ebonyi mapAbakaliki is the capital of Ebonyi State and the largest town in the State. It is located at the intersection of Enugu, Afikpo and Ogoja Roads. Before it became state capital in 1996, Abakaliki was the headquarters of the Old Ogoja Province which is now part of the neighboring Cross River State.

The original inhabitants of Abakaliki were primarily the Izzi, a predominantly agrarian Igbo-speaking community people. With time, people from neighboring villages including the Ezza, Ikwo, Onicha and Ngbo people, as well as migrants and traders from other towns gradually settled in Abakaliki.

Before it became the State capital, Abakaliki was a small town known for its overflowing food markets. The people of Abakaliki and their neighbors were predominantly farmers who took advantage of the abundant and fertile to produce rice, fruits, vegetables, livestock and non-food items like limestone, rocks and gravel – all of which are abundant throughout the area.

Since it became state capital, Abakaliki has grown into a much larger town with modern facilities and a workforce that includes a growing number of civil servants, service providers and migrant workers who commute to work from neighboring towns and states.

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But Before, Ebonyi State that once was derogatorily nicknamed “Dust of the Nation” has now proudly renamed itself “Salt of the Nation.” It also seem to have buried its ‘dust’ symbol that had hung over its neck like an albatross as its march to development has changed its destiny. The guinea warm-infested province in the old eastern Nigeria where the inhabitants were seen by their fellow Igbo, and colonists as “second class citizens” has also shorn itself of that stereotype.
The story of Abakaliki cannot be complete without the story of Ebonyi State, nor can the history of Ebonyi be written without Abakaliki and the people of the area who were for very many decades subjected to gross neglect, notoriously ‘enslaved’ and perceived as ‘inferior ‘species’ by their Igbo neighbours who probably were more fortunate to have been exposed to the western education earlier following the coming of the white man to Igbo land. In his most honored book titled, The Ebonyi I Know, A Journalist’s Account, Mr. Felix Uka, an Abakaliki-based journalist with a national newspaper wrote, “…to most Nigerians, Abakaliki is Ebonyi State, and Ebonyi State is Abakaliki, inhabited by common yam and rice farmers.” He further stated, “Ebonyi State is made up of two major political blocks, Abakaliki and Afikpo. Traditionally, they have seven ethnic zones, the Ezza, Izzi, Ikwo, Ishielu in the Abakaliki block, while Afikpo, Edda and Ohaozara clans make up the Afikpo block.” Mr Uka is from Imo State but was born over 40 years ago in Abakaliki, where his parents worked as school teachers. He told Sunday Trust in a chat what Abakaliki used to look like in those days of darkness. ‘’Let me first of all try to give you a brief picture of what I met and know about Abakaliki. Before now, if you are going to Enugu from Abakaliki, you take along two dresses; one you wear and a bottle of water; if you get to the park at Enugu, you wash off the dust, put on another dress, and you repeat same process when you are coming back, for which reason it was called “dust of the nation”. And the dust is not the ordinary one but very sticky and brownish,” Uka recalled with nostalgia.
But Abakaliki was much more than that, depending on the side of the divide one stands. One of the founding fathers of what is known today as Ebonyi State, is His Royal Highness, Ezeogo Elder, Dr. Agom Eze, who is also the chairman, Ebonyi State Council of Traditional Rulers. He told our reporter inside his palace at Abakaliki that “Abakaliki was merely a provincial headquarters without infrastructure; it was just the headquarters of the old Abakaliki Division. Abakaliki used to be an only two-road town, Goni Street and the Ogoja Roa,”he added.
Concurring with the royal father, Secretary to the State Government, (SSG), who was also one of those that struggled in the 39-year-old agitation for the creation of Ebonyi State, Chief Fidelis Mbam, confirmed the non-existence of infrastructure in the Abakaliki province in those days.
According to Chief Mbam, “Abakaliki used to be a two-street town; the Ogoja road where travellers used to stop-by to either refuel their vehicles, eat or get their bearing correct; then, Goni Road, which was named after O. P. Goni, a colonial master who came here first, before any other Whiteman. These two roads were tarred under the defunct eastern Nigeria government. It was like this until our dream state was created. It took us 39 years struggle but in the end we got a saint that decided that he would damn all the consequences and give us the state, General Sani Abacha.”
“In those days, there were only two places where you could get electricity under the then ECN which was later renamed NEPA and now PHCN; electricity was connected to only few privileged places,” according to Mbam.
