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ABIRIBA TOWN AS A NEW BUSINESS DESTINATION: THE PROSPECTS, CAPACITY AND REALITY

By Nwaka Inem on November, 3 2017

Views: 15108

NTUM-OHA BUSINESS SUMMIT, PAPER PRESENTED BY CHIEF NWAKA O. INEM(ENYI-OHA)

ABIRIBA TOWN AS A NEW BUSINESS DESTINATION: 

THE PROSPECTS, CAPACITY AND REALITY

Part 1

 

 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Right from the early days of our ancestors, Abiribahas always had a trading orientation even in its raw form. Given our warrior background, blacksmithing was a very popular industry, hence the name "mgbala-uzu". We were so good in the trade that virtually the whole Igbo Land looked towards the ancient town for their knives, hoes and other blacksmith products fabricated in Abiriba. In a bid to export and market the products, our fathers travelled far and wide and in the process discovered other items of trade, thereby expanding their scope of business..  It is on record that items like hot drinks, tobacco etc. used to be warehoused in Abiriba for onward distribution to the entire Igbo land and beyond. Thus, Abiriba was a production, transit and distribution point of various goods of trade in Igbo land. The question that should be challenging us nowis, why didn't we consolidate, improve and expand on the foundation of making Abiriba a commercial nerve centre. Are we better in our approach and understanding of the business environment? What role has education playedWhat of our culture and government influence on development? Was it right that we abandoned our original blacksmith business, or are we victims of unguarded expansion and adventurism? These and many other questions, if properly reflected upon will help to redefine Abiribaas a new business destination. Without being too historical, as I am not too good in history, let us try to define a business destination and see how Abiribatoday can fit in, in Business destination as globally acclaimed is a locality that has the capability of absorbing new business ideas, and affording return on investment to investors. Such destination must have the following;

1. Population

2. Infrastructures (electricity, road, communication, health, security, social, hospitality).

3. Financial institutions.

4. Government/tax regime.

The population of the destination forms the bedrock of the market and by extension patronages that is very significant in developing a viable business destination. Such population, most times includes that of neighbouring settlements within 30km radius. In the case of Abiriba destination, OhafiaNkporo, Igbere, Item, Abam, Arochukwu can tap into goods and services provided in a dynamic Abiriba market. Abiriba with a population that has a very high diaspora component makes the market very unique, as it will create a remarkable seasonal peak. Hence any business must take into account, the peculiarity in planning for stocks and services. One cannot statistically put a correct figure, but can forecast a target market population of over a million people approximately.


Roads leading into and out of a business destination must be there. Presently you can only access Abiribawith vehicle through the Ohafia-Umuahia Federal Highway. The Amuba/Amanta road to Abam is not motorable. Even at that, the Ohafia-Umuahiahighway is in a very bad shape, making haulage a very high risk. Railway transport that complements road transport is non-existent. The closest rail stop is at Uzuakoli. If the current rehabilitation of our fallen railway system succeeds, it could be helpful.


Electricity and power relevance in any market cannot be overemphasized. Be it in services or production, electricity is key.  Electricity, though present through the national grid with its epileptic nature can only be complemented with alternative power supply from generating sets and solar panels.

Communication in Abiriba has tremendously improved recently with all major communication companies having their mast. With MTN, Globacom, Airtel, 9mobile, you can effectively reach out to all parts of the world from Abiriba via telephone, email, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc.

The health institutions have deteriorated to an embarrassing level. Akahaba General Hospitalwhich used to be the major reference hospital in the Old Bende Division is a ghost of its original self. The Government has failed woefully in sustaining the facility for the use of the citizens. Even the few Primary Health Centres are operating with total loss of confidence by the people. It is a source of major concern for any one opening a business in a location, where primary health challenges cannot be handled.

