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 By Majeed Dahiru

I spent part of my formative years in the market town of Onitsha, Anambra State, in the mid-1980s. During my sojourn there, I lived with my uncle, then popularly known as Alhaji Umaru, who was a trader at Ose Market. Our ‘yard’ was located at 33, Ajasa Street, close to Ose Market, where my uncle and indeed other traders from across Nigeria plied their trade.  Onitsha was as fascinating as it was exciting, with its ever-hustling and bustling people struggling to earn a living. Everybody worked hard and endlessly, with a brief respite mostly on Sundays when it’s predominantly Christian population observed ‘Sabbath’.

Okene, my birthplace and where I came from to live in Onitsha, was in sharp contrast with my new abode. While Okene had only one major [Bariki] market, where trading activities took place once every two days between the hours of 8am and 10am on ‘markets’ days, there where many markets in Onitsha, including Relief, Ochanja, Awada and Main Market, which is the largest in West Africa. And unlike Okene, trading activities took place six days a week from dawn to dusk in Onitsha. Growing up in Okene, it was a common sight to see the women of my Idoji community returning from Bariki Market with the remaining of their unsold wares as early as we set out for school.

Apart from the difference in magnitude of trade between the two towns, it was in Onitsha I saw an endless conurbation of three, four and five-storey buildings as far as the eye could see. Okene, with its mostly one-storey buildings in a mixed development that retained the mud ancestral compounds in a beautiful blend of ancient and modern, had more in common with Enu Onitsha, the enclave of the original inhabitants of Onitsha that was quietly tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the main Onitsha town. Serene and beautiful, Enu Onitsha is the ancestral home of the indigenous people of Onitsha, where the Obi presides over the culture and tradition of the people as their traditional ruler.

Another culture shock for me was the relatively modern urban planning of Onitsha, where the town was delineated along well-laid-out streets and avenues, unlike Okene, which remained undisturbed along traditional settlements. While Okene had places like Idogido, Idoji, Idozumi, etc, Onitsha had places like Bright Street, Old Cemetary Road, Emejuru Street, Court Road, etc. My sojourn in Onitsha broadened my national outlook and world view as it was a very cosmopolitan town with a rich diversity of Nigerians as residents.

As a young Muslim resident of Onitsha, I remember a place called Bida that was a sprawling Arewa community, where I attended Islamiya and observed congregational prayers on Fridays. In the 1980s, the Arewa community in Onitsha was in the third generation and so assimilated and integrated were they that I saw Igbo-speaking Hausa people for the first time in my life. And so indigenous had the Arewa community become that they did not return to Kano, Sokoto and Borno states during Muslim holidays of all Eids, as they had no other home in the world than Onitsha where they lived in peace and prosperity.

That Alhaji Umaru, my uncle, contested for the position of councillor in Onitsha in 1988 under the zero party system was a clear testimony to the citizenship integrity of the predominantly Igbo-speaking people of Onitsha, whose civilized disposition allowed for inclusion, equity and fairness to all Onitsha people without prejudice to ethnicity or creed.

NDIGBO IN LAGOS RECEIVE DR. IWUANYANWU, PRESIDENT GENERAL OHANAEZE Igbo leadership in Lagos welcome President General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, Dr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu (Ahaejiagamba), 2nd right. His portrait was presented to him by President General, Igbo Speaking Community in Lagos, Dr. Sunday Udeh, 1st left, Eze Dr. C. C. Nwokedi, Eze Okpoto and Eze Ndigbo of Ijegun/Idodo, 1st left. Onowu of Eze Nwokedi, Chief Emeka Onwukaobi, 2nd from left

I also recall that the most patronized private medical hospital around my part of Onitsha was owned and managed by a Yoruba man, who was simply known as Dr. Oni. The hospital eventually became known as ‘’Uno Ogwu’’ Dr. Oni (Dr. Oni’s hospital), where the personal service of Dr. Oni was sought after and his healing prowess was the stuff of legend. I remember vividly when one of my Igbo neigbours strolled with me into Ose Market to enthusiastically show the section of the market where my Ebira traders from Okene were selling yam and other agriculture produce from their farms in Owo in Ondo State, Irebeka in Edo State and Ado in Ekiti State. I had neighbours like Etim “Nwa Calabar,” Mike “Nwa Bendel” and Cosmas “Nwa Igala” all around me and I never felt like an outsider throughout my stay in Onitsha.

