SG Ikoku, Alex Otti & Aro Civic Center Project

Orji Ogbonnaya Orji, PhD

History will made on the 26th of December 2017, when the Arochukwu Civic Center project will be commissioned and  opened for public use, 42 years after it was conceived. The completion  of  the project  has been a journey in the wilderness until the intervention of one man, Dr. Alex Otti whose leadership found the oasis. Dr. Alex Otti may not be the richest man in Arochukwu today. And I do not think he is. Because they are richer men in money and diverse resources in Aro kingdom than one may ever imagine. These are silent billionaires that sneak in and out, neither heard nor seen even in most hours of need in the community.  The difference between Alex Otti  and  others in his class is that Alex  is a man that does not withstand shame; a man that likes challenges no matter how complex, a man  that  believes  that “tough projects require tough men’ to accomplish.

The decision by Alex  Otti  to lead, mobilise support for  the completion of  Aro Civic Center project, 42 years after the project was conceived is by all means historic. The initiative is like    squeezing  water  out  of  rock. One generation to another including those yet unborn will  tell  the story  because  it is an ever lasting  legacy and a good  reference.

Alex  Otti’s intervention in the completion of the project is better appreciated  by  the   story of  late Mazi SG Ikoku’s  prediction when the project started.  In 1991, exactly (26 years ago)  Mazi SG Ikoku was invited as special guest of honour during the launching  and   foundation laying ceremony of the civic center. He attended with his wife. It was reported that during that event,  Mazi SG sat quietly on  the high table as prominent Aros and  invited guests announced high sounding donations and pledges in support of the project.  According to the story, when  it was  SG Ikoku’s turn to speak, the radical politician and erudite scholar took the microphone and announced that  he will be responsible for the  total cost of the roofing of the mighty edifice. His announcement drew highest and standing ovation from all and sundry. He was ranked the highest donor and his gesture was the talk of the town.  However, his wife was quite upset that her husband made a promise beyond his financial capacity. While the couple drove home after the launching, Mrs. SG Ikoku promptly reprimanded her husband and conveyed her disapproval in clear terms. Her concern was that her husband’s pledge would rubbish the man’s reputation when the time comes.  But Mazi SG Ikoku laughed loudly over his wife’s concerns. He  told the wife to remain calm that the Aro Civic Center Project WILL NEVER  reach the roofing stage during his life time. And therefore,  a demand on him to fulfil his pledge will never arise while he was alive. “That was why I choose the roofing”,  he reassured, his wife’. He predicted   that from past experience, failed promises, poor commitment, corruption and  mismanagement of funds will frustrate  the project.

By the time,  Mazi SG died about  1997, the Civic Center project was around  the DPC level and the site over grown by weeds. SG Ikoku’s  prediction therefore came to pass. The prediction by the late elder statesman largely defines our common poor attitude towards management of community assignments especially if driven by public funds.  In many circumstances, such projects remain open to all kinds of abuses with no one held accountable.  The story of Arochukwu Civic Center project began in 1975, clearly 42 years ago. That  was  when the idea was conceived.  Prominent Aro sons behind the project who are still  alive today to tell the story are quite few. They include Mazi UK Udonsi,  Kanu Ivi, Sam Ohuabunwa, Dr. Sam Nwangoro, Dave Imoko, Prof Okoro Ijoma and Arch Chima Chijioke who developed the architectural drawing. The objective was to build a befitting community  hall  that will provide  usual  venue  to discus, debate, dialogue and plan for Aro development. The Civic Center is also to serve as a platform for leaders to meet over   issues of conflict prevention, management and resolution. It was also intended to provide conducive environment for celebration of achievements, Aro culture, weddings, and social events.

