By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Today is one of those few days I wished there was a moratorium on the use of the social media to stave off and/or minimise emotional outburst and traumatic attacks on people with consciences like this writer due to horrific existential misfortunes brought about by the corrupt tendencies and criminality of political office holders in Nigeria. Politics in much of Nigeria is sickening and what buttresses this existential fact better is that political office holders preoccupied themselves with embarking on near endless season of devastation and looting of public funds to their private estates and offshore accounts. My experience with the social media today’s morning was uniquely pathetic and emotionally horrendous.
I say so because so early today’s morning that i browsed through the social medium of Facebook, and came face-to- face with a very pitiable story of a young genuine businessman in Aba Abia state whose entire life’s savings got swept away by flooding in the Ariaria International Market Aba. There he was painfully moaning and lamenting his unquantifiable loses to the devastation of the weather compounded by poor urban planning and failed administrative policies on environmental sanitation.
My reaction was to put up this piece especially after I read the reaction of John Okiyi who has been consistently recycled in the government of Abia state since 2015 when the most incompetent administrator in the history of Nigeria became the governor and incidentally, this governor whose regime is publicly chastised for alleged gross and mindboggling corruption is the first Aba native to become a governor in Abia State since the state was created by then military President General Ibrahim Babangida over three decades ago and his name is Okezie Ikpeazu.
This bad administrator Mr. Okezie Ikpeazu has been the governor of Abia State for 7 years but he has failed to fix the only major problem of Aba which is controlling the perennial flooding challenges through a combination of mechanisms available to any committed government.
His administration has over the last 7 years picked up from federally redistributed allocations the princely sum of several billions of Naira given that on monthly basis it gets nothing less than three bullion Naira but the Aba town or is it Enyimba city has nothing to show these huge allocations excluding billions made from internally general sources. The other day, the governor staged a carnival show on private television channel at great financial burden to the badly governed state to commission a small flyover bridge that is not more than five hundred metres in length when the neighbouring Rivers state has over the same number of years built dozens of very expansive flyovers. Funnily, it was the governor of Rivers State Nyesom Wike who has turned governor Okezie Ikpeazu to his political Personal Assistant who officiated at the inauguration of the tiniest flyover in Nigeria built for 7 years by Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia state located in his Ngwa hometown of Aba.
Aba town or Enyimba city if we choose to call it that way, is one place in which the accumulated debris of political corruption and incompetence of the political class administering Abia State are in massive display.
I say the above because Aba town is one place that thousands of Igbo speaking people grew up, went through different stages of formation and most of the former residents have gone on to become successful in their career paths and are scattered all across the World. Yours Faithfully at one time or the other as a kid was in Aba.
Ironically whereas Aba has produced many successful people, the town itself has remained stagnant, neglected administratively by the corrupt and absolutely incompetent political class. Aba town is a victim of political abuses, abandonment and for over many decades, Aba has become known for the very negative story of the incompetence of contemporary politicians to fix the massively dilapidated public infrastructure. Insecurity is at a very worrying dimension because of the activities of a kinds of political thugs armed during elections by these power hungry members of the political class that has foisted nothing but underdevelopment to the town.
One very devastating environmental menace that Aba is known for is the perennial flood that intermittently washes away and destroys hard earned assets of private individuals living and doing their legitimate businesses in the town.
Aba is known for trading because of the formidable pride of place Ariaria International market occupies globally but especially in Nigeria and West Africa.
The sad thing however is that Ariaria which is the proverbial hen that produces the golden egg in terms of revenues and taxes for Abia State government, is a public nuisance due to governmental neglect. For seven years the administration of Okezie Ikpeazu made a lot of capital out of the debates that it was planning to upgrade the facilities and with just few months to the inglorious exit of this failed government, Ariaria International Market is still a shadow of its old illustrious self.
Looking at the precarious nature of Aba’s environment, poor sanitation and poverty of public utilities and the collapsed public infrastructure will make a visitor think that those who engage in businesses in Aba do not in any way keep to their statutory financial obligations to the government through prompt payments of taxes.
But the aforementioned scenario is not the case. In fact Aba residents are some of the over-taxed, criminally exploited citizens by government anywhere in Nigeria.
Governments of all levels in Abia State for a long time now have always made use of unorthodox and violence prone means to force the people to cough out huge money as taxes of all sorts making use of touts and motor park layabouts.
And so the question to ask is where are all the taxes paid by taxpayers of Aba and why are public infrastructure in such a pathetic state to an extent that regular floods bombard the residents? To add to these misfortunes is the ugly fact that teachers and civil servants are sometimes owed up to a year salaries. Pensioners and retirees are owed years of their entitlements even as they wallow in deprivation and die in gruesome instalments whilst depraved politicians with gluttonous and epicurean tendencies loot the financial resources of Abia State.
