ABIA: GOD'S OWN STATE NEEDS DIVINE INTERVENTION
Aba Towers welcomes you to Umuahia, the capital of Abia, which prides itself as God's Own State. Standing in the middle of the Port Harcourt- Aba- Enugu expressway, the landmark, which was erected during the Dr Ogbonnaya Onu administration, is presently being given a facelift.
The smooth but narrow Ossah-Mission- Hill road leading into the city centre reflects the state of road network in Umuahia, Umuahia North Local Government Area, in Abia Central Senatorial Zone. Indeed, almost all the roads in the state capital are in good condition but because of the narrowness of the streets, traffic congestion remains an integral part of the city. School road, Azikiwe road, Stadium road, Finbars road, Adelabu street, Bende road, Eket street, Orlu street, Warri street, Enugu street, Bonny street, Kaduna street, Olokoro street, Abam street and Okigwe road provide for a smooth ride.
While Uwalaka street is under construction, other roads in good condition in Umuahia include Aba road, Factory road, Ojike street and Uyo street. Such roads as Library Avenue, Aba road, Ikot Ekpene road, Anagha Ezikpe road, Aguiyi Ironsi layout, Orji Uzor Kalu road and House of Assembly road, have streetlights. When the lights come on, at night, the roads look nice and inviting.
But this is not to say that all the roads in Umuahia are in good condition. For instance, the Amafor Isingwu road, off Ossah-Misson-Hill road, is a nightmare. Paradoxically, it is just a stone's throw from the seat of power. There, vehicles crawl as drivers navigate through the craters that dot the long stretch. Again, the expressway that runs through Umuahia to Enugu is in a deplorable condition. A federal road, some portions have failed, causing discomfort to both man and machine.
It was gathered that many accidents have been recorded on the road, especially during the rainy season, as a result of the manholes there. Mr Mike Okoro, an inter city bus driver, who plies the trunk A road, said: 'Accidents occur regularly because of the potholes here and there. Sometimes, while trying to meander through the bad spots, a vehicle may fall into a ditch. Drivers who are not used to the road are the worst victims because they do not know the area that is terribly bad.
'Again, vehicles break down every now and then on the road. You can easily lose a tyre or two if you run into the potholes; your vehicle shaft can pull off as well. It is, indeed, a bad situation. It is a reflection of the leadership that we have in this country, leadership that does not care about the well being of the people. I will like to add that it is part of the marginalization of Igbo people. I don't think that this is obtainable in other parts of the country.'
Worse still, such failed portions of the road have become danger zones as armed robbers and kidnappers lay ambush for unsuspecting or hapless road users because
vehicles move at snail pace.
However, there is a half- hearted attempt to fix some of the bad portions. At some points, sand and stones are used to fill the craters, thereby making driving a hellish experience.
While Umuahia boasts of good road network, the same cannot be said of Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State. Indeed, the trader's town made up of Aba South and Aba North Local Government Areas in Abia North senatorial district has lost its past glory in terms of infrastructure. It is decay everywhere.
As a matter of fact, only the major roads in Aba are good. They include Azikiwe road, Okpu Umobo road, Opobo road, Okigwe road, Port Harcourt road and Aba-Owerri road. Aba-Owerri road is a federal road but was rehabilitated by the state government. This followed public frustration and outcry, which emanated from the hardship occasioned by the deplorable state of the road until recently.
According to Mrs. Rose Nnanna, a banker, 'before the state government started refurbishing the road, movement around the area was paralyzed. It is one of the busiest roads in the town, so it affected everybody one way or another. A journey, which ordinarily should not take more than 15 minutes, lasted hours.
The situation is better imagined than experienced. Some parts of the road like Ahia Nkwo area was cut off. From morning till night for several months, those who had cause to use the road were subjected to a harrowing experience. In fact, it is difficult to quantify the agony, wear and tear that the perennial traffic bottleneck on the road had on the road users before help came from the state government. But my fear is that the good time may not last because there is no drainage on the road. This means that when it rains, the road will be flooded and if it remains flooded for long, water may begin to have a toll on it. So, that is our fear.'
Going through most of the adjoining roads in Aba is like going through the valley of the shadow of death. While some of them parade gullies, some are simply impassable. For instance, when the writer and his guide wanted to drive into Osusu road via Eziukwu road during the tour of the state, one of the policemen on duty at the junction warned that their vehicle would get stuck because the road was flooded. Nicknamed Osusu River because it is never dry even in the heart of the dry season, it is a Herculean task crossing from one end of the road to the other.
