Raymond Ozoji, Awka
The play field of St. Martin Catholic Church Odoata Ihiala in Ihiala local government area of Anambra state was the venue of the ground-breaking ceremony and maiden Iri-ji festival as well as Ofala ceremony of Igwe Sir Thomas Ikenna Obidiegwu, Oluoha the 17th and clan head of Ihiala royal dynasty. The convivial atmosphere the occasion provided made it a clarion and patriotic call for Ndi-Ihiala to interact and interface with one another to foster peace and reconciliation in Ihiala for progress and overall development in the land. Though it was a new yam festival, the mammoth crowd that thronged St. Martin Catholic Church play ground gave it the semblance of a peace cum unity rally, showing that peace has eventually returned to Ihiala the country home of the owner of Air Peace Nigeria Mr. Allen Onyema, the state commissioner for information and public enlightenment Mr. C. Don Adinuba, DIG Valentine Ntomchukwu (retd) and other prominent citizens of Ihiala origin.
On the occasion, Igwe Obidiegwu offered prayers and supplications to the gods and deities of the land for a bountiful harvest and also for providing the rare opportunity to his subjects to be alive and healthy enough to be part of the maiden edition of iri-ji Ihiala and Ofala ceremony under his kingship as the custodian of the culture and traditions of the good people of Ihiala, who are said to be reverred for their art, prowess and industry in the cultivation of yam, the king of crops in Igbo land. The traditional ruler while performing kola nut rituals, prayed for peace and unity of his subjects asking the gods of the land to unite them as well as bestow him the wisdom to rule Ihiala with dignity and sincerity of purpose to usher in the much anticipated development in the area.
After kola nut ceremony, Igwe Obidiegwu also performed the traditional Ofala dance to the excitement and admiration of the people who watched him entertain the gods and people of Ihiala town while members of the Oluoha-in-Council, Ichies, Nze na Ozo groups, traditional rulers of other communities in Ihiala and a host of others joined him in the mystical Ofala dance. Soon after, Igwe Obidiegwu did justice to the cutting of the new yam which signified that the entire Ihiala town has been permitted by the gods to celebrate the new yam in their respective communities. Speaking to his subjects shortly after declaring the 2019 iri-ji Ihiala and Ofala festival open, the monarch stressed the dire need for everybody to come together to chart a new cause for Ihiala and eschew all forms of bickerings and bitterness especially as it concerns the selection and installation of the traditional ruler of Ihiala town. He said the gods of the land has chosen him to be the Igwe of Ihiala and that rather than subject his throne to prejudice, he would instead carry all and sundry along to foster peace, unity and cohesion in Ihiala.
The traditional ruler said, “This address of mine will not be complete without me thanking the Okparas and Okparas’ representatives of the Dioha Royal Family who found me worthy to be selected as the Oluoha XVII of Ihiala. My assurance is that I will not let you down. I will strive to rule Ihiala with dignity and respect for our tradition and custom and in the finest tradition of the Great Dioha Mburuzo, the warrior king, the founder and progenitor of the great and ancient kingdom of Ihiala that has existed for over 1000 years. Let me also thank all Ihiala people first for unanimously accepting me as the choice of the Royal Family for the Oluoha stool and secondly, for their endurance, support and prayers while the wait for the State Government’s Recognition lasted.
“We must therefore try to heal the wounds of struggle for selection and recognition. Since after my recognition by the Governor, I have extended my hand of fellowship and reconciliation to my junior brother who contested for the Oluoha stool with me. I will continue to try until total peace and reconciliation is achieved in Ihiala. It is my belief that there cannot be any meaningful development in our community without peace. I therefore urge every Ihiala man who knows what he can do or who can help to mediate in order to achieve this peace to join me so that together we can make Ihiala a better place to live in.”
Igwe Obidiegwu also revealed that in no distant time, after receiving the report of the various committees of the Oluoha-in-Council, he would unveil his development plan and strategy for Ihiala, stressing that his advent marked a new and purposeful beginning for Ihiala community.
