I am not only 55 years on the throne, but also 93 in age. I am physically fit, mentally alert and all that. It calls for good celebration.
David Onwuchekwa, Nnewi
Today, the industrial community of Nnewi, in Nnewi North Local Government Area of Anambra State, will be agog for the celebration of 55th Ofala festival of His Royal Highness, Igwe Kenneth O. Orizu III.
In this interview, the monarch talks about what to expect at the event, his years on the throne, Nnewi people and many other things.
Why do you hold Ofala every December?
Ofala in December is billed to bring to an end the activities of the year. It is a period when people are free to come and celebrate with their Igwe. Initially, the Ofala was celebrated on the last Saturday before Christmas, but because of pressure and demands, it was moved to December 23, 24 before finally to December 28. When it was holding on the Saturday before Christmas, we discovered it could fall on December 16 or 17. What happened then was that people would come home for the Ofala and then go back to Lagos, Kano, Maiduguri and other places only to return for Christmas a few days after. It was inconvenient.
So, after many demands, it was decided that the Ofala festival be fixed on December 28, in between Christmas and New Year, to be able to accommodate everybody.
What are we expecting in the 2018 edition?
This year is unique. It is unique in the sense that, for somebody to be on throne for 55 years, it’s not a day’s job. I am not only 55 years on the throne, but also 93 in age. I am physically fit, mentally alert and all that. It calls for good celebration.
This year is special because we are expecting the governors of Ebonyi and Abia states and, of course, Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State as well as representatives from the federal level.
On the same date, the Igwe will be honouring Governor Umahi with a chieftaincy title as well as the chairman of the Governing Board of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital (NAUTH), Nnewi. Also, we have a Wonder Boy, an Nnewi son who is 11 years old and has received almost 120 awards in the music industry, locally and internationally. Igwe will be presenting to him a certificate of recognition. His name is Ozioma Chukwujama, son of Ada di Oramma.
What challenges have you encountered on the throne?
Like every other thing or area in life, challenges have come over the years. In the olden days, the town did every other thing for the throne. When it was planting season, the communities would gather and plant for the Igwe and harvest at the appropriate time. These days, things have changed. There is full demand on the resources of the palace without a commensurate income to handle that. And because Nnewi is unique, the occupant of the throne does not do any work. Not that he does not work, the only work he does is get up every morning start meeting with people, solving their problems until evening. So, he will not even have time to do extracurricular activities to get money. Do you understand?
Even at that, most people who come to the palace come with the expectation that they are coming to take something, to be assisted. So, it is a heavy burden. Here we give to people; but when you give and give and have nothing to give again, people may start looking at you as if you are wicked. The basic fact is that the money is not coming in like that.
It is unlike most communities, which select rich men to be their Igwes. They have so much to give, unlike our own. However, it is not even supposed to be a money thing. It is supposed to be service to humanity.
How do you relate with the people?
Issues come now and then. Even in your own family, issues still come up between you and your wife and children. It is your ability to resolve them that matters. We have had issues in Nnewi, some that threatened the corporate existence of the town. One of them was the issue of Nkwo Nnewi Triangle. There was a time people were clamouring for balkanisation of Nnewi town. But it was sorted out. When you have a leader who is disposed to peace, everything is done to ensure that peace is achieved.
There was a particular one in the past, where some people were agitating that Igwe was supposed to be the Obi of Nnewi. If you look at it from a different perspective, it somehow right, somehow wrong. One, the Obi of Nnewi had been there. When Igwe’s grandfather died, the white men then did a publication in the newspapers that the Obi of Nnewi was dead. When Igwe’s father died, the same publication was made that Obi of Nnewi was dead. And since Igwe ascended the throne in 1963, he was the Obi of Nnewi. All of a sudden in 1988, some people felt it was not supposed to be Obi of Nnewi, that the office should be the Igwe of Nnewi. And Igwe went to the general assembly and said, “Okay, choose, let me know whatever you want, as my people, whether I should be Obi or Igwe of Nnewi, and he was unanimously made the Igwe of Nnewi. There are some leaders who will not do that.
After that incident, the whole town agreed and made him what he is today. So, you can see that peaceful disposition helps in directing how things go. Problems come, problems are solved, or problems degenerate, depending on how you handle them and your choice of words.
What is the relationship between you and other Obis?
There has been cordial relationship between the Igwe and other Obis of Umudim, Uruagu and Nnewichi. Recently, we had a meeting here.
Could you share with us your happiest moment on throne so far?
Igwe’s happiest moment is every day. Igwe is a man who does not have anything troubling him. He is a happy man every day.
What makes Nnewi tick?
Nnewi is blessed, just like Israel. You cannot exactly say this is why. It is not only people of Nnewi origin that are blessed, anybody that lives in Nnewi enjoys part of the blessings.
You can see this from Kotec and the rest of them. But first of all you should show ingenuity.
People hear of Nnewi, but they don’t take cognizance of the fact that Nnewi started way back. During the time of Orizu I, he oversaw 25 towns before the white men came. His authority was up to Ihiala, the whole of Nnewi South Local Government Area, the whole of Ekwusigo, they were under his authority. And then it was only him and Obi of Onitsha that stayed in court without rotating among the warrant chiefs. It was only the two of them who had the power to pass death sentence. You have Sir Louis Ojukwu whose Rolls Royce was used to convey the Queen of England.
So, you see, the big players in the past (were from Nnewi). I have not even mentioned Ekene Dili Chukwu and others. That is why we have so many firsts in Nnewi, First Senate President, and so on.
So, what makes the town tick is each generation wants to do better than the past generations. They follow in the footsteps of older generations.
How would you assess government’s assistance to traditional institutions?
During the Sani Abacha era, 5 percent of the local government allocation was earmarked for traditional institutions. This is no longer done today, especially in the South East. In the North, South West and even in the Midwest, they still pay 5 per cent of the local government allocations to the traditional institutions. Down here, that is not the case.
Traditional institutions carry heavy loads. For instance, every two weeks, the palace here must buy a basket of kola nuts. Sometimes, it would not last up to two weeks. And each person who comes to the Igwe must be offered at least two kola nuts. And if you look at the peanuts that traditional rulers are paid, you see that, if it is somebody that is not strong, he would not be able to withstand the financial stress of the throne.
So, I believe government needs to do more to lift the traditional institutions, considering their roles in the system. When there is crisis in the town, the institution is beckoned on to quell the crisis. There are things traditional rulers can do that even chairman of the local government areas cannot do.
A traditional ruler, through the subs, that is, chairmen of families, chairmen of villages, can reach out to the people faster and better and they respect him more than the local government chairman.
So, the sooner traditional institutions are given the recognition they deserve, the better for everybody. They are really the grassroots people.