Home Social Media Feeds A flying but memorable visit to the South East (Mbaise, Imo State)

A flying but memorable visit to the South East (Mbaise, Imo State)

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BY GBENGA ONI-OLUSOLA

Gbenga Oni-Olusola (right) with his in-laws in Mbaise, Imo State

I last visited Imo State in 2001when Achike Udenwa was governor. It was a trip facilitated by my friend, Senator Osita Izunasu, who was then a Special Adviser to Gov Udenwa.

Twenty years later, on Boxing Day, I was again on my way to Imo, this time to Mbaise as a guest of my in-law, Amarachukwu Isaacs whose age group was being initiated into manhood in Mbaise.

Amarachukwu Isaacs , the Akuruo Ulo 1 of Mbaise had just clocked 40 and along with his age mates was performing the traditional rites. He is husband to Lolo Faith Og Amarachukwu Isaacs, who is daughter to my immediate elder sister, Mrs Modupe Eke.

The Amarachukwu Isaacs had invited me to Mbaise to felicitate with them and enjoy some good and famed Mbaise hospitality.

Even though the timing of the event was a bit inconvenient for me, I decided to honour the young family with my presence.

I had to bend over backwards to attend the event because it would offer me an opportunity to experience first hand the state of affairs in the South East ( at least a part) in the light of the cry of marginalisation, neglect and insecurity. I could not just resist the chance of a first hand observation.

I was eager to see for myself the Second Niger Bridge and the state of the roads.

Now, I can confirm that the Second Niger bridge is a reality. I saw it with my koro koro eyes and I felt it might actually be delivered before Buhari leaves office.

And the highway from Onitsha to Owerri through Oraifite, Uli Ihiala was smooth and well maintained. It is a federal road.

As we passed through Uli Ihiala, I remembered that it was an airfield here that the Ikemba Nnewi took off from “in search of peace” to Ivory Coast in January 1970, signalling the beginning of the end of that unnecessary and avoidabe civil war. There were no physical tell tale signs of the ravages of that war any more.

As we drove on that Ihiala stretch of the highway, my younger brother who was under the wheel decided to take a detour to avoid a long stretch of traffic snarl caused by a military check point ahead.

So we detoured through some dusty dirt road where we encountered some young men who mounted their own road blocks and were extorting each vehicle N100. Within a short distance of less than half a kilometre there were four of such road blocks each collecting N100 per vehicle. My younger brother who is familiar with the route said it used to be N50, but the young men manning the road blocks insisted on N100.

We soon rejoined the highway, cutting off the check point. We encountered a couple other military checkpoints before Owerri, but there was no hassle.

Owerri surprised me. Beautiful city with well paved roads and working traffic lights. Very beautiful buildings. I found the city even more beautiful than Benin City!! There were traffic wardens all over the place controlling traffic where there were no traffic lights. It was from these very polite, courteous and friendly wardens that we asked for directions to Mbaise. One of the wardens who we asked direction from was so friendly with a good smile. I somehow thought she looked very much like Sam Mbakwe of blessed memory.

Our host had someone wait for us at the Shoprite area of Owerri who piloted us on the about one hour drive to Udoh Mbaise.

Good road from Owerri to Mbaise with repair work going on. Not a bad drive. Everywhere was peaceful, calm and neat.

We arrived the well appointed residence of our host at about 12 noon and enjoyed great Mbaise hospitality. Plenty to eat and drink.Good music too. My niece also imported a Benin (Bini) cultural group that serenaded guests with Edo music and dance. Quite a classy reception really.

Even as the event went on, the icing on the cake for me was a giant screen in a beautiful and quiet reception area in which I watched Arsenal demolish Norwich City 5 – 0 to consolidate their hold on 4th position in the English Premier League, EPL.

Unknown to Sam John, an Arsenal traducer, I kept asking him for an update and was enjoying the pain of our mocker and traducer giving me good tidings on the fortune of the gunners. He was dutifully reporting the scores to me as I told him I was in transit. (Good for him )

I retired to my hotel room at about 11pm. I learnt the next morning that the party went on till about 4am.

We set out for Benin at about 11am on Monday and it was also a very smooth ride back. From Mbaise to Benin was about just four and a half hours.

I can’t end this narrative without mentioning an experience that shocked me so much at first, but which my brother-in-law, Mr David Eke explained to me later.

You will recall that I mentioned a detour on our way to Owerri. On our way back we came upon that checkpoint and to my utter shock all commuters were made to disembark and cross the checkpoint on foot. All vehicles passed the checkpoint empty and only picked up their passengers after going through the checkpoint empty with just the driver. We disembarked from our vehicle just like others and trekked across the checkpoint.

I took the opportunity to interview some of the commuters. They took the frustrating routine with stoic resignation. “Na so we see am o”, some told me. ‘”Na so them dey do us o””, others said. ” Na wa”, I added. I felt a sense of outrage. I felt the frustration the people must have been feeling, having to walk under the high temperatures across the checkpoint for about some quarter kilometre. I wondered why people should be made to undergo such inconvenience. I thought that was one example of the unfair treatment the South Eastern people were complaining about. I had never seen such security routine all my life.

When we got back into our vehicle, I was complaining about what I considered an unfair treatment. My brother-in-law who has some security background put the routine in proper perspective for me and sought of calmed me down.

He said it was a precautionary measure in a hostile environment. He explained that the soldiers at the checkpoint took that decision to prevent gunmen firing shots at the soldiers from vehicles crossing the checkpoint

What threatened to be a blot on my experience vanished. There was sense in my brother-in-law’s explanation.

The trip reminded me of Yeat’s poem we read in class 2 in Edo College titled ‘The Naughty Boy’.

It is about a boy who ran away from England to Scotland where he found among other things that the sky was as high, the ground was as hard and the doors were as wooden as in England.

“So he stood on his toes and he wondered.

“He wondered and wondered” goes the first stanza of the poem.

I found Imo just like Edo, Oyo, ogun, Kogi Delta etc. I believe in a commonality of humanity.

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