As I drive today along Faulks Road, passing Ariaria to the Enugu/PortHarcourt end of Faulks Road, on a well-paved road, with good culvert and median, I remember an encounter with a strange native on this road some years ago.
A true story:
Dateline: Ariaria International Market; August 2013.
It promised to be a very good day that morning as I set out to Ariaria Market to buy some materials. But, gradually, the weather began to change. And no sooner had I made to leave than the heavens opened in what is often described as cat and dogs. We scampered for shelter in a makeshift stall, from where we watched an angry flow of storm water overtaking Ariaria and running over to Ukwu Mango. Here I was with a strange native and quickly creating familiarity:
“This water is not an ordinary water. Spirits live here,” the man said to me with an emphasis that could have only come from a Dibia. “Do you mean that spirits truly live here? Are you a spiritualist? Have you seen spirits?” I prodded him, like a Police investigative officer. “Yes, they bath here at night and swim from Ifeobara to Ukwu Mango.” His voice was ex-cathedral. I should believe him, especially when he claimed to be a native and to have lived in the land for over forty years. But, I decided to drag him further.
“What’s your evidence? Have you truly witnessed the swimming spree of the spirits here?” His answer was reasonable enough and his evidence unarguable. “ You see, the water tumbles in the day and at night. That’s when spirits come to play and, if they like, let them deploy billions upon billions to construct this Ukwu Mango, the water will still come back. How many times have they constructed this road and yet Ukwu Mango refused to yield? You said, you came from Lagos but ask anybody around. Ukwu Mango is the land of the gods and the water belong to the spirits.”
“Are you sure?” I dared to doubt. “Yes, no government can conquer Ukwu Mango and Ifeobara. It’s a battle against powers.” His voice conveyed the note of a sign-off. Who am I to continue to query the words of the emissary of the gods, when I could recall that Ukwu Mango, for donkey years, had defied every known construction theory and has been a pain in the neck of every government. To traders and businessmen that visit Ariaria, including the residents in the environ, Ukwu Mango was an angry sore spot that made a mess of the reputation of the market. On a rainy day at Ariaria, the flow of storm water through Faulks road to Ukwu Mango and then to Ifeobara is usually like a tsunami.
But, thankGod today for the Ifeobara artificial lake built by Governor Ikpeazu and thank God for the new Faulks road. Ikpeazu confronted and conquered the gods of Ukwu Mango and recovered the bathing place of the spirits for man. How I wish I could meet this strange passer-by again and drag him into our old discussion about the mystery of Ukwu Mango and the invincibility of the gods against bulldozers and caterpillars. The message: even the gods are bowing before man. Ikpeazu’s genius is rebuking the gods.
The legend of Ukwu Mango is a typical African story; a buck-passing, an alibi, a lazy resignation to fate, a substitute of reason with supernatural inclinations. In this case, it is also the story of the failure of governments and institutions. Governor Ikpeazu has shown that what was needed to tackle the age-long flood challenge at Ukwu Mango and the Ariaria axis of Aba was a superior construction technology and a sincere political will. Faulks Roads is classified today as one of the topmost signature projects of Ikpeazu and a legacy that will speak about visionary leadership. Men are masters of their fate.
Today, Ukwu Mango has been recovered for man – for commuters, motorists and for all humanity. How I wish I could meet my strange way-farer again. He surely must find another alibi for the gods.