Abiriba: A Reflection of A Community in Crisis

Ireke A Kalu Onuma
Labora, Lagos
25 April 2017

Abiriba is drowning under the weight of its success. It has become a burden to its inhabitants. The rustic luxury we once enjoyed has become a thing of the past. A city, it’s not. A town, it’s claiming to be and it’s lost between a ghostly feeling of being such a deceptive place to define. We have not evolved into a community of support, interconnected place.

Nothing is binding here. Nothing appears to be permanent. We have no government that runs the city. The houses are grand, but at the cost of the environment. We are constantly struggling with the friction of nature and man. With man having divested himself from nature, our activities and events are so ruinous to the environment that we barely stop to reconsider. We are not the only ones abusing our environment thus, but we are in such predicament because our landscape is hilly, pebbled all over and in most places uncompromising. Above all we are simply small, hemmed and held into a very tiny square meter that we are not putting to good use.

Houses are built without plan. There are no roads. The ones available are substandard and small. They can’t continue to withstand the pressure put on it all through the years. The festive periods are a nightmare. All sorts of moving vehicles ply the roads with no provision for or of control or direction. Talk of a lawless place, Abiriba roads during the holidays reflect it. We build large houses that all but lacks utility. The usage is abnormal. We hardly spend time in it, destroyed a whole ecosystem to put it up. Yet on average spend less than a month annually in it. Even when in use, we hardly apply up to 30 percent of its applicable utilities.

The place is changing in a very fast and unusual way. None indigenes, of the low earning type are attracted here. Most of them seasonal bike riders and their values are intangible. A feeling of impermanence permeates everything. Houses here are not homes. Funeral parlors and cemeteries are more like. The rest are left at the mercy of burglars. The historical sites are fast disappearing. The village squares are distorted and attempts at modernization makes it ugly and questions about its history becomes entangled with the times.

Our penchant for the grandiose is robbing us of the beautiful countryside that once was the pride of the Old Bende. I have trekked the best part of the village (pardon me, I still love it called village), and each Ezi, still gives me something to wonder about. But with population growth and no prior plans in place to accommodate the excesses, I have started observing the defacing and destruction of the ancient heritage that has defined us for long. The systems put in place before now to govern, direct and control are obsolete or nonexistent. Where they still exist, it is only as a spectacle of a passing age.

We’ve lost the place. The loss is fundamental and decisive. While most think of Abiriba with imageries of the past, they fail or refuse to accept and acknowledge the realities of the present.

The past is always heroic in hindsight. It bears the beautiful tales of chivalry and holds, for many, nothing but conflicting histories and tales of the impossible. The story of Abiriba today is a sad testament to the past that continues to confuse us. On one hand we want to preserve our closed society, on the other hand we want development.

Development is what Abiriba has been all about. As migratory bands, we picked up along the way on our Journey to settle here, so many traits, not originally ours but imbibed and made part of our story. We have married outside our clan and encouraged the clan adoption of individuals from other places, whom we grafted into and made full fledged members of our community. These people in turn bring genes, traits, cultures and behavioral tendencies that has become us. The idea of development however, has been controlled by the community to suit our agrarian communal way of life. Having moved way past the agrarian nature, the challenges of managing a growing and changing society, has dogged us.

Thinking about Abiriba Community today in the classical sense of it is impossible. We are struggling with a myth that requires reinforcement. We need to reimagine the myth and in consonance with the realities of the present day, make it up to contain our present experiences and expectations.

The network of interrelated interplay within our system of governance is at most archaic, static and often seem absurd in the face of modernism. Times are fast catching up with our inability to make a reservation and find some values in the interim, while we seek to remedy the thorns pricking us to death. We are having problems across the system.

The monarchy requires some important changes, the communal union is moribund and seem out of place in a society not like the one the founding fathers met. The age grade system and its attendant assignments are mechanical and obtuse at most. Draw in the drain upon the fabrics of the community, which individual assertions and erratically motivated actions by clans and villages, then you get the picture of the bizarre nature of our challenges.

The bitter intral-tribal conflict that started in the mid ’80s and escalated up till the early 2000s, that took hundreds of lives, tore many ancient families apart, created a chasm between the three key components ( Ameke, Amaogudu and Agboji), which is largely unhealed and unaddressed up till now, hangs over us like a cursed albatross. What we seemingly see as peace, is only but a surface lull, simmering underneath that possibly might explode into an open conflict with the kid gloves off.

While we were at each other’s throat, immigrants slowly and openly started taking over our lands, spaces and where possible bastardize our cultures. The menace of the Okada riders, mostly not indigenes pale in comparison with the destruction of our shaky environment by the Tipper drivers, who have under our nose formed themselves into a closed powerful mafia that fears neither our traditional institutions nor our elected city government, the ACIU. The massive erosion crater at the entrance into Abiriba, at Agu Eze and numerous others hidden from public views are testaments to the falling and failing myth of Abiriba power.

