By Kingsley Agim-Ogbu
One of the inexplicable phenomena of life is one’s powerlessness to choose their family or birthplace. By providence, I was lucky to have been born in Bendeghe-Ekiem, and spent most of my youthful years (about two decades) in the community. That was predestination by the Creator; a blessing I am eternally grateful for.
I still reminisce with great nostalgia how peerages adorned the streets in the twinkly luminance of moonlight, listened to folktales by parents and older people, and engaged in folklores, tugs-of-war (Etikpo), sweepstakes, traditional wrestling, as well as other social activities. Peace, good neighborliness and communal harmony were some of the hallmarks of Bendeghe-Ekiem. Of course, the expression “Ayuk Abha” spoke eloquently about the mirth and vivacity of Bendeghe-Ekiem community – a kind and hospitable people. I remember how our sons and daughters returned back home for holidays in company of friends who wanted to witness the splendor and spectacle of our festivals, the ostentatious displays of the ‘Nkib-Itong’ and ‘Ekpo’ masquerades during Christmas, as well as other specimens of our rich cultural heritage. I will never forget the enthralling musical dexterity of the late Asu Tandu and his band; the unique flair and flavour of the Bendeghe-Ekiem Brass Band, and the ostentatious display of the (now defunct) hip-hop-styled Family Affair Music Group (comprised of Ojong Ofuka, Ofuka Obi (Laye), Onim Egbe (Iupac), and the late Atim Ofuka). Bendeghe-Ekiem was a Mecca-of-sort for fun seekers and business people alike.
In business, indigenous names like late Ntufam Daniel Neji Obi (Dano & Sons Ltd), late Nta Bassey Okongor, were household names reputed for their various commercial successes. Interestingly, over a century ago, Bendeghe-Ekiem had already stamped its authority as the agricultural hub within the old Ikom region, notably, through large scale production of cocoa, yams, palm oil, cassava, timber, etc. The old storeyed/concrete buildings still standing, to-date, like ‘ancient Egyptian pyramids’ are testaments of the Bendeghe-Ekiem community’s history of hard work in agribusinesses. Interestingly, the likes of Oscar Amba Tangban (OATS), Agbor Okim (MacGregor), Ejor Achu Bissong, just to mention a few, are all household names in the business sector. Interestingly, cocoa would always be accorded its pride of place as the potent crop/trade that lodged them into giant business conglomerates that they have all become today. Not forgetting other names in the cocoa farming/trade like Agbor Ojie (late), Ausaji Mgbe, Sunday Ayiba, Obi Ojong Ejoh, Leffa Okune, among others.
In education, through the hard work of our forebears, sons and daughters of Bendeghe-Ekiem were among the earliest in the State to have formal education, with Engr. Atta Obi Tangban coming to mind as, arguably, the first within the old Ikom extraction to bag a university degree over 70 years ago. Names like Nta Tambu Ebuta, Ntufam Tawo Obi Abang, Nta Takim Achu (T-Achu), Nta Okongor Asu Ayuk, just to mention a few, also earned themselves a place in the pantheons of educational legends, preceding a generation of scholars and leaders in various fields of endeavor, both within and outside Nigeria. We have since had names like Professors Sylvanus Obi Abang, Ojong EchumTangban, Nsing Ogar, Atu Ausaji, Mpantor Okongor Ojong, Francis Ebuta Bissong, Abang Bichene Obi, and Ejor Tiku. We also have Associate Professors Ayuk Atim Nchor, Ndifon Ojong Ejoh, as well as Dr. Ayuk Achu, Dr. Ndifon Neji Obi, Dr. Antor Odu Ndep (first female Ph.D holder from Bendeghe-Ekiem), Dr. Neji Atta Obi, Dr. Henry Egbe Ayuk, Engr. Tambu Atta Obi, Dr. Charles Ayuk Nsor (among the firsts in the State to hold a doctorate degree in Ornithology), Bassey Bichene, Ebuta Tawo, etc, all scholars of remarkable erudition. In fact, Bendeghe-Ekiem boasted, arguably, the best brains within the old Ikom region at the time. Our Presbyterian Primary School, Etung Comprehensive Secondary School, and Aunty Eileen Nursery and Primary School remain the first primary, secondary and private nursery/primary schools, respectively, in Etung and alma maters to the legions of scholars from Bendeghe-Ekiem. I hope that, in no distant future, we are able to come up with a compendium of Who’s Who in Bendeghe-Ekiem, to thoroughly capture the excellence and giant strides of sons and daughters of Bendeghe-Ekiem.
In sports, Bendeghe-Ekiem will always be known as the epicentre of sporting events within Etung, Ikom and Boki areas. The Henry Egbe Ayuk football tournament hosted during the Bendeghe-Ekiem new yam festival was a sporting fiesta that drew soccer enthusiasts across neighbouring communities into Bendeghe-Ekiem. Such sporting events contributed tremendously in fostering peace and harmony in the community. Names such as Misters Asu Mgbe, Collins Ogar, Asu Ebam, Emma Ojong Ejoh, Obi Ebam, etc, have also sponsored tournaments aimed at fostering unity in Bendeghe-Ekiem.
