The last time I was in my hometown/village long enough to observe anything was eleven years ago.
The packing? The cars had to be loaded the evening before…two families were travelling together. So we had a minibus and another car to go with. It was a long, 8 hour, but smooth drive. We set off just after 6am.
I was quite disappointed with the final stretch of the road between Otukpo and Otobi. Normally, we have to pass through Otukpo to get to Otobi. Otukpo is a local government in Benue state and the most popular Idoma town/village. It is the local government which my villages, Otobi - my mum’s village and Onyuwei - my dad’s village, fall under. I have not been to my villages many times, but the few times I have been there, the thing that has always struck my siblings and I is the red sand (as we like to say) in Otukpo. It is still the same, the roads are largely untarred. Between Otukpo and Otobi, where we spent 5 out of 6 days, the roads leave a little to be desired. Erosion has eaten deep into the roads and to make it worse, there are so many potholes. The irony is that someone represents this very constituency at the National Assembly, and has been in that position for 15 years…story for another day!
On arrival, we were greeted warmly by cousins we had not seen in years. We settled in, and in true village style, word spread and people started to troop in one after the other to say hello. If you have any idea how life in the village is in Nigeria, communal living is still very much practised. Not just in the village, a bit of it extends to some cities. Although the major cities in Nigeria seem to be losing that sense of community, with mansions guarded by such thick walls. I digress!
Before long, my grand mother came by. We were still unpacking. She was overjoyed. She had no clue that we would arrive that early. She tried to act angry and went on about the fact that she hadn't prepared anything for us to eat, but the joy of her seeing two of her children and another generation of children melted that anger very quickly. We went to say hello to my grandfather, who was equally overjoyed.
We had warned my parents that we would not be up before 8am the next day to receive visitors. We noticed however that people in the village went to bed early and were up and about early. As early as 6:30am or 7am, there would be people knocking at the door, singing greetings. Turning them away or not answering the door? Not the best options!!!
Being the harmattan season, it was dusty, very much so! I have to say though that the sand in the village is on another level. All roads, streets, small paths are SANDY! I thought I had pictures of the dust on our feet but the pictures do not do justice to the situation so I'd rather not post them.
There was so much generosity from people. They cooked out of the goodness of their hearts and offered us a lot of food, we never lacked what to eat, even if we did not cook for two days! Only thing was, the same thing was offered by many people, so we had to diversify our diet. The staple food in Benue state is pounded yam then the soups with which the food is eaten vary from place to place. In Idoma land, the main soup is Okoho soup. It is a stem that is stripped into pieces then juiced. The juice is very thick and two of the ingredients that are always required are 1) dried fish 2) ground melon seeds, moulded. The soup is then spiced to individual taste. When eating this with pounded yam (poundo), there is a tactic to stop the soup from going along with the lump of poundo in your hand. It is best experienced, my explanation may not do much justice to this subject!
Well, we were offered mounds and mounds of pounded yam with different soups – okoho, egusi and dried okro. We were also offered different forms of rice by some.
We needed to do some shopping so we headed to Otukpo which is a 15 minute drive from Otobi. Just as we were leaving the market, there was some commotion outside the market. It seemed like some sort of campaign/entertainment scene.
Pardon the quality of pictures. I literally ran after them with the things I had in my hands, I managed to get these pictures before we drove out of the area. The traffic was building and it was best to get away in order to get home before dark. Oga David Mark (constituency rep at NA) must have paid these people to shut the streets of Otukpo down! A family friend who goes to Otukpo every year (he was to arrive in Otukpo the next day) and always uses the popular saying "Idoma/Otukpo Ol'Adam" got these pictures from me with a rant, then I asked him how this was improving anybody's life.
Well, he is one person who knows me and is super patient with me, always...thank you NA. Anyway, we got out of the area in one piece.
Christmas day in Otobi was interesting, it was fun. Nothing unusual happened, save for the fact that the house turned to a mini restaurant! We spent boxing day in Onyuwei. To get there, there is a famous bridge...we have always walked across. We had to do the same. We all got out of the car so that the weight would not be too much. We went across then directed the driver across to join us. Onyuwei is more of a village than Otobi. Otobi is slowly turning into a town with a Federal secondary school there, then electricity and portable water are available but sadly, that's not the case in Onyuwei. The time in the village was fun, although I can't say the same for some people who live and work in Benue state.
So much has gone wrong recently, the past year was not the greatest in the state.
Teachers in public primary schools were on strike for about eight months because the government would not pay the minimum wage. Although an MoU was said to have been signed, the government did not implement it. An indefinite strike action was the consequence see story here.
Following this, sometime in June, civil servants were shocked by the governor who took the liberty to deduct 10% from the workers' salaries in order to pay these teachers, read about it here.
Currently, salaries of four months are owed to civil servants, details here, and despite the state being the food basket of the nation, I am not sure there is an even distribution of food. I can't speak much about the quality of life either. Despite all, people seem happy...suffering and smiling according to Fela Kuti.
I do not know how we can change some of these things in Nigeria and in different states, but until we get to that point where we demand accountability from our leaders, I indeed hope to be able to say Idoma Ol'Adam (Idoma my father land) without pain someday.