By Effiong Odiong.
Any visitor to Oron about fifty or more years ago must have observed the land bustling with numerous social and economic activities. Three standard hotels, including the Rest House, the famous Namoba Hotels, Maykon, and one of the fore most of National Museums in the country, always in full business operations, satisfying the social needs of the traveling public from Oron Beach to Calabar, The Canaan City and the capital city of Cross River State.
Notable industrial outfits such as the defunct Asbestomit Limited, Integrated Marble Industries and Maykon Nail Company were also in full production, thus reducing the high rate of unemployment of the teaming youths in Oro land.
Road and water transportation from Oron to other parts of the country was satisfactorily booming while two ferries at Oron end provided prompt and regular water transportation services between Oron and Calabar, capital of Cross River. All these economic and social activities were recorded at this beautiful Oron Beach during and after Nigeria’s Independence in October, 1960.
But today, the rosy pictures usually recorded at the Oron Water Ferry Points by some of the Veteran Photographs in the like of Tick Right, Adox and Rightman at the time have completely vanished and the prospect of recapturing them are very remote especially when the one-time flourishing Oron-Calabar ferry route now stands not only idle but abandoned by the relevant Government Agencies in the country.
That is not all, it can be easily recalled that prior to the visit in 1956 of Queen Elizabeth of England to Calabar, capital of Cross River State and attainment of Nigeria’s Independence in 1960 as well as her Republican status in 1963, this abandoned ferry route had served as major gate-way to a greater part of this country from the South to the North.
It is also interesting to recall that during the period an expatriate maritime transportation outfit, Messrs Elder Demster Lines, a subsidiary of the defunct United African Company, UAC was in full operation, providing safe water transportation for Nigerians for many years.
Going through the memory lane and apart from using the route for human transportation, it also functioned as a base for economic activities, including produce evacuation to Calabar for export using steam-powered vessels. And to further strengthen other economic activities, the ferry services were considerably expanded with the introduction of some diesel-powered vessels and faster boats. (Investigations also confirmed that in 1938, another ferry boat, MV Oron was introduced and later MV Eket in 1950 while MV provided for First Class and Third Class passengers with both vessels having facilities for crossing motor cars and goods to Oron and Calabar. Interestingly, the fares had been affordable.
The boats were not only highly patronized by traders, small middlemen and market women including dealers in food items such as garri, yams, plantains and fruits, just to mention a few while services were highly supplemented by canoe transportation which continues to move people and goods at both ferry ends.
This also reminds the people of Oron and other Nigerians that it was during colonial period days that the ancient Coastal community of Oron became catapulted into a major ferry point for the movement of people and goods across the South and the North. At this time too Oron and Calabar had witnessed tremendous influx of people, thus giving a boom to the social and economic activities.
There was no doubt that the boats continued to function and render all these social services for many years without any recorded case of boat disaster.
To the managers of these boats (ferries) life was sacrosanct, property safe as the fares were not only economically fair but affordable. As far as their services were concerned, safety was first class.
That was not all that could be remembered along the ferry route. The influx of Nigerians and foreigners alike along the route wishing to take the advantage of the services provided by the benefits of the rich and famous Oron museum located at the Beach which served as a resting place and information, education, entertainment and recreational centre, while others would queue up for days waiting to cross their vehicles, dealers on food items displayed their items including crayfish for sale.
The uniqueness of the museum and its cultural contents therein added beauty, comfort and pleasure to the travelers and the beach.
Even at the complete withdrawal of the ED Lines ferry services in 1978 and introduction of the defunct Cross Lines ferry boats by the Cross River State Government, the services were not only comfortable but also economical and safe to the people.
At the creation of Akwa Ibom State on September 23rd, 1987 which formed the mainland part of the then South Eastern and Cross River State, things started to gradually fall apart as if the Federal Government was just waiting for creation of Akwa Ibom to finally close down and abandon all this important and major water ferry route to the outside world as no attention was paid to it by any of the Federal authorities charged with this vital aspect of water transportation in the world.
It is also wise to recall that the temporary introduction of the MV Obudu and of course Pioneer one and two (not Pioneer Newspapers) and MV Edop by the Obong Akpan Isemin led administration of his blessed memory to complete government water transportation at the time came and completely disappeared along the route.
Since the “One time” flourishing Oron – Calabar Ferry route had been abandoned, its services provided gone into history and the route invaded by hawks and Government or Agency thinks it fit to come the rescue of some of the Coastal Communities in the country who still need its services.
“Will there ever be any representative of any of the Coastal Communities of Oron Nation in the National Assembly or State assembly or Government functionaries of the people who will help raise this problem and take it up with government to come to the rescue in this direction.
Is it too early to table this matter before our dear and newly confirmed Executive Governor?
Those are the questions which need simple answers.
Culled from The Nigerian Coastal Times