The remodelling of Ilọrin Flower Garden by the Kwara State Government has excited residents, many of who have been victims of the crimes that were perpetrated in and around the facility because of years of abandonment. Daily Trust on Sunday writes on the new state of the garden and residents’ reactions.
For some residents of the highbrow Government Reservation Area (GRA) and the adjoining streets in Ilọrin, the Kwara State capital, the transformation of Ilọrin Flower Garden has brought a huge relief.
As a place of relaxation, picnics and educational research for students, with a wide range of exotic fruits and trees, people from far and near would usually visit the garden to escape the hustle and bustle of the metropolis and enjoy its serene atmosphere.
However, the story changed overtime following long years of abandonment by the government. As a result, the unkempt bushes and trees turned the place into a shadow of itself and den of criminals and refuge for hoodlums. Some even described it as “the base of all the criminals in Ilọrin.”
Many residents, vehicle owners and passersby who found themselves around the place, especially during nocturnal hours, have had sad tales to tell as they were dispossessed of their belongings. Some even escaped death by the whiskers.
There were widespread but unconfirmed reports of some attacks by the hoodlums who had used the place as refuge, which led to deaths.
But the facility has become a cynosure of eyes with the present transformation by the present administration of Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq.
According to the government, the new Flower Garden will not only create new jobs but serve as a top relaxation/tourist destination, improve the aesthetics and revenue of the state and serve as an attraction site for economic development.
Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, residents of the area said the development was indescribable, going by the trauma and anxiety they had lived with for years.
Hajiya Bilikisu Haruna, a yam seller opposite the garden, said it was a huge relief when the state government started the remodelling.
“I came to this place in 1994. Then, we were always afraid throughout the period we would be outside selling from morning till evening because we didn’t know the crime that would be committed next. Our hearts were always in our mouths.
“Once it was 5pm we would pack our wares for fear of attack.
“The place was taken over by hemp smokers, robbers and even killers. They used this place as refuge. And none of the residents were bold enough to go inside and ask what they were doing there or chase them away, except such person was ready to commit suicide.
“We cannot quantify the kind of relief the renovation of this place has brought. We did not expect that the governor would undertake this project, especially considering the previous renovation experiences.
“Now, it will be difficult to perpetrate evil under any guise or in the dark again as it used to be because the place is now open and very beautiful,” she said.
Narrating some of the atrocities that took place in the place before now, Hajiya Bilikisu said, “There was a day some hoodlums almost killed an officer. He was stabbed and he fell into the gutter and left to die. He was rescued when they guys left. It was terrible.
“A daughter of my friend selling secondhand clothes around Tanke junction was attacked while going to church for a vigil around 7pm by some set of guys inside a vehicle. They attempted to kidnap her but she escaped and they threw a knife at her, which hit her in the buttocks before some residents who heard her shout came out and rushed her inside before those guys sped off.
“Sometimes, these criminals – males and females – would come to rob us and run into the place, and we dared not go inside with them,” she added.
She said when the remodelling, started, many people in the area expressed doubt because of past experiences from the action of the government until now that they can see the reality.
“This is a huge investment and I plead with the state government not to let it waste. They should sustain and maintain it because it will be a serious setback and catastrophe for the place to return to its old status. I pray and plead with the governor to do everything possible to ensure this place is sustained,” she submitted.
On his part, a furniture maker adjacent the place, who has spent about 20 years in the area, Francis Nwana, who hails from Cross Rivers State said, “It is unbelievable that this place can be transformed like this.
“The overgrown bushes were a serious security threat and we were all very afraid.
“Some hoodlums on a bike had attacked the wife of my apprentice here. They wanted to collect her phone but she refused, and in an attempt to hit her with a bottle, she dodged but it went straight to the head of her baby on her back. The little child was rushed to the hospital and her head stitched.
“About two years ago, we apprehended 9 people, including a female, inside the place, digging a hole that could contain six cars. They had spent about two months digging before we discovered it after we employed some vigilantes. They would come between 12am and 4am.
“We have to take the action because they gave the shop owners an ultimatum to produce the people behind it or face eviction. They were arrested and handed to the police, and up till now, we don’t know what their motive was. The discovery was very frightening.
“There have been several cases of attack on passersby and customers of hotels around the area,” Nwana said.
He implored the government to also “rehabilitate the roads around the facility and control the erosion that has already appeared in the place.
“The rain that fell on Monday created two deep holes on a section of the road behind the bridge that had been repaired after its recent collapse. There is a need for speed breakers to reduce the speed at which motorists negotiate the bend that opens up to the Word of Assembly Church besides it. There should also be the provision of streetlights to illuminate the place and stop the evil that can be perpetrated under the cover of the night.
“The garden should be handled properly to boost tourism and employment. But it must not be allowed to slide into its inglorious and worrying past that became a huge security threat,” he added.
On her part, Aisha, who has a provision shop in the area, told Daily Trust on Sunday that “This place has really changed and people now pay attention to it.
“Because of the activities of criminals who usually robbed people in the night, this place was avoided, especially when it was getting dark.
“When I came to this shop, people thought I was possessed; and my family and friends criticised me heavily for it. They could not fathom why I would rent a shop in this area despite the danger surrounding it. But I had the belief that it would later turn out to be a goldmine. It is now a reality.
“At that time, before 7pm, I would have closed for fear of an attack. My sister was once robbed inside the shop. But it will be difficult to rob or arm people now around the place and people will not know. They can no longer hide inside to perpetrate evil.
“This will improve the economy of this place by 100 per cent and can make it compete or even surpass places like ShopRite because of its location. You don’t know how happy we are with this development,” she said.
A fruit seller, Mohammed Haruna also said, “We can see and appreciate the beauty of this place, unlike before when it was bushy and we didn’t know what was going on inside.
“We used to close around 5:30pm, but now, we stay till 8pm. We know that by the time it is finally opened by the government, it will revolutionise business here.”
The state government had recently announced the beautification of the place and subsequently cordoned it off as part of its efforts to make the place a one stop recreation centre.
The former Commissioner for Environment, Mrs Remilekun Banigbe, during her visit to the site of the project last year, said it would give a facelift to the garden as a green area for relaxation and healthy social interaction.
“This idea of turning around the place will further beautify the state, generate revenues for the government, and promote work-life balance for the citizenry who can visit the garden for leisure purposes.
“The Flower Garden landscaping and beautification is another effort of the AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq administration to reposition Kwara as one of the states that prioritise work-life balance and social needs of its people.
“A section of the garden has been designed to house a book club for children, aimed at promoting reading culture among young people in the state,” she said.
Speaking with our correspondent on Thursday, the Director of Forestry, Ministry of Environment, Alhaji Babatunde Mahmud, said the aim of the remodelling was “to decongest other areas of public functions and recreational activities that used to cause overcrowding in the town.
“The efforts will also make the Flower Garden a first class recreational centre for people, picnics, and for students’ educational research activities, unlike at a time when people used to hide there to do evil things.
“The place is like a forestry laboratory, where different seedlings were planted for research purposes, which is also part of the new plans with the varieties of tree species we have there.
“But we don’t know whether the government would run it or hand it over to individuals because the contractor is yet to hand it over.”