Before now, Owerri metropolis which is the capital of Imo State was known for its serenity. It was mostly inhabited by public servants. Then, it was not known for chaotic motor traffic congestion. However, the traffic condition in Owerri today has become a thing of worry. A lot of reasons have been adduced to this. They include increase in commercial activities in Imo State, increase in population and number of vehicles, increase in civilization and urban migration rate, higher quest for tertiary education and high rate of relocation of Ndigbo back home as a result of the country’s security challenges.
Furthermore, most vehicles coming from Lagos, northern part of the country or Onitsha axis to some parts of Imo, Abia, Cross River, Akwa Ibom States etc usually get into Owerri town first before going to their destinations and vice versa. Some of these vehicles also include heavy duty trucks carrying various heavy loads. Another reason for the increased traffic congestion in Owerri are bad roads, wrong parking of vehicles, flooding during raining seasons and the small size of Owerri city. In addition, the city as rightly observed, is not as big as Lagos, Enugu, Ibadan, Port-Harcourt etc. and does not have enough ‘by-passes’ and link roads. Another factor is that one cannot link Old Owerri town with the New Owerri area without crossing the NworieRiver. The river traverses up to eight kilometers across Owerri city. Unfortunately, there are only three bridges for the three adjourning roads across the river at Federal Housing Egbada-Amakohhia Road, Holy Ghost College-Bank Road and West End-Nekede Old Road. Most at times, vehicular pressures mount on the above roads which cause frequent heavy motor traffic congestion. Furthermore, another cause of traffic hold-up in Owerri is that vehicles from other parts of the state and outside the state coming into Owerri city, virtually take off and disembark from and at the heart of the city.
Non-township commercial commuters pick passengers from anywhere they see passengers in the town. They also drop passengers at any point they see. They operate from unapproved motor parks and some of these unapproved parks are on streets and roads meant for vehicles and pedestrians. For example, there are unapproved parks occupying the whole of at Ihugba Street, Rotibi Street, Old Market Road, some parts of Mbaise Road, Douglas Road etc. It is usually a nightmare for both pedestrians and motorists to pass in these areas because these roads and streets have all turned to ‘motor parks’.
In a bid to ease traffic in the city, the Imo State Government recently set up the Imo State Joint Task Force on Decongestion of Traffic in Owerri with the state Commissioner for Special Duties, Transport and Aviation Dr. Iheanyi Nwachukwu as the Chairman. It could be recalled that it has not been long Imo Government gave notices to the public calling for the dismantling of unauthorized motor parks in the state. It also warned against carrying of passengers by non-Owerri metropolitan commercial motorists from unauthorized places in the city. Government was also quoted to have held several meetings with the various unions of commercial vehicle operators so as to abate the near-chaotic traffic condition in the state. Consequently, it directed non-Owerri Metropolitan commercial motorsts to use designated motor parks at Somachi Egbu Road, Akwakuma, Arugo, Naze and Relief Market etc. It also directed that articulated vehicles like heavy duty trucks’ movement into the city be restricted to night hours. However, it was reported that many commercial motorists have refused to comply with these directives.
Consequently, government has started apprehending and prosecuting persons who operate unauthorized parks and commercial motorists who pick and drop passengers from and at unauthorized places in Imo State by the State Joint Task Force on the Decongestion of Owerri at the Imo State Mobile Court sitting in Owerri. Recently, the presiding magistrate of the said Mobile Court fined some of the defaulters pay fines as penalties for breach of traffic rules. Also among those defaulted were persons who operate or abate the operation of unauthorized motor parks in the city.
Traffic rules in Owerri and Imo State have been existing for a very long time now. I remember that in the late eighties and early nineties, we used to board commercial vehicles going to Aba at Naze while that of Port-Harcourt was in Control along Onitsha Road. However, for the fact that some of the existing traffic rules in the state have not been effectively enforced do not amount to their abrogation. It only takes a system that has the will-power to get them enforced.
The nightmare caused by motor traffic in Owerri is becoming like that ofLagos State. Consequently, a lot of valuable manpower is lost everyday as people wait for a long time in long motor cues. Traffic hold-up also impact negatively on the health of commuters and contribute to the rising rate of road accidents.
Recently, Lagos State Government took a drastic step in its effort to ease traffic flow in Lagos with the enactment of a new traffic regulation. Interestingly, Imo State has good traffic regulations and laws. The problem is the enforcement of these laws. Therefore, the ongoing effort by government to decongest traffic flow in Owerri is highly commendable and should not be seen in bad light. We also commend other agencies that are involved in traffic regulation and enjoin them to be more effective. On its own part, the state legislature should review the existing traffic laws applicable in Imo State so as to update them. It is also necessary that vigorous campaigns and enlightenment on traffic regulation be carried out not only by government but individuals and non governmental agencies.
Traffic marshals should also be trained to guide motorists with high sense of responsibility and not to lay ambush for them as is the practice in most cases. However, Motorists who operate in Owerri should comply with traffic rules always and unscrupulous defaulters be made to face the law because the essence of traffic regulation is to ensure safety and ease of traffic flow.
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