Governor Roachas Okorocha
By Emmanuel Ugwu
The Abia State Government at the weekend hit back at the Imo State Government by banning the Imo Transport Company (ITC), from operating in any part of the state, in what appears to be the commencement of an economic face-off between the two sister states.
Imo State Government had in May ejected the Abia State government-owned Abia Line Network Company (ALNC), from its loading bay in Owerri, which forced the transport company to close shop as there was no alternative location provided by the host government.
But Abia State government finally invoked a tit-for-tat response as the Chief of Staff to the governor, Mr. Cosmas Ndukwe, Sunday announced in a statement that the state government had shut down the loading bays operated by ITC in Aba and Umuahia with effect from July 6.
Ndukwe stated that the closure of ITC was “in response to the continued closure of Abia Line loading bay at Owerri without any recourse to the Abia State government”, adding that passionate appeals made to Imo State government to rescind its decision had fallen on deaf ears.
The statement further stated that security agencies were mandated to impound ITC buses found operating in any part of Abia State, including prosecuting the operator for “engaging in illegal loading bay anywhere in Abia State”.
To ensure total compliance, Abia State government warned landlords against making their properties available to serve as loading bay, saying any landlord found violating the order would lose the Certificate of Occupancy (CoU) of such property.
Abia State government had last Friday issued an ultimatum to its Imo State counterpart, saying it had till July 9, to provide ALNC an alternative loading bay in Owerri or risk the closure of ITC loading bays in the state.
In the ultimatum, which was signed by the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the state Governor, Mr. Ugochukwu Emezue, recalled that Abia people have been facing harrowing experience travelling from Owerri to Umuahia, since ALNC was shut down in May, hence the need for Imo State to rescind its decision and restore the operations of Abia Line.
However, Abia State government did not wait for the ultimatum to expire before clamping down on ITC.
THISDAY reliably gathered from a Government House source that there was no positive signal from the Imo State government, despite the fact that Abia Line had been out of business in Imo State since May, hence the state government had to back its words with action “to drive home its point”.
The General Manager of ALNC, Mr. Ugochkwu Uwaeke, had complained about the problems faced by the transport company in Imo State, when he told journalists in Umuahia, that Abia Line had been grounded in Owerri since May on the orders of Imo State government.
He claimed that Governor Roachas Okorocha had visited the loading bay of ALNC along Wetheral Road and ordered the transport company to close shop under the guise that he was restoring the aesthetic beauty of Owerri.
However, Uwaeke alleged that the political undertone behind the action of the state government became clear when other transport companies operating on the same Wetheral Road were allowed to be doing business.
He lamented that after ejecting ALNC from its operational base, the state government refused to provide alternative loading bay for the company, despite the formal request sent to the governor to provide company with a conducive place to do its business, which was ignored.
“Agents of the same government have frustrated every effort made by the company secure another loading bay within the Imo State capital.
“In Imo State, we (Abia Line) don’t have a single place to operate our business,” Uwaeke said, adding that Okorocha “should remember that Imo and Abia States are brothers. Abia State was carved from Imo State in 1991 and in asset sharing Abia Line got 40 per cent of the vehicles in the fleet of Imo Transport Company (ITC).
Uwaeke insisted that the closure of ALNC operations in the state was unwarranted as the company had never defaulted in fulfilling its levies on tax and environmental obligations to both Owerri Municipal Council and state government.
But in a swift reaction, Imo State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Chinedu Offor, denied that the action of the government was political, saying the directive did not affect Abia Line alone.
Offor said the sacking of ANLC was in lieu with Okorocha’s agenda of recovering the master plan of Owerri, which according to him, had been distorted.
“It is not a big issue; if he (Uwaeke) has any issue we will address it, he should do the right thing,” Offor, adding, “Imo and Abia are brothers but he should be warned to desist from making careless statements.”