Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State, is lying prostrate, in utter ruins. It is in shackles, bruised and battered. And no one seems to care. Worse still, the residents have been cowed. So, they see no evil and speak no evil because they are afraid of the son of a top elected official in the state nicknamed Whirlwind. In Abia, the fear of Whirlwind is the beginning of wisdom. If you incur the wrath of Whirlwind, you will have yourself to blame. Aba has fallen from grace to grass. It has lost its former glory that dressed it in the admirable robe of the eastern commercial pride and made it attractive to investors and business people from within and outside the region.
The vibrancy that defined the city is gone and the once thriving city is a shadow of itself. Today, Aba is a terrible and indescribable sight. Indeed, words are not enough to capture the present state of the once famous Enyimba City. As Lewis Hine said, “if I could tell the story (of Aba) in words I wouldn’t need a lug around a camera.” According to Henri Cartier Bresson, “they (pictures) speak for themselves.” And, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Aba, which was conceived as the industrial engine of the East, paints a piteous picture. It has decayed on all fronts, making it one of the ugliest cities in Nigeria. Anyone who knew Aba when it was blazing in glory would weep at the present state of things. The home of creativity and haven of local technology otherwise known as the Japan of Africa is now defined by broken and ravaged streets as well as mountains of garbage, sometimes piled too close to human domestic life. One of the heart-rending scenes is in Ngwa Road where traders display their wares amid the putrid seepage from rotten wastes overflowing the road. There, maggots and flies dance on vegetables and other edibles on sale. There, ‘Aba perfume’ hangs thick in the air. Take this: Epidemic is imminent in Aba as sewage flowing down dirty streets is a common sight.
Broken roads: Coming into Aba, you soon discover that something is wrong. To start with, it is not a tea party entering into the city from any point, as all the roads linking it are in terrible condition. The Enugu – Aba – Port Harcourt Expressway is deplorably bad, particularly at the Osisioma axis through which the main town is accessed. The Aba – Ikot Ekpene Road is an expressway to hell, as craters dot the long stretch. If you are coming from Akwa Ibom, the way that you will know that you have reached the border is the state of the road at the Abia end. As soon as you enter Abia State, you begin to navigate through the valley of the shadow of death. And the fear of evil will be your portion because the Azumini area, in Abia State, is ritualists’ den. Not long ago, scores of human heads, decomposing bodies and skeletons were discovered at Kilometre 15 on the Aba/ Azumini Highway popularly known as ‘No man’s land’ after Akpaa village in Obingwa LGA of Abia State. The victims include an unidentified national youth service corps member as his uniform showed. The Ogbor Hill section, which is right inside the city, is too bad. In fact, the right side from Opobo junction is impassable, so drivers drive against traffic there. “Aba is the heart of Abia State. But government is far from Aba.” This submission by a commercial tricycle rider, Mr Chiemela Nwogu, succinctly captures the state of affairs in the city. It will be easier for the state- owned team, Enyimba Football Club, to win the FIFA World Cup than to locate an entirely good stretch of road in Aba. The reporter was in Aba recently, and saw the once bubbly city in chains. In this rainy season, Aba is floating, so to say. Most of the roads are flood-prone because there are no drainages and where they exist, they have been blocked. So, with nowhere to go, the ensuing floods take over the streets and escape into homes and business premises. As a matter of fact, some streets have turned to river in Aba. One of the ‘rivers’ is found on the Umuojima Road, which leads to the Aba – Enugu expressway. An elderly resident of Umuojima Road, who identified himself as Mr Nwanguma, volunteered: “The road has been impassable for three years. Sometimes when it rains, our homes are flooded. And because of the condition of the road, most of the residents of the area don’t bring their cars back anymore.” Indeed, the elderly fellow was excited when he saw the reporter taking pictures of the ‘river’ on his street. Disclosing that the residents of the area were going through hell, he lamented: “My son, please help us appeal to government to come to our aid. We have suffered so much in this area. There was a time they came in the name of repairing the road about three years ago but they ended up destroying it and ever since we have been passing through hell. Any time the rain is a bit heavy, many of us in this area will not have it easy.” Nwanguma, however, joked that Aba residents get some relief when the rains go away through Okochi (Dry Season) Construction Company which comes to their assistance. From one end of the city to the other, it is the same story. From the ‘town part’ to Umungasi, Umule, Ama Ogbonna, Over Rail and Ama Mmong among others, it is the story of overflowing dumpsites, broken and flooded streets and general infrastructural decay. On a rainy day or even several hours after the rains, a speedboat can conveniently ply the right section of the Aba – Owerri Road, from the point where a private university is, to way beyond Crest/Enitona junction. A federal facility, it was given a facelift about two years ago but some portions have started failing because it is perennially flooded. And while the flood lasts, traders at Umungasi market close shops, otherwise their wares will be submerged and destroyed. Worst still, there is an open manhole at Brass junction, and when it rains, people fall into it. A source disclosed that many people have lost their lives in the manhole while several others had sustained debilitating injuries. You cannot tell the story of Aba without talking about Ariaria International Market, which is the most popular market in the city. In fact, Ariaria used to be the face of the town but not anymore. Today, going to the market through Faulks Road is an agonizing experience because a journey of a few minutes can last for hours because of the terrible condition of the road, resulting in traffic bottleneck. But if Faulks Road is potholes infested, the popular Ukwu Mango is a scene from the pit of hell. Before now, the spot used to be flooded but somehow