Ukpo, the serene town in Anambra State will around the Christmas period up until the eve be agog with cultural and traditional revivalism/convivialism with the celebration of a unique Igbo traditional feast known in Igbo cosmology as ofala.
For many years running, thousands of tourists and lovers of African traditional culture have come to accept and have consistently booked this annual Ukpo Ofala in their yearly social calendar because of how the main promoter of the event Prince Arthur Eze, the younger but beloved sibling of the respected traditional monarch of the town Igwe Dr. Robert Eze, the Okafia VI has internationalised the festivity.
This year’s edition is on the pipeline and from impeccable sources this writer learnt that like the previous editions, the men and women of timber and caliber (apologies to Late Chief Kingsley Mbadiwe) will inevitably storm the venue of the festivities.
Chief Chidi Okolo the media aide of Prince Arthur Eze and Vice Chairman of the Ofala Ukpo organizing committee confirmed that the 2016 edition of Ukpo Ofala will be electrifying even as all the movers and shakers of politics and business in Nigeria are being invited as special guests of honour.
As a member of the human rights community, my interest in penning down this article is to celebrate the significant role that this type of cultural events play in the advancement of civilizations and unification of humanity.
The Ukpo Ofala reminds this writer of China’s traditional cultural values which helped shape the World’s view of China and the pride of place that China occupies at the moment in the international community.
One symbolism of the Ukpo Ofala just like most of the different shapes of cultural festivals in Igbo land is that cultural values of a society influences its national psychology and identity.
The above significant symbolism of culture formed the fulcrum of a beautiful piece done by some researchers that embarked on the voyage of discovering how Chinese culture unlocked the potentials that catapulted the present day China to great heights internationally. Yours faithfully visited China in 2005 and spent a Month visiting different provinces and can testify that what these experts who are Westerners wrote about China’s Culture were factual.
The researchers believed and conclusively proved that traditional Chinese values directly influence China’s foreign policy and create a novel approach to resolving conflicts and conducting international affairs.
They wrote thus: “The cultural values of a country influence its national psychology and identity. Citizens’ values and public opinions are conveyed to state leaders through the media and other information channels, both directly and indirectly influencing decisions on foreign policy. The traditional cultural values that influence the psyche of the Chinese people are harmony, benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, honesty, loyalty, and filial piety.”
“Of these, the core value is harmony. Harmony means “proper and balanced coordination between things” and encompasses rationale, propriety, and compatibility. Rationale refers to acting according to objective laws and truths. Propriety indicates suitability and appropriateness. The value of harmony advocates “harmony but not uniformity.” Properly coordinating different things by bringing them together in the appropriate manner allows them to develop from an uncoordinated state to one of coordination; from asymmetry to symmetry; and from imbalance to balance. Modern Chinese society tries to maintain harmony between humankind and nature; between people and society; between members of different communities; and between mind and body.”
There is no gainsaying the universal truth that the annual Ofala Ukpo has been weaved around the aforementioned philosophical value chain which if properly galvanized could become a major global cultural event that can attract the much needed foreign denominated revenue that could come in from foreign tourists who could be attracted to attend.
It is hoped that the Nigerian Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Information headed by Alhaji Lai Mohammed will not let this year’s Ofala Ukpo come and go without an institutional support and collaboration since the concept of Ofala celebration in Igbo cosmology is deeply spiritual and revolutionary.
A concrete proof that Ukpo Ofala plays significant role in bringing about harmony and promotion of peace amongst different ethnic and religious groups could be seen from the report of last year’s edition as captured by an observer who participated actively in these series of well packaged cultural fiesta.
The observer who witnessed last year’s Ukpo Ofala stated thus: “Ukpo Ofala has become a day to share love and touch humanity with kind gestures. It is also wearing a political tag as the event is attended by the timbre and caliber of the political class. In addition, the day also is used to set the mood for Christmas as the eve of the D-Day is marked with carols by different choir groups from different parts of the state. Clergy men irrespective of denominations also use the opportunity of the glorious occasion to pray for the town, Anambra State and the country at large.”
“The last edition, 24th in series was very significant in the sense that besides parading an array of over 400 clergy men, it also served as a gathering of political heavy weights, business moguls and of course a moment to show love to the less privileged.”
