When Arochukwu becomes a vulture!

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Ogbonnaya Akoma

Vultures belong to the cathartidae species of birds. They belong to the group of birds which have the brightest eye-sights in nature – they are, according to recent researches from anthologists and scientists, capable of sighting minutest carrion and carcasses in the forests three or more kilometers while in flight, the way bears and elephants smell their prey and water some kilometres away respectively.  In fact, the vulture had been described as the ‘sanitary inspectors of the skies’ by a famous world religious journal way back in 1989, because of its unique feature of isolating and eating-up carcasses throughout the forests of the world.

This explains, even today, why the presence of vultures usually signify the fact that either there is a dead or petrifying animal some where, bird or any other organic matter around; or that the killing, cooking and the use of meal at ceremonies is taking place some where, in any part of Arochukwu or elsewhere, particularly when women go to cook during marriage or burial ceremonies in the town. The vulture is also a friend of the butchers, and knackers worldwide. The vulture is really ‘the sanitary inspectors’ of the environment and skies; as they eat up the carcasses that would have ordinarily be littering man’s physical environment, and bring about effluvia, stenches, ill-health, fouling the air and spreading of pathogens that cause ill-health and diseases. In this sphere, the vultures become life-savers that keep human beings healthy as they ‘clean’ our physical environment.

What vultures do with carrion and carcasses has been what Arochukwu has been doing with dead bodies all along and, in this article, I will go ahead to call our attention to this ugly development and explain why it is bad and should be discouraged. While I was serving in the Health Office, Arochukwu as a Higher Health Superintendent in 1987, an incident occurred, and which I still recollect very well today. In November that year, the remains of a dead soldier were brought to a village in Arochukwu that I wouldn’t like to indicate here. When the British government officials brought the corpse to Arochukwu and to the village the soldier had indicated was his in Arochukwu, no one in that village could trace the family (or the dead soldier’s family name) in the village! It was not a joke; the situation was terrible and choking! So, the Brits were confused. In order to help out, the then Ezeogo conferred with some of the leaders of thought in the village, and a grave was dug immediately somewhere in the village, and the soldier buried while the burial rites of the dead soldier were subsequently given to the village head, and after which the soldiers of Her Majesty left for their land.

This is how Arochukwu has always been treated as a vulture that eats dead bodies and carcasses! The town has continued to be remembered only when those who claim to be Aros die; the town is never remembered when these so-called Aro men and women live; no; only when they die. This is where Arochukwu has become a vulture!

The situation as narrated above repeated itself in two villages in Arochukwu in April this year. In that month, a village was embarrassed when a man 99% of the villagers never saw or beheld, even for once while alive, was brought to Arochukwu for burial. I had gone to that village to have a discussion with a professional colleague who had returned to the village when one of the villagers who knew me had gone ahead to ask me whether I had come for the burial. I answered in the negative, and went ahead to explain how I had come for John, his fellow villager, for an enquiry. Having noted that I did not know the deceased and, therefore, did not come for his burial, the villager went ahead to explain to me how ‘nobody knows the man that is being buried today. We don’t know him; and no one else, apart from the members of the immediate family, knew him or had seen him in the village while alive. Many of us will go there just to eat and drink; not because we know the deceased. This is what we see in Aro here.’

In another village, a ‘prominent’ son of that village was buried in the same month of April. On the burial day, I had gone to my in-laws at Ndi Agor, Obinkita, Arochukwu for a reason. There, I met a former officer of the Abia State government I had come to know while I resided in Umuahia as a civil servant; and we exchanged pleasantries. It was during that the man had told me he had come to Ndi Agor to enquire whether his fellow pensioner had gone back to Umuahia or not. He went ahead to tell me that ‘we have a burial in my village now. But the person that is being buried is not known to any of us. They said he lived in Lagos and worked in a federal agency. We never saw him in our village even for once while he lived. He never built a house, came home on accasions as others did, nor interacted with his kinsmen. His children and family members only built a house for him after he had died, ostensibly for his burial. Since he did not interact with us while alive, I decided not to interact with him now he is dead! After all, all of us will die and go to our various graves! That is why I am out; otherwise, I wouldn’t be here now the burial is going on ….’

So, Arochukwu has continued to be a vulture many of us have continued to make it to be; a town that receives dead bodies and goes ahead to ‘eat’ them. While we shun the town of Arochukwu while alive and invariably do next to nothing to help it progress, we only come to her when we are dead and know nothing again! Many of us remember we are ‘Aro’ only in death! That is why there is hardly any day we do not have one burial ceremony or the other throughout the nineteen villages of Arochukwu throughout the year! Even, many of us who call ourselves Aro see the town in many different perspectives – some of us see the town as a place where we should go to attend burial or marriage ceremonies only, and no other time! Let me typify this by a personal experience.

Following my recent relocation to the Garden City of Port Harcourt (in August 2016) because of family reasons, I went to register and belong to that city’s branch of Isimkpu Progressive Union, where I would attend the monthly meetings. There, on my first day, I met many, very old men from my village I never set my eyes on or met even for once before, or known as my fellow villagers, many of them above seventy years of age; despite the fact that I had been living in Isimkpu village since December 1984, and going ahead to build my own three-room, mud house in the village as far back as April 1985! I had also continued to go to Aro every month as usual; and each time I told some of them I went to the village during our meetings, they would normally retort by asking me o di kwa mma (is it all right that you went to the village?)

The above question irritated and usually made me (and still makes me) feel bad, really. Yes; this is how many of those who call themselves Aro think that it is only when bad things happen that they should go to Arochukwu! Yes; this is how many ‘Aro’ people see Arochukwu today, their ‘home;’ they hardly go home; they only go home in death – when their corpses are taken to Arochukwu for burial by their children and relatives and, in the process, continue to make Arochukwu the vulture that eats the carrion and carcasses!

The situation is made worse by Diaspora-living nature of the Aros! That the Aros live in the Diaspora is a fact that is not disputable. This is because of five reasons as espoused and highlighted by Prof O C Nwana in 2002 at Michael Okpara Auditorium in a lecture during the Aro-British war centenary commemoration the Aros had marked that year (I re-produced those five reasons in chapter seven of my second book, Arochukwu in Nigerian Politics that was published in 2003).

So, as the Aros permanently live in the Diaspora in about three hundred and sixty communities scattered all over Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers states. Such Diaspora-living persons become ‘Aro’ and ‘go’ to Arochukwu town only when they are dead, as their children (those who are in the position to do so) might have hurriedly built houses for such deceased ‘Aro’ persons in Arochukwu where such dead bodies are interred and, in the process, continue to make Arochukwu the vulture that eats dead bodies and carcasses!

This should stop. Aros should come to Arochukwu when they are alive and not only when they are dead, as Arochukwu should not be treated further as a vulture that eats dead animals.

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