It might be interesting, retrospectively, to recapture the high degree of marginalization or oppression suffered by the Abakaliki people in the hands of their “dreaded Igbo brothers”. The celebrated Eton College-trained author, Mr Dillibe Onyeama in his biographical work on former Ebonyi State Governor, Dr Sam Ominyi Egwu entitled, “…And the Last shall be First: The Sam Egwu Phenomenon”, painted a clearer picture of the plight of the people then.
According to Onyeama, “The plight of the Abakaliki Igbos in those dark days of their repression was, really, a story of human shame against the rest of the Nigerian federation – let alone their immediate Igbo neighbours. In the early 1960s it was customary for the leading national newspaper, the Government-owned Daily Times of Nigeria, to depict the Abakaliki man as “the Stone Age man in the 20th century, always seen naked, carrying hoe and machete, the arch-type bushman, a barbarian who easily kills at the slightest provocation.” That was never a complimentary remark!
Worse still, the Ebonyi State Governor, Chief Martin Nwancho Elechi, also one of those that agitated tirelessly for the liberation of Abakaliki people from their ‘enslavement’ by the rest of the Igbos, has a much better description of the pitiable condition of his people in those days. In his book where he chronicled the struggle that spanned for 39 eventful years, Elechi wrote that the Igbos were “a dreaded monster who should not exist with the other tribes…While linguistically and culturally Abakaliki Division belonged to the Igbo category, in terms of opportunities for self-actualisation, general development and participation in national affairs, Abakaliki Division fared worse than most of the minority tribes , yet its people were dreaded as Ibos and they had their share of anti-Ibo feelings without a corresponding share of the good things of life by which the Ibos stood distinguished.”
According to Oyneama, as early as 1957, the 472,860 inhabitants of Abakaliki had not produced a single university graduate and had no post-primary school; the primary schools that were available between 1950 and 1958 were manned by teachers from Afikpo Division, with whom the Abakaliki people had established a closer fraternity with, more than any other Igbo group. This unhappy status, Onyeama wrote, was exploited by non-indigenes resident in Abakaliki, who clandestinely posed as indigenes to usurp the criminally insufficient scholarship awards that had been apportioned to the Abakaliki Division.
Even political timber and calibres (to borrow Dr K. O. Mbadiwe’s expression), like former Premier of Eastern region, the late Dr M. I. Okpara did not help matters then for the Abakaliki people. History has it that Dr Okpara was a practical example of one of the forces that were hell-bent on sitting down on the Abakaliki people in order to scuttle their liberation struggle. He was quoted to have said, “The proponents of Ebonyi State are just a few elements whose aim is to frustrate the Abia State Movement and are selfish seekers…”
History also has it that Abakaliki leaders were randomly hauled into jail on fabricated charges whereas their communal lands were illegally acquired by those who wanted to hold them down and make them cheap labourers forever. This devastating and disgraceful treatment was meted to the Abakaliki people regardless of their huge contributions to the growth and sustenance of then Eastern Nigeria economy through agriculture.
In 1983, Dr Okpara reportedly held a political rally at Abakliki and declared that export of the famous Abakaliki rice to Ghana in 1965 had earned his government three million British pounds. This was no mean feat when juxtaposed with the purchasing power of the Nigerian currency in those days and the careful handling of public finances.
Onyeama again recalled rather sadly, “…Still nothing was done to alleviate the dehumanizing conditions of the indigenes whose arable lands were feeding the nation with other such food items as yam, maize, cassava, cowpeas, cocoyam, and such crops as cashew, cocoa, palm oil, rubber, raffia palm, banana, plantain, soya beans, every imaginable tropical fruits, pepper, sugar cane, tomato, ogbono, okro and a host of others. Moreover, as a result of this neglect and marginalisation, other natural endowments since their discovery by the British colonists in 1923 remained untapped. These included bitumen, aluminium, limestone, zinc coal, salt, silica, sand, lead, copper…”
That was the background to the Abakaliki-led-Afikpo-supported 39 years of relentless struggle for the emancipation of Abakaliki people through the creation of Ebonyi State which was actualised on October 1st, 1996. That day, the late military Head of State, General Sani Abacha declared Ebonyi in a nation-wide broadcast as one of the 36 states that formed the Nigerian federation.
