By Chidi Nkwopara, Owerri
People make history, good or bad. The biblical Pontus Pilate also made history in his own way. Generations will continue to remember him, for being largely responsible for the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.
In Owerri also, two people will stand out for mention, in relation with Ekeukwu Owerri Market. They are Senator Rochas Okorocha and Governor Hope Uzodimma.
While the Okorocha administration will be remembered for destroying the ancestral Ekeukwu Owerri Market, the indigenes of Owerri, will remain eternally grateful to Uzodimma for not only opting to rebuild the market, but has done the groundbreaking ceremony of the reconstruction of the market.
Let’s do a little recap. Okorocha’s threat to destroy the market was palpable. Indeed, he never hid his determination to destroy Ekeukwu.
When the threat became unbearable, representatives of the people approached an Imo State High Court and got an injunction, restraining the state government, its servants, privies etc, from destroying the market.
The order was served on the governor and the Imo State Police Command, headed by Mr Taiwo Lakanu.
This seasoned Commissioner of Police, as he then was, equally made history, as he bluntly refused to send policemen into the market, in full compliance with the court order.
South East Voice recalls that Lakanu was once asked if he would readily spill innocent blood, to ensure that government’s desire to destroy the market was realized and he answered in the negative, stressing that “so long as the Command has been served with the court order, we must respect it religiously.”
Lakanu was true to his word, but this automatically changed when he left Owerri on transfer and Mr. Chris Ezike stepped in.
The plot to destroy the market was renewed and to actualize the dream, Okorocha galvanized his loyalists, including some misguided political red cap chiefs and the security agencies in the state.
Less than 30 minutes after the youths dispersed, the bulldozers and excavators got rumbling and before Owerri youths could regroup, the rampaging machines had entered the market destroying everything on their way.
It was not only that Ekeukwu Owerri market was destroyed, but 10-year old Master Somtochukwu Ibeanusi, an indigene of Anambra State, was shot.
Other people that sustained near life-threatening gunshot wounds were Anthony Kamalu and Chinedu Ehirim from Umuororonjo village. In Amawom village, Leonard Osuji alias Ebube Agu, was shot in his thigh.
Sebastine Oparaku, who did not even come out of his house, was hit by a stray bullet, in his head, right inside his room! With the destruction of the market, all the adjoining streets were instantly transformed into Ekeukwu Owerri market extension.
They include Douglas Road, Old Market Road, Christ Church Road, School Road, Mbaise Road, Royce Road, Oguamanam Street, Njemanze Street, Ekeonunwa Street, Rotobi Street, Edede Street and Uche Street.
All efforts made by Okorocha, including confiscation of innocent traders’ wares and building of supposed alternative markets at Naze and Egbeada, did not save the affected streets from occupation by the stranded traders.
Interestingly, all gubernatorial candidates that contested the 2019 election, promised to rebuild the market for Owerri people. Chief Emeka Ihedioha, within the seven months he served as governor, started preliminary arrangements for the reconstruction.
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Governor Hope Uzodimma successfully did the ground breaking ceremony of the new market, October 19, 2020.
Speaking at the event, the President General of Owerri Community Assembly, OCA, Chief Felix Ngoka, said: “We are short of words to show appreciation for your magnanimity, show of understanding of the plight of my people, who lived for eight years with a Pharaoh that did not know or recognize David.”
In his own speech, the Interim Management Committee Chairman of Owerri Municipal Council, Chief Ambrose Nkwodimmah, described the market as “a major factor in the unity of the five villages of Owere Nchi Ise”.
Continuing, Nkwodimmah said: “The Ekeukwu Owerri market is like the Oba Market in Benin City, Duke Town Market in Calabar and Otu Onitsha. These markets were established to maintain the various traditional institutions of the indigenous and cultural heritages of the people of these native lands.”
For the Commissioner of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Simon Ebegbulem, the infamous demolition of the market plunged many families into an untold hardship and dislocation.
His words: “The restoration of the market will assuage the despair and anger of the people, especially those traders, who lost their wares and their trading capitals in that infamous demolition.
“Today (October 19) marks the restoration of that market, which occupies a strategic part in the history of Owerri indigenes, and of an indelible milestone in the history of the state.
“Today, the Governor is giving back to the people of Imo State, their hearts desire, a brand new ultra modern, 7-Star Market, with the most recent infrastructure of international sustained.”
Addressing the people, Governor Uzodimma promised that the new edifice will have 1,850 retail shops, 340 specialized shops, 625 open stalls, 108 warehouses, two restaurants/minimarts, six cold rooms, two banks, one clinic, 425 multilevel car park and 240 ground parking.
While assuring that the job would be delivered in 18 months, the Governor also said that the market would have a state of the art infrastructure such as close circuit television cameras, fire prevention service facility, 24-hour power supply, well trained night guards and solid concrete internal roads.
Vanguard News Nigeria.
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