OPOBO JUNCTION: Welcome to Aba’s Bizarre Highway Fitness Gym /Training Centre
When a conventional activity is done in a conventional manner and in a conventional place, it’s simply seen as normal. When eyes and minds are used to normal activities such are tagged boring. When element of Oddity and eccentricity meet with something normal, it’s tagged strange. And that’s what you’re likely to meet as we take a trip to Opobo Junction, a whimsical highway fitness gym and training centre in Aba, the commercial hub of Abia state. E.I Ihegwuruike reports.
Opobo Junction is a place where youths from all the five local governments’ areas that make up the city of Aba converge every Sunday morning to perpetuate an age long tradition of Sunday to Sunday fitness training that is peculiar to the commercial city. This historic centre is located at Ogbor-Hill axis of the city in between three major roads in Aba; Ikot Ekpene Road, Opobo Road and Ehere Road.
Every Sunday, at the crack of dawn, a combination of masculine bass voices with melodious nightingale feminine voices beat distance and echo through the streets of Ugwunagbo, Obi Ngwa, Osisioma, Aba South and Aba North Local Government Areas that make up the city. Gallantly, they navigate through the hills of Ogbor-Hill, cross the Aba River Bridge and unanimously converge at Opobo Junction, their sacrosanct highway fitness gym and training centre.
As gathered by Naijawatchdog during a participant observation at the venue, Opobo Junction is one place with different meanings. To some, it’s clear reality Abia’s backwardness in sporting facilities. To an orthodox fitness training person, seeing sane persons sitting and squatting on a major road where vehicular movements are on is heterodox and outlandish.
To some other persons, it’s a daredevil approach to gain fitness. To some staunch Sunday believing Christians, it is an end time jiggery-pokery that the devil uses in truncating the original plan of God for Aba Youths every Sunday. To the participants, it’s one place they derive joy from after every hard week in their various occupations.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS THERE AND IT’S BENEFITS
In a nutshell, every physical exercise you can think of takes place there. According to Spring Physio Gym, a team of physiotherapists based in Malvern, Victoria in Australia:
“The general benefit of exercise is a decrease in the risk of many chronic diseases; it helps build healthy bones, joints and muscles, reduces stress, and anxiety, and improves general physical and psychological wellbeing.
“Decreased risk of developing and/or lessen the physical impact of:
- Heart Disease
- High Blood Pressure
- Colon and Breast Cancer
- High Cholesterol
- Physical consequence of movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease
- All musculoskeletal injuries (such as back and neck pain).
“Exercise reduces stress, depression and anxiety and improves psychological wellbeing. When we exercise the body releases endorphins (the body’s own pain killer and feel-good drug). Our focus is centred on performing the exercise and not on our many worries. Our hormonal system is stimulated helping us to feel balanced in ourselves.
“Many of our unexplained mood changes are a result of imbalances in our body’s hormones. Exercise reduces the impact of social isolation When we exercise we are much more likely to be interacting with our community, be it through a supervised exercise session like at Spring Physio Gym or simply out for a walk at your local park.
“Exercise enhances sport (physical) recreation performance and increases the feeling of resilience. You function better when you are stronger and have increased fitness. You feel better; you move better, you perform better. You will feel less apprehensive about participating in physical activities, so you feel confident about doing more with your life. What a wonderful feeling!”
WHAT MAKES OPOBO JUNCTION DIFFERENT FROM CONVENTIONAL FITNESS GYM/TRAINING CENTRES?
As strange as it may sound, it is true. This age long traditional fitness gym and training centre is located in the middle of a two Federal Roads; Aba/Ikot Ekpene Express Road, Opobo Road and Ehere Road which is also a very busy state road. The centre only comes to life every Sunday morning. It is actually odd to see an activity other than church service taking place in a predominantly Christian city such as Aba.
At Opobo Junction, no one considers marital status, age, sex, class and financial status. Men, women, boys and girls eschew every iota of differences; send risk of being hit by moving vehicles to oblivion and train for fitness in what one is free to tag an unkempt place.
Here, they divide themselves in groups. Each group has a coach who is their leader and trainer. Whenever someone wants to have his or her back marched or pressed by their fellows, cartons are laid just in the middle of the road where vehicular movements are ongoing and some lie down to be attended to with zero sense of the risks emanating from the approaching vehicles which is very visible to the blind and extremely audible to even the deaf.
The place is not lacking on strange innovations. On occasional basis, new crazy moves are being introduced to make it lively. Example is the new style of bringing dogs to take part in the jogging. Naijawatchdog gathered that prayers and sermons have been introduced by some of the participants who believe it’s necessary to do so as an alternative for missing the regular Christian Sunday worship.
In fact, most of the participants told naijawatchdog that they are more comfortable with the prayers and admonitions done there than the usual one in the church.
VIEWS OF SOME REGULAR PARTICIPANTS AND OTHERS ABOUT THE PLACE
Speaking to naijawatchdog Mr. Nnamdi Agugbue, a businessman and a regular participant in the Sunday fitness training at Opobo Junction said that the place is as old as the city itself. “I can’t remember how this place came to be. Nobody has told me anything about it. I came to this world to meet it like this.
“When I started road work newly many years ago, I do stop at the Boy’s Technical College (BTC) until I was told about here. I’m a busy man and today is the only day I do have to keep myself fit. The way things operate here is unique. As you can see, some people are on their different jerseys and that’s to tell you that there are camps and groups.
