indigenes then vowed to resist the destruction of their homesteads with the last drop of their blood.
They therefore appealed to the president to come to their aid by asking Governor Okorocha to leave their ancestral market, homeland and institutions intact and not to destroy long standing cultural heritages and structures that are part of their customs and traditions.
The petition which was signed by Fabian Ojiri CP (Rtd), president; Reginald Edokwe Ebere, vice president and Corley Acholonu, secretary reads:
Our Dear President Buhari,
Balkanization of Owerri and the ill defined, unplanned and uncoordinated urban renewal activities being carried out by Governor Rochas Okorocha aimed at victimising the indigenes of Owerri
Sir, we, the Concerned Owerri Indigenes, with a deep sense of humility, most respectfully use this medium to inform you about the victimization our people in the hands of our elected Governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha .
The Governor came into power because our people voted for him and expressed their votes as a kind of protest against the non performance of the last governor of the State having been assured by him that there would be improvement in the lives of our people socially and economically. But today Nde Owerri are facing very serious problems worse than they ever imagined.
After a failed attempt by our Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha to forcefully acquire a very large parcel of land known in the Owerri master plan as Area ‘K’ for the setting up of some utopian projects during his first term in office, and oblivious of the fact that there was a pending litigation, our governor has not batted an eyelid in his efforts to dehumanize the Owerri people
Balkanization of Owerri
The Governor for reasons best known to him and without any form of consultation with Nde Owerri, balkanized the ancient Owerri kingdom that has existed for well over three centuries into five fragments he labeled as autonomous communities. He went on to appoint four of his cronies regardless of whether they are indigenes or not, as ‘Ezes’ for each of them, thereby creating so much confusion in the land and apparently in a bid to destroy the long existing kingdom and homogeneity of the Owerri people.
This creation of unnecessary autonomous communities was completely unacceptable to our king, the paramount ruler of Nde Owerri, HRM, Eze E.E. Njemanze, who as a result suffered a heart attack and soon thereafter died in the month of June 2016.
Urban renewal activities
In planning Owerri as the capital of Imo State, the twin city approach was adopted, as old Owerri and new Owerri. With the Post office as the centre, the Owerri capital terriory extends over a 15 kilometer radius. The old Owerri City covered the area of the then Owerri Urban Council and was within the first two kilometer radius. By-pass ring roads were designed and provided for in the Owerri master plan so as not to displace the indigenous inhabitants of Owerri people from their homestead.
Regrettably, the Governor today, without any laid down plan undertakes flights over the old city in helicopter and decides on what should be done. The entire old Owerri city is a sorry sight to behold, looking more like a construction site with demolitions here and there and buildings with duly approved plans not being spared. Yet nothing is being built. All this is being done out of malice, for, how does one explain the governor’s intention when it is known that the rainy season is not the time for any serious construction work.
Destruction of Mbari cultural centre
The people of Owerri are of the view that the destruction of the Mbari Cultural Centre of Nde Owerri, and the subsequent allocation of same to private individuals for the construction of a filling station in its place was done in bad faith and in total disregard to the feelings of Nde Owerri.
Expansion of existing roads in old Owerri town
Your Excellency, our Governor’s intention to expand or turn roads and streets in the old Owerri City into dual carriageways is an act in bad faith. These roads exist within indigenous homesteads of Owerri people and were duly captured in the Owerri master plan.
By attempting to further widen them in particular Douglas Road (which is already dualised with drainages) and which is within indigenous homesteads of Owerri people to further 10 dual carriageways is a wicked and devilish intention, forensically calculated to ensure the destruction of the traditional landscape of old Owerri town.
The Owerri town has long been developed and stretched to its elastic limits and cannot accommodate further expansion in whatever form without causing untold destruction of the highest magnitude. The wisdom in the creation of new Owerri is to leave the Old Owerri town as it is, in order to preserve the residence and homesteads of Nde Owerri and secondly, to hasten infrastructural developments in the new Owerri.
We insist that any attempt to further expand the existing roads in old Owerri beyond what was provided in the master plan will certainly tantamount to an attempt at uprooting the indigenes from their ancestral homestead while the graves of our forefathers will also not be spared.
It is worthy to note that at the inception of Imo state, during the remodeling of the old Owerri, more than 40% of the residential homes and houses of the indigenes of Owerri within their secluded place of abode was pulled down to give way to wider and standard roads as they exist today. These existing roads in the Owerri indigenes homesteads are standard as they are in all old towns, including Lagos and Kano.
The new Owerri is five times larger than the old Owerri and has actually developed with more land still available to accommodate further development. One wonders why our Governor shouldn’t direct his expansion of roads, and the building of markets to the new Owerri. The past governments of Imo State concentrated more on developing the new Owerri, but the present Governor Okorocha is trying to destroy the old Owerri under a hidden agenda he calls ‘urban modernization’.
