Local Government never springs out of nothing -“Ex Nihilo” without being carved from the particular geographical area known as “State”. Equally, an individual or group of people can only exist in the society, by belonging to a Local Government Area. Against political capital of at least the present Imo State judging from the antecedentst this backdrop, we are here to talk about our magnificent area of Ngor Okpala laying bare its history, achievements and those “elephants in the room” (problems ignored).This gives room to consider some possible questions: How and why does Ngor Okpala, awash with educated and intelligent people; knowledgeable and vibrant people, lie so low and unable to make any progressive move – abandoned and dejected?
How and why does Ngor Okpala, which just recently, challenged very effectively for supremacy with four (4) other (now defunct) County Councils in the former Owerri Division, now sit isolated and lonely while her erstwhile peers have subdivided into two or three other Local Government areas?
How and why does Ngor Okpala, which, until yesterday, was the food basket of Eastern Nigeria and showed the way in the areas of food security and self-sufficiency, now sit in lack and penury, with her sons/daughters in politics falling over one another in their shameless quest to pick up crumbs from under the tables of their erstwhile compatriots and peers?
Why did all the other professions leave such a complex thing as politics to politicians of the caliber that we are infested with?
My eyes fail with tears; my bowel rumbles with discomfort; my heart is on a continually pounding because my people now languish in their heaths and hamlets disappointed, dejected, confused?
Ngor Okpala is bereft of pride and self-esteem because it is now the hunting ground of all sorts and manners of political adventurers.
2.0 CLARIFICATON OF TERMS
2.1 HISTORY: is derived from a modern French word “histoire”, from Latin “historia”, and from Greek “historia” and all pointing to it as a branch of knowledge dealing with past events. It is also a continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person etc. usually written as a chronological account as of the life or development of a people or institution, often including an explanation of or commentary on those events.
2.2 NGOR: Ngor is one of the autonomous communities in Ngor-Okpala local government area of Imo State and the ancestral headquarters of the Ngor-Okpala people, the acclaimed food basket of Imo State. From the historical perspective and tracing about 500 years of Ngor’s existence, history hold it that their ancestors were brave warriors that were feared by neighbors. This gave rise to the saying, “Onye je Ngor nga chi jiri”, meaning “who will go to Ngor at night.” Ngor was so prominent that it became the foundation stone of naming the clan called Ngor-Okpala.
2.3 OKPALA: This is a village in Ngor Okpala local government area of Imo State. In Okpala there are seven communities known as ama-asaa .Okpala is one of the villages in ama-asaa but due to the popularity of the name, it takes over the name ‘ama-asaa’. Okpala being at the centre of the seven communities has four kindred which include Amankwu, Amaube, Amanwaebo and Umuokereke. The people of Amankwu are divided into two families orie na nwaogu and orie na nwaabali, the two families make up the Amankwu.
3.0 BRIEF HISTORY OF NGOR OKPALA
Ngor Okpala is a Local Government Area of Imo State, Nigeria. Its headquarters are in the town of Umuneke Ngor. It has an area of 561 km² and a population of 159,932 according to the 2006 census. Ngor Okpala is a notable place in Imo state because of its location. It connects Abia and Rivers states of Nigeria. It is the largest Local Government Area in Imo State and one of the largest in Nigeria.Its postal code is 460.
Ngor Okpala comprises a number of communities which helped it achieve Local Government status. They are: Ntu, Alulu, Amala, Orburu, Obokwe, Eziama, Okpala, Ohekelem, Ihite, Obike, Elelem, Umuohiagu, Umuhu, Imerienwe, Upe, Nguru-Umuaro, Orishi-eze, Umuekwune umukabia-ngodo, Ngali, Umuikoro na Opuehi, Orishi-eze and many others. Amidst all these communities in Ngor Okpala, the most popular town is known as Nguru-umuaro and in the local parlance, it is pronounced as “ngwuru”.It has this stature by virtue of its central location.
