(Onitsha Nigeria, 9th September 2012) -The leaderships of International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law-Intersociety, Movement for Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra-MASSOB, Civil Liberties Organization-CLO, Human Rights Club of LRRDC-HRC and Human Rights Development International-HRDI in Anambra State and the Southeast Nigeria are alarmed and worried over the slowest pace of the reconstruction work at the newly renamed Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu Gateway at the Onitsha Niger Bridgehead. Apart from near- abandonment of work at the site, the sacred Gateway, adorned with the statue of Revered and Great Ikemba-Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, has practically been taken over by a bunch of criminals masquerading as government traffic control agents and revenue collectors. Others who constitute nuisance and pollute the sacred place are extortionist police personnel from Onitsha Area Command, Onitsha Central Police Station and Fegge Police Station; hawkers, Motor Park touts, thieves and those trading in the area. In other words, the statue of Revered and Great Ikemba is erected and abandoned in a filthy environment and den of criminals, a sort of Sodom & Gomorrah, where anything goes. Unlike the Wailing Wall in the State of Israel, which hosts Heaven and atonement-seeking wailers, the Great Ikemba’s statue has after August 30, 2012, when it was unveiled by President Goodluck Jonathan, received and continued to receive scores of wailers, psychologically and morally disturbed by its abandonment and disrespect by the construction firm, CCC Nig. Ltd., the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Government of Anambra State.
It is recalled that the Government of Anambra State under Mr. Peter Gregory Obi recently declared publicly that it has obtained an authority from the Federal Government of Nigeria, which holds the Onitsha-Enugu Dual Carriage Way in trust for Nigerians, to reconstruct at a speedy pace the Niger Bridgehead to Amansea portion of the Dual Carriage Way, in addition to its expansion into a 10-lane drive/gateway renamed Ojukwu Gateway, which stretches from the Niger Bridgehead to Lagos Park at Upper Iweka. But the pace of work at the Niger Bridgehead site is at the lowest and provocative pace. The disturbing situation is compounded by the poor and condemnable way and manner the Government of Anambra State handles the clearing and relocation of traders and transporters occupying the hitherto two unused service lanes, from which the 10-lane space will be carved out. The occupiers of the said lanes have over the years polluted the entrance into the State from western and northern parts of Nigeria and successfully warded off government’s efforts to relocate them through acts of bribery and whipping up of ethno-religious sentiments.
We have prior to President Goodluck Jonathan’s visit to Anambra State, sent our field investigators to the Niger Bridgehead so as to investigate reported activities of government and individual criminals, which came to us in torrents. Part of our findings was the Intersociety’s letter to the Government of Anambra State over the criminal activities of its traffic control agency- ASTA. The letter was dated 23rd August, 2012. Apart from the criminal activities of the ASTA operatives, which remain untamed and include unofficial collection of sundry revenues for their supervising commissioners and other revenue merchants from Anambra and Delta States, police personnel from the Onitsha Area Commander, Mr. B.S. Wordu; the Fegge Divisional Police Officer, Mr. Roland Omotoje; and the Onitsha Central Police Divisional Officer, Mr. Yusuf Abdul are routinely seen hiding under the Niger Bridgehead, mounting illegal roadblocks, harassing and extorting private and commercial motorists as well as arresting those who refused to be extorted and intimidated. This is in spite of the IGP’s total ban on mounting of unapproved police roadblocks across the country. There are also a motley of other criminal revenue agents clutching sticks, planks, nails, metals and double edged knives parading thro and fro the said Great Ojukwu Gateway and unleashing terror on members of the public particularly the innocent visitors to the State. There are touts wearing the IGR aprons belonging to the Government of Anambra State, as well as commercial vehicle loaders, who constitute public nuisance with impunity along the sacred place. The worst of it all is that the Great Ikemba’s statue is now a dumping and resting spot for hawkers.
