Yesterday as I drove casually along the not-so-busy streets of Abakaliki, I marvelled at how much more cars graced the refurbished roads. During my school days, there were fewer people, fewer businesses, fewer cars on the roads, and the hustle was there but it was mellow, unlike the crab-like hustle you feel, see and smell in Onitsha or Lagos.
Another thing struck me; the number of brand new cars plying the roads, the young mothers leisurely driving to meet up with school runs, the number of young father’s dressed professionally in suits picking up their young children from school lessons to get them home, have a quick lunch and then dash back to the office just in time before lunch break is over. A lot has really changed in my home state.
Real estate in this once sleepy civil service town is on the rise. Everyone is looking to buy, build, refurbish, sell, develop, and whatever one can imagine. All in all, the once sleepy town has awoken to the fresh and vibrant opportunity that lie within. Young people are no longer in a hurry to flee the coop as we had once done in the past. I recall in the early 80s and 90s, we couldn’t wait to pack our bags and bid the dusty red earth Igbo speaking populace a hearty farewell for a holiday trip to a favourite relative in the west or north. All that has changed.
Through audacity, far-sightedness and an ability to hold its nerve through financial crash, Abakaliki people have created a futuristic mega city, from the Abakaliki dust to what has now become a tourist draw in the South east. Abakaliki has sought to transform itself from a little satellite town to an investment and tourism hub. Today, she seems undeterred by the bumpy ride and continues to wax stronger, with a dozen mega projects underway to wow the hordes of visitors trickling into the virgin city.
As excitement mounts in the day time, wait till nightfall. As soon as the lights flick on in the salt city, you’ll be completely astonished by the exquisite transformation in the metropolis. This serves as a cue to the ceaseless night activities that invite pleasure-seeking strollers.The state is brimming over with fantastic changes. After crowning the city with twin fly over bridges that dazzle the onlookers, the state government is still bent on turning the town to a cosmopolitan society with a wide range of attractions.
If you haven’t been here, you really do need to give it a shot. Someone I know was transferred here many years back, and he almost died from anger and resentment. Now, you couldn’t pay him to move his family back to Lagos. Life is easier, has more quality to it, you live in a more comfortable place for less, kids are in good schools, you actually have time to mind the kids, and oh, you sure can have fun. Abakaliki has joined the league of delightful cities, a far cry from what obtained in the past.
Just few years ago, calling someone an Abakaliki man was equivalent to calling him a northerner. Every available indices at that time showed that Abakaliki people lagged behind, and in fact, in literacy levels, they were the worst in the whole of southern Nigeria. Ebonyians made up of old Enugu (Abakaliki zone) and old Abia (Afikpo zone) were victims of marginalisation in their old states. This was the main aim of the agitation of state creation. Government impacts were not felt in the old Abakaliki zone. Our entitlements were taken by our oppressors. This made us stagnant in terms of material and human development. A lot of scholarship opportunities belonging to us were traded to the highest bidder. Our job chances were sold, given to other people, while we were branded nitwits and laggards.
Today, we seem to be breaking through those negative opinions and continuing to make amazing progress in all facets of life. With what is obtainable in Ebonyi today, even Anambra may be overtaken by the sprightly young state in a couple of decades. The next generation of Ebonyians will move with supreme confidence, youthful exuberance and joyful pride among their contemporaries. Tongues will wag, mouths will drool and eyes will widen at the visible changes occasioned by the tons of architectural wonders dotting the state. The journey would be slow and steady. Abakaliki may hit notable snags over the comng years but she won’t be deterred. And never will be.
The Umahi-magic has paid off big. We have joined the realm of elites in all the magnificence of that term. Disciplined by childhood of deprivation, Governor Umahi has brought into governance a responsible financial management and a frugality that many consider crippling. His thirst for infrastructure and modernity might be mocked today by a cynical populace of sadists but posterity would judge him fairly, and delight in his achievements. Generations will sing his name like a favourite song. And history will appropriate him a well-deserved space.
Now I understand why the cars on the roads have grown in numbers, why new and modern buildings are springing up, why I see a lot of younger people behind the wheels and the old spectacle-wearing retirees slowly moving along while you time behind them with all your youthful impatience because the road ahead is free and you are late for your engagement. It’s the Umahin magic.
Ekubaroha is working!