It is not just the people of Abia State, but the entire Igbo race that have been crestfallen about the forlorn environmental condition of Aba, the commercial and industrial hub of the East. To every Igbo person, Aba carries along a special significance because that city harbours most of the ennobling attributes of Igboness – creativity, doggedness, determination, self-pride, hard work and more.
Aba epitomizes that dogged spirit of the Igbo person that does not recognize that anything is too hard to achieve. Aba is the real melting pot of the East, nay Nigeria, and has accommodated all peoples from all over the country without discrimination. That is why the rich dialect of Igbo spoken in Aba is a hybrid that is a mosaic of the different people who have lived and interacted there.
The Ngwa people that are the indigenous people of the area have perhaps been the most welcoming and accommodating of Igbo groups in the way that people from different and far-flung places like the Nkwerre in Imo State, Anambra groups and the Item-Ohafia-Abiriba people – not to talk of people from Akwa Ibom and River State – had thronged to and settled in Aba, where they have all made home.
Aba was central to the Biafran Revolution and whatever has made the Igbo person proud. Before and during the war, it was Aba that the Biafran leader, Ojukwu could always turn to in the enclave’s greatest hours of need. While the Biafran propaganda machines insisted to the world that Enugu was the capital of the enclave, it was really in Abia State that Biafra flourished. And once Aba fell to the enemies in 1968, Biafra started its final nosedive. In a nutshell, Aba, for so many reasons which cannot be enumerated here for lack of space, means and should mean everything to every Igbo person.
The deterioration of Aba started a long time ago before 1999, unlike many people have tended to forget. When the present Abia and Imo States constituted the old Imo State, its Second Republic governor, Chief Sam Mbakwe, on confronting the environmental havoc being wreaked on the commercial city by the Ndiegoro flood, wept openly and bitterly in public in 1981. (My essay on those tears of the committed governor won my first award in journalism as a young reporter). Those tears turned out as prophetic as those shed by Jesus Christ as He was entering Jerusalem when He foresaw the ruins that would befall the city. From then, Aba had continued to deteriorate; its fortunes had continued to go downhill. Without bemoaning what should have been done about Aba or what should not have been done, it is clear that by electing Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu as its next governor, the people have clearly defined the first duty of the man for him.
They are obviously saddling the new man on the block with a marching order to return the pride of the Igbo people by salvaging Aba. That duty would not just be for Abians or Ndigbo but for the entire nation and continent for whom Aba should become the hub of economic and industrial take off. During his campaign, Dr. Okezie endlessly promised that Aba would be very high on his priority list; the people have trusted him and granted approval to his proposal.
Last week, I ran into and had a rare privilege of discussing with Dr. Ikpeazu in Abuja. He was passionate and emotional when he spoke about his vision for Abia State in general and Aba in particular. He swore that with the cooperation of Igbo people and other Nigerians, he would bring back Aba to its days of glory before and immediately after the civil war. He was aware of the high expectations that people have of him in most regards, and especially as far as cleaning up of Aba is concerned. For him, campaigns are over and he can hardly wait to prove that he can put his actions where his words are.
My discussion with the governor-elect shows that Dr. Ikpeazu understands the enormous tasks ahead but seems undaunted, because, unlike many people who stumble into power or who are dropped from nowhere to occupy the position of power, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu has been at home with and understands the problems first hand. He equally appreciates the onerous challenges before him as the first ever governor from Ngwaland.
I understand that sentiment very well, because with many intimate Ngwa friends, especially Hon. Eziuche Ubani, a very passionate and wise man, who has represented his people for two terms at the House of Representatives. Through him, I have come to feel the heartbeat of Ngwa people from very close and have identified with their challenges and aspirations from very close quarters. I am aware of their quest for an opportunity to apply their enormous drive, zest and energy in doing for themselves and the entire Abia people what others have not been able to do for them.
When in the supreme spirit of justice and equity, Governor Theodore Orji zoned the governorship to the Ukwa Ngwa people, it became possible to elect the first Ngwa governor for the state. And a very qualified one for that matter! Governor-elect Ikpeazu knows the ropes and from our discussion, he is not going to start the cleaning up and repositioning of Aba as a novice because he has been equipped with the first-hand understanding of the situation since June 2013 when he became the Deputy General Manager, Abia State Environmental Protection Agency (ASEPA) for Aba and Environs; an assignment he visibly discharged to the admiration of most people who appreciated the situation before he came as well as the lack of full latitude he had to do what he wanted due to inadequate logistics.
As from May 29, Dr. Ikpeazu will have every latitude to translate his visions into action. From that brief encounter with the governor-elect, I saw that he is a very deep and cerebral person. Why not? A PhD holder and an acknowledged intellectual, Dr. Ikpeazu must have entered politics in order to practicalize his ideas, and now that he has got the big break, he is not likely going to beat about the bush or allow the opportunity to be lost on the altar of inaction.
That he is going to hit the ground running there is no doubt. It was worthwhile from our discussion that Dr. Ikpeazu has a global vision of the challenges ahead as well as the clear ways they are going to be tackled in an allinclusive manner. Many Igbo people are still taken aback by an act of the outgoing government in Abia State when it ordered out the non-Abians in the state public service.
People were literally shocked because Abians had been the most welcoming of people, judging from how much of a melting pot the state has been. A few ostensibly simple gestures of the incoming governor have shown the texture and direction of his global vision. He has been knocking on the door of people, from within and without the state and even abroad, whom he believes that his state would need for its enhancement. If the people were aware of his consultation with Professor Chukwuma Soludo, the world renowned developmental economist who was also a former CBN governor, there must have been other consultations that are not known.
But it is significant that Prof Soludo who had wanted to govern Anambra State through development model which he dubbed ADT, an acronym for ‘Anambra Dubai Taiwan’ and which envisions turning Anambra into a one mega city state of integrated activities.
Maybe such an idea has found favour with Ikpeazu’s vision for his gifted state. After my encounter with Dr. Ikpeazu, I came away with the impression that Abia State is lucky to have elected such an energetic, committed and visionary young man who is clearly capable of changing the fortunes of the state and its people. His global vision as an intellectual whose vistas are honed through his nationwide association while studying and lecturing at Maiduguri, Enugu, Ebonyi and Cross Rivers State, as well as a thoroughbred son of the Abia soil, is alive and well.
In the course of my brief discussion with him, it came out that even though Dr. Ikpeazu was only a child during the Biafran struggle, having been born in 1964, he has nevertheless adopted the Biafran ‘never-say-die’ as a beacon; he remembers that Biafra was able to refine its petroleum and manufacture its weapons and other essentials. His mentor is the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.
He currently resides at the erstwhile old Biafran Lodge of the leader himself in Aba. This means that Dr. Ikpeazu sees his duty and responsibility not just to Abians but to all and sundry in Igboland. To that extent, it behoves all Igbo people to join hands and cooperate with the new administration in Abia State in its task of repositioning the state. My people, Ndi Anambra who have scooped fortunes from the state, should in their natural style throw in their fortunes – in cash and kind – to keep the Abia dream alive. The horse they would be backing this time is one that is strong, virile and best intentioned.