Proximity to Owerri the State Capital means that people from different communities going to Owerri have to get to Ulakwo Park, because it was once part of Ngor Okpala. Again, Okpala Junction or Enyiogugu for those of them sharing common boundary with Mbaise, before boarding a vehicle to Owerri. Imo airport is situated in Ngor-Okpala and this has made the place known and popular in the State.
Ngor Okpala is blessed with natural and mineral resources. The natives also term themselves as people of Owerri “nde owere”. It was Sir H.C. Douglas that gave the Local Government the name “Ngor Okpala”.
3.1 LIFE AND ORIENTATION
Before we consider an individual’s or group of people’s life, it is a “conditio sine qua non” to check if life is improving in the society or undermining the progress of the area. Therefore, it is pertinent to first see what development is all about. Development is a function of the collective attitude of a people and the opportunities facilitated by Federal Government planning and financial provisions. The values people hold determine their attitude, just as attitude also determines behavior which in turn determines the rate at which development is attained.
The headquarters of Ngor-Okpala is situated at Umuneke Ngor, which is fondly called “Ekeneze” a people known for their aggressive lifestyle.
From the cultural viewpoint, Ngor Okpala has a rich cultural heritage. It threw up intriguing ceremonies like “Akaraka Ngor”an annual event at which a jar of palmwine goes round the entire celebrants of about 350 persons, “Iriji Ngor Okpala” “ira Uda”, “emume ndiche” and host of others. Ngor Okpala people are generally very hard working, humble and contented people. They are not greedy and overly ambitious, and so they are very risk averse and less adventurous. They are hospitable, accommodating, and they value their traditions and are known for their farm work. All of these characteristics combine to explain why they are politically shy or even timid.
In the social sphere, the traditional marriage system in the Local government was in a good status being conscious of the “Osu caste system”, the traditional criminal justice system, resolution of disputes, and security through community policing was taken serious in the olden days. Ngor people had a good social system that ensured peaceful co-existence amongst the communities that made up the local government.
The Biafran war, affected Ngor Okpala indigenes as it caused disorder and several damages and even claimed many lives in the area.
Also, seeing the poor state of development in the area we can see that most Ngor Okpala leaders have been highly unpatriotic, placing personal gain above group and collective Ngor Okpala interests, and this led them to sell their rights to the House of Representatives to the people of Aboh Mbaise in the years 2007 and 2011.
Several years after the people were recognized as a clan, they have remained so while almost every other clan in its category has been upgraded with so many LGAs been carved out from them.
Ngor Okpala Local Government Area has fared poorly in political matters from its period to date and this has been a source of major concern to its well-meaning citizens, as they see that since the new political dispensation from 1999, no Ngor Okpala citizen has been either Governor, Deputy Governor, Senator, Minister or Ambassador. It recently happened that our sons of the LGA won a seat at the Federal House of Representatives, a position which has been dominated by the people of Aboh Mbaise for the past 12 years, when an Ngor Okpala son respected the bill of equity that was signed by the people of Aboh Mbaise and Ngor Okpala to rotate the representation of the Federal constituency between the two LGAs.
This scenario is disturbing for a Local Government Area like Ngor Okpala which has a proud political history. We note that Ngor Okpala had once produced a Speaker as well as Chief Whip of the then Eastern House of Assembly during the first republic in the 1960s in the persons of Chief Okereke and Sir Onyeso Nwachukwu. There are also such notable political personalities as Dr. Nnanna Ukaegbu, Late Chief Lawrence Egu. Indeed it is surprising that till date, Ngor Okpala has remained a single Local Government Area whereas Aboh Mbaise, Uratta and Mbaitolu /Ikeduru which had the status of clan when Ngor Okpala was also a clan, have had two or three other LGAs carved out from them.
3.2 POLITICAL WARD CONFIGURATION IN NGOR OKPALA
It is only in Ngor Okpala that several separate distinct autonomous communities are lumped together and made a political ward. Take these examples.
