Awka looks very much today what a capital city should not: an unprepossessing and slowly decaying municipality, trashed by its inhabitants, lacking effective local leadership, and neglected by the resident state government which makes fabulous plans for infrastructure development but has done very little, across administrations, to stanch the sprawling slumification of the capital city.
By Chudi Okoye
It is truly a tale of two consequences. The soaring dream of urban growth that was ignited when Awka was made a state capital is slowly materializing, but it comes with a searing nightmare of sprawling slumification in Awka inner city. No one can dispute the strain towards eutopia in Awka; but the sprain of dystopia is equally undeniable. Awka, simply put, is urbanizing without much evidence of modernizing.
Such a prismatic apposition as we see in Awka today is fairly common in the early phases of urbanization: the result of tensions between the forces of modernization and resistant tradition. However, in the case of Awka it might be more a manifestation of policy failure than anything else – a lack of policy imagination and a slack, otherwise, in policy implementation.
From Jubilation to Tribulation
There had been jubilation throughout Awka land when the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, on August 27, 1991, created nine new states in Nigeria and Awka was designated as the capital of the new Anambra State.
It had all looked very promising from the vantage of that vintage year. The new state meant a localization of power, a government with the policy machinery and the resources to bring development closer to the people. There were wild dreams of rapid transformation in Anambra state in general, but particularly in its new capital. Ndi Anambra had a reputation as development-conscious, hard-charging achievers with prodigious intellect, enterprise and industry. It was thought that a combination of such traits with the birth of a new state government was the trigger needed for a take-off, with modernization achieved in the new state perhaps faster than anywhere else in Nigeria. Governments of the day issued patriotic summons to Anambra indigenes around the world soliciting homeward investment (akuluo uno). There were even allusive references to the “can-do” spirit of post-war reconstruction which powered Igbo resurgence a mere generation after a devastating civil war. Anambra was the core Igbo state, and with the localization of power would come rapid social transformation, symbolized by the creation of a befitting capital city.
That had been the hope; the heady expectation at creation. But, alas, the reality has fallen far short of the hope. Today, the dream of a rapid modernization of the state capital is fast flickering out, even though the state itself is on the move. There is little ‘capital feeling’ anymore, residents told Awka Times in street interviews, what with decades of neglect and poor infrastructure development by successive governments. Twenty-eight years after the creation of the new state, parts of its capital city look for all the world like patches of urban squalor. It is such that Awka is considered the least developed amongst its peers in the South East, perhaps the most backward in Nigeria.
“Let us look at Awka as a state capital,” senator Andy Uba had told reporters in 2017; “Awka till today remains the worst capital in the whole of Nigeria. Its present infrastructural state does not justify its status as a capital city,” he said.
“Awka is like a glorified local government,” says Mr Godwin Eneemo, a former gubernatorial candidate under the Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA) now with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). According to newspaper reports, Mr Ezeemo has said that “a state normally has a befitting capital. But the reverse is the case in Anambra. You can easily drive past the capital [Awka] without knowing you’ve passed. No infrastructure, roads are bad everywhere. Same is seen in Onitsha, Nnewi and other major towns. Nothing is working.”
The Awka Times Person of the Year 2019, Dr Okey Anueyiagu, chairman of an eponymous foundation rebuilding Awka schools, offered an even more devastating assessment of the city. “I do not think of Awka as a town that has reached, let alone sustained, the level of development expected for a state capital,” he told Awka Times in an interview published in this edition. “Nor do I think,” he said, “that it can attain that level of development in this century! If one may venture to be blunt, the town is a glorified slum in terms of its infrastructural development.”
General State of Infrastructure in Awka
The irony of the infrastructure decay in contemporary Awka is that Awka people actually did a great job of maintaining their town when they had full responsibility for it in the precolonial and postcolonial periods. Awka was then largely inhabited by an indigenous people who took pride in their lived environment. An 1899 colonial source quoted in Prof Elizabeth Isichei’s book, Igbo Worlds, noted that when colonial forces first came into Awka they encountered a settlement that was well-ordered, the best in the Igbo country. They were amazed to notice how clean and functional Awka people kept their roads and homestead.
Fast forward several decades to the early postcolonial era. Notable diarists in Awka have reported that prior to the Nigerian Civil War and in the immediate aftermath, Awka people had well-ingrained habits of social and domestic hygiene. Market traders instinctively cleaned their stalls and surrounding areas; streets and pathways and compounds were swept; street gutters and storm drains were frequently cleared by organized community effort.
