Because our generation needs a voice

There was a city

The title of this post was inspired by the late Chinua Achebe’s personal history of Biafra, ‘There Was A Country’.  In the book, Chinua Achebe talks about the events that led to the unsuccessful secession of Biafra from the Nigerian nation, as well as the resultant civil war.  The book is a good read for anyone willing to ask questions about Nigeria, rather than just swallow what has become the official narrative of a country still seeking to define itself, 56 years after independence.

But this is not about Biafra.  At least, not in the sense we have come to know it.

 This post is about the city of Aba. 

IMG-20160724-WA0010Once a commercial powerhouse, Aba is the trade capital of Abia State, and is arguably the most cosmopolitan city in all of Eastern Nigeria. 

In its heydays, Aba was home to some of Nigeria’s most successful industries, industrialists and commercial houses.  In terms of its IGR potential, Aba was poised to compete fiercely with economies like that of Lagos.  Companies like Dunlop, Aba Textile Mills, Glass Industries, Bourdex Group, Intersoft, Kan Biscuits, Star Paper Mills, Nigerian Breweries, John Holt, Thomas Cooke, Unilever and PZ, were just the few of multinationals that dotted the vast business landscape of Aba.  The Aba G.R.A. was home to both Nigerian nationals and expatriates, and the schools in Aba could compete favourable with those found all over Nigeria.

 Aba was a place we could be proud of.  And we were.

 Now, however, the city has become a tale of everything wrong with us as a people.  Years of neglect and mismanagement has turned this once vibrant city into one large garbage dump.  A metaphor, if you may, for what governance has become all over Abia State: a cesspool of corruption and ineptitude.

 From being an Eastern powerhouse, Aba is now a beggarly blot on our national psyche.  The despondent state of the city highlights once more, our poor choice of leaders, and our inability to hold them accountable for ruining what is left of our commonwealth.  From being a major exporter of goods to other parts of Nigeria, the daily exodus of Aba’s citizens to much saner climes has inadvertently made the city a major contributor of IGR to states such as Lagos.  This is made even worse by the general insecurity and rule-by-thugs approach of the present government.  Coupled with its cluelessness and unbending allegiance to a godfather in Abuja, the present administration in Abia has massively let down the ordinary people who purportedly elected it.

IMG-20160724-WA0015In fact, we might just be experiencing two new phenomena in our national life: de-urbanization and urban-urban migration. 

 To be fair to the present administration, de-urbanization did not start with it.  Years of neglect, chronic mismanagement and kleptomania as an administrative policy has made successive governments dead to their responsibilities.  Ordinary tasks such as waste management (which ironically, was the job of this present governor) where not carried out.  This left Aba as the huge garbage heap that it is today, and has, in essence, made the whole city a monumental health hazard that should be cordoned off.  Nowadays, what we see in Aba are structures that are crumbling, rather than being erected. 

 This has led to the second phenomenon: urban-urban migration.  In other environments, large-scale migration is typically from rural to urban areas.  However, the despondency of Aba has created a new scenario where its young, able-bodied, mostly educated and the productive residents have gone in search of the proverbial greener pasture.  For many, this sojourn has taken them just across the Imo River, to Owerri, or thirty minutes in the opposite direction, to Port Harcourt. But apart from the loss or revenue this leaves in its wake, this migration also has a negative effect on the psyche of those in Aba.  Whereas the average Aba resident, as recent as the late 90s, was as much urbane as her Lags counterpart, that is not the case today.  Now, if one is from Aba he is automatically perceived as being uncouth and unenlightened. 

If things are to change, the government must lead the people in re-engineering this once-beautiful city in which I grew up, and of which I am immensely proud.  The government must wake up to the reality that Aba not only holds the ace for Abia’s growth, but for the economic renaissance of the South East.  If the South East must develop its internal economy, the Abia State Government must build and strengthen its regional market and its cosmopolitan spaces.  It must change its approach to revenue.  Rather than wait for monthly cheques from Abuja, the Abia State government must, through deliberate and well-thought-through policies, encourage the shoemakers, textile merchants, tailors, industrialist, craftsmen and other professionals in Aba to do become major players in the South Eastern and Nigerian economies.  The government must change its belligerent attitude towards Aba, and lift its people out of squalor and a daily fight for survival.  The government must create a conducive and safe business environment so that those investors that ran away to places Owerri, port Harcourt and Lagos, can come back to their homes and invest, thereby putting more people to work, and increasing government revenue.  In short, this government, if it is serious, must change the way it looks at Aba.  Or it must be changed.IMG-20160724-WA0000



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