By HENRY UMAHI ([email protected])
The commercial city of Aba in Abia State used to be famous for the ingenuity of the locals. They copied and produced all manners of products. In fact, any product that was not made abroad was popularly referred to as Made in Aba or Aba made. Those were the days when the city was groovy.
Today, Aba, which used to be the economic capital of the South-East, is a failed city. Or so it seems. All the indices are manifest in the content and character of the city.
The moment you step into Aba, you will notice that the city is sick, terribly sick. The vibrancy and zest have been replaced by gloom and frustration because the city has fallen apart.
According to Chief Charles Eduzor, Chairman, Nigeria Bar Assoociation (NBA), Aba Branch: “The economy of Aba has collapsed because of the neglect of the town. People are merely living here now by the grace of God. They live from day to day, praying that God sees them through the next day.”
That is how deep Aba has sunken, sliding into oblivion. Aba is paradise lost. The once vibrant, bubbly city is lying prostrate, like a criminal in chains. Aba ia s a shadow of itself. It is like a lady raped and abandoned in the sun, dressed in tattered robe, hair unkempt, no make-up, without shoes.
You would not like to be in Aba when it rains. When the heavens open, the tears, pains and anguish of Aba residents flow like a river. When it rains, Aba becomes a floating city because their drainages are blocked where they exist.
Living in Aba is, indeed, a nightmare. To be condemned to reside there is living in bondage, it is living in a state of perpetual suffering. It presents a pathetic picture that can melt even a stony heart. It is a portrait of a city criminally neglected.
You begin to feel the situation of Aba even before you come to town. To start with, it is often difficult to find a cab that will take you from Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, Imo State. The reason is not far fetched. A trip to Aba can take anything from five hours for a distance of far less than 100 kilometres. So, only the brave driver can embark on such a trip and the passenger must be ready to cough out about half of the air fair from Lagos to Owerri.
Coming to Aba from Owerri, you will begin to understand why airport taxi drivers avoid Aba like a flea when you get to KM 7 Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway. There, vehicles are easily buried in the gullies on both sides. When a trailer is trapped in there, commuters can be stuck there for several hours. On such occasions, some passengers alight from their vehicles and cross over to the other side and board another vehicle. But it is not usually as easy as that. The depth of the mud on the road is such that if you step out of the vehicle, it will swallow your shoes. So, before stepping out to trek, you must remove your shoes and fold your trousers to knee length.
And after navigating to the other side, you buy water to wash up before wearing your shoes again. Another tragedy could strike while you are trying to clean up. Your money and other valuable things could be snatched by criminals, prowling the area. Although soldiers mount a checkpoint nearby, investigations revealed that travellers are sometimes attacked there by armed robbers.
Inside Enyimba City
Aba, popularly known as Enyimba City, is in a shambolic state. Divided into two local government areas, – Aba South and Aba North, it is characterised by infrastructural collapse, particularly dilapidated roads. In fact, the roads can be likened to valleys in the shadow of death.
To underscore the harrowing experience of commuters in Aba, lawyers in the city embarked on peaceful demonstration recently. Carrying placards with inscriptions such as “Weep for Aba,” “This is Aba, the location of hell on earth,” “The worst roads in the world are in Aba,” and “Live in Aba, live in hell,” the lawyers added a touch of drama as they marched on the streets wearing rain boots. The unique combination was to show how the deplorable condition of roads in the city had compelled residents to dress like people living in the jungle. To booth, they sang songs portraying Gov. T. A Orji as a non-performer.
Also, during the lying in state of former Biafran leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, at the Enyimba Stadium in February, Orji was booed and pelted with satchets of water by angry residents.
Perhaps, it could be said that Aba has become a jungle of sorts. Virtually all the roads in the city have failed portions. Indeed, looking for a good road in Aba is akin to searching for a virgin in a maternity ward. The situation in Aba is such that potholes have degenerated into craters and gullies, making parts of the city impassable. In some parts, whenever it rains, flood will take over the roads and sack some homes.
One of the worst is Ohanku Road. Part of the road is permanently flooded and residents derogatorily refer to it as River Ohanku. Beside the ‘river’ is a manhole, which sources said had claimed some lives. Indeed, the condition of the area is so terrible that you wonder how human beings reside and survive there.
