…As natives hold parallel festivals
The ancient Nri town in Anaocha Local Government of Anambra State prides itself as the ancestral home of the Igbo and had continued to earn that respect for a long time.
The town which holds its traditional throne in high esteem observes strictly the culture and traditions of the Igbo nation as showcased in its annual proclamation of the Igbo calendar year called Igu-Aro Nri.
For decades, the Igu-Aro Nri has been a delight, a unifying ceremony for the sons and daughters of the town.
It was also the prerogative of the traditional ruler of the community who uses the festival to also recognise and honour outstanding personalities in the society.
But this year’s Igu-Aro festival took a worrisome dimension as there was parallel proclamation of the Igbo calendar year.
The 2018 Igu Aro which was the last for the Eze Obidigwu Onyeso who joined his ancestors recently, created serious controversy between the royal family and the town union.
While the first son of the late monarch, Prince Ikechukwu Onyeso who claimed to have emerged the Regent held his Igu Aro at his father’s palace, a faction led by the President General of the town union, Chief Kelvin Obiegbunam held theirs at the palace of the former traditional ruler of the town, Eze Tabansi Udene.
The showdown took a dramatic dimension on that fateful Saturday when the Eke Nri market square, the proposed venue for the Igu-Aro by the town union was sealed off by policemen from the state command on alleged orders of the Commissioner of Police, Garba Baba Umar.
It was gathered from one of the officers at the venue who pleaded anonymity that they were sent on the orders of the CP and some stakeholders from the town, including a senator and a judge not to allow the parallel ceremony to hold.
But the earlier challenges notwithstanding, the ceremony later held just as the Regent held his own at his father’s palace amidst tight security provided by MASSOB members who claimed to be protecting the Onyeso palace.
Prince Onyeso said he stepped into his father’s shoes because of the vacuum created by his demise, insisting that his job as Regent was to preserve the sacred custom and tradition of the Igbo land left by his father.
“Igu-Aro, which is the official proclamation of the Igbo calendar year is the exclusive right and prerogative of Eze Nri, but now that my father is on a journey, it is my duty as the crowned Regent to preserve what my father left and I will do that for seven years before another Eze will emerge according to the tradition of Nri. After seven years, another village can now take over,” he explained.
Corroborating his claim, emeritus Professor, Chief Nduka Okafor who flanked the Regent at the ceremony said the late Eze Onyeso appointed him to be in-charge of traditional activities in his absence.
He explained that what the community was doing at Eze Onyeso’s palace was Igu-Aro and unveiling of the new Regent.
But the President General of Nri Community, Chief Obiegbunam who gave insight into the whole scenario, accused Prince Onyeso of formenting trouble.
He alleged that the Onyeso family refused to carry the town union along hence the decision to pull out from the palace organisation and announcement of the demise of Eze Nri.
“The town represented by the town union feels that they were not being carried along in the organisation of Igu-Aro which ordinarily is supposed to take place at the palace of Eze Nri, Eze Obidiegwu Onyeso and the town union made it clear that they need to be carried along, but to them it is a normal practice to allow the palace handle the issue because the Eze Nri is usually present and we respect him. But unfortunately, he is on a journey and being on a journey, the onus lies on the town union to organise Igu Aro and in the absence of Eze Nri, there is an institution called Oru Nze N’Ino, who traditionally is supposed to take charge pending when Eze Nri comes back or when a new Eze emerges.
“But unfortunately, the family of the Eze Nri refused to cooperate with the town and we decided to go on our own to look for a common place that will unite the town which is the Eke Nri to have the event, but unfortunately the powers that be decided that it will not be held there that everybody should go home and celebrate theirs. The town now decided to celebrate the Igu Aro in the palace of the former Eze Nri, Eze Tabansi Udene. So, Ndi-Nri are the ones celebrating the festival and that is what we are doing here today,” he explained.
An elder statesman and chairman, Oru Nze N’ino, the highest decision making body of the town, Ichie Micheal Ngidigi, explained that Igu Aro which was held every third Saturday in February signified the beginning of the new planting season and also a period to distribute staple crops for planting.
He said: “It is a traditional feast in Nri that marks the beginning of Igbo Luna Calendar. This year’s Igu-Aro is unique because it announces the official travel of the Eze Nri, Eze Onyeso. Igu-Aro is the proclamation of the Igbo calendar, a ritual performed every year. It is done in February which is the first month of the year. A lunar calendar is a calendar that is based on the cycles of the moon. Nri Lunar Calendar is based on the 13 lunar months of 28 days each plus one extra day known as a year and a day. Each of these months is made up of seven Igbo weeks, and each Izu is made up of four market days. All the market days are deities and have their originating shrine in Nri.”
Ngidigi called on the people to eschew violence and embrace peace, adding that those formenting trouble or crowning themselves regents would still live to regret their actions.
Another stakeholder, Chief Gabriel Onyejimmuo decried the rate at which young people desecrate the land, wondering how the regent could allow only five selfish individuals to crown him, a ritual, he pointed out was supposed to be performed by the entire community on the approval and supervision of the Oru Nze n’Ino and other traditional chiefs in the town.
The community, he said, would not recognise him as a regent as he insisted that his enthronement did not follow due process and was, therefore, a taboo.