How bad road brought Okija Shrine to its knees
By Vincent Ujumadu
TIME was when Okija in Ihiala local government area of Anambra State was very famous because of the popular Okija Shrine. Like many communities in Igbo land, Okija habours many shrines, but the most popular one was the Ogwugwu Akpu Shrine located on the bank of Ulasi River. It is located in Ubahuezike, which is one of the 30 villages in Okija and lies at the end of the village such that once one passes the last building in Ubahuezike from Nkwo Okija , Ogwugwu Akpu is the next thing to see and no one knows what is beyond the shrine because people hardly get to the end of the shrine.
In the olden days, stories had it that people who committed atrocities were dumped in the shrine on their death. Those who died as a result of such diseases, like small pox and leprosy, were also dumped in the shrine. That is why the entire shrine is littered with relics of dead bodies till date.
About 19 years ago, Ogwugwu Akpu assumed a new status when some educated young people in the village decided to become priests of the Ogwugwu, thereby bringing some ingenuity in its worship. That was how Okija became famous as people from various parts of Igbo land came there to administer oaths on their people suspected to have committed one offense or the other.
It was common those days to see convoy of vehicles conveying people from either one kindred or village to the shrine to subject themselves to the oath on suspected thieves or murderers among them. If, eventually the guilty ones died after that exercise, their corpses would be deposited in the shrine.
At the time the shrine was booming between 2002 and 2009, the road to Ubahuezike was smooth and was the most popular route for Okada riders in Okija, who served as agents to the priests of the shrine. But all that have changed because Ubahuezike village is no longer easily accessible due to the dilapidated nature of the road to the village.
For years, the villagers, including their Umuhu neighbours, who also have the popular Ogwugwu Isiula, faced the challenges of bad road such that Okada riders tripled their fares to the two communities. Their joy therefore knew no bounds when, during the campaign for the 2017 governorship election in Anambra State, Governor Willie Obiano promised to reconstruct the Nkwo Okija- Umuhu-Ubahuezike-Umuogu-Nkwo Okija ring road during his second tenure.
Contract for the project was promptly awarded to a construction company, Hammcorp Limited, owned by an indigene of Okija and work started in earnest shortly after the swearing in of Governor Obiano for his second tenure.
Unfortunately, the current rainy season has worsened the situation of the road such that many houses in the area have become flooded. The situation was compounded by slow nature of the work on the project, which has made the road completely impassable.
Due to the bad road, those who usually come to patronize the Ogwugwu Akpu Shrine can no longer reach their destination and the resultant effect is near zero business for the priests and their patrons.
One of the priests, Mr. Ofokansi Okoli said their customers no longer come because they can’t find their way to their village any longer. According to him, the last customer he got was in March this year, adding that although the customer promised to return by the end of May, he could not come because neither vehicles, nor motorcycles could get to this village again.
Okoli said it would have been better for the road to remain the way it was before the contract was awarded. He said that the joy the people had when construction equipment moved to the area had gone, adding that it was becoming obvious that the road contract was a deceit in the first place.
Another priest, Mr. Ejionu Ilodinobi wondered why the road project was stopped, adding that many tourists who visit Ogwugwu Akpu Shrine no longer come. He called on Governor Obiano to release money to the contractors to continue the work because that was the reason given by the contractor handling the project.
Worried by the state of the road, youths from the affected villages embarked on a peaceful protest in the community to draw the attention of the state government.
Also recently, a delegation from Okija met with the Anambra State Commissioner for Works to complain about the abandoned project and although the commissioner and other officials of the ministry visited Okija and promised to commence palliative work in the area, nothing has been done to date.
For now, Ogwugwuakpu Shrine in Okija is in limbo and whether it would still bounce back would be seen in the future.