In this age of globalization and technological innovations, some communities still exist as in the Stone Age era where all the modern amenities of life are absent and citizens rely on nature and human natural instincts to survive.
Nzam Community, the headquarters of Anambra West Local Government, Anambra State fits into the above description. A recent trip to the community by the reporter confirms the lyrics of the song by Afro beat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti that some people are “suffering and smiling.” A land so blessed with rich agricultural produce but yet wallows under the throes of underdevelopment and government neglect.
In Nzam, most children have never seen electric light since they were born, while access to clean water, hospitals or accessible roads is like a luxury often dreamt of by the people but yet to feel it.
A turbulent two and half hours sail through the River Niger by boat from the Niger Bridge Head brought the reporter to the precincts of the community. On berthing and anchoring at the bank of the river, one is confronted with weary villagers loading and offloading agricultural products behind mud houses and thatched roofs.
A narrow swampy road from the river bank leads to the community accessed by trekking or boarding of commercial cycle a major preoccupation of the youths in the area who have lost interest in farming.
Though there were few electric poles fixed on the narrow road which connects the local police post and an empty Health Post, the first response one gets on asking where to charge one’s phone battery through the public power source is a jolt on the real situation.
“My brother, maybe you are in a dream land,” the Okada rider said. “Ever since I grew to maturity, I’ve never seen electric light from NEPA here. These electric poles you see now are just fancy decorations on the road because that is where it ends. We have no light and our people only travel to Onitsha by boat to get the diesel, which we use to power our rice milling plants. There is no telephone network too as you may have noticed that your phone has lost service as you alighted from the boat. We are like people living in another planet and what they do is to visit us with empty promises whenever election time is approaching. That is all we see or get from them,” he lamented.
At the market square, though it was a work day and schools were in session, many children were seen playing by the heap of sand beside the community rice grinding mill. Farmers coming back from their rice farm all conveyed the yet-to-be-parboiled rice on bicycles. The local government secretariat, which was accessed by the reporter on a motorcycle through another narrow path with streams and locally made bridges, was like a ghost place.
The sign post bearing the inscription “Anambra West Local Government Headquarters, Nzam” was swallowed by grasses that it becomes difficult to view the signpost from afar. The secretariat, though deserted had some nice buildings. The old secretariat complex commissioned on 18th February 1999 was built by the military administration of Uwakwe Ukaegbu in Anambra. On enquiry about the state of affairs in the local council, a staffer who pleaded anonymity alleged that the members of the transition council of the local government reside in Onitsha and only visit once in month when their entitlements is released by the state government. He said they immediately return to Onitsha in their speedboat after sharing the booty for the month.
‘Our local government is the worst in Anambra’
An executive member of the town union, Kenneth Nwabunwanne in a chat with Sunday Sun described their local government area as the worst in Anambra State.
“During the flood crisis in 2012, our community was ravaged beyond proportion and we are yet to recover from the immense destruction. But before the flood disaster, we were living as the dregs of the society here. We have a health center but nothing is inside so it is more like a monument. When people fall sick, we are at the mercy of patent medicine shops while there is no hospital or qualified doctors to handle emergencies. We have no road and because of that, we are cut off from the rest of Anambra communities. There is no trade connection between us and others because of lack of access roads while those who can access this place through the river are very much limited. Our needs are numerous that we don’t know where to begin itemizing them but all I can say is that this place is the worst local government in Anambra State.”
Elizabeth Maduneme, a mother of five voiced the pains of mothers in the community thus: “Just last week, we lost a woman during childbirth, infant and child mortality is very high here because of absence of medical facilities. The woman had complications after delivery at home and before we could make arrangements to convey her to Onitsha, she died. We don’t have roads, water and light. All of us are basically farmers here and we cultivate yam, rice and cassava in large quantities but we don’t get encouragement from any quarter. During the rainy season it is bye – bye to Onitsha unless you can use boats but if not, we are cut off completely,” she lamented.
A community and its unique culture
Nzam community is the Ijam and Igala speaking part of Anambra State. It is made up of seven villages, comprising of Etakolo, Odobo, Udda, Urubi, Enekpa , Ndiokpoliba and Echa.
Despite suffering from government neglect, the people are a happy people steeped in various cultural and traditional festivities and are happy for that. An elder in the community, Chife Amekwe told Sunday Sun the historical origin of the community and its cultural activities.
“The natives of Nzam were the descendants of General Ajida, a notable warrior of Idah origin in Kogi State. Ajida is the father of Field Marshal Ogbe who was married to Iyida Ogbe and Iyida had five children-Nzam, Anam, Anaku , Oloshi and Okpanam. Ogbe and his family lived around Ankpa in Igala Kingdom. When the Apa and Jukun warriors invaded the Igala communities, Field Marshal Ogbe along with many others retreated with their families through the present Ibaji jungle moving Southwards along the course of the River Niger. As they journeyed through their way, various children of Ogbe for one reason or the other settled themselves at their present locations. This movement from the Igala Kingdom explains the fact that there are Odobo , Enekpa, Igah , Iyano towns in both Ibaji local government area of Kogi State and also in Nzam town in Anambra West Local Governent Area of Anambra State.
“Between January and June, we have festivals like Ugwolegwu, Edo onu Ananwulu and Enachune. In the month of January we call on the earth goddess to bless the children and bless our crops. The Ugwolegwu festival has to do with masquerades. It is more of masquerade feasts celebrated with different soups and rich fish sauces.
Enachune is the Iwa ji yam festival. We do it religiously because without that, the yam will purge us if we don’t mark the festival. The new yam festival proper takes place in August and we call it Uchuero. By December, we mark the Eka ceremony which is more of thanksgiving to God for life and bountiful harvest,” he said.
‘Only Peter Obi administration remembered us but we want more’
While the people of Nzam regret the seeming underdevelopment and deprivation of the area, many of the residents who spoke to Sunday Sun said that the entire local government area was like a totally forgotten enclave before the Peter Obi administration. A list of projects done by the Obi administration for the local council obtained at the local government secretariat by the reporter included “Umueze Mmiata Anam road under construction, Iyiora Anam health center, new bridges at Utolu, Oroma etiti Anam and egonwa bridge at Nzam, solar powered borehole at the local government secretariat, Nzam and completed Magistrate Court at Umueze Anam among others.
Jonathan Nwafee in a reflection on the development regretted that most of the projects executed by the Obi administration in Anambra West were sited outside Nzam, away from the local government headquarters. He lauded Obi for the developmental strides but expressed optimism that with the conclusion of the governorship and council polls in the state, the governor-elect, Chief Willie Obiano and the new Local Government Chairman in the area, Mr. Simon Mbanefo Okafor would give the area a new sense of belonging in Anambra State.
FROM ALOYSIUS ATTAH, ONITSHA