Volley in the Valley


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Volley in the Valley



M. O. Ené




Enugu is still in mourning. This is no time for political penmanship. It is a time for sober reflection, a time to ask questions, and a time to search for solutions. It is therefore not my intention to edutain (educate or entertain). No, no one chases rats around blazing buildings. However, it is not uncommon to lighten the atmosphere during the traditional mourning period, usually seven Igbo weeks or a lunar month (28 days). So, as you must have imagined, it was an uneasy decision to wade into the volley in the valley, which led to the death of 14 Christians in the heart of an overwhelmingly Igbo Christian city.


May we seek and secure solace in our prayers for peace.



I love Enugu. It is a great city. The Coal City. It is a city modeled after my being: simple, safe, and spiritually uplifting. Or, rather, it is the city that formed my fundamental worldview. With its down-to-earth and deep-rooted demeanor, you can almost reach out and touch Enugu. Born, “bread, and buttered” in this epitome of evolving urbanization of Igbo country, it is understandable that I am always most unwilling to beat with MOE’s mallet the political problems threatening the peace of the city. However, we do not swallow phlegm to appease the pangs of hunger.


Nestling neatly on the foot of Udi Hills, Enugu takes its name from Enuugwu, the hilltop village of Ngwo community in Udi county. It is not on a hilltop, as the name suggests; it is actually situated on a valley, which is the name of one of its quarters (Uwani). And there is the Iva Valley quarter. The misnomer apart, its other name, Coal City, is spot-on. The carbonaceous concrete from the bowels of Udi Hills made Enugu possible. The journey started less than 100 years.



My ancestors had the gift of garb, now known worldwide. If it were food, they sure knew how to oil, salt, and pepper it. If it were a body, they knew how to clothe it appropriately. We call it proverb, generally; I call it Igbo idiom. Some make you scratch your ears endlessly in search of answers. No one bothers to explain. The fragrance of fart foretells the taste of feces. Something is surely stinking up Enugu. And I don’t think it will taste good. The taste of the pudding is not always in the eating; perception can be everything. So now you ask: what got my goat? I will tell.


In a piece in The Guardian of Sunday, March 17, 2002, Dr. Reuben Abati served the following opening words in “Hello, Nigerians, here is the news...”:

This is not a very good time to come from Enugu state, or to stand on the streets of Lagos, and say hey, I am from Enugu state, the kinsman of Ogbuefi Chimaroke Nnamani and Senator "fine boy" Jim Nwobodo. From Savannah Bank to Adoration ground, Enugu state is on the boil, and Governor Nnamani, said to be ordinarily a level-headed, God-fearing Igbo son is said to be wondering why it should be so difficult to serve his own people.



First, I celebrate that Reuben Abati finally mastered how to write IGBO, not “Ibo” and never pluralized with “s.” Secondly, I will not glorify his degradation of journalism; it is a shame that the chairman of the editorial board of a major newspaper should stoop so low to call a Nigerian senator and PDP political powerhouse “fine boy.” Of course, the “Ogbuefi” title for Governor Chimaroke Nnamani, MD, is a cheap shot that does not deserve a response; and an ignored low blow is worse than chicken poop. Thirdly, I have met both beloved brothers and fellow Coal City citizens on two different occasions in the past seventeen months; but, though we are maligned, I will not defend them here: State Executive’s spokesperson Igbonekwu Ogazimorah is quite capable of squaring with Abati in defense of Nnamani, and I am sure Nwobodo has better things to do -- such as help Clem Agbamgbo, SAN, with the search for justice in the attempted, broad-daylight robbery of Savannah Bank. Fourthly and finally, I am more concerned with Abati’s challenge to stand up and proclaim pride in my place of birth:


“Hey, I am from Enugu State; I am a kinsman of Governor Chimaroke Nnamani and Senator Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo, and Reverend Father Ejike Mbaka, even as Savannah Bank and Adoration Ground ‘boil’!”


Everything else is embellishment.


I don’t know how many people of Enugu extraction (by birth, by marriage, by association, or by migration) are in Abati’s Lagos circle of friends, but I don’t know of anyone who would hesitate in proclaiming s/he started life in Enugu. However, in case one who was never Enugu at heart was caught hesitating to proclaim his Enuguness, let me acclaim on the worldwide web that I am an Enuguite. I am energized by the heritage. I don’t know why anyone would deny Enugu in Lagos. I had thought the Pogrom ended four decades ago, when Igbo people, because of the near-perfect vowel harmony inherent in Igbo linguistics, were made to pronounce “Obalende” correctly or lose their heads. It was the last word of many. I would prefer that Enugu be my last word.



