Often when people discuss Arochukwu, it is about its past, how the people ruled Igbo land, before the arrival of the white man, how they sold Nigerians and Africans into slavery and how they controlled much territory between the hinterland and the eastern coastline in the trade with the Portuguese and latter, the English explorers, traders and colonialists. We are regaled with the stories of the hegemonistic tendencies of the Arochukwu kingdom and their exploitation of the feared long juju to control a large swath of territory in the South East Nigeria. We are told of how people from Oru and Igbo and even from across the Niger travelled several days on foot to come to Arochukwu to resolve their physical and spiritual problems in Aro Okeigbo. We are told of the wisdom of the Aroman and his cunning attributes that enabled him win many arguments, win many wars without firing a bullet and made him outsmart his antagonists and traducers.
What is more, the Aroman is very proud of the exploits and legacies of his forebears and ancestors, to the extent that many still venerate them. Often when the Aroman is made to feel guilty or to carry the social burden of the discredited slave trading which his ancestors participated actively in, he aggressively defends himself, that his ancestors were only participating in what was a legitimate trade and that they readily gave up the trade when William Wilberforce and his group of reformists caused the abolition of slave trading and readily embraced Christianity when the missionaries came calling. Today, the map of Arochukwu is on the Scottish currency as a memorial of the work of Mary Slessor did in the Arochukwu region. So the Aroman is generally proud of the legacies of his ancestors and though some of his Igbo neighbours still view him with a mixture of awe, fear and suspicion because of his famed wisdom and cunning, most Aro people hold their heads high in any place they find themselves.
But my continuing worry in recent years is how we can change the narrative to contemporary issues. We cannot continue to live and revel in the past. If our ancestors did so much to place Arochukwu in history and on the global map, what are we doing, so that our own children and grandchildren can revel in our own legacies? What stories will people be telling of the Aroman that lived in the first half of the 21st century? I am thoroughly appalled and truly disturbed that the Arochukwu kingdom seems to be on a decline which has intensified in the last couple of years. What vision do we have for the Arochukwu kingdom? What strategies for achieving the vision, if any. What milestones have we identified enroute the future we desire for Arochukwu? Except perhaps the need to fix the roads to Arochukwu!
Over five years ago, I made a preliminary presentation to the first and last properly constituted Okpankpo Aro meeting I attended on these strategic issues to enable Arochukwu take its place in contemporary Nigeria. That presentation was well received but after that, the light seemed to go off. Today, we are all involved in disparate activities at kindred, village, club or individual levels, sometimes in contradiction to each other, while overreaching pan Arochukwu community issues are either ignored or left unattended. Since, we united Aro people in establishing the Abia State College of Education (Technical), to avoid its relocation to Ngwa land, and followed with the celebration of Aro 2002- the commemoration of the centenary of the Arochukwu -British war (1901-1902), there seems to have been no significant unifying project. Even support for the completion of the Aro Historic and Cultural Centre (Civic Centre), has waned significantly causing undue delays in the completion of this very critical community infrastructure.
My call therefore is for a resurgence of the patriotic zeal and unity of purpose that made Aro great and that make us proud of our ancestors. For a starter, we must all rally round Nzuko Arochukwu and its leadership to rekindle the flame of Aro patriotic fervour. Even at the risk of sounding like a broken gramophone record, let me once again appeal for unity of purpose among the Aro elite and the removal of all that have put wedges to our communal spirit and effort. History will not be kind to us if we all stand aloof and watch our kingdom degenerate and decline. May God show us mercy and grant us the wisdom.