Aba! Our Aba. A town commercially and economically endowed that is likened as the Japan of Africa, whose residents could fabricate anything to mimic its originality.
Aba (the Enyimba City) is cosmopolitan, meaning that it harbours a mixture of ethnic groups; from Igbo the natives to Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba, Efik, Ibibio, Kalabari, Opobo, Beni, Tiv, Idoma, Sierra Leonean, Ghanaian, Togolese, Beninaou, Cameroonian nationales etc. Aba attracts people of diverse ethnic groups and interests because of the burgeoning of trade and commerce there.
A typical day in this Enyimba city starts by 5 a.m. and terminates by 11 p.m. when most of the traders would have satisfied themselves of having made a good day. Aba, indeed, is a business delight. And this is where the problem comes.
Aba-Ngwa as it is often referred to is a city in a hurry; a city where liquid cash accompanying the merchandizing of goods and services flows with unrestrained gush, thus pushing this commercially-oriented city to the edge of assuming the toga of a land where only money speaks. But that is not the way it was in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Aba is one (if not the only) well designed city in West Africa. The colonial masters did a beautiful design on Aba; carving the roads and streets to suit a pattern of 10 houses compartment for a junction and constructed a well laid out sanitary lanes that separates one house from the other at both adjacent and at the rear.
Aba in the days of yore possessed some resemblance of cities in Europe as it was as organized as it was disciplined. Discipline was the core value then when hygiene was regarded as sacrosanct. Sanitary inspectors inspected not only the sanitary lanes but houses referred to as “Yards”. Indeed, the fear of sanitary inspectors then is the beginning of your escape from the wrath of law; and so every resident kept to the sanitation code of the then Aba County Council; cleaning the drainages and carting away wastes (refuse) to the designated points. No one dared to build structure on unauthorized place. Without a doubt, the giant drainage that runs through Old Court – School road to the Aba River was dreaded. No one dared to build structure on it. Then, Aba was sweet and habitable as its population density was low and manageable.
But things got out of hand when after the civil war; people of all hues displaced in their formal abodes as a result of the war made the town their new residence. Population increased geometrically and deterioration of the city started. Aba began to witness despicable defacing as structures were built on unauthorized places. The sanitary lanes were converted to shops, stalls and rooms to let, thus jettisoning the gradual developmental process the colonial masters had introduced.
By 1990s, Aba had deteriorated in physical outlay that it had become a huge jungle so to speak. Current of water that usually flowed freely in the drainages and terminated in the Aba River found their way on the roads and streets which helped in damaging them. The giant Aba drainage (the Aba big gutter) was converted to shops and stalls by rapacious individuals while the purpose it was supposed to serve was defeated. Aba became a flooded town and Ndiegoro emerged out of the process.
In this confusion, government after government abandoned their civic responsibility of restoring the city’s lost glory. In 2007, shortly after his swearing in, T.A Orji (Ochendo) carried out a major intervention in Aba that resulted in rehabilitating the Aba-Owerri road, Port Harcourt road and Ikot Ekpene road; the three major roads in this commercial city. Bent on putting Aba in the economic map of the world, T.A Orji began the rehabilitation of markets, pipe-borne water abandoned in the 1970s, and other roads in this city.
The roads that received his attention and got his Midas touch are Park, Pound, Azikiwe, Danfodio, Ulasi, Ngwa, Ama Ogbonna, Brass, York, Ube etc. But the floods have their toll on these roads.
It will be noted that no government since Abia was created in 1991 took it as a priority to embark on any damage control in the city. In fact, some of the regimes presiding Chief Orji’s administration, particularly the immediate past, encouraged the construction of market stalls in unauthorized places. It is appalling that the greatest critic of Ochendo’s administration is the very man that presided over a regime that saw to the monumental dilapidation of Aba.
Now, after the first attempt to recover the city through the reconstruction of some major roads, the Abia state governor has begun another massive programme on that. During his first tenure, Orji invited Aba City Fathers and landlords in his project of recovering Aba. This bilateral synergy became popular and led to the remodeling of some sections of the town.
