When the Covid-19 lockdown was lifted, I decided to undertake a long overdue visit to my good friend Karibi in Okrika, Rivers state.
It was a gruelling 13-hour journey by road to Port Harcourt made so by the bad state of the road and the numerous checkpoints along the way. Having arrived at night, I decided to pass the night before continuing my journey the next day to Okrika my destination.
I had called Karibi to intimate him of the progress of my journey and he was full of sympathy and apologies for my experience on the road. He even offered to travel down to Port Harcourt to receive me and make arrangements for my accommodation and provide transportation for onward journey to Okrika the following day.
But I cut him short and declined his offers. “Iyo’’, I told him using the Okrika term for friend, ‘’don’t you worry yourself. You know that I am a Port Harcourt boy and can take care of myself very well in this city’’. And as for the onward journey to Okrika the next day I assured him that it won’t be a problem for me at all as I could find my way there with little or no help.
Karibi had actually offered to arrange an air-conditioned SUV along with a couple of ‘’boys’’ to take me to Okrika by road. I declined the offer because my favourite way of going to Okrika was by boat from the Marine base mingling anonymously with Okrikans on their way to the Island. I always liked the din of excited conversation as they jostle to board the boats. If you are in Marine base to board the boat to Okrika you will hear shouts of ‘’Iyo’’, ‘’Ndani’’, ‘’Iwaribo’’ etc renting the air. The sights and colourful sights of Okrika men, women and children in Marine base was always something to behold.
Another thing that I love about going to Okrika by boat is also to feel splashes of water and the sea breeze against my face as the boat cuts its way through the waterway to Okrika.
During the twenty-five to thirty minute seaward journey (depending on the tide and other boats or vessels plying the route) to the ATC waterside in Okrika, one will see the settlements of Amadi-ama, Abuloma, Kalio-ama, George-Ama and finally Okrika itself. Contiguous to these settlements are Okuru, Fimie, Azuabie, Okujagu-ama, Ogan-ama and Abam-ama.
Dressed in Etibo with studs to match, I could pass for an Okrika man and with my passable knowledge of the kirikese language I was able to reply one or two greetings and courtesies.
Upon arriving at the ATC waterside, I alighted from the boat and climbed the steps of the pier to a chorus of commercial motorcyclists (Okadas) trying to attract my custom. I had deliberately refused to inform Karibi of my estimated time of arrival in Okrika because again I wanted to savour going into Okrika incognito and get the real feel of the place which I will not be able to if I have to be chauffeur driven.
Karibi’s house was somewhere in Okochiri which could be reached through the ring road by passing Ibaka, or centrally through the bridge and passing the famous Okrika Grammar School (OGS) on the right which had produced so many famous personalities not just in Rivers state, but in Nigeria as well.
Since I had enough time to kill before going to Karibi’s house, I decided to engage one of the Okadas to take me round the Island.
First we went to the famous St Peter’s Church and took a right turn which took us to Fiberesima polo; then on to Ogoloma. We returned back to St Peters and took the central road. Ngemebiri was the next quarters we approached. This is where my late close friend Chris Tamunotonye Iyalla hailed from. A feeling of solemnness overtook me as the Okada took me through the clustered and narrow, mazy roads of the densely populated Ngemebiri quarters.
Again I returned to St Peters and this time asked the Okada to take Ibaka by pass road. The Okadaman asked me whether I wanted to go to Ogan or Abam. I shook my head and said Okochiri. He looked at me and asked whether I wanted to and see the Amanyanabo Ateke Tom. Again I shook my head. By now he had realised I was not a native even though I was properly dressed like one. He then asked whether I was a Yorubaman. A look of wariness came to his face but I assured him I meant no harm and that I was here to visit a friend of mine who is a native and lives in Okochiri. And I told him about my sojourn in Rivers state and the friends I made mostly from Okrika. I mentioned a couple of prominent Okrika sons which made him beam with smiles.
I arrived Karibi’s house to find him greatly relieved at seeing me. Between a frown and a smile he let off a tirade of reproach at my giving him ‘’high jump’’ about my whereabouts. ‘’Gadu’’ he asked ‘’what do you think you were doing? I was very worried. Don’t you think you could be kidnapped?’’. Upon seeing my nonchalant smile, he said ‘’I know you know your way in these parts but you have to be careful.
Soon enough all that was forgotten as Karibi made me comfortable. We exchanged stories of our experiences after such a long time of not seeing each other. My three days with him was quite memorable and he made feel quite at home. Not that I needed to be made to feel at home because Okrika in some ways was a place I will always connect with it due to the my attachment to it through my numerous friends and the experiences I went through.
I won’t close this article without a little tit- bit about Okrika I gathered.
Okrika is made up of ten clans namely; Isaka, Ogu, Bolo, Ibaka, Ogbogbo, Abuloma, Elle, Ogoloma, Konuju and Tubonuju.
Okrika borders with Kalabari at Isaka towards Bakana, with Bonny at Dikibotorusinka towards Kalaibiama, with Ogbunabali at Amadi-Ama and Sekinama(Marine base), Okujagu-ama towards Oginigba, with Eleme at the refinery.
The Okrikans are an eastern Ijaw sub-group and share close cultural affiliation with the Nkoro of Opobo.