Rebuilding Aba Is A Tough Call

Rebuilding Aba Is A Tough Call

 By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Opinion: What does it mean to rebuild a city? This same question applies to so much of Eastern region of Nigeria that have yet to enjoy any kind of rebuilding of the infrastructures destroyed during the 30 months old civil war of the late 60s between Nigeria and the defunct Republic of Biafra. Visiting Aba, Umuahia, right through to Owerri to Onitsha then all around Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers and Rivers State, aside the massive infrastructure built by successive administrations in Rivers state particularly,  all other South East and South South region, you will see all kinds of destroyed infrastructures especially the Federal roads infrastructures. 

When therefore i resolved to write on Abia state and Aba city that is in ruin due to accumulated periods of criminal abandonment by the government, it was the piece written by Lizzy Chan titled ‘what does it take to rebuild a destroyed city’ came to my mind.

She write that about 108 years ago, San Francisco was hit by a major earthquake, sparking fires that decimated the city. In a matter of days, more than 80 percent of the city had burned and 3,000 people were dead—one of the worst natural disasters on record.

But natural disasters aren’t the only thing that can bring a city to its knees. Economic uncertainty, social unrest, and chronic food and water shortages can be just as damaging to a city’s ability to thrive and grow.

Today, as we mark the anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake, we’re reflecting on what it means to recover from a shock and rebuild a stronger city—and what lessons we can learn from Resilient Cities that have risen from the ashes.

She then reflected on ROTTERDAM and asserted that  Rotterdam dates back to the Middle Ages but looks and feels far more modern. With wide roads and modern buildings, the city is known as “Manhattan on the Maas.” A German air raid in May 1940 destroyed hundreds of years of history—setting the city on fire for several days, killing as many as 1,000 residents, and flattening 25,000 homes, 11,000 buildings, and as much as half of the port. In total, around 2.6 square kilometers of Rotterdam city center were destroyed in the blitz.

U.K. Royal Air Force Air Commodore Will Burnett recalled, “This was the first time I had seen devastation by fires on this scale. We went right over the southern outskirts of Rotterdam at about 6,000 or 7,000 feet, and you could actually smell the smoke from the fires burning on the ground. I was shocked seeing a city in flames like that. Devastation on a scale I had never experienced.”

After the war, the city decided not to rebuild Rotterdam to mimic its original look—rather, they decided to build a modern city that reflected its status as a trade center. Rotterdam’s port is one of the largest in the world, a trade gateway to Europe, and a driver of the Dutch economy. Rebuilding the port was a priority. British and Dutch contractors began reconstruction immediately after liberation, rebuilding 7,790 meters of quay wall. The port was further expanded in the 1950s.

With nearly 80 percent of the city below sea level, Rotterdam is an authority on integrated water management and innovative climate adaptation out of necessity. But it’s also proactive in its approach: The city’s port authority says it wants to become the most sustainable port city in the world by 2015 by allocating land around the port to renewable energy companies, developing ways to better capture and store CO2 admissions, and using collapsible containers that could save space and cut shipping trips.

That resilience challenge extends to the wider city. Today, Rotterdam is working toward becoming 100 percent climate-proof by 2025—able to function economically and social with minimal disturbances under any extreme weather situation.

As I began writing this piece, i decided to begin by repeating my often used phrase that Aba to every Igbo person alive all over the world, is the commercial home.

Aba is a unique city in Igbo historicity and this is because just like what Lagos represents to every Nigerian because it is a miniature Nigeria,  Aba is a miniature Igboland. In reality, just as Yoruba owns Lagos, Aba is owned by the lively Ngwa people of South East of Nigeria. 

The above offers the philosophical and profound reason for why whatever happens to Aba as a city reverberates all around the world and especially anywhere in the world where Ndigbo live.

Just as Aba became the commercial home to millions of Igbo people, but the city as well as other parts of Abia state faced criminal neglect by successive administration since democracy was restored in 1999. Successive civilian governments in Abia, spent all the time and tenures committing massive economic crimes against the good people of Abia state by lining their pockets with filthy lucre.

Whereas the few Abia persons who became governors and state legislators up until the 2023 general poll, actively stole a huge quantum of the people’s commonwealth  and empowered a few cronies but abandoned the citizens and towns of Abia to cfuel fate of neglect and persistent collapse of socio-economic infrastructures. These political class who squandered both the goodwill and commonwealth of Abia people, have established personal assets and amassed massive wealth and have left the treasury of Abia in a dire situation.

However, the 2023 governorship election, offered the people of Abia state, a once in a life time opportunity, to choose between good and evil.