At the time when the idea was conceived, there was no structured central community development union to champion implementation. What existed in Aro was  more  of  proliferation of all kinds of associations by villages, individuals and groups with different vision and mission. That  was  why  notable Aro elites led by Dr. Sam Nwangoro and  Dr. Nwakanma Okoro moved for the unification of all Aro development unions  into one strong central union. A joint action committee to bring this about was set up with Mazi Lancaster Okoro as Chairman. The Mazi Lancaster Okoro Committee Report provided the framework for the formation of Nzuko Arochukwu in 1981. Nzuko Aro was therefore  born  from  the amalgamation of the various development unions that sprang up after the Nigerian Civil War. Mazi Emmanuel Okoroafor (mazi Avonta) was elected the first President General with a clear mandate to purse  vigorously  the take -off  and completion of the town hall project. The committed  efforts by  Mazi Emmanuel Okoroafor led Nzuko  Aro Exco resulted in  the laying of  the foundation stone of the Civic Center project  in 1991.

Between 1991 and 2016, the project saw all seasons- rainfall, dry season, hamatan, summer, winter, spring including the good, the bad and the ugly that came with each. For instance, execution of the project was characterized by  one -year -one -block, one -step -forward, four –steps- backward. Countless fund raising ceremonies were not only held but became annual rituals. At a point both the organisers and invited guests for the events viewed each other  with equal  suspicion. The organisers and donors hardly trusted  that the outcome will lead to  any impact.  On their part,  the  poor, ordinary Aros on the street viewed the project as a fraud and  an elite conspiracy.  Blame games  and accusing fingers of malfeasance,  poor accountability, broken promises, poor judgement, were common. In the midst of this quagmire, the Aro civic center project appeared like an orphan,  a failed project, abandoned. It really became a huge embarrassment to the community.

And the big  relief only came on December 26th, 2016, during the usual Aro Day ceremony.  Dr. Alex Otti announced that within one year, precisely (December 26th, 2017) the Civic Center project will be completed, commissioned and put to use. Many but a few took the pledge seriously. But those familiar with Alex Otti, knew that he was a man whose word is bond. A man you can take his pledge to the bank  as  a collateral. That with Alex Otti, stepping in, to take over the project, “a Daniel” like William Shakespeare wrote,  has  finally  come to judgement.  And they were right. The rest is now history. The completion and commissioning of the Civic Center today, December 27th 2017 is a promise made and a promise kept.  Yes, Dr Alex Otti did not do it alone. Many if not almost all prominent Aro men and women contributed. But Dr Otti provided the required commitment, efficiency, open, transparent, accountable leadership needed at this time. He also invested his material resources including  his  human, political,  business and social capital into the project.  Amaikpe salutes Ugwuaro!  for his courage, love for Arochukwu,   and determination to succeed where many had failed in the past. We equally thank all donors to this project both within and outside Aro. For those who have died, we pay tribute on this day and on this project. You have not laboured in vain.  The unveiling of Arochukwu Civic Center project today has no doubt opened a new paradigm  for a  new approach to implementation of community development projects in our community. I  believe  that  a lot of  lessons have been learnt. The challenge perhaps lies in the application of those hard lessons in tackling future challenges facing our community today.   Only time shall tell.    This is wishing You a Merry  Xmas and  a Happy New Years.


About author

Orji Ogbonnaya Orji

Dr. Orji Ogbonnaya Orji is a renowned journalist and well known broadcaster of repute in Nigeria. He is currently the Director, Communications at the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Presidency Abuja. He has held high ranking media and public communication appointments in Nigeria’s federal government. In 2009, he was appointed Special Adviser to Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Communications, having earlier served as Special Adviser (media & public relations) to the President of the Senate at the National Assembly from 2000 to 2003. He was also Head of Media and public Affairs at the Bureau of Public Procurement at the Presidency, worked for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Abuja as communications consultant among others. A graduate of mass communication at the Institute of Management and Technology IMT Enugu, he attended the Institute of Advanced Media Studies Cardiff U.K. Orji holds a Bsc in political Science, Masters and Ph.D respectively in political economy and development studies from the University of Abuja. He is also a Senior Executive Fellow at the Harvard University Kennedy School. For his contributions to the development of Aro, he is honored as Ikemba and remains in the National Executive Committee of Nzuko Aro as Chairman Political/ Government Relations. From Ugwuavor Village, Arochukwu, Orji is married with three children.

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