“In fact, the state derived its name from the Ebonyi River. The Ebonyi River is the famous river that snakes round; connecting the 13 local government areas in the states, and that is the beauty of the state. But it was also an impediment, a hindrance to commerce, relationships, industry; next door neighbours find it difficult to relate. Ordinarily, you find out that in a particular village, where the river snakes through, the one-minute-apart neighbour will find it difficult to relate. Sometimes people will have to go through Enugu state to access their next door neighbour because of lack of infrastructure. There were no roads and bridges connecting these people; life seemed to be very, very difficult for the people of Abakaliki area in those days,” according to the state Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Mr. Chike Emma Onwe, who gave an insight into how the state derived its name as well as the circumstances that go with it.
The first Administrator of the state was Navy Commander Walter Feghabor, followed by AIG (Assistant Inspector General) Simeon Oduoye, then the first civilian Governor, Dr. Sam Egwu and currently, Governor Martin Elechi.
According to 2006 population census, the Ebonyians are currently far more than three million, inhabiting 13 local government areas from where Development Centres were recently carved out just for administrative convenience. The Ebonyi people are predominantly agrarian and industrious on their savannah and semi-tropical vegetations. The state lies between 73 degree N Longitudes, 5 degree 4.E, with land mass approximated at 5,932 square kilometres and shares boundaries in the north with Benue State, east with Cross River, south with Abia and west with Enugu.
Since the creation of Ebonyi State with Abakaliki as capital, the story of the place and its inhabitants has changed so dramatically that like the Later Rain which, according to the Bible, shall be greater than the former, “the Last” now appears to be “the First”; what with the sons of Ebonyi State occupying prominent positions in the Nigeria of today. The current Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Anyim Pius Anyim is from Ebonyi. Ditto the Minister of Health, Prof. Christian Chukwu; former Minister of Education, Dr. Sam Egwu, among others. Such feat was unthinkable in the past!
Curiously, what has actually changed since the people got their freedom from their former “domineering and dreaded Igbo colonists”? “Since the creation of the state, Abakaliki took a new status both in infrastructure, and even the quality of life of the people. But before we talk about the infrastructure, we have to talk about the mindset of the people,” explained the government spokesman, Mr. Onwe.
According to Agom Eze, since the creation of Ebonyi state on October 1, 1996 with Abakaliki as the capital, it has undergone tremendous changes, thereby making those freedom fighters who supported Abakaliki as the capital to feel quite justified.
Presently, the dusty Abakaliki has, to a large extent, gradually vanished, giving way to a new-look, clean modern city. “Today, you can get into Abakaliki from anywhere clean and you leave also clean. But that is not to say that the state has gotten to the highpoint of the dream situation; but much has been achieved in respect to infrastructure development,” Mr. Uka told our reporter. He quickly added, “for me the greatest change I have noticed here is that you can now hope to drink very clean water from here the next three, four or five months going by what I have seen and what the government is saying.”
Architect DonHill Okolo, the Chief Executive of Project Nigeria Limited, an architectural and building construction firm based in Abakaliki since it became the state capital said, “When I came to Abakaliki, you looked around and you saw then there were just few houses which I believe were owned by ‘foreigners’ (non-indigenes). But now because of the creation of Ebonyi state, development started coming into the capital; Abakaliki started expanding because then the only place you get, may be, good houses was only on Izza Road; then the layout mostly, that’s where people live.”
In some cities developers build houses indiscriminately, thereby violating government regulations guiding the sector; does this also apply to Abakaliki? Moreover, does Ebonyi state capital have any master plan? Architect Okolo blamed the agency in charge of the sector for whatever observed anormaly in the field.
He said “The problem, I will say is from the people concerned; the agency concerned that allowed people to build indiscriminately, without proper planning. For example, an area could be marked out for two-storey buildings only but sadly you see some people building three, four-storey structures in the same area, thereby violating the original plan for the area. The agency concerned must be serious with what its officials are doing. If the officials of the concerned agency are weak or corrupt, people will continue to build the way they like and not in accordance with government plan.” The angry Okolo added, “We professionals in the field don’t like what is happening in the sector. Abakaliki , although is coming up rapidly, but it should borrow a leaf from places like Akwa-Ibom, Enugu where developers abide by government regulations.”
Architect Okolo doesn’t seem to know of any master plan for the development of Abakaliki. He said, “Although I don’t know about the Master Plan… From what I learnt, I don’t think they have a master plan for Abakaliki, although they might be using one like the Ochu Udo City which is on the outskirts of Abakaliki.”
