Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
You could call it a handshake across the Niger. Igbo and Yoruba traditional leaders were united in forging a common rapport recently at the World Eri Festival held at Enugwu Aguleri in Anambra State.
Frontline traditional rulers – Eze Eri Kingdom in Enugwu Aguleri, Eze Chukwuemeka Eri, and the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi as well as the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo among others came together to task Nigerians on national unity and other issues capable of promoting peaceful coexistence among the inhabitants of the country in spite of tribal, ethnic and religious sentiments.
The host, Eze Eri, visiting Ooni and Nwodo in their separate speeches fingered national unity as the key that could accelerate the pace for peace, development and progress of the country in all facets of human endeavors.
The host and the celebrant of the Festival, Eze Chukwuemeka Eri known as Ezeora 34th and Aka Ji Ovo Igbo, who opened the floodgate of speeches with a welcome address tagged ‘The Voice from the Throne,’ described the World Eri Festival as a time when Igbo people worldwide come together to remember their progenitor Eri who is said to have migrated from Israel and settled at Aguleri
“Today, we commemorate and celebrate an African and global historical figure Nna Anyi (our father) Eri. Today, I welcome my brother and friend from our brotherly land of the Yoruba, the Ooni of Ife, His Royal Majesty Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja 11, the 51st Ooni of Ife. I thank him for coming here to celebrate with us. I also wish him journey mercies back home. I use this opportunity to call for peace and unity among the Yoruba and the Igbo and the rest of Nigerians.”
The monarch noted that the Yoruba and the Igbo in particular are one people. In his words, “our history and different aspects of our language and culture remind us of our oneness. We must increase efforts to unite our people. Let us realise that we are one people sailing in one ship. Nigeria is our ship. We have no other ship. Let us strengthen our bonds and work together on what makes the lives of all our children all over Nigeria and the rest of the world better.”
The traditional ruler, whose title, Aka Ji Ovo means ‘the one with authority of the truth’ expressed more appreciation to all the visitors. He also welcomed African Americans who came all the way from the United States to identify with Igboland as their place of origin following DNA tests.
He said: “I welcome our African Americans brothers and sisters, children of our children taken from us to strange lands many years ago. They are looking for their way back home and we welcome them. Aguleri and indeed the entire Igboland is your home. Let’s begin today to build bridges that link us and all our children in Nigeria and Africa and over there in the United States of America, Europe and the world over.”
He said the 28 Igbo Africans Americans were earlier taken to the place where Eri anchored himself on arrival in Africa which is called Aganabo Ezu n’ Omambala Confluence at Aguleri as part of the programme of the festival. He noted that the palace had, in the last few years, received over 200 Igbo Africam Americans who came in batches yearly during previous festivals.
He also revealed that he travels to the United States every year to identify with the Igbo African Americans during which he gives them Igbo names at a place known as Igbo village in Virginia.
The Ooni of Ife, who was represented by Oba Murainu Adebanjo, the Asoya of Ile Isoya Ife Kingdom, said the Ooni was happy to be part of the historic World Eri Festival. He described the festival as an event of a great people – the Igbo.
Oba Adebanjo said the Ooni is interested in national unity because it will guarantee peace and also bring the best of the people into a more prosperous country where people are safe, secured and happy.
“A peaceful and prosperous country is all that we are praying for and we can only get it when we are strongly united as a people. My prayer is that the festival will continue to serve as a rallying point for integration of people across board,” he said.
President General, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo who was conferred with the title of Okwulora (the voice or speaker) of Igbo land by Eze Eri, said the Eri Kingdom had made Ndigbo proud by organising such a great festival that showcases the culture of Ndigbo to the rest of the world.
Nwodo said the festival connects Ndigbo with others in a manner that enhances friendship between them and their counterparts from other parts of Nigeria and described the visit of the Ooni as another version of handshake across the Niger from the cultural point of view.
The Ohaneze leader, who was represented by the President of Ohaneze in Anambra State, Chief Damian Okeke Ogene said he was highly impressed with the title bestowed on him by the monarch of Eri Kingdom. He said the encouragement would inspire him to continue to serve Ndigbo more.
He assured that Ohaneze is committed to promoting national unity and will always identify with activities aimed at enthroning national unity from all angles as cultural, religious or political.
The lawmaker representing Anambra East/West Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Chinedu Benjamin Obidigwe commended the efforts of Eze Eri, which he observed were geared towards a stronger regional integration in bringing the Igbo and Yoruba together for national unity.
In their goodwill message, popular Igbo group, the Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) led by Dr Jerry Chukwu Okolo said ADF was happy to identify with the occasion because of the fact that the festival was not just showcasing the culture of Ndigbo but also being used to bring Ndigbo worldwide together.
In separate interviews, two of the Africans Americans, Denver Heins and Chinyere Naza Njoku Eri said they were proud to be identified as members of Igbo family, insisting that nobody could take it away from them.
Njoku Eri, coordinator of the Africans Americans, explained that she had her DNA test in 2001. She said it was Dr Rick Kitlles, the Founder of Africans Ancestry, who inspired the DNA test following his quest to discover his roots. She stated that she had to undergo the test after falling in love with Igbo people she met in the United States.
She said: “I fell in love with Igbo people when I met them at a place called Igbo village in Virginia. I took interest in their language, their dressing and their food. This made me to draw closer to them. I did the test in 2001 and discovered that Igbo blood is flowing all over me. I am happy about that. And I am glad to inform you that the father of my nine-year old son is an Igbo man from Owerri.”
Chinyere was also conferred with the title of Anyanwu Ututu meaning ‘The Rising Sun of Igboland.
A member of the festival planning committee, Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka, who also played host to the African Americans at Rojenny Tourist and Games Village, Oba, said the festival was a great occasion with tourist attraction. He called on multinational companies to take advantage of the festival to market their goods and services to the world. He attributed the huge success of the festival to the tight security in Anambra State courtesy of Governor Willie Obiano.
Other dignitaries at the occasion were traditional rulers like Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, Igwe of Mbaukwu, Igwe Peter Anugwu, Igwe Patrick Okolo of Nsukka Urban, an industrialist, Dr Chike Obidigbo, Chairman of Anambra East Local Government Area, Obi Nweke, His Ogbaru counterpart, Arinze Awogu, lawmaker representing Anambra East in the Anambra State House of Assembly, Obinna Emenaka and many others.