Whenever Abia State is mentioned, one of the places that comes to mind is Aba. This is because it is the commercial nerve centre of the state. An entrepreneurial city, it made its mark decades ago because of the profound creativity and business acumen of the residents.
At a time, ‘Aba Made’ goods were like a song on the lips of many, and the people were proud of Enyimba City (City of Elephants), as Aba is fondly called. And because of the ingenuity of the people, Aba was expected to wear the admirable robe of the commercial hub of Africa or the Japan of Africa.
But Aba has lost its glory and charm. The city has not realised its dream or potential. The Aba business landscape has been shrinking or stagnated, particularly in the last decade or so. In fact, Aba is in doldrums.
In the last couple of years, some businessmen in Aba have relocated to other places because of the frustration of not having access to their shops. Some customers also stopped coming to Aba because of the bad roads and flood.
City of lamentation
Coming into Aba last month from Owerri, the capital of Imo State, one was welcomed by an uncompleted fly over project at Osisioma. Ironically, the Okezie Ikpeazu administration in Abia State had made a meal of the project. Touted as one of the flagship projects of the administration, it has not been accomplished two years after traders and others were displaced.
“Osisioma used to be a lively place, but the fly over displaced us. However, we were excited that Aba would have a flyover, like other cities. But our expectations have turned to ashes. We are nowhere now. We are not birds of the air or birds of the land. I don’t think constructing a flyover is rocket science. One or two states I know started and completed three flyover bridges in less than three years, but Abia State is still telling stories about one flyover,” lamented Emeka Ibeh, a resident.
But the Osisioma flyover is not the only uncompleted or abandoned project in which the people are so displeased. Residents of Osusu Road and environs are weeping in the valley of tears. They are gnashing their teeth in pains and agony. Indeed, for them, life has become miserable.
Osusu Road residents are groaning because the Ikpeazu government promised to give them fish but they got snake instead. While posturing to reconstruct Osusu Road, dozens of structures were pulled down. Some of the structures were partly affected while others were completely destroyed.
Worse still, the entrances to some of the buildings were dug up to widen the drainage channel. So, to enter into their houses, those affected put planks across the gutters. While those who have cars no longer bring them home or park them in the open street.
Ordinarily, reconstructing the road should be a thing of joy to the residents because of the deplorable condition of the area, especially during the rainy season. In fact, the road is hardly in use during the rainy season. However, the reconstruction has been abandoned, thereby worsening the condition of the residents.
One of the landlords in the area, who simply identified himself as Amaechi, said: “The situation is like jumping from frying pan to fire. Before the reconstruction work started, we were living in hell. During the rainy seasons, the whole area will be flooded. We only have reprieve during the dry season. We usually celebrate at the end of each rainy season because during Okochi (Dry season) Construction Company will take over. That’s how we joke about the ugly situation here.
“Now, things are worse. They pulled down our houses and abandoned the project. Almost daily, people fall into the gullies the contractor created in front of our houses. Tragedies of immense proportion have been recorded. Some people sustained permanent injuries. Not long ago, a child returning from school fell into the gutter and died. We are really suffering.”
A filling station manager, who refused to mention his name, said: “Since 2017 when they dug the entrance to the station, we’ve been virtually out of business. No vehicle can come in to buy fuel, diesel or gas. It is only people who come with jerry cans that patronise us and even at that, they buy just a few litres. We were forced to disengage our attendants because they were redundant. We have only one attendant now and she is virtually on holiday because she attends to a handful of customers daily.”
Residents of Port Harcourt Road are also dwelling in distress. Many houses were pulled down there by government while the rehabilitation project remains uncompleted.
It was gathered that some landlords whose property were destroyed died of heart break. Ukachi, a hair stylist, said: “My uncle died after his three storey building was pulled down. It was all he had after retirement but they destroyed it without compensation. And the man died. He was not the only person who died of heart break.”
