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Benjamin Franklin said, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, success, have no meaning”. We have also heard that growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together. Failure as well can be as a result of forces working together.

For a city said to founded around 1550 according to history books, development is expected by all standards. Onitsha in Anambra State is distinctive in a number of dimensions. Onitsha became an important trading port for Royal Niger Company in the mid-1850s following the abolition of slavery and with the development of steam engine when Europeans were able to move into the hinterland. By virtue of its still strategic geographic position, the city experienced great suffering during and after the Civil war. Since then satellite towns and slums consequently emerged to accommodate the huge influx of people who came searching for greener pastures.

Today, Onitsha is the textbook example of the perils of urbanisation without planning or public services. Despite being one of the biggest commercial cities of West Africa, the city remains congested from over-concentration of all her huge markets within the old city center and minimal expansion of the pre-colonial and colonial roads infrastructure.

Onitsha was probably the first to embrace western education in the present day South East region of Nigeria and many other places; producing notable people like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik of Africa), Prof. Chike Obi, Justice Phillip Ebosie, Philip ‘the genius’ Emeagwali, Sir Arthur Mbanefo, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), and innumerable others. But the same way city can be indisputably described as a commercial and religious nerve center, it cannot be said to be an educational hub not minding the aforementioned notable personalities because it cannot boast of any tertiary institution of learning. That probably accounts for the lack of proper alignment that might attract development.

Over the years government has not given the city the much needed attention which gave rise to chaotic development devoid of proper planning and made the city almost a lawless enclave. Many dread visiting because of the long list of negative tales about the place. For travellers, the fear of Onitsha is the beginning of wisdom. Many who passed through or had any cause to stop over had negative tales to tell from buying fake or spoilt items to losing bags and other personal belongings.

Ban Ki-moon said recently, “Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth…these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.” The government at the center and the Anambra State government must urgently give genuine attention to this old city as there has been long absence of governance at the Local Government level. Therefore, Onitsha Port should not be functional on paper; port activities should commence to boost economic activities. The State government should go beyond beautifying the entry point from the Niger Bridge to Upper-Iweka and tackle the dilapidated and non-existing basic infrastructure. Environmental issues should and must be taken seriously to move this old city from being a haven of dirt and disorder to a real urban habitat.

“There are no great limits to growth because there are not limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder.”-Ronald Reagan. Certainly, Anambra does not lack human intelligence and deep imagination, so great thoughts and attention should and must be given to Onitsha. Development should come to Onitsha beyond just taming motor parks at Upper-Iweka, siting of new motor parks and beautification of Upper-Iweka flyover. There are a few new buildings here and there in this old city but that does not translate to development as they are even poorly designed without drainage. The city has remained in a poor state celebrating mediocrity as if excellence is only attainable on the moon. The residents have become immune to the chaotic state and seem comfortable with the look of things with a disposition that any change can only be forced down their throats; stoic.

Ado city should not and must not remain behind in terms of development. Urgent attention must be given to the city by government at all levels, as proper planning and provision of basic infrastructure will attract more investment, generate revenue and make the city a better place to live. Development and growth are never by mere chances but the result of forces working together. The forces should work together because Onitsha must not remain the same old city!

Written by Alinnor Arinze.

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