Thursday, 16 October 2014

Open Letter: A Case Against Return Of Criminal Entities At New Onitsha Bridgehead Car Park

Governor Willie Obiano

Ref: INTERSOC/05/10/14/ANSG/NG

His Excellency
Chief Willie Obiano
Executive Governor of Anambra State
Governor’s Lodge, Awka

A Case Against Return Of Criminal Entities At New Bridgehead Car Park & Need For Protection & Maintenance Of Key Public Infrastructures
Your Excellency will recall that conversion of un-tarred portions of the Onitsha-Asaba Dual Carriage Way at Bridgehead into a car park and construction of same endeared Your Excellency to the heart of the people in the area particularly the traders of the Bridgehead Market. The major aim of the noble project was to clear and reclaim the area from the hands of some criminal entities that go with various names including Ukwu-aziza squad or Ogbaru Youth, among others. Another aim was to sanitize the area and make it environment friendly since it is a gateway into Anambra State and Southeast. Part of the aim also was to decongest the area by providing a befitting parking space for traders and others in the area to park their private cars. Before now, private cars litter the area causing congestion and other traffic jams as well as defacing the area, which is a major entrance into the State.

The last aim was to reclaim lost government revenues hitherto in wrong hands by collecting tolls from each parked car as well as provision of public security in the area.

Sadly Your Excellency, these noble aims are in a verge of being reversed, if not reversed already. Few days ago, the traders at the Bridgehead Market received with shock the ‘leasing’ of parts of the completed car park to some militant transporters leading to the return of the dreaded Ukwu-aziza terror motor park brigade. Two portions were leased to “Benin and Asaba route transporters”. The two are in between the government public restroom or toilet before the Niger Bridge. The one before the public toilet is “leased” to “Agbor/Benin route transporters”, while the one after the public toilet is “given” to “Asaba route transporters”. Our last checks as at Wednesday, 15th October, 2014, indicated that the remaining portions where traders park their cars have already been negotiated for similar ”leases”. The one undergoing construction is penciled down for owners and drivers of “heavy trucks” including 911 and Trailer

Already, tents and canopies have been erected in the leased portions and the Ukwu-aziza terror brigade also called “Benin Garage Agbaros”, are back. Smoking of marijuana or Indian hemp is now the order of the day. In recent past, the place was a den for armed robbers and other violent crimes. A number of affluent traders in Bridgehead Market, who were abducted but regained their freedoms after payment of ransom, have traced their ordeal to the activities of the dreaded criminal entities. Traders also suffered sundry extortions in their hands as well as loss of their wares and personal effects in the hands of the referenced criminal gangs.

These explain why the traders of the Market saw Your Excellency’s initial moves as efforts in the right direction culminating in cluster analysis and commendation of Your Excellency’s bold step. But since Monday, 13th of October, 2014 when the news was broken, clusters have rented the air in the Market and its environs, condemning and casting aspersions at Your Excellency over unpopular reversion of the noble efforts leading to restoration of criminal entities and criminal neighborhoods. In the traders’ view, “Akpokuedike has killed us, by bringing back criminals to haunt us and hunt for us and by denying us a space to park our cars for a price (payment of toll to government)”. What angered the traders most was that it was Your Excellency’s Commissioner for Transport (Barr Chuma Mbonu) that is fingered as being behind all this. Traders also feared that very soon the entire area will be converted to shops and other brick structures and made criminal hideouts. Before this unpopular policy reversal, the criminal entities under reference have relocated and adjusted giving traders in the area a sigh of relief.

Protection & Maintenance Of Key Public Infrastructures: It is recalled Your Excellency that our maiden recommendation to Your Excellency on the need to mandate all the 21 LGA chairmen to clear and open all gutters and drainages in their areas in the State prior to coming of the outgoing rainy season paid off leading to smooth movement of water and flood to adjoining rivers and other water bodies. This simply effort of Your Excellency saved a lot of human and material costs for the State. Your Excellency’s acting on our recommendation and effort proper is very commendable. Following from the above Your Excellency, as the rainy season goes on its annual and traditional holiday, the need to mitigate its hazards particularly in the area of failed portions of roads and blocked gutters and drainages has again become inevitable. It is our  recommendation that Your Excellency should direct all the 21 LGA chairmen and their councilors to go round and compile the list of all failed portions of State roads as well as Federal and intercity roads for immediate mitigation or repair; for it is cheaper to maintain than to build.

Your Excellency’s attention is also drawn to the collapse of the right side of “Ulasi Okija Bridge” in Ihiala LGA as well as the erosion menace at Ihembosi/Okija communities in Ihiala LGA leading to cutting off of the right lane of the all-important Onitsha-Owerri Dual Carriage Way. Our reason of drawing Your Excellency’s attention is for Your Excellency to draw the attention of the Federal Government of Nigeria as well as finding a way of effecting palliative measures before substantive solution could be found and applied. It is also our observation that the Contracting firm that reconstructed the Road (CCC Limited) did not comply with the relevant environmental laws such as Environmental Impact Assessment Act of 1992 leading to collapse of that portion less than two years after its completion. Your Excellency should protest this to the Federal Government so as to get the Company back to rework the two failed areas (Okija Bridge and erosion site).

