Magnus Eze, Enugu
It was wild celebration in virtually every home in Ogidi, Anambra State, last Saturday, as the people honoured parents and relations that have attained 80 years and above.
Governor Willie Obiano was among notable Igbo leaders that witnessed the maiden celebration of longevity in Ogidiland. Others were former Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka, former presidential adviser, Senator Ben Obi, members of the National Assembly, Chairman of Anambra Central Traditional Rulers’ Council and Ezedike Ukwulu in Dunukofia Local Government Area, Peter Uyanwa as well an array of traditional rulers from the state.
Named Ito Aro Ogidi, the occasion was also used to showcase the recently revived age grade system that had been comatose in the area for over three decades.
It was an assemblage of large number of aged people, some of whose contributions to the community in particular, and the society in general were long forgotten.
Gorgeously dressed in attires provided for them by the community; they were pampered and showered with uncommon love. Villages and age grades stayed in their various tents while different cultural displays added colour to the day.
There was a parade by all the age grades such as Oganiru, Ochiagha, Udoka, Inwelle, Obinwanne, Ifunanya, Njikoka, Ugwumba and Eziokwubundu, among others.
It was then followed by the decoration of the oldest man and woman in each of the four quarters (villages) that make up the town, namely: Ananano, Uru, Ezinkwo and Ikenga, by the Igwe while their traditional ministers decorated the rest.
The highlight of the ceremony was the cutting of longevity cake which Governor Obiano, Igwe Ogidi, Alex Onyido, Ezedike Ukwulu and others joined the oldest man (Boniface Uyanwa) and woman from the town, present, to perform.
Igwe Onyido noted that age grades had been influential and impacted positively on communal discipline, community development, and also engineered healthy competitive spirit among the youths of Ogidi.
He regretted that the highly cherished culture at some point disappeared, but with its reintroduction, members of the age grades now grow together, encouraging themselves to aspire to greatness both in business and public service.
The monarch described old age as grace which comes only from the Almighty God, noting that it was incumbent on people to celebrate the aged.
He disclosed that the oldest person in the community, Mrs. Ugoye Oligbo is 108 years old while announcing that the ceremony would hold every three years.
To buttress that longevity comes from God, the Igwe noted the biblical injunction in Psalm 90:10 which says that “Our span is 70 years, or 80, for those that are strong.”
According to the traditional ruler, the Ito-Aro is the celebration of longevity for those who are strong; the cultural retirement from community work.
Flowing from the foregoing, he said all the celebrants were henceforth exempted from community work, dues, taxes and the likes and their social needs, healthcare, shelter, feeding, clothing, have become the responsibility of Ogidiland.
Onyido announced that: “The Igwe-in-Council has also approved that an Ito-Aro elder, man or woman, who probably has no one to care for him or her, shall henforth no longer be made to pay electricity bills. He/She shall also enjoy uninterrupted power supply on the account of Ogidiland.
“It also decreed that an Ito Aro Ogidi awardee, who hitherto, has no access to water supply should have water connected to his/her house by a provident neighbour with water borehole.
“Henceforth too, they have become advisers and elder statesmen and elder stateswomen in their respective families and villages in Ogidi. The Igwe-in-Council expects every village to treat them as such.
“It is also directed that if any of them is strong enough to be member (s) of a dispute settlement committee for instance, he/she shall be on the side of justice”.
He prayed all the celebrants to enjoy the remaining years of their lives building on the legacies of truth and honesty of the good of Ogidiland.
The community used the opportunity to raise funds for the construction of a modern hospital for women and children as well as the aged. Part of the proceeds will also be channelled towards the welfare of the old in the community.
Governor Obiano said the initiative was laudable, stressing that it was better to celebrate the aged alive than hosting big parties when they die.
“It is better to celebrate people who have toiled to train their children while they are alive. What we see is that people begin to build mansions and repaint buildings here and there. They kill cows and throw big parties for the dead; with ‘aso ebi’ when in actual sense, the dead would not know what is happening.
“So, this is the way to go; I commend Ogidi people for this. I also want other communities, particularly, in Igboland to emulate them,” he said.
Dr. Obiora Okonkwo (Dikeora Ogidi) said the occasion was significant in many ways but particularly, it was the community’s way of telling the aged that: “We love you, we appreciate you; we celebrate you, you’re useful to us, we appreciate the contributions that you’ve made to this society and that we are ready to go all the way with you in life. So, it’s no more the occasion that you wait until people die, then you call for their celebration. I am glad because I’ve been in the forefront for championing the course of the elderly.”
Lamentably, Okonkwo noted that these days, so much attention is paid to youth empowerment to the point that the elderly; those who gave birth to the youths are even abandoned and forgotten.
The traditional ruler of Umueri in Anambra East Local Government Area, Igwe Benneth Izuchukwu Emeka (Oke-Ebo II) also lauded Ogidi people for honouring the aged.
He noted that the activity was premised on the Igbo adage which says that ‘Onye fee Eze, Eze eru ya’, meaning “When you celebrate the old, you will get longevity.”
The monarch revealed that he first saw it in Obosi where they call it “Ito Ogbo” and did not waste time in copying it. According to him, his community celebrated their octogenarians during last year’s New Yam festival. He asked that such programme be made a way of life, not only in Igboland, but as a national culture.
Chief Obi Anoliefo, 77, whose mother was one of the persons celebrated, said he looks forward to joining the next set that would be recognised in 2022.
Celebration of longevity has been an age long culture in Igbere, Item, Ohafia, Abiriba and so on in the northern part of Abia State and also in the Afikpo and Edda area of Ebonyi State.