In the yester years, Port Harcourt was a beauty to behold. There were lush gardens here and there. Good connecting roads with drainages were a common feature. That was why the town earned the name Garden City.
But that has since changed. Today, Port Harcourt is not just a refuge city, it stinks. Every corner of the town is a market place. Traders find it very safe and comfortable to construct kiosks for their businesses.
The medians are not left out. From Rumuomasi to Rumuokoro, from Mile one to Mile 4, traders dot the streets. They convert every available space to a shop. It is either they are roasting corn, or plantain, or they are selling food or fruits.
Of recent, there have been threats by the state government to sanitise the roads and chase the road side traders away. The governor himself, Nyesom Wike has promised to lead the committee that will be on the roads to chase the road side traders.
The state commissioner for information, Emma Okah was quoted to have issued a statement to this effect. In it, he had said that the decision to set up what they call a high powered task force was to demonstrate the irreversible determination of government to rid major roads in the state of the environmental hazards and sanitary embarrassment and nuisance which the activities of illegal traders are inflicting on the state and her people.
The statement quoted the commissioner as saying that “the government notes with sadness the recalcitrance of these street traders who have continuously dared the efforts of government to keep our roads and environment clean. Sadly, they mess up the environment, litter the roads, cause disorder and contribute nothing by way of tax or otherwise to clean their mess.
"As a government, we owe a duty to those we serve to protect the environment, enhance sanitation and promote order in our state. Illegal traders in our major roads are on the wrong side of the law and will face the right music. Consequently, from Thursday 12th April, 2018 the governor of Rivers State will lead members of the Special Task Force, in the first phase of their mandate, to flush illegal traders from the roads and affected streets and restore normalcy. The exercise will be a continuing one until the ugly situation is reversed.
“However, it is necessary to warn that in the course of this exercise, traders caught by the special task force may lose their goods, suffer arrest, face prosecution and possible jail term upon conviction. If this happens the consequences may be unpleasant and unattractive for anyone to test the will of the special task force.”
While we commend the decision of the government to embark on this drive, we are quick to observe that this is not the first time that a government will be threatening to chase road side traders away. The immediate past government of Rotimi Amaechi in which Wike was a key player made so much noise in this regard but at the end of the day, it became a hoax. Perhaps, the government could not live to its threats because of political and other considerations.
Now that political activities ahead of the 2019 elections are gathering momentum, we wonder if the government will not abandon this drive, for fear that the action may work against the re-election ambition of the governor.
The dream of chasing away road side traders is lofty. If it is achieved, Port Harcourt might just gradually be returning to its days of yore, and regain the status of Garden City. For this to happen, the government must be serious and do all it can to make sure that no road side trader is spared.
But in doing that, the government should also make efforts to provide alternative markets for the traders. Good enough, the Rumuokoro market shops have been allocated and activities will hopefully begin there soon. But then, there are a lot more who were not lucky to have spaces allocated to them. For those in this category, we think the government should consider finding alternatives for them.
It is our view that all men of goodwill should indeed support the government to be able to achieve the dream of restoring the state capital to the days when Port Harcourt was the envy of all.