Ladies and gentlemen, the four nominees for the most underdeveloped state in Nigeria are: 1. Abia State 2. Abia State 3. Abia State and 4. Abia State. And the Award goes to none other than Abia State. Hurray!!!
I was holidaying at my cousin’s shop in Aba, Abia State when news broke that Gen. Sanni Abacha was dead. In fact I was at the centre of the popular Ariaria market that evening. Sixteen years on, I still see the worried faces of the traders as they hurriedly closed their shops as uncertainty took hold of the town. The look on my cousin’s face as he dragged us out of the market is something I still tease him about till date.
Back then in 1998, what really caught my eye was the simple but very industrious people of Aba. I saw a people living and fending for themselves in a city with very little government presence. Going back to Abia State after 16 years feels no different. If anything is to be said, the state is in a more terrible condition than it was when I left in 1998. More disturbing is the fact that the government seems unperturbed by the sordid condition of the state.
I remember vividly how the people were filled with hope when it was announced by Gen. Abdusalam Abubakar that the country was going back to democratic rule. At first I was wondering why the people made so much fuss about a return to democracy, then I was told that Abia State saw the last infrastructural upgrade as a part of Imo State under the civilian regime of the late Sam Mbakwe. Now It’s over 15 years of the current democratic dispensation and the people’s elephant is still languishing in limbo. The democratic dividends that everyone dreamt of remains a lingering illusion.
From our drive through Enugu to Owerri, the government presence we felt in those places seemed to diminish as we got to Abia. All roads in the state were totally waterlogged, hampering vehicular and pedestrian movement. What was most baffling is the uniformed cloak of surrender and defeat worn by the people. There were military patrol vans everywhere which painted a picture of a state under emergency rule. Can the military presence be the reason why Abians are afraid to speak out? How can a people known all over the world for their outspoken and fearless nature become so docile and defeated? Or have they become accustomed to this infrastructural decay? I am certain that if Abians decide today that they want a change, they will have a change. They are living in rot today but the coming general elections present a huge opportunity for rectification. It is time to create a new beginning for themselves and their unborn children. Few weeks from now, it will be left for them to decide if they prefer a tin of rice and another eight years of stagnation.
My advice is that Abians shouldn’t give up as they walk through this wilderness. But they also must not fail in the coming months to choose a Moses with the right staff to walk them through. Because another eight years of this same political hiatus might be too costly.