Sometime after the 1979 elections, there came a big clamor for the creation of more Nigerian States. Dr. Akanu Ibiam who had been apolitical after the Nigerian Civil War, and was being heavily criticized for the posture, decided to head a rag-tag group for the creation of another Igbo State. He called it Ebonyi State, with the Capital at Abakiliki. The venture seemed laughable. There were no big name Nigerian politicians associated with the effort. Only the erstwhile Governor-General of the Eastern Region. The other locals thought it was safe to swim with the big fish. Dr. Ibiam had no qualms.
HRH Ezeogo Dr. Akanu Ibiam, looking weary and sapped from the concluded Nigeria – Biafra hostilities, for which he had been a major principal for the Igbo separatists, drew attention to Igbo areas South of Enugu, which had never experienced Government presence in their Infrastructure. He simply wanted the development happening in other zones of Nigeria, to begin happening in areas around him.
Against the litany of Igbo State proposals from Asaba, Njaba, Orlu, Owerri, Aba etc., The Ebonyi State proposal looked like it did not stand a chance.
Like the visionary he was, Dr. Ibiam did not let up. The former Governor of Ebonyi State – Chief Martin Elechi, in his book, 'The 39 year Road to Ebonyi State', chronicled how Dr. Akanu Ibiam individually journeyed to Aso Rock to see the then Head of State – General Sani Abacha, on behalf of Ebonyi State. He was not allowed to see the then Head of State secondary to tight protocol. With his understanding of the system (He was once the Governor-General), He handed the President's Personal secretary a letter regarding his visit for onward transmission to the Head of State. Dr. Akanu Ibiam left the next day for His Home town at Unwana, near Afikpo.
His Excellency, HRH Dr. Akanu Ibiam never met General Sani Abacha until his death circa 1995. At his passing, the issues of State creation raged again. Sani Abacha who had delineated the areas he would create, decided to come to Unwana, Afikpo then in Abia State, to console the Late Governor-General of Eastern Nigeria's family. His journey from Enugu was tortuous. But it also exposed the then Head of State to the plight of the people whom the late Governor-General advocated for.
Abacha made up his mind that the people deserved Government presence. And so Ebonyi State came into the light. Dr. Akanu Ibiam's rationale for infrastructure provision had carried the day. On the merits.
The map of Ebonyi State as submitted by HRH Dr. Akanu Ibiam and Ors., included a part of the Bende in Abia State – The Edda. If Ebonyi State was created, the Peoples of the Bende Areas primarily in Abia State would be split, and the Edda will now become part of Ebonyi State.
The Ohafia Clan – primary blood relations to the Edda, on hearing of the development, sent a high powered delegation to the Head of State, regarding the sanctity of preserving the Edda Clan within the Bende Geography in Abia State. They maintained that their time honored contiguity with the Edda, who were pure blood and cultural relations in every aspect – maternal and paternal, could not be severed on the altar of State creation.
The Ohafia delegation argued fervently that they could not naturally part with the Edda given their time immemorial relationship.
General Abacha who had had listened quietly with his legs crossed as the Ohafia delegation ended their pitch replied,
"I always wanted to create a State for the Igbo. Facts before me presently favor the Aba State Movement, and the Ebonyi State Movement. I am inclined to create Ebonyi State. But, given the presentations made now – to excise the Edda from Ebonyi State, Ebonyi State may no longer be feasible. We will have to abandon Ebonyi State because the population, economics and land mass may not sustain itself. So, I'll create Aba State. However, I'm really inclined to create Ebonyi State because of Akanu Ibiam. And, if I'm to create Ebonyi State, the map must be left as it is."
The Ohafia delegation could not push this elephant any further. They left.
Abacha would later create Ebonyi State, intact, and as Akanu Ibiam and others had designed.
Abacha would later create Ebonyi State, intact, and as Akanu Ibiam and others had designed.
Ebonyi State would have its capital at Abakiliki. A very dusty town which was still fighting the Nigerian Civil War with itself. Abakiliki was exactly the Igbo outpost still in the throes of heavy disorder almost 30 years after the civil war. The sedentary life of the people's did not help their march to civilization. Dusty roads, poor drainage, inadequate and polluted water supply, dilapidated structures, forlorn men and women, were the other of the day.
