Governor Charles Chukwuma Soludo has hit the ground running with the historic visit to Okpoko, the inglorious home of crime’s darkest patch on the Niger. Okpoko is many things to many people. To unsuspecting travellers, it is the place to buy the “cheapest” goodies while commuting to Calabar, Uyo, Umuahia, Aba, Port-Harcourt, Owerri and other destinations pointing eastwards from Onitsha. The hagglers’ smiles often vanish when their “good deal” turns out to be far from so. Often times, they notice this after the hurrying vehicle would have left and the images of traders have fizzled out of sight. These happen in broad day light. Before the glare of passers-by, criminals disappear into the notorious slum’s dizzying maze of shanty tracks and dirty streets confidently clutching stolen travelling bags and phones of their victims as though they belonged to them. Most of the sad tales about Onitsha happen in, and around, the Okpoko environs.
Amidst these tales of woes, Okpoko still finds a positive space in some of the city’s grass to grace stories. With dint of hard work and street wisdom garnered from this humble slum, many a successful Onitsha business folk built fortunes far beyond the lure of crime. It is still commonplace to hear about people who came to Onitsha immediately after the Biafran war in just a shirt and a pair of trousers but left buildings, industries and thriving businesses for their children to inherit. The Okpoko trope streams constantly through these narratives.
Yet, this wide space of land—once earmarked for the siting of a steel industry but abandoned for another location in the country by the federal government – has suffered neglect from governments at all levels. Even, in the early eighties, when a Metallurgical Institute was finally built by the Shagari Administration there, it was nothing but a perfunctory dab on a festering sore, for little attention was paid to the area’s full development. That’s why the news of the governor’s visit rang like the homecoming of a lost husband to the residents of this long-suffering purlieu. The mammoth crowd that welcomed the governor, and the glint of hope in their eyes, attested to this when he finally did on day-2 of his administration.
For Ndi Anambra, the message of this visit was beyond the emotional story that a little boy whom the governor had met in 2009 had inspired his revisit. It was also beyond the seeming popularity this gave him and his style of governance. The greatest message is the human story of neglect. The unloved wife syndrome. Above all, the promise of the new Anambra, which the governor made – to change Okpoko’s fortune, to change Okpoko’s future. The same promise made to all of us on inauguration day.
Okpoko is not just the neglected lady of the Niger, it is that burning desire in Ndi Anambra to feel the effect of the government we voted for not just in the media, but on the streets of Awka, Onitsha, Nnewi and Ekwulobia. Of course, in all our villages which are as dear to us as the whole state is. For our residents and visitors, it is the desire for a place that is safe, inclusive, clean and humane enough to allow the dream that pulled them from their natal homes across West and Central Africa to visit, play, live, work, study and do business in Anambra, bloom like the beautiful flowers of the ogirisi tree.
Since the work of building an inclusive state, where the poor and the rich, the slum and the havens, the obia-ije and the natives embrace as one, in a liveable, loveable, secure, smart city has started in Okpoko, we should all join hands with Soludo to achieve this.
The governor can promise, but he cannot deliver alone. We must ask ourselves these questions if we truly want him to succeed for us: How can we realise this new Anambra? What can we do to make it happen? How much of our time can we give to our communities and their affairs? Are we committed to fighting corruption in private and public places, standing by the truth against all odds and holding the government and one another accountable at all times? How can the new governor build that great homeland we are all hoping and asking for? Keduebe o gaesiweta ego? How much of our investments can we take back home? How much of our talent can we offer for free? Are we ready to repatriate some of the money we make outside of our state to develop our homeland? Are we ready to pay our taxes and make personal sacrifices? Are we ready to exchange old habits that brought rot for the new ones that will clean the mess?
Our answers to these questions will determine whether or not like Okpoko, that we are ready to offer the best side of us and deliberately transform the bad in each and every one of us into that great city our governor wants Anambra to be. When the story of the new Anambra is told, I hope we would all have shed the Okpoko in every one of us. One thing is sure. Our attitude, our commitment and our sacrifice will form the best blocks to raise that glorious structure of a mega city.
God bless Anambra!
God bless the shining light that we bear.
Odili Ujubuoñu writes from Ukpor, Anambra State.