Today, all that has changed, thanks to the rapid influx of immigrants, the growing alienation caused by densification and urbanization, the sense that Awka has become a no-man’s land, and above all the incidence of policy failure on the part of state and local government administrations.
Nearly three decades after it attained capital status, through a succession of twelve administrators, most critical infrastructures remain poorly developed in Awka. From roads to water and electricity supply to other elements of the built environment, the state of Awka infrastructural facilities leaves much to be desired. In part the pressure on Awka infrastructure is a result of rapid population growth driven by the inward migration that came with the attainment of capital status. This had been expected. But political instability in the early years and subsequent policy fluctuation meant that there was inadequate planning for infrastructural provision, environmental sanitation, erosion control and other social services. As a result, Awka is suffering an urban blight characterized by extremely poor sanitation, mountains of garbage all over, unregulated building patterns, uncontrolled street trading, noise pollution, overcrowding, undeveloped walkways, as well as inadequate and deteriorated road networks creating traffic chaos and congestion.
There are so many dimensions to the infrastructure crisis in Awka:
- The most obvious is the deplorable condition of transport infrastructure, particularly Awka roads. As of today, there are two major routes leading into Awka capital city, namely: Enugu-Onitsha Expressway and Awka-Agulu-Ekwulobia road. These roads have remained more or less in the condition that they were at the inception of the state, with little improvement. Inner city roads are a complete shambles, built in some cases in a manner defying all planning or engineering logic. As we report in this edition of Awka Times, the capital city as a whole is a squalid habitation with a perplexing mesh of messy roads.
- Wet infrastructure in Awka is probably the most appalling. Public water taps in the capital continue to run spottily despite repeated promises of amelioration by successive administrations. There was once talk of a ‘Greater Imoka Water Scheme’ and a ‘World Bank-Assisted Water Scheme’, but none was executed. Same too with the promise of a Federal Government-assisted water supply for Awka drawn from the adjacent Ezu River. One can imagine the sanitary and health condition of a capital without viable systems for potable water supply, water treatment, flood management and other wet infrastructure, especially in a tropical rainforest city that experiences six to eight months of rainfall in the year.
- Energy infrastructure is another area of stupefying insufficiency. There is constant power failure, with electricity supply even more erratic in the inner city. One administration after another has expressed its intent to improve power supply. Most recently the state government set a goal of achieving a minimum of 15 hours of electricity supply daily, but this modest target remains a mirage. The Ministry of Public Utilities is working with the energy supplier, Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC), to expand capacity. The firm recently upgraded its distribution facility at Agu-Awka to a 15 Mega Voltage Amp (MVA) injection substation, and started the installation of another 7.5 MVA by the Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) area in Awka. EEDC claims that it has invested billions of naira to improve its infrastructures. Still, Awka remains severely undersupplied, particularly in the inner-city core of the capital. In spite of the erratic supply, EEDC still sends outrageous bill estimates to its Awka customers, because it is yet to fully roll out its Distribution Transformer Metering (DTM) programme which will rationalize the billing system. Customers are thus underserved and overcharged.
- Government (institutional) infrastructure is another surprising area of official neglect. To this day, the Anambra State Government House is situated on a road construction facility left behind by Lodigiani Nigeria Limited, the firm that built the busy Onitsha-Awka-Enugu expressway in the 1980s. There is no State House! The ultramodern Three Arms Zone complex envisioned by Gov. Chinwoke Mbadinuju (1999 to 2003) to host the three arms of government is yet to be built, after a well-advertised flag-off by Governor Obiano in 2014.
- The long-planned purpose-built conference and events centre in Agu-Awka area is only beginning to be developed – fitfully at that – and the hope is that it will be completed before Obiano leaves office in two years, to avoid being abandoned by a future administration. The risk is real if Obiano’s party, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which has ruled Anambra State for 13 years with mixed results, fails to retain governorship of the state. Anambra is the only state where the party is in power.
- Housing issues are also an aspect of the urban infrastructure crisis in Awka, resulting from the rapid densification that came with the capital status. Many parts of Awka, including the hoary Agu-Awka area, are being converted into residential estates to address the growing housing demand, some through public-private initiatives. But planning and affordability remain critical issues.
- There are even now no recreational and sporting facilities of international or even national standard in Awka. A recent Awka Times video documentation, posted on our website, shows that the Awka mini stadium has yet to upgraded, and is not even maintained, with its few provisions vandalized. The whole site is turning into a crime scene!
The grim examples multiply. So many problems to rectify. But the question is: why is Awka still not getting the attention befitting a state capital?
