AN ACCOUNT OF THE EFFORTS OF THE ABATETE TASK FORCE GROUP ON DEVELOPMENT, BY OYIBO E. ODINAMADU, MON., B.A., M.A., KSC.
Some of you must have heard of the Organization called: The Abatete Task Force Group On Development, TASK FORCE, in connection with the Rural Electrification Project of Abatete.
It was in the later part of 1986 that the Government of the old Anambra State appointed my humble self as a member of the Anambra State Rural Development Board. I was assigned to the Committee for Rural Electrification, and the information was broadcast over the Radio and Television. Then just after Christmas of 1986, while I was still at Abatete, a delegation of the Abatete Youth Association (AYA), Jos Branch, came to me and requested an appointment for their chairman. The appointment was fixed for later that morning.
They came back as scheduled with their Chairman, Mr. Godwin Chianumba. He stated that they were the only Organization of Abatete people, anywhere, which had the membership of indigenes from all the four Quarters of Abatete. He also stated that the project their organization had in mind for Abatete was that of Rural Electrification. He requested to know what I could do to help them achieve that purpose.
I congratulated them on their large mind in keeping Abatete together, and in choosing such a gigantic project. I offered to do anything, within my reach, to help them reach the goal for the whole community. However, I expressed the feeling that they would be unable to handle the Project alone. I, also, said that, in any case, we would have to summon a meeting of some key persons, from all the Quarters of Abatete, to introduce the idea. They accepted the suggestion. Therefore, we scheduled a meeting to take place before New Year’s Day. We invited as many people as possible, including H.R.H.Igwe P. U. Mkpume, Eze Edeogu 1 of Abatete. All the people invited responded, including the Igwe, who continued to be very much interested and supportive of the Project, and attended the meetings quite often.
Invitations were spread wider for the next Meeting. More people attended, and were also very much interested in the Project. Then, it was decided that the organization would be named as a group that has come together to take on some community development tasks for Abatete, hence the name: ABATETE TASK FORCE GROUP ON DEVELOPMENT. My humble self was, unanimously, elected the Chairman, and some other officers were also so elected.
Membership was open to all Abatete men and women, as well as their sons and daughters anywhere, without any limitations. The meetings were always very well attended and punctually, too. Almost every Abatete man, Ono n’uno na ono n’ofia, attended the meetings at one time or the other. It was decided that we would not operate by the four Quarters system of Abatete. We, therefore, appointed or elected people at randomly, by consensus, not mentioning their Quarters, and only on merit and recognizable ability to do the job. We also insisted on a deep sense of responsibility and accountability.
Subsequently, we learned from the Ani Associates, who were supervising the work of the Contractors, the Brown Bovery Company of Germany for Government, told us that it would be necessary to produce a Survey Map before anything else. The AYA (Jos Branch) provided the N20,000.00 (twenty thousand naira) for the Survey Map, which was paid to Ani Associates for the job. Following that, the Organization decided to do a launching at home to introduce the Project to the people in general, and to begin to raise Funds for it.
A TOUR OF NIGERIA
However, it was also decided that, first of all, a tour of Nigeria would be undertaken to meet with all the Abatete indigenes, everywhere we would go. But before the delegation set out, it came to our attention that the Government of Anambra State had published an order in The DAILY STAR requiring every town or community in the State to inaugurate a Development Organization, before a certain dateline, and that any community that defaulted would be penalized. The delegation, therefore, had to carry the news of the Rural Electrification Project and the Survey Map, as well as the information about the Government order, with copies of the Newspaper publication, to all the places we went. The delegation which traveled to Jos, Kaduna, Lagos, Aba, Onitsha, Enugu, etc. was very well received everywhere and had very successful and productive meetings with them. They all approved of the Project, the coming together and the launching for funds.
LAUNCHING FOR NI,000,000.00 FOR EXTENSIONS
The date of the Launching was fixed for 27th March, 1987 at the grounds of the Abatete Community Hall. The occasion was very well attended by people at home and from outside. People at home were requested to bring their Dance Groups. It was a very big occasion and a good one for new policies, reunions, new contacts and renewals of associations and friendships. That occasion also brought Igwe Mkpume, Eze Edeogu 1, and all the Ndi Ichie and Abatete together, for the first time. He sat with all the Ndi Ichie, shook hand, exchanged pleasantries, received and prayed over Kolanuts, Igo Oji, for Abatete as a whole, broke the kola nut, and everybody ate of them. He also poured libation for Abatete and everybody also drank from it.