Aba’s major challenge is that many of the roads are in bad condition. Some of the roads are completely not in use. Since the T.A Orji’s administration, craters and gullies covered some arteries, making movement a herculean task. There is massive publicity everywhere but there is really little to show.
An angry resident of Aba, as he described himself, said: “One old actor who was used to confuse or deceive people on television has lost his popularity here. The present administration could be said to be on motion without movement. There is so much talk but not much is happening. But as the elections are approaching, they will begin to scratch here and there to appear to be busy.”
Take this from the Abia State governorship candidate of the All People Grand Alliance (APGA), Dr. Alex Otti: “Since his inauguration, Gov. Ikpeazu has been travelling from one country to the other seeking foreign investors. You don’t need to travel from one country to another to preach to investors to come to Aba. The investors aren’t daft. All they need to do is to browse about your state and see how you owe workers and the state of your infrastructure, your profile and that alone is enough to tell them what next to do.
“The government has built a few roads which we must admit, but then when you compare some of the roads they have completed or are doing, you’ll begin to see the reality of their failure. Look at Faulks Road: The government said the Faulks Road is 4.6km road and claimed they’re building it at the cost of N6.8billion. What that means is that they’re building a kilometre with almost N1.4b. I have raised the issue of cost of the roads they are talking about. How can they be building a 4.6km road at the cost of N6.8billion? And they said we’re ignorant in what they are doing on the road. They claimed it is a construction masterpiece that they laid pipes at Ifeobara.
“The question is, at what cost did they lay the pipes? The Ariaria Market is still flooded at every drop of rain. When you put all these together, you’ll see that Ikpeazu has failed.”
Former Nigeria envoy to South Africa, Ambassador Okey Emuchay, is on the same page with Otti. “Abia needs to be repaired. Umuahia needs to be repaired. Aba is in a terrible state.
“I have seen uncompleted flyover in Osisioma. I pass through there virtually every day. The equipment are there. The project is uncompleted. It shouldn’t be celebrated because that is not the problem of the state. They have made it in Rivers State, the greater Port Harcourt project. So, something new has to happen in Umuahia and Aba,” he said.
For Moses Kalu, an Okada rider, “the truth is that Ikpeazu has done a few things in Aba since he became governor. But to say that all the roads in Aba have been reconstructed is not true. Take the Faulks Road: It has been reconstructed but the people who did the job didn’t do it well. It is a shoddy job. If you look at the place, you will see some portions being patched. For example, the First Bank area has totally gone bad, though they have come to patch it. It was not even up to one year that it was reconstructed before it went bad again.
“They said that they will fix the Port Harcourt expressway; I don’t know how true it is. But if you look at it, nothing much has been done there. Talking about the Ifeobara area, whenever it rains, there is always a big problem. The last rain caused serious flooding; it was impassable. Even now, there is still water there.
“According to what they said, pipes will be laid so that whenever it rained floodwater will be discharged to waterside but that has not happened. It has remained that way. Whenever it rained, places like ‘A’ Line at Ariaria Market will be flooded to the extent that even if you are putting on rain boots, water will still enter into them. However, because of the drainage channel constructed, the floodwater will subside after about one day.
“So many houses were destroyed when they said they wanted to handle the problem of flooding there. I cannot say exactly the number of houses pulled down there but there are many of them. The houses were destroyed last year. I am not aware that anybody was given a dime in the name of compensation.
“We are appealing to government to come to our aid, especially in the Ifeobara area because the way it is abandoned, if anybody enters the pond by mistake he will definitely die. And it is life that we are protecting. Anyone that dies is gone forever. So, government should help us. The roads in Aba are terrible. Indeed, so many roads in Aba are in terrible condition. So many roads in Aba are impassable. Port Harcourt Road, Obohia, Ohanku, Ngwa, Omuma Road and made other places are in a sorry state. It is Faulks Road that has been touched. Part of Omuma has been overtaken by flood and weed.”