Also, the state commissioner for information and public enlightenment Mr. C. Don Adinuba, who is a native of Ihiala, said the occasion was not just a new yam festival but also a unity rally because together Ihiala people would surmount their predicaments as well as galvanise themselves towards greater accomplishments. The commissioner noted that the people came together in one accord to celebrate the first new yam festival and Ofala ceremony of Igwe Sir Thomas Ikenna Obidiegwu as the traditional ruler of Ihiala and Oluoha the 17th. He said Governor Willie Obiano was properly and adequately guided in his selection and proclamation of Igwe Obidiegwu as the people’s choice for the throne of Oluoha. Adinuba said the entire Ihiala was at St. Martin Catholic Church Odoata Ihiala to witness the epoc-making event stressing that the people had chosen to embrace peace and as such more progress was expected in Ihiala henceforth. He however described the traditional ruler as an apostle of peace, noting that the new yam festival has ushered in an era of unity, stability and development.
Furthermore, the lawmaker representing Ihiala one state constituency in the 7th assembly of the Anambra State House of Assembly Hon. Barr. Chidi Livinus Udemadu, who hails from Amorka in Ihiala said that the war regarding who holds the certificate of recognition as traditional ruler was over and that Igwe Thomas Ikenna Obidiegwu has been given the certificate of recognition. He said as it stands, he is the Oluoha of Ihiala and there was absolutely no reason for people to form cliques against him instead they should embrace the peace that has come with the celebration of the new yam festival and Ofala ceremony. Ichie Mike Ejezie, a former President-General of Ihiala Progressive Union noted that Ndi-Igbo treasure yam which he said was the remote reason the crop was highly respected and reverred among them. He said that the potent nature of yam cannot be overstressed because according to him, Ndi-Igbo in diaspora equally celebrate new yam festival to honour the king of all crops.
Ejezie who disclosed that he has been an Ichie for 19 years in Ihiala maintained that he has never witnessed such a historical Iri-ji festival emphasising that it was the first of its kind since Ihiala came into being. He said granted that somebody contested the Oluoha traditional stool with him but Igwe Obidiegwu was a more popular candidate and that the state governor conducted thorough investigations before issuing certificate of confirmation to him as the traditional ruler of Ihiala town. He said the people are happy with the emergence of Igwe Thomas Ikenna Obidiegwu and that Ihiala is moving forward to a more sustainable development. On the hand, DIG Valentine Ntomchukwu (retd) observed that the new yam festival and Ofala ceremony of Igwe Obidiegwu was significant in two folds. He said the new yam ceremony was significant in the sense that it was the first time Ihiala people unanimously agreed to select an Igwe who is a retiree of Chevron Oil after over 30 years of meritorious service. He equally pointed out that the Ofala ceremony was graciously performed as the traditional ruler and other titled men danced to the esoteric rythm of the Ofala music and other activities marking the celebration including gun shots thereby heralding the era of community development in Ihiala.
Immediate past President-General of Ihiala Progressive Union and chairman Ihiala axis of the Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU) Chief Barr. Jude Ngobili was of the opinion that the traditional ruler was presented and accepted by the people of Ihiala during his tenure as the president-general of Ihiala Progressive Union. Ngobili maintained that his expectations and of course the expectations of the people was consistent peace in Ihiala as he rightly stated that the traditional ruler was a man of peace and has begun to roll out programmes that would project the culture and traditions of Ihiala people to the rest of the world. He said it was the first time Ihiala would organise a new yam festival of such magnitude stressing that Igwe Obidiegwu was the right man in the saddle and that the people would accord him genuine and sincere followership even as he said that the conferment of kingship on Obidiegwu was a divine ordination and that the gods and deities of Ihiala ancient kingdom backed his emergence and coronation as Oluoha the 17th and clan head of Ihiala. The Speaker of the Anambra State House of Assembly Rt. Hon. Uche Okafor; the State Commissioner of Police CP John Bassey Abang; the State Commissioner for Transport Hon. Dr. Christian Madubuko as well as a galaxy of very important personalities added glitz and glamour to the 2019 Iri-ji festival and Ofala celebration while conferment of chieftancy titles on deserving indigenes of Ihiala formed the climax of the cultural festival and reverence to the gods of the land for the gift of the new yam.