Social and sports amenities are integral part of any business district. The saying that all works and no play cannot be faulted, as workers need to unwind after a days work. There is a Recreation Park (Nchina Park), though ill-equipped with so many drinking spots. We have two stadia in different stages of completion but in use as it is and is standing in the gap for promotion of sports activities. The hospitality outfits is far from what there should be. Noko is struggling to remain, as it is a ghost of itself. There is attempt to provide seasonal apartment service, as seen in the modern luxury equipped apartments of Anya Onuegbu Ohale behind the Waterworks Layout. At this time Abiriba is overdue for at least a functional 2Star Hotel to take care of business/social visitors, as our traditional approach to hospitality cannot sustain a viable business destination.


With only one bank, First Bank of Nigeria operating in Abiriba, it can be challenging handling the financial business requirements of a business district. No insurance company office yet to take care of risks associated with business. It is expected that with increased activities, more financial institutions will open shop. The microfinance bank has closed shop probably due to management problems.


Security is another major consideration in a business district. With a modern police station and army outpost in Abiriba, one can say that the security situation is conducive enough for business. This is also complemented with pockets of vigilante activities. I believe with increased socio-economic activities, the security outfits will rise to the occasion. Yes, there are isolated cases of house breaking by petty criminals which usually occur in some outpost residential areas, with very few inhabitants.

For any business district to survive, thrive and prosper, a synergy of the people, investors and Government must be established. Apart from providing and servicing of most of the infrastructures mentioned above, tax policies and levies are determined by the Government. The question now is, how well has Government done in the critical areas to encourage development of business districts in Abia not to talk of a new emerging one.

Ninety percent of the infrastructures existing in Abiriba were built by the people through their traditional age grade system and various socio-cultural organizations based on the self-help spirit. Most of the infrastructures have been taken over by the Government.. Ranging from educational, social, health and security infrastructures, the Government has not done well in sustaining and maintaining them for optimal use. Enuda High School, built in 1954 with boarding and full educational facilities is a disaster, even with her premises massively encroached by private residential buildings. Akanu Divisional Library, second in size and facilities in the old Imo State is an empty dilapidated building, despite an intervention by Abiriba Advancement Group (AAG) in refurbishing and restocking it in the mid-90s; it is in a pathetic state. The four hundred million regional water project completed by the Federal Government is yet to be commissioned for use with reticulation abandoned. The list is inexhaustible. In other climes, where we have serious governments, they provide these infrastructures, which in turn attract investors. But in the case of Abiriba, where most of the basic infrastructures are in place, only for the Government to abdicate in her responsibilities to maintain and possibly upgrade them. That is where the people have a major role to play. For us to develop the business district, we should not only mobilize resources, plan the business, but must be ready to get involved in the political processes that produce the Government operators.  Abia State has not been lucky in the new Democratic Civilian Administrations for the past 18 years, and the situation is clearly evident in the dwindling fortunes of known business districts like Aba, not to talk of new and emerging ones. I can recall when all businesses had their head offices in Aba with branches in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria. Now we are struggling to retain at least a liaison office. We therefore need a Government that will play less politics and inspire confidence to both Local and International investors. It will not be out of place to use this medium to urge all to ensure that they register and have voters card, so that we can objectively vote in Government that can progressively create a real enabling environment for existing and new emerging business district. This is particularly important now that we are approaching 2019 elections, when if we are not vigilant, we will again allow certain elements that have no business in leadership to continue to determine Government direction. Government can only get it right, if elected leaders truly understand the environment and what it takes to make all comfortable. Elected leaders must have intrinsic capacity to meditate, plan and positively involve and interact with the people on genuine development efforts. The culture of tokenism used to hoodwink the electorate must be thoroughly rejected. We should be able to courageously ignore those that are only seen when elections are near, and will disappear and remain incommunicado, when communities are grabbling with economic and social challenges such as we are doing today by this forum.