It is common to see vehicles stuck. Such vehicles are usually pushed out at a fee by youths hanging around the vicinity waiting for 'customers'.
Aba roads in terrible conditions include Assemblies Avenue off Ikot Ekpene road, Erondu road, Methodist road, Clifford street, Tenant road, Cameroon street, Market Street, Akoli road, Cemetery road, Item road, Ehi road, Chief Ugwuzor street, Danfodio road, Nwosu street, Ngwa road, Olewe Street and Ahuruonye close.
While there is a garbage dump in the middle of Asa road, Uratta road, a major link to the Alaoji power station and Ariaria market, is in a terrible condition. School road can be described as a death trap while Ohanku road leading to Umogele has been cut into two. It was gathered that residents of some parts of Aba do not wear shoes when it rains because of the terrible state of roads.
According to Miss Chinasa Eze, a student: 'whenever it rains, walking through the streets of Aba becomes a terrible experience. I witnessed this when I came to the city for my practical experience at the School of Health in September last year. We had to use Keke NAPEP (tricycle) to move in the streets. Even at that, mud would be splashing on your body because everywhere was totally messed up. It was, indeed, a sad experience.'
In the same vein, Chief Frances Ene, a businessman who explained that he has lived in Aba since 1970, said that the Enyimba city has never had it so bad.
Hear him: 'Aba has gradually deteriorated to a point that one can say that infrastructure has collapsed. Indeed, Aba of those days was better off than now in terms of the state of infrastructure, particularly, roads and security.
Today, you can hardly find any road in Aba that is in good condition, unlike before. During the regime of Chief Sam Mbakwe and those after him, the roads were still better but today things are getting worse in all ramifications. If not for the intervention of soldiers, I don't know if you can find one person in Aba except indigenes that have no other place to go. Even some of the indigenes ran away because of the insecurity in Aba.
'Specifically, in terms of roads, less than 30% of the roads are in motorable conditions. For instance, I do my business at Aba-Owerri road, which they are just reconstructing but I don't know the kind of reconstruction that is being done because there is no drainage. Maybe it is after reconstructing the road that they will build the gutters but there seems to be no provision for that. So many roads in Aba are bad including Tenants, Asa, Osusu, School roads etc.
If you ask any resident in Aba, he or she will tell you that we have no roads and nobody seems to care. Ariaria international market is a ghost place. Government should do something about the state of Aba roads as a matter of urgency.'
Also in Ugwunagbo Local Government Area in Aba South Senatorial Zone, the scourge of bad roads pervades. During the tour, it was difficult to access the council headquarters as the Umunka road was impassable.
Efforts to speak with the transition council chairman of Aba South (as at the time of this report), Dr Christian Okoli, proved abortive. When contacted on telephone, he said that he was out of town.
According to Mr Ezinwa Ihesiaba, former president of Ugwunagbo Development Union (UDU), 'since 1999, Ugwunagbo has not felt the presence of government in any area. Our roads are in terrible state; they have not done anything for us. Every now and then, they destroy the community roads in the name of grading. I don't know what we have done to be so neglected.'
Another indigene of Ugwunagbo, Comrade Ezeh Micah, said: ' We cannot talk of Ugwunagbo in isolation. Generally, there is the problem of road in every local government in the state, especially in Abia South senatorial zone. In Ugwunagbo, in particular, there are no good roads despite the fact that Ugwunagbo occupies part of Aba town from Flyover junction.
There is no accessible road to any community in Ugwunagbo though we heard recently that both the local and state governments are making efforts to grade some of the roads. But that remains a promise because they are not on ground.'
Ugwunagbo local government transition committee chairman, Hon Eze Nwanganga, told Sunday Sun that he was not in a position to present a scorecard because he was only recently appointed at the time the newspaper called.
Also neglected is the road leading from Aba to Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State. A trunk A road, it is, in fact, in terrible condition. Thus, driving through it is a risky venture.
In Isiukwuato Local Government Area in Abia North senatorial district, it is the same story. While the Umuahia -Isuikwuato -Ohafia road is fairly good, the same cannot be said of the roads in Isiukwuato town. Indeed, most of the roads linking the communities that make up the council including Eluama, Umuobiala, Umuerem, Amiyi-Obinohia, Amiyi Amokwe, Acha, Otampa, Umuasua and Amibo, are not tarred. The Akara ABSU road leading to the council headquarters, which was constructed in the 1970s by the Ndubuisi Kanu regime, has succumbed to the wear and tear of age. Potholes dot the road even as erosion/ landslide has eaten part of it.
