By Henry Akubuiro
Okafouzu Ugochukwu is the founder of Mbido Igbo Association and one of the facilitators of the Iri Ji Ndi Igbo National New Yam Festival. He works in the famous Igboukwu Ancestral Land Palace as its Secretary. A market leader and traditional title holder of Ugochinechendo Omogho na Oku Uzu Owerezukala both in Orumba North and South LGA of Anambra State, he spoke to Sunday Sun on the travails of Igbo culture and how UNESCO has been short changing the people.
What is the difference between Mbido Igbo Association and other groups?
Mbido Igbo Association came to be because the Igbo arts, culture and tourism were highly neglected and relegated to the background. The Igbo are no longer in touch with their very highly esteemed culture. From their language, mode of dressing, cuisine, dance, cosmetics, etcetera, very few want to do them the Igbo way or improve on the ones handed down to us by our ancestors. So we came together in 2003 and asked ourselves where we were going. We looked at the achievements of our great ancestors at Igboukwu, fully documented in their arts, which survived till date, and is adjudged one of the best in the world. We came to the conclusion that we should go back to the source and origin, and imbibe the spirit of our great ancestors that made them achieve those lofty goals. That quest to return to the origin and the source gave birth to the name and movement called Mbido Igbo Association. We want to go back to the ancient times and be like them.
One wonders why there are no UNESCO heritage sites in Igboland. Are there such befitting sites to be recognised by the world body?
Our major mandate is to research, promote and showcase Igbo Race arts, culture and tourism to the nation and world. We have gone far in achieving this mandate. We have done deep research on Igbo arts and culture. We chose to use Igboukwu arts, which is one of the best ever produced by Igbo men in time. We took it and are now promoting it by involving the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, especially the National Gallery of Art.
Today, they organise an annual art exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Igboukwu Outstation, where all schools in the country that offer arts as a discipline are called to exhibit their artworks. Many works of art have been exhibited at this annual art exhibition. Schools like Federal Polytechnic, Oko; Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka; Federal Polytechnic, Auchi and a host of others have exhibited their works at this programme from 2004 till date. Many tourists have appreciated these works of art. Today, no Igbo man can say that he doesn’t have an avenue to exhibit his artworks, and it has encouraged many to go back to arts, because it pays. All the different art media are encouraged. It was an Igboukwu man, Simon Okeke of Umudege, who designed the famous Biafran currency — get a Biafran currency note and see the intricate design it had!
On culture and tourism, we found out that the best we have is the yam culture, which is found everywhere Igbo reside. We researched it, and found out how yam and its festivals started. We looked into the history of New Yam Festival by going through the different communities’ method of celebrating New Yam Festival, and we adopted Igboukwu because of its richness and the folklore of how yam was discovered in their community, which they preserved in the ancient festival they called Igwa Nsi, which literally mean to remove the poison in yam to make it edible.
To us, New Yam Festival is the chief of all Igbo Race festivals, and we hinged on it and made it the hub of the festivities. We got the Federal Government involved in showcasing this important festival, and it paid off, because the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, Abuja head office, and Isuofia outstations, are indeed helping us to package and promote the festival to meet national and international standards. Therefore, in October, 2007, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture made it a national festival akin to Argungu Fishing and Osun Osogbo Groove festivals of the North and West respectively.
We showcase this festival, in conjunction with Ndi Eze Ndi Igbo na Uzo Ije worldwide. This group is very important in showcasing this festival. We are in constant touch with its leadership, because they are our important stakeholders in this job.
It appears the Igbo culture is not so much reckoned with and celebrated worldwide like the Orisa of Yoruba abroad?
We came to find out that the Igbo are short-changed in terms of recognition of their historical sites by the Federal Government and UNESCO. We set out to work on this, and were able to find out that the first three sites recognised by the Federal Government were in Abia State, especially in Arochukwu area, and there it ended. Out of the 67 sites recognised by the government, only three were from the southeast, and nothing more.
We worked tirelessly on this, and, in 2014, towards the buildup of the programme for the Nigerian Centenary celebrations, we added another five slots, including: Owerezukala Wonderful Caves and Waterfalls in Orumba South LGA of Anambra State; Dike Ukpor Tower at Mmadueke compound, Umudike village, Ukpor, Nnewi South LGA of Anambra State; Biafra Exchange House at Atuchukwu Compound, Amichi (the house where Biafran forces handed over to Nigerian Army, represented by General Olusegun Obasanjo); Nnamdi Azikiwe Mausoleum in Onitsha; Ogbunike Caves in Oyi LGA of Anambra State. In all, we recommended 10 sites, and only five survived, and were declared by the federal government in 2014 as part of the centenary programme.
As for good sites to be declared World Heritage Sites, we have these which we are currently pursuing: Owerezukala Waterfalls and caves; Amacho Caves in Ebonyi State; Igboukwu Archaeological Sites; Iri Ji Ndi Igbo National New Yam Festival; Olokoro Wooden Caves in Umuahia Abia State.
Today, we have Sukur in Adamawa State and Osun Osogbo Groove declared as World Heritage Sites, while Kano City walls and Idanre Hills are listed too on UNESCO list, but none from the southeast and south-south of the country.
The New Yam Festival has endured in Igboland over centuries, what makes this yam culture unique?
The Yoruba is strong, because Ife and Ibadan were given their rightful places by the government of the colonial masters. Till date, majority of Yoruba recognise Ife as their source and Orisa Festival of Oyo State as its major festival. Olubadan of Ibadan plays a major role in showcasing Orisa Festival of the west. Everywhere Yoruba are, especially those sold into slavery, they still observe Orisa Festival, especially those in the West Indies and Latin American people.
