For three days in December, Nnewi folks were in a festive mood, as the town’s revered ruler, Igwe Orizu celebrated the 50th anniversary of his reign with a colourful Ofala festival, reports KEMI YESUFU. It was pomp and ceremony recently when one of Nigeria’s longest serving traditional rulers, Igwe Kenneth Orizu of Nnewi, Anambra State celebrated his 50th anniversary on the throne.
The royal father, crowned monarch of Nnewi in 1963, hosted a three-day event from Saturday, December 28 to Monday, December 30, last year to mark his golden jubilee.
Nnewi, the second largest city in Anambra State, is made up of four autonomous villages – Otolo, Uruagu, Umudin and Nnewi-ichi. The town witnessed an upsurge in activities during the three-day event, as sons and daughters of the South-East region, along with their associates from different parts of the world, thronged the sprawling palace of the Igwe to pay homage to and rejoice with the royal father. They also participated in events organised to celebrate what many within and outside the community described as a peaceful and prosperous reign.
The Igwe also hosted youths and widows as part of activities marking his golden jubilee. But undoubtedly, Ofala Nnewi, the annual celebration that commemorates the Igwe’s coronation, was the high point of the event.
Ofala Nnewi is a long surviving traditional ceremony of the Nnewi people which marks the climax of the New Yam festival. According to oral history, Ofala Nnewi dates back to the 1950s and the monarch on the Nnewi throne must celebrate the Ofala annually.
Ofala Nnewi is celebrated with much jubilation and merry making. The 2013 edition of the festival elicited even much more celebration as it coincided with the golden jubilee of the Igwe. Right from the early hours of Saturday, December 28, indigenes and tourists started arriving the Igwe’s palace for the festival.
Despite being a traditional ceremony, the Ofala Nnewi is gradually becoming a major tourism event, attracting sponsorship from the private sector. Big brands such as MTN, Chicason Group, Innoson Motors (which donated an SUV for the festival’s raffle draw) and Ibeto Group led the way in the sponsorship for the Ofala 2013.
Before Igwe Orizu made his first appearance in the packed arena in his palace, different traditional troupes from the four autonomous communities in the town thrilled guests with their displays. It therefore came as no surprise that Igwe Orizu’s first appearance was met with loud cheers. During the Ofala, the Igwe, accompanied by his royal cabinet walked round the arena twice. On both appearances, a loud, cheerful yell of “Igweeeee!” rang out from the excited crowd at every step taken by Igwe Orizu’s entourage, which was heralded by a bell ringer, called Oduma, and the Igbe Eze traditional group.
For 25 years, the Igwe’s son, Uzo has played the role of Oduma. “Anywhere I am in the world, when the Ofala Nnewi draws near, I return home for this assignment,” Prince Uzo told the reporter.
The Ofala Nnewi is also an occasion for the Igwe to honour deserving individuals with chieftaincy titles. For the 2013 Ofala Nnewi, Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Godswill Akpabio was honoured with the Omelora Nnewi title, while his wife was honoured with the title of Ada Eje Jemba Nnewi. Governor Akpabio, obviously elated by the titles given him and his wife, promised to remain a friend of the people of Nnewi.
Describing the monarch as a role model, Governor Peter Obi who was also at the event, said the traditional ruler’s exemplary leadership led to his appointment as the grand patron of the Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers.
“Igwe Orizu is not just a wonderful father to the people of Nnewi, but the entire Anambra State. This explains why he was appointed the grand patron of the Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council. It is the first time this is happening,” he said.
While thanking God for the Igwe’s long and productive reign, Governor Obi ascribed the progress of the town to the selfless sacrifices of the monarch.
Princess Esom Nwafor-Orizu who spoke to Daily Sun on the importance of the Ofala to the people of Nnewi, described the popular festival as a proudly guarded tradition. Said she: “What is happening today is the celebration of Nnewi tradition. This tradition was instituted by our forefathers and we are doing our best to keep our inheritance intact. As you know, ours is a monarchy that is well established. What we have is a respected dynasty. Because in Nnewi we have one royal family that has a rich history and what you are witnessing today is one great aspect of our history.”
Speaking further on the mood in Nnewi over the Ofala festival and the anniversary of the town’s monarch, she said: “Today is particularly exciting because our Igwe is marking his 50th year on the throne. We are happy to be here to witness what is undoubtedly a historic moment.”
The love for Igwe Orizu is palpable among his people and his family. Giving insight to the reasons behind the respect and honour accorded the Igwe, Princess Nwafor-Orizu, daughter of the country’s first Senate President, Dr Abesina Orizu said “Igwe Orizu is bliss personified.”