According to an Isuikwuato indigene, Mr. Anthony Madukairo, 'since 1999 till date, the Isuikwuato LGA has witnessed zero development. It does appear as if the council is foisted with satanic or evil- minded leadership. Nobody needs a soothsayer to know that the community is neglected or abandoned. No single block has been laid in terms of advancing development in the area.'
The media consultant added: 'In terms of roads, to be specific, there is nothing to write home about the council or its leadership. The Okigwe-Akara road built in 1976 by the government of Ndubuisi Kanu, which used to be the pride of the people, has seen better days. Because of the lack of maintenance, the road has virtually collapsed. There are potholes here and there; it has even been cut into two by landslide at Oruruala in Oguduasa community. A contractor who was given the job of fixing the road did a shoddy job, so it is not motorable anymore. The road has been cut into two, few kilometers to Abia State University, Uturu.
'Again, the road that is supposed to link Nunya-Eluama is abandoned. Each year, they grade the road, leaving it in a worse state even as dust takes over the entire area. There was a time a mushroom contractor came there and couldn't do anything meaningful for over eight years.'
Efforts to speak with the council chairman, Mr. Peter Nwakama, failed.
However, the road from Alayi to Igbere (also in Abia North) is good. And the roads within Igbere town are also in goon condition. They include the Okafia, Amaukwu and Amankalu roads. The Igbere -Ozuitem road is good but some portions are beginning to go bad. This is also the case with Ozuitem-Uzuakoli road.
Me Cure Healthcare Ltd prides itself as bringing ' to your neighbourhood world class integrated healthcare delivery system to provide comprehensive healthcare spanning from basic diagnostics to health check plans and surgery solutions in a most sophisticated, curative and ethical transparent patient friendly environment by a highly competent team of medical professionals and compassionate staff.'
Pursuant to this, the organization is in a public private partnership with Abia State government. The result is the Abia Specialist Hospital and Diagnostic Centre, Umuahia. A state-of the -art facility, it offers a wide range of services including digital x-ray, mammography, tomography, (CT scan), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), phlebotomy, sonography, colour doppler and second medical opinion through video conferencing.
According to Mr. Sunil Shewale, the branch manager of Me Cure, 'all the equipment are fully automated so there is little human intervention' in their investigations. He added that their services are of high standard while the cost is low even as the organization has a team of doctors in Nigeria and India.
Indeed, the centre is impressive in terms of equipment installed and general setting. It can cater for the needs of the rich and not- so- rich in the society.
While the diagnostic centre is flourishing, the same cannot be said of the Abia State University Teaching Hospital, Aba. In fact, the latter is like a ghost town. When Sunday Sun visited the hospital, it was overgrown with weeds. Reptiles and rodents had taken over the facility.
Investigations at the time of visit revealed that the hospital had been shut since June 2010 when the staff embarked on strike due to non-payment of salaries. A staff of the hospital, who refused to disclose his name, said: ' My brother, the staff decided to embark on strike because the authorities are owing us six months salary.
They are not sensitive to the problems of the workers here, so we decided to stop work. How can one be working for months without pay?'
In the same vein, the teaching hospital annex, (former Aba General Hospital) on Eziukwu road was under lock and key. Two men at the gate said that the staffers were on strike due to non- payment of salary for six months.
The strike did not affect the health centres in various Local Governments Areas. Checks, however, showed that the facilities are run by personnel who can hardly be described as qualified.
Take this: Last December 23, this writer went to the District Referral Health Centre, Isuikwuato, and requested that his blood pressure be checked. A nurse, who identified herself as Promise, ran the check and declared that the HP was 179/210.
Of course, that set off the alarm bell. Thinking that with such high diastolic and systolic levels, he was quite close to his grave, the reporter ran to Alayi maternity/ health centre for a reconfirmation but there was no sphygmanometer to do the check. According to the nurse on duty, the equipment was bad and had been taken to Umuahia for repairs. However, at the Igbere health centre built, equipped and donated by the Uche Eme Age grade, the nurse on duty did the blood pressure test and the result was: HP -120/80.