THE ADDRESS OF WELCOME
Following those ceremonies, the Task Force Group On Development presented an Address of Welcome to the Igwe and the Igwe in Council, the distinguished guest Ndi Igwe, dignitaries, VIPs and all the people assembled for the Launching. In the Address, we asked whether Abatate, men and women, whether they would like to come together now, as a body, under one name, as a necessity for peace in the town, and the good of the people? And there was a very big, unanimous, thunderous and resounding acclamation and shouts of E-E-YE-OO!, YES! YES! YES!, KWUSIE-YA-IKE-OOO! and of the beating of drums, blowing of flutes, horns, whistles, elephant tusks, etc and of singing and dancing, which took quite sometime to cool down.
We went on to tell them that the purposes for the Launching were: One, to request Abatete to leave behind and forget whatever caused the face-off among the people and the quarters, as it is said that: Iwe nwanne n’ewe n’ulu, na ona ewero na okpukpu! Two, to look forward to the future and seek for peace and development and growth; proceeded to tell them about the Rural Electrification Project, hence this Launching for Fund Raising. Three, that the coming together would also be to fulfil the current requirement of the Government that every town or community should inaugurate a Development Organization within the time specified, or be penalized. There also followed a deafening round of ovation and acclamation!
AND THE PEOPLE SAID: LET THERE BE LIGHT!
Thereafter, the Launching started. Ichie Idi Etokwudoaku B.O.Obiefuna and Mrs. Odoziaku Obiefuna, chairmaned the occasion. HRH Igwe P.U.Mkpume, Eze Edeogu I of Abatete and HRH Mrs. Mkpume were the chief guests of honor, while the Obi of the four Quarters and their wives (Ndi Odoziaku) were the co-chief guests of honor. Then all the Ndi Ichie and their wives (Ndi Odoziaku); the guest Ndi Igwe, all the dignitaries and VIPs supported the chairman. Eventually, everybody present was pronounced a dignitary and a very important person, and supporter of the chief guests of honor and of the chairman, from wherever they were. This announcement was also very jubilantly received.
Engr. Chief Dom. Ekesi and Chief, Mrs. Ekesi were the Chief Launchers, and kicked off the donations with N50,000.00 (fifty thousand naira)(N40,000.00 (forty thousand naira)& (N10,000.00) (ten thousand naira), respectively. This drew a very big and tumultuous ovation and excitement. Nearly, N300,000.00 (three hundred thousand naira) was raised on that day, and more donations kept flowing in later from home and outside. The community went agog in celebrating an occasion that offered something to write home about.
MASS MEETING AND THE BIRTH OF THE ADO!
The day after the Launching, being the 28th March, 1987, a Mass Meeting of Abatete was convened at the Community Hall and The Task Force Group decided that Ichie Idi Etokwudoaku B.O.Obiefuna, the Chairman of the Launching, should also chairman the Mass Meeting. And he did, and it was very big success.
While we were at my house taking account of the contributions and doing a post mortem of the Launching, I was sent for three times by the Mass Meeting, through the emissary, Monsignor O.P.Achebe, to ask me: One, to attend the Meeting; Two, or to
confirm whether the Organization would be named as an Association or as a Cultural Organization; Three, or to come to take up the post of Secretary of the new Organization. I, respectfully, declined all the invitations on the grounds that I could not leave the job on hand to attend the Meeting. I could not also combine the responsibilities of the Secretary with that of the Chairman of The Task Force Group. However, I sent them a reply to the enquiry that, according to the Government publication, the Organization to be established should be a ‘Development Organization’. I also sent them a copy of the Newspaper publication.
I went on to suggest that Engr. Dom Ekesi be elected to the post of President. My reasons being that: One, even though he had been very skeptical about any good out of the coming together of Abatete again in one Organization, judging from some past experiences, he had continued to support all the moves to come together. Two, since he and his wife had responded so very well at the launching, I believed that, with that kind of commitment, they would not let the new Organization falter, as it is said that: a piece charcoal fire given to a child in his hand would not scotch him, Na Oku Agunyelu Nwata N’aka Ana ruro ya! And I also felt that: Three, if he allowed the Organization to fail, the weight of it would be on him. Surely, he was elected and he demonstrated that he was equal to the task.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO GOVERNMENT FOR RURAL ELECTRIFICATION
Subsequently, the Government announced the policy of some payments by Communities, which were desirous of having the benefit of its Rural Electrification Project. Abatete was billed the sum of N1,000,000.00 (one million naira). In order to raise the money, graded contributions by all men and women, at home and away from home, were called for. There was an unprecedented response, and well over N1,000,000.00 (one million naira) was raised for the Electrification Project. And Abatete was the first community in the State to raise and make any payment, and to the tune of the sum of N1,000,000.00 (one million naira) to the Government of Anambra State.
