IN THE BEGINNING
The people of Okoni Ibom allocated a large parcel of land to Nzuko ndi Ikom na Inyom( as Nzuko Aro was then called) on August, 7, 1975. Work on the site commenced subsequently. A foundation for the hall was laid and work on channelization of rain water, given the topography of the site was started and concluded as a prelude for the main project. However work stopped because of other pressing community problems as well as lack of funds. Some of the conflicting needs were:
- The building of the Arochukwu Local Government Secretariat
- The celebration of Eze Kanu Oji’s 72nd anniversary on the throne of Arochukwu kingdom by the Aro Royal Commission on which I served as the Financial Secretary
- Burial ceremonies of the beloved Eze Aro, late Mazi Kanu Oji
….. THEN A NEW START
On February 14th 1990, the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of Nzuko Aro under the leadership of Mazi Emma Okorafor( PG) appointed a new eleven member Civic Centre Project Committee constituted as follows:
- Mazi Sam I. Ohuabunwa – Chairman
- Mazi Dave Imoko. – Secretary
- Mazi Emma K. O Ivi – Financial Secretary
- Elder ( Eze) I.O. Onoh. – Treasurer
- Chief Emma Nwokoro – Technical Member
- Arch. Chima Chijioke – Technical Member
- Engr Mathias Okoro – Technical Member
- Mazi Okoro Mmadu – Technical Member
- Mazi. K. D. Okoronkwo – Member
- Mazi Nnanna Ngwu – Member
- Nwa-Mazi Okoro Nwaka. – Member
At its maiden meeting on March 3, 1990, the committee decided to seek the approval of Nzuko Arochukwu’s General Assembly to amend the original design and plan as these did not meet the expectations and challenges of the future growth of Arochukwu. This was approved and the project committee went to work.
A new survey of the land was carried out by Mazi Ochiabuto( late). A topographical survey was carried out by Surveyor Vin Nwokoro, then of the University of Nigeria in same year 1990
Arc Chima Chijioke’s firm- Landmark Associates offered to do the architectural design of the centre pro bono. They produced a masterpiece in 1991. The components of the master plan was as follows:
- Assembly a Hall with a capacity for 3000 people
- Offices for the Union
- Committee rooms
- A gallery (library/museum) where relics, books, antiquities, and other items of Arochukwu culture would be displayed and stored.
- Amphitheater – that would seat up to 2000 people for cultural displays and town meetings.
- Shopping Mall to be rented for commercial use
- Communications centre
- Detached kitchen for community cooking
- Parking lot
Then the structural designs were commissioned and these were also completed same 1991.
Mazi F. O. S Orji (now late ) from Amuvi was selected as the initial contractor, following the refusal of Mazi Nwabalogu (contractor ) from Isimkpu village to accept our offer.
Chief Francis Orji, the then Deputy Governor of Imo State performed the foundation laying ceremony on March 30, 1991.
Actual physical development started during the Ikeji Aro in September 1991 as we struggled to raise funds for the off take. Materials were provided by direct purchase under the control of Mazi Isaac Onoh- Eze Ogo Agbagwu and treasurer of the committee. At that time a preliminary estimate for building the hall was about 5M Naira but this was revised to about 20M in 1997 while 100M was estimated for completing the entire complex.
Work progressed steadily as we actively sought for funds up till 1994, when work slowed down again due to several matters demanding urgent intervention by the Union:
- Eze Aro legal tussle
- Eze Aro coronation/ reception
- College of Education Technical, Arochukwu
- Boundary disputes with our neighbours, etc
- Funds that would have been used for the civic centre project were channeled to the above overriding projects which by the grace of God were accomplished. But before work stopped the foundation and the connecting beams and column had been completed, water reservoirs built, ready for filling and block work
- To emphasizes accountability, and to depart from mistakes of the past, we published the Civic Centre news which gave details of how much had been completed, who contributed what and how the money was spent
- Vol 1, No 1 was published in September 1991
- Vol 1, No 2 was published in December 1991
- Vol 2 No 1 was published in December 1992
- Vol 3 No 1, was published in December 1993
- As at 1994, the following was the statement of income and expenditure:
- Total Receipts= N 585, 715.00
- Total Expenditure= N584, 823.70
- Balance = N 891.30
Thus between 1994-1998, the project virtually stopped because of the competing demands I mentioned above
RENEWED IMPETUS BY THE ARO 2002 CENTENARY COMMEMORATION
On assumption of office as President General on 26, December 1997, we set our focus primarily on how to galvanize the Aro people all over the world for the commemoration of the 100th year anniversary of the British- Aro War of 1901-1902.
To execute this program we needed a venue and therefore very strenuous effort was made to realize the civic centre which name had now been changed on the advice of the Eze Aro Advisory council to the Arochukwu Historic and Cultural Centre. Despite our best effort including transversing the whole world we managed to complete the floor slab and raised many of the columns and beams. This was at the same as we were raising funds to host the global event.
Thus we resumed work in May 1999 with a new contractor, Mr Enebeli recommended by Arc. Chima Chijioke, completed the slab, the retainer walls and some of the columns and beams. It was on this slab that we erected the large tent which housed the Aro 2002 commemoration. Between 1999 and 2003, when I left office, a total of 9.15Million Naira was invested in the Historic and Cultural Centre (civic centre) through several efforts that included general levies, millennium ticket sales, Ugwu Aro awards, flag- off ceremonies in Lagos, Umuahia and in the USA.
Thus total expenditure on the centre up to 2003 was 9.15+ 0.58 = 9.73 million Naira
….. DE-CELERATION, ACCELERATION and FINAL PUSH
Mazi E.KO Ivi succeeded me and during his term accelerated work on the centre, having been part of the effort all along succeeding in doing civil works and bringing on the roofing trusses putting on some long span aluminum roofing elements. During his tenure the sum of 17.775 million Naira was expended on the project. He was succeeded by Mazi Nnamdi Udoh who also tried his best in moving the project forward with additional civil works, structural steel for the upper roof and procuring additional aluminum long span roofing elements. He spent about 17. 035 million Naira on the project. Mazi Geroge Ezuma came in 2016 as PG and God motivated our brother Dr. Alex Otti to lead a final dedicated push that has brought the civic centre hall to completion in December 2017(42 years after! ). Therefore before this final push the sum of 44. 540 million Naira had been invested in this most critical community project.
We are thankful to God that this project that was conceived during the reign of Mazi Emmanuel Okorafor as PG, and sustained by Mazi UK Udonsi, my humble self, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, Mazi E.K.O Ivi, Mazi Nnamdi Udoh has come to final fruition during the reign of Mazi George Ezuma. To God be the glory and may God bless all those known and unknown, dead or living who contributed to the eventual realization of this project. What about the other phases- amphitheater, gallery /museum etc? Time will tell!
Mazi Sam I. Ohuabunwa OFR, MON
Secretary -General Nzuko Aro( 1992-1997)
President General, Nzuko Aro( 1998-2003)