With EJIOFOR UGWU
Your name: Ejiọfọr Ugwu
City or Town: Nsukka, Nigeria
How long have you lived here: Eight years
Three words to describe the climate: early fall, harsh.
Best time to visit? Spring
- The most striking physical features of the city/ town are:
A first time visitor to Nsukka will notice an environment full of hills, with houses at the valleys and at the breasts of the hills. Then he moves closer to notice a usually crowded park where the people’s central market, Ogige, is located. Not long ago, the roads were really in bad shape but things have changed now. The new state governor gave the town a serious facelift in terms of road reconstruction and it has increased access to and from the town.
- Local / regional vocabulary or food?
ọkpa is the most popular local food in Nsukka. ọkpa is made from ground and well-sieved cowpea with fresh palm oil, pepper, salt and uziza. Better enjoyed when cooked in dry plantain leaf foils. Stupendously nutritious and cheap. Can be eaten by anyone no matter your health status. Vocabulary: Alua means “welcome” in Nsukka dialect. Maje means “thank you”.
- The stereotype of the people who live there and what this stereotype misses:
Outsiders think that Nsukka people are timid, but I think what they mistake for timidity is humility. Nsukka people are generally welcoming to strangers. They always treat people they come in contact with respect. Even the turn of things in terms of modernity and wealth have not taken away this sense of life from the people. I think they have it in their cultural soul to accommodate outsiders. Many people who are from outside the town feel safe living in it. They have had pockets of self-seeking politicians but those are not representative of the town’s general sense of good will. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria, lived here from around the 1950s and I think what I have been trying to describe about Nsukka people is not unconnected with his choosing to live in Nsukka and even found the first university in Nigeria here.
- Common jobs and industries and the effect on the town / city’s personality:
People from within the town, the state, and across Nigeria work in the university here. It’s a federal university and it equally houses many federal parastatals. Expatriates also work in the university. I think it provides a good number of jobs to people across ethnic, social and geographical divides. Recently, there has been an upsurge of ultramodern hotels, which also provide jobs. There is a huge palm-kernel processing factory in the town, which provides jobs comparable to the thriving transport companies in the town. We have a market, Ogige, that is also thriving and a source of jobs to many. However, many job seekers who can’t find their way in the town run away to fend for themselves.
- Historical context in broad strokes and the moment in which you feel this history:
Zik, to me, is or should be an important historical figure to the people of Nsukka. I think no politician in the history of the town has done anything like what Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe did for Ndi Nsukka, by citing the first indigenous university here in 1962. You know, he could have cited it anywhere else, after all, he is not from the town and Nsukka could not have been the only quiet town in Nigeria suitable for the country’s first university. Zik is not well remembered by Nsukka people except when the university holds its annual founders’ day. And they will talk about Zik’s intention of setting up the university in order “To Restore the Dignity of Man.” Zik might not have been a perfect politician, but the university is one of his many acts of good will. He made Nsukka accessible to the whole world. He brought the shiniest light to the people and I think Nsukka people should have a separate historical moment in his honor. He lived in the town. The set of houses he bequeathed the university is in a pitiable disrepair as we speak. The road linking Zik’s Onuiyi Haven and the centre of Nsukka town has been under the threat of heavy gully erosion for a long time now, crying every day for a sincere federal attention. That shows how we respect him. I think we have a culture “to forget,” some sort of willful amnesia, generally in the country; we forget even the things we are supposed to learn from. We like to think that the best thing is the thing happening now. We think we can manage things with only the sense of now. And it has been difficult for us to reach a better understanding of ourselves as a country.
Ejiọfọr Ugwu is the author of the chapbook, The Book of God, which was selected and published by African Poetry Book Fund in collaboration with Akashic Books for the 2017 New Generation African Poets Box Set. His poetry and short fiction have also been published in Guernica, African American Review, Public Pool, Poetry Society of America, Cordite Poetry Review, ELSEWHERE Lit, Expound, Kalahari Review, Sentinel Nigeria and The Muse, a journal of creative and critical writing at the University of Nigeria.
Photo by Topnotch Hub