Long before the Abatete Task Force On Development came into existence, Mr. Paul Anyaefiena, in his position as the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Works, had rearranged the list of applications for the Electrification in alphabetical order in his office. Therefore, Abatete came first on the list and Awkuzu, my hometown, the second. Abatete also being the first community to deposit the required amount of money with the Government would have been the first to be served. However, the Commissioner for Works at that time pushed in his hometown before Abatete. However, the work of erecting poles and reticulation started in Abatete in 1989. And with the intermittent periods of waiting for the Government Budget to take effect and the arrival of the BBC materials from overseas, the works at Abatete was finally finished with the switching on of the lights in December, 1992.
Abatete was initially allocated ten transformers. The Task Force Group tried to share these Transformers equitably to the four Quarters. But the Ani Associates and the BBC who had toured Abatete with us and had taken notes of their criteria for the installation of transformers in any community in which they worked, submitted their recommendations to the Government about the reticulation and the placement of the Transformers without taking into consideration our suggestions and recommendations to them.
When we protested, they told us that what mattered was that Abatete would be hooked on to the National Power Grid and that extensions could go on indefinitely. But at home, everybody wanted to be served at the first connection of the light. Without that, most people felt that there was unsatisfactory distribution of the transformers. The policy of the Ani Associates and the BBC took into consideration only establishments like: Secondary Schools, Markets, Hospitals, Maternity Homes and Orphanages, Factories and Industrial Areas, Town Halls, Churches, Igwe’s Palace, as well as Government Establishments such as: Post Offices, Hospitals, Secondary Schools, etc. But they did not consider such places as private residences of important personalities.
We had been promised a free gift of a transformer, by the Commissioner for Works and Utilities, with whom we worked, when we have paid the final N100,000.00 (one hundred thousand naira), as a consolation for the commitment and diligence of the community for being able to collect and pay the full billing. That transformer, if secured, would have been placed strategically to serve the Abatete General Hospital and Umudunu village of Agbaja Quarters. But there was a great deal of controversy about the placement of the Transformers in the town, to the extent that there was delay in collecting the last N100,000.00 (one hundred thousand naira). Then, at that time it was eventually collected and paid to the Government, the Administration had changed hands and the Commissioner with whom we worked had left. And, even though we paid the outstanding amount, we could not hold anyone responsible for the oral promise of a free gift of a transformer made by a functionary who had left office.
Because everybody was not served at the first connection of light in the town, any further decisions by the Task Force about how extension lines should be controlled, approved and constructed, and the light distributed, were not adhered to. There was such a general scrambling and cannibalization of the lines, by hooking on to the high tension lines, stepping down on low tensions and the extension of lines to the houses of people who have not even redeemed their pledges or paid the required fees, that most of the transformers were overloaded, and they started to burn out. Such state of affairs created disorderliness and indiscipline, giving rise to the problems of repairs and replacement of transformers and the lines.
OTHER EFFORTS OF THE TASK FORCE GROUP:
While the Task Force was waiting for the Electrification work to start, we undertook some other jobs in the interest of the town. We engaged a Water Prospecting Engineering firm, to help us locate some water tables at Abatete. They located three areas from where it would be possible to tap water – Odida, Ekeagu and Ogbu. And they reported that the one that could produce water for all parts of Abatete would be a borehole at Ekeagu due to the gradient of the topography. Nevertheless, it was decided that the project was for the cooler and only to be pursued after the Electrification.
ROAD TARRING: A THOROUGHFARE FOR IDEMILI
The Idemili Local Government had a project to tar a road in Abatete, which is already a thoroughfare and the shortest route for commuters in Idemili. The Road is to connect two already existing tarred roads. The LGA Engineer carried out inspections and decided on the road leading from Afoigwe through Adazi, Ogidi to Ezi Udokwu, Abatete to Ekeagu. He also decided on another road leading from Ugwu Nwasike, Ogidi to Abatete through Ezi Udokwu to Ekeagu to Alor, which had been tarred. The first road selected happens to be the one that passes in front of my house to connect Ezi Udokwu, and then to Ekeagu.
There was effort on the side of Ogidi people to have the road building start from the Afoigwe end. But the LGA Engineer decided otherwise on the grounds that much of the land from Afoigwe end was uninhabited area before reaching where people lived. Therefore, the first phase of the project was started from Ezi Udokwu end, past my house and stopped just after Mr. Jeremiah Chukwudebelu’s residence when the materials for the first phase was exhausted. In fact, the culverts, which had not been completed, cause a great deal of flooding and erosion problems for Mbala Ifite.
IDEMILI GENERAL HOSPITAL AT ABATETE
There was also an Hospital Project donated to the Government of Anambra State by a Spanish Consortium. The Government decided to build the Hospital in Idemili Local Government Area. And the Project was brought to Abatete, through the instrumentality of Sir P.E.Chukwura, as the mentor of the then Governor of Anambra State, Ifeanyichukwu Madueke.
