Some multi-million naira urban renewal projects have gone from dazzling to a disgrace–in a short while
In April 2014, while sightseeing in Akure, the capital of Ondo State, I spotted the attractive roundabout at the Fiwasaye/Mobil junction. Beautifully constructed, it was unlike any traffic circle I had seen in all my travels around Nigeria.
It literally pulled me in, and I had to get off the vehicle I was in, just to admire it for a couple of minutes. It had stout overhead crossbars which extended to the ground in four pillars, plastered all over with a green material that seemed like an artificial turf but on closer inspection, it looks like a rug. Within the perimeter sits an equally attractive set of circular stairs, tiled in light brown and topped by a solid map outline of “The Sunshine State”. A waist-high rail painted in Orange completed the design.
Talk of the town
“It was one of several roundabouts constructed by Governor Olusegun Mimiko when he first came to office in 2009. He did many beautification projects at the time and people praised him for it,” a long-term resident told me, recalling that the Fiwasaye roundabout, particularly, drew a crowd from far and near. “People came from everywhere to celebrate birthdays there; they hung out with friends and took photographs. It looked even more beautiful during Christmas.”
Sadly, the roundabout’s glory days are gone. It has not only lost its shine, all its design and decorative elements are an eyesore. And it doesn’t appear that the current administration, three years in office, is interested in remaking it to the magnet it once was.
The other roundabout, a few metres down the road (by First Bank), is also in an equally bad state. It was designed with a functional fountain that has since stopped working.
“We heard that about several millions was spent on the projects,” another resident told me as we drove down to the rowdy Oba Adesida Market.
A descent into decay
I couldn’t help noticing that almost every inch of the city’s main road — from the FUTA Junction though Oba Adesida/ Oyemekun Road — is in a state of disrepair, a far cry from what obtained a decade ago in the city.
On my first visit to Akure in 2009, as part of a self-funded nationwide tour, I didn’t expect that the city would make much of an impression on me. “Compared to the locales where I spent time in at Ibadan, Akure looked strikingly well laid-out,” I observed in a piece I wrote for the now rested 234NEXT. “The pedestrians, vehicles and everything moving carried on in a charming slow motion. I fell in love with the place immediately. The main Oba Adesida road, which divides the Oja Oba (King’s Market), looked crowded but unruffled, a feature I found also soothing..”
Almost everything I saw on that trip sparkled. A decade later, all that lustre is gone. On my last trip, just a few days ago, I saw a city stripped of its charm, a city descending into decay. For one, I didn’t expect to see the commotion at the King’s Market: the riotous buying and selling and screaming looked like a scene from the Old Oshodi, or Aswani for that matter. It shocked me into silence and grief.
“The current governor is clearly not interested in the capital’s aesthetics,” one resident said, his tone unmistakably bitter. “It is sad how the whole place has deteriorated..”
To worsen the situation, a 2013 fieldwork undertaken by a researcher at the Federal University of Technology (FUTA) found that traffic congestion on the main road is causing unprecedented levels of noise pollution.
Akure remains one of my favourite getaway cities in Western Nigeria, one that I always look forward to visiting. Its surrounding outcrops and vegetation are intact. What has gone wrong with it is a rot in its public infrastructure. It would hurt so much to see the situation deteriorate further.