OWUKPA: A COAL CITY IN RUINS
Call it the coal city, Owucity or the land of equity. Owukpa, a suburb in Ogbadibo Local Government Area of Benue State stands tall like a giant at the edge of the food basket state.
It's home for the good, the bad and the ugly. Talking about the positive side of the community, one can talk about her enormous agricultural endowments, its hospitality, its rich cultural heritage and the Owukpa coal mine, which stopped operation in the early 60s but which was reputed to have recorded the best grade in Nigeria. This remote area that comprises two communities (Ehaje and Itabono) with four wards has not only been a source of food to the people of the state, but also to the nation in general. It has also served an economic booster to the people of the state as some of the farm produce, especially yam, rice, groundnut et al from this community are sold out to traders from other states far and near.
Owukpa, despite producing great men and women of influence like Chief Isaac Oduh (Ejekwote K'Idoma) Comrade Apeh Boniface (Adewa1) Bar Apochi Boniface, Hon Clement Agada, Dr Ameh Austine, Engr Mayas Adoyi and a host of others in the nation still remains both a place of hope and despair. The despair is in the disappearance of the working class, with the workers and their families unhappy that the coal mines that once provided employment for them and made their community stand out among other less endowed villages, has finally fallen into a pot of despondency. The living conditions of the people that in the area is delorable. The land is already ravished and battered, while its loamy crust is now a death trap.
Since inception of democratic government in 1999, this 'rich' community in disguise has been discarded by its jewels; it had been left to its fate, no access road, no much government support, especially with improved technologies of farming such as irrigation facilities for improved yield, lack of basic amenities for the people of the area, at least to meet their immediate health needs and other challenges.
For a land so blessed with so much wealth, both on the surface and underground, one had expected that either the federal or the state government would have long harnessed its rich potentials to better their lives, especially with the rising trend of global food insecurity but the reverse has always been the case.
Beyond coal, there is a lot of budding talents in the able men and women of the area. There are a lot of potentials in agriculture without supportive avenues like loans to people to develop themselves and the economy as a whole. Culture is another thing this community is noted for, especially their popular, Alanya, Igede, Ode, Okpachina, Okprigidi, Ode, Ogrinya dances that have ranked them high in the nation's cultural terrain.
It's indeed ironic for the community dominated by over 40,000 heads not to have a functional hospital and even a good road access that would help facilitate the sick being taken to the General Hospital in Okpoga and other near-by towns. The people on their part had severally desired that each passing administration in the state would one day address their plights, but all to no avail.
There was a limit to what they could do on their own, especially with challenges in the area of access road.
The bad condition of roads prompted some villages like Udaburu, Ekere and Ugbugbu to grade their roads linking their villages on communal efforts. The best they had got from the previous governments were promises that were never fulfilled, promises that are yet to see the light of day
Consequent on the dilapidated state of the roads, large farm produce from this community most of which should be exported to other neighbouring states becomes a nightmare. Not until recently when the administration of Governor Gabriel Suswam rekindled the hope of the people by putting the ever-dusty Orokam-Owukpa road into a motorable state, one could hardly make a distinction between the impact of gully erosion and the exploited underground mining fields, which threaten the road that links the community.
Another shocking trend about this agrarian community is the deteriorating condition of pupils who receive classes under shades of trees or on stones and logs of wood. Worse still is the fact that 'schools' are not only faced with the plights of bad classrooms, but the fact that the existing ones are over crowded with cracked walls and reptiles. The schools lack eligible teachers and learning materials, such as libraries and science laboratory equipment that could enhance learning skill.
The ugly side of the situation is the widespread disease, poverty and water scarcity in the land. All of these are threatening the daily survival in the village with no panacea in sight. Owukpa, a Coal City in Ogbadibo Local Government Area of Benue State, is no doubt a treasure that has been undermined for too long.