By Our reporters
Ibom Plaza is typified by tall trees lined the major entry points into the main bowl. It is arena where people wine and dine under a serene ambience over-looking the major roads with assorted vehicles hooting their horns, while commercial bus conductors holler and beckon on passengers for patronage.
It was designed as a relaxation spot for the general public to re-jig their spirits and ward off their distressful outlook after the hustle and bustle of the day’s challenges, but the popular Ibom Plaza, on the Uyo metropolis, is fast becoming the shadow of its old self.
The beauty of the metropolitan recreational centre is fast fading away as successive administrations failed to sustain the serene and attractive ambience deliberately crafted by the master architect, Obong Victor Attah, the inaugural governor of the state at the return of democracy in 1999.
But the expansive facility at the Uyo city centre, overlooking the Wellington Bassey Way end of the Government House, where governor Udom Emmanuel holds sway, is fast decaying due to neglect by successive administrations after Obong Attah.
During former governor Godswill Akpabio’s era (2007-2015), because of his penchant for populism, he was quick to breathe a momentary kind of life on the arena that borders Aka, Abak, Ikot Ekpene and part of Oron Roads.
“What drew Akpabio to the Ibom plaza was to promote Akwa Ibom son, Samuel Peter, who was then on the verge of taking the state to the global stage in a World Boxing Heavyweight Championship fight.
“That was the major reason why electricity supply was restored to the facility and the big screen television at the centre of the plaza square was replaced to enable people watch Peter humiliate his opponent in his first heavyweight bout, which he won for Akpabio, Akwa Ibom and Nigeria to take the glory.
“Since then, the mega arena has become home to lizards and other reptiles due to neglect, while criminal elements cash in to reduce it to a glorified abode for kidnappers, armed robbers, thugs, mentally deranged men and women, drugs peddlers, comfort women at cheap price as well as teenage children labeled as child witches and abandoned by parents, who alleged that they are the architect of their misfortune,” Comrade Akwaowo Akpanobong, a social affairs commentator told Straightnews.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that petty drugs and other stimulants flow freely among patrons including teenage and adult addicts within the facility.
“We only came here to meet ourselves and relax out after our hard day’s job, but you must be very conscious of your personal safety and security because you can never tell who is armed; a young boy of 14, can confront you with a rifle in the evening hours here and dispossessed you of your personal belongings,” Samuel Odudu, a victim of robbery incident at the Plaza told Straightnews.
Fighting back tears, a lady, 22, with a challenge of wobbled legs, helped by the correspondent Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Akwa Ibom state Council, to secure surgery courtesy through the office of the first lady, Martha Udom Emmanuel, had to run the few minutes distance to the Chapel, after being robbed by hoodlums emerging from the facility.
Narrating her ordeal, the tearful lady, who would not want her name published, said “one of your colleagues who helped me to get assistance for surgery on my legs from the office of the first lady, dropped me at the plaza after we left a bank where we went to get some cash.
“Immediately he dropped me, I was trying to cross over to the other side of the road when three fierce-looking guys accosted me and started labeling allegations on me, that I am a prostitute dating a married man that they are going to report me to the wife of that man.
“They rough handled me and dispossessed me of all the monies I had. I was left with no dime, even to transport myself back home. That is why I had to run here to complain because people were only looking at me and passing as if I am the criminal,” she lamented.
“The plaza that used to be a serene place for even girlfriends, husbands and wives with children, friends and associates to relax, even till the wee hours of the night is fast wearing-off such edifying complexions.
“What you see now are ugly scenarios where even mentally deranged people can openly make love without being disturbed even in broad day light,” Nsikak Idiong, a toll collector from motorists loading by the plaza stated.
He recalled that “it took the soldiers drafted to maintain security around the plaza area and the Uyo city centre in the wake of the EndSARS protest, to disentangle a madman locked in sex romp with another mad colleague on the Ibom plaza circle in February.”
“Only the intervention of soldiers guarding the plaza could save the mad woman from the strangle-hold of the energetic mad man, who was hell bent to free himself from several years of inactivity in conjugal relationship,” he stressed.
The matter, it was learnt, was later reported to the first lady, Mrs. Emmanuel, who is said to have zero tolerance for rape, to arrange a manhunt for the fleeing madman, who was later apprehended and consigned into a rehabilitation centre operated under her pet project-Family Enhancement and Youth Re-orientation Programme (FEYREP).
“The more worrisome problem about the plaza is that a lot of vices happen there from morning till the wee hours of the night under the watchful eyes of the Police.
“Because of the prevalence of crimes within the facility, an emergency Police post was erected there. Regrettably, the bunker serving as the detention facility for criminals has become a distortion point where mini bus and tricycle operators are forced to pay a sizeable part of their hard earned daily earnings to the Police, especially at night, for flimsy offences.
