New Telegraph

Aba: A haunting relic of the past

Antecedents

Prof. Charles Chinekezi weeps for his city. The great city where he was born in the early sixties. A city that was once the only unambiguous definition of the true and resilient spirit of the Igboman. Aba, Enyimba City, “how canst thou lie asleep” for 38 years only to be rebranded into what you are not? Today, Aba is synonymous with filth, infrastructural dilapidation, citizens’ lawlessness and zero nightlife, as a result of several years of irresponsible governance and complete abandonment of the lofty landmarks of Chief Sam Mbakwe of the old Imo State. This current Aba is where life is mundane and monotonous, offering so little. Almost every resident feels restless and looking for change. Aba is largely perceived as so boring that it currently has zero outdoor activities or any form of recreational centres and as a result, many residents move to neighbouring Owerri. This sleepy city has no nightlife. The only form of recreation currently in Aba right now is going to a beer parlour. There is no theatre or the old cinema halls the city was initially known for. People who want to live life after a hard day of work are having a hard time finding things to do after dark. There is seemingly no place for fun in Aba.

Public transport system

The public transportation system in the current Aba is terrible. Aba is probably the only city in Nigeria presently, without a firm taxi or uber system in place. The only form of public transportation system is the tricycles and the terrible minibuses that congest humans like goods. The Aba of today is not habitable for everyone, except people who have adapted to it. There is a total lack of environmental responsibility or control, leading to the widespread issues of pollution and high crime rates in places like Ndiegoro, Over-Rail and the Aba-Ukwu/Uratta axis. Chinekezi said that Aba lost interest in government and governance so many years ago which has left the city’s achievements so far at just a few government interventions and mostly self-help initiatives from residents who have become very determined and extremely resilient since the government has failed them. And the question is, was it always like this? The answer is no, Chinekezo said. “The Civil war was a problem I saw as a child, but it destroyed so much. When people call Aba the commercial nerve centre of Abia State it makes me angry. “The problem is that some people in leadership do not want people to know what’s going on here for a reason best known to them. Aba is the commercial nerve centre of West Africa and even Central Africa if we evaluate it critically.

The myth
“Aba once accommodated the best brains from the Eastern Region of Nigeria. The city was once an entertainment hub. Filled with fashion centres, movie centres, cinema centres, sports arenas and different recreational places where people meet, and socialize for endless hours. “History shows that from the late 1950s to the early 1970, the population of Aba had professionals in different fields – academics, factory workers, civil servants, traders and all manner of entrepreneurs competing for space, unlike today when almost half of the city is now cluster in the buying and selling space. “Even in these bad times, the businesses that are done in Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt are not close to what’s happening here. It’s even strange that Aba is the only business city without an airport and seaport but still has the largest number of importers and exporters residing within it. “The question should be why? Even up till today, many cities in Nigeria including those with airports and seaports come to Aba to purchase their goods including imported ones not to talk of locally made ones of which Aba has been in the lead for many decades despite the terrible governance.

“Aba remains the heartbeat of leather, garment and fashion industry in West and Central Africa because from the shoes, clothes, bags, belts and many other things sold around the markets in Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic, Mali and many parts of Nigeria are made here. Go to the Cameroon Park around Powerline, near Ariaria International Market and see wonders.”

Epicentre of music and entertainment

According to Chinekezi, Aba was the epicentre of music – Afro Rock Songs, Pop, Highlife, Reggae, Rock & Soul, Psychedelic Rock and there were just too many live bands resident in the city. According to him, there were about 30 Ghanaian international bands operating from here recorded by PolyGram and EMI Records, multinational record label companies that were licensing their music to the whole world.

He equally explained that nobody will tell the history of Nollywood today in a complete version without mentioning Aba, be it from production, marketing, directing and the acting angle, where Aba produced the likes of Kanayo O. Kanayo, Nkeiru Silvanus, Osita Iheme, Chika Anyanwu, Chinedu Ikedieze, Ejike Asiegbu and many more who grew up in Aba. “Aba used to be a great entertainment hub. Some of the musicians that started the revolution in music and entertainment around this country and this region in particular, especially after the civil war all lived here.

“We had musical bands and musicians that started the revolution of music around here, especially after the civil war performing in Aba regularly. Aba was the epicentre of music back then. Bands and individuals like the Rock Town Express, the Aktion, Original Wings, the Sweet Breeze was led by Dallas Anyanwu and Jake Sollo, Super Wings, One World, “The Apostles led by Walton Arungwa Chyke Fusion, Funkees, Okukuseku International Band by Chief Sammy Kofi, Peacocks International Guitar Band, Esbee Family, the Jammy and bluesy Blo, Wrinkars Experience, the Hygrades, Semi-Colon, Cloud-7, Founders-15 and Genesis.

