By Justus B. Obekpah
Located on the banks of the River Benue, the historically accommodating North Central Nigerian city of Makurdi does offer, in relative abundance, natural, idyllic and strategic features that should ordinarily make it a pleasant place of abode for its inhabitants. Beyond these critical advantages that the riverine metropolis is imbued with, Benue State in general is endowed with political and intellectual elites whose knowledge, wisdom and hard work, if responsibly and systematically applied, would have by now greatly transformed the squalid and riotous landscape of its backward communities of which the state capital is today a telling example of administrative blight and political truancy at their most egregious and retrogressive.
That Makurdi is now an eyesore is an understatement. It is arguably the world’s dirtiest city. Let’s scrutinize five main areas of concern, namely, sanitation, flooding and lack of adequate drainage, the ‘Okada’ menace, illegal ‘street’ motor parks and illegal street markets and how they negatively impact the citizens and their socio-economic aspirations for better, more fulfilling and decent lives.
The Refuse Conundrum. Mountains upon mountains of decomposing and unsightly refuse litter the entire environment , without exception, including around key landmarks like the Benue State University’s main campus, the Teaching Hospital, the Federal Medical Centre, the Old GRA and Benue Hotel. Major arteries like Gboko Road, Otukpo Road, Abu King Shiluwa Road, Atiku Abubakar Way; entire neighbourhoods like the overcrowded and raucous High Level, Akpehe, Gyado Villa, Idye Nender, shanties around Wurukum and Wadata , all these places are so bushy or decrepit, disorderly and noisy, with stench-infested and debris-filled open gutters (where there are any) perpetually fouling the atmosphere that any talk of decent living there is a mirage. It is as if there is no government in Benue. Refuse management is near-zero or mostly incompetent, with the crazy and dangerous habit these days of residents having to leave their rubbish on street dividers , much of it flying in the wind and thereby making the town roads much dirtier.
Domestic Waste Management. Still on sanitation, domestic waste management leaves much to be desired. A lot of buildings in Makurdi do not have running water and there is no law or requirement compelling owners of houses to install pipe-borne water for household functions, including human waste evacuation. The situation is so bad that even in the highbrow Judges Quarters, one witnesses the unnerving presence of pit latrines. And to further complicate matters, people are busy raising all sorts of animals, pigs included, in residential areas! Again, the Judges Quarters enclave is also home to this kind of unhealthy, though rampant but illegal practice.
Noise Pollution. Another aspect of environmental sanitation that is crucial to the quality of life is that which has to do with the matter of noise pollution and its nefarious consequences. It requires mentioning that Lagos State is today leading the way in fine-tuning legislative and punitive measures regarding this huge problem confronting our society. Whether it is perpetrated by worship centres, commercial entertainment outfits or by ordinary neighbours, noise pollution can be detrimental to health and as such should not be tolerated by citizens.
Rainfall, Flooding and Lack of adequate Drainage
The attitude on the part of the state government to the handling of rainfall and attendant problems like the perennial flooding has been nonchalant, to put it mildly. Compared to the rural areas, it doesn’t rain much in Makurdi, at least not at levels that cannot be sufficiently managed with a drainage infrastructure that is in tune with the ecological realities of the place. Even the periodical flooding occasioned by water released from faraway dams ought to be handled appropriately if the political will were there. The terrible inundation of 2012 that befell much of the state capital and its environs did see the federal government responding in a responsible and adequate manner. Funds were released for the establishment of a proper drainage system around the city as well as the rehabilitation of properties that were damaged by that calamity. Huge amounts of those funds were said to have been embezzled with no consequences to the perpetrators of such brazen criminality. Today, tentativeness and lackadaisical posturing are still the order of the day regarding the government’s treatment of natural disasters and critical environmental issues.
