By Ikem Okuhu

Nature has its sacred way of organising its timetable of events in ways that defy human understanding and somehow appear to flow in aligned predeterminism with the Divine order of things.

I do not think philosophers were able to answer the questions and sort out the difference between freewill and determinism, but when one examines the commissioning, on February 26, 2024, of Geometric Power Limited’s Aba Independent Power Project (IPP), one would be forced to wonder if it was freewill or determinism that delayed the commissioning of this project until the coming of the present administration in the state?

Imagine what would have become of this project, had it gone on schedule and been commissioned under any of the three administrations before Governor Alex Otti. And I am not doing any PR for the Abia Governor. But no one who knows the history of the power project would deny Governor Otti his flower for the role he played in the success of the project, right from his days as a bank executive to the few months he has spent as governor.

This story is not about the Abia Governor, but in a way, it still is. I only wandered in my thoughts to imagine what could have morphed from the overwhelmed putrefying bacteria operating from the mountains of refuse that occupied both Federal and State roads in Abia State to frustrate this project, and how it suddenly became ready when a man arrived ready to return the state, particularly Aba, to a place worthy of human habitation.

It certainly took more than a convenient coincidence.

Prof Nnaji and Governor Otti: Two changemakers

While we might have to resurrect ancient thinkers like Plato, Hobbes, Hume, Leibniz, and Hegel to explain the commissioning of the Aba IPP during what looks like a good political regime in Abia State that is headed by someone who played critical roles at the onset of the project, development economists are getting busy thinking of the potential of the newly launched IPP to the economic revitalization of Aba, a once-upon-a-time centre for craft and innovation for Eastern Nigeria.

Whether Prof Bartholomew Nnaji, the robotics engineering genius behind Geometric Power Limited, was driven by economic research or he was teleguided by the gods to locate his power project to embark on this salvage mission, it looks like his simple Midas touch is destined to spark a revival that might not be limited to Aba and Abia State. Already the excitement across the Igbo homeland and the Diaspora has thickened and the talk has moved from Aba (a city that has worn the unenviable toga of the worst city in the country for more than 20 years) becoming the first city in Nigeria to have round the clock electricity to becoming the launchpad for an industrial, social and commercial revolution in the southeast and parts of the south-south regions.

The deterioration of Aba from 1999 to 2023 looked like it was intentional as administration after visionless administration denuded this thriving historic industrial and commercial city of its foliage, abandoning it to produce nothing but heaps of filth, deplorable roads, and marauding gangs. Some will argue that the criminals that eventually infested the famed Enyimba City were the natural consequence of Aba’s stagnation and this will not be far from the truth: when a thriving commercial hub is squeezed into what looks like state-sponsored economic meltdown and social dereliction, the natural thing to happen would be for people to explore crime for survival.

And while politicians appeared unperturbed about an unsafe Aba, commercial activities grounded to a complete halt.

Growing up, Aba was special to many of us. A horde of my relations migrated to the city and was a part of the leather business that made the Enyimba city famous across West and Central Africa. With no money to buy shoes at Christmas, we usually waited for our brothers returning for the holidays from Aba for gifts of shoes of all types. And boy, were they generous with them!

But it appeared that the dawn of democracy in 1999 marked the dusk of the hitherto thriving industrial hub. One by one, our people returned home, broke and broken as bad leadership and poor economic vision blighted this auriferous market that was the second largest in West Africa, next to Onitsha.

… it looks like Governor Otti is looking at birthing a mini-China in the southeast. Anyone who listened to him on the day would feel this from his speech.

Aba has a history of resilience, and that is why it wouldn’t be a surprise that after a couple of decades of decadence, it is about to rise to reclaim its pride of place as the centre of Igbo industrial and commercial creativity. Records show that Aba was the centre of the Aro Expedition, the war of resistance against British colonialism that took place between 1901 and 1902 and which was said to have recorded huge casualties on the part of the colonialists. The city is also a reminder of the power of Igbo women in precolonial and colonial Nigeria as epitomized by the Aba Women’s Riot of 1929, through which Igbo people fought against the taxation policies of the invading Britons.

Founded as a thriving commercial centre before the arrival of the British, Aba became famous as a trading centre when it became a hub for palm kernel and agricultural produce trade by the “white” men. From this, the city never looked back and achieved excellence in leatherwork, fabric sales, and clothes-making. It its heydays, many Nigerian top executives sported suits and shoes sews in Aba, but which was passed off as Italian.

This was what Aba was until politicians destroyed the city through neglect, and from being a centre of innovation, it became mostly remembered for its heaps of rubbish and for producing criminals like Osisikankwu.

In Aba, Igbo people demonstrated their knack for art and creativity. Folklore had it that there was nothing Aba people could not make or copy. The story was often told of a man who took a pair of shoes his friend bought from Italy to Aba to clone and when the artisans were done, neither the person who brought the shoes nor the owner could recognize the original from the copy. It needs not to be retold that this was exactly how Taiwan and mainland China started before they became industrial powerhouses that disrupted the global supply chain.

