Onitsha: The Resilient City

Onitsha: The Resilient City

People from different places,

Hustle for scanty spaces,

Spread out are Osha mazes

Below the Niger bridge!

The sense of smell is heightened

In winds that never frighten

Those souls in rags that sadden

This very soul of mine.

The smells of burning tyre,

Baking-hot bread from flour,

Sweet akara balls that fire

These hunger pangs of mine.

Fuel, meat, oil, hot turkeys,

Foo foo for hungry tummies

And fried fish that are “yummy”

Compete near stinking ponds.

The aroma of those beauties

And odour from oddities

Do mix to form smog phases

Below the Niger bridge.

Yet Osha is ever golden

Refusing to be downtrodden,

Since strong people with proven

Abilities compete.

Thick piles of varied rubbles,

And heaps in diverse puddles,

With packs of instant noodles,

And bags of “pure water”.

Do rush to litter hallways,

Long roads and danger highways,

Stalls, malls and cornered waterways—

You never know where next.

Potholes become wet mud pots

In times of heavy down pours,

Yet many cars do pay scores

With crazy okadas!

The horns from fast “commuters”,

The blast from fearsome trailers,

The shrieks from mad okadas

And shouts from agberos.

With beats from CD players

And cries from daring hawkers

And typical howls of “Awka!”

From busy conductors.

Sure make your ears go tingling

In ways that set you thinking

If you will ever listen

To silent jungle chirps.

Yet Osha is still golden—

Too strong to be browbeaten,

Since great people with proven

Abilities cooperate.

People from different places,

Hustle for scanty spaces

To buy and sell and pay fees

And hurry home at dusk.

From “Head bridge” to “Afia Nkpor”,

Businessmen may make you tour,

Firing your heart to the core

For consumerism:

“Come buy my authentic goods!

I sure have Italian shoes!

There are some assorted clothes!

And golden wristwatches!

“Browse the Internet and pass mails!

And get “GSM” handsets!

Because without these fat gains!

You’re far from “ebe ano”.

Now tell me how you’ll pass by

Without purchasing one pie?

If not at great Ochanja

Then surely Main market.

Here you see scattered fittings

On rows of storied buildings—

Sprawled out with busy holdings

Under the rising sun.

And spots for frozen candies

With scores of wooden shanties

Jostling for proven chances

Under the flyover.

Beggars with bowls that jingle,

Frauds that coin tales which tingle,

Both groups I just can’t handle,

I don’t know which is which….

Conmen in darkened mazes

Could be kids hawking candies,

They leave victims in shanties,

They leave them in the cold.

Here beggars may kill for cash—

Striving to cover their slash

Of human bodies for parts

Every cold stranded night.

Yet Osha is ever golden,

Too much to be downtrodden,

Since fine people with proven

Abilities deliberate.

People of different patterns,

Combine to create a mountain

Of chasing “Naira fountains”

With tales of joy and woe.

Good hands make gains from toiling,

Loose bands snatch men and money.

Once, blood had gushed out— running

Before great “  Bakassi”

Then, the test sword would hang nude

As it searched for some “scapegoons”.

When it glittered with red hues

The macabre dance began….

In front of “day-old” infants,

Men were sliced up like thin fowls,

For hot tyres and keen fuel

That boiled blood in the flame.

Now people rush to frenzy

Without a thought for safety,

And some do fight for mazes—

Trusting in “odi eshi”

If you’re not in, you’re “old school”,

If you opt out, you’re “Okongwu”,

Yet men fall into hot soup

Within seconds of sport.

So upper Iweka bustles

For latest films that bubble

All friends and foes that hustle

Below the Niger bridge.

Thus Osha is so fun filled,

She leaves you so much thrilled

That you will go home so filled

You’ll wish to come again!

Yet many foreheads wrinkle,

Gone are smiles that form dimples

And ferocious buses wriggle

Their way through the thick haze.

When you come to LG Park,

Hoping to travel intact,

Agberos may tear your bag,

Reaching for hard-won cash!

Young women have been disgraced,

Old people have been displaced,

Young children have been misplaced—

Your age does not matter!

One is left to nurse this wound

That will surely make one want

Things that are out of this world—

Like a very big gun!!

So people rush to frenzy

Without a thought for safety

And some still fight for mazes

Trusting in “odi eshi”.

And travelers rush to converge,

Ever ready to diverge

In vehicles that could traverse

The whole of Africa.

Only to forever converge

Again to once more cover

Such loss incurred by offers

To terrible hands abroad.

If John Keats were to stand here,

He these words would sure declare,

“What mad pursuit have we here?

What struggle to escape?”

Yet Osha is too fun filled

That you will go home so thrilled,

Because she leaves you so filled,

You’ll surely come again.

People of different ages,

Coming from diverse races,

Combine to cover spaces

In Ibo’s land of cash.

Come now oh different faces,

Hustle for scanty spaces,

Sprawled out are Osha mazes

Below the Niger bridge.

The land of sweet “Ofala”

And great Zik of Africa

With pope’s growing Awada

Below the rising sun!

The land of stupendous shells

Of supernatural tales.

My friend, you never can tell—

There’s more than meets the eye!

Now tell me how you’ll drive by

Without letting out a sigh

Or smoking deep to a high

Or struggling with your tear?

Yet mad men rush to frenzy,

Vowing to remain crazy

For things that look like “safety”—

Below the Almighty.

So Osha is so complex,

It makes small men grow complex.

Why! They end up so perplexed

Below the Niger bridge.

Still Osha is beautiful

With adventurous people—

Splashing and raising ripples

Below the Niger bridge.

And Osha is so golden,

Too strong to be browbeaten,

Since great people with proven

Capabilities abound….



10 thoughts on “Onitsha: The Resilient City” by jeff unaegbu (@jeffunaegbu)

  1. Good to see another city apart from Lagos eulogised.
    Nice one.

    1. Thanks Lade. Onitsha indeed deserves some attention!

  2. Wow! Onitsha sure deserves this piece. And I sure noticed your appropriate use of the city’s key words, nay trademark features e.g Niger Bridge, Bakassi, Main Market, Ofala, Zik etc. Well done! Though I wish you’d highlighted how absurdly early Osha goes to sleep. Ha ha! I wonder if you’ll also honour our Coal City with thy masterful poetic artistry. *winks*

    1. True, they go to sleep very early. The Coal City sure deserves to be so honoured. Only that I have to live in it long enough for the Muse to command me. Thanks. You are indeed one of the most ardent readers of my works!

  3. wow, I never knew Onitsha was like lagos.

    1. @Adeyinka, I very much apprecaite. Really, Onitsha is almost the alter ego of Lagos in a smaller scale, if the tenacity and zippy zappy hustle and bustle of both cities are anything to go by.

  4. Wow Jeff, this is a fitting eulogy though I’ve never been to that town.

    That was a very beautiful piece. I really like your attempt at repetition in some lines, thought I feel the rhymes were a bit forced in some areas.

    Well done!!!

  5. Isaac, the man. Thank you for that observation. The poem was condemned in 2003 during a TV performance poetry dress rehearsal for similar reasons of forcefulness only for it to be sung by children in Onitsha private schools as one of my first published collection of poems. I am still trying to understand its strange bittersweet aura myself. And HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  6. Beautiful- beautiful! This is talent!

  7. Thank you Tee. Very much appreciated.

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