Before Ikpeazu became governor, he was the Abia State Environmental Protection Agency (ASEPA) deputy manager for Aba zone in 2014. So, considering his background, it was expected that he would fight dirt to a standstill. But that is not the case as he has done nothing about the mountains of garbage in Aba and elsewhere.
Heaps of garbage across Enyimba City is an eyesore and it is posing health hazard to residents. According to the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Dr. Uche Ogah, “if you go to Aba now, everywhere stinks. Due to the dirty nature of Aba environment today, people are contracting cholera diseases.”
Emuchay concurred. “Aba is in a terrible state. We have refuse littered all over the place. If you go to Aba now, you will shed tears. If you go to Ogbor Hill, where they slaughter animals, you will find it difficult to eat. Aba doesn’t have abattoir,” he said.
Show me a dirty city and I will show you Aba. The city could compete as one of the dirtiest in the world. Indeed, one of the landmarks of Aba is the Emelogu ‘mountain’, which residents now call Ikpeazu perfume factory (IPF). If you venture within the vicinity, your heart will bleed for the residents of the area. It is a wonder how people survive in that environment.
Even before you get there, the stench from decomposed and decomposing materials hits your nose like a ferocious punch from metres away. The acrid odour is so thick you could figuratively touch it. And when you arrive IPF, breathing becomes a curse of a kind. The odour pervades the air permanently and it could stick on your shirt. You could easily throw up or develop goose pimples at the sight of maggots crawling about.
And there are residential buildings, schools and churches in the neighbourhood. In fact, there are three schools beside IPF. Although there has not been a major incident with regards to air pollution and environmental degradation in that axis but it is just a matter of time, if nothing is urgently done to rescue the situation.
“I’m just waiting for my rent to run through and I’ll leave this place. It is hell living at Emelogu because of the foul air. Residents of the area suffer from one ailment or another. It is worse during the rainy season; everywhere will be smelly as if corpses are dumped here. And when the rains stop, they begin to burn the refuse, covering everywhere with smoke. It is really terrible,” Nduka Anyataonwu said.
Another resident, Mike Nwangborogwu, said: “I live here simply because that is my family house. Otherwise, I would have gone a long time ago. Even at that, I have secured an apartment in another part of the city. I will pack out of this area in January or February. I’m really tired of the whole thing. They don’t see us as human beings; that is why they turned this place to a dumpsite. This is man’s inhumanity to man.”
Worse still, ASEPA workers at Emelogu are violent. Woe betide you if they catch you taking pictures of the IPF. They behave like thugs with mandate to destroy, maim or kill.
The situation is such that recently, residents of Ehere community in Obinwa Local Government Area of the state threatened to take state government to court over the location of a dumpsite in the area. According to them, ASEPA dumped an unknown chemical at the site, which fouled the air and made breathing difficult.
In a petition to the commissioner for environment, the community said: “The ASEPA waste dumpsite situated at Emelogu Street, a residential area, is where all manner of waste from different parts of Aba and its environs are dumped. The dump is completely filled, yet ASEPA keeps heaping refuse on top of the site.
“Consequently, Ehere community is adversely affected by air pollution. The stinking odour is unbearable. The odour emitting from the dump is overwhelming to the extent that it is perceived even in the dress of anyone who steps into the area. ASEPA dumped an unknown chemical on the site, which has compounded the already polluted air in the area. The chemical itself has a pungent odour, making breathing difficult, stuffy and choking.
“ASEPA cannot continue to take the lives of Abians for granted as doing so will be inconsistent with the mandate of the agency which is the protection of the environment.”
The petitioners urged the commissioner to intervene to “stop ASEPA from further dumping refuse and for them to cover the dump with stand.”
The appeal of the residents fell on deaf ears as the IPF is still working at full capacity.
Emelogu is not the only dirty place in Aba. In fact, dirt defines the city. Almost all parts of the city are enveloped in rotten bits and pieces. See gutters in Osusu Road and die. Please don’t mention Amammong. What about Eziukwu Road linking Cemetery Market? The road is impassable even as flood had chased away some of the residents. Even in the second week of December, parts of Port Harcourt Road were covered with dirty, smelly water. Frogs and toads could be seen jumping about in broad daylight. These places are not for human habitation.