“They would over look incidences of rape, open prostitution by adult and teenagers and constant drug abuse by Indian hemp’s addict, crack cocaine and other high substances,” Mbakara Stephen, a shop owner within the complex stressed.
More worrisome among the vices thriving within the facility, according to Obot Michael, a petty hawker of newspapers around the arena, is the compelling need to address the challenges of underage children driven away by their parents on the pretext that they are possessed with evil spirits truncating the progress and development of their parents.
“The children between the ages of five and 14 have come to make the plaza their permanent abode. They indulge in virtually all sorts of illegalities including drugs, sex-for-cash and other forms of criminalities,” Christiana Okon, a food vendor within the facility explained, adding: “Sometimes, they would come in group and beg for food and I would dish whatever quantity for them for little or no cash.”
She revealed that “some of them would become pregnant, especially the females at the underage level and, after sometime, you won’t see them again,” she added.
Checks revealed that the unfortunate children labeled as “child witches” and popularly called ‘Skolombo’ in the local parlance, used to congregate at a bush camp within the ravine of the University of Uyo (UNIUYO) town campus, Ikpa Road.
But, it was gathered that they were soon to become an endangered species, as cruel men and desperate politicians, according to a senior security officer at UNIUYO, cashed in on their tenderness and lack of security to reduce their ranks in ritual killings.
“They used to congregate in the University land not too far from here down the ravine at night. From there, they would move in droves in the early morning hours to some dumpsites around Ikpa Road here and the mega dumpsite along Uyo Village road, where they scavenge for foods, clothing materials including metals and plastic items for sale,” he added.
Because of neglect, coupled with the inability of government agencies to effectively regulate social activities in the facility, Hausa\Fulani migrants have turned the arena into their abode, where they sneak out to major traffic light points to solicit for alms, Straightnews gathered.
According to informed sources around the plaza community, the Hausa/Fulani, dislodged from some of their major enclaves in the West and part of the Southeast, following consistent herders/farmers clashes, have relocated down the South-South, where they form their colonies in some settlements including the Ibom plaza.
“They (Hausa/Fulani) have formed their colony here within the plaza, where they push all manners of stimulants to willing patrons. Some engaging in shoe mending, polishing and shining, suya and wrapper businesses, while their women would move with kids to major bus stops to solicit for alms in the morning hours,” said Affiong Essien, a mobile phones dealer at the plaza said.
“At a point during the height of governor Emmanuel’s election and re-election periods, the plaza was turned into an arena of the opposition where idle and jobless youths would gathered to discuss newspaper reports and deliberate on the good and bad side of the administration in a heated argument.
“At some point, the jobless youths within the plaza would criticize and jeer at the governor’s convoy each time it snake its way round the Ibom plaza roundabout, heading towards the Ibom International Airport or any official function in the state,” Udousoro Etim, a shop owner at the arena said.
Apparently disturbed by the attitude of the plaza dwellers to his administration, the governor in May 29, 2021 speech marking his administration’s sixth year in office, Emmanuel had described them as “hapless,” a disdainful tag they detested and countered with an open letter, which described the governor’s disposition to them as “irresponsible” act of a leader.
However, the governor at the State Executive Council (SEC) meeting in January, had announced that his administration has earmarked a whopping N50 billion as intervention funds to address infrastructural challenges including the remodeling of the Ibom plaza ‘to meet international standard.’
The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Comrade Ini Ememobong, who underscored the importance of fixing the facility, said Emmanuel has given the Commissioner of Culture and Tourism, Mr. Orman Esin, the marching order to revamp the facility.
“Proposal for the rehabilitation of the complex had since been submitted to the State Executive Council (SEC), and we are waiting for the go ahead for work to begin,” Esin said.
Ahead of the major turn-around maintenance of the facility, Esin, according some local businessmen at the facility, was at the complex few months ago where he interfaced with a cross section of businessmen and women and intimated them of government’s plans to give a major face-lift to the place.
“He (Esin) was here some weeks back. He gathered some of us here and discuss over some bottles of beer and other munchies, and intimated us of government plans to reposition this facility.
“But what we don’t understand is why government is not providing the alternative converging point for us before drafting contractors and their bulldozers in to drive us away,” Ezeukwu Emmanuel, a shop owner within the facility said.
“Government should give sufficient notice to relocate if it can’t provide alternative place for us to move to while the renovation throughout the whole period the renovation work would last,” he added.
“It is not clear whether the state government is committed towards restoring the battered image of the plaza as nothing was heard again after the last inspection visit by the Culture and Tourism Commissioner,” he added.