passable but after the state government ‘worked’ on it, the drainage was blocked. The result is that the place has become totally impassable. Like most parts of Aba, you cannot wear shoes when going to Ariara. The reason is that all the surroundings are flooded. The only way out is to remove your shoes and fold your trousers, wrappers or skirt to knee length and trek. In fact, when the heavens open up, keke riders and bus drivers disappear because, if they don’t, their vehicles will be submerged. “When it rains, people’s goods are destroyed by flood. My wife’s wares were damaged, that was why she left the place. Considering the status of Ariaria as an international market, the state of the environment leaves so much to be desired,” Chiemela said. Bakassi Street, in the Ariaria area, which has a large concentration of shoemakers, does not belong to this age and time. Umuocham Road that links Aba – Owerri Road is cut off. Osusu Road leading to Ama Ogbonna is also cut off. The popular MCC Road is in a terrible state, especially at the point around the Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Revival Ministry, Aba headquarters area. Powerline Road is also bad just as some portions of St Michael’s Road and Asa Road also contend with massive moulds of waste. Eziukwu Road is in a mess. But Port Harcourt Road is simply in a class of its own. An arterial road, it should pass as one of the worst roads on the face of the earth. There, vehicles are trapped every day. In fact, only trucks and other big vehicles ply the road. A car can easily be buried in the gullies on the road and when it happens, the army of jobless young men in the area will jump into the muddy water and push out the trapped vehicle for a fee. They call it, ‘self empowerment.’ If all the major hubs are dilapidated, the adjoining or inner streets are simply non-existent. Ngwa Road also needs a special mention in ignominy. Apart from the distress associated with bad roads, heaps of waste occupy a large portion of it and compete with traders. And as noted above, there is the threat of disease outbreak due to overflowing decayed garbage emitting acid odour. It is a wonder how human beings do business under such atmosphere. Another place where epidemic is looming is Emelogu where a mountain of refuse has sprung up. There, an offensive odour pervades the air. From bad to worse. In 2012, the reporter was in Aba to do a comprehensive report on the city following the peaceful demonstration by lawyers who wore rainboots to show that Aba had become a jungle. The lawyers’ grouse was that life in Aba was brutish and harrowing. Or rather, living in Aba was a nightmare. The placards carried by the lawyers bore such inscriptions as: “Live in Aba, live in hell,” The worst roads in the world are in Aba,” “Weep for Aba,” “Government neglect of Aba is injustice,” “ Lawyers are asking for good governance” and “This is Aba, the location of hell on earth.” “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,” Chief Charles Eduzor, the then Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Aba branch, had said. About two years down the line, nothing has changed in positive terms. Eduzor observed that things have actually gone from bad to worse. “Things have dilapidated more; that is the situation. There is no improvement. The governor has not done anything in Aba since. I don’t know what the problem is. Perhaps the governor is leaving the problem to the next governor. It is unfortunate,” Eduzor told the reporter. Ironically, Gov. T.A. Orji and his men had debunked the report, saying it did not reflect the state of affairs in Aba. But in the same breath, few days after the report was published, the state government announced that it was awarding contracts for the rehabilitation of the same roads it had announced were shipshape. But the action was, at best, sophistry. The roads have worsened as nothing was done on them. Investigations revealed that potholes are turning into craters and gullies. Roads that were passable a few years ago had become no-go areas. Putting the matter in perspective, Chief Dr. Francis Ene, a businessman, opined that the residents have never had it so rough and tough. Waxing philosophical, Chief Ene said: “Living in Aba is suffering and smiling because all the roads are totally dilapidated; there is no exemption. It is a terrible situation. Some of us who have customers from outside the state are feeling the pinch. This is because customers cannot come from Akwa Ibom to Aba, even coming from Port Harcourt to Aba is a herculean task. From Umuahia to Aba is no mean task; you will spend hours on the road because of the bad road. There is no side you can mention and say it is better than the other in Aba. If you go to Ngwa Road, you can’t pass there. If you go to Ogbor hill, no way. Obohia Road is nothing to write home about. Even Ariaria International Market is in a sorry state. If you manage to enter Ariaria, you will spend hours before you come out because of the nature of the road. You can’t even come through Ukwu Mango, not to talk of Faulks Road. All those areas are death traps. So, living in Aba is suffering and smiling.” Chief Ene went on: “I have been in Aba since 1970. It is a great town that had made a lot of people. We have senators here in Aba. We have House of Representatives and state House of Assembly members. Aba has produced so many successful people in various spheres of life. Abia is not supposed to be abandoned just like that. So, I’m appealing to the Federal Government to help us. Aba is part of Nigeria and is the commercial nerve centre of Abia and the South East states. “Aba boasts of skilled and skilful artisans like shoemakers and tailors, among many others, who can hold their own anywhere. All they need is the enabling environment to thrive. Anytime there is politics or during election time, they will remember Aba to come and seek for votes. But immediately after that, the place will be abandoned. So, I’m begging the Federal Government to come to our aid because Aba is an important town that has the potential of turning around the fortunes of the country in terms of manpower and technical know-how.” Chief Ene further said landlords in Aba also contend with other headaches apart from the infrastructural decay. “At a point, touts were almost taking over Aba after the kidnapper, Osisikankwu’s issue. We have suffered too many things. I was shot in my own office before the intervention of soldiers in the state. My place has been invaded so many times. After all the suffering, touts took over.