VIEW POINT By Okey Agunyego
Inspiring Patriotism and Community Development
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”. United States President J.F Kennedy in his inaugural address 1960.
Patriotism explicitly is the love of one’s country and loyalty towards it. This is applicable also at community levels and the subject matter is Onitsha. What I consider as a new sense of patriotism is what we can physically do for the town. Put differently, what can you do for the town? Or what have you done for the town?
I strongly suggest that this poser becomes our rallying cry and mantra for our people. An advantage that comes to light is that patriotism can spawn community development.
A major characteristic of Onitsha people is the vaunted stance; a bottomless amour –propre which others sometimes consider as arrogance and uppity. If we cast our minds back, we will find out that this unique element is connected with the past glories that propelled Onitsha to a front line city.
We had various decided advantages at the time. To a great extent we no longer hold much of the advantages that placed us in the first league. Our complacency did not help matters. It fueled a bad situation, turning to an advantage to others waiting naturally to take the lead. Yet some of our people are indifferent and some of us feel agitated and rattled about that low level of development and competitiveness. Be that as it may, it makes no sense wallowing in gloom except we fail to act.
Let us recall that those who were instrumental in fashioning out the envious position in the past were our people. We still have people with hearts of gold and hearts in the right places but obviously they are not enough in our quest for distinction. Let me also restate the trite point that there is no community without problems. Ours is a sheer slide from previous top position. Therefore ensuring adequate contributions by all to the community in our life time will speed up the desired distinction. It is not a one off thing.
What follows are our slip ups, missed opportunities and how our tomorrow can be saved and guaranteed.
One of the otiose slogans ‘Aka utu, aka Okpo’ reflects our attitude but becomes worrisome because it goes on to validate the remark, hence our indifference. Barely four years ago, the monthly due by each member of Onitsha Improvement Union to Onitsha O.I.U Headquarters was thirty naira a month. The attempt to raise it to one hundred naira a month was resisted by many professionals amongst us. It took a long time before a settlement on fifty naira a month which translates to six hundred naira a year was accepted. In some families the monthly dues a member pays is thirty naira a month. Most families rely on money (tuke) realized during social outings for individual benefits and nothing of any kind for development. That is primeval.
In the recent Anambra Day in Lagos, we later learned that other towns paid between ten and fifty thousand naira for the breaking of the kolanuts while we paid five thousand. The committee resolved not to accept five thousand naira in future. We never considered that our donation will be questioned but arising from this event, we will have to measure up in the coming year. Strangely some of us are not bothered if we joined Association of Anambra State Development Union Lagos. As I have highlighted in past papers, you cannot benefit from where you are not committed to. Be it known that the association in discussion has influence in the States affairs. Therefore we cannot deny ourselves the benefits / developments arising from such understanding. “Ochupulu onwei na ugbo, sina ugbo eleuteroya? Back to the slogan Aka Utu, aka okpo, it is desirable to have it changed to ‘Aka utu, obodo adimma. That is the desired slogan we would imbibe to participate in the building of the community. It passionately supports the interests of the town.
It is unbelievable that a benevolent retired Engineer who wanted to give Ogbeoye market a face lift in the 80’s by constructing lock – up shops and open shops with borehole, drainage, toilets etc. at no fees was rebuffed. The market then with rusted pans was unsightly. The offer in no way debarred the owners of the market from collecting their ground rents. A plaque indicating that the edifice was a gift from the donor was all the benevolent retired Engineer expected. Village ‘politics’ marred this noble project. The man was asked to build a market in his village. What can I say? This attitude stands to dishearten other benefactors. And we must begin to shed our narrow outlook that constricts development if we must be in the race of excellence. We have heard ‘stories’ about a psychologist that carried out a study on Onitsha people, portraying that we are not given to self – help. To me this idea is dead on arrival. It is another idea that circumscribes our commitments.
Let me call it a conjecture, because Onitsha Improvement Union in 1924 had self – help as major thrust. Members that won election into Onitsha Town Council in 1934 were instrumental in tarring roads, erecting public building etc.
The notion that Onitsha people do not have ‘big’ money compared to our other Ibo brothers to me is not persuasive. Otherwise how will you place our penchant to muster funds for socials and pageantry, even though we fail to muster same for development? A big problem that must be cracked is how to increase our competiveness and distinction. Few years back, in company of other friends, we visited a late friend whose daughter got married. Of note, our late friend is not from Onitsha but held Onitsha dear. He told his daughter to accept our humble gifts and further commented that Onitsha people are not given to donating huge money. We had a laugh and even though the event passed on well, I figure that the Implication was dire. We allowed ourselves to be put in a box. Being circumscribed affects our psyche and commitment towards community development.
It is worrisome too that we have excluded ourselves from commercial trading. Our people that are artisans are no near adequacy to compete effectively with others. We lack adequate plumbers, tillers, masons ironmongers, carpenters, electricians furniture makers, mechanics, draught men etc.