The undiluted answer to the above question of the whereabouts of the resources is that these resources are swallowed by corruption and display of crass incompetence by the political class governing Abia State and this vicious circle of corruption of political office holders in Abia State has become a tradition and the way of life of these opportunistic politicians holding different offices in Abia State. The current crop of politicians are definitely the most depraved.
We challenge the Abia state government headed by Okezie Ikpeazu to publish the audited accounts of Abia State from the year 2015 to 20th September 2022. The State government runs an opaque system and lacks transparency and accountability and therefore can’t stomach the challenge to lay bare the financial records of the government so the citizens can see it.
The blame however falls squarely at the table of the governor. We will make a return to this issue of corruption and incompetence of Abia State politicians running and ruining their state. But first let us revisit the general state of infrastructures in that state. To my research assistant Miss Grace Cliff Obilor I will run to.
She wrote thus: “Abia state, a state in the South Eastern part of Nigeria was created in the 1991 from Imo state, consists of two major cities; Aba and Umuahia where the former is the commercial city of the state and its economic power house, the latter is the state capital.
The current infrastructure in Aba is overwhelmingly in a dilapidated state, apart from the road infrastructure which the state government has refused to pay attention to, there are other decaying infrastructures in Aba, such as the pipe borne water distribution system, the General hospital, government public schools, to mention but a few.
Abia state government since inception has neglected most infrastructure she inherited from the colonial government and most worrisome is her inability to add new ones. Take for instance, the Pipe borne water distribution system in Aba which is supposed to be a source of good drinking water for her residents, According to someone we interviewed who started living in Aba since 1962. He stated that he met the water reservoir standing and the water board fully functional as at that time, he added that the water project was carried out by the colonial government, and it was left under the care of the state government afterwards. He cried that since the creation of Abia state in 1991, the only new thing that he can see is the Abia tower at Umuahia built by Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, in other words Abia State government from time immemorial have not added anything to its infrastructure, rather they have abandoned the ones they inherited.
On my visit to the Pipe borne water distribution system site at CKC Aba, I found out that a lot of things have gone bad, the tanks used for water purification have been abandoned, the office is locked, and workers are not available anymore because the board is no more functioning for as far back as 2001. Since that time, the residents of Aba have not had access to pipe borne water supply.
The general hospital is another decayed infrastructure in Aba, it was built by the colonial government, as at then, it was well equipped with good doctors and functional medical equipment, the hospital was famous for its efficacy and the services it offers. At a time, it was converted to Abia State university teaching hospital (ABUSTH) after a while, the Hospital was returned to the management of Abia State Hospital Management Board and the name reversed to General Hospital, but unfortunately, it became moribund over the years occasioned by months of unpaid salaries.
It is devastating to learn that after all the promises made by the Governor in 2016, the workers are still being owed, and they embark on strike from time to time to pass their message of pain to the government, all to no avail. As a result of this nonchalant attitude on the part of the government towards rehabilitating the General hospital and clearing the salary arrears, the hospital has not been functional for years even as of the time of this report as confirmed by my visit to the hospital.
Chief Bob Ogu, the Honorable Commissioner for works said that the Abia State government will fix all bad roads before March 2021. Since that promise was made, it seems as if nothing has been done as most roads have been turned into a refuse dump. Before then, in October 2019, the Abia State house of assembly lamented about the poor state of the roads and called the attention of the state Government to remedy the situation.
Some of the dilapidated roads in Aba include Obohia Road, Port-Harcourt Road, Ngwa Road, Ohanku road, Omuma road, Uratta road and many others. These roads have been turned into a refuse dump that oozes stomach wrenching odor. The State Govt. repairs some of these roads several times but they don’t last up to 6 months after repair, because they are not using standard materials to do the job.
The biggest problems of road infrastructure in Abia State (Aba) are:
State government’s unwillingness to work.
State government’s dependence on FG and other agencies such as NDDC.
Lack of quality control in infrastructural developments. Most contractors take huge money, siphon large sums and then do very poor jobs at the sites.
Corruption is festering and corrupt officials are protected. No one faces the consequences of a bad job.
Since 2019, Hon. Obinna Ichita (representing Aba South State Constituency) has been calling on the executive arm of Abia State Government to do the needful. He has incessantly demanded for information regarding the whereabouts of the $56 million given to the state government for construction of roads in Aba by World Bank Group. As it is right now, it is no news that the Abia state government has abandoned so many infrastructures and this in turn affects the normal way of life and always poses as a huge risk to the residents of Aba.
That was the vintage Miss OBILOR GRACECLIFFS EBUBECHUKWU my research assistant and head of operations in South East of Nigeria of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).
A journalist with Sun Newspaper wrote thus: “Inhabitants of Aba, the second largest commercial city, east of the Niger, are in desperate need of succour following heavy flooding that has caused hardship
Some lives have been lost, while property and other valuables were also destroyed. Experts said it may have been caused majorly by blocked drainages and poor road network.
