You don’t need to be an Ukwa/Ngwa or Igbo man to speak glowingly of Aba. Aba, also known as Enyimba City, is the most popular commercial town in Eastern Nigeria. It is a town after everybody’s heart.
There is hardly any successful man or woman in Nigeria today, that does not have an Aba story to tell. Little wonder, Aba is called the ‘Japan of Africa’ because of its manufacturing prowess, strong entrepreneurial orientation and the “can do” spirit of the people.
Sometime last year, I was in Abuja with my principal, the Governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, for an event that had other governors in attendance. After the event, I decided to introduce my colleague, Malam Imam Imam to my boss, Governor Ikpeazu. Imam is Governor Aminu Tambuwal’s Spokesman.
“Sir, this is Imam, Governor Tambuwal’s media man” I said.
“Oh my brother, how are you?” Governor Ikpeazu responded as he shook hands with Imam.
“Your Excellency, I’ve read about the things you’re already doing at Aba and your plans to rebuild the city. Please Sir, rebuild Aba for us. When I was a little boy, I used to come to Aba on holidays. My uncles are in Aba. I used to enjoy Aba and I want to come to Aba again,” Imam said.
Trust Governor Ikpeazu, he promised not to disappoint Imam.
Not too long after that meeting, Imam joined his boss, Governor Tambuwal to Aba, when the Number One Citizen of the Caliphate State came to inaugurate roads built by Governor Ikpeazu in Aba. The roads include: Ehere Road, Umule Road, Umuehilegbu Road and Chima Nwafo Road, all in Aba. Governor Tambuwal also flagged off the reconstruction of MCC-Samek Road that leads to Ariaria International Market. All through the events, I spotted my colleague, Imam, beaming with smiles of satisfaction that something positive is indeed happening at his beloved Aba.
At various meetings of Governor Ikpeazu with former Governor of Central Bank, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, the renowned economist consistently appealed to the Governor to fix Aba, and reminded him that Aba has the capacity and potential to reposition Nigeria’s dying economy.
In fact, Professor Soludo, knows Aba to the extent that he tells the Governor how goods from Aba are sold in other African counties. To him, Aba holds the key to making Nigeria great and self-reliant
Just recently, the Governor was informed of a planned visit of the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo to Aba. Initially, the message wasn’t clear. “Acting President? Coming to Aba?” Since the Governor didn’t invite him, he was taken aback until it was officially communicated to him that the Acting President was indeed coming to Aba, the SME capital of Nigeria, to launch the Federal Government’s Micro Small and Medium Scale Enterprises Clinic (MSME Clinic).
How did Aba become the first choice for this programme? Governor Ikpeazu wondered, until he was told that it was the Acting President himself that chose Aba for the launch of the event.
That choice wasn’t fortuitous. Apparently the Acting President knows a lot about Aba and must have fallen in love with the city even before visiting. The recent promotional campaigns for Made-in-Aba-Products which Governor Ikpeazu and Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe are championing must have also reached his intellectual ears. It must have been their efforts that influenced the choice of the Acting President for Aba.
It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari, in his 2017 budget speech stated inter alia: “We will buy Made-in-Nigeria goods. We will encourage garment manufacturing and Nigerian designers, tailors and fashion retailers. We will patronise local entrepreneurs. We will promote the manufacturing powerhouses in Aba…”
While at Aba for the MSME Clinic, Professor Osinbajo who was accompanied by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, re-stated that Aba is the “manufacturing power house of Nigeria.”
He also said that “Aba is important to the country as a place where wonderful things are made.” He added that Aba business people exemplify the attributes of natural creativity as Aba remains the manufacturing and business centre of Nigeria, stressing that “made-in-Aba products are not bad as previously thought.”
A review of Governor Ikpeazu’s campaign manifesto for the 2015 election explains why Aba is a city after everybody’s heart.
Governor Ikpeazu, even before his election, had concrete plans on what to do to get Aba and Abia right. According to him, “Industrialisation has historically been a core driver of modernisation and job creation. The private sector is the platform that drives industrialisation. We will therefore develop the state economy applying the following economic anchors.
“Systematic consultation with the organised private sector will promote a private sector-led Abia economy.”
Governor Ikpeazu stressed the need for the establishment of a functional small and medium enterprises (SMEs) centre to render critical, non-financial business development and support services to aspiring entrepreneurs and existing SMEs business operators.
For Governor Ikpeazu, the issue of Aba Re-Development Plan, is an issue that must be dealt with no matter whose ox is gored, because he believes that to get Abia right Aba must be fixed.
Constantly he said: “The axiom, “get Aba right, and Abia is right”, shall continue to be the pivotal development philosophy and the nexus upon which to hinge development policy for Aba. Aba is home to virtually all Abians, Ndigbo and has a strong attachment to many others.
“Re-developing Aba into a modern commercial hub; with functional infrastructure, stable power supply, reliable and decent public transportation system, urban traffic management system, structured and planned industrial layouts, clusters and parks, will release her revenue potential that can be leveraged upon to develop the rest of Abia State.
“Aba with its strong entrepreneurial setting, which attracts business operators from across the nation and most ECOWAS countries, has the potential to become a commercial and entrepreneurship hub of West Africa.
“We shall enhance international marketing opportunities for made-in-Aba goods and services by ensuring quality control and showcase the made-in-Aba brand in the economic capitals of the world.
“As part of the Aba re-development plan, we shall undertake the establishment of Obuaku Industrial Zone. The components shall include, but not limited to, a sea port, housing estate, etc.” Governor Ikpeazu said.