The attitude of some indigenes not willing to let go their piece of land for government development projects could be as a result of their resistance to change. It has not been very easy for government to transform the people and the environment at the same time. Onwa, explained, “So our attitude was the very first thing that had to receive a boost because if you don’t have the right attitude, if you put the infrastructures, they will all fizzle out with time because the mindset of the people will not sustain them. But if you have the right mindset, you will have the right attitude towards all those things, towards your leadership, towards life generally; you will be able to place value on things that will come forth on the way of development.”
Onwe said when Governor Elechi was elected into office, he launched his administration on three planks, namely attitudinal change campaign, infrastructural development, and the third he called civil service reform, building professionalism in the civil service. He added that “through the attitudinal change campaign for which he created a directorate, the campaign has been on and rapid, getting the people to do things right because his maxim in life is: Nothing is right unless it is right.”
Agom Eze advised the Abakaliki residents to always imbibe maintenance culture, which he regretted, “we are lacking in Nigeria as a people.” He wants the average indigene of the state to understand that public building or public structures are for people, pointing out that the structures are, in other words, part of the people. “So people should be well informed on how to maintain government property sited in their areas,” he admonished.
The royal father added, “Even in the context of land acquisition, you have to develop on land. Even as we are developing a new Abakaliki, people should understand that the land has to be used to develop for individual use and public use, and the people should cooperate with whichever administration that is doing that.”
Providing potable water for the population and attacking from all fronts the ravaging guinea worm scourge to a standstill was a battle that must be fought with all the available weapons in the arsenal of the state government; at least to give the people a reasonable health status and make them have confidence in the government, Sunday Trust was informed.
“Guinea worm was the main threat, the main issue at stake, so much that when you were visiting Abakaliki, people would ask you if you were going to get infested by the guinea worm scourge,” according to the SSG, Chief Mbam, who quickly added, “Today, because we have our state, we have had a lot of those who love us, like world agencies; USAID, UNICEF, Jimmy Carter Foundation; all the agencies that gave us boreholes. These people came in and gave boreholes to everywhere in the state . And with the boreholes, the issue of guinea worm was set aside.”
Mbam stressed that one of the major tasks the government wants to achieve now is to make sure “we have reliable water scheme. So we have the Oferekpe Water Scheme, and Okawo Water Scheme. Each of them produces 100,000 cubic metres of water per day. And we have completed the reservoir; we are only involved in reticulation as at now.”
Reinforcing what the SSG said, the Commissioner for Public Utilities, Engr. Ben O. Okah told our reporter in a chat that, although the then Ezillo water treatment plant was not really functional but it was later rehabilitated. In collaboration with so many international and local agencies, Engr. Okah recalled how the state government even acquired borehole drilling equipments and began to drill boreholes everywhere under the military regime. “Later, guinea worm was eradicated close to 80 percent. So water was a major issue in the capital and indeed the entire state. Under this administration, the governor, Chief Martin Elechi, who was born and bred here, and understood the sufferings of his people in terms of water; he took up the job to rehabilitate the Ezillo water treatment plant and brought it up to 100 percent capacity which was about 40,000 cubic litres per day. But that was grossly inadequate compared to the growth of the state capital,” Okah explained.
He said the huge water project was conceived after a thorough study with international and local consultants, with the intention of building a water scheme that would take a population growth for 35 years. “We have, to a large extent, succeeded. That is a landmark achievement in the area of water,” he said.
Okah further explained the issue of social amenities or infrastructures such as power and access road network in the state. “Before the creation of the state, we had electricity in Abakaliki and Afikpo only. Since the creation of Ebonyi state, every community has electricity today. There is no community that hasn’t got electricity project in it today, and that’s about 177 communities in both Abakaliki and Afikpo in the past two years.”
He quickly added, “Before the creation of the state, the only tarred road was the one from Abakaliki to Ogoja but now we have network of roads, about 600 kilometer of tarred broads in the state, and more than 50 bridges built across the state.”
Few of the challenges the government has to face in providing these basic amenities, Okah said, are insufficient funding and how to ensure sustainability after Governor Elechi must have left office. Of course, how affordable would the water be to the residents after completion of the water scheme?
According to Okah, “Our belief is that government is not a good manager of business. Therefore, all what we are doing is, because the government has the capacity to build these things but all of them have been concessioned to private partners for sustainability. We are partnering with SUWASA, which is a water reformatory organisation to ensure the water we produce is sustained.”
He further explained how the water tariff is going to work to avoid overbilling the consummer. He said, “Water is life but the processing of water requires some inputs. The cost at the consumer level is very minimal; considering what people spend in a day on water; people spend N3,000 to N4,000 on water in a month. The tariff of N300 in a moth certainly is not much, and this is for the water treatment, not necessarily for the natural source. Registration of the water is necessary just as all the water taps should be metered,” he said.