But the indiscipline in the town became the bane of the developmental process in the city. Despite the several warnings that the drainages and sanitary lanes so blocked were the reasons of the continued flooding, the residents saw no sense in this well researched counsel as they continually build on the drainages with reckless abandon.
However, unlike other administration that ruled the state with deceit, lack of cognate planning and corruption, cheap propaganda, uncoordinated approach to administering of Abia etc, the T.A Orji’s administration began a sustained second phase of the recovering of Aba in his second term. This second phase has led to the rebuilding of 10 roads and later 16 roads as well as the clearing of the colossal refuse/heaps of rubbish in the commercial city. These roads include Azikiwe, Faulks, Osisioma, NIPP – Osisioma depot roads etc.
Such roads include the East Street, Old Express – Samec road, Ukwu Mango which connects the Ariaria axis of the Enugu – Port Harcourt expressway, Cemetery roads etc. Even as the reconstruction of the roads was going on, the administration saw it as a point of duty to build a pedestrian bridge at the Abia Polytechnic, Aba. It is worrisome that those sponsoring mischief and undue criticisms against the Orji administration were the very people that caused Aba’s decay which Ochendo is trying to clear. If they had lain the foundation for the recovering of Aba as Ochendo is doing now, Aba would have been a lot better.
But the T.A Orji administration is taking the recovery of this commercial town in strides; first the roads, the waste disposal and then the water provision. No administration, no matter how magical and richly endowed financially, would embark on any reconstruction of a city that is in ruins in one fell swoop. Even if the Abia administration would have loved to do so, the insufficient allocation from the federation account as well as the deficient internally generated revenue (IGR) would not allow it.
Consequently, it will be wrong for anyone to single out a particular road or roads as basis of judging the Ochendo’s administration in Abia state. If such roads, the enemies of government are banding about as dilapidated, have not been reconstructed, it is simply because the rehabilitation process is yet to get to them. Ngwa, Ohanku, Obohia et al roads are some of the roads that will soon benefit from subsequent phases.
As the government is rebuilding the roads and cleaning up Aba from wastes and rubbish heaps, so also the administration is embarking on the provision of portable water not only in Aba but the entire state. All these projects will materialize before the expiration of the tenure of the government. What is required is patience and cooperation of the people.
However, whatever the government of T.A Orji does in Aba could still be glossing the problem of the city because the poor financial status of the state will not allow it to carry out a marshal plan that will comprehensively suit such a mega city. In this instance, the federal government should take over or at least ensure the total recovery of Aba from social and economic decay which could lead to its collapse.
Aba is a major commercial town, like Onitsha, Kano and Lagos. If Aba is allowed to die because of neglect, a major component of the entity called Nigeria has died. It is in the public domain that Abia administration currently does not have the financial capacity and capability to rehabilitate the city. The government has done well in trying to recover Aba and also in arresting the ugly incident of kidnapping that made the residents to flee the city some time ago.
Certainly, the federal government’s involvement (or in collaboration with international agencies) would lead to a major redesigning of the town, dismantling and removal of obstructions like the stalls and shops built on drainages and in sanitary lanes. This approach should also involve experts that should drive the process. If possible, a marshal plan for Aba should be produced in this intervention process. This is what the fifth columnists and the armchair critics of T.A Orji should be advocating and not to misinform the public on the state of Aba with dubious and skewed pictures of different scenario of the town.
Aba residents themselves must be law abiding and disciplined. Lawlessness introduces anarchy which brings under development. No tangible recovering process can be achieved if the people continue to disobey the environmental and urban laws. In every organized city, it is said, the discipline of the system and of the people creates room for enhanced services, service delivery, security and progress. Indeed, there is no alternative to this maxim. For the Enyimba city to be recovered as the government of T.A Orji is proposing, people must work in liaison with the government.
Ugochukwu Ezenwa from ABA