Ikot Ekpene Plaza: Who Is Telling Our Story?
Ezekiel Umo Ette, Ph.D.
Our lives are made up of stories and a cursory reflection authenticates this. “How are you?” or the Annang “Atie dié” bears this out as true. It seems like those who inquire about our wellbeing want to know about the state of our souls and if all is well with us in the world. Years of answering this question have led to short answers such as “idiökkö” or it is not bad or “afön”, all is well. The story telling idea came back to me powerfully as I sat a few days ago awaiting our dear governor to arrive at Ikot Ekpene and declare open what will become the Raffia City living room, the new Ikot Ekpene Plaza.There is something spiritual and even magical with waiting.
As I panned the new scenery in what used to be a part of the old prison yard and the famous prison staff club of the 1970s, I could not help but remember what the town used to look like before the Ikot Ekpene Local Government Council and the Akpabio Administration moved the old Federal Prison elsewhere and give the town a facelift. There was a powerful realization that not much has happened before now in the town even though it was the site of the experiment in local governance in 1957 for all of Nigeria. As I wrote in the entry on Wikipedia, the town was so important to the British that when a proposed road linking Owerri and Calabar in the late 1920s was to bypass the town, the British administrators abandoned the idea in favor of one linking Eket and Owerri in order to bring the town into the loop. But this is not an essay about the importance of the Annang cultural capital but a reflection on who is telling our story. I love the new plaza but I was a little disappointed that the plaza had no name and carries no story. There were no monuments in the plaza and the well-laid out paths carries no blocks and no inscriptions of Annang heroes.
The nameless face of the plaza and the lack of desire to tell the stories of the past seem to be typical of our attitude in Annangland. For some strange reasons, we seem to be in a hurry to forget the past and in the process we leave our stories and our heroes behind. Though we have a very rich history, we place our past under lock and key so that new generations often wonder who they are. With this attitude we appear to be ungrateful for the work of those who came before us and pretend that we are not beneficiaries of labors of our heroes in the past. No street is named for our hero in Ikot Ekpene or other Annang local government, instead we are content with having names of those whose place in our history is doubtful at worse and dubious at best. Who was Sanni Ogun and why should his name be prominently displayed? Why should a major street in our town honors a name that very few know his contribution to our lives? Well we know that Alderton served a brief sting as a colonial administrator, does that qualify his name to be etched forever in our town? And who was Chubb that he has a road in a busy and popular section of our town?
The sad part in all these is that while we are naming streets and avenue for these nobodies, our heroes who deserved to be honored and remembered are forgotten. Where is a street or monument honoring Ibanga Udo Akpabio the first minister of education and the man who brought a secondary school to Annangland? Where is a street that is named for Udo Udo Okure who served admirably in the old Eastern Nigeria and was brutally murdered during the civil war? Where is the street that is named for our heroes whose names were given to Nigerian soldiers and marked for death simply because they spoke like us and served our people? Who is in charge in Ikot Ekpene and why are we not thinking about our past? When we name a street or build a monument the naming elicits questions. A child is likely to ask about the reason for the name and who the individual was. Such questions begin stories of our past and keep our history alive. In a non archival culture, this is very important since memories fade and history is forgotten.
A few years ago, the Who Was Who project began by Gregory Obot and Ukpong Ekam was aimed at taking care of this neglect. I suggested at the time that all the Annang local government councils must take the project seriously and that we should consider renaming the project The Annang Historical Society. I also suggested that the organization should be given the task of advising the local government councils about street naming, monuments and perhaps museums and how we can celebrate our past and keep it alive. The organization has been handicapped by funds and despite the good intentions nothing has happened.
I like the idea of a living room for Ikot Ekpene. I like the new town plaza, but what a disappointment that it comes nameless and once again we neglect to tell our story by naming something for those who fought and died for us. As I taught my post-graduate student, the very act of naming is an attempt to theorize and explain human experience. Our past is a powerful experience that must guide the future. Our past is a story worth preserving and we cannot preserve and teach our children what that past was if there are no reminders. When we rather keep the stories of strangers who came to our town alive and neglect our own heroes, we are telling our young that we have no past and no stories. Who is telling our story? The next time you walk through your own neighborhood look at names on the streets, look for monuments and then think about whose stories are told.
Prof. Ezekiel Ette is a professor of Social Work and Community Development at Northwest Nazarene University USA. His latest book is Nigerians in the USA: Race, Ethnicity and Acculturation published by Lexington Books, Landham, Maryand, USA.