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Sapele’s vanishing fame, politics and generation gap

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Sapele was the finest timber produce in the erstwhile African Timber and Plywood (AT&P). Photo/ Woodcuttoorder

One of the cities that exposed Nigeria as an economic power nation to the world in the early 19th century is Sapele. This is as a result of its finest timber produce in the erstwhile African Timber and Plywood (AT&P) company situated in the town.

The large number of AT&P’s workers made Sapele a melting point and home to people from diverse tribes across the country. Also, the hospitable and nature of Sapele indigenes saw roads within the town named after settlers’ tribe. For example, Yoruba road, Itsekiri road, Hausa road, Benin road and Ghana named after a community.

Unarguably, Sapele remains a beautiful and peaceful town which is loved by everyone who has experienced its spirit of oneness. Therefore, the town is home to all irrespective of the fact that one is not part of the Okpe indigenes who own the land.

For those like this writer who were privileged to have a relationship with the town either by birth or migration, savoured the unity and love that exist among people of different ethnic nationalities and religious background.

As a child, growing up in Sapele just like in any other big cities or towns taught one a lesson that the ace is within ones control irrespective of peer pressure or poor background, or youthful exhortation among others that could easily lead one into temptation and do some unconscionable things that may be indelible for life. However, the adventures were usually daring and interesting and except one is part of the experience it is so inexplicable.

At that time, children enjoy certain freedom as they build real companionship across age, sex, culture and religion. Sapele people are never happier than when they come together in festive periods of whichever ethnic group’s culture and especially so with sporting activities like school’s inter-house sports or principal’s cup football competition.

Also, solid family ties existed among neighbours who are of different tribes and tongue. Such foundation and spirit of oneness allows for community up-bringing of children such that any child can be scolded or punished for wrong doing by elders not necessarily their relations with or without permission from the child’s parents.

Whatever your thoughts are about Sapele, one can never deny the fact that the town is a unique one. Sapele’s strategic location makes it one of the commercial nerve centres in Delta state. It is just about thirty minutes drive to the oil city of Warri, while a forty-five minutes or thereabout takes one to Benin City, capital of Edo state. Of course, its waterways link up communities like Koko among other riverine communities who make their living from water. Therefore, they deal in smoked fishes, crayfish and other sea foods in Sapele market.

In return, they buy pepper, garri, yam, beans, rice and others. People come from far and wide to trade or work in Sapele. Despite the early Europeans corruption of the towns’ name from Urhiapele to Sapele, the people love to refer to themselves as Saferians among other synonyms used in reference to the town. Saferians always brim with self confidence and are not afraid to confront challenges or speak truth to power.

Most people who have never been to Sapele are usually carried away when they listen to the way and manner Saferians speak pidgin with an uncommon style and intonation.

Over the years, Saferians pidgin have become very popular nay lucrative as comedians crack jokes with it and smile to the bank. It is important to note that Saferians don’t discriminate rather they relate and get along with people so easily wherever life takes them.

No matter the challenges, Saferians understand the task before them therefore they have no time to squat under the banyan tree wrapped in emotion to elicit sympathy. Rather, they take the bull by the horns and work very hard to make ends meet.

With regard to the above, most people might think that Saferians clout comes from the David-like-Goliath kind of boldness. No, not at all, Saferians’ audacity and courage is likened to Barack Obama’s giant strides at the United States of America’s presidency when the chances to win the elections were seen by many as unfavourable. Of course, the rest is now history and such is the simple but very strong spirit of Saferians artistry to achieve their aim.

It is however regrettable to say that over the years, selfish interest and ‘divide and rule’ politics have planted some kind of set-back in the ancient town. This has made the good old days seem a fantasy and delusion of a town that brings shame on its people. Most politicians have dubiously shifted attention from developing the town to enriching themselves. In no time, things started to fall apart as the centre can no longer hold.

Despite the fact that, Sapele generates electricity through the gas turbine station in Ogorode for the national grid, the town sleep and wake up in darkness daily.

Also, lack of political will to revive the Sapele Water Corporation that can effortlessly get water from Ethiope river that runs through the town and treat and supply same both in Sapele and the neighbouring villages has been curious.

It is indeed sad that one after the other, the town that played host to several big companies like AT&P, Eternit, Cenico rubber factory, Flour Mills, Pontu, its Seaport among other small enterprises left for other places or collapsed due to poor politics. It is a shame to note that, the industrial boom era in Sapele did not transform the town into a small London. Rather, it became a fathom of imagination and fairy tales for younger generations.

Therefore, it is time to appeal to the power elite and the dynamic population of Sapele to return home and revive the culture that once made Sapele an iconic city. Delta state government and representatives of the city at various levels should not allow Sapele to be a lead reference point in history of ruined cities. Sapele is a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. It’s a time of revival for Sapele. Yes Sapele, our Sapele.


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