By: Ireyimika Oyegbami
I passed through Asaba, capital of Delta State on my way to Onitsha a couple of years ago but did not explore the ‘white and blue’ city, a stone’s throw from bustling Onitsha. I however discovered that Asaba is no Onitsha neither is it Lagos on a recent trip to the city to celebrate the Anioma Festival. Asaba was so peaceful that I wondered if indeed I was within the ‘highly volatile’ Niger Delta region.
The Anioma people occupy Delta North Senatorial District of the State and have celebrated their culture at the annual festival every Easter Monday for the last seven years. Interestingly, like the ethnic groups which make up Plateau State resist being called Hausa though they speak language, the Igbo speaking Anioma also reject the tag ‘Delta-Igbo’. Whenever you are visiting the town, please note that everybody from Delta is a ‘Deltan’.
One can’t help but notice a gigantic building under construction as one enters the town. It will be Asaba branch of the Central Bank of Nigeria when completed. An international airport to boost the flow of people into the state is in the works around the same axis. Until the airport starts operation however; residents and visitors will continue to ply the well tarred roads that lead into the city close to the Niger.
As obtains in Cotonou, Benin Republic, women ride motorcycles in pursuit of their business in and around Asaba; women in the nearby villages however seem to prefer bicycles when going to the farm. It was heart warming to see that these Amazons still exist in this part of town. But while I saw two women in Cotonou going to church on Easter Sunday in brightly coloured headgears and clutching their babies to their chests while manoeuvring their motorcycles, women ride their motorbikes alone in Asaba.
Clean is the word
Almost everything in Asaba is painted white and blue. Taxis, buses and even streetlamps are painted white and blue. The highways in the city are cleaned every other morning; cleaning crews set out as early as 7am in their uniforms, with dust protectors over their noses to sweep the dirt under the giant billboards with the image of the governor Emmanuel Uduaghan. In spite of this effort at cleanliness, Asaba has nothing on Calabar, Cross River State.
When moving from Lagos through Ogun, Ondo, and Edo States, the traveller is sure to notice that the billboards welcoming one to and bidding one farewell from each state are rather small compared to the gigantic posters of the governors. The story is the same in Asaba where you see Uduaghan’s billboards everywhere.
Another striking feature of Asaba is its small roundabouts and the high regard the people have for art in public places. Though small when compared to the monumental art in other cities, the artworks, mostly statues of Kings and hunters, are well kept. And unlike what happens in other towns, advert posters have not taken over the allotted space for the artworks.
Churches and hotels
I had an unplanned stopover at Ekhuoma, a village about 20 minutes drive from Asaba when the vehicle I was travelling in broke down and passengers had to find a place to sleep for the night. The best room offered by Nwakaego Motel which loosely translates to ‘A child is better than money’ at N1, 000 per day made me seriously doubt if the old couple managing the ramshackle rest house believed what their signboard proclaims. N1, 500 got me a semi decent room at Zuma Guesthouse, located further inside the village!
Happily, the many decent hotels in Asaba will make one forget the horror of the dirty rooms at Nwakaego. As obtains in almost all Nigerian cities and towns, Asaba has its fair share of big and small churches on nearly every street. However, the city uniquely balances the equation by also having 10 trendy hotels on adjoining streets.
The Anioma Cultural Fiesta holds in Asaba every Easter Monday.