By Israel Umoh
Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital in the South-South Region of Nigeria means different things to many people. It could mean the ecosystem of mango trees. To some historians, it can mean a voice laden in rulership and authority.
But, it may sound strange to discover that Uyo shares a near-homophonous link with another place. In far away, Ikot Udo Obobo in Ukanafun local government area of Akwa Ibom is a place called Anwa Uyo, a family setting. Both share Uyo in common. The former is a cosmopolitan area while the latter is rural. Yet, Anwa Uyo said to be the ancestral home of Uyo-Obong, the founder was typified as a scion of voice laced in authority and kingship. Ikot Udo Obobo village which harbours Anwa Uyo is a confluence to many villages within Ukanafun and other neighbouring places.
Affirming the claims of Uyo origin, Uwem Akpan, a doctorate degree holder in History and International Politics and lecturer in the Department of History and International Relations, University of Uyo said “There are many versions to name: Uyo. Uyo Village was a place where many mangoes were said to have been planted. Some historians agree that it might have named after the rich plantation of mango trees. Another version is that Uyo which means a voice may have derived its name from this. In short, the village could have been a voice or authority in the comity of other villages then.”
To Ofonime Umanah, the publisher of TNN and an indigene of Ikot Udo Obobo, “Anwa Uyo was named after a prominent chief called ‘Uyo Obong’. He was said to have been a wealthy man who married 36 wives with many children. His family then was and is still the largest in the village and in the locality.”
However, Uyo steeped in urbaneness and Ikot Udo Obobo in ruralness have dissimilar attributes. Uyo was a village. It later became a local government headquarters. And in the process of time, it turned to a state capital. And the town started booming. Migrations took place. Hot chase for lands and houses began. From shanties and one-storey houses to sky-kissing houses, the town started the journey to cosmopolitan. From colonial macadamised roads to a network of mega-city roads. From serenity to a commotion. From tens of bicycles and motorcycles to thousands of Kekes and assorted cars. From tens heads to a sea of human heads in the ever-growing city.
But Ikot Udo Obobo which Anwa Uyo is a part is a quiet, agrarian in nature. Ikot Ubo-Ekparakwa-Ikot Akpa Nkuk-Aba Federal Highway is the only major route traversing the area. Few trucks and buses and cars ply the long but near-abandoned Federal axis. The place is king Trebor to a network of unpaved state and local government roads. What is supposed to be a transit or confluence town is a ghost of itself as a result of perceived insecurity and poor road network. Refuse disposal is being handled by the locals. Air pollution is not in its calendar. A splinter of kiosks dons the poorly populated area that just came from the trench of cult-war. Few bicycles and motorcycles and trekking are major means of transportation. Electricity and pipe-borne water are scarce commodities in the village.
In the Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickson, the English author anchoring the novel on the French Revolution opens it this way “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of unbelief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” The tale is about the woes experienced by the people in the villages and urban centres of Akwa Ibom- the level of development, the level of poverty, a cacophony of confusion, insecurity to life and property, a dearth of infrastructures and lack of human capacity development, among others.
As clearly captured by Dickson, this is the best time in the history of Nigeria indeed Akwa Ibom considering the volume of monthly allocations accrued from the Federation Account Allocation Committee to the state government. Yet, the level of development still stands poles apart in a small contiguous state of about five millions. The disparities between the urban centres and rural areas are glaring. A time will come, when the people, like Dickson, will recollect “It was age of boom and it was age of poverty.”
Based on the 2016 population census, Akwa Ibom has an estimated population figure of 5.451 million sits on a landmass of 7,081 km2. Uyo occupies a landmass of 362 km2 and 1,200/ km2 and an estimated population of 1,135,775 based on 2020 census projection. Semi-urban centres such as Abak, Eket, Ikot Ekpene and Oron and the 26 local government areas occupy the remaining.
Yet, Uyo, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, is a paradox of contradictions in terms of development. A case of The Rich Also Cry by Amaechi Nzekwe playing out? As a state capital, one would have thought that all is well not knowing that it is still bogged down by some inconceivable things.
