A resident or visitor to Lagos in the 1980s up to mid-1990s would not forget in a hurry, a place known as Oshodi Oke. It was a place where anything happened.
From genuine trading activities, transport beehive to pick pocketing and other criminal activities, until the coming of Governor Babatunde Fashola, the former Governor of the State in 2007.
In Umuahia, Abia State capital is a centre of town known as Ishi Gate, the busiest part of the town where humans and vehicles compete for traffic space. It is also a place which seems to have defied all previous and present government efforts at total reformation.
The name Ishi Gate, according to records from an elder in Ibeku land, dates back to the colonial masters period when Nigerian Railways Corporation was at its peak of activities, when humans and goods were smoothly transported with trains with the present Isi Gate serving as a railway crossing gate.
A long wooden gate which was later changed to iron gate was constructed by the European Railways masters to alert the control of traffic and alert traders of incoming coaches of locomotives.
According to the Ibeku elder, Elder Alex Nwabuisi , there was an old market called Oma Ahia or Ogwumabiri situated at the present area, where trading activities were conducted, either through cash or trade-and- batter.
“It was during this time that the name of the town was wrongly called Umuahia, from white man’s pronunciation of Oma Ahia. Our elders then, the Ibeku elders challenged the error in the naming in the parliament and the name of Ibeku was restored, which is why in Railways headquarters or other colonial edifices, in Umuahia, you still see the signs boldly written ‘Umuahia-Ibeku’ because we are the landlords of the capital city”, he explained.
With this explanation, it is deduced that Ishi Gate market dates back to over 150 years and this could be why it seems to have become an octopus, a cat with nine lives, surviving every attempt to have it removed or decongested.
In April 1994, the then military administrator of Abia State, Col. Ike Nwosu gave an order that part of the railway tracks serving being used as market should be fenced off, to instill order in the city. His administration also engaged the services of some bull dogs that were used to scare traders into moving into the then Umuahia main market.
But these strategies achieved little or no results as the traders vowed to rather risk rabies than vacate the market, reminding the military administrator that it was it was from the market that their daily breads were fetched.
Col Ike Nwosu then started a head crossing popularly known as Ishi Gate fly over, but he was soon transferred to Oyo State and Navy Captain Temi Ejoor who replaced him in Abia, completed the ‘fly over’ to aid smooth traffic.
Ike Nwosu’s removal was celebrated loudly by a good number of Ishi Gate traders and other shop owners, who saw his transfer to Oyo State as a prayer answered. Then came the appointment of late Chief (Barr) Ojo Maduekwe as the Nigeria’s minister of transport by Olusegun Obasanjo, former President.
The minister, after assuming office, endorsed a recommendation by the management of Nigerian Railways Corporation that any house or shop built on 20-meters distance from rail track should be pulled down nationwide.
Implementation of this order in affected many traders at Ishi gate as many goods were destroyed by enforcement team from NRC but that did not deter the traders as they displayed their salvaged goods on the tail tracks instead.
From year to year, administration to administration, Ishi gate continued to grow in size, population, commerce, inter tribal mix, and also, crime. It is a microcosm, a capital-within-capital.
The area which connects the popular Warri street, Abriba, Lagos, Item, Ohafia , Eket , Bonny streets also criss-crosses the Umuwaya , Owerri and Uzuakoli roads with four major churches Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian all having a branch around it.
This in addition to two big mosques existing in Lagos and Eket streets, one patronized by Hausa/Fulani and the one in Lagos street serving as the worship home for Muslims from Yoruba, kogi, Edo, and others non-core North States.
The famous Ama Hausa, in Eket street, which serves as vegetable and fruit market, home, and worship point for northern traders, is also in the same Ishi gate avenue, with Alhaji Yaro Danladi, the Sarakin Hausa, their leader.
Several motor parks also dot the area with popular transport companies having offices, even as all major pool /online betting shops have their headquarters in the axis with some brothels equally operating in full blast.
The oldest newspaper stand also keep the large population abreast of current events, serving as ‘ National Assembly’ for buyers and free readers every morning.