Unlike in the past where our mothers and grandmothers were successful traders and our grandfathers were missionary trained artisans the situation is now worse. Let it be known that no community has the preserve of trading.
I am not sure that the two skilled acquisition centers at Onitsha North and South have been fully equipped. Elsewhere I mentioned a Building School in Yaba, Lagos that trains all trades in building. We surely need such school but we would need to sensitize our youths adequately on the importance of artisans. Definitely, the school is a good investment and serious contribution towards the community development. I sincerely believe that individuals, associates and exiting secondary schools can handle this project. I expect that the benefactors among us will sponsor youths to these courses.
The prerogative of Igwe in conferring titles to citizens is not in doubt. I would like to suggest that an additional criteria for those to be conferred would be what they have done for the community. This applies to Agbalanze, Otu Odu and those to be honoured by the Monarch. With consistency, we have chances to beef up our commitments to community developments. Over time, we will also begin to see competition by people on what to offer. My openings quote in my previous write – up on Criteria for Onitsha Role of Honour reads – “No person was ever honoured for what he receives. Honour has been the rewards for what he gave”. -Calvin Coolidge 30th US president 1872 -1933. Let us therefore tap into this opportunity to advance our development.
Another worrisome problem is that we often neglect opportunities and windows to raise money. Having written much on it, I will summarize them.
Celebrating Onitsha which is over 500 years is a great outlet to rake in donation for various projects. If you like to know Sokoto in 2002 celebrated 200years of the Caliphate existence. A launch appeal to construct Obi’s residence at Ime Obi will also attract donors from within and outside the community and outside the country. Also feasible is the levy contributions by Onitsha adults. For a levy of N2000 in a year for every adult Onitsha persons estimated at 40,000 persons will generate N80, 000,000. Hike it to N5000 levy for every adult every year and using same population estimate it will give you N200, 000,000. Some irregularities apart, this is a handsome amount to pursue any project. Accountability is one of the obstacles but this and other wedges can be handled with effective sensitization of our people. I look forward to the approval from the Ruling Council on the issues raised and I expect Onitsha Improvement Union Headquarter to liaise with her Branches and other Think Tanks in handling the sensitization, logistics and networking of this project. This is a sure way to distinction and we must not fail ourselves.
We have missed some opportunities in the past. In the 1996 interview late Chinyelugo Azike Emodi and myself on behalf of Ado Circle gave Akupuome Nnamdi Ozobia the then Managing Director of Niger Docks, we were informed that in a matter of weeks Onitsha Ado Youths Movement (ONYM) will launch luxurious buses on Lagos – Onitsha route. Sad it did not take place. Had it worked and well-coordinated, they would have been competing with Libra, GUO motors and others. It was a missed opportunity to provide job opportunity to some of the youths. I am not sure that there is any person or organization from Onitsha in motor transportation or haulage.
Sometimes, because of our vaunted attitude we mouth non expletive remarks against people from other towns in the State, especially in social settings where some of these neighbors attend. There is need for diplomacy and caution but not fright on our side. I have in many works reminded people that the race / competition in Anambra is between Onitsha and other twenty Local Government in other towns. Without forging alliances and without lobbying we will find it difficult to hold State positions and that of the Governor. I am not sure that in 500 years of Onitsha, that there are families without blood relations with other communities
Development does not always relate directly to commercial benefits. The benefits from trees are many. Beyond aesthetic values, shade and erosion prevention, trees absorb much of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Trees therefore are good for our health. Onitsha is gradually loosing greenness. I am aware that His Royal Highness loves green. I am using this call for him or any of his cabinet members to urgently flag off tree planting during World Environmental Day or any other auspicious time.
It is obvious that you cannot achieve excellence without sacrifice. As with other articulations, we need sustained sensitization from different arms of governance. Benefactors must be encouraged ‘Eto dike Ome Ozo’. Otiose remarks should be replaced with meaningful maxims.
One fundamental issue that has not been resolved is the succession of Diokpaship. This has dismembered many families and villages. It is high time that issues that divide us were bridged.
We are also yet to know which family the Okaplaship of Onitsha rests on. Is it from Oreze or Chimaevi families; both brothers. This historical position requires thorough perception such that the town can be saved from contention that might arise from it. It has to be thrashed for posterity. You cannot get the best out of patriotism and development where contentious issues abound. ‘Ana esi na uno amalumma welu pua ilo’
Let us challenge ourselves to think boldly and sell brave ideas that will create striking effects. It is ‘ZEST’ in action. I reckon that not all that matters are treated in this work. But I sincerely hope that this piece will strike a responsive chord
“Aka Utu,Obodo Adimma”
Okey Maduegbunam Olisa Agunyego
His Grace Lodge
Isolo Okota Lagos
NB: My Publication; a 600 page of selected works on Onitsha matters 1995 – 2017 and titled Onitshaness will soon be out.
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