In leaps and bounds, the Onitsha Ofala celebration has grown over the years to become one of the biggest traditional festivals in Black Africa, and, unarguably, the biggest festival in South East Nigeria. The recent success story of Ofala is attributable, to a large extent, to the ingenuity of the giant telecommunications network, Globacom, which has in the past nine years supported the festival as the major corporate sponsor, and the innovativeness of the custodian of the festival, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe.
The uniqueness of Ofala is not only embedded in the razzmatazz that characterises the celebration, but even more in the new ideas and dimensions that are introduced to the celebrations year in, year out, especially in the last nine years. Igwe Achebe, who ascended the throne about 19 years ago, in 2019, celebrated, his 18th Ofala as the monarch of the kingdom. Even though the 2019 edition has come and gone, the memories of the celebrations will linger in the minds of the people for a long time to come.
The agreement signed between Globacom and Onitsha palace in 2011 for the sponsorship of Ofala marked a turning point for the festival. The decision has paid off tremendously in terms of lifting the profile of the festival and making it the cynosure of tourists. It has also earned enormous goodwill and patronage for the telecommunications outfit. In essence, the relationship between Globacom and the organisers of the Onitsha Ofala has “been mutually beneficial”.
The 2019 edition of the festival is particularly unique in the annals of the Globacom and Onitsha palace relationship. The traditional ruler, who is popularly called Agbogidi, also recognised this, when in his Ofala 2019 welcome address he submitted that Globacom had helped make the festival a huge tourism spectacle.
Igwe speaks: “The partnership with this company (Globacom) has contributed significantly to the growth of Ofala. We are delighted that the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation has endorsed Ofala as a major festival in Nigeria. The National Gallery of Arts has also provided support for the Oreze International Arts Exhibition”.
The Oreze International Arts Exhibition was first introduced into the Ofala Festival in 2013, and it has over the years attracted over 5,000 visual arts exhibitors from Nigeria and the Diaspora. At this year’s exhibition which opened on October 9 at the Onitsha Ime Obi, palace of the Obi, a new dimension was introduced to the exhibition as the Agbogidi assembled eggheads in the academics/visual arts community for a symposium to debate the status of arts in Nigeria and make suggestions on how to grow the practice.
Speaking while flagging off the exhibition, the Special Guest of Honour, Professor Frank Ugiomo, historian, culture theorist and lecturer in the Department of Arts, University of Port Harcourt, said that he had over the years followed the Oreze International Arts Exhibition and described the assemblage as “a mark of distinction”.
Professor Ugiomo who praised the organisers of the exhibition, urged visual arts enthusiasts and collectors who would be visiting the exhibition galleries to “take in the essence of the exhibition which goes beyond the pictorial, but remains a reminder of who we are as a people and a race”.
“The work of art constitutes the remnant of self. Interacting with the work of art is interacting with oneself. The work of art should speak to us as a people and, as such, the essence of this exhibition is for us not to lose our beings. I must, therefore, praise the Agbogidi and the organisers of the Oreze International Arts Exhibition for consistently using this forum to remind us of who we are,” he added.
Agbogidi, on his part, explained that the “aim for introducing Oreze International Arts Exhibition is to bring the world to Onitsha and take Onitsha to the world through visual arts”. The monarch added that “modern day visual arts started from Onitsha. The essence of Oreze is to preserve our culture through visual arts and continue what our forefathers did”.
From the symposium, the celebrations shifted to the Ofala proper. Friday, October 11, was a grand celebration of culture and tradition at the Onitsha Ime Obi, as the Igwe made a grand entry into the arena accompanied by his Ndi Ichies, and other palace functionaries. He was a sight to behold as he danced to the royal traditional egwu ota drums to the applause of the dignitaries, indigenes of Onitsha Kingdom and other tourists who graced the occasion.
Globacom’s Regional Activation Manager, South East 2, Mr. Noel Udeme, who represented the company at the Ofala Day, said that the company had consistently sponsored the festival for the past nine years as “an indication that we do not only love the Onitsha people, but that we are interested in the preservation of their cultural values”. He noted that Globacom had contributed immensely to the promotion of the culture and values of the people of Nigeria.
