From Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
The people of Umueri in Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State recently celebrated the last Ofala festival for their late traditional ruler, Igwe Nelson Ugume Okoye, Okebo 1 of Umueri, after 21 years of his demise. The royal father died in 1996.
The elders, high chiefs, men, women and youths of Akwuete, Mmannoma, Ekpe, Amukwa, Adegbe, Iruozobia, Umunagu, Ugume, Umudiana, Umuatuolu, Ogbu, Mgbede, Obinetiti and Otucha villages at the grand finale at the Ama Umueri public square to pay their last respect.
The one-week event organized by the Umueri General Assembly commenced with an inter-denominational service and followed by a crusade, youths seminar on danger of illicit drugs and drugs addiction anchored by the officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). There was another seminar on security of life and property presented by the Chairman of Ocha Brigade, Chief Kenneth Okonkwo.
On the day for the traditional ceremony, all the masquerades in the community were on display, including the great Ijele and other cultural troupes. On the grand finale, all the 40 age grades in Umueri from Ochokwu no Oraofia to Ifeamaka age grades paid tributes and respect to the late Igwe according to the customs and tradition of the community with each of the age grades dancing and marching to the table of Umueri General Assembly to present four kola nuts and N1,000 or above.
The traditional rulers in Anambra East and West where the late Igwe hailed from also paid their last respects to Igwe Okoye through the presentation of kola nuts and money to the community, as well as danced round the village square, praying God to accept the soul of the late monarch.
Governor Willie Obiano whose community, Aguleri shares a common boundary with Umueri was represented by his Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters, Chief Greg Obi. He commended the community for their peaceful co-existence with neighbouring villages.
He noted that the Aguleri, the hometown of the governor and Umueri community are brothers. He said government completed the Umueri Civic Centre as choice project under the developmental programme of the governor.
Obi, however, promised that the selection and election of new traditional ruler of the community would be done according to the rules and constitution of the community without any problem. He urged the members of the community to support their son for a second tenure to enable him continue to transform the state and the community in particular.
President General, Umueri General Assembly, Chief Pius Okonkwo, described the late Igwe as an Iroko of the community who attracted many developmental projects to the community, including the first and ever general hospital in the area.
He said the celebration literally marked the end of his reign, stressing that the community missed so many things in the last 21 years staying without a traditional ruler. He announced that the process of the election of a new Igwe would soon commence to immediately fill the vacuum.
He commended the governor for the construction and completion of the Umueri Civic Centre and urged government to include roads in the community in the next budget in order to bring lasting development to the area:
“Igwe Okoye spent his all to promote his people and Umueri community in general. His wealth did not impress him and did not enter his head at the time he was about the only car owner in Umueri. Those of us who were at some time or another close to the Igwe witnessed his wish for motor rally along major roads within Umueri as part of his fulfillments in life.
“As Igwe he protected his territory like a hen and her chicken. He understood the existential dynamism of his immediate environment and responded appropriately. Umueri will surely miss Igwe Okoye on his long sojourn with his fore bearers.
“As today’s event marks the end of an era, the Ugume Okoye showed deep concern for the development of Umueri his beloved town. The zeal and commitment to get this dream actualized powered the formation of Umueri Youth Association in 1955. As an achiever, the daring Okoye led his executive to Ikenga Umueri to secure the donation of the Ogbuligbo burial ground where the Umueri Youths Association strove and saw to the construction of the General Hospital Umueri.
“As that was not enough he initiated the first scholarship in Umueri through the leadership of the youth association which was the first organized government in Umueri. The first beneficiary of this scholarship was the late Ovoka Jideani who the association sponsored to the United Kingdom to read law, given the disadvantage of Umueri in the field of law then.
“It was due to his leadership traits and strength of character through the Umueri Youth Association that he was elected to represent Umueri and Nando clan (through Iguedo) in the then Anambra North County Council then sitting at Nteje.”
Sir Bernard Emeka, described the late Igwe as a man of peace who made Umueri what it is today through his selfless service: “Everybody in Umueri is happy because it is going to herald a new development in Umueri. After this last festival for the late Igwe we are going to have a new king who will attract more development and government attention to the community.
“The late Igwe would be remembered for uniting our people, he built general hospital and has attracted many developmental projects in the community. During his time, he was the only person driving a car in this community. He kept on praying that one day many cars would be in our midst. Today, his prayer has come to pass because we have many cars in Umueri.
“We have lost many things in the last 21 years without Igwe. A community without a king is like a sheep without a shepherd. We lost government patronage and gift. There was a time the governor gave SUVs to all the traditional rulers in the state, but none came to Umueri because we had no king.”
President of Umueri Youths Forum, Chibuzo Ekwenye, said the late monarch established the youth association as far back as 1955. He described him as a role model and mentor for the youths. He prayed God to grant his soul eternal rest.