I was in Dikenafai for the Christmas holidays. I could have gone Yankari to relax but I chose to be in Dikenafai with my kith and kin. I caught up with friends and schoolmates. I also had time to bathe at the stream and enter nearby bushes. It was fun walking old and fading village paths, visiting aged aunts and uncles and also enjoying a good mix of ugba and palm wine. Trust me to be true to my roots. But there was no hunting expedition this time. The lead hunters are weakened by time. The youths? Not interested!
But driving to the countryside, an expedition that ought to be fun, was frightful. The road is the issue. Out of Abuja and on the Abuja-Lokoja road, you drive with your heart in your mouth, praying that ‘those boys’ do not waylay you. In between, you are confronted with a road whose state leaves you with more heartache. You drive through Kogi State and at Ajaokuta and you ask where Babatunde Fashola got his statistics on state of roads in Nigeria from. The stretch of road at Ajaokuta, up to the Ajaoukta-Itobe Bridge, has been bad for as long as I have driven on that road. Work to fix the road, which started some time ago, is abandoned. As you meander through the gullies, you wonder how those ceramics factories there cope: the dust, the mud! I had a friend who returned from Kazakhstan in the car. At Ajaokuta, he sighed and shook his head.
You get a relatively smooth drive from Itobe through Ochadamu, Ejule and up to Otukpa junction on the Makurdi-Enugu highway. Between Otukpa and Obolo-Afor, you ask questions about the meaning of government. If there is one in Nigeria, it does not exist on that stretch despite the number of security points. The road leaves you in fear of your car losing its shafts. Here, my Kazakhstan-returnee asked “Bros, was there a conflict here recently?”
You get a respite from Obolo-Afor to Opi junction. That section of the road is so sweet that you would love to power a Bugatti Veron through there. My friends from Enugu tell me that the road is an Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi transformational magic.
So, I got to Dikenafai driving through the Sukuk-reclaimed section of Enugu-Okigwe. The ‘ruga’ section at Lokpa-Nta is very bad; but not as bad as Okigwe-Okwelle road. That is a stretch of road that reminds you that you are still in a jungle ruled by creatures carrying objects called heads and within which is encased a butter-like substance called brain over their shoulders while masquerading as leaders. But for the sandfills on the Okigwe-Okwelle-Owerri road by the Emeka Ihedioha administration, one could lose his mind there. That road competes only with Otukpa-Obolo-Afor for notoriety in badness.
However, driving round Imo State, one is confronted with the number of siren blaring vehicles, conveying possibly frightened Nigerians. Almost everyone who could rented two or three armed police escorts, and moved in convoys of no less than three vehicles.
However, of specific interest to me was an event that took place in Dikenafai on December 30. The year 2020 was some hours away and the people of Dikenafai agreed to gather at the field of the Secondary Technical College, under the auspices of Dikenafai Unity Assembly. Why? They were in search of peace. Yes, peace. Peace had eluded Dikenafai, a community of not more than eight villages, since previous administrations in Imo came up with a notoriously idiotic decision to balkanize peaceful and united communities into smaller autonomous communities.
Dikenafai is unique. First, it is the home to the source of the Urashi River. That is a significant gift of nature that ought to remind the people of the value of unity. But, somehow, the people of Dikenafai decided to fall for the craze to split the town into different autonomous communities. For this reason, the once peaceful and united community had Nchoke and Nneato Ogwugwu autonomous communities created out of it. A third autonomous community, Afaidike, is stillbirth. Those behind it are still hopeful that it will come to be after spending huge sums on state government officials. In essence, almost every village was set to become an autonomous community.
With the creation of those two autonomous communities came the installation of two more traditional rulers. In fact, Nneato Ogwugwu has a second traditional ruler. The contest for authenticity is manifestly fierce, which implies that every project embarked upon by Dikenafai, as a single entity, became abandoned. Community roads, hospital, electricity project, water project, town hall, etc, were abandoned.
Even the general assembly of the Dikenafai people, Dikenafai Improvement Union, became polarized at all its branches. And, for almost a decade, community development stagnated. Everyone complained. No one was happy. The shame it brought to the people forced a rethink. That rethink culminated in the events of December 30, anchored by younger elements of the town. They said, never again!
Tired of the division, the people of Dikenafai spoke with one voice and demanded immediate change and return of the umbrella that shielded all of them. Thus, a journey started to realign Dikenafai and bring it back to the path of peaceful coexistence as a clan of value-oriented, reasonable and progressive humans.
Autonomous communities work to fasten the pace of development, if properly managed, or so it seemed. But in Dikenafai, like in so many other communities in Imo State, the case has been that of disunity since the balkanization started. As it is, Imo, with a landmass of about 2,140 square miles, and ranked 34th in terms of land area in Nigeria, with population strength of about 4.9m people, has about 700 autonomous communities. You know the implication of this when you face the fact that each autonomous community must have a traditional ruler (Eze) who is on the payroll of the state government. Makes any meaning?
To those who seek little enclaves to rule as traditional rulers, it makes sense to create as many more autonomous communities as possible. But to rational persons in the state, it is time to put an end to same and throw out all applications for the creation of autonomous communities. In fact, some persons have argued that for the discord created among families, brothers and sisters by such creations, the state government ought to suspend further creation of autonomous communities for another 30 years.
During this time, the state could cause a review of the existing autonomous communities, especially, those created within the past 14 years. It may not be a bad idea to withdraw the recognition granted those where the fight of ezeship has become nasty. This may send a strong signal, to demonstrate that the creation of autonomous communities ought not to lead to the sort of conflicts that several communities in Imo State are now faced with.