CAPACITY AND REALITY

Developing Abiriba as a new business destination is a task, and if to be accomplished, will be pioneered by Abiriba people themselves. We are endowed with businessmen that have excelled in various fields and are still exploring new frontiers. If we approach it from purely economic point of view, it might not be encouraging, but if we lace it with patriotism and the principle of "Onye aghala nwanneya", we will make it.  Like pregnancy, it comes with incubation period accompanied with pains and sacrifices, but at delivery there will be joy. If we take the coming of a commercial bank in Abiriba as a case study, you will appreciate what I am trying to say. As the then President of ACIU in Lagos, we interfaced with a couple of banks encouraging them to open a branch in Abiriba. They variously set up business appraisal and feasibility committees, which all turned in report that never recommended a branch for Abiriba for reasons of not having enough commercial activities to sustain the branch. With the understanding and support of an illustrious son of Abiriba of blessed memory, Prince Otisi N. Kalu (ABBOTT), we approached the then Executive Director-South First Bank Nigeria PLC Dr.Alex Otti, OFR, during a social evening at the ABBOTT'S Resort, a branch was approved without waiting for an appraisal or feasibility report that would probably not recommend the branch. They immediately acquired a land, built and opened the branch within a record time. Thereafter, the branch had a challenge of not meeting up her financial targets, given the low business activities in the traditional Abiriba environment. Our illustrious sons both at home and in diaspora rose to the challenge by not only opening accounts, but made lodgements from their businesses both within and outside the country. Thanks to the online banking innovations. Thus, the bank is sustained not only with local businesses but with national and international businesses. That is a clear case of Abiriba people determined to build a business destination. Most of the patronages to the branch is not because they offer the best of financial incentives or services, but because we are determined to make it work. That is the approach with which we can develop the new business district under the prevailing circumstances. When my humble self decided to allow my INEM VENTURRS LIMITED to open a sales outlet, we were fully oblivious of the fact that we would tie down stock and funds as the turnover cannot in any way for now be the same with our urban branches. But I know for sure, that with time it will attract the desired patronage.  In other words, we need our businessmen to look at opening up branches at Abiriba as a worthy sacrifice and contribution to the development of a new business district. We have the men with the capacity, but need to be encouraged to develop the will. Perhaps, it is not out of place to state here that despite the popular sympathy of the IPOB agitation, though with its shortcomings on methodology, part of non-appreciation of the ideology is the very low level of investments by our people at home.  We should now start to look towards home in our business developments.

Let me at this juncture, point out the fact that the cases of house breakages and pillage of our treasured assets kept in our mansions are encouraged by the situation of low resident population. Repopulating the resident Abiriba people now cannot be delayed. New businesses will increase resident population that will check ghostlike atmosphere during off-festival and weekends which in turn allow petty crime of house breaking to thrive. Nevertheless, we must emphasize the issue of what I can call patriotic and sacrificial patronages as a way of encouraging local businesses.  Ranging from provisions like bread and beverages, we need to develop the habit of buying them from the stores in Abiriba, as that will go a long way to encourage what we are aiming to achieve. Yes, we might have the problem of stocks and variety available, but when dealers have some level of assurance of patronage, even if it is seasonal, will adequately plan to satisfy our needs. We should not mind the fact that some of these items might cost a little more than what we will get them in Lagos or Aba, but we must appreciate that we will be saving a lot of money from excess luggage charges and overburdening of our vehicles by travelling light and shopping at Abiriba Talking of our population, Abiriba has one of the highest percentage of their youth residing outside Abiriba, even in faawaycountries of Europe, Asia, America and Africa. Most of them will be better off, developing small trade that can grow at home. From Aba to Lagos, Cotonou to Lome, Europe to China, not to talk of America, we have youths that can be better engaged at home. From agricultural to articles and building materials, if they objectively look home, they can do better. With ACIU, a credit guarantee scheme can be worked out with the financial institutions.

 

EXISTING BUSINESSES


Looking at what is on ground, perhaps will help us to determine and appraise the need to consolidate, expand and encourage new ones. Provisions and the beverages market is viable but can be improved with increased patronage. Pure water (sachet and bottle) can be expanded with establishment of a modern plant. We know of Abiriba sons in this business doing well in Lagos and Aba. They should be encouraged to open a plant in Share on facebook Yahoo mail icon Gmail icon