In Abia State, change moved from the realm of expectations to a clear-cut state craft. Though it is fashionable and patronizing to resist change, yet it has remained the most enduring dynamics of human existence and social setting.
A philosopher once asserted that “In a sick country, any attempt to cure the disease, is an affront to those who benefit from the sickness”.
Indeed, relocation of the markets situated at the heart of the State capital, Umuahia, had remained a vexed issue. It was therefore a grand demonstration of tough love and test of Governor Theodore Orji’s political will. But it has turned out a flagship of the present administration. Three big markets (Umuahia Main Market, Auto Spare Parts Market and the Industrial Market at the World Bank Housing Estate) in Umuahia had denied the State capital of the usual decorum and tranquility expected from a vintage seat of power. As a matter of fact, the plan to relocate the Umuahia Main Market, popularly called Isi-Gate began in 1935 but successive administrations ‘played safe’ and served out their terms. Yet the nagging questions agitating the people’s minds had been: who would bell the cat? Hitherto, a first time visitor to Umuahia, would probably be greeted with a shabby environment and confused noise, emanating from the Main Market at the heart of the town. The nightmarish and long stretch of traffic gridlock occasioned by the activities in the market was better imagined than experienced. Even the pedestrian bridge built at the Isi-Gate to safeguard the human traffic from the risk of road accidents, was abandoned before it was demolished last year.
Today, people are beginning to reap the gains of the vision of relocating the market. Ubani Ibeku, the new site of the Ultra Modern Market with over 6,000 shops, is a few kilometers from the city centre. By the side of it is a sprawling estate with about five thousand two-bedroom houses, which has already provoked strategic thinking on greater development options in the new area. The new Ubani Ibeku Market has internationalized the business climate of Umuahia and decongested the city from the tantrums and nuisance of the old market. The human face approach adopted and the constructive engagement with the traders made the resettlement less emotionally cumbersome. Governor Orji spared no effort in making the market comfortable for the traders. Provisions are made for basic amenities like adequate water supply, electricity, good and motorable ‘dualized’ roads, well-paved gutters and flood channels, toilet facilities, recreation ground and other necessities like fire station, clinics, banks, schools and security. By way of incentives, government scaled down the initial price tag of the shops, and initiated the payment by installments for a period of for years, to the traders and other perspective buyers from the general public. As a stop-gap measure, Governor Orji procured air-conditioned buses to convey traders to and fro the new ultra market at subsidized rates. The panic-ridden mood that usually trail this kind of exercise was clearly absent as the civil approach employed by the Abia State government in implementation of the market relocation made it less stressful. Traders were not ejected forcefully. Bulldozers were not used to stampede the traders to the new site. Without much bickering, the market was painstakingly relocated.
The other markets – Auto Spare Parts Market and the Industrial Market were also successfully relocated to Ohiya and Ahieke Ndume respectively. These developments have given impetus to economic activities at the suburbs. For sure, this rare political will marked a quantum leap in the age-long vision of making Umuahia a befitting State capital. The sites of the old markets have been re-channeled into other developmental efforts. Already, a state-of-the -art Event Centre is being developed at the site of the old Umuahia Main Market, while a unique estate has sprung at the old site of the Industrial Market. More importantly, the decongested city centre has repositioned the State capital for accelerated inflow of development activities and elicited new thinking and paradigms, to maximize the accruing opportunities. Ultimately, the whole scenario of success has cut out Governor Orji as a cerebral leader who defied bookmakers to break a 78-year-old jinx. This unequivocally stands him out as the chief architect of Abia modernization.
Uche wrote in from Umuahia, Abia State.