The city of Aba appears on maps as a built up space straddling the intersection of roads from Port Harcourt, Owerri, Umuahia, and Ikot Ekpene. That patch is, in fact, a bustling urban sprawl, one of Nigeria’s major commercial hubs, and home to over a million people.
Aba is the economic heartbeat of Abia State in Nigeria’s South Eastern region. Visitors to the city will find this status well earned, as there’s more than just a sign of commercial activity on every other street. Its market teems with traders hawking an impressive variety of wares; its streets, are swarmed by buses and tricycles carrying commuters, many of them moving to or from trade posts, and its factories and workshops ring and roar with the sounds of industry.
In earlier times, Aba was a small market town inhabited by indigenous Igbo people. The British set up a military post there in 1901, and later (in 1915) built a railway linking the town to Port Harcourt. Because the railroad served as a route for the transportation of agricultural produce, it helped establish Aba as a major trading center in the region and caused its population to begin to swell. A major historical event from that time was the Aba women’s riot of 1929, which saw thousands of women march in protest of the British’s exploitative tax policies.
Today, Aba has the largest population of any city in the South East and is one of the region’s main centres of commerce. Its industrial prowess can be seen in its production of textiles, leatherwork, plastics, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. The city’s Ariaria market is one of West Africa’s biggest markets and is known for its shoe making and leatherwork. Aba is also home to Ahia Ohuru (New Market), a major centre for the textile trade in Nigeria. Trading is however not restricted to these spaces, as there is an apparent continuity of store lines throughout much of Aba.
Education is one of Aba’s less spoken of strongpoints. The city has a number of institutions of higher learning, including the state-run Abia State Polytechnic and Abia State University Teaching Hospital (ABSUTH), and the privately owned Rhema University and Covenant Polytechnic. It also has a college of health sciences and a college of education, as well as numerous primary and secondary schools.
Sport in Aba is dominated by the city’s main football team, Enyimba F.C. The club is considered an integral part of the city’s identity, so much so that the city has been nicknamed after it. Enyimba is one of Nigeria’s biggest sides and has won several trophies within the country and on the African continent.
Aba is an interesting place to be. It doesn’t have the sort of hype around it that cities like Lagos and Abuja do, but it does have one thing going for it- the enterprise of its people. They have overcome the constraints of resource challenges and inconvenient conditions to make it one of the country’s most important cities.