What Aba would have grown to become had the state been blessed with economic-minded leaders since 1999. Aba did not have tailors; it had factories where garments and vestments of all sophisticated sorts were made by big-ticket investors. Aba was the creative who transformed Igbo cobblers into leather artists who carved things that made the pedis of men and women worth all the pennies.

Aba has been an abandoned diamond mine. Even former Governor Theodore Orji under whose administration the city suffered its most significant regression acknowledged in 2010 that the city was capable of generating more than N1 billion for the state government.

“Out of the about 600 industries in Aba, only 26 of them pay their taxes,” Orji moaned, but failed to appreciate the Biblical economic maxim in Luke 12:48, which prescribes that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” TA Orji was expecting yam to be harvested on a farm that he let weed overrun.

Let us even imagine that TA Orji was right and there are only 600 industries in Aba today, and they will benefit from Prof Barth Nnaji’s round-the-clock electricity supply, and the widely acknowledged road infrastructure that is being provided by the governor of the state. Would Aba not transform into a major industrial hub that would not only compete with the best in the world but also impact the migration patterns of Igbo people, whose destinations after either turning 18 or upon leaving the university are the major cities of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Warri or other developed foreign countries?

Reports have it that Geometric Power’s power plant will enable about 17 local government areas in Abia State to have uninterrupted power supply. In a country where regular power supply has been a rarity for almost forever, the impact of this on the people of the southeast and those who would want to do business in Aba can only be imagined.

What it means is that Aba might have to expand beyond present boundaries. What it means is that cost-sensitive businesses (and all businesses are) will move to Aba to save monies that go into alternative power supply; what it means is that businesses that are sensitive to the frequent downtimes connected to unreliable public power supply would love to make Aba their home. It then points to a near future where Aba would become the capital for certain manpower capabilities as industries sprout and grow and thus attract people with given skills and competencies.

It was excited Governor Alex Otti who, during his address at the commissioning ceremony, listed the opportunities the power plant was going to bestow on the city, and they are dizzyingly long – manufacturing, agro-processing, metal fabrication, woodworks, ICT, fashion, services, and retail.

With so many industries sprouting from the Geometric Power project, it looks like Governor Otti is looking at birthing a mini-China in the southeast. Anyone who listened to him on the day would feel this from his speech.

“This city is very pivotal to the economic trajectory of Nigeria and the West Africa region, and I knew for a fact that if we got the fundamentals right, Aba would not just be a city that makes millionaires of dreamers, it would become, a land of solutions to the many socio-economic problems that assail us – including worrisome level of youth unemployment and pervasive poverty,” Governor Otti said.

As pointed out earlier in this intervention, the streaming of Geometric Power’s Aba IPP looks every inch like an even preordained by the gods. Many might not be aware of this, but as a banker in both First Bank and Diamond Bank, Alex Otti provided strong financial shoulders for this project to lean on, and, as he said in his speech, found a way to resolve outstanding issues to pave the way for the historic event that will hopefully leapfrog Aba and environs from years of crippling darkness into the bright lights of economic productivity and social liberation.

Listen to him: “My faith in Aba as an economic powerhouse meant that when I first saw the proposal for the Geometric Integrated Power Plant, I knew I had to be involved immediately because if just 50% of what had been proposed could be achieved, the industrial output from this great city and its environs would triple and millions of new jobs would be created directly and indirectly in the short to medium term.”

Otti believed in the project and provided leverage for it when no one else did. How the gods delayed the commissioning until he became governor proves the determination of the spirits to allow 100 percent of the credits to go to him. He sure has earned all the plaudits.

With round-the-clock electricity, Aba has the potential to change the economy of the southeast quite significantly. Apart from reigniting the creativity of the Igbo man, Aba will, in the future attract billions of dollars in investments. The diaspora Igbo is already in the conversation on how to direct capital into the Aba renaissance. This will add to the expected collaboration with the big industrialists in Nnewi, who will likely be attracted by more stable and relatively low-cost electricity to begin the production of many of the components of their products in Aba.

This will replicate the Indian model, which encourages brands to “make in India” even if the country of origin stamps say something different.

Nka-na-uzu, an expression that captures the innate artistry and innovativeness of the Igbo man, is back, and it has made its home in Aba where the magnetic enabler of steady power is about to spur a new social and economic order.

And we will forever have Prof Barth Nnaji, a seasoned scientist and future-forward patriot; a man who remained in this country, not because he did not find comfort anywhere else, but because he loves his country and his people, a man who endured untold humiliation at both federal and state levels and remained disarmingly steadfast in the pursuit of his dream of an economically liberated Nigeria and renascent Igbo nation.

I will not fail to point out that this is also a man who wanted to be the governor of Enugu State many years ago but was hounded and hunted by people whose access to leadership has only left holes in our treasury and bloody tears from our eyes.

I will talk about this at another time. For now, let us celebrate a new dawn.

*Ikem Okuhu, a brand expert, is a Journalist, author and publisher

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