She explained that the Igwe’s seamless ability to combine his tradition role with a good Christian life endeared him to his people. “He is called Igwe n’e je uka (Igwe that attends church services) because he is a Christian, yet he is firmly a traditionalist. He knows God. He doesn’t believe in doing evil in the guise of upholding tradition. His reign has been peaceful because he anchored his leadership of the Nnewi people on the love and fear of God. I am very happy that our Igwe places his trust in God. I can tell you that this is why, even at over 80, he is healthy and goes about his daily activities with vigour.”
Speaking in a similar vein, former Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dame Virgy Etiaba, who has known Igwe Orizu for 50 years, opined that the monarch has earned the admiration of his subjects.
“Over the years, I have come to see Igwe Orizu as an individual that avoids acrimony,” she said. “Owing to his dislike of disharmony, his reign has been peaceful. Igwe Orizu is the kind of leader every kingdom would like to have. You must have heard that he is called Igwe n’eje uka. He loves the church and the most interesting thing about him is that he doesn’t discriminate against any church.”
Etiaba prayed for a replication of the reign of peace enjoyed in Nnewi at the national level. “Now equating what we have here in Nnewi as we celebrate Nigeria’s centenary, Nigerians can emulate Nnewi people by upholding peace.
There is no doubt that Nigerians are yearning for peace. We need peace for development in the country. Nnewi is a good example of a peaceful atmosphere leading to development. Everywhere you look in our town, you will see thriving industries and businesses. You hardly hear of kidnappings because we are an industrious people who have a peaceful atmosphere to excel in.”
Another prominent son of Nnewi who attributes the town’s prosperity to Igwe Orizu’s kingship is top Abuja lawyer, Prince Orji Nwafor-Orizu. He said: “When Igwe Orizu was crowned in 1963, I was around. I have witnessed his reign from his coronation to today that he is being celebrated. People talk about Nnewi as a developed town. The Igwe played a major role in our achieving this reputation.”
Reminiscing on the five decades that Igwe Orizu has spent on the throne, he said the monarch has led by example.
“Here is a man who, immediately after the civil war, went to the sacred Ogbodo forest and defied the odds by putting a machete on a tree, after which he proclaimed the forest a place where people could conduct business. The place is today the popular Ogbodo market.
Through the years, he went from place to place convincing Nnewi indigenes to establish industries at home. He gave industrialists free land to build. He fought for government presence here in Nnewi. So he is not a king that sits idle in his palace. He works hard for the progress of his people. He is at peace with all men. If there is a problem between two Nnewi indigenes, the Igwe will speak his mind.
“There has been a lot of progress, so the people are happy with their king. You can see how colourful today’s event is. We didn’t spend a kobo. The people gave freely to see to the success of today’s event. He is loved. He is a peculiar ruler. He isn’t a king that goes around looking for contracts or things for his personal gain. He has brought us honor”.
Nwafor-Orizu, a member of the Nnewi royal cabinet is full of praise for the monarch over his abolishing the Osu caste system, adding that the once segregated group has been fully assimilated. He said “Recently, Igwe Orizu dealt with an age long problem in Igbo land by abolishing the Osu caste system. It was a bold move to deal with a very serious problem,” said the lawyer.
The monarch’s first son, Prince Obi, gave an insight into what makes the highly revered monarch thick, stressing that his father puts God first and the people second.
“My father is a peaceful man. His reign has been characterized by peace. You know, when you attain a peaceful mindset as an individual, you will always approach everything you do peacefully,” said the prince.
Prince Obi also told Daily Sun that even at critical times, his father keeps faith with the people through his non-confrontational posture.
“There was a time that there was a crisis that nearly tore Nnewi apart. The bone of contention was the title by which he would be addressed. To resolve the crisis, Igwe told the people of Nnewi to pick a name for him during a general meeting. They chose that he should be called the Igwe of Nnewi, rather than the Obi of Nnewi. After accepting the people’s choice on his title, the entire community conferred on him another title: the General of Peace.
“My father is the kind of man that wouldn’t mind giving up what belongs to him just for peace to reign. He is a royal father that encourages his children. He always protects the interest of his subjects. He has a listening ear. So, in a nutshell, my father’s leadership style and the blessings from God which made our people prosperous is what has kept him at peace with the people over the years.”
Prince Obi said Igwe Orizu is the perfect family man and the best father anyone would wish to have.
“He is a wonderful father who shows love and care. I find it difficult to describe with words how kind my father is. He is simply wonderful. All of his children have a 24-hour access to him. There are absolutely no restrictions. Once he isn’t on official assignment, we can speak with him about our problems and he solves them.”