Residents seem to have embraced the survival of the fittest philosophy. Many of them have also decided not to be deterred by the frequent downpour these days, hence they acquired rubber shoes and slippers to wade through the flooded streets and access roads traversing the town as they eke a living.
About 80 per cent of major roads in the Enyimba City are usually flooded whenever it rains, thereby making residents who leave their homes for other locations to suffer adversely in finding their way home.
On assumption of office in May 2015, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu promised to tackle Aba roads and flood problems and even began with clearing of buildings and other structures found to have blocked drainage channels, to make them ready for construction work.
Some of the roads, like Iberre in Ngwa Road area, Brass Street/Faulks Road, leading to the famous Ariaria International Market, up to Ukwu Mango on the Enugu/Port Harcourt expressway, and Old Expressroad, were mapped out and bulldozers set out to demolish identified illegal and obstructive structures.
There was information that the administration had obtained a grant of about $56.7 million to tackle the bad roads and poor drainage infrastructure in Aba, including the infamous Ndiegoro flooding, channelling of floodwater from Uratta, Port Harcourt Road, Ngwa Road, Obohia and Ohanku roads into the Aba River.
The contracts were actually awarded to construction firms after the necessary preliminary documentation, to ensure that the roads were realised before the coming of this year’s rainy season.
Although some of the roads, especially Ngwa Road, have been completed from the Asa Triangle to the Orji Uzor Kalu (Waterside) Bridge end, joining Emelogu Street in Ogbor Hill, others are yet to be done and have been assumed by residents as abandoned. This was despite the various promises and assurances from government officials that the roads would be completed and opened for public use before the rainy season.
Residents along Ohanku, Obohia, Uratta, Omuma and Port Harcourt roads wallow in dirty, smelly floodwater to get to their homes at the end of the day’s activities, as they seem to have given up hope that government or anyone in elective office would come to their assistance in fixing the roads.” This you will agree with me my dear readers, is a comprehensive reportage of Abia State and Aba of today carried in one of the best tabloids in Nigeria- Daily Sun.
But in what seems like the last kick of a dying horse, Okezie Ikpeazu who will vacate office in less than 6 months said his government has granted a two year tax waiver to traders affected by the ongoing remodeling of A-line in Ariaria International Market.
The two year tax waivers the incompetent and corrupt government say include payment of revenues collected by state and local government agents in the markets in the state.
The Commissioner for Trade and Investment, Chief John Okiyi Kalu, who disclosed this unworkable face saving measure during a meeting with the traders in Aba , explained that the waiver is in sympathy and solidarity with traders who were affected by the recent flooding in the market occasioned by the torrential rains of the past three days.
He announced the setting up of a committee comprising Ministry officials and traders to assess the extent of damage done to goods of affected traders by the rainfalls, stressing that the government would offer financial support to the traders.
The Commissioner further disclosed that three blocks of the remodeled A-Line and the road leading to the Line would be commissioned in December 2022 by the Governor.
His words; “The tax waiver is in sympathy with the traders of A Line who were affected by the recent flooding of the market as well as the ongoing remodeling of the market. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu sympathizes with the traders who lost their goods.As you count your losses, the government is with you and is doing everything to ameliorate your loss. We can’t tax a trader who has not traded for two years. Abia State government has a list of shop owners at the market, but we discovered that shop owners are not necessarily traders. We have set up a committee to ascertain the actual traders. We will issue the traders with the document exempting them from tax payment for 2 years. While we obviously have no way of preventing heavy rains from falling in any of our markets, the administration undertook the ongoing remodeling of the market, starting with A-line, with new drains, road and shops elevated and aligned properly to conclusively deal with the perennial flooding challenges experienced by traders since inception of the market.
He said too that: “While the construction of high quality shop structures in A-line will continue, we have mobilized resources to ensure that as soon as the rains abate construction of A-line road and associated drainages will commence and conclude within the coming dry season window. We wish to seek the continuing partnership, support and understanding of our traders and visitors to the market for the successful execution of this phase of the project which will deliver modern market infrastructure to generations of traders. The developer of the market, Blessed Henken International Company Limited has been directed to commence excavation and construction of a 2-metre width culvert across Faulks Road from A-line to channel storm water from the construction area to Waterside River in Aba through Faulks/Osusu Road drainage way.”
But how does Okezie Ikpeazu intends to ensure that this so called tax waiver is respected by the next administration since he will leave in 6 months time and it’s unlikely that Abia voters will vote in his lackey the PDP governorship candidate picked by him single-handedly to perhaps conceal mounting evidence of the alleged corruption of his years of the locusts in Abia State?
Abia people need a flood of courage to vote in the most competent governor and state and independent minded state legislators next March so that Abia state and Aba city particularly can be redeemed. If the environmental problems of Aba are fixed permanently, then Ariaria International Market will regain her pride of place as one of the most frequented and patronised market in West Africa which it occupied in the early eighties.
- EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and one time National commissioner of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.