My official redeployment to Aba came at a time (if truth be told) I considered a change (from my almost-becoming-irksome stay in a quiet little village tucked somewhere in the Niger Delta) would be well received. Not that what I opined mattered much, I was “whisked” according to my wish and as a matter of urgency to my new place of assignment with less than 12-hour prior notice. I could not even carry out any proper handover or necessary preparation. Posting in the secret service or other security outfit would have been a cinch compared to mine. Already accustomed to the profession of a peregrine engineer, the nomad in me was delighted to move on. Attached to one of the biggest power plant projects in Nigeria (and probably the west of Africa) nothing could have been more welcoming or alluring. So pack my baggage I did: Aba here I come!
An initial impression of the city at entrance made my heart sink. Approaching the city core via Ogbor hills presented an aerial view of a city planned and developed with only one thing in mind – bedlam! Descending the hills into Aba-Ikot Ekpene road made my heart not only to sink more but also to shrink. The massive mounds of dirt lining both sides of the carriageway drainage (and reducing the right of way) were offensive to sight. More bewildering is the ease at which residents and roadside shop owners carry on with their duties in this untidiness. True to my observation after my week-long stay here, the situation does not differ anywhere in Aba (except for a couple of well-monitored GRAs). Common denominators remain: Crater-size pothole-infested roads (with insufficient feeder roads); tout-controlled parks; mounds, ridges and hills of refuse dumps; lawlessness (I was told everyone here is a law to him/herself); disorderliness; self-preservation at its smuttiest; exasperating traffic congestion; etc.
I have always been of the opinion that Lagos is the zenith in the comity of anarchic cities and if you can survive in Lagos, you can do so anywhere else. Alas, I was wrong. I am sorry to let Lagosians know they have no credible claim on chaos and madhouse living. A visit to Aba will convince many. Aba has showcased an unimaginable order of lawlessness. It is mind-blowing. Words will fail to describe.
I must not fail to mention the usual and often seen activity that dots Aba metropolis: At anytime, you could be stuck in traffic for the most unthinkable reason – touts, drivers and/or other road users are having a scuffle ahead of you. There is no free flow of traffic until they have their fill. Do I hear you inquire about the police? They cannily look the other way. I was told here, the hunter might become the hunted if he does not mind his business. Howbeit, the police have some other toll-inclined duties they do with scrupulous dedication.
Also top on the list of outlawry is reckless and lawless driving. Indeed, I make bold to say once more, Lagos drivers might want to consider registering for a 1-hour crash programme in irresponsible driving particularly in okada manoeuvring. Moreover in Aba, as far as motorcyclists and their passengers are concerned (if they are at all), the new FRSC law enforcing the use of crash helmets is only meant for faint-hearted motorcyclists – if you are an adept hasty driver here, no type of crash helmet will save you from impending disaster that will eventually occur as a result of unruliness. So why waste time (and money) using crash helmets in its various forms – calabashes, paint buckets, factory helmets, etc.?
Aba is well-known for its commercial activities. However, as I moved through the major and popular Cemetery, New and Ariara (international?) markets I was taken aback by conditions of infrastructures in these places – horrendous roads, non-functional drainage systems (if and where provided), refuse dumps and shambolic shanties called shops. During the last few days it rained lightly in these areas. I tried to extrapolate how these conditions would be in the approaching rainy season. My mind shuddered at this realisation. We make money from our major cities in Nigeria by almost squeezing life out of them. The least we could give in return is to make these cities fit for habitation.
Surviving in Aba might include being in possession of the following (these are not luxuries): A savvy and tout-like driver with local knowledge and map of the road network (especially of streets and cul-de-sacs not on the map) stamped at the back of his mind (I want to use this medium to thank my pilot-driver, Austin). An air-conditioned four-wheel drive SUV will be more than handy to avoid sweating it out when stuck in traffic and manoeuvring through hills and valleys of gullies called roads. If you (or your company) can afford it, service of mobile police attaché (not women-beating ones) will provide not security but prevent frequent stops by same to “check” your vehicle particulars. The only way to ensure your security here is to be circumspect. Lastly, a generator in good working condition to supply electricity to douse excessive heat and prevent giant-sized mosquitoes from feasting is a necessity.
Aba (like many other Nigerian cities) is akin to a modern day jungle.
Now to the crux of this article: On my way to work this morning, Austin (my driver) made a sudden turn, off Aba-Port-Harcourt motorway to show me an atrocious sight – an utterly burnt human body! I could not take a second look at the gory spectacle hence I told him to leave the spot. With much gusto he explained to me how this is a common sight in Aba. Once you are caught pilfering, the immediate, undisputed and unwritten judgement meted out by your captors is incineration – without any ado. Thereafter, everyone goes about their normal business leaving the burnt corpse either to putrefy (causing awful odour and adverse health effects) or be carried away by a non-existing environmental service. It is generally believed here that an individual must work with his hands in order to cater for himself and the opportunities abound to do so. Considering and acting otherwise will spell doom for shop lifters whenever caught.
I could not believe at this age and time such penal measures still exist. I bombarded Austin with a salvo of questions: What if the person is innocent? Is the possibility of being framed considered? What action do the policemen seen around take when such a suspect is caught? Is the local/state government aware of this? How do residents take this development? All Austin did was to smile matter-of-factly telling me “Oga, that one na Aba for you. Welcome to Aba!”
I never knew jungle justice still exists in the jungle! Indeed, a welcome to Aba cannot be more intriguing.