Last month, YNaija.com launched its Monthly Citizenship Dispatches, which explores in detail, the lives and realities of Nigerian citizens across the country.
This month, the dispatches come from the Niger Delta, where our reporters have spent weeks digging deep into a part of the country oft reported about and sadly still mis-understood.
These are the stories we will share with you daily over the next two weeks – for the voices, the issues, the realities that fellow citizens living in the Delta have dealt with, and continue to deal with every day.
As a boy growing up in the 80s, Ovie Okoro remembers that he would be woken up at 6am in the mornings by the sound of an alarm clock that was nowhere within their building.
When he was six, his mother explained that the clock was at the other end of town and belonged to African Timber & Plywood (AT&P), the subsidiary of United African Company (UAC) which at the time held the distinction of being the second largest sawmill and plywood processing factory in not just Africa, but the entire world.
His father was a clerk with the accounts department and at the sound of the first alarm, he would wake everyone up and begin to prepare for work. By 7:30am, he would start cycling off to work on his shiny metal bicycle, reaching the gates at exactly 8am. It was a routine that had begun in 1972 when the elder Okoro joined the company, fresh out of high school and continued till 25 years after when he retired.
Children of AT&P workers were the talk of town and the other residents of Sapele would look on enviously as their parents were invited to company dos at the colonial style quarters of their supervisors and sipped tea with the white men, rather than dipped their bread in it. “Everybody wanted to be us. We got all kinds of benefits – free medical care and so on”, Ovie reminisces.
Now in his late thirties, Ovie who runs his own supermarket and bar wishes his three children had experienced even a fraction of what he experienced in those days but alas, AT&P is dysfunctional and the clock last rang out in the early 2000s after the Delta state government bought the huge factory over from UAC. Before then, it had been silent for over a decade.
Workers were involuntarily retired, retrenched and dismissed like the waste from the logs of wood they had so dutifully processed during their careers. Till date, the machinery continues to rot.
“It pains my father till this date. That factory was responsible for keeping the port alive. It brought early development to Sapele but look at the town now.”
“There is an abundance of timber in this place – obeche, even Sapele wood but government is not interested in making money off that again. All they know is crude oil. If they are smart, now that militants are attacking everywhere, why not revive AT&P to help our economy?”, he argues. “There are many things we can do with wood. Too many”