In Uyo visitors are warned: ‘Beware of dogs’
Category: Star feature Written by Fidelis Mac-Leva, who was in Uyo
During a three day visit to Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, our reporter took out time to study the sights and sounds of the beautiful city. Here he writes on the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the ‘Land of Promise.’IBOK (not real names), the airport taxi operator who drove me from the Akwa Ibom International Airport into town was down to earth. As a first time visitor to the oil producing state, I sought to clear from Ibok certain doubts about the state. I was particularly curious to know something about stories I had heard to the effect that in Akwa Ibom dog meat is a common delicacy.
With a grin on his face my guide gave me what sounded like a lecture on ‘the dogma of dog meat’ in Akwa Ibom. First of all he sought to know from me if I were either a patron of dog meat, or a patron of beer parlors. I responded in the contrary.
“My brother, I must tell you the truth; dog meat-otherwise known as ‘404’, is a popular delicacy in Akwa Ibom. The Ibibios call it unam-ewa, and it is mostly prepared as barbecue and sold at beer parlors and other ‘joints’ that dot the nooks and crannies of the city of Uyo. Lovers of Beer find it a very potent delicacy that goes with alcohol consumption. Therefore, if you are not a patron of dog meat, I would rather advise that you steer clear of meat sold at beer parlors because most of it is dog meat,” said Ibok, who further disclosed that due to its growing popularity in the state, dog meat (404) has now been upgraded to the status of ‘504.’
Coming from a background where dog meat is almost a taboo, I found Ibok’s lecture quite instructive. It reminded me of the popular warning usually found at the gates of homes in Nigerian cities: ‘beware of dogs’. To a first time visitor to Uyo, his lecture was an unwritten equivalent of that warning sign cautioning me to beware of ‘dog meat’ during my stay in the State.
As we drove through the Uyo International Airport gate, I was fascinated by the scenic beauty of the environment. The beautiful flowers and ornamental plants that stood harmoniously on both sides of the five kilometer airport road, reminded me of another subject of enquiry: the professed cleanliness and beauty of Uyo city.
Again my guide was frank. “You will see for yourself as we drive round, that Uyo is indeed a clean city. He was right because as we drove round, I was impressed not only by the neatness of the city, but also by the infrastructure. The planners of the town seem to be guided by the Biblical principle which posits that cleanliness is next to godliness.
When we got to the city center I was perplexed by the energy of Uyo, the Akwa Ibom state capital. I could hear the honking of cars even as Ibibio music blasted from cheap speakers. The day was still young and the streets of Uyo were filled with cars, vendors and workers even as children clad in school uniform were making their way to school. I knew immediately that my adventure to this ‘Land of Promise’ had just begun.
As we drove past one of the city’s many markets, I perceived the smell of roasted meat on open coal fires. Could it be barbecued dog meat? Ibok simply smiled and gave me the kind of look which reminded me of the unwritten caution: ‘beware of dog meat in Uyo.’ I could also see women carrying trays filled with fresh fruit on their heads, as they wove in-between crowds of people, pausing only to exchange a piece of fruit for a handful of coins.
Everything one could ever want was on sale on the carnival-like streets of Uyo: Pots, pans, vegetables, luggage, cell phones, brightly coloured Ibom fabrics and undershirts. There was also the common sight of yellow colored tricycles popularly known as ‘Keke NAPEP.’ As I later found out, the tricycles were acquired by the state government and sold at a subsidized cost to people under its poverty alleviation scheme.
But my guide, Ibok, had reservations on the conduct of the tricycle operators in the state capital. “They drive dangerously and compete with us (cab drivers) on the roads, resulting in several avoidable crashes. In fact they operate as the lords of the roads.” Later at night when I rode in a tricycle to observe the night life of the city, however, John - a stammering operator - who drove me round gave his own side of the story, which revealed some rivalry between taxi and tricycle operators in Uyo.
The second night of my visit to Uyo was spent at the popular Le Meridien Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort, a breathtaking tourist edifice located near a bathing resort along Nwaniba Road. A friend of mine from Akwa Ibom had recommended the place to me as a first time visitor, and I found it quite delightful. As soon as you get into the lobby of Le Meridien, you are welcomed by a carnival-like atmosphere. A rainbow of light flashes from all directions as visitors, among them European tourists, stream in with their hand luggage to the warm and hospitable reception of smartly dressed porters.
Apart from the Restaurant where assorted recipes and cuisines are served, I spent most of my time at Le Meridien in the May Fair Trust Bookshop, whose shelves were stocked with assorted books on a variety of subjects, including journalism. It was here I obtained an authentic copy of the controversial ‘There was a Country’ by Chinua Achebe; whose pirated copies are already being sold in dozens even on the streets of Abuja. It was also here I found a book I had long craved for: ‘Journalism and Mass Communication’ written by Indian author J.K. Singh who is well known in this field of study.
The visit to Akwa Ibom was not without an encounter with the State Governor, Obong Godswill Akpabio who, like the red necked Lizard, believes in blowing his own trumpet. Visible evidence to this effect was sighted on a giant sized billboard erected somewhere in the heart of Uyo with the inscription: Akpabioism. On the billboard Akpabio’s picture is boldly juxtaposed with those of political legends like India’s Mohathma Ghandi (Ghandism), Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo(Awoism); Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zikism) as well as Ghana’s Kwame Nkurumah (Nkurumaism). The apparent message here is that of a governor comparing himself with those great leaders...
During the interview I and my colleagues had with Akpabio, he left no one in doubt about his self conviction as a performing PDP governor. The question put across to him was whether or not the PDP governors discuss peer review mechanisms in view of criticisms over alleged non performance by some of them.
“…The biggest showcase of democracy dividends in Nigeria today is the PDP administration of Akwa Ibom. If anybody has doubts as to whether PDP can deliver let them come and see what we are doing here…” Then he went rhetorical: “Could anybody tell you after you have done over three hundred brand new urban roads that you are not performing? Could anybody tell you after driving round your state capital for over sixteen kilometers without coming across a pothole, that you are not performing? Could anybody tell you that after electrifying about 1,700 villages you are not performing...?” He went on and on!
At the end of my visit to Akwa Ibom State I was reminded of two things, namely: The old adage which says: “The Agama lizard which jumps from the high Iroko tree to the ground nods its head in self congratulation (as exemplified by the doctrine of Akpabioism); as well as the dog meat dogma in Akwa Ibom (as exemplified by the unwritten caution to visitors: ‘beware of dogs’).