Joe C. Anatune
The setting was in Awa in Orumba North Local Government Area, Anambra State, four years ago. The event was the final Ofala of HRH Igwe Charles Chukwunwike Mbadugha who the entire Awa community and her friends were paying their final homage for the uncommon transformations he ignited in the once rustic community for the 39 years he was on the throne. The final Ofala was superintended by the cream of Orumba North Council of Igwes.
Thirty minutes before the 12 noon commencement time of the ceremony, a tall, dark, sprightly gentleman walked in, bereft of the aura of his revered office. I was informed that Eze Ikelionwu, Prof. Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike, was very time-conscious and it was normal for him to arrive for events earlier than his colleagues.
As one of the high ranking ushers at the event, it was my rare honour and privilege to usher him into the palace of our departed Igwe.
His Majesty had this infectious smile that made him approachable and accessible. And I was dead right on this score as I regaled him with my many collaborations in the promotion of arts and culture with his son, Osita, plus my fascination and great admiration for his breath-taking novels. He grinned cheerfully in appreciation. It was obvious he was soft spoken, humble to the core and apparently deeply perceptive.
My first encounter with his literary works began in Emekuku High School, Owerri, when our English teacher, Theresa Opara-ndudu gave me his first novel, titled “Toads for Supper” to read as a way of broadening my understanding and use of English language. Aunty Theresa was very smart. Realising that students kept procrastinating when given a novel to read, her lending of such novels usually came with a caveat, in form of a time frame of four days. I finished Toads For Supper in two days and gleefully recounted to her, that the plot of the intriguing novel that was set in a university scenario, dealt thematically on love and the associated challenges which lovers from different ethnic backgrounds went through. Impressed, she rewarded me with another of Eze’s satirical classics, “The Potter’s Wheel.”
Unknown to Aunty Theresa, I was at home with Ike’s writing because I hail from the same Orumba axis with the literary juggernaut and like him too, had an early upbringing in a predominantly rural farming setting.
It is no longer news that Ike attained great heights as registrar of WAEC. He followed the paths of other world renowned writers such as Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Ken Saro-wiwa, etc that the foremost and famous Government College, Umuahia has produced. He went further to read history, English and Religious Studies at the University of Ibadan and later earned a Master’s degree at Stanford University. His writings were an admixture of lampoon, satire and humour, and hugely reflected his Ndikelionwu, Orumba cultural underpinning.
His Majesty was born into the Ikelionwu Ruling House in Ndikelionwu in the present Orumba North LGA by Mazi Charles Chinwuba and Dinah Mgbeke Ike on Tuesday, 28 April, 1931 on Nkwo market day. He could have been named Nwankwo as was the practice then.
In 2008, Prof. Ike was coronated King of the Aro Ndikelionwu community in Orumba, Anambra State. He and HRH Prof. Laz Ekwueme, I am reliably informed, brought intellectual rigours to the deliberations of Orumba North Council of Igwes. His burden therefore shifted from defending the culture of his people in pages of books to defending them on the throne. He was said to have deep regard for the egalitarian make up of his subjects, judging by the democratic bent of his leadership style. He worked with a council or what many call cabinet to make decisions, though he ruled with a firm hand. One significant change he midwifed was to stop offering animals to the gods during the Ikeji festival. In its place, he sued for a Christian Thanksgiving service at the St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, where a front row seat was normally reserved for him and his family. One hopes that this will be sustained after him.
Many people from Ndikelionwu, that I spoke to, agreed with my characterisation of him as being humble and peace loving.
Ironically, His Majesty may be dead though his essence lives in his writings. However, when I went to visit my elder sister recently in Ndikpa village of Ndikelionwu, the elders I stumbled into, assured that their king was not dead, but has only gone to be with his ancestors. My good friend and brother, Prince Chidi Nwafor, an outstanding son of the community, who lives in Abuja supports the position of the elders of Ndikelionwu.
Notwithstanding, Ndikelionwu and her friends are planning an elaborate and befitting farewell ceremony to bid their king a peaceful passage to his ancestors. This time, he would not be encumbered like his star character – Amadi in the epic novel as he sets sail to eternity.
So, from March 31 through April 4, 2020, Nigerians, nay Africans, will join the good people of Ndikelionwu for the last ‘Supper’ with Prof. Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike: administrator, writer, king, elder statesman and global citizen, to bid him farewell as he embarks on a very long journey. May His Majesty live forever!
- Anatune who was a close friend of the late Osita Ike, writes from Awa.