By Perpetua Egesimba
The Igbo Community Centre, Okota, Lagos, was agog recently. The venue, which is also the palace of the Eze Ndigbo, Lagos State, Eze Uchechukwu Nwachukwu, hosted many people as Ndigbo assembled there to celebrate the new yam festival, known as iri ji.
It is customary among the Igbo that before the new yam is consumed after the harvest, the crop, known as the king of food, is celebrated to thank God for the successful harvest.
Eze Nwachukwu was joined at the ceremony by the lawmaker representing Oshodi-Isolo Constituency II at the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Jude Idimogu, and other dignitaries. The community leader also conferred chieftaincy titles on Sunday Nwobodo, the CEO of New Planet Resorts Limited, and others.
He said the occasion was an avenue to showcase the rich cultural heritage of Ndigbo, positing that the coming together of Igbo people presented an opportunity through which they were reminded of the need to embrace their culture and traditions.
According to him, this was necessary because no nation or society could develop maximally if it neglected its cultural heritage. In his words, a people not versed in their culture and traditions were preparing themselves for extinction.
“Culture is a way of life or the total behavioural patterns and beliefs of a people, which are communicated from generation to generation. The yam festival is one of the ancient traditional and cultural practices we inherited from our great-grandfathers. If they did not hand down their ways of life and behaviours, we would not have gathered here to do what they did, probably, centuries ago,” he said.
Eze Nwachukwu stressed that the culture of Ndigbo modifies Igbo thoughts, speech, actions and general behaviour, adding that the Igbo have their culture, tradition, character and abominations, among others, just as they have the concepts of good and bad.
He appreciated the former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and the incumbent governor, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode, for their commitment to bringing development to all communities in the state.
“His particular attention to development of rural roads gladdens our hearts. We are happier because, our road, the Nwachukwu Drive, is among the roads selected for reconstruction. We hope that in due time the road would be reconstructed,” he said.
Issues relating to peace, unity, togetherness and love among the Igbo and peaceful co-existence with the government and people of Lagos State and other ethnic groups resident in the state were also discussed.
Nwachukwu also preached peace and togetherness among the Igbo and their host communities, especially the government and people of Lagos: “We should also be at peace and live cordially with members of other ethnic groups resident in Lagos,” he said.
While appreciating Idimogu for his contributions to the welfare of Ndigbo in the state, Nwachukwu said the lawmaker, with his position at the state legislature, had become the apex Igbo political leader in the state.
He urged all Eze Ndigbo in all the local governments of the state to ensure that Igbo culture and traditions were maintained, adding that Igbo people in the state would remain law-abiding and continue contributing towards the development of the state.
Tracing the origin of iri ji, Idimogu explained that the culture predated his forefathers.
He said: “If you read Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’, you will also see the culture of iri ji. So, it is an age-long culture, which the Igbo don’t play with.
“It brings unity because it brings all Igbo men and women together, to socialise and preserve the tradition that our forefathers left behind. And when we depart, our children will continue doing it. Culture helps you to develop not just yourself but helps to develop the community where you live.”
Speaking on how culture enhances national development, Idimogu described culture as a whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterise a society or group.
“It includes not only the arts and letters but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs. It is culture that gives man the ability to reflect upon himself. It is through culture that we discern values and make choices,” he said.
On his part, Nwobodo, who was honoured with the title of Aka Ekpuchi Owa 1 of Lagos State at the event, told the guests: “I feel great having been picked among so many Igbo in the state to receive the title, it is an honour and I am very happy for them to have considered me.”
He pledged to improve the lives of the Igbo in the state, especially in the area of Igbo language and culture, as well as make sure that Igbo people relate very well anywhere they are in the state.
Commenting on the new yam celebration, he said, according to his father, yam is the first thing that the Igbo people have as food and that is why the Igbo see yam as king of all food and celebrate it.
Describing the festival as colourful and perfect, Sarkin Hausawa Sambo of Ajangbadi, Ojo Local Government Area, Alhaji Isa Salisu Gambo, noted that it was not the first time the Hausa community was celebrating with their Igbo brothers in Lagos territory.
According to him, his people had been collaborating with the Igbo community to ensure peaceful coexistence in the state, especially during festivals.
“Having witnessed several new yam festivals in the state, I would say that it is a perfect and colourful festival.
“My message to Nigerians is for us to join hands together to be one, to be like the way we are here, like brothers. We are all sons of Adam. Let us live peacefully with one another,” he said.
The highpoint of the occasion was the cutting of the new yam, in line with tradition. The event featured several cultural displays, including performances by masquerades.
Governor Ambode was represented by the Director of Tourism, Ministry of Arts and Culture, Mrs. Anthonia Johnson.