Abakiliki was the Backwater of the East. As a matter of fact, The Abakiliki Igbo related more to the Cross River – Ogoja. And frankly, if not for the intervention of His Excellency, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, Abakiliki would probably be lost as part of the Igbo East. That is why attempts at keeping contiguity must read, and not dismiss history.
If you could not live in any of the prominent cities of the East, you hardly cited Abakiliki as your abode then.
Most Anambra citizens have their outposts at Abakiliki. They live and conduct business there. Name it, Real Estate, Hospitality, Banking, Spare parts, Building materials, Metal fabrication, Car sales and repair, Transportation. Ekene Dili Chukwu, The Young Shall Grow, Eekeson, Chisco all have transportation depots there. 1/3rds of the Traders at the Abakiliki Market are from Anambra. The lingua franca is also the Anambra Igbo. Afterall, Abakiliki was once part of the old Anambra State. Anambra Contractors won and are still heavily considered for contracts by the Ebonyi State Government. Most are on speed-dial for contact and contracts. An Anambra son was awarded the contract and built the Ebonyi State Government House, including the sprawling Government administrative offices.
Most like Late Dr. Alex Ekwueme saw the opportunities and invested in Abakiliki Real Estate. The Ebonyi State Hotels was an offshoot of an Alex Ekwueme Investment. It should also be disclosed that Alex Ekwueme heavily supported the Ebonyi State Movement in cash and kind – He probably may have been the biggest donor. The Ebonyi State Government was also effusive to the late Vice-President in its rewards. Olisa Metu's Father practiced law there. But Olisa Metu like his Anambra brethren, would hardly acknowledge his Abakiliki background.
Most prominent and forgotten Anambra sons and daughters have been quietly rehabilitated at Abakiliki. The State University at Abakiliki is staffed with former functionaries of the old East Central State – particularly, Anambra and Enugu State. Chief MCK Ajuluchukwu, a former political ally of Awolowo from Anambra State lived in Abakiliki, till death. His family are ever grateful of the support provided by the Ebonyi State Government at his sickness, and old age.
All the Governors of Ebonyi State – present and past, have found a way to give Abakiliki, and the State a befitting facelift.
Abakiliki is different – very different. Visit. Take a tour.
Abakiliki currently boasts of dual, very clean and tarred roadways coming into the city. Flyovers now adorn Abakiliki highways. The lore did not escape the present Governor of Abia State – Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, who came to visit. Street lights adorn the sidewalks. The Abakiliki Golf Course is one of a kind. With watered greenways and manicured clay course. Abakiliki boasts of the State University and a College of Medicine whose students compete with the best in Nigeria, and the World – No joke. The way it is now, any prominent Igbo man who does not own property in Abakiliki truly does himself a disservice. You name it, it is in Abakiliki. The rapid development even drew the attention of former Anambra State Governor – Peter Obi, who is well known for not wasting his energy. He regularly visited then Governor Sam Egwu to confer, and borrow a leaf on how to proceed with the development of Awka, Capital of Anambra State. Oh Yes!, who forgets the visits of the erstwhile Governor of Anambra State to Uncle Sam!
That was why the news last week of the change of the name of the Abakiliki Road in Awka, Capital of Anambra State did not sit down well with the Abakiliki/Ebonyi Citizens. Governor Obiano cannot inadvertently open up an age old disdain for Abakiliki, especially by his Anambra brethren, by renaming a rehabilitated Abakiliki Road in Awka, with a name which reeks of high snobbery and social disdain – Club Road. And by the way, Awka is not Enugu. Awka is not even Abakiliki. There is no comparison in Infrastructure between the 2 Capitals. From this writer's viewpoint, Abakiliki is way ahead.
Even most Anambra indigenes were taken aback at the gesture. Governor Obiano's Press Secretary – James Eze, said his boss meant no harm. Most believe him. Therefore, what happened was a gaffe.