The adjoining streets are also piteous spectacles. Ironically, Ohanku Road leads to the home of the Minister for Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu, at Iheorji. Perhaps, a canoe will come to the rescue anytime the minister visits home.
Ngwa Road, an arterial road, is nothing to write home about. The road is broken and flooded in some areas, making it a Herculean task to get to Ngwa Road market. Worse still, the area is littered with garbage.
Just as Ngwa, Omuma Road is in a highly deplorable condition. Perhaps, Omuma is worse. The long stretch is defined by flooded craters that tend to swallow vehicles. Indeed, the portion of Omuma, connecting Ariaria, is just not motorable. It has been overtaken by bush right in the middle.
Going to Ariaria Market through Faulks Road is a horrifying experience. The traffic is horrendous as craters dot the road. In some parts, large stones are used to fill the holes, making movement clumsy as motorists labour to avoid their tyres being torn.
Your heart bleeds when you get to Ukwumango at Ariaria. There, you behold the failure of government. The water-logged crater there is knee deep. Only extraordinarily brave drivers and tricyclists (Keke riders) dare to drive through and most of the time they get trapped in there. Some youths have found the ugly development a source of survival as they stay in the dirty water, pushing out trapped vehicles and Keke for a fee.
Eziukwu Road is also in terrible condition just as Osusu Road, which has remained impassable for two years according to sources. Only big vehicles venture into that axis.
Gallery of decay
It is the same story all over the city. From the “town part” to Umungasi, Over Rail, Ama Ogbonna, Amamong, Umule and elsewhere, it is the same story of neglect and/or abandonment. Residents of these areas are united in grief and agony as their surroundings are in decrepit state.
For Aba residents, the bubble has burst. Driving or riding in cars is no longer a pleasurable experience. Many of them have packed their cars, preferring to trek because there are no roads to drive on. Mr. Augustine Chekwas, a businessman, told the reporter: “I no longer drive my car around because when you do, it ends up at the mechanic workshop because of the bad roads. So, now, I only drive my car to church on Sundays or special occasions. Living in Aba is a punishment.”
Checks revealed that the area known as the “town part,” which is the heart of the city, has lost its charm. For instance, St. Michael’s Road is potholes-ridden just as Yorke Street is dreadful and serves as rendezvous for drug users. Milverton Avenue, which is the home of transport companies, travelling all over the country, has fallen into disrepair. One cannot arrive from the beginning of the road to the end because it has been cut into two.
Nigeria’s first president, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, must be turning in his grave in anger because of the state of the road named after him in Aba. Azikiwe Road is littered with bad spots from one end to the other.
As it is in Azikiwe Road, so it is in East Street, Ulasi Street, Eche Road, Ndoki Street, Dike Street, Emelogu Street, Ehere Road, Azuka Extension, Ogbor Hill, Urakpa Road, Owuala Street, Onuoha Street, Broad Street, Uzoigwe Street, Ehime Street and Hospital Road, among many others. Perhaps, Okigwe Road is the only road in Aba without problems but it s a short stretch. Aba – Owerri Road is also good but the absence of drainage makes it a nightmare when it rains.
To travel on the Aba-Ikot Ekpene Road is akin to embarking on a suicide mission. A federal facility, connecting Aba with Akwa Ibom and Cross River States, it is a no-go area because it has remained derelict for long.
As Chief Francis Ene, an Aba businessman, summed up in terms of roads, the city is dead. “I don’t know what we have done to deserve this but we are appealing to government to come to our aid by giving Aba roads facelift. The condition of roads puts the city in precarious economic situation,’ Ene said.
Apart from the ugly state of roads in Aba, other areas suffer corresponding neglect. Take this: Epidemic looms in the city because of overflowing refuse dumpsites everywhere. For example, East Street has been overtaken by refuse. Emelogu Street is home to a mountain of refuse. Heaps of decaying, smelly refuse also constitute eye sore at such places as Ngwa Road, Asa Road, Aba-Owerri Road, Omuma Road and Aba-Ikot Ekpene Road, among many others. Aba is dirty, very dirty indeed. And it is nobody’s business to evacuate the filth.