If Ofala Day was a grand event, Azu Ofala which followed on Saturday, October 12, was simply epoch-making. It was the day the traditional festival ended in a blaze of glory, with Globacom empowering five indigenes of the city with five brand new tricycles, otherwise known as keke. The winners emerged in a live draw held at the Onitsha Ime Obi arena, under the watchful eyes of Igwe Achebe, his palace chiefs and other dignitaries. The lucky five were: Ekpechi Henry, Okey Eneh; Ifeanyi Deluo Ike; Emeka Henry Chidi and Mofunanya Onochie.
The five keke winners were not the only lucky ones on the day as five other indigenes of Onitsha Kingdom went home with LED TV sets.
Besides the prizes, Globacom also rewarded winners of the age grade carnival competitions held at the arena with cash prizes. In the age grade competition for 1958 to 1980, Aghaedo age grade (1970 to 1972), Umuawele age grade (1974-1976) and Malunwanne age grade (1961 to 1963) came first, second and third respectively.
Winners of the prizes were full of gratitude to Globacom. For instance, one of the keke winners, Ekpechi Henry, said, “I thank Globacom for this wonderful gift because it is not everyone that promises that can deliver”.
“This is one of the wonderful things one can get. Globacom has demonstrated again that it cares and loves the people. I participated a couple of times and I am happy to show it to everybody that the Glo Ofala raffle is real”, enthused Okey Eneh, another keke winner. On her part, Ebirim Akunna Cynthia, a graduate of Computer Science, Imo State Polytechnic, Umuagwo, who won a TV set, said “It is simply unbelievable and all my doubts are over since I received the call that I won a TV set. God bless Globacom richly”.
In his goodwill message to Ofala celebration, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr, Globacom’s Chairman, reiterated that the company’s aim “has always been to promote, support and uphold everything that is dear to the good people of Nigeria. We believe that nobody else can project the visions, dreams and aspirations of Nigerians better than we Nigerians ourselves. This is why we have continued to invest heavily in promoting our cultural heritage by supporting prominent festivals such as Ofala. A people’s culture is their way of life, and we dare say that Ofala Onitsha is a showpiece of the rich cultural heritage of not just Onitsha people and Ndigbo, but also of the entire Black race”.
Activities marking the 2019 Ofala celebrations were rounded off on Monday, October 14 with a royal banquet organised in honour of the Agbogidi by Globacom at Dolly Hills Hotel, Onitsha. Igwenwanyi Achebe, wife of Obi of Onitsha, represented the Igwe at the banquet.
Speaking at the ocassion, Globacom’s Regional Manager, South-South, Mr. Augustine Mamuro, noted that “it is not an accident of history that in the last nine years, we have had occasions to sit down like this to wine and dine in honour of our highly revered Agbogidi. That we have had this for nine unbroken years goes to show one thing: the Agbogidi is happy with us and by extension, the Onitsha Kingdom is happy with our corporate existence. On our own part too, we are happy to identify with the inimitable Onitsha Kingdom”.
Mamuro, while celebrating Igwe Achebe for his passion not just the Ofala Festival, but for the promotion of the cultures and values of the Black Race, said that the yearly innovations the monarch “brings into the Ofala celebration is encouraging enough for us to want to do more. We were at the Oreze Arts Exhibition Symposium held at the Ime Obi on Thursday and we were marvelled by the quality of discussants assembled to talk about visual arts. Only a visionary leader could have done that and we say here that posterity will be very kind to our royal father for that act”.
“We also wish to reiterate here that Globacom will continue to support all the efforts of Agbogidi at preserving and protecting our values. This gesture, we shall also extend to any other traditional institution which seeks to promote the Black Africa Race. Globacom subscribes, totally, to one of the key messages of the symposium, to wit: “any society that refuses to promote arts is bound to be timid”. As a company, the Glo Heritage Series, the platform through which we are in the Ofala and other festivals, is at the vanguard of promoting arts and cultures”, he reiterated
Welcoming guests to the banquet, the Ogene Onira of Onitsha and Chairman of Ofala Steering Committee, Chief Ngozi Okafor, noted that “it is important to remark that for nine years running, Globacom has been very supportive of this Ofala Festival and Onitsha must continue to be appreciative of this relationship.”
Supporting the Ogene Onira, the Onowu Iyasele of Onitsha, who is the traditional Prime Minister of the kingdom, Chief Joseph Okey Ononye, added that since “Glo has been very good to Onitsha people, we have to continue to reciprocate in like measure through patronage.”