Lokoja’s Eyesore Square Dims Tourists’ View
OBASANJO Square in Lokoja is a fine example of how not to woo tourists to any destination in the world.
The place, also called Paparanda Square, was a project initiated by former Governor Abubakar Audu. It was commissioned October 26, 2000 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, after whom it also derived its name.
At the roundabout adjacent to the square are heaps of refuse. Beggars also congregate at the roundabout close to the square, which has almost become their permanent abode.
An environmentalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the present state of the square is an eyesore to ordinary passersby, not to mention visitors to the town.
“The sight is disgusting and alarming. It sends wrong signals to first time visitors that the Confluence Town is a centre of filth, rather than a tourist destination. The Kogi State government should renovate the place,” he said.
Governor Audu, it was learnt, had wanted a beautiful recreation spot where residents, especially children, could sit and relax. During festive periods, the square used to be a meeting point for townspeople to hang around and catch fun. And even the governor was said to have often helped himself to the facility. The place also boasted a fast food restaurant where hungry merry makers delighted their taste buds.
Today, the square has become a ghost of its former self, as miscreants have turned it into a convenient spot for smoking ‘joints’. And bad enough, the place has become a public toilet of some sort with feaces and stench making the place quite unwelcoming.
Some residents who spoke to The Guardian expressed concern that unless something is done urgently, people who live near the square may soon be deprived the benefit of breathing ‘poo-less’ air.
Mr. Okechukwu Daniel wondered why government would set up a laudable project and allow it to fall apart. He recalled with nostalgia days when “GSM and phone sellers made the place lively, when they used the spot as business hub,” wondering again why six months ago the state government drove them away.
Another resident said the state of the square is highly regrettable, given its strategic location in the town. He recalled that in the past, the square was a beauty to behold, as families held their Christmas and Sallah holiday picnics.
One Mrs. Ebere Nwankwo, who “grew up in Lokoja”, said she remembered times when her parents often took her to the square to have fun, expressing optimism that the facility could still be rehabilitated, and the good days brought back.
Mr. Patrick Ukwenya, on his part, cautioned government over its attitude of abandoning viable things that could rake in revenue. He suggested that being an election year, the present governor could even consider repairing the square in order to boost his chances of re-election.
A watch repairer, Ibrahim Salihu, said the relocation of the GSM traders from the spot affected his business negatively. “The place is no longer lively,” he said, wishing the former times would return.
Lokoja enjoys the advantage of being the town where the two great rivers – Niger and Benue form a confluence.
It is also a meeting point for travelers from the North and South, as it provides access to over 16 states, through Abuja the Federal Capital of the country. It equally provides navigation opportunities for people who wish to explore the splendour of waterways travel. Obasanjo Square could add to the beauty and excitement of visiting Lokoja city.
Mr. Joe Alhassan, Chief Technical Adviser on United Nations Habitat for Kogi State, however, said the square has not been abandoned.
“The square is not lying fallow. The point is that it is one of the UN-Habitat projects, which is supposed to turn the place into an organised open space, just like Freedom Park in Lagos. For quite some time, now, work has been going on in terms of developing a proper design for that spot. Kogi Polytechnic students came up with designs that would befit the square,” he said, adding that a design has been selected.
According to him, the UN-Habitat has contracted an architect who will work on the place. “A prototype has been designed, and very soon, the architect would move to site. This is a gift from the UN-Habitat for development in Lokoja.”
Alhassan said the GSM traders had been there on a temporary basis, and that when government decided to convert the place into an open space, it gave them an alternative location.
“Early, this month, the architect came back to interact with the youths who did the design and we had to rub minds. It is something like participatory planning. They want to get everybody involved. That is why the architect came to meet the youths behind the initial design, so that they can reconcile their concept.”
He noted that the open space would be ready by October, and that when work starts, unwanted elements in the square would be dislodged.