From Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Every year, the natives of the commercial city of Onitsha, Anambra State, look forward to the colourful celebration of the Ofala Festival by their monarch.
Thus when recently the Obi of Onitsha, His Royal Majesty, Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, celebrated his 15th Ofala Festival, the city was filled to the brim with people.
The festival was turned into a cultural and tourist carnival as it attracted people from far and near; some of them from outside Nigeria, who came to witness the annual event.
The 15th edition was part of the celebration of the New Yam festival of the ancient city.
The people also used the week-long festival to thank God for giving them good life from year to year and asked God to continue to guide and protect them in the New Year.
On the eve of Ofala, the people rolled out the drums in their different age groups and formed processions on major roads and streets of Onitsha. During the processions, children and adults in colourful costumes, including machetes, dane guns and wooden guns, marched from the palace of the Obi to the two major ancestral shrines of Onitsha, otherwise known as “Ani Onicha,” to appease the gods.
The show was a significant demonstration of how the people of Onitsha defeated their enemies in the olden days.
The procession of children and elders, both male and female, with the prince and princess sometimes leading the procession, included the Obi who rode in a motorcade.
On the Ofala Festival day, the Obi of Onitsha came out in the open to show himself to his subjects.
It was the first time that the Igwe came in contact with his people who had gathered at the palace to pay homage to him for seeing another traditional year as the people showered blessing and prayers on him and he in turn blessed them.
Before the entrance of the monarch to the arena, all the dignitaries and well-wishers had gathered to receive him as he took the stage with his cabinet members and council of chiefs, dancing to the tune of the drum.
Immediately, the Igwe danced round the corners of the arena, greeting the crowd in his colourful traditional attire, holding his symbol of authority, the staff of office.
Those who attended this year’s Ofala included the political class, business moguls, other traditional rulers and the governor of the state, Chief Willie Obiano, and His Majesty, King Dandison Douglas Jaja Jeki V, Amanyanabo of Opobo and Chairman of the Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers.
Obiano in his speech said that the Onitsha custom makes everybody in the South-East proud, disclosing that his administration has released the sum of N35 million to the youths of the community through the influence of the traditional ruler.
He said his administration does not joke with Onitsha because it was where the major part of the internally generated revenue used in running the state comes from, saying that the commercial town needs to be encouraged.
The governor noted that as demanded by the traditional ruler, the Onitsha North and Onitsha South council areas are in the list of communities benefiting from the N20 million projects his administration is doing in all the communities in the state.
In his remarks, the Obi of Onitsha, Achebe, said that the economy of the country urgently required a major overhaul and redirection from the cumulative decision and actions of past regimes.
He also said that the country needs to be transformed from being consumption and import-driven to production-oriented, self-reliant and diversified economy.
He noted that Ofala was another year of eventful affairs in Onitsha and the world in general, calling on President Buhari to look beyond party affiliation for solutions to the recession ravaging the country to avoid a complete meltdown.
According to Igwe Achebe, “Our country Nigeria has faced grave challenges over the past years. President Muhammadu Buhari was popularly elected President and assumed office on May 29, 2015, on the mantra of change. His political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) created high expectations during the campaigns.
“Instead, unfortunately, Nigerians have witnessed a steady decline in most of economic and human development, and a major recession, which has prompted several statesmen and opinion leaders, including the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, as well as Anthony Cardinal Okogie to draw public attention to the suffering of the ordinary citizens.
“To complicate matters, most state governments have been unable to pay salaries without the so-called bailout funds, which is euphemism for loans to be repaid by the generations yet unborn; happily, Anambra State is among the few states that continued to meet their obligations of paying salaries regularly as when due.
“Mr President has demonstrated singular commitment and courage in tackling the scourges of corruption, inefficiency, profligacy and waste in government, as well as the fight against militancy in various parts of the country. We applaud him for his zeal and assiduity in this regard.
“However, there is a distinct feeling across the country that our immediate economic challenges may demand a non-partisan approach for solutions in order to avoid a complete meltdown. There is also a distinct yearning that Mr. President should extend the same commitment to addressing the menace of cattle herdsmen, particularly in the southern states.”
Igwe Achebe thanked Obiano whom he described as a true son of Onitsha for attending the Ofala Festival just as he thanked His Majesty King Dandison Douglas Jaja Jeki V, as well as the other traditional rulers that attended the Ofala.