Preserve it Says the Prince

By Princess Chinecherem Efobi

In a forum recently, a Lagos ‘brought up’ friend argued that Awka is not fit to be a state capital. In his words, Awka is a glorified village. Is he right or wrong?

In 1991, the new Anambra State emerged with Awka as its capital. As a native of Owerre Ezukala in Orumba South LGA, which incidentally is one of the 21 local government that made up the new Anambra state, we were factually made indigenes of the new Anambra.

Consequently, my parents being civil servant have to re locate to Awka, the state capital as demands of work required. The experience is likened to that of the creation of new diocese, where the church automatically by territorial consideration cedes one where to belong, except for the clergy who were allowed to make a voluntary decision (on where to belong).

It demands a strength of mind to bid  farewell to familiar and lovely environment, more so when the “terminus ad quem” is uncertain and seemingly not better.

Prior to 1991 state creation my family were resident in Enugu, precisely No 66 Obinagu Rd Abakpa Nike. But by Dec 1991, we found ourselves resident in Araba, Umuzocha village Awka. I doubt if we had a street number then. It wasn’t funny, but all is now history with more ‘positives’.

While resident in Enugu we had sightseeing places like: the Polo Park (where you now have the ShopRite), the Zoo (where I think you now have the Gulf Estate et al), the Stadium( which fills to the brim when Rangers hosts Iwuanyawu National), and the Okpara square and so on.

Do I need to explain about the interconnected road network? Even in our Abakpa, we had the Nike Lake Resort Hotels, the Liberty Centre, the ever bubbling St Theresa’s Parish and Ahia Abakpa. Then, national events like Independence Day celebration were marked glamorously. Conversely, in Awka as at 1991, we were saddened at our loss of alternatives to the above.

The only sightseeing places then and funny too, were St Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Faith and probably, Ikenga hotels. The ‘glamorous’ festival was ‘Imo Awka’. Nothing was appealing, yet we had no option, but to be where our parents were destined by State creation to be. In addition to the ‘village setting’ we have found ourselves, we had to learn a new kind of Igbo dialect that rents the air every minute.

It was a mental battle between the presumed igbo izugbe and ‘bia vha vha’, ‘odee no nolii’, ‘a na eku yi” and so on. However, over time I have come to speak the Awka native dialect and I enjoy it. You can now understand my feeling when under the observable infrastructural developments in Awka today, someone still has to describe it as a glorified village in 2021.

I wonder what he would have called it in 1991, when the only tarred roads where the Federal ‘Old road, Amaenyi to Amawbia’; and the ‘Express’. Today’s Okpuno and Ifite where largely farm lands and bush areas.

From the time of Navy Captain Joseph Abulu, the first military administrator of Anambra state (Aug 1991 – Jan 1992), who installed the first street light along Ziks Avenue, to the incumbent HE Willie Obiano, Awka have experienced observable infrastructural growth. Thirty years ago, government house and ministries took off from a makeshift home of a construction company, with 20 feet containers turned into offices.

Now you have for instance, Jerome Udoji Secretariate and so on. The above exposition, makes me think that we have to preserve the Sensum historiae (sense of history) in all its forms, even on a kind of picture album. It will help the emerging society to appreciate the pace of growth, though debatably, slow and sluggish.

My sense of documentation was ignited by my father (a graduate of secretarial studies and political science, and presently, a student of Theology at 78) on two counts. Firstly, my father had a file for each of his children, boldly and well titled. Contents of my own file includes: receipts of my school fees, from primary to secondary school, prospectus, letters I wrote to him within those periods, my academic results, even hospital bill receipts and so on.

In the case of the letters I wrote to him, he will make corrections of my wrong grammar and spellings, and file it. Sometimes, and even as an undergraduate, he will remind me of my then wrong English expressions, which often doesn’t go down well with my ‘young mind’. Later, after my philosophy education, I had to ‘smartly’ take possession of my own file.

Before you ask me why, I hope you have files for your own kids? Today, I appreciate that file a lot. Secondly, in late 1990’s, my father saddled me with a challenging responsibility to visit National Archive Enugu and research on SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme of Babangida regime). Fresh from  “Waec hall”, it was really a challenge, but I think he was happy with me at the end.

My experience at the national Archive heightened my appreciation for documentation. We must find a way to preserve records of the past so as to be properly informed of the future. George Gadamer says: if there were no back ground, there will be no foreground. How I wish we have a photo album of Awka as at 1991 available on google, for my friend to understand that we are progressing, though it may not be at expected speed.

I have been to Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Lincoln Memorial Park in Washingnton, Nkrumah Park in Accra, World Trade Centre and 9/11 Memorial Park in New York etc. I have also heard about Auschwitz Memorial camp and museum and many of such across the globe.

