David Onwuchekwa, Nnewi
It was double celebration in Nnewi, Anambra State, when the monarch, Igwe Kenneth Orizu III, celebrated the 56th edition of his Ofala festival. The event also marked his 94th birthday.
The industrial community was agog for two days, December 28 and 29, 2019. Every aspect of the programme had a mark of distinction, especially as it witnessed mass return of Nnewi indigenes in the Diaspora. There was pomp, glitz and high display of royalty.
The annual Ofala festival brings to an end the activities of the year. It is also a period when people are free to come and celebrate with the Igwe.
As done every year, invitation was extended to all the South-East governors, and other government officials at all levels, even though many of them were not in attendance because of multiple engagements during the Yuletide, some were, however, represented. There were captains of industry, business moguls, religious leaders, academics, people from various walks of life and traditional rulers to grace the occasion.
No doubt, what makes Igwe Nnewi’s Ofala a huge celebration annually might not be far from the fact that he is arguably the oldest monarch in Africa and the entire world by extension.
The monarch said: “I am now 56 years on the throne and 94 years old. That makes me the oldest monarch in Africa and the entire world. People say the Queen of England is the oldest but she is 93 while I am 94. That makes me the oldest monarch in the world.”
During the celebration at his palace, the monarch, who looked lively and full of vigour, observed details of the ceremony to the letter. Guests, friends and well-wishers began to troop in as early as 10am, while the Igwe was being prepared in the inner rooms of the palace to make his first appearance in the arena.
The Igwe appeared three times, according to tradition. .
When it was time for homage, there were organisations, groups and individuals both indigenes from home and abroad, as well as non-indigenes who turned out in their numbers presenting cows and other livestock like goats as well as fowls and other material things to the Igwe to receive his royal blessings.
The monarch observed that 2019 began with great tension as a result of political activities. He recalled that Nnewi’s son, Professor Kingsley Moghalu, was a presidential candidate on the platform of Young Progressives Party (YPP) in the February general election.
The Igwe also mentioned the election of Dr. Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah under the same YPP banner as the senator representing Anambra South in the National Assembly, and another Nnewi son, Chris Azubogu, re-elected to represent Nnewi North, Nnewi South and Ekwusigo Federal Constituency under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He did not leave out the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) representative of Nnewi Constituency in the House of Assembly, Nonso Smart Okafor. The monarch noted that it appeared Nnewi people wisely spread their wings strategically, among the various political parties.
He advocated the return of the payment of 5 per cent of allocations of the local government areas to traditional rulers in the country to make them more independent and apolitical: “During the Sani Abacha era, 5 per cent of the local government allocation was earmarked for traditional institutions. This is no longer done today, especially in the South-East. In the North, South-West and even in the Mid-West (Edo and Delta states), they still pay the 5 per cent of the local government allocations to the traditional institutions. Down here, that is not the case.
“Traditional institutions carry heavy loads. For instance, every traditional ruler, through the subs, that is, chairmen of families, chairmen of villages, can reach out to the people faster and better and they respect him more than the local government chairman.
“The sooner traditional institutions are given the recognition they deserve, the better for everybody. They are really the grassroots people. The palace here must buy a basket of kolanuts. Sometimes, it would not last up to two weeks. And each person who comes to the Igwe must be offered at least two kolanuts. And if you look at the peanuts that traditional rulers are paid, you see that, if it is somebody that is not strong, he would not be able to withstand the financial stress of the throne.
“I believe government needs to do more to lift the traditional institutions, considering their roles in the system. When there is crisis in the town, the institution is beckoned on to quell the crisis. There are things traditional rulers can do that even the chairmen of the local government areas cannot do. The sooner traditional institutions are given the recognition they deserve, the better for everybody. They are really the grassroots people.”
On other national issues, the monarch said: “The country has been faced with security challenges since President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term administration commenced. The Boko Haram insurgency has refused to go away. The Fulani herdsmen brought in banditry, killing and sacking people from their communities.
“It is no longer safe to travel by road in most parts of Nigeria as armed robbers attack travellers and kidnap them for ransom. There is pervasive unemployment. The N30,000 minimum wage has not been paid and there is real poverty and hunger in the land.”
The Igwe, however, noted that, despite all the challenges in the land, his people made considerable progress in the course of the year 2019: “Several Nnewi sons and daughters were retained and new ones appointed into the administration of Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State.”
He explained that the three Obis of Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi and himself, as the custodians of Nnewiland, gave approval to Nzuko-Ora Nnewi (the community’s town union) to use the Governor Obiano’s N20 million windfall for projects in various communities to build a befitting secretariat for Nnewi town.
He said work has progressed as the building was being roofed. He appealed to the governor to release the next N20 million due to the community so that the building would be completed and put to use within the next one year.
He told the audience that the 2019 Ofala festival was mostly financed by members of the royal cabinet and prayed that God would not only repay them but also every other person who contributed towards financing the programme.
He thanked the Ibeto Group, the Chicason Group and Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah for sponsoring the Ofala “all these past years.” He equally recognised the role played by all security agents to ensure the success of the festival.
The occasion took off with a thanksgiving service moderated by the Bishop of Nnewi Anglican Diocese, Rt. Revd. Ndubuishi Obi. In his homily, Rev. Canon Tochukwu Egwuatu of St. Philips Anglican Church, Okofia, who took his text from 2 Kings 4:7, urged all and sundry to embrace Christ. He said the Nnewi monarch was “known for his wonderful leadership style hinged on truthfulness, honesty and transparency.”
Rt. Rev. Obi said: “Nnewi is peculiar because it can boast of many billionaires yet it is still enjoying absolute peace and tranquillity unlike many communities that have very few affluent individuals but are now at war. For me, I attribute the celebrated peace in Nnewi to the leadership dexterity of Igwe KON Orizu III whose simplicity is unprecedented.” The prelate prayed for the monarch and the community.
Azubuogu advocated the tapping of the tourism potential of the Nnewi Ofala Festival and other cultural events in the state to create jobs and provide the much needed revenue: “There should be an integrated tourism development policy for our state that will attract tourists into Anambra State during the yuletide and keep them busy; we have to structure a tourism policy that will tell the world why they should spend their holidays in Anambra State.”