My lifelong love for Highlife music, Soukous, Fuji and Afro Juju was developed in Onitsha. Osita Osadebe’s “Makojo” and “Osondi Owendi,” with their rich philosophical lyrics, were regularly played on the radio service of Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS). So was Mbila Bel’s classic like “Boyaye” and Salawa’s “Gentle Lady.” And no party was complete without dancing to Shina Peter’s “Ace” and “Shinamania” album. One could safely conclude that that was the zenith of Nigeria’s era of national integration, social cohesion and unity, where its was possible to be Hausa and Anambra, Yoruba, Efik, Ebira and Anambra.

However, Nigeria has changed as a result of cumulative failure of leadership of the ruling political class, especial since the advent of the fourth republic in 1999, where divisive politics of identity has reversed the gains towards a united nation of Nigeria, where my Onitsha experience would become an institutionalized national norm. I often look back with nostalgia to the good old days, when Nigeria was one big family with the different ethnic groups as members living in different parts of the family compound and where residency in a place other than one’s place of origin was considered as homecoming.

Fortunately, we are beginning to see a roll-back of the reversal of the gains of national integration in Anambra State, which I still consider my home state, in which I am still emotionally invested. Just before the second anniversary of Prof. Chukwuma Soludo as the governor of Anambra State, he appointed, for the first time in the history of the state, Adebayo Ojeyinka, a Nigerian of Yoruba heritage whose state of origin is Osun but has resided in Anambra since 1995 (29 years) as a permanent secretary in the Anambra State civil service. And like the ever hospitable and progressive people of Anambra that I have always known, there were no protests against the appointment of a ‘non-indigene’ as permanent secretary but applause and commendation for their governor for demonstrating inclusion, fairness and equity in this instance.

From a turbulent takeoff of his administration as a result of widespread separatist agitation in the South East, Soludo has steadily lived up to his reputation as a development economist, first-class scholar and thinker, as his steadies at cruising height with a rich harvest of campaign promises on his second anniversary. Beyond his giant strides in infrastructural development, prudent and frugal management of state resources and hands-on leadership style, Soludo has not been accused even by his opponents of corrupt conversion of state resources for personal benefit of family and cronies.

Governor Soludo’s, democratic disposition, balanced personality and personal integrity are demonstrations of a leadership code of conduct that is required to deliver good governance, and he seems to be delivering incrementally. But by far his most significant achievement in two years is his demonstration of rich pan-Nigerian nationalist credentials, with a deliberately inclusive administrative style that has clearly shown than, with Soludo as governor, it is possible to be Yoruba and Anambra. And the significance of this appointment goes beyond Anambra State, as this has silenced those who accuse Ndigbo of wanting from others what they are not willing to give. By this gesture, Soludo has replied this age-long tantrum against the Igbo nation of Nigeria in the best possible way. And the main beneficiaries of this commendable act of inclusive leadership will the 2027 Igbo presidential hopefuls who will readily point to Soludo’s Anambra State whenever they are accused of demanding from others what they cannot give.

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As the popular Igbo saying goes, “e to’o dike na nka omereme, ome kwa ozo (when you praise a warrior for his exploits, he will do more),” Governor Soludo is encouraged to deepen the culture of inclusion, fairness, justice and equity, where it will be possible for a Nigerian to also be Hausa, Kanuri, Ebira, etc, and Anambra, the Light of the Nation.

Daniru who writes on the column OUT OF THE BOX is a columnist in the Sun Newspaper

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