By Darlington Udobong
The 2021 Thanksgiving Service of the Akwa Ibom State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) may have come and gone, the imprints and memories it brought will linger for decades to come. One of such imprints is the call for the preservation of Nigeria’s history and historic monuments, currently on the verge of extinction.
It is, however, not surprising that the event, which took place at the Living Faith Church (Winners’ Chapel), Ikot Obong in Ikot Abasi Local Government Area, afforded the Union an excellent opportunity to access the historical area to see the gains and challenges of development, particularly the untapped tourism potential.
In all sincerity, the story of Nigeria cannot be told without a mention of Ikot Abasi and the role she played to its development and history. Ikot Abasi Local Government Area was a major gateway into Nigeria in the pre-colonial times. The area has a seaport through which some of the slave Masters accessed the Southern part of Nigeria.
In the larger sense, today’s Ikot Abasi Local Government Area is bounded by Oruk Anam Local Government Area in the North, Mkpat Enin and Eastern Obolo Local Government Areas in the East and the Atlantic Ocean in the South. The Imo River forms the natural boundary in the West separating it from Rivers State. The area comprises five Clans: Ikpa-Ibekwe, Ukpum-Ette, Ukpum-Okon, Edem-Aya and Ikpa Nnung Asang.
Till date, the name Ikot Abasi Local Government Area also brings to mind the popular Aba Women Riot of 1929, where women protested the ill treatment by the colonial Masters. It was, indeed, a climax event that forced the colonial Master to avail the women and people of the area their demands.
One of the major streets in Ikot Abasi Local Government Area, Consulate Road, came by its name because the area once hosted a British Consulate. At the roundabout linking Consulate Road and Local Government Council Secretariat, visitors are welcomed by the statue of the late Justice Udo Udo Udoma, the first Nigerian to bag a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) in law, who was also appointed Chairman of the Constituent Assembly (1977 to 79) and Chief Justice of Uganda.
Sad as it is, this statue and many others have become indelible landmarks and signposts to Nigeria’s cradle. In fact, the amalgamation treaty of Nigeria was signed by Sir Lord Fredrick Lugard in Ikot Abasi on January 1, 1914. He was the Governor-General of Northern Nigeria Protectorate and the Colony of Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.
Before Nigeria became an independent state in 1960, Lady Flora Shaw, Lord Lugard’s wife, gave the name, Nigeria, to our country. It was formerly called the Royal Company Territories. The entire territory came into the hands of the British government. On January 1, 1900, the British Empire created the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate with Sir Lord Fredrick Lugard as the Governor-General.
Interestingly, structures and monuments that served as residence and office for Sir Lord Fredrick Lugard and Lady Flora Shaw are now relics of history begging for preservation, after decades of negligence by both Federal and State Governments.
Beyond being relics of Nigeria’s history, these structures and monuments have also become consequential artefacts to collaborate history. Some of these relics include Amalgamation House, Sir Lord Fredrick Lugard’s House, his wooden Chair, Table, Telephone and typewriter as well as portraits of him and Lady Flora Shaw.
Other neglected historical landmarks and relics within Ikot Abasi include the Bridge of no Return, Bunker Cells for Stubborn Slaves, Slave Scaling and Drilling Centre, a Colonial Water Tank, Offices and Quarters for District Officers, Slave Quarters, Slave Camp (now being used as Custodian Centre by the Nigeria Correctional Centre), the Zinc House, a Slave Merchant Bank built in 1834, District Clinic (being used as a Department of the Nigerian Police), the Mock Grave Site in memory of the 1929 Women War, the Grave of Sir Luis Harcourt (Lord Lugard’s Chief of Staff who created Port Harcourt), the Grave Site for Sir Hagar Lucas Taylaur, John Miller and many others.
Explaining the deplorable state of Nigeria’s historical relics in Ikot Abasi, the Councillor representing Ikpa Ibekwe (Ikot Abasi Urban), Hon. Essien Udo-Umo, who also served as a tour guard to members of the NUJ, said the rich tourism potential of the area is gradually fading away due to outright negligence by both federal and state governments.
Hon. Udo-Umo said “if the inherent tourism potential of Ikot Abasi is appropriately harnessed, it will tremendously add value to the economy of Akwa Ibom and Nigeria, through Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). It is very sad to know that our governments could allow this rich history and relics to weathered away in the name of politics. Our people travel to other countries of the world just to visit tourism sites that have less value and history but refused to develop the priceless ones here. It is very saddening.”
Expressing deep passion for the conservation and preservation of what he called Nigeria’s history and monuments, Hon. Udo-Umo said “There is so much to gain here. Ikot Abasi has the closest shoreline to the Atlantic. It has the deepest depth that can allow thoroughfare to big vessels. Ikot Abasi was a safer and major gateway to the Colonial Masters back then. Our government can still tap into these advantages. So, I sincerely appeal to the State and Federal Governments to come to our aid and resuscitate Nigeria’s history and monuments. Our rich history and monuments are on the verge of extinction. I appeal to the government to save and preserve Nigeria through all the historical relics within Ikot Abasi.”
Members of the NUJ also interacted with security operatives in the area to ascertain the level of security within the waterways. One of such operatives was the Divisional Marine Police Officer, DSP Nandom Vongjen. He said the Nigerian Police Force has been on top of the game to ensure safety for travellers and the community.
As a body, the Akwa Ibom State Council of NUJ, led by Comrade Amos Etuk, has displeasure over the state decay and abandonment of historical sites in the state, particularly in Ikot Abasi Local Government Area, saying “till date in 2021 the relics have been eyesores.”
The Comrade Amos Etuk-led NUJ also appealed to respective governments to pay more realistic attention in the maintenance of these historical institutions rather than pay consistent lip service. The Union urged the authorities involved to rise up to their responsibilities and save Nigeria’s history and monuments for posterity and the unborn generations.
“Akwa Ibom is blessed with rich history that should be a focus of destinations for schools in the State and tourists. Government agencies relevant to the protection of these relics should sit up and show more working,” the Union said
Indeed, visit of the Akwa Ibom State Council of NUJ has, once again, opened new vista and perspectives to the preservation of our heritage. This is a sad commentary to our national unity and cultural heritage.
Udobong, Secretary of the 2021 NUJ Thanksgiving Committee, writes from Uyo.