From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Approaching from the neighbouring Onicha-Olona, a local health centre welcomes you to Ukala, a rustic kingdom in Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta State. It is an autonomous kingdom of two agrarian communities, Ukala-Okpunor and Ukala-Okwute.
The Okpunor Primary School, founded in the colonial era in 1933, presently undergoing remodelling, further accentuates its ancient status.
In Ukala-Okpunor, the community that shares a boundary with Onicha-Olona in Aniocha North, there is barely a self-imposing structure along the linear settlement, except the sprawling palace of the Obi of the entire kingdom that is far-flung at the extreme.
Apart from the primary school, government projects are few and far between. This defines the lot of the natives and settlers of Ukala-Okpunor as mainly farmers.
The peaceful and very receptive village could not have hogged fame in the foreseeable future, being one of the several communities begging for attention in the oil-rich state. However, Ukala-Okpunor’s social relations have transcended the borders of Delta State because of its age-long culture of inter-marriage with people from diverse areas.
The late cleric and televangelist, Prophet T.B. Joshua, was one of those who left the bustling life in Lagos and other cities in Western Nigeria for the sleepy Ukala-Okpunor to get a wife.
Though the pastor met his wife, Evelyn, daughter of the late Nicholas Akabude of Umuakale Quarters, in Lagos, he was said to have led his extended family to Okpunor to perform the required customary rites for the union to be consummated.
The current Diokpa (head) of Umuakale Quarters, Ogbuenyi Clifford Nwabueze Okolo, was not around about 30 years ago when the community stood still for the marriage ceremony. He was overseeing a private business in Aba at the time. But the nonagenarian told our correspondent that Joshua’s proposal “to marry our daughter was accepted by all. All the necessary rites in the family, he performed it for us, and we gave her to him as a wife.
“Evelyn was brought up by her parents. We saw her as a humble and acceptable character for marriage.
“I was not around when the marriage was consumated but my people had no issues with it.”
However, Mrs. Christiana Nnabuife recalled with nostalgia what happened when the marriage was conducted.
“I witnessed the marriage, the ceremony was successful. We ate, drank and danced,” she recalled with laughter.
Nnabuife said although Evelyn’s upbringing was not at Okpunor, whenever she was around, she spread joy among local folks.
“Evelyn is my sister and husband. She always entertained us everytime she came around. She grew up here a little before going to Ezi with her father’s sister. It was at Ezi that she actually grew up. From there, she left for Lagos,” she added.
T.B. Joshua, founder of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), was renowned for his large heart and philanthropic exploits in his ministry on earth.
This he extended to his in-laws in Ukala-Okpunor, according to Ogbuenyi Okolo.
“He was a wonderful son-in-law. I was sick sometime ago, and he brought a trailer load of rice, which we distributed among our people here. We had a great relationship with him.
“We have more Christians now than before his coming because of the relationship. He was good to us,” he said.
The pastor’s goodwill did not reside within the wife’s family alone, it extended throughout the community, such that his footprints would remain indelible in the land of Ukala.
The community’s self-help electricity project only came to fruition last year after T.B. Joshua’s Midas touch. For several years, the community yearned for electricity, putting in all they had, yet they remained in ‘darkness,’ until the cleric splashed N5 million on the project.
As a result, the Obi of Ukala Kingdom, Clement Ejiofor, described T.B. Joshua as a worthy son-in-law to the kingdom.
“Last year, this electricity project, this light you are seeing, he gave us N5 million for it. The wife brought it to my palace, and I called the entire community and the elders in Ukala and we received them and the money.
“So, he contributed to the light, and also to alleviate the poverty and hunger of the people. He gave us 1,200 bags of rice, which we equitably distributed to the whole kingdom, and the people thanked him and prayed for him. And we are still expecting more to be done,” the monarch said.