Though I am very proud of Enugu, I acknowledge that we have problems. These problems are tied to the diseased polity of the carbide colossus we call country. I saw it coming. The first action of Governor Nnamani in 1999 woke up the daughters of Enugu: ‘Forget that Dr. (Mrs.) Maludi Mgbo was head of service, why was no other woman considered fit for commissionership?’ And to the courts they headed. The Governor complied. Oh yes, you don’t fight daughters of Enugu. My suggestion then was that the Governor should encourage focused opposition, not leave it to sundry groups with no clearly defined political agenda. The token opposition in the House -- Honorable Uche Anya (APP, Oji River) -- was almost sidelined. I brought this to the attention of Enugu State House of Assembly’s Deputy Speaker at a tête-à-tête around July last year. He offered that they were still learning. Fair enough. With no clear opposition, the ruling PDP let down its guard. Before dividends of democracy dawned down there, intraparty cracks were all over the place. Now the Church is catapulted into the fray. And there is no telling the stubborn that the market is in disarray.


We knew that Governor Chimaroke Nnamani and Senator Jim Nwobodo had legs in one trouser. When the governor moved to have the senator recalled, the senator laughed. When the senator vowed to unmake the governor, the governor laughed. But the battle has moved beyond the godfather and the protégée. Many political animals, whose trust and loyalty are neither tested nor deep, are now taking sides. I bet no one is laughing out loud in Enugu these days.



I don’t know exactly how the paths of Reverend Father Ejike Mbaka and Governor Chimaroke Nnamani crossed, and I don’t know where Nnamani and Mbaka parted ways. It is now known that after the Governor was sworn in, something terrible happened: Armed bandits killed the brother of a state legislator. Honorable Nwabueze Ugwu said the bandits were detailed from the Government House to take him out. Instead, they mistook his brother for him. He took his story to whomever would listen, including the Oputa Panel -- which was not mandated to hear such post-May 1999 cases. The police in Enugu said they were still on the case. As in all such cases, the apocryphal usually blinds the facts. To this day, the story is still growing tentacles. Mbaka made mantra out of the allegation, pointing direct fingers. The Governor publicly kept a lid on it, a levelheaded leverage he momentarily lost post March 7, 2002.


Mbaka agreed that he supported Nnamani and even prayed for his success. Apparently, the Governor decided to paddle the political boat and let the Reverend mind the Bible, not play Rasputin. This did not sit well with Mbaka, evidently. The demonization of the State Executive commenced. Those who attend Mbaka’s service peddled credible and incredible stories. Father Mbaka was said to have announced that assassins sent from the Government House to kill him were in the congregation. Apparently, they never summed up the courage to take the man out in his church, as was done by a loony in New York City recently. On March 7, all hell was let loose. You may believe whatever you want; I will wait for the truth of the matter.



The problem in Enugu is not peculiar to Enugu. It is symptomatic of the national crises bedeviling the Fourth Republic. The prognosis is simple: It is a political problem. As in all political problems, a solution must come from political permutations that appeal to the majority. Anything else is a waste of time and energy. It is however sad that the big men of the State have allowed this thing to degenerate to this level. Ohanaeze Chairman Eze Ozobu, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, and Ikemba Nnewi, for example, live within shouting distance from the Governor’s bedroom. Others unheard from include Anthony Mogboh, SAN, Igwe Nathan Ogbu, Justices Nnaemeka Agu and Aniagolu, and the clergy. Well, we can forget the clergy for now. Of course, pre-Audu Ogbe Abuja looked the other way.


I don’t know how this thing is going to pan out. It has taken 14 lives to shock everyone out of the stupor of silence. But, something is still missing in the equation. The people. On whose side are they? In any decent democracy, I believe that the ultimate say rests with the voters. Nothing works in Enugu more than good governance and fair play. Forget what you have heard, the urbaneness of Enugu is light years ahead. It is not surprising that the first mayor of Enugu, Mallam Umaru Altine, was Hausa and that the first head of Eastern Regional government business in Enugu, Professor Eyo Ita, was from the so-called minority Efik-Ibibio axis. But good governance or decent democracy is never on tap; it takes a balance of power, debates on issues, and a system of checks. So the biggest question is: Where is the Enugu State legislature in all these crises? Your guess is as good as mine -- I don’t know.



Dr. Segun Dawodu jumped the gun in asserting: “The fact that the Catholic Church is the source of this pandemonium is neither new nor peculiar to Enugu State.” [http://www.gamji.com/NEWS1241.htm]  I disagree. There is no proof yet, just as there is no proof that there were assassins or that poisonous gas was used. While it is arguable that the Catholic Church has powerful influence on some governments the world over, the generalized Catholicism in the abovementioned piece from “Enugu debacle….” is not reflective of the Church in Enugu, the rather unveiled threats of Fr. Mbaka notwithstanding. Yes, the Catholic Church can cause cramps in anyone’s political fortunes. Whole communities in Igboland are exclusively Catholic, but the open involvement of Church authorities in secular politics is relatively recent. Yet, I agree that it is politically suicidal to fight the Church.