Blessed with a superfluity of talents, Bendeghe-Ekiem produced names like Akpoko Mensah, Kosy, Chillo, Ajalla, Scorpion, Kponcha, Marvin, Orlando, Akorok, among others, whom once-upon-a-time thrilled soccer lovers with scintillating mastery of the round-leather game, earning themselves a place in the community’s sporting immortality and folklore. History will not forget the exploits of Gertrude-Favour Ojong (nee Rose Ori Ndoma) in athletics as a young girl at Presbyterian Primary School, Bendeghe-Ekiem, and Holy Child Secondary School, Ikom, respectively. Had luck and the right exposure been at their mercy, the above names and many more could have been at par with the Maradonas, Zidanes, Ronaldos, Figos, Yashins, and Beckams of the footballing world, as well as Katrin Krabbes and Denvers in athletics. It is my hope that someday a Bendeghe-Ekiem son/daughter excels in sports beyond the shores of this country.
Politically, Bendeghe-Ekiem has also etched its name in the political history books of Cross River State, with Engr. Atta Obi Tangban (late) one of the earliest parliamentarians from this part of the State. Hon. Ebuta Amba Tangban (Federal House of Representatives), Hon. (Dr.) Henry EgbeAyuk (Chairman, Ikom), Engr. Takim Alobi, later held political positions. The eventual transition to democracy in 1998 has since produced Hon. Godwin Etim John as Chairman Etung Local Government Area, while Hon. Ojong Obase Ojong, Hon. Ojong Ntue Etta, Hon. Christian Takon, Hon. (Dr.) Ndifon Neji Obi, Hon. Ada Ofuka, Hon. Asu Ebam Ndep, have all represented Bendeghe-Ekiem as councilors, with Hon. Atu Ebuta, currently in the twilight of his tenure as the representative of Bendeghe-Ekiem ward in the Etung legislature. Honourables Ayuk Ntue served, and Gladys Ayuk is also serving her stint, respectively, as Vice Chairmen of Etung Local Government Area. Several others too numerous to mention have held and still holding appointive positions in politics.
The name Bendeghe-Ekiem was synonymous with hard work and camaraderie. Parents were proud of their good-natured children. The Aborigines of the community carried themselves with prestige, priding on the good name of their families and community.
Unfortunately, the mid 90s came with a bad omen for Bendeghe-Ekom. Negativity crept in, festering the reputation and cherished name of a community hitherto loved by all. Cultism was the monster that reared its ugly head. The ill-fated 1996 cult meeting at Ikom Town beach which ended up in a violent outburst that saw a number of Bendeghe-Ekiem sons killed, threw the community into mournful uproar. It marked the genesis of what will later become a huge social problem in the community, and the State at large. Cultism began to eat deep into the fabric of society, spreading cancerously.
By the new millennium (2000), cultism had rifely assumed an enormous proportion, bringing with it other attendant negative effects like stealing, drug abuse, thuggery and a slew of other social vices. The 2000s witnessed a massive decline in academic performances of students, especially in tertiary institutions. Recurring unrest in the community sparked an exodus of residents to neighbouring towns/villages; orchestrating gradual devolution of the neighbourhood from a thriving community of close-knit families to a cult-ridden fiefdom. All other achievements and reputation the community was known for were obliterated by the ignominious presence of cultism, its unsavoury characteristics of killings and civil disobedience. Tales at moonlight were replaced by fierce and vile attacks, bloodletting and deaths of vibrant youths. Bendeghe-Ekiem, once touted as a paradise, became a monument of aborted glory.
The pride that reverberated at the mention of Bendeghe-Ekiem diminished. We became notorious for all the wrong reasons. The question became: ‘how has Bendeghe-Ekiem, once a hotbed of positive activities snowballed into a negative reference point, loudly reproached for cultism, thuggery and youth restiveness?’
But all these atrocities did was to awaken a sleeping giant (Bendeghe-Ekiem) and fill the people with the unflinching resolve to knock out the shame that had blemished her reputation. As these anomalies persisted, the determination to nib these ungodly trends in butt grew even more. In the nick of time, community leaders ranging from the monarchs, women groups and youths, united with the firm determination to put a lasting end to crime and criminality in the community. Today, the community boasts of very robust traditional, civil and local security network in place. The peace that, few years ago, seemed elusive has returned. For over a year and still counting, Bendeghe-Ekiem has continued to enjoy absolute law, order and peaceful coexistence. The community has returned to her truest nature – a peace-loving, hard working and hospitable people.
Things are returning to the way there used to be in the earlier years. The unprecedented attendance recorded at the last Christmas in Bendeghe-Ekiem was fallout of the peace, law and order now entrenched in the community.
As we add the Bendeghe-Ekiem Cocoa Festival/Carnival to our already rich catalogue of festivities, let me use this opportunity to thank all those who have been part and parcel of returning peace to our dear community. Today Bendeghe-Ekiem has returned majestically caparisoned (status quo ante), portending innumerable opportunities to excel; a safe haven for agriculture, business and communal life.
Bendeghe-Ekiem, a paradise, once feared lost, has been restored.
Anne Bindeghe, nkubwun, egafrah!
Kingsley Agim-Ogbu is a Journalist and son of Bendeghe-Ekiem.