“As early as about a week to the event when the news went round that Prince Eze, popularly called Ozoigbo Ndu (‘Saver of Lives’ in recognition of his generosity) had returned to town, queues began to form on daily basis at the entrance of his palatial country home. From far and near, they congregated for a windfall; the indigent, the job seekers, artisans, the widows, the sick all seeking one form of help or another. And it did come in droves.”
A former journalist, Mr. Chidi Okolo who corroborated the above narratives of what transpired in last year’s edition praised Prince Arthur Eze for carving a nitche for himself as a respected cultural Ambassador of our time.
There is indeed a cause to be happy that a usually busy global business mogul like Prince Arthur Eze has found time to devote a chunk of his God endowed resources to promote Igbo culture and by so doing he has succeeded in putting Nigeria on the World map as a people of humane civilization who place so much premium on promoting the traditional values of harmony, peace, hospitality and philanthropy.
A cultural scholar and priest Dr. Luke Nnamdi Mbefo may have alluded to the heroic role of the Chief promoter of Ukpo Ofala when he wrote in his book titled “The Reshaping of African Traditions” that celebrating our cultural values goes to the fundamental imperative of distinctively establishing our unique African identity.
In what perhaps is an evident necessity for the celebration of Ofalas such as the Ofala Ukpo, Dr. Mbefo wrote as follows: “Africa is undergoing a cultural crisis. This crisis is a crisis of assimilation, the crisis of finding a happy synthesis of two cultures each with its valid claims for relevance”.
The Priest wrote further: “Modern Africans are the heirs of two heritages, the one traditional, and the other foreign. Evidently they conflict with one another at certain intersections, but fundamentally they do not imply mutual incompatibility”.
“Even before a rational decision was taken on the future of both cultures in Africa, a slow but undeniable cultural symbiosis has been going on almost unnoticed in different regions of African experience. That this has happened throws back the question on the notion of tradition and African way of life; the legacy of the ancestors which has become the heritage of their offsprings”.
Reverend Father Mbefo asked philosophically: “What does African tradition mean?why is it so all important to recover it through decolonization? What is the status of Western civilization in Africa? What is the real identity of the African who has gone through western education? What is the Africa we are fighting for?”
This writer believes that cultural events such as the Ofalas hold the key to unlocking the interrogatories formulated by the scholar and Catholic Priest Father Luke Mbefo.
Relatedly, one of Nigeria’s most prosperous business executives and the Chairman of Globacom Chief Mike Adenuga who has bagged the highest civilian awards from both Nigeria and Ghana has been quoted in the media as praising Ofala Cultural festival as a major unifying factor.
Adenuga said that the festival had over the years fulfilled the call by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the promotion of cultural initiatives.
“Ofala Festival, for us in Globacom, is an important vehicle which has been used to drive social integration, promote peace and community development,” Dr. Adenuga said.
Last year Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, led a full team of eminent politicians, government functionaries and business moguls to the event. They included Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, former National Chairman of APGA, Chief Victor Umeh, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Minister for Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, Senator Ben Obi, Senator Andy Ubah, Senator Annie Okonkwo, Britannia U Ltd CEO, Mrs. Uju Ifejika, Anambra State Deputy Governor, Dr. Nkem Okeke, Lt. Col. Kalaja from 302 FAR Army Regiment, Onitsha among many others.
Chairman of Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council and the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe led other traditional rulers including Igwe of Igboukwu, Dr. Martin Eze (Idu II), Alhaji Isyaku Abdullahi, The Turakin of Jiboga, Igwe Nnewi, Igwe Kenneth Orizu, Igwe of Alor, HRH Igwe Mac Anthony Elibe Okonkwo, Eze Okovo Kingdom, Chief Emmanuel Igwu-Ibeagwanike, among other monarchs from far and near.
Prince Arthur Eze was reportedly resplendent in his white traditional chieftaincy regalia just as he happily led his colourful guests into the palatial Ofala arena.
It is expected by cultural writers that the year 2016 Ofala Ukpo will be much more symbolic given that in less than a year from now it is time for the gubernatorial poll in which the incumbent would test his popularity or otherwise. Prince Arthur Eze was quoted in the media to have showered encomiums on Governor Willie Obiano at last year’s Ofala Ukpo for his tremendous achievements since coming to office. Political watchers will be vigilant to see if Prince Arthur Eze will restate his support for the Anambra State Governor and his opinion matters a whole lot.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human rights Writers association of Nigeria and blogs @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com