There is nothing to show that the Church was after the Governor and that Vatican, currently stressed by the sex scandals involving pedophilia priests in USA, has sanctioned a gradual takeover of some states. No, I don’t believe in vast conspiracies and in “the existence of an evil force … creeping into our political consciousness and trying to take over our mind in the name of God, perpetuating the evil machination through political control, using the like of Rev Mbaka to implement their un-Godly acts for a total control of the political will of the people….” Now, we should not grind pepper where we prepare eye ointment. This line of thinking is capable of causing a crack in the coexistence of religious denominations. Once the Protestants (Anglicans, Apostolics, Methodists, Presbyterians, and all the other nondescript but charismatic latter-day sects) read along this line, there would be a renewed Catholic-bashing. Very soon everyone in Enugu would be blinded with unnecessary bigotry. We do not need a Belfast in Enugu.


The best option is exactly what Governor Nnamani is doing: allow tempers to cool, deploy diplomacy, reach out to all religions in the state, including my own -- Odinani, our ancestral faith in Chineke and in the immutability of destiny. Dr. Nnamani did not become governor by force; he will not succeed by force. He cannot afford surgery-room mentality. Oh yes, you can cut cancer off and cause the body to heal, but not all cancers are surgically removed. A good dose of chemotherapy could work wonders. And there is the greatest cure of all: prevention.


One area of understanding between Mbaka and Nnamani is the existence of a large pool of poor people. Dr. Nnamani thinks the reverend gentleman is using his charisma and pulpit to prey on these souls. Fr. Mbaka says he is fighting for the poor to have hope. Now, if the poor is the “problem,” why don’t we simply remove the problem? In countries where the living standard is higher, people don’t fall for roadside rabblerousing. In Africa, we fall for everything.



The role of the church in politics cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand. Politics and religion are a dangerous concoction. Religion is not logic; it is about blind faith in the paranormal. It is not an easy war to fight. Church and state should not mix. The hawk and the vulture do not fight over food: the hawk is a predator; the vulture is a scavenger. In the final analyses, neither Nnamani nor Nwobodo, the two captains of the Volley in the Valley, will define the spirit of Enugu. From Eyo Ita, Nnamdi Azikiwe, M. I. Okpara, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Tony Ukpabi Asika, Tony Ochefu, Atom Kpera, Jim Nwobodo, C.C. Onoh, Allison Madueke, Emeka Omeruah, Bob Akonobi, through a rain of military interlopers, who raped the city and attempted to disfigure its character, to the reign of medicos -- Okwii Nwodo and now Chima Nnamani, Enugu will remain strong and home to all who walk through the Udi Hills. We could help the current occupier to do his best by criticizing constructively. Enugu is much more than any person; it is about people of different walks of life. It is about generations past and generations yet to come. The present generation shall pass, and they shall be judged by generations yet to come. We can all only do the much we can and move on.


The mind is like a bag; everyone has one. I have revealed the content of mine. You, wetin you carry? Flies follow those who carry smelly stuff. Those who bathe with clothes on in a public spring have something to hide. Every governor of Enugu State should succeed or fail on the report card. The best way forward is to remove the Church from the center stage. Let the Adoration be, and let the Church cut itself free of any semblance of partisan politics. That way, there would be pure partisan political opposition. Politics is good on its own; when mired in ethnocentrism or religious bigotry or nationalist jingoism or violence, everyone loses. This is why Nigeria is not working.


Finally, an elder does not sit around and watch a tethered goat deliver its kid. Many people sat for so long while Enugu simmered. Those who did the little they could were either brushed aside or considered unimportant in the cash-and-carry polity. This August 2002, from Friday, August 23 to Sunday, August 25, the Enugu Association USA convenes in Dallas, Texas. Hopefully by then, the clouds must have cleared and the guns silenced long enough to afford us an opportunity to wade in and speak up more.


I spoke my mind. It’s your turn. May those who died rest in peace. We live to learn; may we learn from the sad situation in light and in love.



M. O. Ené, Ph.D., is a native of the Coal City, Enugu, and he is the author of Jaundiced Justice, a novel set for the most part in a fictional Enugu State community during the Nigeria-Biafra War but spans the colonial and postwar period of Nigeria’s history. Dr. Ené is the immediate past Chairman of ENYIMBA and the current Chairman of Board of Directors, Enugu-USA. Opinions expressed here are personal, and they do not necessarily represent those of Enugu Association, USA, Inc.



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