Ward 1: consists of Ntu, Amala, Alulu, Obokwe, and Oburu
Ward 2: consists of Elelem, Obike and Obioma
Ward 3: is made up of Ozuzu, Okpala, Egbelu
Ward 4: is made up of Eziama, Okpala and Umuohuhu
Ward 5: consists of Imerienwe and UPE
Ward 6: is made up of Nguru and Umuowa
Ward 7: consists of Ngor, Ihitte and Umukabia
Ward 8: is made up of Ohekelem and Nnorie
Ward 9&10: has one autonomous community each namely Umuhu and Obiangwu respectively.
Ward 11: is made up of Umuohiagu and Logara.
Unlike Aboh Mbaise, 1/3 of a former County Council like Ngor Okpala which now has 12 wards. Ahiazu Mbaise has 12 wards and Ezinihitte Mbaise has 12 wards.
In other words the former Mbaise County Council now has 36 political wards while Ngor Okpala has 11 only.
Furthermore, the former Mbaitoi/Ikeduru County Council has 24 political wards shared evenly among the two (2) Local Government Areas as follows:
Mbaitoli LGA 12;
Ikeduru LGA 12.
The former Uratta/ Mbaukwu County Council now has thirty-three (33) political wards distributed as follows:
Owerri Municipal 10;
Owerri North 12;
Owerri West 11.
The former Ngor Okpala County Council which remains a single Ngor Okpala Local Government Area has 11 only!!!
3.3 ENIGMATIC ISSUES FACING NGOR OKPALA AS A LOCAL GOVERNMENT
There is no questioning the fact that Ngor Okpala one of the oldest Local Government Areas in Imo State has not been given its pride of place in the scheme of things, politically or in terms of development. From 1999 to date one can hardly pinpoint one envious, jealousy-oriented or generating political position given to its daughters or sons at the international, national or state levels. Where this exists they prematurely fizzle out, perhaps a case of use and dump politics that has characterized politicking in this part of the world.
A few, mainly our sons, brothers, uncles, cousins etc whom most people believed managed to rig themselves back to elective positions after making mouth-watering promises during electioneering, turn their backs on their constituency while allegedly lining their bottomless vaults with the common wealth and patrimony.
Again, one finds it difficult to identify and appreciate state or third tier embarked-development projects that has direct impacts on its inhabitants. The bottom line is: Ngor Okpala has been marginalized.
I remembered vividly the comment made by the current governor of Imo state, Owelle Rochas Okorocha about the poor nature of Ngor Okpala LGA roads when he was campaigning prior to the April 2011 gubernatorial election.
Apart from the ever yearning need of appreciable infrastructural development in the council area namely, road construction, water, equipping and renovating public schools and hospitals, rural electrification, locating industries, both public/private tertiary institutions and at least one commercial bank to create job opportunity for the teeming number of unemployed youths, it is also behooves the person representing Ngor Okpala in the State House of Assembly to use his position to tackle the menace of golly erosion that has become a threat to those living close to Umuneke River. There was once Divisional Police Station, situated at the headquarters, Umuneke which I doubt if it is still exiting and the other one situated at Amafor in Imerienwe which is no more into existence.
There is a widespread vicious circle of poverty, hunger, disease and unemployment that needs to be broken. Equally, there is usually a strong tendency for a number of Ngor Okpala citizens who work their ways into executive and top positions in the nation’s economy to isolate and distance themselves from their people because they do not want to be seen to be patronizing their people, a position that is totally wrong. Because, life is not quite worth living if you do not help your society. We need a change here.
Ngor Okpala is abundantly blessed with table land but we lack the knowledge that this is an economic resource. It is common to hear our people beckoning on land grabbers to come and take land and develop them. What an insult? The wisdom is whoever is bringing an industrial project should be assured that our land when properly evaluated should be landowners’ share capital in the project which will make us part owners.
Ngor Okpala People must undertake the task of identifying and engaging such citizens wherever they are and get them involved in the task of development.
3.4 SOME ACHIEVEMENTS OF NGOR OKPALA
When some people outside Ngor Okpala gather, they envy our potentials but lament our gullibility. They deride our inability to convert opportunities to the benefit of all and to the good of our generation. We have no reason whatsoever why we should not lead Imo State, impact upon Nigeria and influence our world.
