From the old, cranky bridge overlooking the Aba waterside, the crowd of bystanders stood to watch the new cinema. There used to be the old REX and EMI Cinema in this town where the senior boys of old stole out of bed and scaled over the barbed-wire fences of their dormitories at night to watch the escapades of the Chinese macho man, Bruce Lee, the American version of Rambo. That was the Aba of old, the paradise lost.
Today, there is no more Rex, no more Emi and no more Bruce Lee. But, there is a new fancy that has caught the attention of the Aba people this early morning and they are looking with consumed absentmindedness, oblivious of the risk of the speeding trucks behind them. The new cinema is the combusting dredger crawling in the Aba River, excavating the waters and evacuating the accumulated debris that have caused the water to meander away from its concave shores. The bystanders are looking with curiosity because a dredger in the Aba River is a novelty. There is no memory, as much as they can flash back, of a dredger in Aba or of a dredging work in Aba River. So they must be part of this drama!
The scenario, in symbolic terms, goes to signal the Aba Urban Renewal Drive, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s driving force under which he is reviewing the truncated dream that is Aba city. Recently, he deployed the dredger to the Aba water as part of effort to recover an endangered waterline. The sedimentation of debris below the waterbed is partly the cause of the Aba flood and the environmental decay. If there had been constant dredging in the past, the river would accommodate more storm water from the drainages and the entire network of drainages in the city will flow freely.
Cutting through the thick forest of Okpu Umuobo in Osisioma local council, the Aba River snakes its way through the city to Ukwa and empties into the Opopo River. In the heydays of Aba’s fame, the river provided water as raw material to the manufacturing companies which were strategically located along its banks and also accommodated sewage. Old students of the many old schools of Aba savour sweet memories of their swimming spree in the waterside. Courtyard swimming pools were not common currency in those days so Aba boys and girls got their first swimming encounter here and mastered the symphony of the ebbs and tides. Thus, the Aba waterside remains another source of nostalgia for old Aba people.
Indeed, the Aba waterside is what the lagoon is to Lagos. It defines its landscape and its topography and projects its environmental beauty. If you point at the heavy capacity ships that hang onshore waiting for the right to berth from the authorities of the ports of Apapa, Aba people would point at the wooden canoes paddled by the swamp dwellers of the waterlines. Apart from the sea breeze generated by the cascading waves of the Atlantic, there is nothing that the Lagos water offers that Aba waterside is not capable of offering Aba people. Abia can create her own beaches like Lagos. It could create a tourism delight out of the waterside.
Governor Ikpeazu is looking in this direction. In the effort to create a new city, using local content and harnessing the latent ingenuity of the Aba people, the Aba River must be a key element in the mapping of a new landscape and designing of a new environmental order. If the Aba River is well guarded, it could provide potentials for marine transport. With the process of urbanization catching up with yesterday’s rural communities like Ovom, Akpa and the communities along the Aba-Opobo road, a marine transport system is all what the natives need to access the city. Same with the communities along the Osisioma stretch of land. Mini commuter boats with final embarkation point at the waterside could serve this purpose. This will ease the traffic along the Ogbor Hill axis and on the Aba-Owerri road.
Governor Ikpeazu is prepared for the task at hand. The dredging of the waterside is the first step in a large and broad vision that encapsulates a marine culture that will add value to life, create a new symphony of drama of city life, re-engineer the economy and bring Aba back to its pride of place as the hub of commerce and trade. This is being driven in unison with the construction of new roads and maintenance of the old ones and the general infrastructural renewal of the city.
Before the arrival of the dredger, the desilting of drainages, gutters, storm water systems and flood channels has been going on in earnest. It has been an amazing discovery to see drainages of more than 30 feet deep built by the colonial administration with the original plan of the city covered up by residents over the years, some with solid structures built over them. The dream is big; the will must be strong.
This morning, the Aba people saw the tenacity of the will in the combusting dredger crawling in the water like a dancing duck. It provided a good sight, in the absence of Emi and Rex. But, much more than that, it heralded the town crier’s voice: a Daniel has come to judgment!