tally, the Great Ojukwu Gateway is also nothing to write home about. It is the worst environmentally abused and degraded spot in Anambra State. Apart from kiosks and shanties dotting the sacred place, traders, transporters and goat sellers pollute the place with utter alacrity, no thanks to the slowest pace of the road reconstruction work at the site and manifest weakness of the Government of Anambra State to strictly but humanely enforce extant environmental and space management laws/regulations. The Anambra State Government’s hit and run approach towards clearing the sacred place of shanties and kiosks as well as relocation and rehabilitation of the affected traders have worsened the already polluted environment and emboldened the said traders to re-erect such shanties and kiosks and re-occupy the places already cleared in a twinkle of an eye, on the justifiable excuse that Government is witch-hunting them unnecessarily because it is not ready to build the 10 lanes warranting their evacuation. Some top government officials particularly the officials of the Federal Ministry of Works- office of the Federal Controller of Works, have been accused by the traders, transporters and goat sellers in the area of demanding and receiving bribes to delay or discontinue the clearing/relocation exercise. For instance, some top officials from the Federal Works Control office in Asaba, who are in-charge of the Dual Carriage Way and other federal roads in Anambra State, were accused of receiving bribes from the said traders recently, after which they hurriedly approved the relocation and erection of electric poles at the middle of the Onitsha South LGA portion of the Dual Carriage Way’s service lane, instead of erecting them at the tail end. The hurried exercise was promptly stopped by some top officials of the Government of Anambra State when the information reportedly got to the Governor.
Further, when our investigators went back to the site at the Niger Bridgehead on Friday, 7th and Saturday, 8th day of September 2012, the Ojukwu Gateway was still in a sorry state. At the Onitsha South LGA’s portion under the Bridge, we saw three illegal police roadblocks and extortion points mounted by police personnel sent by the Onitsha Area Commander, Mr. B.S. Wordu; the DPO of the CPS, Onitsha, Mr. Yusuf Abdul; and the DPO of the Fegge Police Station, Mr. Roland Omotoje. At the Ogbaru LGA portion under the Bridge, we saw the operatives of ASTA and other touts working for the Anambra State Commissioners for Transport and Special Duties, harassing, intimidating, extorting, arresting and impounding commercial and private vehicles and motorcycles and their operators in the guise of collecting sundry revenues including Okada riders’ permit and motor emblems. At the Ojukwu Statue, we saw some hawkers dumping their wares and resting on top of its marbled staircase, while others hanged around it in utter disrespectful manner. We also witnessed the slowest pace of the reconstruction work in progress, with two worn-out caterpillar bulldozers and two ancient soil excavators stationed, out of which only one was in use. We saw transporters blocking the entire service lanes they asked to leave; shanties and kiosks were seen being rebuilt; water tanks were seen dotting the entire place; women petty traders, who initially relocated to a nearby empty spot, were seen re-occupying their former place in full force; and goat/ onion sellers and other traders were seen re-occupying their former places in the area. The criminal and other environmentally unfriendly activities of the IGR operatives, Motor Park touts, commercial drivers, etc were menacingly in full glare when we visited the sacred Ojukwu Gateway on the said date. The operatives of the Federal Road Safety Corps were also seen causing artificial logjam and extorting money from motorists.
While the erection of the Ojukwu’s statue at the prime entrance into the Southeast Nigeria and renaming of the entire area of the Niger Bridgehead to Lagos Park at Onitsha Upper Iweka after him, is very commendable on the part of the Federal Government and the Government of Abnambra State, it is utterly abominable and amounts to grave crime against the Ikemba, people of the Southeast Nigeria and Nigerians as a whole to erect his statue and name in a Sodom & Gomorrah. For records, the likes of the Ojukwu the Great in modern history are Mao Zedong of China, Shan Kai-shek of the Country of Taiwan, Vladimir Lenin of former USSR/Russia, and Fidel Castro of Cuba, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, Martin Ruther King Junior of USA to name but few. In places where their tombs and statues are situated, they are kept clean and sacred at all times. They also pump hundreds of millions of dollars yearly into their countries’ coffers from annual pilgrimages. They are idolized; worshipped and made freedom squares with immunity for free speeches.
