One of the first actions of Governor Yahya Bello of Kogi State when he came to power in January 2016 was to demolish the roundabouts in Lokoja, the state capital. It was a controversial move that drew condemnation and rumours that the action was taken to find charms buried in the roundabouts. But two years on, while the reverberations continue, the government has commenced rebuilding the roundabouts. Daily Trust on Sunday reports:
There was shock in Lokoja in February 2016 when residents of the Kogi State capital woke and discovered that most of the roundabouts in the city had been demolished. What was even more shocking was the discovery that these structures were demolished by the then new administration of Governor Bello on the grounds that there were charms buried in the roundabouts.
A few weeks into the life of the administration, it came under severe criticisms for this action as some of the roundabouts were considered landmark structures and monuments that have defined the capital for ages.
Amongst the roundabouts demolished were the famous Paparanda Square, whose existence is said to have dated back to the colonial era.
Also affected were the Lugard Roundabout in front of the Government House, erected in memory of Nigeria’s former Governor-General, Lord Fredrick Lugard, and the popular Kogi Circle, erected to mark the creation of the state in 1995.
Also demolished were the Welcome to Lokoja Roundabout, at the entrance of the city built to welcome visitors from south western Nigeria.
The popular NTA Roundabout and the one adjoining the Government House and the Government Reserved Area (GRA) were also demolished.
The roundabouts around Zone 8 Junction and that of Ganaja Village on the Ajaokuta-Lokoja highway were also not spared.
The demolition exercise, which took place on a weekend, took many residents aback as they resumed work the following Monday morning to discover rubbles of what hitherto used to be the roundabouts.
Criticisms, condemnations trail demolitions
In the wake of the demolition, condemnations and criticisms poured in from various quarters with some describing the exercise as unnecessary and a waste of scarce public funds.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took a swipe at the governor over this act allegedly taken to remove “charms” planted under the roundabouts by past administrations.
The PDP spokesman, Mr Bode Ogunmola, urged the government to focus on providing purposeful leadership for the people instead of decimating energy and resources on things that would not impact the lives of the people.
According to Ogunmola, “The last [first] 30 days (of Bello in office) has been anything but progressive. What we have witnessed is a knee-jerk approach to governance characterised by poor policy formulation, reversals and somersaults”.
Spokesman of the Audu/Faleke Campaign Organisation, Mr Duro Maseko in his reaction then said, “We are at a loss as to why the governor should take this very precipitate action by waking up one day and ordering the demolition of these roundabouts, most of which were colonial and military landmarks on some reportedly outrageous excuse of trying to uproot amulets purported to have been buried in them by some past regimes.”
A resident of Lokoja, Jacob Lalu James, who faulted the demolition exercise, said the government should have focused on addressing pressing challenges, such as payment of workers’ salaries and rehabilitating the Lokoja township roads which he noted were riddled with potholes.
However, Mr John Daniel said he believes the governor had good intention for the exercise, adding that the demolition would enable him rebuild better ones for the people.
He said the state had witnessed many years of underdevelopment under the previous administrations and that the governor needed to start from somewhere in bringing development to the state.
“The present government is a clear departure from the past; the man is trying to bring about development in the state and I pray that God will help him. I also advise him to look into the areas of roads and water”, he said.
Government defends demolition exercise
While the cacophony and controversies that trailed the demolition exercise rage, various government officials came up to speak in defense of the decision and action.
Reacting to the development, the then Special Adviser to Governor Bello on Media and Strategy, but now DG Bureau of Information Services and Grassroots Sensitisation, Mr Abdulmalik Abdulkarim debunked the insinuations that the governor ordered the demolition of the roundabouts on the advice of some marabouts as being alleged.
He said it was done to give room for the construction of modern and better ones in line with Bello’s quest to give Lokoja town an “aura of beautification and aesthetics” befitting of a state capital.
