Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Alex Onyido, a pharmacist of repute, is the traditional ruler of Ogidi Kingdom. He was installed in 2016 after the community stayed 18 years without king having been embroiled in a protracted tussle over the stool. He spoke to Daily Sun on his three years on the throne, submitting that his reign has brought peace and development to the town. He also talked about the revival of some ancient cultural practises and traditions of Ogidi, explaining why the community pronounced a curse on cultism and its likes in the area. He further talked about Ito Aro, a form of traditional social insurance scheme for people aged 80 and above, in Ogidiland.
You have been three years on the throne, what has it been like?
It has been quite interesting and fulfilling as I have achieved a lot. I came in as Igwe and found out that our Ozo title, which is a privileged association in Ogidi kingdom, was bastardized. So, I had to revamp it. I had to set up a committee that reviewed the Ozo title to be credible. This is because some people holding the title were not qualified. Now we have been able to upgrade the title, it is no more an all-comers’ affair. Anybody who wants to be member of the Ndichie must prove himself to be worthy; he must be morally okay and financially of standard. Then you know that Ogidi had been in disarray for 20 years before my emergence as Igwe, so, there was no central age grade system in the community. You know the importance of age grade in Igboland, it is the structure that the town or society used to show itself and used to develop the area. The use of age grade, for me, cannot be over emphasised. So, I had to constitute a committee to review the age grade system in Ogidi and the committee is working hard to bring a blueprint for all the age grades and to come up with the number of age grade associations in the community. By the end of April 2020, they would be able to come up with the report because I gave the committee time span to do their job. And at the end, we shall know the number of our age grades and who and who is in which age grade and as well know the age bracket that we have in the community. For me, it is a great achievement. Also, I was able to introduce ‘Ito Aro’ to celebrate our elderly parents from 80 years and above for now. It wasn’t in our culture but, any culture that is good, we should imbibe it. So, it has become our culture in Ogidi. I have endorsed it, I have pronounced and proclaimed it. It has come to stay in Ogidi. The children and grandchildren will be gathered to celebrate them; they will take pictures with them and have fun, eat and celebrate. It is a big occasion in Ogidi. The first day we had it, it was big and everywhere was filled up with people who came to celebrate their loved ones, friends and parents. It brought the entire town together once again. These are two major things I have achieved, among many others, including restoring lasting peace in the community. We have also revamped the women group ‘Ndi Otu Iyom’ in the community. The group is equivalent to Ndichie for women. The group was dead but we revamped it.
How involved are you in cultural promotion and preservation?
Through the high chiefs and the Ogidi Union, I have a structure and we are not leaving any stone unturned. All our lost culture, we are bringing them back and we are not letting our culture die. Like what happened recently, when we celebrated Nwafor Festival, which is our annual culture whereby, at the end of the planting season, we rest. Since we have finished farming, it is time to rest. So, we celebrate it as an annual event. In fact, it is the biggest festival in our community. We invite our friends across the world to celebrate with us. This culture has been there for long but we have elaborated it and improved on it and that is why we showcased the big masquerade called ‘Ijele Inwelle’ the first time it was showcased in Ogidi. In the past, we had other masquerades who beat people and blocked the roads, but this time, we want to control the issue of beating and fighting on the roads by bringing this big masquerade ‘Ijele,’ which is not violent. Rather, people will come and watch it display. It is more of exhibition, and at the end of the day; it will turn to be more of a carnival, where people will come from all parts of the world to witness our culture.
What have you done in terms of infrastructural development of the community?
We are doing well in that regard through the efforts of the working governor, Chief Willie Obiano, who gave us N20 million for the ‘Choose Your Project’ for the communities in the state. We chose to build a skills acquisition centre, where our youths can go and acquire skills. The structure has been built but it has not been equipped, we are waiting for the next phase of the money so that we can equip the place for our youths to learn skills such as farming, fashion and ICT, among others.
How are you handling youth vices in your community?
Youth vices are not only in Ogidi. It is all over the country; it’s not peculiar to Ogidi alone. We have the menace of cultism in Ogidi due to unemployment of youths but we are trying our best. Most of them who finished their youth service are in sitting idle because the jobs are not there, that is the cause of all these problems, idleness, they say, is the Devil’s workshop. There is a thin line between cultism and armed robbery, they start from cultism and become armed robbers. We have problems of unemployment not only here in the state but across the South-East. So, all these things, cultism, armed robbery, cybercrime, kidnapping, are borne out of idleness due to lack of jobs. As Igwe Ogidi, I called a meeting where I asked them what they want us to do about the cultists in Ogidi Kingdom. They said that they wanted me to proscribe any form of cultism, and I have proscribed cultism in Ogidi community. Anybody found doing cultism in Ogidi is viewed with a lot of disdain. In fact, we are fighting it in every way, both traditionally and spiritually. We have been able to ask the traditionalists to go round and place curses on anybody that is involved in cultism, and that has been done. So, far that curse is working for us because we now have fewer problems in the town in cult-related matters. Anybody who tries it in Ogidi will meet the wrath of the land and for now it’s working for us.
Many had expected that you would have had another Ofala after the glamorous outing of 2017; why have you not held another Ofala?
I celebrate Ofala festival according to my choice. I have the option to do it every year or every two years. They said once in three years. So, our culture says it must be at least once every three years and I expect to celebrate it next year. We celebrate a lot of cultural festivals in Ogidi and that is why it is cumbersome to celebrate Ofala festival every year. We celebrate Nwafor, which is like Christmas festival. You have New Yam festival, Easter and Christmas, that is four big celebrations within one year. You would be bored and need to space it out. So, by 2020, I will celebrate Ofala festival.
What is your relationship with the town union and Ndichie of Ogidi?
It is cordial. Ogidi is peaceful. There is no way you live together without quarrels, there must be quarrels, but we have found a way of resolving our differences. There is no way Ndichie would be so peaceful with the Igwe all the time, no, there must be disagreements but, because of love, we always agree as one body. There is love between the town union, Ndichie and myself. We don’t have any problem.
What advice do you have for the people of Ogidi, especially this festive period?
My advice to them is to be law-abiding citizens. Those criminals, and those who came to sojourn in Ogidi doing business, should know that here is not a practice ground for cultism and armed robbery. As my people come home, I want them to come back and go back peacefully without anybody being harmed. So, I advise every Ogidiman to be vigilant and report to the police any criminal activities or any suspecious movement. Ogidi has grown to be as big as Onitsha; we have the biggest building materials market in Africa. So, Ogidi is a township and not a village and people who are doing business here need to be protected. We don’t want anybody who comes to Ogidi in search of daily bread to be harmed. The issue of security is fully in my hand because Anambra State law gave the king the power to be the chief security officer of the town. I will do everything to ensure that security in Ogidi is intact. Recently, I acquired four patrol vehicles for the vigilance group in Ogidi from personal money. I had to procure the vehicles because my people are waiting for me to lead then, they will follow me.