Sunday, January 31, 2016 8:24 pm
By Ikechukwu Nkuma
NARRATIVES about Aba, a major creative, commercial, industrial, and manufacturing centre east of the republic, tend to focus on the negatives – its poor infrastructure, security, environmental degradation – to the point that many becloud everything about Aba with negatives. Aba is excluded, in their calculations, from any change of its circumstances. The fixed expectations of Aba have limited appreciation of the outputs of Aba, even in the most challenging circumstances.
Journeys through Aba streets, narrowed by heaps of refuse in some places and encroachment by traders who have either built shops on parts of the streets or use them in displaying their goods, tell a different story about the tenacity of the people, their adaptability, and a prodigious link to creativities that draw multitudes of like-minded people to Aba. They arrive in search of fortunes, which they had to generate, or were born into the plenteous opportunities Aba has presented for decades.
A unique city that combines commerce with manufacturing and diverse creative abilities that meander from metal fabrications through tools making to seemingly simpler tasks like furniture- making to the complexities of a garment industry that is in demand at home and abroad, Aba is too important to be ignored or taken for granted.
Thirteen years before the Aba Urban Renewal Summit that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu explained was meant to expose Aba again to investors, and in particular, government’s efforts to make Aba investor-friendly, then World Bank President Jim Wolfensohn at the behest of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala visited Aba. The major outcome of that visit is the stalled independent power project in Alaoji. It would have provided the needed electricity that would ease the burden of doing business in Aba.
“It is important that as we talk we remember that action is more important,” Ide John Udeagbala, Vice President of the Nigeria Chamber of Commerce, whose businesses are stark reminders of failure of governments to realise promises they made on Aba. Governor Ikpeazu said those days were over, telling summit participants that Aba was important to Abia State, and beyond.
The importance of Aba to the economies of ECOWAS to its West, and Central Africa to the East, is often under-stated. Ford Foundation funded the Aba Summit and its team was with summit participants that visited the sprawling markets of Aba to witness at first-hand its garment and shoe making ingenuity in the various clusters of the famous Ariaria market. An earlier visit to the Technology Incubation Centre, a UNIDO facility, abandoned for years, but now manufacturing boots for security organisations, revealed quite a lot, while the prodigies in Ariaria underlined what Aba could do with better and greatly improved infrastructures. Governor Ikpeazu considers fixing Aba a priority. It makes economic sense to do so, quickly.
There are staggering statistics about Aba. If Aba is producing at optimal pace, taxes and other revenues from its factories can fund the running of Abia State. When such claims are made, the tendency is to look at the Aba of the 60s through the 80s, when most commercial, manufacturing or industrial organisations, including the multinational companies, had commanding presence in Aba. The city defies the logic and economics of infrastructure as recent statistics show, for it still beckons investors with a promise of higher delivery of profits, even in its present circumstances. Imagine what would happen if Aba’s infrastructures are fixed.
Okechukwu Anyamele, Professor of Economics and Finance, at Jackson State University, in the United States, presented his study on Aba to the Summit.
A summary of his picture of Aba could easily be summerised thus:
• Between 2000 and 2015, Aba’s economy grew at an annual rate of 7.44%.
• In 2000, Aba’s GDP stood at $1.57 billion; by 2015, it had grown to $4.9 billion.
• In 2014, Gross National Income per capita of Nigeria was $2,760
• Aba’s GDP with official population of 917,355 will put Aba’s income per capita at $9,778.
• Aba’s income per capita in 2014 was 3.5 times that of Nigeria.
• An analysis of the data based on current US$, indicates a bigger economy of Aba capable of sustaining Abia State, if well managed.
• The household consumption of Aba in 2015 $4,828,301,225.
• Given the official household population of 269,727 translates into $17,901 per household and per capita consumption of ($4,828,301,225/944,045) = $5,114.
Anyamele linked Aba economy to the larger Abia economy. Again, the statistics elevated Aba’s importance. “In terms of purchasing power parity GDP, Abia State is the 12th largest state economy of the 36 States of Nigeria with a 2007 GDP of $8,687 million,” Anyamele said. In 2007, Aba GDP in purchasing power parity stood at $6,298 million, meaning that Aba economy accounted for approximately 72.5 per cent of Abia State GDP in 2007. Speaker after speaker highlighted the imperatives of improving Aba, so that its businesses would flourish and revenues flood government coffers to meet government’s obligations to the people. In starting 2016 with the Aba Summit, Governor Ikpeazu has drawn his administration into making Aba’s renewal the fulcrum and centre point of his government. Aba has moved from a campaign promise to a compelling prospect for the good of Abia State.
Nkuma, a journalist, participated in the Aba Summit