“Everybody has his or her own opinion. When he (Bello) was sworn in on January 27, he didn’t mince words when he declared that Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, looked like a glorified local government council headquarters.
“The roads are bad, heaps of refuse here and there; the roads around the so-called roundabouts are very narrow and untidy, so, when you want to start the beautification of the environment, you have to start from somewhere. So, the idea that he is starting on a wrong note or whatever is subjective,” he said.
He added that the move would also help in reducing traffic congestion in the state capital, pointing out that most of the demolished roundabouts were too large for the roads they were meant to serve.
Also, a statement issued by the then Chief Press Secretary to the governor, but now DG Media and Publicity, Mr Kingsley Fanwo, defended the demolition exercise, saying it was the beginning of a process to make Lokoja more attractive.
“The nodal status of Lokoja as the gateway to the North, East and West is supposed to be an attractive state capital in order to meet the expectations of potential tourists,’’ the statement said.
According to Fanwo, the new administration was poised to give the city a face-lift by removing “substandard roundabouts.”
Equally commenting on the development, the Director, Kogi State Town Planning and Development Board, Mr Akin Ajagbe, said the demolition was carried out on the directive of the governor to correct some anomalies.
According to him, the demolished roundabouts were not only poorly constructed but were obstructions on the road.
Kudos, knocks as new roundabouts spring up two years after
After about two years, new roundabouts are springing up to replace the demolished ones.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that work on the demolished roundabouts commenced in earnest sometimes early January, 2018.
At the moment, a greater number of the roundabouts had been completed while work is ongoing on others.
Those completed include the NTA Roundabout, the Kogi Hotel/GRA Roundabout, the Zone 8 Roundabout, the Ganaja Village Roundabout and the Kogi Circle Roundabout.
Meanwhile, work is currently ongoing at the Paparanda Square Roundabout.
The Lugard House Roundabout directly opposite the Government House’s main gate was not rebuilt but rather made a thoroughfare to the seat of power.
In similar vein, the earlier demolished “Welcome to Lokoja Roundabout” is yet to be rebuilt.
While some residents have commended the government for the effort in rebuilding the demolished roundabouts, others viewed it on the contrary.
A resident of Lokoja, Baba Yusuf said it was gratifying that the state capital could once again have the demolished roundabouts back and better.
On her part, Aisha Abdullahi commended the governor for giving a facelift to the state capital with the redesigned roundabouts coupled with the provision of street lights and improved sanitation.
Another respondent, Umar Mohammed was of the view that the quality of the materials used for the new roundabouts was not as “solid” as the demolished ones.
“To me, the quality of structures they are putting in place are a far cry from the previous ones. You see them using six inches blocks in some of the places. The former ones were made of concrete and that was why it took them long time and cost so much money to demolish them,” he said.
On his part, Yunusa Danladi faulted the decision to fix traffic lights alongside the roundabouts. “I have never seen anywhere you have a roundabout and traffic lights at the same time. The two don’t go; it doesn’t make any sense.
“If it is roundabout, let it be roundabout; if it is traffic lights, let it be traffic lights. You don’t find anywhere these two go together. And that is why you often find commotion at some of these roundabouts.
On why it took the government long to commence rebuilding the roundabouts, Fanwo said, “We had to wait for the designs as well as mobilize funds for the contract as well as ensure the contracts go through due process in line with our financial discipline as a Government. That caused what you people are now referring to as little delay.
“What we are building now is far better than the eyesore we removed a few months ago. Only critics who don’t understand the architectural difference will be making an issue out of it. As I said, it is work in progress. Kogites will be proud of what we will put down for posterity.
Fanwo maintained that the roundabouts were not demolished in search of “charms” as alleged in some quarters saying, “We are running a digital government that is also reengineering the psychology of the Kogi people. We don’t believe in charms. Our reason for removing them was to keep touch with our urban renewal policy of making Lokoja a beautiful capital city. The demolition was necessary in order to replace the old ones with better ones.”