Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka
It was a triple celebration for the people of Nnobi community in Idemili South local government of Anambra State as they recently celebrated the fifth Ofala of their traditional ruler, Igwe Muodum Nick Obi (Igwe Omenyili), his 80th birthday and the restoration of peace in the land.
Sure, the ceremony had all the trappings of a high class and culturally enriched festival to the admiration of all who were in attendance.
For Igwe Obi, who is the first Nigerian Chattered Gas Engineer, the celebration was one that he would not afford to postpone or ignore, especially as it gave him the opportunity to thank God for legal victories and heralds the return of peace to the community, which, for some years, had gone through litigations that threatened the peaceful administration of the land.
No wonder he had to start the whole event in humility in the presence of God a thanksgiving/ Eucharistic Mass at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Awuda, Nnobi and which was officiated by no less a Priest than the former Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament in Rome, Francis Cardinal Arinze, supported by other clergy and religious.
The ceremony proceeded from the church to the palace where the monarch, Igwe Obi in his full white regalia sat on his throne and was flanked by his wife, Lolo Clara Obi and over 50 cabinet chiefs who were also clad in full white regalia with red cap and other traditional insignia to match.
The epoch making event attracted people from all walks of live across the globe. Various traditional groups, stakeholders and individuals were represented as they take turns to pay homage and present gifts to the monarch.
Adding more glamour to the colourful event was the presence of many traditional rulers from various communities led by the Chairman, Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council and Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe (Agbogidi) and government functionaries, captains of industries and politicians.
There was also cultural dance display including the famous ‘Ufie’ dance which only monarchs and red cap chiefs are qualified to dance in Igbo land. Masquerades of various kinds were also handy to entertain the audience.
Igwe Obi at the ceremony honoured some sons and daughters of Nnobi town that made impact in the development of the community. Some of the Nnobi icons honoured include the state Commissioner for Basic Education, Prof. Kate Azuka Omenugha and a US-based renowned Surgeon, Prof. Ferdinand Ofodile. Others are Chief Okpala Chukwunonso, Rudolf Okonkwo, Lady Grace Ezenwa and posthumous recognition to Late Justice Moses Okechukwu while a centenarian, Pa Levi Chibuzo Okpala aged 103 was also honoured for gift of longevity.
Speaking about the Ofala, the monarch said: “We have a written constitution in Nnobi which says that once every three years, the community should hold ofala while the Igwe at his own expense, can do so yearly or at his own convenience. So, this one, I’m doing now is my 5th ofala. I had done the other four. The community now wants to take part in this one. This is the first time the community will be doing that; they are not really doing it for me but they are taking part and I am happy that even some public-spirited Nnobi people are now keying into it and then saying, let us join and make the ofala a good day for the community.”
Taking a brief look at his community, his years on throne and challenges Igwe Obi said, “Nnobi is regarded as ‘Ana nso.’ Nnobi is the capital of Idemili. Idemili shrine is originally based in Nnobi and of all the towns in Idemili North and South, Nnobi is the headquarters of the shrine and then in Nnobi, like most towns that have Idemili, we revere the python. Not the python 2 of python 3 but the original python. We revere it. In fact, up to Awo Idemili in Imo State and other places, we don’t kill the python. So, personally, I’m a man of peace. I believe in peace. I believe in due process and the rule of law. We have our challenges but we have tried to manage it using the rule of law and then going to court, hence; did I mention, I got the court victory? From 2001 to 2008, the court gave me victory.
“Before then, there were two other cases which also were in my favour. Nnobi like most town in Igbo land, particularly in Anambra; I have said earlier about the term, Igboenweze. In fact, we the Igwes are troubled about that term, Igboenweze. People are misconstruing it and because of that, every small thing, people will go to court and sue and because of the freedom of association, freedom of worship and so on, people tend to go to court at the flimsiest excuse. So, the first court, somebody just woke up and said, I am the Igwe-Elect. So, the town took him to court and the court gave an interlocutory injunction and said you cannot address yourself as the Igwe-Elect. His name is Mr. E. Ejudo. You cannot address yourself, you cannot be addressed and you cannot allow anybody to address you as such.
“The second one, he also went to court himself. He then became the plaintiff and the court said no; there are three quarters in Nnobi; Ebenesii, Ngo and Awuda. This is an autonomous community issue; a section of Nnobi which is my own quarter; some individuals’ tried to have autonomous status which was rejected by the government of Ngige. Then, later, the law, section of the autonomous status was repelled by the Anambra State House of Assembly. They went to court. Anambra State High Court said that there was an autonomous law. Then the government against went to Court of Appeal and Court of Appeal in 2011 ruled/ gave a judgment that there was no autonomous communities in Anambra State. In fact, Anambra, unlike our neighbours; Imo, Enugu and possibly Ebonyi, I’m not so sure, they are not keen in autonomous because it creates a lot of problems. I have mentioned two cases now.
“The third one was that in 2011 when I was given certificate, he went to court again and said that Nnobi comprises of Ebenesii and Ngo. He excluded Awuda which is the third leg of Nnobi which is my own quarter and then sued on that basis but by the time he was going to court in 2011, the Court of Appeal has not given the judgment. So, the Court of Appeal gave a judgment that there is no autonomous community in Anambra State. The other point was that he said I was a civil servant. I have never been a civil servant. So, he lost on all four counts he brought up. So, we hope that peace will be given a chance this time. I have been on the throne for 12 years.”
On what he wish for his community the monarch said, “Nnobi, as I said is a very traditional town, it’s an old town. It’s not rich or wealthy as its neighbours but it is very traditional. Nnobi is governed by Idemili. Idemili is a woman and not a man and it was Idemili that begot Edo who is the progenitor of Nnewi, Ichi and Oraifite, so there’s a link there. What we are looking forward to is peace and peace. It’s very important. Then, development, we want to see more Nnobi people, we want to see industries, we want to see people more closely knitted and working and have some means of livelihood. We are a very traditional town and community.”
The President General of Nnobi, Dr. Edokobi Samuel Ofodile who was elated at the success of the ofala said, “By our constitution, this ofala is organized by the community together with Igwe. The 80 year celebration which our Igwe marks today is being celebrated by Igwe and other octogenarians from the community who have attained same age and hence forth, we shall make this an annual event where we celebrate our people who have attained the age of 80. So, we expect them from henceforth to play elderly and advisory role for the good of the town.
I keep telling people that our traditional ruler is a quiet, unassuming type but achieves a lot. He is a long suffering man. His mature handling of the issue of the traditional stool saga in Nnobi is an indication that he is a humble man. Such is a characteristic I encourage in my life.”