A leader in the community, Nnabudo Ofili, said Joshua was awesome, noting that the community was greatly impacted each time he intervened. As a result of his immeasurable impact in Ukala, the community is pained by his death.
According to Obi Ejiofor, the community received the news of Joshua’s death with a deep sense of loss.
“The news was shocking to us when we got it. We felt so sad, but we can’t question God. I personally led members of the community for a condolence visit.
“Yes, the wife is my daughter, and I feel so bad about the loss; a premature death of such a prophet, a man of God.
“He was a servant of God, and perhaps people didn’t realise that. And as soon they realised that he was an anointed man of God, a servant of God, he left.
“I equate him with Elijah and Enoch because God sent him on a mission, and He has taken him to redeploy him.
“He never lived an extravagant life, he lived a composed life of philanthropy. He lived for all, he served God and humanity.
“The charity he displayed, no pastor, I stand to be corrected, has ever performed a quarter of what he did, following the scriptures to the letter.
“His footprints are remarkable here. Of course, he can’t cut off his nose in order to spite his face, he did the little he did, maybe the programme God had for him concerning this town has not been fully touched, but don’t forget that the church continues.
“So, we are expecting those that probably have not reached us from SCOAN,” Ejiofor added.
Like Obi Ejiofor, the immediate in-laws to the late pastor want the relationship to be sustained. But it is customary for the family of a deceased husband to come down to Ukala to formally announce his passage after the burial rites.
“Our custom demands that the relatives of Joshua should come and tell us formally,” said Ogbuenyi Okolo. “The family of the husband should come to Ukala and report to the family, of which I am the head as at today. Then we shall know the condition they would place our daughter, since the husband is no more there.”
“We anticipate that all the goodwill would be sustained, because the relationship is not terminated. It is our wish that they will continue to accept her and see her as their wife,” he added.
Okolo’s wife, Bridget, spoke with emotionally as she advised Evelyn to take “courage and cooperate with the husband’s family.”
She said everybody in the family was surprised at the sad news of Joshua’s death “because we didn’t know he was sick. It just came like that.”
Meanwhile, Ukala as a community continues to yearn for public infrastructure and and basic amenities.
Two water supply projects by government have been abandoned to rot. Residents now rely on private boreholes owned by a few privileged families for water.
Nnabudo Ofili, a community leader, lamented the neglect of the community and appealed for government’s attention.
In apparent reference to T.B. Joshua’s exploits, Ofili said, “A tree cannot make a forest. Ukala-Opkunor needs development. No industry, nothing. We need government to come to our aid.”
Another resident, Peter Adimabua Isichei, said Ukala Kingdom was peace-loving and accommodating, adding that people from the three major ethnic nationalities in Nigeria lived in the town.
Isichei appealed to government to fix the 13 kilometre Ebu-Ukala-Ezi road for easy transportation of farm produce to markets in urban centres.
“The challenge for now is the road. We need government’s attention. We need intervention also in the area of water. We have two public boreholes that are not functional because of lack of maintenance.
“We just got electricity after several years through community self-help. Joshua, as one of our great in-laws, gave us some good money. Our brothers and sisters donated money, and that is why we can boast of power for now,” Isichei said.
Like his subjects, Obi Ejiofor pleaded with government to intervene in the area of link roads and basic amenities for his people.
The Obi, however, praised Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for his administration’s efforts in developing the entire state.
“Okowa is trying, because this is not the only community in Delta State, and his presence is felt everywhere, though it may not be of equal proportion.
“Ukala Kingdom is not exclusively peculiar; different communities are looking toward government’s intervention in various areas,” he said.
On the 13 kilometre Ebu-Ukala-Ezi road, the monarch noted that the road was deplorable but an intervention through community self-help has reduced the pains motorists pass through while plying it.
“My plea to the state government is to come and help to alleviate poverty and the threat posed by herdsmen, among other things.
“It is not that government neglected us; I’m quite sure that their attention would soon be drawn to that road,” he said.