Your Excellency’s attention is also direly needed in Aguata LGA where three major federal roads linking it with its communities are in tatters. The three major roads are Nnobi-Awkaetiti-Igboukwu-Ekwulobia Road, Oba-Nnewi-Okigwe Road and Agulu-Ekwulobia-Uga Road. The terrible state of these roads will create untold hardships for the people of the area particularly this coming Christmas period. It is our call on Your Excellency to draw the attention of relevant federal bodies including the Federal Ministry of Works and its Federal Emergency Road Maintenance Agency to the dire state of the said roads. FERMA body should be gotten to carry out thorough palliative works on the three roads pending when contracts for their proper reconstruction will be awarded.

Protection Of Key Public Infrastructures: There is steady need to protect key government or public infrastructures in the State. For instance, our recent investigation at Onitsha Upper Iweka indicates that a number of street light poles have had their lamps removed or vandalized. There are also similar acts of theft and vandalisation of key public infrastructures in other parts of the State. All the 21 LGA chairmen and their councilors should be tasked with the responsibility of monitoring all government infrastructures across the State. This should be done in collaboration with the officers and personnel of the Nigerian Security & Civil Defense Corps, who are constitutionally empowered to monitor, protect, arrest and prosecute vandals of government facilities.

Road Decongestion & Menace Of Militant Transporters/Street Traders: The incidence of loading and offloading of passengers and wares at center of the roads is on the increase particularly in Onitsha Upper Iweka, Owerri Road, Bridgehead and Nkpor. Heavy trucks also park indiscriminately at the unapproved portions of the roads particularly in Nkpor and Ogidi. Street or road side trading and defacing of environment is still on the increase in the State leading to indiscriminate dumping of refuse inside gutters and unapproved places. Efforts should be intensified to tame it.

Incidence Of Return Culture: Most, if not all the special security checkpoints mounted on Anambra Roads at the instance of Your Excellency particularly those in urban areas are engaged in collection of “returns” from transporters. From Niger Bridgehead to Uga Junction; Upper Iweka to Owerri Road; and Nkpor to Ogidi, etc, the story remains the same. This has hampered government efforts in road decongestion and other road safety and environmental activities as well as detection and control of other criminal activities. All the security personnel ranging from Police, Navy and Army are involved. Our field trips have seen at least five incidents. Civilians are contracted as agents to collect such returns from a taskforce working for the militant transporters. At times, as in Uga Junction, such returns are handed down directly to the Navy squad. In some cases, there are open tolls imposed on KEKE, Okada and commercial buses tagged “Police, Navy or Army Levies”.

Need to Monitor Government Appointees:  Anambra State Government appointees have for decades earned notoriety in engaging in sundry criminal and subversive activities particularly in the area of creation and collection of parallel public revenues in Onitsha, Nnewi and their environs with intent to diverting and pocketing them. These have earned them sarcastic name “Hotel Commissioners”; meaning that the first aim of an average Anambra Government appointee is to build and own a hotel from criminal proceeds. Criminal and subversive activities of these public aides have become triggers of youth violence and militancy, touting and thuggery, extortion and criminalization of public revenue collection, etc. Efforts should be made to tame this. And such government efforts should include digitalization and consolidation of internal revenue generation as well as sacking and prosecution of any public appointee found involved.

Call & Commendation: Beautification works at the Niger Bridgehead and Zik’s Roundabout by Your Excellency are very commendable likewise work at the three pedestrian bridges at Nlkpor and Onitsha. The increase on the pace of work at Upper Iweka/Army Barracks portion of the Onitsha-Enugu Dual Carriage Way is observed and commendable likewise drastic reduction in the incidence of violent crimes of armed robbery and abduction in the State. The IDC Construction Company Limited should be directed as a matter of urgency to repair the failed Uga Junction portion of the Asba-Onitsha Expressway Service Lane and open its blocked water channels for proper flow of water and longevity of the Expressway.

As for the criminalization and touting of the new car park under reference, it is our firm call that the anti people’s policy should be reversed. Your Excellency is called upon to pay an unscheduled visit to the area so as to see things for yourself.  We further demand from Your Excellency immediate and thorough investigation of the said role of the Commissioner for Transport or any other government appointee in the said “leasing” and criminalization of the car park with a view to meting out appropriate sanctions if found culpable. The car park should be fully designated for traders to park their cars in exchange for payment of a token to the Government of Anambra State and it must be fully controlled and managed by the Government of Anambra State. If for any reason a portion is carved out for Asaba or Benin route transporters, it has to be properly barbed wired and be rid of any form of garage touting and brigandage so as to safeguard the traders’ parked cars and attract more patronage. That is to say it has to be fully and solely controlled by the Government.

Yours Faithfully,

For: International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law

Emeka Umeagbalasi, Board Chairman

Uzochukwu Oguejiofor, Esq., Head, Campaign & Publicity Department

Chiugo Onwuatuegwu, Esq., Head, Democracy & Good Governance Program

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