New Telegraph

Otti initiates strategy for rebuilding, restoration of Aba

Attempting the impossible

Do not envy anybody whose job it is to ensure the recovery and rebuilding of Aba, the commercial hub of Abia State, because the things involved in rebuilding the already decaying city of Aba are beyond what the eyes can see. It will take administrative magic to achieve it. However, the state Governor, Alex Otti, has stepped out of the shadows, since assuming office last year, to attempt the impossible by vowing to transform the crime infested and squalid city into a modern and enterprising place. This arduous task of rebuilding and recovering Aba, he has entrusted on the small shoulders of the Greater Aba Development Authority (GADA), an agency of the state government led by its ebullient and hardworking Director General, Mr Uche Ukeje. The processes and procedures GADA wants to use to achieve this task are best known to it. However, to see through what Otti through GADA seeks to birth then you must first appreciate the words of an American Civil Rights Activist, Harvey Milk, which states: “If we wish to rebuild our cities, we must first rebuild our neighbourhoods. And to do that, we must understand that the quality of life is more important than the standard of living.” Aba was the melting pot of the South East and South South Nigeria as far as commercial, industrial and even entertainment activities were concerned. Over the years, the narratives began to change. Governments came and left, but none was able to draw a road map to the recovery of the city despite the many promises made by them. Today, another promise is on the line. Although this promise made by Otti has seen him create a special agency of government, the GADA, for the recovery and development of Aba, however, many are doubtful as to the possibility of seeing the city in its past glory again.

Chaos, anarchy

Once a flourishing industrial, commercial and entertainment nerve centre of the Old Eastern Region with a strong hustling and bustling nightlife, Aba within a few decades fell from her Olympus height and was reduced to a city of filth, touting, uncontrollable street trading, indiscriminate parking and a complete enthronement of anarchy. The streets became chaotic and very rough for every sane mind. The elite that once occupied the Crownland of the city began to relocate to neighbouring cities like Owerri, Port Harcourt and Uyo, with others moving as far as Lagos and Abuja. With only a few elite left and unimaginable hordes of artisans, traders and the lowly rated, including criminally minded people and scarlet ladies of all sorts as the inhabitants of the city that has grown out of control and its original shining armour fading fast. With a population with the above description, coupled with the exit of multinational, national and regional industries that were once the pride of the city and kept a whole lot of people employed, Aba became a city synonymous with all manners of ill-behaviours alien to the once great city of the East. Then of course, irresponsible leadership in Abia State that allowed public Infrastructure in Aba like roads, portable water, markets, entertainment centres and many other social amenities that bettered the quality of life, making Aba extremely uninhabitable for people without the strength and tolerance level chaos that the city has descended into.

Rebuilding process

New Telegraph reports that GADA has recently begun the process of recovering and rebuilding the city. However, its activities and mandate by the law of the state that established it are yet to be understood by many residents who still think that it is business as usual. This is as GADA has commenced the formal enforcement of laws against abuses of public order and infrastructural facilities. As of Thursday, January 25, 2024, no fewer than a thousand vehicle owners had their vehicle plate numbers removed by men of GADA for indiscriminate parking and abuse of public facilities. Many residents told the New Telegraph that they did not understand what was happening in the city, as the enforcement team of GADA intensified actions against indiscriminate parking of vehicles and all manners of environmental wrong actions. However, the state government had in December 2023 carried out an enlightenment campaign concerning its readiness to compel a strict observance of all laws guiding the use of public facilities in all parts of the state beginning January this year. New Telegraph learnt that the enforcement of other laws against the display and or conduct of business activities on flood paths and drainages, general street trading and other related businesses outside of formal markets and other designated areas will soon follow.

GADA’s mandate

Ukeje, told New Telegraph that the agency was conceived by Otti to ensure his vision to reposition Aba as the springboard for the development of the state and the Eastern Region. Explaining further the reasons behind the establishment of GADA, Ukeje said: “Aba was the only city that was both industrial and commercial before its decline in its status. The components of industrial and commercial activities in Aba were almost 50/50. “You wouldn’t see that in Onitsha which is commercial and Nnewi which is industrial. Then it was either your commercial, administrational or industrial. Aba was the only open city in the South East where every Igbo man calls home just like Lagos is to Yorubas and Kano or Kaduna is to the North. Where every Nigerian can call home because every part of Nigeria has their own base here. You can be whatever you want to be in Aba without coming from here.” He said that Otti looked into the history and understood Aba, what it represents and its significance to Nigeria and the Igbo man, South East and some parts of the South-South and thought it wise to establish an agency, an institution that would see to the restoration of this great city. “The move is to recreate Aba, to rejuvenate Aba and repair what’s damaged. To create a platform that will give our future generations the pride in a place that we used to have before the decline started. I’m an Aba Boy, I was born here. It used to be a mark of honour when one is called an Aba Boy because you’re seen as smart, industrious and entrepreneurial.

Beyond infrastructure

“What the governor intends to do is beyond repairing just the infrastructure, it includes repairing the psyche which is why he set up the Abia State Orientation Agency. So, the infrastructure repair people are seeing now is just the first phase. We want to repair the infrastructure, repair the land use, expand the city and create more room for Igbos and Nigerians in general to express their entrepreneurial skills in this city.”