The Task Force Group became interested in the Project from contacts with the Ministry of Health. We also got involved in the struggle for the ownership of the land on which the Hospital was to be constructed – Abatete or Ogidi. However, it was established that the land belonged to Umudunu, Abatete, but Ogidi was not satisfied. The Task Force Group was also involved in the pressure to have the construction started, the Hospital equipped, staffed and opened and also to start rendering unimpeded services to the people. The Hospital did start to run satisfactorily, serving the whole of Idemili area and beyond, until the Chief Security Officer, Mr. Obumse of Abatete, died suddenly. Then a series of armed robbery and vandalization descended on the Hospital and rendered it useless.
RECONSTRUCTION OF THE TELECOMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM
Another project that the Task Force took interest in was the reconstruction of the Telecommunications System in the town, one of the installations of which is standing at the junction of Ezi Udokwu and the road leading from Afoigwe, past my house, and the road to Achala. The BBC had discussed in my presence about so many telecommunications lines or water pipelines they observed, which were cut or broken by road builders while they were digging for the road. They lamented how some infrastructures that had been financed, built and put into service for the people were being damaged and rendered useless by contractors who were also paid by the same Government to establish another infrastructure, etc
A MARBLE WALL FOR IMMORTALIZING COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT DONORS
One other project the Task Force Group considered undertaking later was that of erecting a marble wall in the Community Hall on which would be recorded, for posterity, the name of every donor, and the amount he/she contributed to the Electrification and other Projects, no matter how big or small the donation, as an encouragement for people to give. There was also the thought of issuing certificates to every donor for keepsake as a legacy to their children and families. The certificates had actually been printed for the Electrification Project but not issued.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF ABATETE COMMUNITY BANK
Then came the establishment of the Abatete Community Bank. Mr. Kamnayo Emekekwue came to me with a document from someone in Government, which sets out the guidelines for setting up Community Banks. He said that the person had asked him to request me to summon a meeting of Abatete indigenes for the purpose of establishing one for Abatete. I agreed to summon an Ad Hoc Meeting but not at my house at Abatete, since it was becoming rather a scandal that every thing that was going on at Abatete was converging on, and revolving around me, and at my house. I, therefore, asked Barrister Igboamalu Okoye to let us hold the Meeting at his house, and he agreed.
Most of the few people I invited came. I attended the Meeting with the Project Coordinator of the Task Force Group and convened the Meeting. After introductions, I stated the subject of the Meeting and why we were meeting at that venue. I thanked Barrister Igboamalu Okoye for allowing the use of his residence as the venue, and proceeded to nominate Engr. Dom Ekesi, as the President-General of the ADO, to chairman the Ad Hoc Meeting. And he did. At the Meeting, Protem Officers were elected but no woman was included.
MY ASSESSMENT OF THE WORK OF THE TASK FORCE
My overall assessment of the involvement the Task Force Group in the community development of Abatete is that it achieved the purposes it set out to very, very well. I am infinitely happy for two reasons. First, there was the wide opportunity I had in getting to meet, work with and know more people, big and small, high and low - some of whose contact I would treasure for life. Secondly, I would forever be happy and content for the singular opportunity I had to be involved, and instrumental in bringing the Anambra State Rural Electrification Project to Abatete. And I thank God!
Mr. President, I seek your permission to use this opportunity to pay tribute to HRH Igwe P.U. Mkpume and all the Obi and Ndi Ichie of Abatete, Ndi Ide and all the titled men and women, and the generality of the people for their interest and support for the Projects of the Task Force Group. I wish also to pay tribute to all the officers, members, patrons and supporters of the Task Force Group, for their interest, encouragement, seriousness of purpose and tenacity in pursuing the Projects to their very successful end.
Please forgive me not attempting to name everybody individually, as I am bound to make some mistakes or to leave off some.
But I must mention a few, in particular, Engr. Ephraim Okey Anyaegbunam without whose help I would not have been able to go round Abatete, the AYA (Jos Branch), the Secretaries, Finance Officers and the other Officers and Patrons of the Task Force Group, as well as some individuals, especially Ichie Okaka Akuchukwu M.N. Chukwuma, Ichie Idi Etokwudoaku B.O. Obiefuna, Mr. Emma Chikeluba, the Oganiru Age Grade, Mrs. Eliza Agugo, Ogboanyi Tommy Obiefuna, Dr. Emeka Aroh, to name but a few, who were very, very magnanimous to me. May God bless all of you abundantly!
I wish also to pray for the eternal repose of the souls of HRH Igwe P.U Mkpume and HRH Odoziaku Mrs. Mkpume, and all those among the people who have received the higher call, to rest in perfect peace with the Lord. Amen!
ABATETE NA EKENEM UNU-O-O-O! ONYE NWELI UNU NWELI MADU-O-O-O-! ONYE NWELI UNU NWELI MADU-O!