Jeff Amechi Agbodo and Aloysuis Attah, Onitsha
The 18th Ofala festival of the Obi of Onitsha, Anambra State, held last Friday, evoked mixed feelings for the monarch, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe. Activities marking one of Nigeria’s most colourful cultural celebrations came to an end on Monday with a royal dinner staged for the celebrant by telecoms giant, Globacom.
The Igwe expressed deep concerns about the assault on peaceful family life in Onitsha by the burgeoning commercialisation in the city, which boasts of arguably, the biggest market in West Africa. He noted that though the fortunes of Onitsha kingdom has been mixed over the past years, they were making steady progress on more fronts than not.
On community re-engineering and reinvention, he stated that much had been achieved with respect to infrastructure, peace building and reconciliation, creating an Onitsha virtual community and projecting a positive image for the city:
“Onitsha has over the years been peaceful and reconciled within and among kindred groups and families. Increasingly, our people now resort to the traditional court at Ime Obi for the adjudication of disputes, particularly on land and headship of ancestral families.
“Another important element in our self-reinvention is our effort to create a sense of belonging, participation and community among Onitsha indigenes all over the world. Besides my travelling regularly to various places in Nigeria and abroad to share thoughts with our indigenes, the power of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has been most invaluable in building a virtual Onitsha community driven by our interactive website.”
On environmental degradation and pollution in Onitsha, the Igwe lamented that the metropolitan city of Onitsha, which was once a model of cleanliness, has become a dungeon of filth very dangerous to health. He traced the cause to the appalling attitude of the residents to the necessity for clean environment and the inadequacy of statutory enforcement and waste management agencies:
“The palace was ready to share thoughts with government on how to improve environmental management in the cities and communities in Anambra State including the education of the citizenry.” The Obi also called for the dualisation of Awka Road and the Onitsha-Otuocha Road as a key factor towards finding solution to the traffic conundrum in Onitsha.
He emphasised the need for a review and enforcement of planning regulations in the city to save the residential areas from the onslaught and nuisance of commercialization. On the way forward, the monarch said they would continue to press ahead on all fronts, including infrastructural development with more concerted effort against cultism, drug addiction, violent crime and the resolution of the outstanding cases of Diokpaship:
“We will also encourage and support our youths to gain more visibility at the national and international levels and continue to spread computer literacy and restore the reading culture among our citizenry.”
Represented by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, President Muhammadu Buhari said the journey so far has been fruitful and eventful. He said the Second Niger Bridge was now a reality because work was on going while the construction company handling the project assured of completing it six months earlier than the scheduled date of 2021.
He promised the South East of a third bridge project, a coastal rail that will terminate at Onitsha with a spur unto Nnewi later on even as he indicated that the construction will start next year.
The Deputy Governor, Dr Nkem Okeke, who represented Governor Willie Obiano paid homage to the Obi of Onitsha. Addressing the crowd after, he said the second phase of the “Operation Kpochapu” being launched same day of the Ofala festival was in continuation of government’s resolve to make Anambra the safest state in Nigeria.
He warned criminal elements to flee the state or risk being smoked out and dealt with according to law. He also announced that aggressive road rehabilitation would start across different parts of the state once the rain stopped.
President General of Onitsha Improvement Union (OIU), Sir Chike Ekweogwu, described the Ofala as an opportunity for the Igwe to speak to his people; bless and tell them that God has been kind to them in the traditional new year of the community:
“My advice is that the culture and festivals we hold in our hearts should continue to be exhibited, year in, year out. We should not all forget that change is inevitable and culture is not static, culture is dynamic. If it is not dynamic all the twins would be killed but they are all alive today.
“Today twins came to see the Igwe, before now it was abomination for twins to see or ‘cough’ before the Igwe. Culture is a two-way thing, which we have to manage them to balance them. Our culture should remain but there are certain cultures of our lives that should go into extinction.”
Other dignitaries at the event including the traditional ruler of Ojoto, Igwe Gerald Mbamalu and Chief Godwin Ezeemo prayed God to keep Igwe Achebe in good health. Ezeemo who described Onitsha culture and the Igwe Achebe Ofala festival as the most colourful that should be emulated by other Igbo traditional rulers said:
“My prayer is that the Ofala festival and custom will keep growing from strength to strength. We wish Igwe Achebe the wisdom, strength and grace of God to carry on until he hands over the baton to the next person.”
To the Chief Executive Officer of Lake Petroleum Limited, Chief Cletus Mbaji, it is only culture that can unite the Igbo as one indivisible entity in Nigeria.