The Apostles

“Extra-ordinarily gifted persons in music like Christy Uduak Essien-Igbokwe, Stoneface Iwuagwu, Paulson Kalu, Jerry Boifraind, Spud Nathans, Okey Uwakwe and Manford Best all performed here. “This was a city of entertainment and movies. We used to have Rex Cinema, Emil Cinema, Dandico Cinema, and Partez Cinema. This city once had roadside magicians that entertained our people and led to the famous statement, “Aba na Anya” (Aba and Sightseeing). “While we had Cinemas doing their own, we had magicians doing their roadside shows in the days of Chief Agbarakwe, Mr Ceaser and Mr Nwabueze. They made Aba roadside shows a wonder to behold. “Aba was never lacking in entertainment. Most people who still live in this city saw those things back then. The kind of things we saw here will sound unbelievable to people out there. “This was the type of Aba that brought the famous Superstars like Isaac Hayes, who cut the tape of the Museum of Colonial History. Aba has hosted Ewart Beckford known by the stage name U-Roy, he was a Jamaican great musician. “Erick Donaldson, a Jamaican legendary Raggae musician performed here, Slinger Francisco aka Mighty Sparrow, the Trinidadian calypso superstar popularly regarded as the “Calypso King of the World” performed in this city tagged boring today. He brought the entire Caribbean World to Aba in a great show many have never witnessed again. Lady Venus performed here in Aba.

Decadence

“Do you know that Crystal Park Hotel on Port Harcourt Road, which is currently suffering from neglect was the hottest show centre in this region together with Unicoco Hotel? Fela Kuti used to come there to entertain people. “New generation hotels are now legion, but the city is completely dead without nightlife. The hotels that started the shows then include Unicoco, Ambassador, Palacio, Majestic, Stella, Gracia, Mentabel, Palacia, Premier, Rocksy, Crystal Park and many others.”

A sporting hub

Aba’s history with sports both recently and in the past is evergreen. From boxing, football, and athletics to wrestling, the city have a history of producing notable names that have gone on to make Nigeria and Africa proud. “Aba used to be the Sports City that everyone was proud of. It wasn’t just Aba football that began from the era of the Aba Giant Killers FC, Comets FC, Abatex FC and now Enyimba FC. There had been other famous footballers that played for the Pre-War Green Eagles and the current Super Eagles. “Aba produced the former Super Eagles Captain, Uche Okechukwu, Benedict Iroha, and Michael Emenalo who was a former football director at Chelsea Football Club and AS Monaco. Aba equally produced Emeka Ezeugo, Karibe Ojigwe, Philip Osondu (Zanza) and Isaac Okoronkwo. “Don’t forget Vincent Enyeama, Kalu Uche, Ikechukwu Uche, Obinna Nwaneri, Onyekachi Okoronkwo, Uga Okpara, Romanus Orjinta, Emeka Nwanna, Ndidi Anumnu, Ekene Ezenwa and recently Samuel Kalu (SK) who all made their names here in this sporting city. “Who will forget what Aba did for Nigeria between 2003-2004 when the then Governor, Orji Uzor-Kalu revived one branch of sports, football? The revival of football back then brought the double CAF Champions League to Nigeria, courtesy of Enyimba Football Club of Aba.

Hometrade gains

“The homemade stars in the team back then like Obinna Nwaneri, Onyekachi Okoronkwo, Ugah Okpara, Ekene Ezenwa, Emeka Nwanna and Ndidi Anumnu were competing favourably with international stars from Ghana, Benin Republic and other parts of Nigeria and it was glory days, all of which have now been lost without any form of consolidation. “Back then, Aba football fans do not care about English Premier League (EPL).

Manchester United will be playing with Chelsea Football Club by 4 pm same time Enyimba could be playing Rangers International of Enugu or Ismaily Sporting Club (Ismaily SC) of Egypt, thousands of people will ignore the EPL for the domestic game. “Apart from football, history has shown that Aba was once the melting pot of combat sports like boxing and wrestling, as many great names from the combat sports lived and made their marks in Aba before moving out to the world stage. “Aba produced the Great Dick Tiger (Richard Ihetu) who was once the WBA middleweight and light-heavyweight champion.

He started from here before going to the World stage at Madison Square Garden, New York to show the World the stuff he was made of. “Do you also know that the Aba boy called Dick Tiger was the first African to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) in 1991. The records are there. Tiger originally hailed from Amaigbo, but he was an Aba boy.

His investments and family were all here after his death. He was an Aba boy who was simply picking up bottles in the swamps here until he learnt boxing. “People like me grew up in this city but people like Dick Tiger were our fathers. During our own time, every school had boxing clubs but none of such things exists today. “They train early when people will still be sleeping. Don’t forget that people like Abraham Tonica although originally from Ibeku, Umuahia made a name here as well.

“I want you to also know that Chidi Imoh (Chukwudi Imoh) former Nigerian sprinter who became African champion in 1984 and 1985, won an Olympic silver medal in the 4 x 100 metres relay at the 1992 Summer Olympics, won a silver medal in the 100 metres at the 1986 Goodwill Games, finished behind Ben Johnson and ahead of Carl Lewis and won a 60 metres bronze medal at the 1991 World Indoor Championships was made here in Aba.

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