The New Yam Festival is equally celebrated world over by Igbo and their families and friends. One can see that Igbo in Ghana celebrated their New Yam Festival in September 2021, while others are celebrating theirs, too. What is lacking is publicity, and we encourage Igbo communities outside Igboland who celebrate this festival to give the much desired publicity. So the celebration of the New Yam Festival is now worldwide.
Unlike the Yoruba or Hausa societies, there is a leadership deficit among the Igbo, leading to the Igbo speaking in discordant voices; it’s hard to find one person whose voice carries weight that could rally everybody politically. Is there any solution to this anomaly?
Igbo are copycats, and adaptability is one of their character traits. The Igbo man can adapt and live anywhere. In fact, it is a general saying here in Nigeria that any community where you go and there is no Igbo living there, that community won’t support Iife, and there is no need living there. Igbo are itinerant by nature, and they travel far and wide. They easily adopt the lifestyle of their host community in order to belong and indigenise. They wouldn’t like to be seen as foreigners so that their host will be docile to them and accommodate them without much ado and harm. In order for one to profit from any given society, one needs not be in hostility with his host; otherwise, it would be counterproductive and won’t augur well for the visitor, in which case is an Igbo man. This makes the Igbo man to easily lose his Identity to that of his host, and, whenever he goes home to Igbo Homeland, he travels with it. Igbo copy a lot in order to make both ends meet and to survive.
Culture is a variable tool towards redirecting the minds of the Igbo youths. Igbo are republican in nature, and it is part of our culture. Nzuko Umunna na Umunne among the Igbo is as old as man. Therefore, Nzuko Umunna na Umunne. Nzuko Ogbe na nke Obodo has a lot to do towards building better youths of tomorrow and a better society tomorrow.
Some critics say the Igbo are incapable of producing the next Nigerian president because everybody would likely come out to run, is there a compelling case for Igbo Presidency?
One cannot be politically correct without being culturally correct, too. This is because politics is sharing of values, and these values are products of culture. If one is culturally sound, he will be politically sound, too. Both of them are children of the same parents. One cannot live or survive without the other. Therefore, it follows that if you want to exterminate a people, first of all deal with their culture, and, if their culture is dead, the people are politically dead, too. It is culture that awakens the politics, without which politics is dead. How can Igbos speak with one voice and go one direction?
In Igbo land today, our culture is competing for supremacy, and no one agrees with each other. Nri/Eri is saying that they are the head of Igbo culture and their culture is supreme.
Even among them, Agu Ukwu Nri, Enugwu Ukwu and Agulueri are saying that they are the head of Umunri. Even in Nri Eri hegemony, there is a supremacy issue.
Arochukwu Oke Igbo is saying that they are the ancestral land of all Igbo and that their culture is supreme. Yes, the Aros are united under Arochukwu as its head.
Moreover, Igboukwu is saying that they are the origin of Igbo. They have their archaeological sites and other cultural materials to prove it like Nze na Ozo, ancient Igbo market, and their name says a lot on it being the ancestral land of all Igbo.
Then the Amaigbo in Imo State is also claiming to be the ancestral land of Igbo, using the fame of King Jaja of Opobo who, incidentally, is a slave from Amaigbo in Imo State. It was this and others that made the colonial masters in 1925 to appoint The HP Mathew Commission to study all the Igbo culture available to them and see which culture is central and could be used to galvanise all the Igbo into one. By 1926, HP Matthew submitted its report without recommending one, and there the matter ended. Arochukwu thought that they would be appointed, but it eluded them. While other similar commissions in the north and west made recommendations, the one of the southeast couldn’t recommend any of the cultures, and that is our problem till date. It is now to your tent oh Israel, and every culture is on its own!
Yes, Arochukwu contributed a lot in Igbo race, especially military culture. Nri Eri contributed a lot in theocracy and divinity, while Igboukwu contributed a lot in trade and commerce. Who will call the Igbo together is very hard. Igbo will be together again the day Nri Eri, Arochukwu, Amaigbo, Okotu and Igboukwu will be together under one umbrella na ofu nzuko and agree to work together, respecting each other’s contributions in the making of Igbo race.
We all know our ancestors and their routes, only that ego has blinded our eyes, but the reality is there. Each of these cultures has something to say about Igbo, and the majority of these cultures are in Anambra State. So let’s come together and agree to work together.
Arewa has a clearing House in the Sultan of Sokoto and Emir of Kano, while Yoruba have their clearing House in the Ooni of Ife and Olubadan of Ibadan. The South-south has the Oba of Bini and Obong of Calabar. What stops the Igbo from having their own clearing house which could be Igboukwu and Arochukwu or Nri Eri and Amaigbo? The Sun Newspaper can even organise a conference for these cultures and work to bring them together.
Once these communities unite, na ofu nzuko, and harmonise themselves, things will work for the Igbo, and we will be politically correct again. North obeys Arewa, while Yoruba obey Afenifere. Do the Igbo obey Ohaneze? Your guess is as good as mine. There is hope for the Igbo. Let’s unite culturally, and every other thing will follow, including politics and its interests.
Igbo presidency is possible, but will the Igbo allow the person to succeed? That’s another issue. You see when we got the President of the Senate all the south eastern states tasted it, because we had no clearing House, and those who had cleared for us. The Hausa had as well as Yoruba. If the clearing house rejects your Senate Presidency, the occupier will be impeached, and so on.
The Ohanaeze is trying it’s best to be the clearing house but politics cannot give birth to culture because it is culture that gives birth to politics. It is a man who impregnates a lady, not a lady impregnating a man. There is hope for us the day the ancestors of these cultures will decide to come together under one umbrella, the politics will be given birth, and nobody can kill it or quench its fire, because it will rage widely and fiercely. Until then, we keep our hands crossed, waiting in joyful hope on time.