While still busy fighting and pursuing each other, the community has been taken over by a few criminal elements bent on rewriting our history and doing away with our cultural and historical heritages. I am partly referring to the criminal inquisition, acquisition and sales of lands belonging to our flagship educational edifices, Enuda and Egwuena Secondary schools. This is going on with the direct accomplice and collision of those who should be protecting these heritages. Come to think of it, we are slowly trudging back to the stone age.

We have lost the plot. Just like we lost the place. Abiriba is no more home to us. But a place where we embark on a two days, one week at most two weeks pilgrimages, to bury, to marry, to drink and intern our souls with excessive alcohol, food, sleeplessness and drug. Nothing captivates us there anymore. We abandoned the place long ago. We are strangers, even to the very convenient values that we claim to defend. The speed with which we run away from the place is frightening.

Yet in spite of all these, our challenges and problems, coming from the aforementioned groups, pale in scale, when we consider the environmental existential threat, we face from our fast disappearing lands, landscapes, rivers, streams, forests and wide spread ecological deficiency coming from the loss of our floras and faunas. The streams, once the live center of the community are all but gone. Built over, bridged and diverted. The climate change has come fast upon them all, that those that exists are mere trickles of a once glorious flow. Usumani, that beauty we all enjoyed and swam in is gone; Usumani Ogbu, the Ogbele’s that were systematically located half way along farm paths are not just encroached upon, but in some cases “bought”, by some lunatics claiming to be indigenes. How can some patch of historical land communally owed be bought or sold?

There is a growing population in Abiriba and there is also a growing water crisis. The Wells are drying up and the streams had long been gone. Those still operational are polluted and unhealthy. Anyam, Quanta and Ogbele Amaebelu and Ndi Okorocha are mere shadows of its once life giving self. Ishimokoto, that strange lake, with so much tales of the impossible spurn around it, is there forgotten and largely unexplored. A sad memory and a painful epitaph to a time impossible to recapture. With the loss of these landscapes and landmarks, is also the dying culture of farming, wine tapping, hunting and fishing. I asked just this past Easter holiday, why vegetables and fruits, previously home grown were so expensive at both the Abia Nkwo and Orie-Ekwa markets, and I was shocked when I was told that over 70% of what edibles we consume in Abiriba comes from outside. What does this portend? We simply cannot feed our selves anymore. Eke Mbu sadly is celebrated with yams from other communities… What must our God’s and ancestors be thinking of us?

We must awake from this debilitating slumber or we would slump further into the mud of despair and irrelevance.

What’s wrong with us? What have we become? Is there anything inherently wrong with the elders, that they have simply failed to be harbingers of our values? I think there is. I have been bothering and reflecting on this for a long time. And each person I speak to, has nothing but a sad unconnected, often conflicting story to tell. Abiriba has lost its men. It has become a place for cowards and silly minds. Our history is so manipulated by hungry, foolish and lying men that it has been boiling towards a conflict. We must either rescue ourselves from these men or face a sad conflict of identity soon.

Now what’s on the cards to save us? Each generation must make its own laws, tell it’s own stories and create it’s own space where they can interact with the realities of their times. We have not done that for ourselves. We must engage with ourselves and redefine the community we want to live in. The money that comes into Abiriba Community within the periods of the above referenced pilgrimages are hardly trapped here. They migrate to Ohafia mostly and other neighboring villages. We are then stuck with the poverty of our confused minds.

Men must be reborn in Abiriba. The myth must be recreated. Intentions defined. Purposes and goals reset. The tendencies of averaging everything out to conventional authorities must cease. We cannot pretend we respect and love our traditional institutions, when for all intents and purposes, it requires our direct intervention to rescue it from self implosion and destruction. We need men. Silent and courageous. Those having, if nothing else, but a deep unalloyed love for the community. These are times, like the good book says, that tries men’s souls. These trials must purify us and make us ready.

There are many different types of people attempting and claiming to speak for the community. These are grouped into two categories, one true and steady, the other, true also but unsteady. One speaks and acts. The other speaks and seeks to manipulate. Between the two is the community on its knees. We can either choose to check the manifestations of the manipulators or we get sucked in by them.

Abiriba is indivisible. You can know the characters of the false prophets, when they tell you otherwise. Abiriba is one. And anyone preaching otherwise is a false prophet. We are like the rainbow, we need the reflections of the others to form a unique United colour. When some in error or simply to protect a lie tell you that we are historically different, they are working against us. I am very interested in the few who see the truth not in shades, but in all its brilliant free brightness and call it so. Today there are many voices telling us that this part or the other had been independent of the whole in the past, I rebut that as false. We have shared historical and cultural antecedents to that effect. The false narratives making the rounds based on myopic individual inhibitions are all false.

ACIU and all our institutions must be reformed. The Reformation isn’t in terms of personnel, but structurally and mechanically. The basis for and of this organisation requires a new interrogation. We must take a good look into the histories, the nuances and the dreams that brought us so far. The time has come to rethink the place with seriousness. Seriousness towards our survival must be registered through the building of diverse Scenarios to help us tackle the growing number of city/urban related challenges in a post village setting.
Abiriba is too dear to me, it is too rich in fable to be allowed to fester and rust in the passing whims of a generation not sure of what to do with it.

Ireke A Kalu Onuma


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