In Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s Abia State, there are cities, like a retarded child, that have refused to grow. They are not like the imbecile with a wobbling brain and cognition, or like the diminutive pigmies of Congo condemned to a life of the dwarfed, they are just simply stunted and scrawny in development. Year after year, decade after decade, these cities have remained on the ground, crawling and faltering. They seem, by their frank pretensions, to be incapable of the giant leap.
The cities of Omoba, Mbawsi, Akwete, Obehie, Azumini, Ovim and the rest are like a retarded child. They have refused to grow. But, today, Governor Ikpeazu is determined to force them to grow. He has envisioned to develop these centres into urban status and turned them into sprawling centres of modern life, with all the charm and trappings of city centres. He has put up a machinery to develop these old centres that long assumed the semblance of urban centres but suddenly reclined into a form of retardation.
One of his policy thrusts is to develop new urban cities in addition to the two major municipalities of Aba and Umuahia. In the past, these places used to be major, human concentration centres with great economic potentials, legacies of colonial adventure in Nigeria. But, they have remained stagnant. Today, these cities have attracted the attention of Governor Ikpeazu and he has inaugurated Urban Development Committees to change the narratives of these centres.
If you can tell the story of the Portuguese and their adventure in Nigeria and recall the trans- Atlantic trade in human and material produce, then you will remember Ikpeazu’s retarded cities. If you can tell the history of the establishment of the Railway Line in Nigeria, then you must be abreast of Ikpeazu’s new promising cities.
These centres have a history tied to the early adventure of Chinua Achebe’s “strangers” in our land. With the early contact with the White Man, these centres grew from agrarian values to an early egalitarian status and became centres of government and commerce. They became mini polyglots with settlers from far and wide and gaining a multi-cultural identity.
At a corner in Isiala Ngwa South, not quite too secluded but where I will rightly describe as the bowel of Abia, lies Omoba, a railway town, a centre of palm kernel and palmwine. Founded by the Portuguese, Omoba is old and famous but it is also a retarded child, a city that has refused to grow. It used to have a booming market, a bubbling urban life with an agglomeration of people and cultures. It was developing fast but, suddenly, Omoba developed jaundice and became stunted and has remained just the same.
Like Omoba, there is Mbawsi in Isiala Ngwa North, hometown of the legendary Wachukwus, second home of the Aros, also a railway town. The Anglican and Catholic missionaries discovered the city many years ago and founded the reputable Grammar School and girls college, Mercy High School respectively. As far back as the 60s, Mbawsi has had a Post and Tele-communication Code, pipe-borne water and electricity. It was developing fast as a melting pot of commercial activities with the accompanying urban pressure. But, suddenly, Mbawsi became a retarded child, stunted, stagnant and dwarfed. It is the same story with Akwete, Obehie and Azumini in Ukwaland.
These three towns have had a long cosmopolitan history. Countryman, Don Ubani, recounted that as early as 1892, the Chiefs of Akwete had succumbed and signed a peace treaty with the invading British Colonial administrators. Akwete subsequently became a sub-district colonial administrative headquarter from where the British administered Aba and its environ.
When the sub-district office was moved from Akwete to Aba in 1903, the administrative importance of Akwete declined but its economic relevance continued to boom, partly due to its proximity to the sea. The centre will later become the headquarters of Ndoki Native Authority in 1934 following the reorganisation of native administration by the colonial powers. Yet, even with this rich history, Akwete has refused to grow. Save for the famous and unique textile weaving culture popularly known as Akwete Clothe, the town has been in the backyard, stunted, retarded.
It is the same story with Obehie, a town strategically located between the commercial city of Aba and the sea-port town of Port-Harcourt. A link city to Akwa Ibom. Ubani would describe it as the traditional headquarters of Asa people. As a result of the re-organisation of native administration by the British Colonial Government, Obehie became the headquarters of Asa Native Authority in 1938 and became an attraction point for business and government work.
Indeed, the programme of developing these old centres is one of the crucial policy thrust and development strategy of Ikpeazu-led administration. It is one of the driving forces of the government. Governor Ikpeazu is envisioning that these new cities , by their rare location,would gainfully serve as satellite cities by the time they are fully developed.
They will reduce the pressure on the two municipalities of Aba and Umuahia in the area of human congestion and commercial activities. They will bring development closer to the people and open up new frontiers in terms of development and social transformation.Thus, Governor Ikpeazu is pursuing the vision of the new cities with great passion Since then, it has continued to assume an urban status but never really attained a full urban status. It remained crippled and grounded.
When you hear Azumini town, your mind quickly goes to the Blue River. But, Azumini has a history that is larger than the river. It was a former slave market, where the human-goods were exchanged for sugar, mirror and other little things that fascinated our forefathers. This was where an Nkwere boy, Jaja of Opopo, was sold to the Portuguese who later brought him back to Opopo in Rivers State. Its waters contained the special sand, silica, which serves as raw material for the production of glass, the main motivation for the establishment of the Aba Glass Industry. It long assumed an urban status yet, decades after decades, Azumini has remained just like a slave market town. It has remained stagnant and retarded.
Ovim was a town that never sleeps, a railway centre characterized by its undulating hills. The missionaries had an early romance with the town and old settlers savoured sweet memories of the peoples’ rich farm produce and bush meat. But, with the collapse of the Railway came the decline of a fast transforming town. Today, Ovim can best be described in its natural splendour as a serene and peaceful countryside. Cities are not peaceful.
- Mr. Godwin Adindu is CPS to the Abia State governor.