Arochukwu needs urgent help in all spheres. For a town that has been left to drift for years without requisite infrastructural development, skeptics might ask, of what need is the development of tourism? Truth is that tourism may be Aro’s saving grace now- fastest pathway to rapid and sustainable development.
Poor State of Affairs: Arochukwu has more or less been a neglected town by successive governments at all levels, and most heartbreaking too, by Aro citizens themselves. Over the years, majority of Aro citizens have perfected ways of paying mere lip service to Arochukwu. And so year in, year out practically nothing gets done in spite of zillion hours of ineffectual meetings by various Aro based societies, clubs and associations. In other words, meetings are relentlessly held as a matter of idle routine, just for the sake of meetings and nothing more.
It’s therefore not a surprise that all the indices for measuring human development and happiness in Aro prove abysmally negative. Provision of primary and secondary health care for the people is almost non-existent. If a town with nineteen villages and adjoining communities cannot boast of the presence of a minimum number of five resident medical doctors at any given point, then the crisis is much worse than anyone can image. Primary and secondary education for children and youth suffers from poor funding, lack of qualified teachers to non-availability of educational facilities and instructional resources. Also, the unemployment rate in Aro is far above the national average due to the absence of industrial, business or entrepreneurial activities. Mortality rate (including maternal and infant mortality) remains very high as no weekend passes without multiple funerals or ceremonies associated with them .Need add that most of the deaths are linked to lack of access to quality medicare, poor dietary patterns and poverty.
Furthermore, the result of Arochukwu people’s collective inaction and negligence of their town is evidenced in the impassable internal roads in all the villages, undeveloped village markets and squares; the Civic centre project at Oror which is taken over by weeds and reptiles and now a white elephant; very low business activities, near total absence of entrepreneurial activities, very low farming activities resulting in over-dependence on other communities for food supply and non-availability of basic services that sustain human happiness and progress.
There is no doubt that self-centredness and personal aggrandizement on the part of most individuals and socio-cultural organizations in Aro and the diaspora on one hand, and lack of clear vision by all the levels of leadership and followership in Arochukwu would be implicated, if critical performance appraisals were to be conducted on the town from 1970 to 2015.
REMODELLING ARO AS A TOURIST DESTINATION
Story in the 21st century sells like hot cake. All over the world people are eager to tell, and by so doing sell their stories. For instance, the Nelson Mandela story is a multi-million dollar industry. Thus, each year people from all over the world troop to South Africa as tourists/hearers of that story. In 2013 “over 14 million arrivals” were recorded by South Africa and that greatly boosted the local economy.
Also, for centuries, Egypt has been pushing the pyramids’ story, so much so that tourism remains its main source of income. “Egypt’s income from tourism in 2014 stood at USD 7.5 billion”, and the number of tourists that visited Egypt ranged between 10-15 million.That will definitely decline in 2015 following the downing of the Russian flight over the Sinai Peninsula in November 2015.
Furthermore, 98 million tourists visited Orlando, Florida to see and hear the Walt Disney story alongside the American story in 2014. In the first quarter of 2015, 54.1 million tourists had already visited placing Florida ahead of New York in terms of the most preferred tourist destination in the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. To lose sight of the importance of tourism in sustaining growth and reducing poverty especially in Nigeria that is faced with increasing dwindling crude oil prices is to act in unforgiveable error and ignorance.
THE AROCHUKWU STORY
Arochukwu has a story, a great story. It’s a story etched in the wider African experience. It’s a fascinating story. For instance, how did the ancient Aro succeed in establishing over a hundred trade settlements and communities all over the territory that later came to be known as the South Eastern region of Nigeria? What
propelled and sustained that vision? An inquisitive fellow may answer off the cuff: Passion!
What role did the Ibn-Ukpabi or Long Juju play in the ingenuity of the ancient Aro in trade and diplomacy? How did the ancient Aro use the Long Juju as an instrument of power and authority? How was such power sustained for such a long time over several generations? How come Aro was not interested in annexing or establishing territories for political reasons, but merely used such territories to further its economic interests? Why did Aro fail to harness the enormous influence and power it garnered from dozens of settlements and communities it had as territories? How did the Aro resist the incursion of the British expeditionary forces up until 1902 when Aro finally yielded to the superior power of the British? How did ancient Aro conduct their wars? What made the typical ancient Aro man an intriguing character?
Where exactly is the site of the Long Juju grove? The time to unseal the tight lips Aro has officially maintained on the Ibin-Ukpabi story has come. The story should be declassified to some extent in the 21st century.Moreso, the true Ibin-Ukpabi site should be mapped out and re-opened, with some aspects of the site rehabilitated for the purpose of tourism and possible recognition and inclusion by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. If that had been done earlier than now, Aro would have been better for it. The Long Juju story would have by now come to the same level or even surpassed the stories around Calabar, Badagry or Cape Coast Castle in Ghana in terms of recognition and heavy source of foreign exchange income for Arochukwu people.