A serious gaffe that could rise to a bitter grudge which would intendedly, and unintendedly show up in other areas of South-East unity. It is such underlying mistrust for the perception of their background that makes Ebonyi State officials refuse to buy into the larger Igbo political and fraternal concepts. That is why our leaders should be careful of the sentiments they arouse. Nobody in the Governmental and administrative protocol cadre likes surprises and unnecessary rancor. Unexpected diplomatic surprises. Especially between 2 Heads of Government, over nothing. This Abakiliki Road matter should be laid to rest – quickly.
A stitch in time saves Nine.
Abakiliki may have been a backwater town. A visionary named Akanu Ibiam, saw what could be done and uplifted it, and all within the Environ. Even the current Senator representing Ebonyi South Senatorial constituency in the Nigerian Senate – Senator Sonni Ogbu-Oji, openly named Dr. Akanu Ibiam as the sole benefactor of every indigene of Ebonyi State.
That vision has led the once backwater towns of Ebonyi to produce several State Governors, the Nigerian Senate President, The Secretary to the Federal Government, Senators, Federal Legislators, numerous Federal Ministers, Judges, Commissioners, Assemblymen, Local Government Chairmen, Councillors who hitherto would have been wandering the dusty lands of Ebonyi, but for the visionary leadership of another erstwhile Governor-General.
The Governor of Anambra State and Leader of the ALL PROGRESSIVES GRAND ALLIANCE, (APGA), NIGERIA is well-known for consolidating and expounding on goodness wherever he sees it, or feels like it should exist, or should be acknowledged. It is the turn of the Anambra State Governor to uplift and acknowledge the good work at Abakiliki.
The Anambra State Governor owes it to the people of Anambra and Igboland to create amity and uplift the Igbo spirit by renaming the new 'Club Road' to its former appellation. He would be uplifting the spirit of the erstwhile downtrodden, who have pulled themselves up by the bootstrap to become something. Something from nothing. The Igbo spirit. It is also a gesture that will not be lost on the greater effort to spread his APGA message for unity amongst the South-East Electorate in our march towards greater political gain.
It was the same Governor who saw wasted and once heralded Musicians of the 1960's and 70' s, and brought them to Awka to perform, giving new life to men who thought their era was long past them. All who attended and watched the re-union spoke endlessly of how Governor Obiano cherished and habilitated those musicians. He did not rename them. (Remember, 'Bongo' is no longer contemporary. But it is still 'Bongo'!). The occasion and gesture thrilled all who went to school in the 70's and early 80's. Till date, people are talking about the Original Wings, Black Chiildren, Apostles, etc., and what Governor Obiano did for them. The Youtube site remains one of the most visited in internet history.
Governor Dave Umahi spoke from the heart when he asked his fellow Governor to review the action – intended or unintended. The former Furniture Prefect from School House – Government Secondary School, Afikpo – Class of 1977, understands the psychology of his Anambra brothers and is simply calling them on it. 'Club Road' cannot be too good, to bear the Abakiliki name. True.
Also, sans publicity, Awka cannot compete with Abakiliki in infrastructure. Investigate.
Abakiliki has come too far, and must be reckoned among its sister cities in the South-East in any form of advancement – Human, Infrastructural, Educational, Technological, Medical, Scientific. Abakiliki backs down for nobody. Renaming Abakiliki Road in Awka is a major diplomatic faux pax among Igbo sister states.
We say, what Abakiliki has worked for, let Abakiliki keep. That road bore the Abakiliki name in bad times. We say in these good times – let the name stay. Abakiliki deserves the road it was named for in Awka, Anambra State. Our Anambra brethren should be encouraged to take their nose out of the gutter. They should wake up and smell the aroma from Abakiliki. Very refreshing.
Ihe nwoke mere ibe ya, bu were dowerem.
Unintended slights, have a way of ballooning into unintended consequences. We do not seek or look forward to any reprisals.
Rename 'Club Road' to its erstwhile appellation. Club Road cannot be reaping from Where Abakiliki sowed. In Igboland that is unjust. The gods do not support injustice. Alu!
P.S. Governor David Umahi must begin steps to re-invigorate the Abakilki Airport project. Abakiliki deserves one.
Okwukwe Ibiam hails from Ebonyi State.