Profile of Nnobi town
Location: Idemili South Local Government Area, Anambra State, Nigeria, West Africa
Language: Igbo and English
Religion: Christian, and traditional religion.
Closest urban centers: Nnewi, Nkpor, Onitsha and Awka – Capital of Anambra State.
Population: Estimated over 100,000 people
Occupation: Mostly peasant farmers and petty traders
Government built institutions/facility: Very few
Community built institutions/facility (though in dilapidated conditions): Untarred roadways, customary courthouse, post office, elementary and secondary schools, police post, health center, water treatment plant (joint venture, only few areas are connected with water pipes, not functioning since about 25 years ago), community meeting centers (halls).
Condition of the facilities: Dilapidated and ruined due to lack of maintenance
Major environmental disaster: Erosion and deep gullies.
Socio-economic status: Rural and under-developed (very close to borderline undeveloped status).
(Update: Since posting of this piece in 2002, the Anambra State government had done some works, especially road construction projects at Nnobi town. See Update at the bottom of this piece.)
History of Modern Developmental in Nnobi Town
According to history, modern development came to Nnobi in the early 20th century under the charismatic leadership of a prominent traditional healer and the community monarch Igwe Solomon Ezeokoli. He built a colonial courthouse on his land and donated it to the colonial government. He influenced the construction of roadways (un-tarred) to create access for the colonial authority to visit him. The community also organized to clear more roadways (un-tarred), donated land, levied the natives heavily to build six primary schools, two secondary schools, post office, and water treatment plant. These were donated to the missionaries, and government upon completion.
The community also brought the western religious sects namely: Anglican Church, Catholic Church, Salvation Army, etc. The community donated lands and built churches for the propagation of those faiths, and donated them to the missionaries. Lately, in the 1970s, the community also organized to donate land, build police post, health center, and donated them to the government.
The community took a bold step that attracted world attention in the early 1970s when the traditional ruler Igwe Edmund Ezeokoli II abolished the Osu caste system in Nnobi. This was a very huge humanitarian feat and challenge in view of very huge, and long historical cultural belief and practice. This was well covered by the local media, and richly documented in the western libraries. Other communities who had been afraid of societal reaction to such a taboo followed the example set by the Nnobi community.
Neglect by Governments
There is abysmal neglect of the community by federal, state, and local governments of Nigeria in the distribution of resources and amenities. The community’s steady cry for the maintenance of the infrastructures, which they had built and donated to the government, has been unanswered. The community steady request from the successive governments to bring developmental projects and to control water erosion, which is devastating the community livelihood, has also been unheeded. Attempt by World Bank in 1980s to control the menacing erosion was obstructed by corruption. Consequently, all the community-built institutions are in ruins and decay. The roads left un-tarred are in total disrepair. The customary courthouse has fallen down. Most school buildings had collapsed or are collapsing. Children are studying under collapsing roofs, walls and trees. The water treatment plant has ceased to function for past 30 years or more. The health center grossly unequipped, and under-staffed barely functions. The police post is also grossly unequipped or under-equipped. The only standing institutions are the churches, maintained by compulsory, draconian and crunching financial levy of the community.
Efforts had been made by individuals to shine some lights unto the community. Bishop Michael Nwaobi Amakaeze, (A.k.a., Musa), Founder of Holy Sabbath of Christ the King Mission International, made Nnobi his headquarters. The yearly assembly of his worldwide followers at Nnobi, coupled with establishment of infrastructures by the religious body was a bust to social and economic development of the community. However, the community did not totally embrace all the community development initiatives of this religious minister.
The community has produced quite a number of prominent people in the society namely: traditional healers (Igwe Solomon Ezeokoli was one), priests, sisters (nuns), brothers, pastors, prophets, prophetess, medical doctors, nurses, engineers, lawyers, judges, accountants, university professors, gallant warriors, top police chief, other top civil servants and successful businessmen, just to name only a few.
The community has also produced quite a number of very notorious criminals, including: slave traders/human traffickers, witch-doctors, human poisoning syndicates, local and international crime syndicates, armed robbers, as well as petty criminals.
Nnobi and Slave Trade
According to history, not much was known about slave trade in Nnobi until the settlement within the community of the slave merchants and middlemen from the Aro Kingdom in about 15th century. These settlers had no other mission or purpose than abduction/kidnapping, purchasing and shipment of slaves down to Arochukwu and onwards to the coast for shipment to Europe, West Indies, and America. The Aro middlemen sponsored the raids, abductions/kidnappings; encouraged, and facilitated the procurement of young men and women for the purpose of slave trade. They disrupted the traditional peaceful socio-cultural ways of life of the natives with treachery, witchcraft, and ruthlessness previously alien to the community.