The new yam festival in Aro is a month long activity culminating in the Ikeji/Eke Ekpe ceremony. The question is: Are things just going to remain as they are without the addition of value and increase of significance? Thus, Ikeji can be repackaged and made better and bigger so that as people from all over the world look forward to travelling to Calabar at Christmas, people can also look forward to coming to Arochukwu for the Ikeji/Eke Ekpe Carnival.
Succinctly put, the Aro story can be patented, branded and packaged into a multi-million dollar tourism industry. All that is needed to make it happen is passion driven by uncommon vision. The local economy of Arochukwu will be better for it. Also, there is nothing in our culture and tradition that forbids the present generation of Aro improving on the things their ancestors established. To continue to mystify some of these things and shroud them in secrecy and darkness when they can to modified or modernized to enhance the welfare and happiness of the people reeks of great disservice to Arochukwu
HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN?
It can only happen when every man and woman of Aro descent begins to see the development of Arochukwu as a personal task and responsibility. That task is not the responsibility of any government- people, not government drives meaningful development and growth especially in rural communities all over the world. Aliens from Mars cannot come down to develop Arohukwu, it’s the people that must supply the architectural framework that will stimulate sustainable growth and development. If Nzuko Aro (in conjunction with all the Diaspora organizations, clubs and village associations) tasks all employed citizens between 50000-100000 naira each within the next three-five years; and the money is honestly managed in a Development Trust Fund, there is no project Arochukwu cannot embark upon and completed within a record time.
ALL HANDS ON DECK
The Palace, leadership of Nzuko Aro, Aro diaspora organizations such as All Aro USA, Aro in UK, Aro in Ireland,Aro in Canada,Aro in Germany, Aro at home, Umuaro in towns and cities all over the world and Nigeria must refrain from playing games with Arochukwu and become change agents -vehicles for the stimulation of meaningful growth and harnessing of vital resources for the development of Arochukwu. Nzuko Aro and all the other organizations,clubs and societies can do much more than being platforms for mere “beer quaffing and lame social exchanges”. With Nzuko Aro leading and effectively coordinating things the enormous opportunities and capacities being wasted now can be harnessed for the transformation of Arochukwu for good. For only selfless communal service to Arochukwu can deliver Arochukwu from the shackles of poverty, stagnation and underdevelopment it has suffered for centuries.
Entrepreneurs and such other business people should be encouraged and prevailed upon by the community to open their businesses in Aro. Arochukwu can adopt the Israeli model of development prior to its recognition by the United Nations as a sovereign state in 1947: Every citizen do whatever you can to help Arochukwu.
Eze Aro’s Palace as an institution with vast institutional memory on Arochukwu is in itself a tourist destination, which any important visitor to Aro would like to visit. It’s for this purpose that for years, AroNews, through this column has consistently advanced the proposition for the construction of a more befitting palace for the Eze Aro throne without any requisite support. That building when constructed shall serve as the official residence of anybody who ascends the throne of Eze Aro. Whenever the throne is vacant, the official residence is refurbished and prepared for the next Eze Aro.
Tourists visit tourist sites, therefore, cultural sites must be established or created where none exists. The sites must be built to international standard, and made accessible and good enough for people to visit and learn about the history and civilization of Arochukwu people.
Traditional institutions such as the Mgbala Ekpe in all the villages must be refurbished or redesigned and made aesthetically attractive as tourist attractions. Every village must task its members for the construction of its internal roads. For Aro story to have a worldwide audience and appeal there is need for the emergence of local institutions that will act as vehicles and agents in bearing that story.
Ulo nta okoroji,the Ibn-Ukpabi grove and such other places should be marked out and upgraded into museums, monuments, parks, malls, shrines, civic centres and information centres. One of the challenges historians and researchers into Aro history and civilization are always faced with has been the dearth of artifacts, relics, monuments and such other tools which bear witness to past epochs and times. Therefore, local craft men and women should be ready to engage in, and sustain the new trade in artifacts, memorabilia and relics which have their motifs and themes on Aro culture and civilization. The grandeur of the ancient Aro, the splendour of all epochs in Aro history and civilization bears great and unassailable testimony to our illustrious ancestors.
Also, new hotels, Resorts, Restaurants, Eateries, hospitals, Cybercafes, Banks, Bureau de Change, Schools, must open in Aro. There must be artifacts, memorabilia and such local industries that must sustain and power the Aro story. The Aro leadership at all levels and the elites should key into this vision and all efforts must be geared towards prevailing on the federal government of Nigeria to construct the Arochukwu-Ohafia federal road so as to reduce the time spent on the road by Aro citizens and potential tourists.