A crowd of anxious Onitsha residents thronged the Upper Iweka venue to welcome their new governor. They have come to behold, and possibly assess, the man who will manage their affairs for the next couple of years. Up till the time of the visit, Onitsha was seen as a city with palpable sense of brokenness. Scarcely was anything positive written about it. Thisday newspaper once called it “bursting and broken” when it profiled the town sometimes in 2010. Onitsha was then named alongside Morocco, China, Malaysia and Brazil as the five fastest growing cities in the world by the UN. The paper frowned at the confused mass in which people and material moved, especially around Upper Iweka /Bridge Head area.
It is not clear when Onitsha copped the not-so-impressive image. But suffice it to say that it did not do so overnight. It was a gradual slide that matured with the city’s attainment as the emporium of West Africa as well as a portal to states of the South-East and South-South zones. The new status inevitably exposed it to unusual cosmopolitanism. People of all vocational hues, including vagrants and criminals, surged towards the town as would insects to nectar. In time a medley of interests manifested in a rat race that derailed the lofty ideals of the emerging commercial hub. Efforts by successive governments to nip off the negative interests were met with stiff resistance. Unyielding, government applied a lot of measures, some unorthodox (like the Bakassi solution), to no avail. All seemed to fly in the face of the tidal surge of criminal activities. Perhaps they were not proactive enough to pull the plug. All too often, they were reactions to actions of the criminals already entrenched in battlement.
Evolving almost at the same time as these negative interests were other marginal crimes like extortion, intimidation et al. The usurpation of government responsibilities by selfish individuals became a daily occurrence. A cult of “powerful” individuals appropriated for themselves revenue windows of the state.
It got to a point where a former governor of the state had to personally intervene to stop what was seen, but rarely addressed by its name, as a parallel government in the state. He had to exert the full weight of his office to knock into line the erring miscreants. The story was that the cheeky leadership of the then Road Transport Workers in the town defied the governor’s order to lawful behavior. Impudently, the leadership asked the governor to stay away from the activities of the Union. The governor was reminded that others before him abided by the principles of non-interference. He was warned of a possible backlash if he failed to curtail his meddlesomeness. Riled by such impertinence, the governor decided to march against the Union and had the behemoth caged. But not before impunity of other rascals had already dotted the entire landscape.
Revenue generation by government was steadily growing thin. Street urchins effectively converted pockets of business areas to personal fiefdoms and used returns on revenue to sponsor disorderliness and stoke the fire of crime in the town.
Sadly enough the areas badly affected by this unusual development were places visitors to the town often frequented for business like Upper Iweka/ Bridge Head and Main Market through Fegge. While visits to residential areas of the town with better structural layout and sane disposition were few and far between. Tourist centers with excellent eateries and joints where visitors could gorge on culinary delight easily faded into forgettable blur. People, except perhaps residents of the town, soon grew weary of Onitsha.
At a time, even residents could no longer endure the overbearing attitude of touts and criminals in the town hence a good number of them relocated to Asaba and adjoining towns.
It was at this point that Governor Obiano visited Onitsha. The story of that visit has since been written in glowing expletives. The achievements of the governor’s security outfit Operation Kpochapu are daily reported within and outside the state. One unrepentant critic of the erstwhile parlous state of affair in the town who resides in Asaba once said that if securing Onitsha, nay Anambra state, was all the new government achieved, it would have done well.
The new lease of life in Onitsha is clearly evident in the air of sanity that pervades the entire landscape. Upper Iweka for example has been shorn of the confused mass of criminal elements.
Echoing the same view, Chimamanda Adichie, the brainiac writer, told a story of how somebody lost his telephone set at Upper Iweka only to pick it days after.
It is obvious that Upper Iweka and indeed Onitsha has been rid of criminal elements. The proactive engagement of criminals by Obiano’s Operation Kpochapu has greatly curtailed the menace of criminals in the town. The bogey that was Upper Iweka has been cleared of the undesirables. The inglorious skid row has been sanitized and made to reflect decency. So far there has been little or no incident of criminal breach of security in Onitsha in the last six months. More than that, residents of the town who hitherto relocated to adjoining towns have since returned. It can be said without equivocation that criminal activities in the state have been reduced drastically.
Today Anambra is at peace.
Ndi Anambra who could not move freely, or did so with security detail or incognito, have been going about their normal businesses unmolested.
There is no doubt the people’s nightmare has ended. The governor’s proactive engagement has routed criminal elements and chased them away from the state. Those who could not abide by the new order and or recidivists have been taken and are now cooling their heels in various pens in the state.
There is little fear that the tempo will be sustained going by efforts by the government to expand employment opportunities for unemployed youths in the state.
The wax of insecurity long defying the melting pots of successive governments in the state has dissolved under the fire of Obiano’s proactive engagement.
•Anyaduba writes from Abatete