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How Soludo’s ongoing transformation of Onitsha impacts Nigeria

How Soludo’s ongoing transformation of Onitsha impacts Nigeria
November 18
06:00 2023

If Onitsha – the only gateway between south-eastern and south-western Nigeria – is not transformed into a 21st century mega city, the economy of Nigeria might not be able to reach its full potential. With this in mind, Governor Chukwuma Soludo, the executive governor of Anambra State, is determined to reposition Onitsha.

Despite not living up to its full potential, it is estimated that the annual value of trade in the markets in Onitsha is in excess of $3 billion. Sadly, a large portion of these transactions circulates through unbanked channels.

A couple of years ago, markets in Onitsha were known for their high patronage by merchants from the ECOWAS sub-region including Accra, Abidjan, Douala, Naimey, Cotonou and others. The importers and exporters in Onitsha markets have links with supply chains in Asia, Europe and America. Apart from large markets, Onitsha is reputed to have the highest concentration of manufacturers in Eastern Nigeria with products ranging from paints to pharmaceuticals, and from chemicals to plastics.

Sadly, in the present-day Nigeria, Onitsha has not been able to unleash its full potentials and create the kind of wealth that Nigeria needs.

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But things are about to change. The Soludo-led administration is determined to make Onitsha a center of prosperity and a major commercial nerve center in Nigeria. The current administration is setting the foundation that Onitsha requires to position itself in order to benefit from the 3.4 trillion-dollar single market created by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.

Presently, the Soludo-led administration has addressed basic issues required to kick-start the prosperity of Onitsha. Some of these issues border on solving some man-made flooding problems, addressing issues related to road infrastructure, waste management challenges and eliminating the menace of touts in the city.

On assumption of office, Governor Soludo took on the flooding challenge in Onitsha head-on. A crack team, which was headed by the Deputy Governor of the state, Dr Onyekachi Ibezim, was set-up to clear all the drainage channels and remove all illegal structures on waterways. Despite some initial resistance by people who have built on waterways, major channels taking run-off water to the River Niger have now been opened up in Onitsha. Other urban and physical planning strategies are currently being implemented in order to get rid of flooding in Onitsha.

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On infrastructure, major roads leading to markets and commercial centers are being constructed in Onitsha. These roads include Niger Street, Sokoto Road, Port Harcourt Road, Miss Elems Street, Premier Road, Moore Street-Iweka Road and roads in suburbs such as Okpoko. More roads will be added to this list as the administration executes its agenda for Onitsha.

The case of Okpoko – a suburb slum in Onitsha – is particularly interesting. In 2016, the Guardian Newspaper of London reported that the world’s worst levels of PM10 air pollution was recorded in Okpoko. With works on advanced stages on new roads in Okpoko, the level of air pollution reported by the Guardian of London is expected to reduce drastically. Interestingly, with the rebuilding of some of these slums- which normally serve as hiding places for hoodlums – criminals are being forced to leave the city.

On touts, who have migrated to Onitsha because of its relative wealth, Governor Soludo has declared war on them. Today, the feedback from the activities of the Anambra Special Anti-Touting Squad is encouraging. The activities of touts are being cut down and the governor continues to extend the olive branch to touts who would want to be rehabilitated and trained in the various skill acquisition centers in Anambra State.

With the completion of facility inspections, plans are on top gear for the rehabilitation of Onitsha Water Schemes. All these are geared towards setting the foundation required to build a modern city.

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But there are some grand plans for Onitsha which would be unveiled soon. These plans border on opening up new modes of transportation and new axes of prosperity in Onitsha.

With a land area of 4844 km2, Anambra is the second smallest state in Nigeria in terms of land area. With this limitation in land area and the increasing population of Onitsha, the Soludo-led administration has rightly concluded plans to expand the modes of transportation in the state. Currently, the Canadian-based infrastructure advisory organization, CPCS Transcom Limited, has been engaged to prepare and design a master plan for a rail line network system in the state. The rail lines would run from Onitsha to other major cities in the state. The economic viability analysis and the model this rail investment would be operated with have been firmed up.

The Soludo-led administration also plans to create brand new business and residential districts on the bank of the River Niger in Onitsha. These new districts, which will be created by reclaiming parts of the River Niger, will form the economic hub that would support investment and business in Onitsha. We envisage the skyline of these new districts to be like that of Canary Wharf of London.

This is exactly the way to go in the south east. Think of what would have become of the densely populated Lagos – a state with a land area of 3345 km2 and the smallest state in Nigeria –without the reclamation of new cities on the Atlantic, its flyovers and rail projects.

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Dr Nwankwo is the special adviser to Soludo on special projects.

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Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.

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