What is the grand vision or ambition of the state government in further development of Abakaliki? How have the changes so far made affected the lives of residents? Are teenagers of school ages still seen hawking on the streets and roads of Abakaliki? How liberal is the government towards the non-indigenes doing business in the state? And what kinds of buildings are best for the Abakaliki environment, high rise buildings or modest structures? Is there doubt that Governor Elechi will be able to complete before 2015 the huge projects upon which his administration has embarked? Or is the state going to be littered with uncompleted projects when he leaves office?
Onwe spoke again, “The vision of the government for Abakaliki may not be to turn it into a mega city but the vision is to make it, if not the most beautiful city in Nigeria, to be one of the most beautiful cities in Nigeria with a friendly environment where people would want to come in and relax and do business; it may not turn into a mega city for now but it should be a decent city, a beautiful destination for business and relaxation.”
Clearly, Okah also explained the impact of development on the capital and its residents. “The growth of the population also meant the growth of business establishments, good life; people are now doing business as it should be. So the impact is heavy. The area is an agricultural place, and the huge quantity of products from here, rice, yam are now sold at reasonable rates because we have these facilities. A lot of industries are coming on board; food processing industries like the rice mill and so on. So the difference between then and now, past and present, is just too clear.”
On the 5th and 6the of March, 2013, the state government ordered the arrest of over 50 teenagers in Abakaliki for hawking. The government wanted to just demonstrate its seriousness in tackling hawking and also encouraging teenagers to go to school.
The Director, Child Welfare Department, Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development in the state, Mrs. Christiana Ogbu said her office is using the avenue to demonstrate the implications of hawking by under aged children in the state as well as sensitize the parents on the punishment attached to such act.
She further stated that Ebonyi State Child Law is against hawking by teenagers during school hours in the state. “We have to let the parents know that Ebonyi Child Act Law section 33 (6) is against such act, we have to use the avenue to sensitize the parents and to let them know the dangers associated with that, because it is subjecting a child to hard labour.” Ogbu, however, said that those who were arrested were not charged to court but were seriously warned that in subsequent raid by her office, any culprit would face the law.
On the attitude of the government to non-indigenes, Mbam simply said, “We are open to them; our hands are open to embrace anyone coming here to do genuine business.”
For now, Abakaliki does not need buildings that tend to touch the sky since there is no regular power supply to operate elevators, assume such facilities are available, according to Okolo. “What Abakaliki needs now is four-storey, two-storey buildings and things like that,” emphasised the architect.
But the Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance in the State, Mr. Jerry Obasi has a different view of the development in Abakaliki and indeed, the entire state. Mr. Obasi told our reporter, “Well, I am not going to dispute the fact that there have been some pseudo-kind of development; but I must say that development encompasses various types.”
He quickly added, “Considering Abakaliki as a state capital and also comparing it with other state capitals that were created with Ebonyi state the same time; the state is lying comatose because the level of development is on a snail pace. In fact, it seems to me as if there is no government here because if there is government here that is working , that is practical; we are supposed to have a very proactive and a very rapid sense of development. But what we are seeing here is a group of people who are milking the state dry.”
Obasi further explained his logic, “Awka, the capital of Anambra State; I think Awka was created alongside Abakaliki, and a few other states also. So if you consider all these things, you see that there is nothing happening here.”
Asked if he has visited the other states before making his comparative ‘analysis’, Obasi retorted, “Yes. I have been to the other states created alongside Ebonyi state. I was born in the north, and I even do a kind of lead business in Gombe; I was into mining business before this Boko Haram trouble started, and we all ran away from that state. Then look at Kogi state also; Ebonyi is highly backward. It is retrogressing in terms of development instead of progressing. So is unfortunate, highly unfortunate.”
What is his rating of the government in terms of human resource development and structural expansion of the state capital? Obasi said, “Structurally, in human resourcefulness, in business, in politics, in social development and all whatever; there is little or nothing happening here.” On the fight against guinea worm scourge, he said “It has worsened. Government is doing nothing. The level of guinea worm is even worse in the area of the Ebonyi state Commissioner for Health than any other place in the state; that is where you see people being ravaged by the disease.” Now The Acclaimed New Dawn Is Here To Restructure Ebonyi State. New Government Has Rising To It’s Peak, Long Live Ebonyi, Long Live Nigeria.



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