Some of the descendants of those slave merchant settlers are currently very influential good citizens of the Nnobi community, however, there are few who continue the legacy of their ancestors. The early western missionaries (whites) who settled in Nnobi met fiery opposition from the slave merchants and their associates who saw the missionaries’ message of love of fellow human beings as tantamount to ending their business. With the burning of the white missionary residence in Obinagu area of Awuda-Nnobi, and few assassinations that followed; the early catholic missionaries fled to a neighboring town of Nnokwa. They built their residence as well as a huge church in the town, which welcomed and protected them.
Nnobi and Human Trafficking
Not much was heard about slave trade in Nnobi until mid 1970s when it became local news that a young man from the community abducted his half sister and attempted to sell her into slavery.
Between 1986-1989, a young catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Theophilus Odukwe waged relentless battle against the witch-doctors, some retrogressive and harmful practices at Nnobi, and met strong opposition from the very influential people in the community, some of whom were fellow catholic priests. Based on pressure by the opposition, the young priest was abruptly removed from the town and reassigned to another parish.
As recently as 1999/2000, some Nnobi natives living in New York, Unites States of America made world news when the family was arrested for keeping a slave in their New York City residence for nine (9) years. The American public was shocked, horrified, and awakened to the fact that forms of slavery still exist within the U.S., especially in New York. During the intercontinental investigation that ensued, it was discovered that, the same family had procured and enslaved two other girls, one of whom was an 11 years old girl from their hometown Nnobi from 1989 to 1990.
U. S investigation revealed that the enslaved 11 years old girl took care of two children (ages 5 & 3) and performed household work without pay. Her master sexually abused her starting at age of 11, and impregnated her at the age of 13. New York City Child Welfare Administration placed her in a foster care agency. She remained at the agency till she was 21 years old and got discharged from the system. Her family ties were broken and her true identity was lost for a long time. With no family members or relatives in the United States, she is abandoned, and stranded. She has been living with a very generous American family she met since foster care placement over 13 years. Some of her goals are to attend school, adjust her immigration status, improve her health situation, and to visit her family in Nnobi, for the first time in over 15 years.
U. S investigation also revealed that there exist a group of Nnobi natives (including very prominent ones) living in New York and New Jersey area and they have a registered association which professed aim is the welfare of all Nnobi natives in the U.S. But instead of assisting these victims, the group came together and contributed funds and ideas to assist the arrested traffickers conceal their crimes and defend their case in the U.S. Federal Court. The group also conducted nationwide fundraising for the traffickers. The stranded female victims one of who is also a native of Nnobi did not get any form of assistance from the group. A member who advocated for assistance to the victim was attacked and nearly assassinated by human trafficking syndicate and their associates, which comprise members of the Nnobi association.
With the assistance of Africans In America, Inc. board members, the victims had adjusted their immigration status. One has become a naturalized U.S. citizen, and the other was awarded a T visa which is a special visa mandated by the United States Congress for victims of a severe form of trafficking.
The American public was shocked that no one came to the aid of these girls despite the fact that there were many people from Nnobi, from Igboland, and from other Nigerian community living in New York and New Jersey (some of whom are health/social services professionals, lawyers, academicians, religious leaders, etc.) who are well aware of their situations.
Abject poverty, total neglect and abandonment of responsibility by government, collusion of influential members of the society, corruption of government officials including the law enforcement and the judiciary, unbridled greed and exploitation, degeneration and collapse of social value are some of the factors contributing to African internal and international trafficking in human beings.
The town Nnobi in Nigeria is struggling, suffering and in serious distress. The level of poverty and suffering in the community has made the poor natives easy prey for the modern day slave merchants and middlemen.
The Nnobi situation presents a challenge to, governments, institutions, civil society organizations and the United Nations in this period of globalization.
The town, Nnobi has been chosen as our regional field headquarters for African operations due to its unique historical perspective, difficulties, and challenges.
Since posting of this piece in 2002, the Anambra State government had done some works at Nnobi, especially in area of road construction. Few roads in Nnobi town are now noticeably widened and tarred when we last visited the town in 2009. The rural town is now fairly accessible by road.
Anambra State government also reconstructed the fallen Customary Courthouse, and built a Magistrate Court beside it. More office building was constructed for the police at their station. Health Center was also built.
Equipments and maintenance for the facilities and infrastructures are however lacking.
Good/Clean water and electricity: These are still major problems, almost non-existence.
Though there were some noticeable improvements in area of road construction, extreme hardship, poverty and distress in the rural town are still major factors.