Pools of stagnant water on the streets, especially residential areas could have dire consequences for Aba residents. Among other places, Ehere Road at Ogbor Hill, Ohanku Road, Ngwa and Omuma are cases in point. In these areas, pools of dirty, smelly water stagnate all year long because of blocked drainages. In some cases, residents wade through the pool daily to access their homes.
The abbatoir at Waterside is another potential source of health hazard to Aba people. When the reporter visited the facility recently, it was in a distasteful state. An acrid odour hung in the air like a fog. Worse still, a decomposing corpse was abandoned on the bridge, close to the slaughter point, with flies feasting on it. Indeed, it was an ugly spectacle. Instructively, soldiers, who had maintained a checkpoint at the spot beside the abandoned Enyima Hotel building since kidnappers held the city by the jugular, moved a few inches away because of the stench emanating from the corpse.
It was also gathered that cows at the abbatoir are sometimes allowed to run riot on the road causing accidents. Mr. Andrew Z. Esiaba, a banker, lamented: “We escaped death by the whiskers the other day when a cow ran onto the road and started destroying everything in sight. It took sometime before the handlers were able to bring it under control. That was not the first time such a thing was happening. In fact, it happens all the time and sometimes people lose their lives. Unfortunately, the authorities are not doing anything to arrest the menace of the cattle and their rearers.”
Trading in tears
Ariaria market used to be the pride of Aba. Then buyers and sellers were happy going to the market for the Made in Aba products.
Nowadays, those who do business at Ariaria and their customers tell a tale of woes. In fact, traders, who can afford to satisfy their needs elsewhere do so with gladness. The reason is not far fetched. Ariaria, like the rest of the city, is in dire straits. Whichever way you access the market, you are bound to be confronted with the challenge of traffic snarl caused by the bad roads. And when you get into the market, the sight that greets you makes you weep. “A Line,” which used to be the flagship of the market is worse than shit. It is squalid, like a piggery.
According to one of the leaders in the market, who did not want his name in print, when it rains, many of the shops are flooded because there is no place of escape for the water.
He said: “The gutter is filled so when it rains everywhere is flooded, destroying goods in the shops. People wear rain booth in the market whenever it rains. Yet, we are made to pay all sorts of levies, including infrastructure and sanitation levies. We have paid N6,500 each shop this year as well as two-year-rent in advance. If you fail to comply, your shop will be locked up and no businessman can afford that.”
He presented many receipts to prove his case, regretting that the condition of the market and surrounding is discouraging customers from coming to patronise them.
Again, there is no electricity supply from PHCN in the market. Traders provide electricity for themselves in the market through generating sets. Some people have turned the situation to their advantage by buying generating sets and supply power to interested traders at N150 per day.
It was gathered that there are 110 sub unions that make up the market. Each snub union has not less than 300 members or traders. However, the traders are in chains, so to say. They cannot speak freely or openly about the deplorable state of affairs in the market because if you do, “they will send Bakassi people to deal with you.” In fact, the fear of Bakassi is the beginning of wisdom. According to a source, Bakassi, a vigilance group, is used to terrorise people in the city.
Like Ariaria, like keke
Investigations revealed that keke riders are made to pay for four different tickets daily and they are issued with receipts after making such payments. They include ASPIMS Daily Road Safety ticket, Daily Road Income Tax ticket, Daily Infrastructural Development Levy ticket and Amalgamated Tricycle Operators Association ticket. There are also weekly levies.
Residents of Aba also complain of being compelled to pay all manners of levies with nothing to show for it. According to St. Moses Ogbonna, an activist, “the only thing that thrives in Abia and Aba in particular is levy. There is infrastructural levy, ASEPA levy, gutter levy, keke levy and so on. As I am talking to you, Keke people have been asked to pay N1,000 into the bank. Nobody knows what the levy is all about. Bus drivers are asked to pay N2,000 each. All they do is to collect levy, no work. That is the situation we found ourselves.”
Efforts to speak with the council chairmen proved abortive. However, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mr. Ugochukwu Emezue, said in view of the nature of the city, the government could not afford to abandon it. In a telephone chat, he volunteered that as soon as the rains were over, comprehensive rehabilitation work would commence in the city. He added that government had repaired some roads and opened up blocked drainages before the rains interrupted the effort. “The governor has promised to give Aba the attention it deserves,” he asserted.