Traffic Chaos and related matters. If there is any traffic policy in place in Makurdi, it has only succeeded in rendering Makurdi roads and neighbourhoods a permanent bedlam of hellish and boisterous, if illegal ‘street’ motor parks, unlicensed riders of tricycles, also known as ‘Keke’, a nightmarish swarm of mostly used, rickety and accident-prone motor bikes (‘Okada’) ridden by mainly hardened urchins and dangerous criminals, many of whom were recruited from the rural areas as peasant thugs to help the PDP’s rigging agenda. Most of these Okada riders are barely literate, are ignorant of traffic regulations, are averse to the latter, bear no legitimate ‘driving’ licences and were unleashed on the society as ‘entrepreneurs’ at the end of the 2019 electoral fiasco. Nowadays, often disheveled in appearance and bad-mannered, the Okada riders are responsible for most traffic accidents. They have become a nuisance and a terrible threat to the safety and security of the society. In the evenings mostly, they reportedly commit robberies and other crimes against passengers and non-passengers alike. It is hardly surprising that where there are progressive governments having political will like in the case of the FCTA and Lagos, both corrective and preventive measures of mass transit commuting, amongst others, have been adopted to tackle the Okada menace. Strategies should also be put in place to encourage the taxi business in especially Makurdi where operators are increasingly complaining of a stiff decline in patronage. In the final analysis, it is a secure transport system and related structures that can, amongst other benefits, sustain a pivotal industry like tourism.
In Makurdi, the unseemly phenomenon of illegal ‘street’ motor parks has a negative ecological and economic impact. The main entrances to the town, from the North and South of the country, are clogged (at approximately the level of the Food Basket roundabout right to the Benue State University and the commercial banks on the Old Otukpo Road ) by chaotic scenes of street motor parks that have developed side by side authorized motor parks and rowdy illegal street markets. This is a case of environmental degradation at its most deplorable. It is an avoidable defacement of what should otherwise be prime advertisements for the city and its dwellers. Distressingly, these illegal motor parks and markets popping up everywhere, like the other illegal economic activities, are a big drain on the economy when one considers the fact that the International Market along Senator George Akume Way is pretty idle or underutilized, thereby depriving the state of much needed internally generated revenue by way of taxes. We have it on good authority that these illegal economic activities are persisting mostly because highly placed individuals in government or close to people in government are unduly benefitting from the extortionist and thieving schemes of crooked so-called tax agents . As a pointer to what can be done differently, next-door Nasarawa State has a law banning illegal and unauthorized street markets. It has recently been enforcing that law in Lafia and other localities.
It is truly heart-wrenching that a government worth that name would allow such maddening tableaux of dissembling barbarity and ugliness to assault our individual and collective sensibilities, all in the name of trading, in such a quotidian and dastardly fashion with seemingly nothing being done to put a stop to the orgies of urban depravity and mayhem. Significantly, in order to get a full grasp of why sustainable development is eluding our urban centres and the state in general, it is important to situate such failure of governance in its proper perspective.
In Makurdi, a sinister and worrying scenario is at play. For some time now, conmen and forces of hedonistic immorality and greed, primitive accumulation and remorseless self-enrichment have been allowed to invade and take over our public spaces. These forces of evil are misguidedly running down both the centre and the state’s periphery without any countervailing influences ready or willing to take up the patriotic challenge of dislodging the heathens. It is an act extreme short sightedness for decent citizens to remain in their relative comfort zones and opt to do nothing.
This is a clarion call. The nation must never allow reprobates of every hue, dangerous thugs and their sponsors inflicted with an agbero-like cum pigsty mentality, not to mention an Augean Stables syndrome, to continue destroying our sense of community through the systematic spoliation of an otherwise habitable cynosure that we should joyously bequeath to our children and grandchildren. As a potent metaphor for the emancipation of other blighted communities like Gboko, Katsina-Ala and Otukpo, the state capital deserves to be salvaged from its anarchical environment of filth, disorder and criminality. Our vision is its transformation into a truly modern city capable of attracting investors, tourists, educationists, students from far and wide, etc. In order to make the capital and other areas of the state conducive to human habitation in our post-modern world, the governments at all levels should be willing and politically savvy enough to be ready to hire or attract the services of forward-looking town planners, managers, developers, environmentalists, architects, businessmen, economists, artistes and artisans alike. In short, there needs to be a conscious effort to move Makurdi away from its current undeserved image as an atrociously dirty city of ubiquitous ghastliness, penury and pandemonium.
Obekpah wrote in from Makurdi