Giving Lokoja a Facelift

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Yekini Jimoh writes that the demolition embarked upon by Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State has been greeted with mixed reactions

Lokoja, the capital of Kogi State, has been inhabited for thousands of years. According to history, the present settlement at Lokoja was established in 1857 by the British explorer, William Baikie, at the site of an earlier model farm constructed during the failed Niger expedition of 1841.

Lokoja was the capital of the British Northern Nigeria Protectorate and it remained a convenient administrative town for the British colonial government after the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914. The first Governor-General, Sir Frederick Lugard, governed Nigeria from Lokoja.

The city’s population has since grown to an estimated 100, 000 inhabitants. It is a trade centre with respect to its agricultural products; this is because it is situated at the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers. Lokoja, the ancient town as far back as the colonial era is bounded by two major rivers in Africa, River Niger and Benue. This is the town where the wife of Lord Lugard, Mrs. Flora Lugard from Mountain Pati gave the country its name- Nigeria (Niger area).

Today, despite the historic records in terms of colonial era, Lokoja, the small state capital bounded by mountains and two great rivers is still far from modern development. The state over the years, has suffered unspeakable neglect in terms of planning and development.

Within the last four years of the past administration, sustained efforts were made to develop the towns in Kogi State.

The place of Lokoja in Nigeria’s history cannot be over emphasised. It is a state where urban development ought to take the centre stage in terms of priority but the reverse is the case.

Cities like Lagos, Kaduna, Calabar and Port Harcourt are cities that have some important history like Lokoja but when compared to Lokoja, one wonders why Lokoja still lags behind in terms of visible development.

But some good is happening under the administration Governor Yahaya Bellow, who has taken the bull by the horns by taking steps to make Lokoja a model state capital. This latest step taken to redefine Lokoja, is not without mixed reactions.

Immediately after Bello’s inauguration as the fourth elected governor of Kogi State, some people alleged that he invited 24 Marabout from Senegal and Chad for spiritual cleansing of Government House popularly called the Lugard House.

The source told THISDAY that as a result of fear and advice by some people that are very close to the Governor, it was suggested that the alleged spiritualists should undertake the cleansing of the Governor’s office and his official residence.Bello is yet to occupy his official residence and his office, as he still operates from the Presidential Lodge called ‘High Ground’ in Government House.

A week after his inauguration as the Governor of the state, Masquerades from Ebira land besieged Lokoja, the state capital. People also perceived this as spiritual cleansing in a traditional way.But some of the custodians of those masquerades who spoke to THISDAY said they were celebrating the victory of Alhaji Yahaya Bello as the Governor of the state even though the state governor was said to have denied ever having knowledge of the masquerades that besieged the state capital.

Recently, resident of Lokoja, woke up only to find that all the roundabouts in Lokoja have been demolished. It was gathered that the state government sent bulldozers during the night to destroy the city’s five major roundabouts. Many residents of Lokoja who drove round the streets on that faithful morning became confused when they could not see the sprawling Lugard Roundabout, situated right in front of the Government House which was the first casualty.

The residents also woke up on Saturday and found that another prominent city landmark, Paparanda Square, had been leveled to ground zero. Another confusion also set in when residents realised that the prominent roundabout called Kogi Circle, which was erected in 1995 to celebrate the creation of Kogi State four years earlier, had also been bulldozed by the Ministry of Works.

Also the roundabout popularly called Welcome to Lokoja” which welcomes people coming into Lokoja from South Western Nigeria was not spared as it was also demolished. The NTA Roundabout was not spared too.

Before the demolition of the roundabouts in Lokoja, rumours had made the rounds that past governors had buried amulets, human parts and other juju items supplied to it by powerful witchdoctors at strategic corners and other places in the town.

A market woman, Hajia Halimat Yusuf told THISDAY that the demolition of the roundabouts by the state government, was a welcomed development as the state capital needs a face lift.

She called on the state governor to install streetlights which she said would make the state capital look beautiful.
Also speaking, a practicing Medical Doctor in one of the private hospitals in Lokoja who preferred anonymity said the action of the governor was an indication that he is ready to work.

According to him, keeping the environment clean by constructing beautiful roads with streetlights and roundabouts will definitely beautify the state capital.

Another prominent member of All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Alhaji Muhammed Attati Bozy. has condemned the action of the governor.

Bozy, who is the State Financial Secretary of APC said what the people of the state need now is development and not demolition of roundabouts.

His words, “this government is complaining of lack of funds and yet the governor ended up demolishing roundabouts in Lokoja, soon he will demolish all government structures”.

