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As Anambra deals with illegal structures

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Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano


Quite often development is not appreciated by all, especially where it appears not to affect everybody the same way. Appreciation varies as there are interests, and often provokes a whole gamut of human emotion. But ultimately it commends itself to the greater good.

It is well to remember this fact – no development, however, disruptive it may seem, is not adapted to the general good. It may appear severe at the outset, but in the end its salutary effect is assured. Few examples where development was spurned as punitive, resisted with vehemence but eventually accepted with thankfulness may suffice. What is known today as Lekki phase 1 and 2 in the Lagos Island area of Lagos State – where the rich now retire in a pleasant feeling of tiredness – was a reclaimed slum – a skid row. It was formerly Maroko, the rundown part of the state and a byword for bedlam and decay. But today the story has changed for good. Those who carried out the demolition as well as the resisters of the exercise can now look back with a feeling of smugness over a good effort. It took decisive effort from the government at the time to accomplish the task without which the state’s dream of a mega city would have come in vain and a good idea lost forever. Maroko was almost a detritus of environmental waste frequented by all manner of people, including those not bred to any manner of trade. Its reclamation was therefore very important to the state and she spared no effort to see it through.

There was also Oshodi another sprawling habitation in the state. Whether as a market or a habitation Oshodi did not cop a good image. Before it was reclaimed from its decided slant towards irredeemable slum the place evoked an eerie feeling in commuters and passers-by.

Very few positive stories were told of it. Like Maroko its demolition was frowned at and resisted with vehemence. But today Oshodi is a tourist attraction. Visitors to the state are completely lost on its aesthetic transformation. Hardly does it bear any imprint of the old status. It can be argued that the decision to transform both places (Maroko and Oshodi) was not easy. It was seen as unpopular and resisted accordingly. But because the government was unwavering the idea was pursued with uncommon determination until the objective was achieved.

What happens in Anambra – the removal of illegal structures from the streets – is in no way different. The only difference perhaps is in scope. Whereas Lagos dealt with more expansive areas of habitation and market, Anambra is just slicing off stalls and compartments, obstructing existing structural plan of major streets in the state. She is yet to demolish squalid habitations littered in the cities of Onitsha, Awka and even Nnewi. But even as moderate as the exercise the task has not been easy. It has been met with subtle resistance. As was wont, the presumed victims do not take the exercise kindly. It is seen as punitive but that perhaps is a poor reading of the acts of government, particularly its development plan. But the exercise has doubtless come due, especially with the disruption going on everywhere in the state. Sadly, an allegation of insensitivity is being slapped on the government over the exercise. But that is not tenable for the simple reason that the same government has consistently protected the underclass. Previous efforts bear this out.

At the height of economic recession in the country the government had intervened to cushion the effect of taxation on residents in the state. It also employed workers when states were sacking theirs and pays salaries accordingly. It has offered employment opportunities to many, including people with disabilities and has encouraged them to aspire to positions hitherto denied them. More importantly, it has provided dosshouse for waifs and tramps and built sanatorium for the terminally ill.

It is difficult, if not impossible, for the removal of illegal structures in the state to hang a tag of insensitivity on the government. The latter is not expected to sit on its hands and watch the state continue in the awkward direction. Rather than condemnation, the government should be encouraged in its onerous task of dealing with the disorderliness that has long pervaded the state. Similar effort by the same government had helped to shore up the positive image of the state. The sanity at Upper Iweka/Bridgehead was not achieved in a snap. It came at a cost. Like Oshodi, it was once a confused bedlam. But it took concerted effort by the government to make it a worthy gateway to the state.

It may be hard for those who bear the brunt of the exercise to appreciate the intentions of the government – its effort to bequeath the state a progressive, healthy and environmental-friendly state. But the responsibility ought to be a collective one and should elicit sacrifice accordingly. Unarguably, the exercise was conceived with the people in mind and caused from the outset of the Willie Obiano administration to follow a decided pattern. Against the rash of comments bandied in quarters, it was conceived for the general good of the state.

Recall that early in the life of the administration, a development board, Awka Capital Territory Development Authority (ACTDA) was set up to cater for the structural needs of the capital city. It was charged among other responsibilities to draw up a capital city that would favourably compete with Dubai, the economic capital of the United Arab Emirate. Without question, it was an enormous task that involved a lot of adjustment on existing structures and application of restraints on emerging new ones.

It is interesting to note that some of the affected structures – those opposed to the Board’s run of duty would have been spared the bulldozers had wisdom prevailed. At least there was ample time to have them relocated to select areas. But that did not happen for obvious reasons. There were those who assumed the Board will suffer a sting in the tail. There were also others who would never anticipate a storm when the sea is calm. Notwithstanding, it is believed that the desire to make Anambra the number state in Nigeria has a greater attraction for the people and will encourage them to sacrifice for the state.
Anyaduba wrote from Abatete.


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Willie Obiano
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