TWO coloured birds sat complacently atop the Abia Tower this cloudy Sunday evening. They were chatting away happily, oblivious of the chaos of motorists below the height of about 100 meters.
The gigantic concrete tower stands at the middle of the Port-Harcourt/Enugu Expressway at the interjection into Umuahia metropolis. Beyond its towering height and aesthetic grandeur, there is a quite significant meaning and message in the edifice.
The imposing tower, built in Gothic cathedral designs with a concave metallic arch, is the first structure that welcomes one into the Abia state capital. With a certain reassuring air, it announces this hospitality with a bold inscription: Welcome to Abia ; God’s Own State.
There are four of this inscription facing the four directions of the road, all written in bold white letters on a background of black metallic plates. The walls are painted in pink and light yellow colours which glow with the translucent lights overlooking the ground from the height.
I see the tower as the first brand ambassador of Abia State and it has consistently lived up to this billing with the warmth and friendliness conjured into its magical designs – a quality it transmits to visitors and residents alike as they behold its majestic heights. It embraces everyone and quickly introduces the people and the style of the incumbent leadership.
Since 1991 when the tower was built, it has remained a landmark structure with some architectural elegance around it. There is an effort, perhaps unconscious, to re-enact the surreal Gothic designs with its galloping pillars and the hollowness of its interior. A ring of iron bars encircles and secures it and there is a staircase that leads to the first elevation where a greenery of flowers has been laid out like a farm around it.
There is a clear effort to create an enduring and beautiful statute. But, there is obviously no intention to have the tower speak in political tunes or stand as a fore-runner to the style of a current political leadership. All former leaders before Governor Theodore Orji saw it as only what it is – a statute, a tower. They could not see the potential in the concrete object as a great image-maker for the state and for the manner of leadership.
Indeed, the Abia tower is an embodiment of the Abia story – a journey through stagnation and then revival. It is an epical monument capturing a dispensation in the people’s movement. Though a mere object of cement and gravel, it projects the message that is Governor Orji’s travails and triumph in the corridors of power. It celebrates the revival and the rebirth that are the governor’s stewardship.
Before 2007 when Governor Orji came on board, the tower was a statement of stagnation. In very unmistakable terms, it told the story of the style and manner of leadership of Governor Orji’s predecessor. The tower was weather-beaten, dirty, dilapidated and literally abandoned.
Happy and well-fed spiders built a mast of cobwebs around its concave parapets. The paintings wore out and the smooth surfaces peeled. The surroundings remained unkempt and overgrown with the inner pavement transforming into a defecation point for hoodlums and motor parks boys around the place. Some letters of the bold inscription cleaned off and the walls cracked with neglect. It was a shoddy sight which provided a parallax view of the eight-years of Abia’s stagnation.
In year 2000, when I accompanied some tourists, journalists and movie-makers to attend the eight-day UgwuAbia cultural festival, the Abia tower was an eyesore. It was a demeaning testimony of neglect and stagnation and it spoke volumes about the style of the government of the day.
Thank God! Today, there is a new Abia tower. Quite cleverly, Governor Orji saw an opportunity in the tower to tell the message of his vision and the giant political strides. Upon ascension to office in 2007, he quickly renovated the tower and has consistently maintained it as a treasure for the state. Since then, the towering structure has continued to wear a new and sparkling look.
It has recovered its charm and mystique. With the new paintings, the bold inscription has come alive. On the ground and around the surroundings, there is a beautiful greenery dotted with flowers. And in place of the old garbage is a beautiful arcade which has added to the beauty of the landscape of this inroad into Umuahia.
Indeed, the Abia tower of today speaks eloquently of the new Abia. The new, beautiful outlook, in abstract forms, represent the rebirth and the attendant changes that have come with the liberation. It is a testimony of Governor Orji’s transformation efforts transmuted in a concrete structure.
This transformation has seen to the laying of a fresh foundation for Abia, an enterprise under which he converted Abia into a huge construction site. There are many sides to the message of the new tower. The first is the testimony of the two coloured birds.
The sense of order and tranquility conjured by the uniformity of the design and the paintings represent the new society of law and order which is the current status of Abia. This air of peace evokes the memory of the governor’s pragmatic struggle to create a society of law and order out of the chaos of the past.
The Abia tower, precisely, is a concrete metaphor about the renaissance that is Orji’s mission.
Mr. AGODWIN ADINDU, a social critic, wrote from Aba, Abia State.