Aba is Nigeria’s melting pot

“We have people from the North here in Aba whose fathers were born here and can’t even remember where they’re from. This is why His Excellency thought it wise to say look, this is something that needs to be rejuvenated and given a new impetus for the next generation,” he added. Ukeje while explaining more on the duties of GADA pinpointed that Aba is historically divided into two – the Crownland and others. He explained that when the local government was created, the city administratively came under Aba South and Aba North LGAs. “However, with development springing up over so many years, Aba cannot be seen anymore as Aba South and Aba North because local governments like Osisioma have been swallowed by urbanisation of Aba. Look at Obingwa and Ugwunagbo LGAs, they’ve all been captured by Aba with major and important markets in Aba situated in these local government areas.

Five LGAs rolled into one

“So, when we’re talking about Aba City today, the focus is on five local government areas; Aba South, Aba North, Osisioma, Obingwa and Ugwunagbo. This is what you call ‘Greater Aba’. However, despite the individualistic expansion, the government has decided to create true room for that needed expansion. “The reason Aba has been like it is today for the past 70 years without the creation of a structure for expansion and growth and what happens when such infrastructure is not in place is that you will have a huge pressure on the existing infrastructure. “You’ll continue to see people buying existing property in the Crownland like GRA and knocking it down to build five to six-storey buildings. There will always be supply to meet demand if demand pre-exists. Since we know that demand pre-exists, there’s a need to create room for that demand to find expression. “We’re looking at the possibility of expanding Aba. Currently, Aba is 71 square kilometres and we’re looking at the possibility of expanding the city to 230 square kilometres in 20 years in a well-structured manner.”

Cultured approach

He explained that the proliferation of street trading worries the governor and gives him, the Director General of GADA sleepless nights and stressed that in the coming weeks, GADA will begin the registration of Private Parks and close down those that are inimical. New Telegraph reports that with the revival of the local government systems, and the appointment of Mayors in the 17 council areas, including the five that now make up the Greater Aba, suspicion of possible clash in the duties of GADA and various agencies are emerging. Ukeje, however, debunked the possibility of a clash, stressing that there will never be any because the GADA law was well thought out. According to him: “When the governor visited the burnt session of NGWA Road market, Aba South Mayor and DG of GADA were in his entourage, when a committee was formed to look at the way to rebuild that market, the same people holding these positions are part of the committee. “There had been these concerns that there would be areas of clash between some ministries, GADA and some levels of government, but GADA was well crafted by the law establishing it and that was why it was not done haphazardly. “Different levels of government, agencies and institutions have different goals in this city. What GADA does is to become the integrator of those goals to ensure the speedy achievement of them all. “Every government agency in Aba has found its space within GADA and they’re harmoniously delivering the government’s duties and policies to the people. It’s a unity of purpose. GADA gets involved in government business within the city of Aba assigned to it by the government.

Multiple taxations

“There’ll be nothing like multiple taxation anymore. Every agency of government that has to do with enforcement here in Aba is now working under GADA to deliver value to people. You see people from internally generated revenue, the Ministry of Trade, security agency, Ministry of Transportation, and Local Government Collection Agency; in fact, it is a seamless integration of government services to the people. It’s just like an envelope with many parcels aimed at getting to one location,” he said.

City growth

Making a projection about Aba, Ukeje said that with GADA, people should expect a massive expansion of Aba and a growth in the population of the city in a significant percentage. “You’ll see significant improvement in services just like people are currently seeing the Aba Command of the Abia State Fire Service responding within some minutes to distress calls. With GADA, you should expect a complete transformation of this city in a positive light. “Significant efforts are being made to revive the Enyimba Hotel. Soon, you’ll see a significant rise in the hospitality business in this city because the enabling environment is being created. I urge you to expect a 200% increase in the number of people coming to do business in this city because we’re already putting things in place. “With a clear possibility of completing the Aba session of the Port HarcourtEnugu Expressway, with the governor linking up Aba-Port Harcourt Road to the express to ventilate activities there coupled with massive work ongoing to ensure that flooding is eliminated in Aba, you’ll have a lively city in the morning, at night under the sun or in the rain. All ponds for flood control will be drained.”

Public schools

“We’re going to have massive infrastructural improvement in our public schools to restore the confidence of parents and guardians to what a school should be. It’ll be the same for the health sector. We’ll create both the leather and fabric cluster to enable our people to expand their businesses beyond sole proprietorship. We will help our people scale up from small scale industries to medium and large scale.”

Business development

Ukeje said that it is not enough to build the roads, but GADA and the state government will help Aba people develop their businesses to help employ our youths. “The governor is making moves to revive moribund industries here in Aba. See, we want to impact the lives of people and form a balance between commercial activities and other human activities that help life and equally create employment.”

Private estates

“We don’t have private estates in Aba, but very soon, you’ll see 15-20 of such estates springing up fully subscribed because people are looking for where to put their money with the assurance that their money is safe. The governor is making efforts to ensure that such improvements come to Aba.’’

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