Firstly, the traffic jam in the city is gradually assuming a worsening height. From 7.30 a.m to 9 a.m and from 4 p.m to 7 p.m, certain routes and major junctions in the metropolitan experience a traffic lockdown. For instance, IBB by Aka Road, Udo Udoma Avenue by Aka Road, Udo Udoma Avenue by Oron Road, Oron Road by Gibbs Street, Plaza in Ikot Ekpene Road to Ikpa Road junction, Nwaniba Road by Ekpri Nsukara Junction, Oron Road by Four Lanes traffic light junction, Abak Road by Udobio Street and Abak Road by Mechanic Village, among others. Let the state government construct more alternative routes or build flyovers where necessary to ease traffic.
Secondly, indiscriminate street naming and numbering. It is amusing that some landlords and some privileged staffers of the state Ministry of Lands and Housing, Office of the Survey-General and Uyo Capital City Development Authority name streets after themselves. Some of the staffers who would mark out the land for taking over by the state government, mark out parcels for themselves and at the same time name streets after themselves. Visit such development areas as Osongama Housing Estate, Shelter Afrique Extension as well as Ifa group of villages, Ekpri Nsukara, Akamba Nsukara and Mbiabong, among others. Must streets be named after people who open the streets? Are streets and roads in other states not named after outstanding figures for their contributions to the development of the state? Let UCCDA and Ministry of Lands and Housing wade in and resolve this impasse including re-numbering and streets and close.
Thirdly, Uyo is reminiscent of the city of refuse. Akwa Ibom State Environmental Protection And Waste Management Agency is commended for always evacuating refuse from the public receptacles, though some public places are littered by passers-by. Some roads and streets are indiscriminately turned to refuse dumps. This defeats the essence of Uyo trying to catch up as one of the cleanest cities in Nigeria. Annoyingly too, the paid street sweepers pack the refuse in available gutters while some pedestrians throw peels into drains. Let the agency wake up to its responsibility.
Fourthly, the build-up to insecurity in the town is unfathomable. It is alleged that some streets are not as safe as some “hard” boys go about stealing telephone sets and other items from innocent passers-by. Some burgle into houses while in the daytime the rest enter stores and steal money.
It is also alleged that some nights, some lorry drivers will bring ‘strangers’ into the state. Some of them are gradually building and occupying shanties. They do not pay taxes and rates. Some are busy colonizing empty spaces near former AKTC Motor Park, Itam; Itiam Edem Akai village. They are worsening street trading in the city but UCCDA has gone into slumber. There was a time the authority cleared the petty traders from Ikot Ekpene Road and other major roads. Let law enforcement agents buckle up to checkmate bursts in flashpoints while the Waste Management Agency and UCCDA should stop the trespass of available space by strange street traders and absentee landlords.
Finally, the town does not have public pipe-borne water for households, thus forcing many to dig their boreholes. Let the Ministry of Special Duty and Water come to the rescue by providing quality water supply. The power outage is another hydra-headed problem in the city. Despite the fact that Akwa Ibom has built Independent Power Plant in Ikot Abasi, yet many residents in various areas grope in ‘darkness,’ courtesy of Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company, PHED.
Blues from the villages show that state government-owned roads measuring more than 3,000 kilometres in the 31 local government areas of the state is abandoned and rendered impassable particularly during the rainy season. Local government roads measuring more than 3,000 kilometres are neither graded nor constructed by some local councils. For example, in the 70s, some local government councils in the defunct Cross River State stone-based and asphalted some roads in the local government headquarters.
Sadly too, some villages are yet to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ electricity supply. As of 2015, 772 villages in the state did not have electricity. In 70 per cent villages, there are no health centres or health posts, no police posts, lack of pipe-borne water nor boreholes, poor infrastructural facilities in public primary and secondary schools. Visit some villages in Ukanafun, Etim Ekpo, Eastern Obolo, Oruk Anam, Okobo, Mbo, Nsit Atai and Uruan local government areas, among others.
Findings show that 90 per cent poor reside in the 2,240 gazetted villages in Akwa Ibom. Some survive on subsistence farming, while the rest engage in petty trading. Those with paltry income are primary, secondary school teachers, palm kernel/palm oil merchants and kiosk operators.
What bind Uyo and Anwa Uyo together is what distance and privilege and status and politics have separated unsuspectingly. The serenity lacking in the urban centre is not complemented by the rural communities as they are deprived of social amenities by various governments forcing young men and women to move out in droves to the urban settlement to eke out a living. The day in most villages paints a picture of abandonment and the night paints a picture of gloom. When shall the villages, the epicentre of grassroots mobilization and development come out of the wood of underdevelopment? Who shall redeem the rural communities of Akwa Ibom from these miseries?