Ngwa Road will be perfect for pigs. It is broken and extremely dirty. Traders have taken over the road and it was learnt that they pay daily levy to a traditional ruler in the area. The icing on the cake is that part of the Ngwa Road Post Office has been converted to parking stores by traders. A tailoring outfit is also occupying a part of the building.
Considering Aba’s reputation, a first time visitor would be shocked beyond words. However, the residents seem to have resigned themselves to fate. “What do you expect us to do? They have been making all manner of promises without doing anything. It is like a tale told by a fool, filled with thunder and brimstone but signifying nothing. For us, any promise by government is not even worth the paper it is written. I think Ikpeazu is a reincarnation of his oga, T.A Orji,” Enekwachi Onwumelu, a computer accessory dealer, said.
A visit to the abattoir at waterside will make you not to eat meat again. The place is so unhygienic that you will be sick observing the things happening there.
Among the things that made Aba thick were the markets in the city. Today, some of the markets have deteriorated so much. The markets are so dirty even as floodwater cover them when it rains. The situation is such that many in shoe making and tailoring businesses were chased away by flood. Ochendo International Market, in particular, is in a mess.
Umuahia, the capital of the state, is also a city of refuse. For instance, Umuwaya, a major road in the city, is covered with refuse. When the reporter visited there recently, the long stretch was littered with dirt, covering part of the road. So, the residents resorted to self-help by burning the waste. The result was billowing smoke.
Aesthetics and finesse mean nothing in Abia. The secretariat where the ministries operate is nothing to write home about. It is dirty to the point of irritation. Even the commissioners’ quarter needs sprucing up, considering the calibre of people living there.
Work no pay
The morale of Abia workers is really low. This is because they are not paid as when due. The situation was encapsulated via a communiqué issued at the end of the ordinary general meeting of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Abia State held in Umuahia on December 2, 2018. In attendance were heads of health institutions in the state, specialists from various fields of medicine, honoured members and distinguished elders of the medical profession in the state.
The OGM, among other issues, made the following observations: “The poor state of funding of the secondary and tertiary health sector in the state despite the quality and dedicated manpower available.
“The OGM observed the precarious welfare state of members of the Association working at the Hospital Management Board (HMB), and Abia State University Teaching Hospital (ABSUTH). That doctors in ABSUTH are owed arrears of salaries for ten months i.e. February to November, 2018.
“Doctors in HMB are owed arrears of salaries for eight months and experienced arbitrary slash in their salaries for over three months.
“That the Honourable Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Obinna Oriaku, boldly denied the fact that government owes ABSUTH workers ten months salary. He claimed that the government only gives ABSUTH subvention whereas he is aware that the subvention is based on the salary wage-bill of the hospital and has not been paid for 10 months.
“That the statement of Mr. Obinna Oriaku is highly provocative and capable of grounding the health system in the state. That ABSUTH has been in existence for over 20 years and has been maintained by successive governments recognising her indispensability in multi-disciplinary healthcare, health research, undergraduate and postgraduate medical manpower development.
The OGM Resolved as follows:
“That the Abia State government should as a matter of urgency clear all outstanding salary arrears owed to workers in these institutions before the end of December, 2018.
“That the Honourable Commissioner of Finance Abia State should withdraw his statement and desist from this deliberate act of misinforming the public thereby adding more pain to the aggrieved workers.
“That the association may not be able to guarantee industrial harmony in the health sector in the state if this untold hardship being inflicted on our members persist.
“That all candidates for the various political offices in the state should endeavor to maintain the calm political atmosphere presently existing and make public their agenda for the health sector in preparation for the 2019 elections.”
The direct effect is that workers are not happy. A hungry workforce is an angry workforce.
• To be continued.