Every incoming administration in Anambra State has announced earnest plans for the modernization of the capital city. In the early days, there was talk of turning Awka into the “Aso Rock” of Anambra State. As if that was not grand enough, another administration proclaimed its dream to turn Awka into another “Dubai”. But none of these plans has been fully implemented, or even pursued with any degree of seriousness or consistency.
Anambra State authorities have over time have tended to blame the situation on the scarcity of funds and an alleged refusal of Awka people to release lands for development. But more likely the reason can be found in policy fluctuation and government failure.
In August 1991 when Awka became capital, it was considered by the government of the day as “a semi-urban settlement… [with] a largely indigenous population [which] lacked any discernible urban structure and was also lacking in both engineering and infrastructural facilities.” Government assessment at the birthing of the state was that “as a State Capital Awka was ill-equipped in all respects to play the roles implicit in its new status. It was soon to witness increased political activities, influx of population made up mainly of returning civil servants; and as a Seat of State Administration it had also to prepare itself for increased tourist activities.”
The government felt that there was a need to develop the capital city. Since then, a series of development plans have been trundled out by successive administrations.
The military administration at the inception of the new state (headed by Navy Capt. Joseph Abulu), which ended four months after the inception of the state, clearly had little time to develop an elaborate plan. It did manage to produce a Preliminary Master Plan (PMP), finalized in its last month, which conceived of a centripetal capital territory development radiating outwards from the Awka city core.
However, upon coming into office in January 1992, the first democratically elected governor of the new state, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, dropped the master plan, arguing that it was “deficient”. He condemned the plan’s “shallowness of content and general lack of professional touch.” After attempting and failing to work with the consultants to modify the plan, the Ezeife administration sacked the consultants and turned to the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (Anambra State Chapter) for a new plan. The NITP obliged, pledging that it would do its best to develop a city plan that would be the envy of other African cities.
In August 1993, a new plan was published named Awka Capital Territory Master Plan which rejected the organizing philosophy of the PMP. Instead it adopted a centrifugal model of development according to which development should start from the hinterland and move towards the centre (the capital). This was an inversion of the PMP’s centripetal model, and the genesis of government neglect of Awka.
Governor Ezeife’s tenure did not last long. But with this decision he had laid a very faulty foundation for successive administrations. All his civilian successors including Chinwoke Mbadinuju (four-year tenure), Chris N. Ngige (over three years), Peter Obi (almost eight years) and the incumbent Willie Obiano (five and a half years in) adopted that centrifugal model and built on it. They all placed greater emphasis on development of infrastructure, especially roads, everywhere else in the “capital territory” except Awka. Even worse, there is little continuity in planning because each administration wants its own contractors and its own achievement markers, carrying on largely as if no plans existed before it.
In 2007, the year Governor Peter Obi regained power (after his purported impeachment and the three-month interregnum of Virginia Etiaba), he set up a cooperation agreement with UN-HABITAT to provide technical assistance in the preparation of an urban development plan for Awka Capital Territory. The plan, named Structure Plan for Awka Capital Territory (2009–2028), was completed two years later in 2009. In it, Governor Obi stated as follows:
Upon my assumption of office as the Governor of Anambra State, I discovered to my astonishment that there was no Structure Plan for any of our cities in Anambra State, including Awka the State Capital. A closer look at our major cities of Awka, Onitsha, and Nnewi revealed that these cities are inadequately planned and managed. They are currently largely characterized by outdated physical layouts or no planned layout at all, poor drainage structures and inadequate sanitation, uncontrolled street trading, mounds of solid waste or refuse, overcrowded and congested transport systems and inadequate and deteriorated road facilities. The result is intolerable overcrowding, congestion, noise and pollution.
Peter Obi developed structure plans for Awka, Nnewi and his native Onitsha. And he did achieve some success in implementing the Onitsha plan. But by most accounts, he failed to implement the Awka plan to any significant level as at the time that he left office in 2014. As reported in Wikipedia:
Governor Peter Obi implemented just a few of the UN-HABITAT’s recommendations, managing to tar less than five kilometers of urban roads, improve waste collection and upgrade schools and the teaching hospital. His government also began installing water pipes along the popular Nnamdi Azikiwe Road and Ifite Road but he left office without providing a credible citywide public water supply.
