It was pomp at the country home of Abia State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Umeh Kalu, SAN, recently, as he graduated into the senior citizens’ club of his community, Okagwe Ohafia.
That day, Mbana Age Grade performed its Igba Uche, a ceremony that confers members of the group eldership status in the community. It also accords them the qualification to sit in the council of elders to deliberate on critical issues affecting the community.
In line with the tradition of the community, to attain this status, an age grade must execute a project. And Mbana Age Grade carried out two projects: it built a skill acquisition centre and fully equipped it, just as it executed a water project.
On hand to celebrate Kalu’s attainment of the feat were the crème de la crème of the society, including people from different walks of life. They included lawyers, politicians, the clergy, traditional rulers and others. Different dance troupes were on hand to entertain guests.
On how he felt joining the elder’s council of his community, the Abia attorney-general said he was full of appreciation to God, noting that some of the group’s members were not lucky to be alive to perform the ceremony.
“I give thanks to God for making it possible because when we started as an age grade, we were about 350. But we have lost 38 of our members. It is something to thank God for, being alive to celebrate with your age mates. That is a great testimony.
“Secondly, it is an added responsibility for members of my age grade and I, because, when you attain the status in the community, it means that the burden of governance, execution of more projects and ensuring that there is peace in the community are all on our shoulders.
“So, for me, it is an added responsibility and we equally ask God for more grace.”
On what Igba Uche means and its significance, he said, it was the attainment of the status of an elder in the community: “When important issues are being discussed in the community, elders like us are expected to be there. But this is different from retirement, which Igba Uche connotes in other Ohafia communities.
“In Okagwe, my village, there is the one we call, Igba Ekpe, which is retirement from active communal service. Other communities refer to this as Igba Uche, Igba Otamu, and Igboto Nma.
“This is not retirement from active community service; it is a middle course approach in the sense that we are still active in the things and affairs of this community, possibly in the next seven years, eight years or so. By then, we would become super-statesmen or super-elders, which means we don’t get involved in communal activities. We are excluded from paying dues, levies and other assignments. By then, our roles would be advisory. It could be said that, now, we have graduated into the elder statesmen status in the community.”
On how he felt seeing the array of dignitaries even as his house was turned to a beehive of activities, Kalu said it was not unexpected.
“Yes, Government House representatives, political parties, friends and associates cutting across political divides, in-laws, the clergy, lawyers, judges, those on the bench and bar were here. It should be expected. It was a ceremony.
“More importantly, the villagers, the Ohafia people, old men, women, youths, whom I have touched their lives in one way or the other by way of employment opportunities for their children and the projects that I have executed that are giving meaning to their lives; the entire Ohafia traditional rulers were here. My village traditional ruler was also here, other traditional rulers from neighbouring communities of Abiriba, Nkporo, etc, were here.
“The masses of this community were equally here. It was a beehive of activities. I thank God; this ceremony offered me an opportunity to assess my level of acceptance in the Ohafia community,” he said.
According to Kalu, to perform the Igba Uche or the Igba Ekpe, the age grade in question must bequeath a project to the community, which forms the community’s patrimony.
“In this vein, we built a skill acquisition centre and fully equipped it, and a water project. The idea behind the building of the skill centre was to arrest unemployment in the community. We want to keep our youths gainfully occupied. We are aware that the nation is moving towards skill acquisition, as the white-collar jobs are no more available, and the few that are available are not easily got, except those who may have very influential people at the top, at the federal and state levels.
“We want them to acquire some basic skills that will lift their lives. Once you are able to tackle youth unemployment, you have addressed many social problems; you have moved many youths from the streets, you have solved the problem of restiveness among the youth,” he said.