In these places, it’s not just about the artifacts, it is more about the documented history; and the publicity given to such places by the host nation. Where is the Memorial Park for Biafra- (Nigeria civil war)? Is the Ojukwu bunker at Umuahia good enough? Does it have an objective documented history? Do we really know why we are sitting at home, or why we should rather not sit at home?

Do ‘Biafrans’ know that such a place exist? Is it professionally being managed? This too should concern the Igbo elite, and Nigeria as a whole. What about the calabar slave museum, Awolowo Museum, the historical arm of Yaradua centre Abuja and so on? Are they exhaustive and being updated? Are they rightly publicized as ought to? What are the practicum for our professors and students of history?

Most recently, July 2021, I was appointed a privileged ‘errand boy’ for a visiting Prince. It was about 48 hours encounter which rekindled my interest in preserving Sensum historiae. In appreciation for his visit, I gave him among other items,  a brochure as a souvenir. The brochure I gave to the prince had a history of the school: Bubendorff Memorial Grammar School Adazi.

Surprisingly, the prince identified two past principals of the school: Messrs G.C. Ibekwe and R.N. Igwedibia as his Latin teachers at Mount St. Michael’s Secondary School Aliade, Benue State, from 1957 – 1962. With this identification of his past tutors, he just said informally to us: preserve your history, document whatever is documentable. Brochures are historic documents too, and should not be just ‘Paparazzi’. Documentation matters. Government and her agencies, Local Church and her Parishes, Institutions and her students, should lead in this regard. Even if it means a photo gallery with written explanation.

For instance, a church building in 1980 with necessary pictures including names of the then donors in a photo like album can serve, and should be preserved before renovations and re- dedications. It is a necessary ‘Genesis’, for better understanding of the ‘Revelation’.

As the interaction continued, the prince noted that he was taught all subject in his native ( Kabba)Yoruba language in his class one and two. Such was the practice then. According to him, that was the reason he could today write and speak fluently in Yoruba.

Our language is part of our history to be preserved. Informally, I learnt that we can preserve our Igbo language against the projected extinction, if we restructure our basic education practice. Can we insist on teaching all subject in Igbo language in primary school? A necessary debate! For me, I understood the prince to mean that such practice could be a veritable way to preserve the local language.

Passing through Oji River, the prince nostalgically observed the moribund coal electricity rings and the ‘buckets’. Coal in Enugu was the source of power in those days. We have failed companies here and there. Think about the Refineries, the Ajaokuta steel, Nkalagu cement etc. In Anambra in early 90’s, I remember the Ikenga Hotels, Tracas and Udoji football clubs, the water schemes, the breweries and the many ‘Theo Ekwem’ and sons Nig Ltd.

Why do these companies fail? Have we learnt our lessons? Are the National hospital and Stadium in Abuja built most recently still in good shape? What about Tinapa and Obudu Cattle Range dream? Why do National and State Assets fail?  It is necessary to study this and document the findings to forestall such sad repeat.

This is important as the States gets on with airport projects, International conference centre, and five star hotel projects and so on.  Findings of such research should be preserved and publicized, says the prince.

At the end, the encounter with this Prince was memorable and enriching. Informal education is priceless. It is good to sit at the feet of the elders’ and listen. Ask necessary questions, but listen more. This prince is laced with quantum of contagious simplicity, enough to convert Lucifer; especially his neo-modules that always ask: do you know who I am?

This same Prince was the best graduating student in the then northern region after his school certificate examination in 1962. With the ‘record breaking’ result of distinctions, he had avalanche of scholarships, but he voluntarily to the chagrin of many, chose the line of Sacred Priesthood. He is a scripture expert, widely travelled and have shouldered noble and enviable responsibilities both for the Church and Society at large. Yet he remained so humble.

My first encounter of his humble disposition was in 2005 at Holy Trinity Parish, Maitama Abuja. It was an ordination Mass, which he presided. Before final blessings and after  praying for him, he insisted that the newly ordained priest would lay hands on his head after the blessing; and thereafter kissed the ‘freshly’ anointed hands of the priest. Is he ‘theologically’ and ‘liturgically’ right or wrong? Simplicity are among the things he urged all to preserve.

At the airport, while carrying his luggage by himself, and in company of bishop Anselm Umoren, he introduced himself to me as John, though I have known him. Thank you John Cardinal Onaiyekan. You are truly a Prince of the church, in words and actions. It was informal chat, but the message was  loud and clear: we should endeavor to preserve our ‘Sensum historiae’ in all forms, including saving it in ‘google’, if need be.

Fr Theodore Ekwem