Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
The recent inauguration of Sir Chris Ukachukwu as the 13th president of Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ONICCIMA) brought under one roof technocrats, politicians, captains of industry and a large number of players in the organised private sector.
Apart from issues affecting commerce and business, which the former president and the new one addressed and promised to take to the next level, issues about how to make Onitsha greater occupied the front burner during the inauguration.
Onitsha draws a lot of attention, positive or negative, being a city with the largest concentration of commercial activities and one of the most populated cities in the southern part of Nigeria.
Chaired by the transport mogul, Chief Godwin Ubaka Okeke of the G.U.O. Group of Companies, speakers like former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, former aviation minister and corps marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission, Osita Chidoka, and the former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu, all spoke with passion on the need to reinvent Onitsha once more.
Chidoka, who made a power point presentation during the event, proposed the creation of the Greater Niger Area Planning Commission to make Onitsha a successful city comparable to Kigali, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
The commission, he said, would comprise the five local government areas of Onitsha North, Onitsha South, Ogbaru, Idemili North and Oyi, to enable regional planning, agglomeration and scale to reverse the progressive decay of urban services in the commercial city of Onitsha.
He said Onitsha had lost its traditional setting to urbanisation, noting that no institution or modern governance structure was in place to develop the area.
Chidoka recalled that the city, which was once home to some of the finest and brightest academics, lawyers, businessmen and transporters from Igboland, has become a shadow of itself. He said that the city of the largest market in West Africa lacked critical municipal services like efficient transport system, mapped routes, coordinated sewage system, reticulated water supply system and planning that should normally separate residential areas from business areas.
“We need the restoration of Onitsha Water Works built by the colonial government in the 1940s, set new targets on sanitation and save the area from becoming a slum. We have to invest massively to evolve accessible, affordable health and education system partly with the revenue generated from here,” he said.
Chidoka said there was the need to digitise governance of Onitsha municipality, noting that there was no online presence of the two local governments that control Onitsha.
He called for a clear mapping that differentiates market area from the business area as well as a central sewage system that would ensure good sanitary environment.
According to Chidoka, if the United Nations (UN) habitat plan for Onitsha was implemented in the last seven years, the commercial city would not have been where it is today.
Moghalu, in his speech, explained that, to make Onitsha work, ONICCIMA must strive to engage government at federal and state levels constructively. He said the organised private sector must also maximise the recent opportunity given to the Igbo by the appointment of George Muoghalu as the director-general of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) towards making the Onitsha River Port functional.
He said that Onitsha must catch up with the information technology revolution to link up with the global world. He also called on the organised private sector to ensure that only the right candidates are elected into public office in Anambra State and Nigeria in general.
He called for attitudinal change in the business community in Onitsha, even as he noted that the practice of remaining indifferent to issues and matters that were not of personal benefit to some individuals should be discarded.
Chris Ukachukwu, a pharmacist and industrialist, was thereafter inaugurated as president. He promised to work towards restoring the glory of the Onitsha business community. His inauguration was performed by the national president of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Hajiya Saratu Iya Aliu. She was represented by the first deputy national president, Ide John Udeagbala.
The new ONICCIMA president thanked the Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano, for his continuous support to the organisation in the state, even as he lauded the efforts of his predecessor, Mr. Don Ebubeogu, in turning around the fortunes of the organisation.
Ukachukwu regretted that the city of Onitsha, which is a hub for commerce and industry in the state has struggled under the weight of low patronage and limited opportunities.
“My vision will be to explore every possible way of projecting the commercial potential of the Onitsha business community to key investors in the global market. We would seek platforms for engagements with these stakeholders with a goal to attract unlimited opportunities for all doing business in Onitsha,” he said.
The new president also promised to strengthen institutional relationships. He explained that part of his policy thrust would be to work with various federal and state institutions, agencies and other supporting bodies to ensure that ONICCIMA attracts programmes and policies that would be beneficial to the organised private sector.
He concluded by assuring the audience of his readiness to take up the task as a servant leader in his two-year tenure. He noted that he had the belief that collectively, the members of the organisation would build on the existing legacies while charting new paths that would showcase a re-engineered and restructured chamber, whose focus would be hinged on offering better and effective service delivery.