I am angry and justifiably so. I am incensed because of what I heard about my town and people. One of the downsides of social media is that just about any charlatan can record a video about anything with a smartphone and posts it on Youtube, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Whether factual or not, ridiculous or absurd, and it would go viral. That is why today, it is much easier or faster to circulate both facts and falsehood through social media platforms. For this reason, one lady felt that she could create Internet traffic by tarring Owerri ladies in a video she made and which is now trending. The lady in question quoted another lady, as singer, who extolled the virtues of ladies from different parts of the five Southeast states (Ebonyi, Enugu, Abia, Anambra and Imo) but used derogatory language to describe Owerri ladies, to the extent of attributing their success stories to prostitution. To think that such putrid, horrible and despicable profiling could come from a singer left me shocked.
The offensive video came after the beautiful celebrations that marked 2021 International Women’s Day as well as the Mothering Sunday, during which women were effusively praised. In the song, the artiste glorified girls from other Eastern states while the girls from Owerri, Imo State were dragged through the mud.
If you were in my shoes would you not be livid? The singer did not just make allegations; she vomited venom, painting Owerri ladies as people steeped in prostitution. Is it possible that in a particular place all the people there are fraudsters and people of questionable character, while another area produces all-round best individuals? You can well imagine how far social media can go to destroy others. How on earth can someone place such false indictment on a particular region?
It is an unquestionable fact that the odious and derogatory assertion cannot apply to all precious responsible and respectable daughters of Owerri land. I really would like the so-called artiste to make public her roots, for all Nigerians and the global social media community to know her. In the video, it was also claimed that girls from Owerri, through illicit means, want to drive exotic cars, tour the world, wear all manner of designer clothes and accessories and generally live a life they ordinarily cannot maintain. The lady further claimed that these girls have caged men, both married and single, who provide all the money they need to sustain their lavish and extravagant lifestyle. Imagine such bombastic nonsense! Let’s just assume that the singer had encountered such a character as a friend; does that mean all other fingers must be taken as stained because one finger touched oil? Should that unpleasant experience warrant her to make outrageous and malicious statements against a whole community and society over-populated by responsible, successful and industrious individuals? Is ostentatious lifestyle the preserve of Owerri ladies alone?
Continuing on the campaign of calumny, the video lady issued what she imagined to be a warning, saying that Owerri is no longer a safe haven to raise a girl child. Is that so? Clearly, the singer needs to be given a little education on the wonderful things about Owerri, which have made Owerri a place you want to live in and raise your children. In the fist place and very interesting too, Owerri is the capital city of Imo State, which prides itself as ‘The Eastern Heartland’ and a great city that is very accommodating to settler elements. This dates back to when and how it was founded by Ekwema Arugo, the progenitor of Old Owerri. It goes without saying that the town attracts all and sundry, just like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and some other well urbanised cities. Before the creation of states like Abia and Ebonyi, Owerri remained the paramount town where men and women in the civil service resided. Most heads of the ministries, departments and agencies and workers came from Ngwa, Umuahia, Afikpo, Ukwa, Ohaozara, Oguta, Egbema and the city accommodated, protected and made them prosper. These men and women raised their worthy children who have taken over from them in the city. All the Eastern big names one hears today like the late Alex Ekwueme, Michael Okpara, Great Zik of Africa, all had a stint in Owerri. Many Judges, politicians, teachers and enterpreneurs have succeeded while living in Owerri till date. One, therefore, wonders how the singer arrived at her jaundiced assertion that Owerri girls are prostitutes.
I challenge the singer to name one Nigerian state or city that is devoid of commercial sex workers and hotels of low repute. In every urban city and even at the major road transport hubs like Ore (Ondo State), Ijebu Ode (Ogun State), Lokoja (Kogi State), Umunede (Delta State), Obollo Afor (Enugu State), Nyanya (Nasarawa State), over night hotels provide both accommodation and pleasure to truck drivers and other wayfarers that stop over in such places. All over Nigeria, you have runs girls. Are they all Owerri girls? It is not so difficult to see that the singer deliberately chose to malign Owerri people by branding their girls as prostitutes. In clear exhibition of her ignorance of the make up of modern urban settings, the singer simply failed to understand that there has been a great influx and migration of various individuals, including to a large extent, ladies that are non-natives of Owerri resideing in the city.
Sex is now a freely available commodity, which should not be pinned, by any stretch of the imagination on Owerri ladies. Let me be very clear: I do not and will never encourage prostitution in all its present day ramifications – runs girls, short-time ladies in brothels and the high class, ‘let’s-fly-to-Dubai ladies (who later post seductive pictures on Instagram). I will also not say that there are no sex workers in Owerri. However, I stoutly condemn the female singer’s assertion that sex-cash/material benefits is the stock-in-trade of Owerri girls. Most of the girls the singer assumed to be Owerri girls could most probably be indigenes of her state. It is a known fact that men often fly in from Abuja, Lagos and other places with their female friends to spend time in Owerri, just as they visit other major cities like Enugu, Abeokuta, Warri, among others. I just wonder what the writer would have said if the administration of former Imo State governor, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, had completed the Imo Wonder Lake Tourism Project, which it initiated and aimed at developing Oguta blue water lake as the centrepiece of the state’s tourism programme.
Years ago, it was a common allegation that almost all the black prostitutes in Italy were from Benin in Edo State. It became so embarrassing and rattled the state government. Does that mean that there were no ladies from Benin excelling in various walks of life? At one of the press briefings, one of the so-called Benin prostitutes who was deported from Italy confessed that she was not from Benin, but from Angola. Asked why she claimed Benin origin, she said: “It is the popular name that sells market in Italy.” That confession showed that most African girls who were engaged in prostitution claimed false identities. As African prostitutes in Italy claimed to be Benin girls, that is also how some less-than-responsible ladies in Owerri could be assumed to be natives of Owerri.
I am proud to say that the city is the home of a former Minister of Aviation and Peoples Democratic Party chieftain, Mrs. Kema Chikwe. First Lady of Ondo State, Mrs Betty Akeredolu, popular Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) newscaster, Elizabeth Nze, former Director General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Dr. (Mrs). Ndi Okereke Onyiuke, and others, all are successful and highly responsible indigenes of Imo State and natives of Owerri. I am proud of my Owerri origins.
A duty is now laid before the incumbent Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma and particularly his wife, Mrs. Chioma Hope Uzodimma, to initaite a robust campaing to counter the false narrative that Owerri ladies, and by extention IMO GIRLS achieve prominence through prostitution. The false claim has debased Imo ladies. The government needs to engage in strategic re-communication of the beauty of Owerri, not the malicious narrative that the female singer put out on social media. The effort must begin now.