Towards Improved Governance in Abia State-By Ikeogu Oke

Abia, my state, goes by the sobriquet of “God’s Own State.” Heaven, God’s kingdom and abode, as conceived by some of the faithful, is a paradise whose streets are paved with gold. This conceit is a many-layered symbolism, for me.

One, that in God’s abode, the same substance on which humans generally place the highest material value, an ornamental metal at best, is so cheapened as to be the material for paving roads, God’s asphalt, so the inhabitants could trample on it, and mules, drawing carts along the roads, defecate on it. This symbolism is redolent with the little value the people of Utopia, Thomas Moore’s classic novel of that title, place on gold. They use it for making chamber pots and chains for slaves and prisoners. And this symbolism stretches farther to accord gold some utilitarian value, in heaven as well as Utopia, rather than use it as a mere ornament. Two, that care is taken to pave the roads in heaven, God’s residence and seat of glory, with the most expensive and durable metal known to man, so the roads could possibly last forever, as we might expect of heaven.

Now, Abia, a Nigerian state, for purposes of reiteration, has adopted God as its owner, the same God to whom Jesus Christ enjoins us to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But, ironically, some roads in Abia, unlike roads in any territory whose ownership should be ascribed to an all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing, infinitely rich God, have so broken down that they can be said to be “paved” with concern for the lives of those who travel through them, and their agonies as victims of an unfathomable neglect to keep them in good repair, and make them worthy of being regarded as roads for the use of civilised earthly beings, let alone heavenly ones.

The asphalt on large swathes of some of the roads has since broken down, creating gullies in which flood water and mud collect in the rainy season, such as we are witnessing at present, and huge suffering for travellers condemned to pass through them. The Abia sort of road “paving” – with the agony of the traveller and fear for his safety – is also a many-layered symbolism, for me.

One, it ridicules the idea of affinity with God, of attributing the ownership of the state to God, while suggesting that God’s standards for human and divine comfort must be miserably low – for humans with well-calibrated sensibilities. Two, it shows gross disregard for public good, for humanity, by those responsible for keeping such roads in good condition. And I use the terms “public good” and “humanity” advisedly, since those who must use such roads are not just indigenes of Abia State.  It is, in a word, cynical to keep roads in the dismal condition which I witnessed when I travelled through the state recently, while carrying on as if the state is a model of good governance, God’s choice demesne on earth.

And I must speak with specific reference to two roads. First is the road that runs through the Osisioma community near Aba, off the single-lane expressway from Ugba Junction to Owerri. The road provides access to an Independent Power Plant nearing completion, which in terms of cost and expected impact could amount to the biggest entrepreneurial investment in the state since its creation in 1991.  The other is the stretch of dual-carriage express road between Osisioma, after one joins it from Aba-Owerri Road, and Ubakala junction. “Hellish” only mildly describes the conditions of these roads, through which I personally travelled on June 2, 2012, with their several gullies brimming with muddy water, and their extensive, undulating rough surfaces that turn driving into an obstacle race, and pose an immediate and grave danger to the lives and comfort of the thousands of travellers who use them daily.

I believe that the current government of Abia State headed by Governor Theodore Orji, like the proverbial nza bird in the Igbo saying, has been shedding blood as its strength permits it. Perhaps the next spurt of blood from its veins, however tiny, should be directed at effecting repairs that would bring those roads to a normal state. And since I take seriously the governor’s claim to being committed to improving the lives of Abians, I would rather think that the roads have remained in such appalling states because the governor has neither travelled through them nor has their condition been brought to his attention, and that he would ensure their repair as soon as he learns of their condition through this piece or other means.

If Governor Theodore Orji has to adopt the tactic of a “weeping governor,” like one of his predecessors, to draw attention to such roads and the humanistic tragedy they openly portray, in case it can be rightly argued that the responsibility to repair them resides outside the state, then such a tactic will underscore his commitment to the welfare of Abians. Besides the great human suffering currently associated with their use, both roads are of such strategic importance, as arteries for business and merchandise, that not to speak up for their need for urgent repair would be unpardonable irresponsibility. That bad roads can frustrate business and investment in the state, as anywhere else, cannot be overstated. For instance, in the 90’s, business at Crystal Park Hotel, located off Port Harcourt Road, in Aba, was virtually smothered because prospective patrons could not access the facility owing to bad roads. The same holds for many other business ventures in that part of the city at that time.

On the said day, I attended a ceremony of the commissioning of the 132/33KV Transformer Station located at Umuahia, the Abia State capital. At the event, I noticed another depressing sight – of a group of uniformed young men, in blue jeans and black T-shirts, probably in their 20s, chanting threats, in Igbo, of how those opposed to the governor’s rule would be uprooted “like mushrooms,” cut off “like weeds,” or wiped off “like letters written on a blackboard.”  At the sight of those boys, I began to worry about Abia, my state, having degenerated into a Yahoocracy – government of the Yahoos by the Yahoos for the Yahoos. The group, incidentally, calls itself “AHUU Boys.” No pun intended! Could it be a rare, bizarre case of perverting the youth as statecraft?

Nothing, even in Machiavellian realms, justifies such brazen deployment of young men, who deserve gainful employment, for purposes of intimidating political dissent or the opposition into silence, with such graphic imagery that threatens opponents of the governor with summary liquidation. And that such a show was being put up publicly in a democratic culture, which should permit civilised dissent and opposition even with a good government, makes it eminently intolerable.  Governor Theodore Orji, I think, is a genuine democrat, and so might not have supported such open assault on the very essence of democracy; and so I believe he will ensure its immediate discontinuation in the state, as well as the repair of the roads I have specifically drawn attention to, and other similar ones, towards improved governance of the state in which we are both responsible stakeholders.

Oke, a writer, poet and public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja.

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