Governor Peter Obi was once, in December 2012, invited a meeting with Awka people where he made three solemn promises, swearing that he would fulfill them by March 2013 (a full year before the end of his term) or he would resign. These promises included the completion of the Awka stadium project; the construction of a befitting Anambra State shopping mall at the site of the defunct Ikenga Hotels; and the construction of a modern Three Arms Zone. Awka people, through their town union, pledged maximum support and co-operation for the actualization of these projects.
Sadly, none of these projects was ever completed. And Mr Obi adamantly refused any further meeting with Awka leaders until he left office.
Little wonder then that when his successor and current governor, Willie Obiano, came in his verdict was that nothing much had been done in terms of Awka city development. The governor therefore set about developing his own plan for the development of the state capital.
In 2009 Obi’s administration had passed a law setting up the Awka Capital Development Authority (ACDA) to lead the development of the state capital. But Obiano had a different plan. Right off the bat he chose to change the founding law, altering the name of the agency to Awka Capital Territory Development Authority (ACTDA). Governor Obiano inaugurated the board of ACTDA on May 15, 2014, charging it with a mandate to “transform Awka like Dubai did from 1990 to 2013.”
ACTDA’s mission as mandated by Obiano is to “build a model economically sustainable community” in Awka. Its vision, as stated, is to turn Awka into “a cosmopolitan city with excellent infrastructure [which will make it] the preferred investment destination in Africa.”
The two broad areas of ACTDA mandate are development control and strategic futuristic planning. The development control function empowers the authority to enforce compliance with planning and building standards. ACTDA has already produced a Development Control Manual pursuant to this charter.
The strategic role of ACTDA enjoins it to accelerate infrastructure development and infrastructure service provision in Awka Capital Territory, starting with the preparation and implementation of a new master plan for the capital territory. ACTDA appears to have started work on the preparation of a new “holistic” master plan which, Awka Times learned, will incorporate the main planks of the Structure Plan produced under Peter Obi. The master plan is yet to be completed.
Development control is the area where it seems that ACTDA has made the most advance. In an interview with Awka Times, the MD/CEO of ACTDA, Ven. Barr Amaechi Okwuosa who took the helm in April 2018, ticked off the achievements of the agency. He said that it has now set clear and strict planning guidelines in Awka, and that site inspection is a must for very development. According to the MD, some of the rules being enforced include the observance of setbacks on roads and no-building under high-tension cables or on waterways. He also stated that planning approval would be denied if there is risk of noise pollution.
Barr Okwuosa claimed that ACTDA has started work on flood control, a major issue in Awka. He noted that flooding is often caused by intentional human activities including drainage blocking by residents and land speculators. He said that ACTDA recently embarked on major desilting work around parts of Awka, including Courts Road, Works Road, parts of Zik Avenue, Dike Street and Obunagu Road. He also said that the agency mediates between communities, tries to sensitize the community about cleanliness, enforces grass cutting, and has undertaken work removing shanties in the International Conference Centre, Ikenga Supermarket and Millennium City areas. “It was quite atrocious what we encountered,” he exclaimed. But he said that ACTDA has achieved “more than 95% success rate” in its clean-up work.
The ACTDA MD stated that his agency has embarked on the regeneration of some slum areas in Awka Capital Territory; that it has expanded some roads in Awka and built structures like the Amawbia park and Amawbia roundabout; and that it is collaborating with private investors to build estates like the Millennium City estate where work has already started.
Whilst perhaps ACTDA is sharpening its teeth in the area of development regulation, it is quite hard to corroborate its claims on structure development and maintenance against the evidence of Awka Times’ investigation. Our reporters, slumming through the inner city of Awka, came away with slamming images and a video documentary which present poignant evidence that much of Awka has experienced none of the regeneration work that ACTDA is claiming. There is unmistakable evidence of slump and slumification in Awka inner city. Even in the major roads and outlying areas where ACTDA presence is perhaps more noticeable, work has barely started, or the scale is miniscule compared to what might be needed. There simply is not adequate investment being set aside for the regeneration of Awka. There isn’t under Obiano, and there wasn’t before him.
Paucity of Funding
Little wonder, then, the grim verdict of Chief Abolle Okoyeagu, deputy governor of Anambra State during the Dame Virgy Etiaba interregnum, that ACTDA is rudderless. “Since ACTDA was created, very little funds have been given to it to function,” he told Awka Times. “If ACTDA is well funded what did the officers do with money, as Awka remains without any facelift? [ACTDA] office is empty. The government is deceiving Awka. Aguleri has 25 new roads constructed by Obiano and none in Awka,” he lamented.
Awka Times picked up the issue of funding scarcity with ACTDA MD. But he would not be drawn, saying only that the agency is funded and also does generate some revenues internally through development and building control. It is unclear how significant ACTDA’s internally generated revenue (IGR) might be.