“This place is the brain behind the popular Aba Marathon. For some years now, we have had the sponsored Aba Marathon which no one can deny that it’s Opobo Junction that engineered such idea. Anybody who comes here goes to register with any group he likes with just a token. During the end of the year, parties are held to celebrate a successful end of the year.
“The ladies are part of the whole thing and people who have well trained dogs do bring them to the Sunday exercise. To be sincere to you, this place is a real life saver. It doesn’t stop everybody from going to Church, because some persons usually hurry home to meet up with church services. Nobody is seen training there hence it is past 8am. Some persons also pray here and end up not going to Church often.”
Mr. Chima Akali, a trainer at the place described it as a lifesaving zone. “Opobo Junction is the reason why so many busy persons are still alive today in Aba. I’m not saying it’s a God, but it’s better than hospital. We don’t tell anyone not to go to church. They are adults. Most of us are married. I have two kids as you look at me.
“I’ll still leave here and go to church because I’m used to the training. I normally miss the Sunday Schools, because before I could get home and take my bath they’ve already gone far. My wife and children go earlier. If any church is disturbed by what’s happening here, let them check what they are preaching maybe it’s faulty.
Akali continued and said, “Here, when you come you’ll see that fitness is important. One unique thing about here is the fact that when you want to get tired, you’re encouraged by others to continue not by words, but by their zeal. I can’t actually remember when all these started, but it almost a part of Aba tradition now.
“It’s our centre for fitness keeping. In some other cities like Enugu, Abuja and Lagos, they use Saturday for sports, but majority of people here in Aba are traders. They cannot sacrifice their Saturday for anybody except our brothers in the Seventh Day Adventist and other Sabbatarian Churches.
He however said that it is not the only training centre in Aba, but it is the only one that accommodates people of all levels of life. “Opobo Junction is not the only fitness centre in Aba. There are other private ones, and gym centres in hotels, but it’s expensive because you must pay to use them. The Aba Sports Club is a great place, but it’s not for us. It’s an elites club where big men with big stomach come together to keep fit.
“We cannot access such a place. I don’t know how this place started, but lack of real training and fitness gym centre could be the reason behind here. I’m sure if there are other open better places to keep fit, Aba people are ready to go there. Abia doesn’t have such places and we are left with this our traditional ground.”
Another regular participant, Mr. Uzoma Izunta said he’s used to the place and even prays there without going to Church every Sunday. “See brother, prayer is prayer the place it took place doesn’t matter. I leave my house every Sunday morning to come here, train not that I can’t afford going to private gym centres, but I feel happy here. Here, I pray with my brothers and sisters.
“I call them, brothers and sisters because, as you can see, nobody is after your clothes, position, beauty or money. What brought us together is desire to be fit. See all the good looking ladies and guys around you do they look like people who can’t afford paying for gym centres? Come on, there is something about here. I even prefer this prayer and talk we do here as no one is telling us the usual lies I’m used to and tired of.”
Elder Sir Pius Molokwu in his own view finds fault in the venue, approach used by the trainers and said he cannot understand why people must sacrifice thanking he who gives life and health because they want to be fit. “I know that to every human being, physical exercise should be treated as mandatory as prescribed drug doses by your doctors.
“Just like when you don’t take your drugs as a prescribed treatment process by a doctor, you can’t expect the drugs to work adequately. In exercise it’s the same. Not all of us can afford a physiotherapist to guide us, but whatever way we chose to do our exercise must not be life threatening and scary.
On the issue of avoiding church services, Molokwu said, “The devil is deceiving them. Who gives life? Who gives good health? Now imagine the end time madness, God gives life and good health, but one ignores God just to make his body fit. I’ve seen most of them here and I agree that they actually do not have chance for this except Sunday.
“The question now is, since all days are for market and Sunday is for Opobo Junction, which day is for God? Those of them who worship on Saturday aren’t guilty, but for those who ought to go to Sunday Churches, but chose Opobo Junction, I think the devil is playing tricks with their heads. Again, it’s actually too dangerous a place to do all they do. It’s on the road for Christ sake.”
Miss. Ijeoma Uwandu, a Student of Abia State Polytechnic, Aba said they have not recorded any casualty yet as all drivers who ply the road are aware of what goes on around there. “We have not seen any casualty here since I started coming. Vehicles don’t over speed here because it’s actually a junction and they know what’s happening here. It’s fun actually.
“I and my friends come here every Sunday morning. I actually go to church every Sunday, but let me not lie to you; I’ve missed two Sunday consecutively. To be frank, I’ve seen tough people here. I mean people that if well nurtured could become great athletes.”
Joining his view to that of Uwandu, Fetus Orji called Opobo Junction a hunting ground for fresh athletes and said chances of casualties are slim as the roundabout within the junction slows down the movement of vehicles coupled with the fact that it takes place on Sunday which is a less busy day.
“There are raw talents here as you can see. I don’t see any risk in what we do here. From far away Ikot Ekpene Road, Opobo Road and Ehere Road, every driver coming to this area know what is happening here. You don’t speed here especially on Sundays. And it’s in the morning, so we have no fear. We actually do stay where they don’t come very close in contact with us.”
Meanwhile when Naijawatchdog gathered that there are new Sunday road side training and fitness centres springing up in Aba, but they all usually converged at Opobo Junction.
When naijawatchdog tried to ascertain the motive behind the usual convergence at Ogbor-Hill, it was discovered that the Ogbor-Hill area of the city where Opobo Junction is located is the only hilly area in the city and the hilly nature of the area makes fitness training a bit serious and tedious.
FROM THE TOWER OF TRUTH