Your Excellency, the preservation of the identity of Nde Owerri is of paramount importance and it is sacrosanct. We shall resist this wanton destruction of the indigenes homesteads of Owerri with the very last drop of the blood of our youths, men and women.
The international Owerri modern market (known as SOMACHI)
In anticipation of the need for a much bigger and up to date market to service the old city of Owerri, the idea of Owerri modern market on a space more than five times the size of Ekeukwu Owerri market was conceived and incorporated in the master plan of Owerri by the first civilian Governor of Imo State late Chief Sam Mbakwe. Our Governor, in his usual characteristic way of bastardising the master plan, has given out a portion of the ‘Somachi’ Market Land to shoprite for the building of shopping mall. What becomes of the rest of the land is anybody’s guess. We suspect that the land will be put to improper use.
The Government Trade Centre, Owerri
This is a Technical training institution in the fashion of a trade school located in Old Owerri. A larger portion of the school land has been encroached upon and allocated to favourable individuals to build shops and stores. Who owns these shops and stores built on the school land is best known to the Governor.
Owerri Relief Market
The only other market in the old city of Owerri is the Relief Market which was built during the days of the then Military Governor of Imo State Navy Commodore Amadi Ikwechegh. As the name connotes the market was set up as a stop gap measure following a fire outbreak in Ekeukwu Owerri Market.
It is regrettable that rather than work towards the rebuilding or redesigning of the underutilized Relief Market, the Governor’s focus is on the thriving Ekeukwu Owerri Market just to spite Nde Owerri. It has come to our knowledge that a portion of the public cemetery beside this relief market has been converted into shops. May we ask again who re-allocated this part of the cemetery and who owns these shops?
Compensatory plots at Arugo layout scheme
The Government of Imo State during the regime of Chief Achike Udenwa earmarked an expanse of land within Owerri municipality as compensatory plots to the indigenous people for the expansion of the homesteads, in recognition of the sacrifice of the Owerri people in the provision of lands for various development projects in the State.
This land is known as Arugo layout scheme, the formal release of the layout to the people of Owerri was actualized by Governor Ikedi Ohakim. The indigenes took time to develop a master plan for the land. However our Governor Rochas Okorocha has moved his bulldozers into the layout under construction.
Relocation of Ekeukwu Owerri market (OGWUMABIRI)
This market is our ancestral market and as it is today, the main market in the old Owerri market. The market has been in existence even before the advent of British rule in Nigeria. The expressed intention of the State Governor to relocate the Ekeukwu Owerri Market even to another local Government Area is not acceptable to Nde Owerri and all well meaning people of the state.
We have made uncountable representations to the State Government to stop the planned relocation of the Ekeukwu Owerri Market but all these entreaties seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The Governor’s master stroke of trying to pitch Nde Owerri against one another by balkanizing the kingdom has not helped him as Nde Owerri are united in insisting that Ekeukwu Owerri Market must not be tampered with.
Our mothers have publicly and peacefully demonstrated against the removal of the Ekeukwu Owerri Market, the Owerri leaders of Thought, the Owerri Community Assembly, the Eke- Na Okorie Traditional Council, the Owerri Solidarity Club, Nde-Nwe Owerri, including Elder E.A.C Orji from the USA inter alia, have all written in various newspapers, calling on the State Governor not to remove the Ekeukwu Market (Ogwumabiri). We have said it for the umpteenth time that any attempt to remove, relocate, or remodel the Ekeukwu Owerri Market will definitely herald dire and horrific consequences as it is deemed to be a sacrilege and an abomination.
Ancient and ancestral markets of the caliber of Ekeukwu Owerri Market (Ogwumabiri) are never removed or relocated outside the original site in Africa. ( Oba Market, Benin City, Balogun Market, Lagos, Ochanja Market, Onitsha, Ogbete market in Enugu to mention but a few cannot and have not been relocated) We do not object to the Governor going ahead to develop and build other markets as provided in the master plan of Owerri or even at the site where he thinks our Ekeukwu Owerri market should be relocated to. Such markets if built elsewhere will go a long way to reduce the pressure on Ekeukwu Owerri Market thereby decongesting it. This is our humble advice.
The people of Owerri have long ago attained maturity and are contented, peaceful, and satisfied with their lives and at the same time aspire to be better every day. It is a grievous mistake for any outsider to take these salient qualities of the people of Owerri as weakness.
We have supported Governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha right from the inception of his administration in Imo State and will continue to support him .The Governor has also been admitted into the prestigious Azuwuike Age Grade of Owerri as a gesture of great honour. Our only prayer is for him to leave our ancestral market, homeland and institutions intact and not to destroy long standing cultural heritages and structures that are part of our customs and traditions.
Your Excellency, we thank you greatly and urge you to stand up for us. May God give you long life, good health and peace of mind to continue to lead this great nation.