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Oguta, the birthplace of Justice Chukwudifu Akune Oputa (rtd) is located in the eastern part of Nigeria. ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA who was in the town last week, writes that Oguta is not really a laid back, rustic town but rather a cross between traditional and modern settlement. With a rare tourism potential – Oguta Blue Lake – if well developed with adequate support facilities put in place, it would not only be transformed overnight with its people as beneficiaries, but indeed a dreamed tourist haven.

OGUTA lies in the South western end of Imo State, one of the eastern states of Nigeria. Presently, it serves as the headquarters of Oguta local government area. It is less than 30 minutes drive from Owerri, the state capital.

Oguta is regarded as simply a village just like any other such towns in Nigeria. But for a first time visitor, the impression one gets upon exploring the town is that it is surrounded by water. Driving into the town from Mgbidi junction, you are sure to be amazed by the sight that lies ahead. Certainly not that of sophisticated aesthetics, but a profound grandeur that tends to elevate the pristinely garb that is often associated with such a settlement. This is made possible by air around the long stretch of tarred road from Mgbidi that linked up AC Nwapa Road, the major route that opens to the entrails of the town. And of course, the glow (electricity), a scarce commodity in most villages.

No wonder then when Justice Chukwudifu Akune Oputa (retired justice of the Supreme Court and chairman of the famous Human Rights Abuse Investigation Panel) was asked why he chose to relocate to the village) after being exposed to sophisticated cities, he replied rhetorically: “Do you call this a village?” “I don’t think so,” one responded. Then, we shared a good laughter.

Oputa is not the only one that asks such question when one mistakenly called Oguta a village. In fact, every Oguta man will laugh at you when you call the place a village! And this is regardless of the fact that even they themselves unwittingly called their beloved homestead, a village!

Historically, Oguta has a long and enduring history. Justice Oputa dated arrival of the town’s progenitors to about 200 years. But the fact is Oguta, which ancestry is traced to the then Benin Empire, has since witnessed some good measure of development. In the colonial days, it was the headquarters of Oguta district, which today, has metamorphosed into a local government council area. It was no doubt, an enclave of importance then; both administratively and commercially.

As a commercial centre in the 1900s, it was home to such establishments as the Royal Niger Company, G.B. Ollivant, SCOA Group, John Holt and the Miller Brothers, among others.

But the commercial success that Oguta was then now belongs to history. Charley Boy, the maverick artiste son of the Oputa clan better testified to this when he newly returned from the United States of America in the 80s. He ventured into the commercial waters by setting up a studio but he needed nobody to tell him to close shop and relocate to Lagos, where he has ever since carved a niche for himself. That is not to say that Oguta does not have potentials. But somehow, this has been abandoned since the colonial masters closed shop. What presently exist as commercial activity is on the small scale. Even the governments (state or federal) have not thought it wise to explore this potential. Perhaps, the only form of government commercial activity in Oguta is the fish hatchery company that was set up about 1984. The company, which was left for a long time, was only recently revived and commissioned (March 11, 2003). But the irony is that it is yet to be functional. Also one thought that the presence of the Oguta Blue Lake in the community ought to give the town a new existence and elevate it from a mere sleepy community to that of an exclusive tourism centre. But again, this very important aspect has been neglected.

The lake actually defines the essence of the people as many pay respect to it. It is quite peculiar in nature. It is linked at a certain point by the Imo River; yet, the lake still maintains its distinct nature and colouration. It reminds one of the Ikogosi Warm Springs in Ekiti State, where at the melting point, both the cold and hot spring retain their individual nature and temperature. Were the potential of the lake developed, Oguta would have been a fishing port of some sort.

Besides boating activities, sport fishing and water skiing, water transportation is one possibility here. For instance, it is believed that one can easily sail the water to Oguta from Owerri, Onitsha, Mgbidi and other surrounding towns without having to go through road transportation. Even the Oguta Lake Motel that was established in 1977 by the state government as a way of exploring the tourism potential of this town that many believe would have been Nigeria’s Venice, has long been abandoned. It is a similar tale of neglect for the 18 golf holes, which is one of the best of its kind in the country.

It is only now that a renovation and re-engineering of the Motel and golf course is being carried out by a private firm to whom the state government recently leased this dreamed project that will make tourists, particularly, those with flair for water leisure go green with envy.

But despite these failings, the people seem to have accepted their lot in life. One interesting discovery is that the town is divided into two along the natural boundary of the water.

There is Oguta , which is upland and Ufeshi Oguta, in-land that is beyond the water. Oguta is actually the main spot, as it abhors a large number of people. Ufeshi Oguta is said to be regarded somewhat ominous; a wasted land. Besides, the two divides also have a distinct development that is not obvious to any visitor until such is told of it. That is, there is a kind of gulf even within Oguta itself. Settlement at the bank of the river is aptly called the village. Actually, this part of the town is the ancestral home of every Oguta man. Within the settlement, they have about 27 villages. Then there is the section called “plot” or “layout.” Here, new buildings, with well laid out landscape and inter linking roads exist, which is quite different from what one sees in the village section.

What this means is that each family has a foothold both at the layout and their ancestral base (village). The controversial politician, Senator Arthur Nzeribe is from Oguta. His very imposing empire is located far away from the preening eyes in the layout. It is located atop of a hilly landscape. One can view Nzeribe’s empire when approaching the town or at the bank of the waterside.

The section that is called village (the ancestral home) is where the action is. Every activity, particularly social, communal and religious is held there. At Ameshi road, life is on the fast lane. It is ever busy with the young and old. Regie Sports Bar and Grill, a white coloured storey building located on Ameshi Road seems to be one of the happening spots in Oguta. There is also Guys Spot, among others. When you visit Oguta and in need of fun, the place to visit is the village.

Traditionally, the people have a number of communal feasts they celebrate annually. This include Iri-Iji, there is also Ogene Festival, which holds every August and Nkirika (the rugged one). It has two aspects; the first is strictly for the men folk while the second embraces everyone in the community.

Despite this, the people’s devotion to God is also obvious. Churches and worshipping centres of all kinds fill the landscape. Perhaps, one of the biggest is the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Justice Oputa and his family worship at this church which is just few metres away from their residence. Inspite of the under-developed spot, the people still carry out some fishing and farming activities.

The people are not really known for trading or business prowess, which is usually associated with the people from the eastern part of the country. Rather, they are educationally and intellectually inclined. Apart from the Oputas and Nzeribes, the late Flora Nwapa hailed from the town. She was a novelist and made a name as a feminist writer. ‘Efuru’ is one of her most popular novels. Her father, AC Nwapa, was also a very famed person whose contribution to the development of the town is easily acknowledged by the people. Perhaps in recognition of this, the long tarred road leading from Mgbidi into the town, was named after him.

In terms of social amenities, Oguta is blessed with a NITEL exchange, a general hospital, a post office, a market and the likes, all contributing to making life easy and go round for the people and their visitors