Fortunately,  the overwhelming majority of voters in Abia State opted to side with the force of good by electing someone whom they trust to liberate them from entrenched poverty and the rapid slide of the state into the abyss of misrule and disaster. That person elected as governor Alex Otti has already started working and introducing dynamism in the delivery of democracy dividends. He has made it open and well known that governance in Abia State will witness remarkable dynamism and constructive, progressive and sustainable template of economic advancement and growth. He has begun to repair the heavily damaged infrastructures of major cities of Umuahia and Aba. But of the major towns, cities and villages that should attract the attention of this new government,  that of Aba is uniquely different.  Aba has always been the commercial hub of Igboland,  but accumulated periods of neglect by the successive administration, have made the city, a shadow of its old self and indeed many who do business in Aba, started migrating to other parts of Nigeria. 

Gov. Alex Otti has however declared that the era of sharing Abia money to a few individuals instead of using it to develop the state, should be considered over.

The Governor who made the declaration at a media parley in Umuahia, vowed that under his watch, resources for the state would no longer be abused but put to good use.

” Gone are the days when Abia money is shared. If you are close to those who believe that Government money should be shared, they will have a different story to tell now.

” We have continued to make the necessary changes, and we want people to see things differently. We insist that things must be done differently.”

Governor Otti re-stated his campaign promise never to abuse his security vote but deploy it to the governance of the state.

“Using security votes for other purposes other than working for Abia people will not be allowed in my Government”.

The Governor noted that the massive developments going on in the state is a confirmation of his judicious use of public funds.

“ We will continue to do the right things, deploying the resources of Abia to work for Abia people”, he said.

Gov. Otti hinted that contract for the total rehabilitation of Port Harcourt road Aba which has completely collapsed for many years now, would soon be awarded.

The Governor who made the declaration at a media parley in Umuahia, vowed that under his watch, resources for the state would no longer be abused but put to good use.

” Gone are the days when Abia money is shared. If you are close to those who believe that Government money should be shared, they will have a different story to tell now.

” We have continued to make the necessary changes, and we want people to see things differently. We insist that things must be done differently.”

Governor Otti re-stated his campaign promise never to abuse his security vote but deploy it to the governance of the state.

“Using security votes for other purposes other than working for Abia people will not be allowed in my Government”.

The Governor noted that the massive developments going on in the state is a confirmation of his judicious use of public funds.

” We will continue to do the right things, deploying the resources of Abia to work for Abia people”, he said.

Gov. Otti hinted that contract for the total rehabilitation of Port Harcourt road Aba which has completely collapsed for many years now, would soon be awarded.

Otti who had before his swearing in, brought road construction giant, Julius Berger to assess the road, disclosed that design work for the strategic road was almost completed.

” Port Harcourt Road Aba has not been forgotten. It requires a lot of design, and we are at the design stage. We have done virtually everything about the road.

” In the next few weeks you will see what will happen to Port Harcourt Road Aba”.

The Governor who recently inaugurated three roads in Aba, said that “11 roads are under construction” in the commercial city, adding that three of them will soon be inaugurated.

The Governor who made the declaration at a media parley in Umuahia, vowed that under his watch, resources for the state would no longer be abused but put to good use.

” Gone are the days when Abia money is shared. If you are close to those who believe that Government money should be shared, they will have a different story to tell now.

” We have continued to make the necessary changes, and we want people to see things differently. We insist that things must be done differently.”

Governor Otti re-stated his campaign promise never to abuse his security vote but deploy it to the governance of the state.

“Using security votes for other purposes other than working for Abia people will not be allowed in my Government”.

The Governor noted that the massive developments going on in the state is a confirmation of his judicious use of public funds.

” We will continue to do the right things, deploying the resources of Abia to work for Abia people”, he said.

Gov. Otti hinted that contract for the total rehabilitation of Port Harcourt road Aba which has completely collapsed for many years now, would soon be awarded.

” Port Harcourt Road Aba has not been forgotten. It requires a lot of design, and we are at the design stage. We have done virtually everything about the road.

” In the next few weeks you will see what will happen to Port Harcourt Road Aba”.

The Governor who recently inaugurated three roads in Aba, said that “11 roads are under construction” in the commercial city, adding that three of them will soon be inaugurated.

” We have already delivered three roads in Aba, and another three – Green Avenue, Umuimo and Old Express Road are ready for inauguration

Gov. Otti explained that while roads projects were being done in Aba, Umuahia the state capital would also be given attention, hence the decision of his administration to commence the six -lane Ossah Road Umuahia to give the capital city a befitting ambience.