According to the original founding instrument of ACTDA, funding for the agency should comprise the following, among others:
“(a) a take-off fund provided by the state government immediately after the commencement of the law for the operations of the authority”
“(b) a mandatory yearly contribution of not less than 10% of the capital expenditure budget of the state for the first ten years of operation of the authority.”
Since ACTDA MD would not elaborate on the agency’s funding, it is impossible to be certain about its funding situation. We cannot be certain at this time if former deputy governor Okoyeagu is right about funding paucity at ACTDA, or what to make of ACTDA MD’s economical answer. That said, the evidence of infrastructure dilapidation in Awka does seem to support the suggestion that ACTDA has been starved of funds. It is unclear though if this arises from a deliberate scorched earth policy or simply a result of generalized budget constraint across the government.
No government ever has all the funds it needs. How an administration applies the available funds however points to its priorities. Going by this, it seems that successive administrations in Anambra State (including the current one) have never counted the development of Awka capital city as their priority. They have all paid scant attention to Awka even with extant laws mandating funding allocation for Awka capital city evelopment.
Blaming the Victim
Successive administrations have tried to blame Awka people for their own predicament. ACTDA MD, Barr Okwuosa, spurned a variant of such blame in his interview with Awka Times. He said that Awka “villagers are very hostile to government agencies when it comes to enforcing building and development control”. According to him, the problem has to do with the settlement pattern in Awka inner city. People build indiscriminately, he said, and “when you tell them to stop they will tell you that it is their [ancestral] land and they are ready to die there. [They put up structures that] block the waterways. Water must flow. [And so when there is flooding] they would come around and start screaming about being neglected. But they are the people causing the problem.”
The MD contended that the issue with Awka inner city is not willful neglect by government but the difficulty of penetrating the inner city due to the pattern of settlement. “If you are referring to [the] Awka old city, it is much more difficult to get into a place where there was no plan… For us to sanitize Awka,” he told Awka Times, “a lot of ancestral homes will go. But the owners would rather die protecting their homes than allow you to go in.” Okwuosa said that this is why ACTDA is focused on building new estates and developing areas that are easier to control. He said that the inaccessibility of the inner city, and the resistance of the villagers, make it difficult.
I am appealing to Awka community, they should do the needful. If they want development in the inner city, they must allow the government functionaries to assist them. But at the moment, they don’t. You can’t eat your cake and have it.
Another reason often adduced to explain why the state capital is not well-developed is that Awka people are unwilling to release their lands for development purposes. It is unclear what to make of this claim. For a start, all Awka lands are in the firm grip of the Anambra State Government which has not been shy about asserting eminent domain powers over those lands. Way back in 1992, Governor Ezeife devised a legal instrument called ‘omnibus acquisition’ which enabled Anambra State Government to expropriate Awka lands, including community farmlands and homesteads. The expropriation of Awka land has continued across administrations, with paltry compensations paid to the original owners.
Barr Okwuosa also blamed land expropriation on traditional Awka settlement habits. He argued that the “founding fathers” of Awka chose to live in interstitial clusters, and this has continued with their descendants. As he put it:
It is not my fault. It is their own mannerism. They cluster in one place and do not make use of their land. Government will surely make use of emptiness. So you can’t come out and cry that they took your land when you are not making use of the land. And if you don’t make use of the land, when the government needs the land obviously government will use the land. [In any case, for} all the lands that were taken by the government, the owners were duly compensated… There has never been any case where the government will forcefully take land from the community.
Undoubtedly, the difficulty of penetrating Awka inner city could be a problem even for state agencies like ACTDA. The difficulty could arise as much from the resistance of the physical environment as from the mental and emotional resistance of inner-city dwellers. But this is not peculiar to Awka people. All over the world, modernizing agents of state have encountered similar physical and atavistic resistance as ACTDA allegedly encounters in Awka inner city. But examples abound of successful penetrations of inner-city cultures with imaginative policy programmes, firm implementation and optimum resource commitment. In the end, therefore, the degeneration of Awka inner city is a policy failure on the part of Anambra State government and its agencies, including ACTDA.
Awka deserves greater attention from the resident state government. As the capital city of Anambra State (the obi of the state so to speak), the condition of the town strongly indicates how the sitting government is judged. As with a household, a government which abandons its own obi (state capital) perhaps due to parochial and shortsighted calculations, besmirches its own reputation and sets itself up to be harshly judged by history.