Also, Audu/Faleke Political Organisation has condemned in strong terms the demolition of all landmark roundabouts in Lokoja, on the orders of the State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello.
A statement issued on behalf of the group by its Director, Media and Publicity, Hon Duro Meseko, described the demolition exercise as an ill-informed and manifestly directionless effort coming at a time when the state is reeling in the throes of cash crunch and unprecedented socio-economic crisis.
“We are at a loss as to why the governor should take this very precipitate action by waking up one day and ordering the demolition of these roundabouts most of which were colonial and military landmarks on some reportedly outrageous excuse of trying to uproot amulets purported to have been buried in them by some past regimes. Does it mean Kogi is habouring a superstitious Chief Executive whose decision making are tailored towards the dictates of some marabouts?”
The group lamented that since Bello assumed office, “he has been jumping from one error of judgment to the other indicative of an amateur helmsman neither prepared nor equipped for the serious business of governance that Kogi urgently deserves at the moment”.

According to Meseko, had the state governor bothered to consult widely, “he would have been told that his excuse for demolishing the roundabouts in order to give room for the construction of beautiful and more befitting ones fail in the face of sound judgement, because where are the good roads in Lokoja to complement the so-called beautification project? He asked.
“Is the governor going to build fanciful roundabouts in the middle of dirty pothole ridden roads dotting the capital city? Should he not consider building a good road network in Lokoja first before demolishing the roundabouts or better still handle the road project along with the roundabouts simultaneously? What the Governor has done is a sheer case of building a castle on a dunghill”, he stated.
The Audu/Faleke Organisation also accused the governor of sending 20 permanent secretaries and scores of directors in the State Civil Service on compulsory leave.
“In the face of the debilitating cash crunch facing Kogi right now, should our top priority be the construction of roundabouts? When civil servants are owed several months of salaries, youth unemployment at its peak, and even basic social amenities like water even within Lokoja metropolis are not available and so on and so forth. Should roundabouts be our priority now?”

According to Meseko, even if the governor had sought the elderly wisdom of no less a personality than the Maigari( Traditional Head of Lokoja) in whose domain these monuments existed, he would have been advised against the precipitate action of demolishing these monuments designed by the previous administrations to preserve colonial and military relics.
“With the rate at which Governor Yahaya Bello is going, we only hope that one of the colonial legacies left in the state like the Lugard House would not be demolished since we heard on good authority that the governor is bent on demolishing all Prince Abubakar Audu’s legacies. For us, should that be true, then he probably should start demolishing all the roads built by Audu including Kogi State University, Kogi State Polytechnic, numerous Housing Units across the state, hospitals and many others”.
Meseko also said the Audu/Faleke group is not blaming the governor for all these anomalies. “We are not blaming the governor for his serial error of judgments because he was never prepared for this position nor did he sell himself to the electorate to be able to appreciate their temperaments and desires. So his palpable confusion is understandable. Meanwhile, let us pray hard for our dear state. We need it”.
The State Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in Kogi State, Prince Bode Ogunmola also condemned the demolition of the roundabouts.

Addressing newsmen, Ogunmola said the rumour mill has it that the Governor ordered the demolitions on the advice of marabouts who claimed that the roundabouts harbour charms allegedly planted by past governors of the state.

“This voodoo government will certainly beat the imagination of every right thinking person in this country

“We call on the governor to provide more purposeful leadership and leave voodooism to its occultist practitioners. No state can move forward if it’s leaders are held back by ancient unscientific and diabolical practices,” he advised.

Meanwhile in a swift reaction, the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Mr. Edward Onoja while reacting on the demolition of the roundabouts, said the governor took the decision to make the state capital clean.

Onoja who debunk rumour that they demolished the roundabout based on juju scares said it was not true.

He also mentioned that the roundabouts were removed so that they can build another with fountains and flowers.

“By the nodal status of Lokoja as the gateway to the North, East and West, it is supposed to be an attractive state capital in order to meet the expectations of potential tourists

“The administration of Alhaji Yahaya Bello is poised to giving the city a facelift by removing the substandard roundabouts within the city with the intention of replacing them with beautiful ones, befitting of its status.

“This administration will not live with substandard structures that represent our identity as a state,” he said.

On the issue of spiritual cleansing of the official residential quarter of the Governor and his office, he said it was not true that the Governor invited Marabouts from Senegal and Chad to the state.

According to him, the state government is carrying out renovation work in those places as he called on the public to stop carrying rumour that they can not substantiate.