” While Aba is a priority, Umuahia is the state capital. We are not doing Umuahia roads at the expense of Aba roads, we are giving attention to both cities simultaneously.”

Responding to an inquiry on different humongous figures being alleged by the opposition as revenues received by his administration, Gov. Otti said he would not be distracted by the opposition.

He argued that for decades the opposition party had been in power, it had nothing to show for it, hence, it does not deserve attention.

The opposition has held the state to the jugular, and we have just broken loose. I won’t be distracted by their criticism. They should let us breathe. If they don’t want us to breathe, we have the right to breath. I’m not here for the opposition.

” We have forced out the mouth of those who put their mouth on the feeding bottle of the state. So, they are not happy but we won’t allow them to distract us”.

Otti said he had nothing to hide about the resources accruing to the state, and how they are being deployed under his watch, assuring that his administration has regard for accountability.

” Don’t listen to their lies. Somebody wrote that we are using N35 to paint a house at the Commissioners’ Quarters. But he is only deceiving himself. Abians are wiser and can’t fall for such deception and blackmail. My concern is to keep working and not to be responding to distractions by blackmailers.”

The Governor further said that the two Specialist Hospitals -Amachara and Abia Diagnostic Centre Umuahia, recently renovated and re-equiped by his administration were in compliance with his promise to rebuild the Abia health sector.

He said that the Aba General Hospital, and Umunneato General Hospital currently under renovation would soon be delivered.

The Governor also explained that the flagging off of Abia Industrial Park at Owazza was part of his quest to transform the state.

He expressed delight at the high-profile investors who have already indicated interest in the project and those who showed up during the flag-off ceremony last Saturday.

Otti said that the park would have a modular refinery, fertilizer plant, gas plant, real estate, among others.

He said that his emergence marked the beginning of a new dawn in Abia State.

Early this month, the Abia State Governor, Alex Otti, flagged off the reconstruction of the perennially dilapidated 6.7 kilometres of Port Harcourt Road Aba and equally gave an official completion date of 18 months.

It gathered that the Port Harcourt road, one of the most deplorable Federal Roads in the state was awarded to construction giant, Julius Berger at the rate of N30 billion.

Julius Berger is expected to reconstruct the road as well as build a flood control mechanism within the area which is part of the flood-ravaged Uratta, Ohabiam and Ndiegoro flood-prone area.

Speaking during the flag-off, Otti said he was glad that his administration is taking yet another strategic step in fulfilling one of his major campaign promises which is to permanently break the jinx of Port Harcourt Road Aba and revive the long-abandoned economic activities along the area.

He recalled that artisanship activities and other major business activities within Port Harcourt Road once gave Aba a set of peculiar advantages, starting from the early 1980s when the revered leader, Dee Sam Mbakwe, Governor of Old Imo State, constructed the road to feed into the expansion of the booming oil industrial complex in Port Harcourt.

He said that Mbakwe’s vision gained a foothold almost immediately as the road became a major hub for the servicing of heavy-duty vehicles, equipment, spare parts, power generating sets and ancillary tools.

He stressed that because of Mbakwe’s visit, the entrance axis of the road which has multiple adjoining streets emerged as one of the busiest parts of Aba and a go-to destination for maintenance engineers, procurement officers and contractors working for the multinationals in Port Harcourt and environs, bringing Immediate prosperity and a host of other economic and social advantages to the city of Aba.

He recalled that artisanship activities and other major business activities within Port Harcourt Road once gave Aba a set of peculiar advantages, starting from the early 1980s when the revered leader, Dee Sam Mbakwe, Governor of Old Imo State, constructed the road to feed into the expansion of the booming oil industrial complex in Port Harcourt.

He said that Mbakwe’s vision gained a foothold almost immediately as the road became a major hub for the servicing of heavy-duty vehicles, equipment, spare parts, power generating sets and ancillary tools.

He stressed that because of Mbakwe’s visit, the entrance axis of the road which has multiple adjoining streets emerged as one of the busiest parts of Aba and a go-to destination for maintenance engineers, procurement officers and contractors working for the multinationals in Port Harcourt and environs, bringing Immediate prosperity and a host of other economic and social advantages to the city of Aba.

“For about two decades, it was all bliss and blush for businesses around this area until things began to fall apart in the mid to late 1990s, followed quickly by the unfortunate collapse and abandonment of the 2000s.

“Nothing seemed to work thereafter. In time, the businesses, including those that had their corporate headquarters around here began to disappear, finding more favourable locations as it became clear that succeeding administrations did not have the will to make the right commitments to restore this stretch of road and sustain its economic advantages; until today.

