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Over the last few weeks, the government of Anambra State, ably led by Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, has undertaken what appears to be a very daunting task. A task force empowered by the state government has been going about carrying out a series of demolitions in several cities in the state.
A fortnight ago, a building within the premises of the church of a popular controversial preacher and the General Overseer, Mountain of Holy Ghost Intervention Deliverance Ministry, Onitsha, Anambra State, Pastor Chukwuemeka Ohanaemere, popularly known as Odumeje, was demolished amidst attempts by the pastor to stop the demolition from happening. That demolition raised quite a lot of dust and it is pertinent we point out some issues.
The truth remains that effecting long-lasting changes in any clime is not something that can be ever achieved without sacrifices and pains. It is true that development experts and policymakers have traditionally held contrasting ideas, perspectives, and methodologies when it comes to disruption targeted at ushering in long-lasting changes. Governor Soludo clearly understands that effecting these changes will cause Ndi Anambra some pain.
On assumption of office on the 17th of March, 2023, Prof. Soludo made it quite clear that he was going to be embarking on some disruptions that could even involve ‘stepping on toes’. In his quest to remodel several cities in Anambra such as Onitsha, Nnewi, and Awka to make them reflect what they should really be. The former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), is not unaware of the economic, aesthetic, and leisure importance of the commercial cities that sit elegantly on the eastern bank of the Niger River. For example, for many decades, Onitsha has slowly descended from an ancient beauty to a city in wreck and squalor, petty criminal activities, squalidness, horrible development plan, avoidable traffic logjams, and whenever it rains, it’s even worse because the entire city becomes a mess.
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Prior to the 6th of November, 2021 election that brought the governor into office, he had during every of his outings and campaigns pledged that his first official outing as a governor would be to visit Okpoko, a popular subordinate town on the bank of the Niger River, North of Onitsha, but under a different local government. For years, Okpoko had worn an unroyal image of filth, drugs, and crimes. The sprawling community, with a population of less than half a million people, once rated as one of the largest slums in Sub-Saharan Africa, was a forgotten child in penury and pain. Then on the 18th of March, 2022, less than twenty-four hours after his administration was inaugurated, Governor Soludo left for Okpoko. Standing on a mountain of waste dumps, the governor addressed the people and announced that Okpoko would be transformed. The next day, dredging of the Sakamori, an artificial water containment basin that collects water flowing from Onitsha and environs and leads it into the River Niger commenced.
The Sakamori had been filled with wastes that prevented it from holding water, with the resultant effect, flooding and growing wrecks. The dredging of the Sakamori was followed by the clearing of decade-long dumped wastes in Okpoko and the marking of illegal structures in the area for demolition. It was the same for other key areas in Onitsha. Governor Soludo later followed up on his plans by inviting Onitsha landlords to a crunch meeting. Addressing them, the governor laid emphasis on the dying image of the once-revered city, and his determination to get it working again. But, he insisted, that everyone must put in something. Toes would be stepped on. The fact is that there is no index of sincere development that does not wear a revolutionary garment. Yet, the throne of change is reserved only for strong-willed leaders who must do what must be done, within the ambit of reason, to achieve the ultimate goals.
On the demolition of Odumeje’s church, it is important to note that about three months prior to the day it was demolished, the said building was part of the structures marked for demolition having been erected on a drainage in Onitsha. While the three months lasted, Soludo had invited the landlords whose properties were part of the buildings marked for demolition to ’round table’ discussions, interestingly, ‘Prophet’ Odumeje did not honour any of these invitations.
While the assault on Odumeje is condemnable, it is, however, important that we point out that the preacher had no business trying to stop the members of the task force from doing their job on the day of the demolition. He is neither bigger than the state government nor bigger than the law. He is not also bigger than other citizens and inhabitants of the state like him who also experienced the same fate.
For Africa to make progress, institutions of government must be built to be strong enough not to be circumvented by powerful and influential people in the society. In the words of the famous late French soldier and politician, François de Charette; ‘to make an omelette you’ve got to crack a few eggs’, indeed, these eggs must be cracked regardless of who their owners are!
Finally, for Governor Soludo and his government, it is important to find a balance. Yes, it is absolutely necessary to carry out these demolitions, however, it is not also out of place to find a way of compensating those whose source of livelihood had been affected by the demolitions. It will not be right to impoverish the people whose backs have been lacerated by the cumulative effects of bad governance. While these demolitions are being carried out, it is also important that real development is brought to these areas, otherwise, the demolitions will be counter-productive and could be tagged as a mere witch hunt.