Therefore, while condemning the present eyesore status of the Ojukwu Gateway, we call on the Government of Anambra State to as a matter of uttermost urgency and importance, address the problems enumerated above or remove the Ikemba’s statue from the site and return the area renamed to the status quo ante bellum if the State Government lacks the capacity of competence and urgency. Any project in Ikemba’s name and honor should defy any form of delay including excuses of rainy season. Besides, the mobilization stage of road reconstruction involving clearing of unwanted soil/sand, removal of obstruction objects such as shanties, kiosks and bricks, and construction/reconstruction of drainages, usually done at the heat of rainy season, have not been done and completed in this respect, not to talk of the reconstruction proper. From our detailed findings, the Government of Anambra State should swiftly ask for the immediate removal of the Federal Controller of Works for Anambra State as well as the site manager of the firm handling the reconstruction work; the CCC Nig. Ltd., Eng. Chamy. Our joint call for their immediate removal is premised on suspected conflict of interest, sabotage, selfishness and corruption.
If funds are responsible for putting the work at the lowest pace, the Government of Anambra State should provide enough funds immediately and seek for refund from the Federal Government later; if security is the problem, the State Security Council should post adequate security personnel to the site to be aided with human rights kits; if relocation of those trading and transporting in the area is the problem, the State Government should fully, forcefully but humanely carry out the relocation exercise and ensure that such exercise is environmentally and commercially friendly; and if the construction firm is the problem, the State Government should issue an ultimatum to the firm and in consultation with the President, revoke the contract and reward it to a more competent firm in the event of continuing slowest pace.
We further call on the Government of Anambra State to clear the entire Niger Bridgehead-Ojukwu Gateway of hoodlums including motley of government revenue agents, both fake and authentic. As a matter of fact, the ASTA office under the Bridge should be closed down permanently and the entire place ridden of thuggish IGR agents, Motor Park touts, Okada and vehicle riders/drivers’ permits and emblems’ revenue collectors, etc. The Ojukwu Gateway should be adorned with a befitting roundabout and a recreation facility. It should also be magnificently flowered, lightened and kept clean at all times. It should as well be declared a freedom square for free speeches with immunity from arrest and trial. The sanitization exercise should be extended to Lagos and Aba Parks at Onitsha Upper Iweka where fake and serving police personnel from Okpoko Police Station in Ogbaru LGA, who usually go in mufti, as well as touts and criminals are causing havoc by terrorizing the innocent passers-by on daily basis with impunity. The despicable attitude of the iron traders at Uga Junction/Atani Road, who heap tons of rods on the edges of the newly constructed gutters of the Atani-Ogwuikpere Federal Road, built by the present Government of Anambra State, should also be checkmated as a matter of uttermost immediacy.
On the issue of police brigandage, we call on the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ballah Nasarrawa to ensure that no illegal roadblocks and extortionist activities are carried out anymore by police personnel working under the trio of the Onitsha AC, the DPO of the Onitsha CPS and the DPO of the Fegge Police Station. We also call on the CP to declare the DPO of the Fegge Police Station, Mr. Roland Omotoje a disaster and unfit to continue to serve in Anambra State. The reported criminal activities of the DPO including mass arrest and serial extortion of the Okada operators in Fegge usually from 6.30pm, has risen to an apogee. Those who refused to pay huge bribes or could not afford them are ordered by the DPO to be charged to magistrate court with spurious felonious charges, from where they are dumped in awaiting trial prison custody.
If Ojukwu Gateway & Statue continue to wear an eyesore and a disrespectful look in weeks to come, we shall have no other option than to remove the sacred statue and detach the name from the area renamed-MASSOB leadership threatens today.
Comrade Emeka Umeagbalasi
Chairman, Board of Trustees, Intersociety Nigeria
Comrade Aloysius Attah
Chairman, CLO, Anambra State Branch
Comrade Uchenna Mmadu
National Director of Information, MASSOB, Occupied Territory of Biafra
Comrade Samuel Njoku
Coordinator, HRC of LRRDC, Anambra State Branch
Comrade Peter Onyegiri
Zonal Coordinator, HRDI, Southeast Nigeria