Perhaps I should go on and announce that I am partly fulfilled that we have reached another milestone in what had been a very long process which started immediately after my victory was announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on the 22nd of March 2023,” he said.

Earlier, on  April 27,  representatives of Julius Berger were on an inspection tour of the Road to get a general overview of the scope of work to be done and other fundamental details that would guide the technical designs and specifications.

Speaking further, the governor said the inspection visit was necessary for a holistic understanding of what is needed.

“We also had to invite other construction companies to have a look-in and send us their reports.  To be clear, we were careful not to repeat the errors and misjudgements of the past for which the state wasted billions of taxpayers’ money without any measurable improvements in the condition of the road for more than 20 years.

“For us, it is either we reconstruct Port Harcourt Road and do it well or we don’t do it at all. Remember that during my several stops in this great city during the electioneering campaigns, I made one thing very clear: we shall only go for the best because you deserve no less.

He recalled that artisanship activities and other major business activities within Port Harcourt Road once gave Aba a set of peculiar advantages, starting from the early 1980s when the revered leader, Dee Sam Mbakwe, Governor of Old Imo State, constructed the road to feed into the expansion of the booming oil industrial complex in Port Harcourt.

He said that Mbakwe’s vision gained a foothold almost immediately as the road became a major hub for the servicing of heavy-duty vehicles, equipment, spare parts, power generating sets and ancillary tools.

He stressed that because of Mbakwe’s visit, the entrance axis of the road which has multiple adjoining streets emerged as one of the busiest parts of Aba and a go-to destination for maintenance engineers, procurement officers and contractors working for the multinationals in Port Harcourt and environs, bringing Immediate prosperity and a host of other economic and social advantages to the city of Aba.

“For about two decades, it was all bliss and blush for businesses around this area until things began to fall apart in the mid to late 1990s, followed quickly by the unfortunate collapse and abandonment of the 2000s.

“Nothing seemed to work thereafter. In time, the businesses, including those that had their corporate headquarters around here began to disappear, finding more favourable locations as it became clear that succeeding administrations did not have the will to make the right commitments to restore this stretch of road and sustain its economic advantages; until today.

“Perhaps I should go on and announce that I am partly fulfilled that we have reached another milestone in what had been a very long process which started immediately after my victory was announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on the 22nd of March 2023,” he said.

Speaking further, the governor said the inspection visit was necessary for a holistic understanding of what is needed.

“We also had to invite other construction companies to have a look-in and send us their reports.  To be clear, we were careful not to repeat the errors and misjudgments of the past for which the state wasted billions of taxpayers’ money without any measurable improvements in the condition of the road for more than 20 years.

“For us, it is either we reconstruct Port Harcourt Road and do it well or we don’t do it at all. Remember that during my several stops in this great city during the electioneering campaigns, I made one thing very clear: we shall only go for the best because you deserve no less.

“With the above covenant in mind, we resisted the temptation to start another trial and error on a road as important as this and decided to accept the engineering design and bid presented to us by possibly the most reputable civil engineering company in Nigeria with more than 50 years of operational experience and several landmark projects in all parts of the country to its name, Julius Berger Plc.

“For us, Port Harcourt Road Aba is not just any other project, it will be a testament of our willingness and determination to “rebuild ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated” as contained in Isaiah 61: 4.”

Otti said that he would not be drawn into the tragedies and heartbreaks that attended previous attempts at fixing this 6.7km stretch of road but would rather invite Abia people to look to the future with great optimism and expectations, certain that the days of mediocrity are over.

He said that he expects that on completion, the reconstructed Port Harcourt Road will drive the economic rejuvenation of the resilient city of Aba and send a clear message to the businesses that had left that the “Elephant is back on its feet, never to stumble again.”

He added that his administration shall spend the next twelve to eighteen months working to reset the fundamentals by making sure all the economically significant roads in this city are in good condition, re-organise the waste management system for enhanced efficiency and see to it that the basic facilities investors and residents look out for are in place.

My last word on this piece is addressed to the governor. What I can tell him is that, he has the goodwill, solidarity and support of his good people of Abia state to do what is needed within the available resources, to rebuild Aba, Umuahia and other towns in that state that suffered prolonged periods of man’s inhumanity to man carried out by the previous administrators such as Orji Uzor Kalu, Theodore Orji and Okezie Ikpeazu. These men constitute the trinity of political evil because they failed for over two decades of being in government office as governor to deliver good governance but rather left Abia state in ruins.

*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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