Willie Obiano and the Changing Face of Awka By James Eze
Six months after he took the oath of office as the governor of Anambra State, clear signs are beginning to emerge that Chief Willie Obiano might just be the man to give Ndi Anambra the state capital they have dreamed of in the last 23 years. These signs might be silent in nature like the sudden appearance of a fancy office properly designated as the Awka Capital Development Authority (ACDA), or loud like the pulling down of the structure at Aroma Junction and the huge construction efforts going on there to lay the foundation of a fancy flyover and a tunnel that will change the landscape of the town. The truth though is that no matter the nature of these signs, it can no longer be denied that Awka, the capital city of one of Nigeria’s frontline states is on the cusp of change.
For years, Awka stood out as a metaphor for all that could possibly go wrong with Anambra. After 23 years of playing host to the government of the most illustrious people in black Africa, Awka was reluctant to shed its overcast outlook of a semi urban town with a mishmash of mostly residential buildings jutting out of green areas and no hint of a distinct skyline. Awka had no promise of ever transmuting to urbanity, no obvious aspirations to greatness. This is in stark contrast to the well-known industrious nature of Awka indigenes whose ancestors are famous in all of Igboland for their prowess in metallurgical productions and blacksmithry. Meanwhile, right across the Niger in neighboring Delta State, Asaba , a town that became an administrative seat at the same time as Awka is in full bloom.
As successive administrations came and went without any landmarks, inhabitants of the town lost all hopes of any real modern changes in the landscape. So many conspiracy theories were woven to explain the seemingly endless neglect of Awka by different administrations. Some people blamed Awka’s increasingly sorry state on the reluctance of the indigenes to work in harmony with any government. Others argues that they are reluctant to cede their lands for developmental purposes. But the opposing views argue that it was the government that failed to demonstrate good faith by assuring the indigenes of a compensation package that is commensurate to the land they were willing to cede. Whatever was the true account, the outcome was a damning verdict on Awka. It remained trapped in its utter lack of ambition – an avoidable stillbirth.
The irony here is that while Awka stagnated, the rest of Anambra bloomed – especially the smaller towns. APGA leadership under former Governor Peter Obi, transformed the state to such a great extent that traveling around, the first time visitor would be hard-pressed to believe that he is not moving around in one sprawling city but a maze of urbanizing communities with the familiar feel of a city. The impressive network of good roads that link up towns in Anambra State to each other can compare to any such efforts in any part of the world. But this picture contrasts sharply with the stark, threadbare reality of Awka. Again, we may never fully know why. It will take a lot of prying to riffle through the thick swelter of conspiracy theories cited above to unearth the facts.
Happily, that was the case until Chief Willie Obiano was sworn in six months ago. As is typical of leaders who are concerned about their place in history, Chief Obiano’s discontent with the deplorable state of Awka began to show long before he was sworn in. In his Inaugural Speech, Obiano was emphatic about his dream of a fitting capital city for Ndi Anambra. In a very passionate voice, he had assured Ndi Anambra that “your clamour for a Capital City that fully reflects the essence of our people will be addressed by my administration. We shall re-design and remodel Awka to meet the structural and aesthetic requirements of a 21st Century city that we can all be proud of.”
Six months down the road, no one is in doubt that Obiano has demonstrated his resolve to be the change he preaches. A few weeks after his inauguration, the governor had felt deeply dissatisfied with the near-pristine state of Awka. He had assembled some of the state’s most distinguished town planners, engineers and architects to work together as the new Board of the Awka Capital Development Authority and named Chike Egwuatu, a renowned architect and an indigene of Awka as the Chairman of the board. Egwuatu is known to have done a great job as the coordinating consultant for the Federal Capital Development Authority back in 2004. Setting the task for the 9-man Board, Chief Obiano showed them a picture of pre-transformation Dubai and a photograph of Dubai 13 years after transformation. He assured them that if the Arabs could turn a desert into a paradise, then, Ndi Anambra with all their gifts and talents could match or surpass that feat. He therefore charged them to dig deep into themselves and deploy their ingenuity create extra-ordinary designs that would stand Awka out among its peers.
Now, what is most fascinating about Awka is that long before the Awka Capital Development Authority Board could even produce the first draft of their designs, the town has commenced a gradual shedding of its old, bedraggled outlook. The massive work that is going on simultaneously in the locations designated for the three flyovers that governor Obiano had promised to build in Aroma, Amawbia and Kwata Junctions in the capital has turned Awka into a huge construction site. Yes, in six months, Willie Obiano has given Awka the look of a town in transmutation – the look it should have worn about 20 years ago when it assumed the status of the capital of an illustrious people. In areas where construction is not going on, Awka is fast getting familiar with its new skin – the street light sparkle into the night and more often than not, there is vehicular traffic to contend with at some major intersections. Work is progressing at a frenetic pace at the newly designated Three Arms Zone that will host all the organs of government. Sited on the rolling hills of Agu Awka, the Three Arms Zone looks majestically down on vast plain of splendid greenery, offering a breathtaking view that will tickle the senses of any tourist on completion.
Perhaps nothing can be more indicative of Awka’s strong aspiration to emerge from the cocoon of its old, quiescent self than the amazing return of nightlife. In chasing kidnappers and violent criminals out of Anambra State, Willie Obiano has unwittingly opened the floodgates of a city lifestyle that was hitherto inconceivable in Awka. Like all go-go cities, Friday night comes wrapped in a rainbow for most residents of Awka. There is a certain libertine spirit that holds sway on Friday nights that shows Awka’s extra-ordinary abundance of beautiful women. A walk between the famous UNIZIK Junction and Aroma Junction in the early evening offers a rare peek into Awka’s treasure trove of delectable ladies. A typical Friday night begins slowly at the many bars that dot the landscape stretching from High Tension to UNIZIK Junction where night crawlers set the mood for the rest of the night with large glasses of beer. Close to midnight, the clubs explode into panoply of colours, inviting revelers from all corners with their assorted lights. Clubs like Gaga, Lounge 24 and Cofi hold things down like their contemporaries elsewhere in the world.
A friend who went on a recent night out was surprised to see that Cofi was packed so full that there was not enough space for people to dance freely. He stepped out in frustration and saw a long queue of flashy cars packed with fun-lovers heading to the same club. The open bars are just as busy with people thronging popular spots where delicious barbecued fish sizzle on the fire. Hotels in Awka are usually out of space on weekends as fun-lovers storm the town from neighbouring Onitsha and Nnewi to indulge in Awka’s new found freedom and assorted pleasurable offerings. The population is also boosted by indigenes visiting from all over the world who now feel safe enough to come home to marry and be given out in marriage and to participate in major cultural festivals like Ofala, Igu Aro, Nwafor, Iri Ji, Afiolu and a host of others. It is now common place for people to sit out in their gardens and relish the taste of Oh-Mpa (Hero) or any of their favourite beer and take a long drag at their cigarettes and exhale in the open air of Awka’s new freedom. The fear of kidnappers and armed robbers that had denied the people the joys of re-uniting with their families and communities at such moments has ended with Obiano’s clinical approach to crime-fighting.
In all, the changing face of Awka is a fascinating narrative that underscores the constancy of motion; the fact that everything eventually changes with time. But it is also a story of courage and determination – a testimony that when leadership is focused, resolute and committed, no challenge is insurmountable. Above all, it is the story of Willie Obiano’s six months in office as the governor of Anambra State.
Eze writes from Ifite, Awka.
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