The Ones Who Cannot Be Left Behind

Workshop Session in Abakiliki
I mentioned to a dear friend, Mwikali when I was in transit from the Senator Chris Nwankwo Leadership, Public Speaking and Writing Workshop that I was returning from Abakaliki, and she told me that in her mother tongue – Swahili – Abakaliki means ‘one who cannot be left behind.’ That one liner is an apt depiction of my experiences in the capital of Ebonyi State.
I don’t know if I’d have visited Abakaliki if not for Obinna Udenwe’s invite, and I am glad for the opportunity. 
I was at home from the moment I entered the rust coloured town of Abakaliki which to me is a toned down version of Benin City.
After following a couple of misleading directions – probably because they were given in a mixture of Igbo and English – I found Preston Hotel were the facilitators were accommodated and the workshop hosted.
At Preston, the staff out did themselves playing host so well that I almost didn’t miss home. The young man who wipes the floors like he’s caressing it, the waiter who insisted with winks that I ate in my room and not any of the other facilitator’s rooms, the waitress who was reluctant to give out cigarettes for a smoke because smokes are liable to die young, the cook who stuffed me with her first-rate catfish pepper soup, moistened jellof rice and jellof indomie. Preston where my jab that the best Afang soup in the world is cooked in Cross River state was forever silenced. I bet the Preston cook cooks with two right hands.
Ebonyians as they refer to themselves portrayed a super united front. Senator Nwankwo in his opening remark stated that the program was his contribution in appreciation of what the government was doing. It was a contribution that brought together the likes of Elnathan John, Dr. Okechukwu Egboluche. Collins Attah, Richard Inya, Onyekachi Jumbo, Funminiyi Omojola, Ose Ndebbio, Obinna Udenwe and thirty amazing participants selected from a pool of 1410 applicants. Unselfish as Ebonyians are, this year the workshop admitted three participants not from Ebonyi State.
Collins Attah’s session on leadership and the power of oratory left participants so inspired that by the close of the ceremony, one participant who had never before addressed an audience was able to speak on the benefits of the program, one of which was the confidence to speak in public. Dear Collins who was unable to stay to the end of the program will be happy to know his breath wasn’t wasted.
As an educator, I’ve observed scores of learners and educators in learning environments few transfer knowledge with the simplicity and confidence that Elnathan brought to the creative writing workshops. Ease born of becoming one with his subject matter, approaching his content with the familiarity of a lover. Elanathan truly has had intercourse with writing and it showed in his willingness to kiss and tell.
Facilitators couldn’t have asked for a more enthusiastic class than the participants at the workshop; ‘sons and daughters of the senator’ as they came to refer to themselves. Their infectious exuberance made me want to go on talking without stopping but Davingson, one of the workshop’s officials proved immune to their bug and would send vaccine like notes that read – ten minutes more! The good thing is, I am positive we will hear of good things from those participants.
Wherever you look, Ebonyi is not only growing rice and yams. She is growing people: teenagers from the debate team that presented during the workshop – four time national debate champions; youth like the Ugreen Foundation Officials – the workshop organizers – that blew me away with their sense of duty and youth like the participants who have been commissioned to go and teach others what they have learnt.
Like people in a drought preparing for rain, Ebonyians are growing dreams that formed a part of our tour during the event. Dreams like the Ochudo City which will house their state secretariat, the Oferekpe Mega water scheme that requires an additional 36 billion dollars for its completion the 5300 stall ultra modern international market. Investments I sincerely hope won’t turn out to be a colossal waste of cement and natural vegetation like Tinapa, Africa’s premier business resort in Cross River state.
Something is happening in Ebonyi state and it is unlikely that Ebonyians will remain in obscurity for long. Not with people like Obinna Udenwe who has the drive of ten men and who is positioning himself for astronomical achievements.
There is a bond that only a fellowship with words can forge amongst total strangers. How else would I have met all the phenomenal people I interacted with at the workshop which held during the 24th – 29thof November, 2013.  Professionals like Okey and Niyi who make time for writing, who were in on the plot to assault our waistlines with food missiles. Odeshi!, Jumbo, the Izzi man from Izzi LGA who is fluent in Chinese and Japanese, Elnathan with his self-deprecating sense of humour, and Collins who never breaks his word twice.
Last week goes down in history for me as one of life’s cherishable happenings and I am mega glad to have been part of this awesome project. Long live Ugreen, long live Senator Nwankwo and long live writers.

Ose Utibe-Ndebbio is a writer and educator. Her stories have appeared in several literary journals including Kaleidoscope and Dreams at Dawn Anthology.

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