By Ori Martins
The ever boisterous Douglass Road in Owerri is acclaimed as the busiest way in Imo State. Always stuffed with all manner of people, including traders, artisans, motorists and commuters of various kinds, Douglass Road bubbled till midnight.
When the wave of insecurity reared its ugly head more than a year now in the state, Douglass Road has been almost a ghost pathway. The blaring of the horn by bus drivers, the shouting of the roadside traders, the jangling and clattering of wares by artisans, and the noise emanating from the entrapped commuters struggling to escape from the entire chaos have all nearly disappeared.
As it is, Douglass Road is almost completely deserted.
It is not difficult to decipher the reason Douglass Road is now wearing an outlook of a mere street in Owerri. Besides the directive of the Imo State Government through ENTRACO that no commercial activity or business transaction should take place at Douglass Road, it has been confirmed that incessant shootings which have accounted for the deaths of several persons is a major factor why the once busy avenue is now a lull lane.
Hitherto, Douglass used to be a beehive of commercial and general activities that it was said “Douglas does not sleep”, meaning that business is transacted at Douglass no matter the moment or time. Sadly, this is in the past. Insecurity has turned Douglass into a sleepy street. It no longer bubbles.
As it is with Douglass, so it is with all the other roads and streets in Owerri and virtually all the communities in the state. Investigations carried out by Business Hallmark indicated that even towns not yet hit by insecurity are living in the fear of the unknown.
Both the residents and citizens of Imo communities no longer stay outside beyond 7pm. The import here is that night life is dead and buried.
“I can tell you that insecurity has been dealing with Imo State economy most dangerously. On Mondays, people find it difficult to go about their normal businesses because of the sit – at – home order of IPOB. You can count the losses as banks also operate as if they obey the directive.
“As an hotelier, I was aware of the tremendous inflow of guests we used to record from travellers and tourists who thronged into Owerri from neighbouring cities of Aba, Umuahia, Onitsha, Awka and Port Hacourt.
“But today, there is low patronage because those travellers and tourists fear for their lives and so no longer visit Owerri. To that effect, most hotels in Owerri are finding it extremely difficult to cope with the harsh economic conditions of the day”, Emeka Amakaku, a general manager in one of the high profile hotels in Owerri, stated.
The fast food industry is not spared either. Proprietors of fast food joints in Imo have been registering their fears and low flow of customers since insecurity became a concern in Imo. One of them who does not want his name in print said; “My business has been suffering because of insecurity, poor economy and bad road.
“Of the three, the one that hit most is insecurity. Since it does appear as if the perpetrators of the crime called insecurity are after buildings or what I may call public places, people are now afraid of relaxing at food joints like ours because, in their thinking, you never can say which building is the next target.
“In fact, some of my customers have told me that they rush to the markets to buy the materials and then prepare the fish pepper soap or goat dish and relax in their homes to enjoy them. Can you imagine?”
Lamenting on the ills brought about by insecurity in Imo, Ngozi Ejima, a food vendor who operates a night business in Owerri noted that she had never had it so bad in her business life.
“It is very difficult and I must have to be honest with you. In all my business life, it has never been this bad and painful. Yes, the exchange rate is high; we still find a way out of it. Yes, cost of commodities has skyrocketed; we still know how to go about them.
“But the one bringing down everybody is this insecurity thing. I am a night food vendor. I am a student at Imo State University and I come out in the night to do my business. Before now, my customers used to call me on phone to tell me to hurry up – they were waiting for me.
“Some used to book in advance. Others would either send their drivers, kids or maids to spy on me or even come to buy food for them. But now, by 7pm the entire streets in Owerri are completely deserted.
“I am currently doing business at a loss because what I have as customers now are not up to 25 per cent of what I used make in the past. People no longer go out in the night for fear of insecurity”, Ejima pointed out.
In the same line, Paul Ikoh, a Bus operator, submitted that he was into a serious mess as he had not been meeting his daily schedules of the amount of money to be paid to his benefactor who agreed to hand him a bus on a hire purchase basis.
According to him; “As you can see, I am a Bus Imo driver. I am not originally a commercial driver. Really, I am a graduate and I was doing a lucrative business here in Owerri.
“However, there was an obstacle that sent me out of my regular business. But the gist is that I approached an uncle who handed this bus to me with an agreement to be remitting a certain amount of money on daily basis.
“I am meant to complete the payment in one year but I have failed because there are no passengers on the road. Imo people are afraid of coming out because of insecurity. You do not know when or where the next shooting will take place.
“Most Imolites now stay indoors. I am in a deep mess because if I fail to make it again, my benefactor will use force to take bus away from me.”
Even transporters who operate long distances also bitterly complained on the menace of insecurity in the state. One after the other, they hammered home the fact that the activities of kidnappers, bandits, armed robbers and other criminals had seriously affected their otherwise money spinning job of transportation.
They said that since insecurity seemed to be a national challenge, Imo travellers no longer come out en masse as was the case in the past. From their assertions, it was clear that many of them were contemplating laying off some of their drivers and security personnel in order to remain in business.
In fact, few of them no longer operate the normal daily basis movement of heading for other cities from Owerri. They explained that they currently relied more on hire or chartered arrangement rather than the passenger to passenger bookings.
Since the transportations companies are experiencing low business profile due to the high rate of insecurity in Imo State, it goes to say that all other commercial and business activities centred on them are equally severely hit.
For instance, any of the transport firms is clustered by numerous hawkers who sell food, fruits, airtime, sachet water, table water, wears, shoes/slippers, toiletries, newspapers/ magazines and electronics. On daily basis, these traders and artisans find their way to these transportation terminals to market as well as sell their products. But now, these men and women have been counting their losses as it is no longer business as usual!
One of such hawkers whose means of livelihood has been hit by low patronage due to insecurity is Victoria Nwaonyema. She deals on bread at the terminal of one of the popular transportation companies along Egbu Road where most of the operators are located.
She narrated her ordeal emotionally and succinctly thus: “It has not been easy. Things have been very difficult for me and my family. This is because of the poor economic situation in the state occasioned by insecurity ravaging Imo State.
“I am a bread seller and I display my commodities at the periphery of one of the known transport companies here in Egbu, Owerri. When my children are on holidays as they are now they usually assist me. But you cannot see them here because business is low.
“Look at my tables, they are all almost empty. Why? The answer is simple: I have not been selling. It therefore, means that I am going into my business purse for my house’s upkeep.
“If this continues, then I am in trouble because as a widow, I cannot pay my children’s school fees when they go back to school in September. It means I cannot pay my house rent which will be due this November.
“I have not even mentioned the almighty feeding. What of other responsibilities like levies for burials, weddings, child dedications, etc? Indeed, insecurity has been dealing with us in Imo in a most dangerous manner.”
In recent times, Imo State has been a flash point of insecurity as criminals have continued to kill, rob and abduct innocent and harmless citizens at will. It is worst in the Orlu zone where even the house of the governor was torched and several houses razed, people killed and others abducted.
There are also pockets of killing and abduction in the other areas of the state, including Owerri, the capital city.