Rethinking the development paradigm for Arochukwu

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Samuel Iheanyichukwu Ohuabunwa, OFR

With all that has happened in Arochukwu, over many years, it may be instructive to rethink the development paradigm for Arochukwu. From available evidence, after the British- Arochukwu war of 1901/1902, the colonial administration showed so much interest in Arochukwu. The pull of the long juju phenomenon and the very successful trading system of the Aro, earned the Aro a lot of respect and despite the effort of the British to supplant or whittle down the influence of the Aro in the South East of Nigeria , the allure was too strong to resist.

Thus we can see that much of the physical and administrative development of Arochukwu was driven by the colonial administration. The vestiges of that colonial development paradigm can be seen in the prisons, general hospital, and the police post. Post independence, there was hardly any diminishing of this development focus and Arochukwu remained a focus for physical development. For example, the road to Arochukwu was built post independence by the Okpara led government of Eastern Nigeria. Other vestiges include the government treasury office, the customary court and the magistrate court.

Following the civil war, there was a slowing down of government mediated development of Arochukwu but the town retained its relevance in the administrative structure of Eastern Nigeria. When Arochukwu became part of Imo State, there was virtually no developmental improvement of Arochukwu until it came under Abia State. Even the hospital which was one of the oldest in Eastern Nigeria became neglected. If Arochukwu was neglected by Imo State, it suffered the same or worse case in Abia State, until recently. Perhaps two developments can be pointed out to show the struggle. First was that Arochukwu town was elevated to a local government headquarters following the creation of an Arochukwu LGA from the former Arochukwu/Ohafia LGA. But the people of Arochukwu had to build the local government secretariat, led by Mazi Dagogo Okoronkwo.

Second was that Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, the first civilian Governor of Abia State had promised to cite a College of Education (Technical) in Arochukwu, but he left office without accomplishing that promise, certainly due to the brevity of his tenure. But when one Colonel Ike Nwosu came as military governor, he decided to relocate the site of the college to Isiala Ngwa where according to him there were existing facilities with which the college could take off. Thank God, that he made this known at a dinner in Mazi Emma Nwokoro’s house in Atani . Luckily, some of us were there and we quickly took up the challenge and spearheaded the erection of facilities in a section of the Aggrey Memorial College, which served as the take off site for the college. The records of who did what on that project is fully detailed in the account of my service to Arochukwu as president general titled ” Service to my People” released in 2003. But I cannot fail to mention the contributions of the trio- Eze ( Elder) Isaac Okwara Onoh, Sir E.C Udensi and late Mazi B.O. Kanu who collaborated with us (Kanu Ivi, Dave Imoko and Sam Ohuabunwa) under the overall leadership of Mazi UK Udonsi, then president general of Nzuko Arochukwu to deliver the projects in record time. This marked an era of self help in the physical development of Arochukwu and was in tandem with the development paradigm of our ancestors and progenitors who built the Arochukwu kingdom with communal wisdom and built the Atani hall, the Ibom hall and the Obinkita hall, etc by communal effort.

To be fair, two other developmental projects need to be mentioned. Some water projects, one attracted by Hon Mao Ohuabunwa, (Now Senator) at Ugwuavo and another NDDC project located at Amanagwu. One can say that both projects were from the Federal Government. Of course the key major federal project is the Ohafia-Arochukwu highway which has suffered untold neglect. Yes, efforts had been made and contracts awarded severally, but progress has been dismal, despite our best efforts to push performance. Progress on the Itu highway by the federal government has been insignificant. Again from the Abia State government, two recent developmental projects deserve mention. One is the renovation of the Arochukwu General Hospital by the outgone Ochendo administration. But the renovated hospital is yet to be put into proper use. The second and perhaps more fundamental is the Abam- Ndiokereke- Amuvi (Arochukwu road which had long been abandoned during the reign of Orji Uzor Kalu as governor of Abia State, despite his spurious claim that he had paid the contractor. Governor TA Orji re- awarded the contract, made progress but could not complete it. It is refreshing to note that the current Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu has intensified work on that road with a focus on the very critical bridge, linking Abam with Arochukwu. If he continues at the current rate, may be that road will be completed before the next rainy season and will in no small measure ease the hardship our people have experienced on the Ohafia-Arochukwu federal highway for many years. This road will shorten the trip from Umuahia to Arochukwu to one hour, compared to the present three hours. The effort of the Engr Nnamdi Udoh led Nzuko Arochukwu executive in pushing this project must be acknowledged.

From the chequered history of physical development projects in Arochukwu, certain lessons can be learnt, perhaps necessitating some rethinking. When it is remembered that the Aggrey Memorial College was the first private post primary school in the former Eastern Nigeria, then we can better appreciate the entrepreneurial prowess of the Aroman. Dr Alvan Ikoku has been acknowledged by Nigeria for this great feat that helped to train much of the manpower that serviced post independence Eastern Nigeria. Much of the development projects in Aro in the past, have either been attracted by Umuaro or implemented by Umuaro when government developed cold feet. Recently, the All Aro USA health centre was built by Umuaro in the USA and its operations supported by Umuaro at home, helping to fill some of the gaps created when the Arochukwu hospital was abandoned. Both the Union Bank, and the First Bank, the two commercial banks in Aro were attracted by Umuaro and when other communities were establishing community banks, we ensured that Arochukwu had one which latter metamorphosed into the micro finance bank, even if poorly patronized. I know that all these events can be testified to by the great Aro historian, Prof Okoro Ijoma who is also an active participant in these events.

But recent trend seems to suggest that it is becoming difficult for Umuaro to pull their resources together to pursue, attract or implement developmental projects for Arochukwu. There seems to be increasing individualism. There are so many beautiful new houses being built in Arochukwu but there is no road to access them. Since Mazi Chike Bassey-Okoro and Dr Nkemka Jombo- Ofo put asphalt on the Ibom-barracks road, and the subsequent rebuilding of the road by FERMA, attracted by Dr Jombo- Ofo, no significant effort to attract development has been noticed. At the Ugwuavo area, at the barracks area and all over Arochukwu, there are no motor able roads. In the absence of a development oriented local government in Arochukwu, we need to rethink our development paradigm. There is a call for a renewed community consciousness and greater need for collaboration to attract development to Arochukwu. At the minimum, we need a new level of community advocacy that will enable us push governments at all levels-federal, state and local to give us our due. We need to engage our representatives at all tiers of governance to push our development agenda. Many Nigerians remain shocked that we have such bad roads and yet many of us remain silent. I believe that this represents a major challenge for the outgoing and incoming leadership of Nzuko Arochukwu. As a community, we need to re assert ourselves and reignite a new season of communal mediated developmental projects in Arochukwu.

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