Aba is a phenomenal city and about one of the most popular in contemporary Nigeria. It is famed as the “Japan of Africa” for the famed ingenuity and industrial prowess of the inhabitants who engage in all sorts of fabrications ranging from spare parts, to engine blocks and much more. In the very soul of Aba is the famous “Ariaria Market” which attracts traders from all parts of Nigeria and all across West Africa and beyond. The entrepreneurial spirit of the businessmen in Aba has distinguished them and in times past, Aba-made shoes competed with Italian-made shoes until lately when Dubai-sold, but China-made shoes overran the Aba shoe industry. Aba-made clothes have suffered a similar fate like their folks in the shoe industry on account of the Chinese businessmen who have flooded our Nigerian markets with their clothes .”China-Town” now receives a horde of “Nigerian tourists” to their enclaves at Ojota and South West Ikoyi in Lagos, who forage for cheap textile materials shipped from China!
I am not going to dwell on the notoriety that Aba garnered in recent times courtesy of the Bakassi Boys misadventures and jungle injustice and killing of innocent people which elicited public outcry. My worry is about the quality of life the average Aba resident is subjected to due to the crass dereliction of duty exemplified by the present government of Governor Orji Uzor Kalu. One may wonder why I am concerned about Aba when I hail from Imo State where Governor Achike Udenwa has not come out as Joseph or Joshua the deliverer of Israelites. But are we not supposed to be our brothers’ keepers and speak up in their defense when the need arises? Moreover, there is little or no difference between a man/woman from Imo and his sibling from Abia since we all sucked the same milk of human kindness from the same nipples in the old Imo State.
You can imagine how sullen I was when I visited Aba in November 2005 to see how Aba was adorned in sloven apparels. My stomach went into revulsion as I traversed the streets of the Aba as my eyes alighted on the countless heaps and mole hills of dung that bestrode this glorified suburb called a city. Worse still, as I went to Milverton Avenue to board a bus to Port Harcourt, I met the most worrisome eyesore: the decomposing body of a possible robber who was burnt alive with tyres by the “Aba Peoples Mobile Court of Justice”. To my chagrin, the victim’s body was dumped at the refuse bin where buses loaded. Passersby merely blocked their nostrils with their hands as though the action will defuse or ameliorate the human stench. I was most disappointed to say the least.
As we left Aba for Port Harcourt, I discovered to my dismay that the median section of the Aba -Port Harcourt expressway has been converted to dump sites along the Aba axis of the highway. Even a visually-impaired person would spot the difference as we entered Port Harcourt that day. One would wonder why there is a sharp contrast between the environmental situations of these two adjoining cities that enjoy close economic ties. Someone may argue that it is not a problem of governance but that of the city’s inhabitants. But in which city in Nigeria do you have law-abiding citizens that manage their generated wastes without the government playing a pivotal role.? Lagos would have been a glorified dump city, save for the concerted efforts of Governor Tinubu and his aides at the LAWMA and the Ministry of Environment. Other cities in Nigeria are relatively clean on account of the political will exercised by their respective governments in tackling the problems of waste disposal and management in their major cities.
Then late in April 2006 (barely two weeks ago), I had cause to visit my friends and relatives in Aba again, and did I come back with memorable stories to recount? Nay! Aba has not changed in terms of infrastructural development or its environmental health status. The streets are visibly neglected with bumpy roads, some waterlogged with poor drainage systems. The underground drainage system which was constructed by the late Governor Sam Mbakwe’s government in the early 1980s has not been rehabilitated nor new ones constructed. The inhabitants literally groan under this sub-human state under which the present government of the state had abandoned them. One would have expected that Aba’s status as an economically-viable city would have made it receive some level of infrastructural attention given its economic potentials, but Orji Uzor Kalu has steadfastly cast a derogatory look at this famed city that brought him to the limelight.
Orji Uzor Kalu’s exploits and popularity has been partly due to his magical transformation of the Peoples’ Elephant, Enyimba FC such that it earned both national and continental glory in winning the coveted African Champions League trophy back-to-back. To his credit, he transformed Aba Township stadium such that it can host matches of international standards. But beyond football, what other benefits have Aba enjoyed courtesy of Orji Uzor Kalu? Has not Governor Peter Odili paid similar attention to Sports in Rivers State that earned him accolades by CAF as well? We have seen the economic prowess of Aba diminish by the day due to this obvious but inexcusable neglect of this city that made Orji Uzor Kalu in some sense. The sartorial prominence of Aba has waned such that the hub of the fledging fashion industry in Nigeria has moved to Lagos leaving Aba’s economic potential untapped, and numerous others due to neglect and lack of vision by the present Abia State government. If Orji Uzor succeeded in reconstructing the major roads in Aba like Governor Adamu Muazu did in Bauchi town using Julius Berger, the residents of Aba will remember him for life like they revere Dee Sam Mbakwe. But he has thrown away an opportunity to stamp his feet on the path of posterity and he would account to the people and God how he neglected Aba during his 8-year reign, so to speak! Governor Donald Duke has brought Cross River State to the eyes of CNN viewers and International Business Community through the visionary Tinapa Project at Obudu Cattle Ranch whereas Aba has been an economically viable city whose potentials remain yet untapped.
Since his second term in office, Orji Uzor Kalu has made us believe he is the long-awaited Messiah that would pull Nigerians out of the doldrums of underdevelopment, dare I add, mal-development. He has spent more time and energy campaigning for his presidential (vice president to wit) dream within and outside Nigeria.He has formed political alliances in the west and in the north. He has been turbaned as a friend of northerners and a bridgehead that unites them with his dis-enfranchised kins in Ala Igbo.He has lately been seen to unite warring factions in the north when he united Buhari and IBB as he brought them to his hometown to bury their hatchets. He might have received the tacit support of the numerous Umu Igbo who live in USA and Dispora, but Ndi Igbo in Ala Igbo would scrutinize his developmental and governance credentials vis-à-vis the democratic dividends he swore to provide our people when he swore to oath in 1999 and 2003 respectively in Umuahia before paying credence to his presidential ambitions.
I have no personal misgivings whatsoever towards Orji Uzor but am worried that sycophants and opportunists dot our political landscape of today. I am worried that those who seek positions of governance hardly see beyond their noses (excuse my language) to be able to envision how they can engender collective development which has the good of the people as the central motif or fulcrum that drives their leadership. As an Iboman, I was taught from childhood that “ana esi n’ulo amara mma puo n’ama”, which literally means that “charity should begin at home”. If Orji Uzor Kalu is the archetype of the Ibo President we have to offer, then Ndi Igbo are of all Nigerians, the most miserable. It is so disheartening that our elected leaders have contributed in impoverishing our own people in Ala Igbo. I picked out Orji Uzor Kalu not because he
typifies the worst governor in the South East, for others in his ilk have not done well equally in the past 7 years they kept vigil over the coffers of the states they govern. I have brought Orji Uzor Kalu to the soap box of the peoples’ court to give an account of his stewardship in Abia State because he feels ‘OK” to be the elusive Messianic President that Nigerians have longed for decades since independence!