The health centres are open halls with beds. They only treat people with minor ailments and pregnant women. It was learnt that medical doctors are alien to the facilities.
Nurse Promise told Sunday Sun: 'we do not have a doctor, not even an NYSC doctor. We only have midwives and nurses.'
On what obtains in Ugwunagbo, Micah said: ' In terms of health, Ugwunagbo has not been doing badly. We have structures to accommodate health facilities. But I think the problem is that we do not have enough personnel to manage the health facilities on ground. I equally think that the local government may not have enough finance to take care of the health needs of the people'.
Years ago, Girls Model Secondary School, Ovim, Isuikwuato was the place to be. Established by the missionaries, it was one of the most popular schools in the eastern part of the country.
Located on a rocky terrain, it was highly rated in terms of infrastructure, discipline and academic performance of the students. Today, the school is a ghost of its former self. It is in ruins and the environment no longer conducive for learning or fit for human habitation. Indeed, the school is in tatters, a scene of utter desolation.
When The Sun visited the school, the legacy it once paraded was gone.
Some of the roofs of classrooms had collapsed. Many of the windows and doors were broken. An indigene of the area, Mr. Donatus Ike, said: ' This is no longer the school we used to be proud of. The school has been neglected over the years. You can see things for yourself, truly the situation at the school is regrettable.'
However, there are four fairly new blocks of classrooms donated by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Isuikwuato High School (Senior) is also in a terrible state. Located near the council headquarters, some of the roofs are blown off. Amaba Central School, Isuikwuato, is also collapsing. Built of mud, there are cracks on the wall even as the cement plastering is falling as a result of wear and tear. The classrooms have no ceilings and the building could collapse anytime. Interestingly, there is an abandoned block in the premises, yet another one is being built.
Igboji Secondary School, Alayi, Bende Local Government Area is also in a sorry state. Most of the classrooms have dilapidated roofs, battered ceilings, falling windows, and doors. Checks revealed that the students made use of personal stools and lockers.
The Senior Science School, Alayi, fares better. It has some decent blocks of classrooms with the inscription: ETF project 2002.
School Road Primary School 1 & 2, Aba South look like a poultry. There is an abandoned structure in the premises even as a new one is under construction.
Ayaba Umueze Primary School, Abayi, Osisioma Local Government Area, paints a horrible picture. The road leading to the school and part of the premises has been eaten up by erosion. It was gathered that pupils of the school sit on bare floor in crowded classrooms to study because of insufficient chairs. And because the school is not fenced, it is a hangout of Indian hemp smokers and sundry criminals.
Etche Road Primary School, Aba South LGA, also parades dilapidated structures. According to Miss Mary, a pupil of the school, 'whenever it is raining, we will get wet because the roofs are always leaking'.
Sources also maintained that the school is always rented out for such occasions as weddings and town meetings.
The popular Wilcox Memorial Comprehensive Secondary School, Ogbor hill, Aba North LGA has also lost its glory. The structures are in a shambolic state just as the premises regularly serve as wedding receptions. In fact, when this reporter went to the school on a Saturday, two receptions were going on simultaneously.
One would expect schools in Umuahia to be in the best conditions for learning considering that it is the seat of power in the state. But the reverse is the case. City Primary School, Urban School and Amuzukwu Girl Secondary Schools are some of the schools that do not have conducive classrooms as some of the buildings are dilapidated. Amuzukwu Girls secondary School, in particular, paints a picture of total decay and complete neglect.
A secondary school teacher in Aba told Sunday Sun that they lack necessary teaching materials and have resorted to self -help. According to her, ' we now teach with conscience not with comfort because the incentives are simply not there. We have not received our leave allowance for two years'.
She added that because of the glaring shortcoming in the public school system, parents now prefer to register their children and wards in private schools for the Senior Secondary School Examinations (SSSE).
Abia State Polytechnic, Aba needs attention. Some of the classrooms are in bad condition with ceiling boards hanging dangerously low. The roads are un-tarred while the toilets are eyesores. The commissioners responsible for the ministries under review) as at the time of the visit) namely, education, works and health, Hon. Paul C. Mba, Hon Chris Enweremdu and Dr. Okechukwu Ogah, respectively, were not favourably disposed to speaking. For four days, the reporter made frantic efforts to meet them but they claimed to be at meetings every minute of the day. In fact, they fixed appointments severally and failed to keep same.