Governor Charles Soludo of Anambra State, from the outset had set his sight on the development of Okpoko Community and similar slums in cities in the state. So, it did not come as a surprise to many when the governor chose Okpoko community for his first official working visit as the governor of Anambra state. This gesture elicited great jubilation for the people of Okpoko which seemingly had been abandoned over the years. The governor gave firm promises of succour and assurance to turn around the community to become socially and economically viable.
Considering that the government is desirous of redesigning its urban cities to give them the needed facelift, the Okpoko project may come with a steep price or sacrifice by the residents bearing in mind that there are hundreds of shanties and illegal structures scattered indiscriminately across Okpoko with some built on drainage lines while most houses had no approval plan by the Anambra State Urban Development Board. Okpoko community also has the highest concentration of illegal motor parks and markets as well as roads done locally according to the interests and stipulation of residents, many of which may have to go. Some of these markets are located along the highway, and had claimed hundreds of lives. Others are sited on government lands without approval, while about 30 percent of the community lands are active slums.
To begin the project implementation, the government embarked on an elaborate cleanup exercise. Against this backdrop governor Soludo has marked over 600 buildings, shanties and illegal structures for demolition just for a start. He has also through the State local radio station announced invitations to the owners of the structures to a crucial townhall meeting that would decide whether the renewal program will be or not be. There is also believed that the ripple effect of the urban renewal programme may temporarily dislodge a large percentage of the residents of the slum. To also compound the problem is the recent statement made by the governor that the state is already indebted to the tune of over N100billion.
Realising the Okpoko Project
Like they say, ‘You can’t make omelette without breaking some eggs’, in much the same way, the Okpoko renewal project, from all indication may not be realised without scars on the part of the residents. However, all hopes are not lost. The Governor in his address to the Okpoko residents reaffirmed his commitment and resolve towards uplifting the standard of living of the people of the community. “Okpoko is my priority concern because it is inhabited by the poor and most vulnerable in Anambra State. This is my reason for coming to the community just a day after my inauguration. “You could recall that on my emergence as governor, I gave you my firm promise that after my inauguration my first port of call would be Okpoko”. St Luwangers Parish, Okpo-ko was the venue for Governor Soludo’s first working visit to the community. The governor, who on his arrival to Okpoko community went on inspection, said his government will change the socio- economic and political narratives in the state, and assured the community of construction of roads and cleaning up of the community and upgrading the living standard in Okpoko. This place by all standard, he noted, “is uninhabitable and construction work will commence in two week’s time.”
Soludo’s Timely Intervention
In his address to the Anambra people, Soludo also said: “One of the amusing retorts I have received since I expressed readiness to set off from Okpoko is, ‘why Okpoko?’ . “There seems to be some sense of self-centred prioritisation from a few who believe there are more pressing issues than heading to Okpoko on a rescue mission. “When you probe further to situate their dissent in context, what you get is that innocent desire in all of us to always ‘begin charity from home’. This may not be totally bad, especially when we all agree where home is or should be. “For me, it is one Anambra, one People, one Agenda. If this be the case, it then follows that the often taken for granted but real assumption that ‘every system is only as strong as its weakest link’ must then apply. “This makes Okpoko a priority for starters and should worry every onye Anambra how a State that prides itself as the light of the nation would keep a deafening silence as Okpoko dies, yet spreading infectious social, economic and environmental malady that leaves Onitsha as a city in self-destructive mode. “Umunnem, ife di na Okpoko; the genius, the unemployed and the criminal. The challenge before us is to decide whether to continue ruing the ugly situation or turn the flipside that will provide us enormous opportunities for the development of our homeland. “Okpoko is the largest Urban slum in Anambra State. Therefore, we have to begin our urban renewal effort from our weakest link. Like my now 16-year old daughter once asked me when she was just 14, ‘it is not enough to wish change or show the will to cause a change. How are you sure, daddy, that the people themselves want to change?’” “Of course, this is not so easy a question to be answered without far-reaching consultation with the people. So far, the people of Okpoko and residents, from Ndikpa to East Niger, are more in a hurry for a change than we can ever be. “That trip I made in 2009 to Okpoko where I was accosted by a little boy, who raced towards me and audaciously demanded, “Soludo nyem ego” still occupies a better part of my memory. That boy, and millions like him, needs much more than money. They need a life,” Soludo stressed.