By Chuks Akamadu
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report released in the first half of this month, 3000 cities in 103 countries were clinically scanned and 20 emerged as the most polluted in the world. Among the 20 were 4 Nigerian cities, and among the 4 were Abia State’s only cities of Aba and Umuahia. The report was said to have covered the period, 2011-2015.
The obvious implication of this startling revelation is that on account of poor air quality level, people who live in Aba and Umuahia are at an increasing risk of being afflicted by lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, chronic and acute respiratory diseases such as asthma. Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General captured it with evident precision when he submitted that “air pollution is a major cause of disease and death…when dirty air blankets our cities the most vulnerable urban populations – the youngest, oldest and poorest are the most impacted”.
This is not good news at all for Abia, and the state government should more than worry. With these frightening statistics from quarters that cannot possibly be tagged “opposition elements”, Abians and the rest of the world can now see for themselves what kind of “legacies” the immediate past administration left in the state. Regrettably, the present administration is, to all intents and purposes, an extension of its predecessor’s, and has been severally accused, rightly or wrongly, of trying, in vain, to build on the ruins of Abia’s recent past.
To be fair, yes, the buck should stop at the table of the state’s Chief Executive for that period, but Governor (as he then was) T.A Orji did not function as a “sole administrator”. As a democratically elected governor, he had appointees on whom he relied substantially to translate his vision into concrete, measurable outcomes. In this instance, his successor-in-office, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, played a critical part as the boss at Abia State Environmental Protection Agency (ASEPA). So, if ex-Governor Orji is held vicariously liable, then the incumbent governor should not be allowed to walk away with a lighter sentence.
In Abia, environmental pollution is not restricted to the air specie”. There are also some other species like “cultural” and “political”. Aba’s distinctive features, as a “rich-in-creativity” city, typify the pollution that has come upon Abia’s cultural environment. In Aba, might is right; in Aba nothing is certain except uncertainty; in Aba, nothing is sacred and nothing is inviolable; in Aba, morality is a commonplace variant of vice (or at least a weakness) whilst the opposite is a “virtue”. It is in Aba that one can find “breweries” and “distilleries” existing in 2-bedroom apartments and one street can boast of 10 “breweries” and 10 “distilleries”.
Freely, the proprietors of these lucrative businesses flood the market with their killer-liquids, passing them off as beer, whisky, brandy and cognac. Nobody’s conscience pricks them, even when they have knowingly imperiled public health – their kith-and-kin inclusive. Calling Aba a showroom survival of the fittest showroom will not be out of place, but a more fitting description appears to be a city on the last rung of the Hobbesian state ladder! Someone should kindly tell Governor Ikpeazu that he has a duty to declare, without further delay, a state of emergency on Abia’s cultural environment. The cleansing has to begin now, not later.
He should also engage experts who can re-channel the abundant creative potentials of Aba residents to legitimate, business pursuits. The great Enyimba City should not be allowed to continue sticking out like a sore thumb.
Unfortunately, Abia’s political environment is no less distressed. It is the ravaging pollution that currently blights it that is responsible for the quality of leadership it possesses. The pollution can be better appreciated when one examines the quality of political debate, quality of governance and quality of citizens’ participation in the governance process. But by far a more notorious testament to the stench that saturates Abia’s political atmosphere is the fashionable trademark pot-belly some Government House dependants (political appointees, if you like) flaunt everywhere. This phenomenon underscores, on the one hand, the absence of mental and physical rigour in their respective state assignments and, on the other hand, the available expansive room for indulgence and unrestrained hedonism in Abia’s corridor of power.
All things considered, where then rests Abia’s prospects of attracting foreign direct investment (FDI)? What greater disincentive could there be, especially when the resurgent menace of kidnapping is factored in?
Governor Ikpeazu should, therefore, find the moment suitable for sober reflection. My pain, really, is that on the contrary, as experience has shown, he is likely to see the concerns raised herein as an attempt to pull his government down. How sad! His close aides would want this piece archived and the author marked for future “punishment”. This is the tragedy of a society in the vice grip of pollution.
It is also one of the eloquent legacies he inherited from his predecessor. The incumbent governor is further encouraged to find the nerve to depart from the old way of viewing governance; he should humbly admit the errors of the past in the light of the damning WHO report and resolve to do things differently. This, he can achieve, if he is able to desist from attempting to build on the ruins that were bequeathed him exactly one year ago. And whether Governor Ikpeazu agrees or not, to successfully expel the pervasive pollution in God’s Own State, he must question and rupture the old order, just as he must redesign its structure and superstructure.
•Akamadu writes from Umuahia