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Trading on the Onitsha Bridge head gateway

By Ejike Anyaduba
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But for the platform of engagement which the media avail everyone, certain views will be lost on the public forever. Not that the loss will be regrettable going by the vacuous disposition of a good number of them. No. In hindsight certain views in the public domain are unedifying. They tend to vacuum readers of ideas and leave them more confused.

I must admit to reading only views of select columnists with occasional swing of interest on random thoughts on Anambra. I do so, conscious of being seen as having an incestuous relationship with the State. This is not without reason. In the last couple of years there has been conscious effort by the Peter Obi government to reposition the State. The past violent political eruptions have since petered out. In their wake, a flurry of development activities has sprung up in sectors and sections across the State.

This effort, especially in Onitsha, has however come under attack. Those not on the same page with the government, in its quest to give the town a facelift, seem decided on whipping up primordial sentiments. To these people, condoning the rot at the bridge head is preferred to relocating the messy livestock market to Nkwelle –Ezunaka site. It does not matter to these people what ugly impression the presence of these traders make on visitors to the town, nay the State.

I recall that sometime in 2010, the UN declared Onitsha alongside Morocco, China, Malaysia, and Brazil among the five fastest growing cities in the world. The choice of Onitsha, going by the report, was because of its peculiar significance and attributes. This significance and attributes, I am sure, derives from everything but the squalid markets that dot that town's border with the Midwest.

ThisDay newspaper in its editorial then titled: Onitsha bursting but broken, praised the effort of the Obi government but quickly added that the town still sprawls. It urged the administration to, among other things, expeditiously arrest the disorganization therein. The newspaper noted specifically the incongruent mass of human and material disposition of the Bridge head area.

Governor Peter Obi, who at the outset of his administration brought the town in focus, has since worked hard to enthrone order. Needless to recount here some of the efforts upon which the town has since gained some mileage. But the disorder at the bridge head still blights the effort. The unsightly detritus of organic waste coupled with the presence of vagrants and low life inevitably confers on the area the status of a skid row. It besmears the entire town and constitutes serious threat to environment. With the decay of the portion of federal road, traffic in this area is also frustrating. Though the Obi government, after years of pressuring the federal authority has been able to get it to repair it. Clearly, without relocating the markets, including the livestock sellers, the effort will come in vain. Besides the fact that wastes from the stalls spill over the express, blocking the drains they also suffuse the environment with thick stench.

Unfortunately this effort by the Obi government to correct the ugly development has spawned reactions from marginal elements in the State. Writing in a letter column of Sunday Vanguard newspapers of 17thFebruary, one Cletus Okereke, presumably an anonym, said the planned relocation will have adverse effect on the traders. He thinks it will neither humour the Hausa livestock sellers nor augur well for the existing entente cordiale between the traders and the State. He believes the planned relocation to Nkwelle Ezunaka, after nearly 50 years on the bridge head, “would not only affect their volume of sale but their children who attend schools within and around bridge head market”. Beautifying the gateway, he said, can be achieved “but not at the huge cost to a community that has stationed there as a trading post”. He has an advice for the government. “The market could be made to look better than King's Cross Station London if the government has the wherewithal to make it very glamorous”. Lastly, he asked what the government is doing about Zik's / Borromeo round about which he said has become an eye sore.

Admittedly views on Anambra State have a way of arousing my interest. But my first thought on this was to ignore it, knowing that belabouring it will mean either of two things. Expose the weakness of the arguments and discourage the writer from further mischief or humour his effort and embolden him to do more. Either way, I felt the compelling need to do the former, bearing in mind that, “he who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who perpetrates it”. Apart from the illogicality of trading on gateway of any State, doing so on livestock that excretes wastes is unacceptable. Elsewhere in the country, no State in its eagerness to achieve friendly understanding with others, acquiesces to disorder. And none condones it just because the distasteful development has lasted for too long.

Governor Fashola of Lagos State is today acclaimed as one of the best Governors in Nigeria on grounds of sanitizing Lagos, including, as it were, relocation of traders in the State. For example, Berger motor dealers have been relocated to a portion of land on the Lagos – Badagary expressway. Balogun and Idumota markets hitherto on Lagos Island were long relocated to trade fair complex on the same Badagary expressway. Nobody made any fuss, nobody raised a whimper. Lagos on its part did not, for fear of losing friendly relationship with the traders who are in the main Igbo, refrain from carrying out the act. Some markets which could not be relocated because of space constraints, the traders were asked to get absorbed in any of the markets or go elsewhere to ply their trade. Fashola has since received plaudits rather than condemnation.

It is not known anywhere that the proximity or otherwise of the schools attended by the children of those traders was part of the considerations. Nor was the effect on volume of sale. It won't be surprising if this writer and others of his ilk will be among the first group of people to applaud the transformation going on in Lagos. Retaining the bridge head market, and making it look better than Kings Cross London is a welcome idea but it is doubtful if this writer and others like him will give support. How many of these people who are wont to criticize every effort of the government are willing to abide by their responsibility to the State. Surprisingly the writer appears the only one yet to notice that the reconstruction of the Bridge head – Upper Iweka express way, which necessitated the relocation in the first place, will take care of the Borromeo Roundabout.

If he is blind to recognize the trending pattern of development elsewhere in the country there is no guarantee he will understand what is going on in Onitsha. Or that relocation/demolition is a factor of beautification. Just across the Niger, demolition of trading posts is going on in Asaba just by the bank of the River Niger. Except for this writer, the interest of any State transcends that of an individual

Ejike Anyaduba