It would be recalled that recently, Abia State Government signed a Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement with Crown Realties Plc to build the first Enyimba Free Trade and Industrial zone at Aba.
The project is expected to be strategically located within the Aba zone with world class ancillary facilities and infrastructure.
Under the arrangement, signed by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Eme Okoro, on behalf of the State, Crown Realties will conceptualise, design, finance, develop, construct, operate and maintain the industrial economic Free Trade Zone that integrates industrial production, marketing, warehousing, logistics, leisure, residential accommodation, schools, hospitals and entertainment centres among other facilities.
Speaking during the agreement signing ceremony at the Government House Umuahia, Governor Ikpeazu, who has repeatedly called on Igbos to come home and invest, said that the economy of South-east states would be better developed when the indigenes themselves contribute towards its development by bringing home their investment.
He pledged his administration’s commitment to the project and assured that the project, when completed, will serve Abia well.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of Crown Realties Plc, Mr. Darl Uzu, the establishment of the industrial zone is in line with the call by the Governor for Abians to come home and invest as well as to key into his administration’s pillars of development.
He promised to drive the project in the best interest of the state in order to further bring development to Abia state and the South-east.
Also, the Abia State Government has opened discussions with the management of Anchoff Strongholds Ltd, led by Chief Emeka Offor, for the establishment of an Inland Container Depot at Aba.
Only recently, Governor Ikpeazu, as part of his drive for rapid development of Abia State and Aba in particular, led a powerful team of private sector heavyweights including Prof. Barth Nnaji – the CEO of Geometrics Power, Mr. Darl Uzu , MD Crown Realities Plc, the promoters of the Enyimba Free Trade Zone project and Dr. Pascal Dozie, Chairman of Diamond Bank Plc, to a one-day meeting at the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) in Cairo, Egypt.
The meeting which was at the invitation of the Afreximbank President, Dr. Benedict Okey Oramah, discussed partnership opportunities in the development of the Enyimba Free Trade Zone Project and completion of Geometric Power project in Aba, amongst others.
The Cairo meeting was a major step towards actualising the Geometric Power Project, Aba, which is 95 per cent completed.
At the meeting, Governor Ikpeazu discussed investment opportunities in Abia State and also highlighted the resources his government has put in place to support business growth and expansion in the state.
The Governor emphasised that it was the vision of the Abia State Government to re-ignite the industrial potentials of Aba, leveraging its competitive advantage in trade and commerce with centralised location that makes access to all South-east and South-south cities easy.
According to the Governor, “the planned Aba Industrial Park Project aims to help Aba capture available windows of opportunities through achieving quick wins in the leather, garment, metal fabrication industries and also attract export-oriented light manufacturing firms that will ultimately create a snowballing effect in the re-ignition of the Nigerian economy.”
In his response, the President of Afreximbank, Dr. Okey Oramah, stated that the development of industrial parks and constant power supply were in line with the bank’s strategic investment thrust.
He affirmed that good infrastructure is critical to manufacturing and promised that Afreximbank will partner with Abia State Government in the development of industrial parks and electricity infrastructure.
Dr. Oramah also stated that Afreximbank is also in support of the emergence of Export Trading Companies and development of standard certification centres to support export promotion.
So far, the Ikpeazu administration is doing a lot to reposition Aba infrastructure wise, for the actualisation of plans for Aba as a modern commercial city and SME hub.
In just 19 months, the government has fixed 15 roads at Aba alone, namely: Omeni Road
Adventist Road, Kamalu Road, Umuocham Road, Umuehilegbu Road, Umule Road, Owerri Road, Weeks Road, Owerenta Road, Umuola Road, Ukaegbu Road, Ehere and Weeks Road. Many others have been reasphalted including Aba-Owerri Road, George’s Street, Park Road, East Street, Umuatako Road, Jubilee Road and many others.
Meanwhile, massive work is ongoing along Faulks Road, Aba/Owerri Road, Emelogu/Ngwa Road, Ibere Road, Ururuka Road, MCC-Samek Road, Ikonne Street, Aharandu Street, Onyebuchi Street, St. Paul, Umuocham, Umuchichi Road, St. Paul’s Street and Ibadan Street.
Also, the Governor recently flagged off the construction of the first flyover in Abia at Osisioma junction in Aba.
Bearing in mind that all Federal Roads leading into Aba, including Port Harcourt and Ikot Ekpene Roads were left to deteriorate for many years, Abia State Government is already concluding plans to engage Setraco Construction that is already fixing Faulk Road to also move to Port Harcourt Road, Aba.
The state is constructing the Umuobiakwa-Owoahiafo-Onicha Ngwa Road and the Umuaro-Umuanunu-Ekwereazu Ngwa Road as alternative routes to Akwa Ibom State. Work is also ongoing along new Umuahia Road to provide a good alternative route to Umuahia from Aba.
However, the Federal Government has promised that it will fix the deplorable Ikot Ekpene Road before the rainy season. The Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, made this known when he was joined by Governor Ikpeazu to inspect the road.
Indeed, fixing Aba is a collective effort which requires all hands on deck. Governor Ikpeazu has shown his readiness to co-opt everyone, despite political affiliation, to get Aba right. It is only right to call on all and sundry to join him, and make Aba the commercial city of your dream.
Already, garment and leather products makers in Aba are experiencing historical boom in patronage as a result of the efforts of the Governor in promoting made-in-Aba goods and services. Hotels and other hospitality homes are recording higher patronage. Things are looking up at our beloved Aba and those who left the city few years ago are returning in droves.
Support Governor Ikpeazu to make Aba, the city after everybody’s heart, the commercial city of your dreams.
• Appolos, is Chief Press Secretary to the Abia State Governor