We recall with joy that Ngor Okpala produced the first speaker of the Eastern Region House of Assembly in the person of late Eze Daniel Okereke. Ngor Okpala produced also the Chief Whip of the Regional House of Assembly in the person of Sir Sampson Onyeso Nwachukwu. These were pre-civil war achievements of this great Local Government Area. Today, Nigeria is littered with private universities of various calibre. But we have forgotten that it was the ingenuity and courage of an Ngor Okpala man in the person of Dr Nnana Ukegbu who just died of recent and yet to be buried, from Amafor Imerienwe, who bravely established the first private university in Nigeria during the Second Republic against all odds.
The battle that this feat sparked off was fierce and gruesome yet he surmounted it to the end. Except for the myopia of the military that over ran Nigeria’s polity that time, the glory of TEDEM’s existence would have placed Ngor Okpala on the world’s educational map. Be that as it may, we will never forget that great step that has become a turn around in Nigeria’s educational sector. It is not incorrect therefore to assert that Ngor Okpala ought to be the political capital of at least the present Imo State judging from the antecedents highlighted above. Ngor Okpala was already playing key and fundamental political roles when the others were still in their farms and rural markets. The late Chief Chukwubuiko Okereke was trail blazer in what today has become money spinner (home video industry).
We can also boast of highly respected Ngor Okpala sons and daughters in the academia in well-known institutions in Nigeria and abroad. We have a former Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Prof Jude Njoku. Prof Chris Iroegbu then of the University of Nigeria, Prof B. G. Nworgu and Prof B. O. Okere are still at that University. There is also another Prof Okere at the Imo State University and there are many more in the various Institutions in Nigeria. There are many others abroad. We have many other professionals in various callings too numerous for mention.
4.0 CONCLUSION/ WAY OUT
Despite all the aforementioned, I still have a consolation that the people of Ngor Okpala are out to say no to rubbish.
They have in fact done so before, during the elections of 1979, Zik’s NPP swept the polls in Ngor Okpala. Ogukandu and Amechi won the House of Assembly seats. Dr. Obihara won the House of Representatives seat and Mbakwe won the Governorship seat against our own brother Rt. Hon Dr. Nnanna Ukegbu. Ngor Okpala was ridiculed by the NPP High ups thereafter.
Then came 1983, Ngor Okpala paid back her tormentors in their own coin. NPP lost all the seats to the NPN.
Hon ABC Egu won the House of Assembly seat
Hon Nkwoala won the House of Assembly seat
Hon Livinus Okereafor won the House of Representatives seat
Hon Evan Enwerem won the Senate seat on NPN ticket
The NPN Presidential candidate won overwhelmingly in Ngor Okpala.
Ngor Okpala, my proud and peaceful but determined people, paid back their tormentors in their own coin. They lost all the seats they held in Ngor Okpala and through Ngor Okpala votes.
Ngor Okpala will do it again.
They will start by uprooting through due process, the present political class in Ngor Okpala, who, like the slave traders of old, employ all sorts of subterfuge and deceit, to hoodwink our deprived and naturally needy people to accept the self- centeredness of those politicians. Our youth are persuaded to stuff ballot boxes and snatch others at gun point for the benefit of our political leaders’ paymasters. It would have been less distressing/painful if our youth placed their lives on the line for the benefit of Ngor Okpala political leaders.
Lastly, through our strident calls for change; for re-orientation, and for radical introspection, as evident within the volumes of the various lamentations, we as leaders will have to develop a vision of the Ngor Okpala of our dreams. i.e., Ngor Okpala that is, ready, willing and able to challenge for supremacy in all spheres of life. We have also, articulated some strategies for producing the changes needed to achieve the vision, re-orientation/regeneration of our people; rebuilding our people’s psyche which has been battered overtime by bad leadership; rehabilitating our youth whose persons have been completely violated and distorted by the politicians. We ought to lead our people to resist the indignities to which they have been subjected over time and join hands with other progressives in the larger society to insist on the restructuring of the polity to make our local government a place worthy of our fine and decent people.
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