In his efforts to decongest the capital city of Umuahia, former Governor Theodore Orji built Ubani market along Umuahia-Uzuakoli road, and subsequently demolished the former Umuahia main market, and directed traders to relocate to Ubani market.
The then Governor in explaining his reason for relocation of the former market, said it was to restore the neatness of the city and to decongest the city, especially Ishi gate of poor traffic system, occasioned by activities of traders, transporters etc.
Orji further assured traders that movement to the market would lift the fortunes of the traders, as according to him, they would enjoy ultra modern facilities in the new market. While a good amount of traders agreed to relocate to Ubani, many others moved to run to Onuimo market built by Rochas Okorocha in Umungwa Obowo and Orie Ugba, in Ugba community, Umuahia North.
But a few weeks after relocating to Ubani and Onuimo, many traders returned to Ishi gate with a good number of them settling in Bonny, Eket Lagos streets, Owerri road etc, blaming their return on poor sales and high cost of shops at Ubani.
Several efforts made by the former and present administrations of Chief T A Orji and Okezie Ikpeazu to enforce total compliance to relocation order have yielded little or no fruit as a recent walk around the area showed that it is bouncing back in population.
Though, make-shift stalls have not been re-erected, most traders display their ways on the road while transport companies , most of who were relocated to Ohiya central motor parks are back at the area, with the transporters noting that Ishi gate is the best place for business in Umuahia.
However, unlike in the past when vehicles used main roads to load passengers, they now use part of railway lines, a strategy used to avoid congestion and obstruction of roads.
Crime and drugs:
As characteristic of other busy areas, it is not strange to hear of criminal activities like pick-pocketing, bag snatching, phone theft in parts of the surrounding streets. Alleged sales of drugs especially at night on some of the streets are other features of the area.
No time is night:
Before the recent curfew imposed by the Abia State government to ensure security, business activities vehicular and human movements lasted till 12:30 midnight, extending to 1:30 during festive periods as a traveler who arrived from Lagos and Abuja midnight could still get a taxi to his hometown, but at a high rate.
Home to destitute:
Before the demolition of former Ishi gate fly over by Chief T A Orji , it served as a home to destitute, including some deviants of different type who from day to day knew no other home than the fly over place . In fact, they slept, took bath on or under the bridge, while converting the nearby rail bush to their toilets. “I have no other home”– bus conductor, Amos Enwere A bus conductor, Mr Amos Enwere speaking in a coarse voice told News Echo that apart from Ishi gate, he had no other home. In fact, he said 2021 was his 6th year of living in or around Ishi gate, saying the fear of paying house rent scared him, in addition to the fact that he is still single at 32 years.
“When I get plenty money and find a wife wey love me, I go find house but for now, here na my area, I no complain” he told News Echo.
There is no other place in Umuahia to get a special pedicure and manicure service like Isi gate. And customers are also attended to at affordable prices, making the place a hub for pretty ladies to patronise.
Will the area ever be sanitized?
Two days after his re-election in 2019, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu ordered the closing of all brothels in Umuahia. He also directed security agencies to enforce the order and arrest any defaulter both operators and patrons. The Governor, in banning the brothels, said that several criminal activities were perpetrated inside such places by dangerous elements.
He listed stealing of phones, bags snatching, drug peddling as some of the criminal activities allegedly traced to the brothels, adding that many criminal activities were allegedly organized from such compounds.
Police action maintaining the governor’s order:
But two years after, the brothels seem to have returned in business, with even younger girls in offer.
“We will investigate the issue”— Abia Ministry of environment
When News Echo spoke to the Director of Operations and Pollution control, Abia State Ministry of environment, Mr Ikechukwu Ukaegbu , he promised that his ministry would investigate the matter.
Ukaegbu however referred the reporter to the Umuahia North LGA in whose full responsibility, according to him, issues of motor parks and trading would receive the needed answers.
Chairman of Umuahia North, Hon Ugochukwu Njinkonye could not be met on office to speak but a senior staff who pleaded anonymity explained that “The area you are talking about has witnessed some levels of transformation as vehicles don’t obstruct the road like before as you could see that traffic is flowing smoother than before”, he stated, telling the reporter that keeping the town clean was a job of every Abian, not just the duty of the Umuahia North local government.