After seven years in limbo, Ahiajoku Festival resonates
Ahiajoku Lecture Series, which was initiated by the then ‘weeping governor’ of old Imo State (present Imo, Abia, part of Enugu and Ebonyi States), Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe, on November 30, 1979, suffered a seven-year hiatus before its recent outing in a festival format. It had its mainstream goals of galvanizing and sustaining Igbo cultural heritage by giving it teeth via intellectual harvest of contributions from prominent academics from the Igbo-speaking states of Imo, Abia, Enugu, Anambra, Igbo-speaking areas of Delta, Edo, and Rivers States. It is completely apolitical, thus providing avenue for a yearly congregation of Igbo people and those wishing to know the culture, beyond political party and religious persuasions, to an assembly in Owerri each year.
Ahiajoku Festival 2019 had ‘Ogu Eri Mba: We Shall Survive’ as theme.
The lecture part of Ahiajoku was and is still headlined with a colloquium (onuga otu) aimed at dissecting the theme for the year. Academics, who are sound in Igbo culture, usually take the podium to speak to their researches and contributions to Igbo cultural development. This year’s Ahiajoku also came with an art exhibition that further spiced up the festival.
This year the first Vice Chancellor of Imo State University and a former Orator of University of Ibadan, Prof. Michael Joseph Chukwudalu Echeruo, the first intellectual to kick-start Ahiajoku Festival in 1979 with his famous topic ‘Ahamefula – Matter of Identity,’ was also on hand to deliver Ahiajoku lecture 40 years after. In its 40 years life-circle, Ahiajoku has had prominent Igbo sons deliver groundbreaking lectures that deals with Igbo consciousness and worldview. After Echeruo in 1979, a former Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) and former Deputy Director-General, International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Prof. Bede Nwoye Okigbo, took the stage in 1980.
A professor of History, Prof. Adiele E. Afigbo, gave the lecture in 1981, while Prof. Anya Oko Anya, a professor of zoology at UNN, delivered the lecture in 1982. Then Dean of Faculty of Arts, UNN, late Prof. Donatus Nwoga, delivered the lecture in 1984, while Prof. Ben O. Nwabueze, gave the lecture in 1985. In 1986 Dr. Pius N. Okigbo delivered the Ahiajoku lecture, giving the way for Prof. Michael Angulu Onwuejeogwu, to lecture in 1987.
Continuing, Prof. Anezionwu Nwankwo Okoro, gave the Ahiajoku lecture in 1988, Prof. Mark Okoro Chijioke in 1989, Prof. Alexander Obiefoka Enukora Animalu took the stage in 1990 while Prof. Romanus Ogbonnaya Ohuche had his turn in 1991.
Another former Vice Chancellor of Imo State University, now Abia State University, Prof. Gabriel Maduka Umezurike, had his turn in 1992, just as professor of English, Prof. Emmanuel Obiechina, delivered in 1994 while Prof. Victor Chikezie Uchendu gave his in 1995.
The military administration under the watch of Col. Tanko Zubairu (rtd), between 1996 and 1999, did not organise any Ahiajoku lecture.
As a way of sustaining the spirit and filling the vacuum, the Archbishop of Owerri Catholic Ecclesiastical Province, Dr. Anthony J. V. Obinna, instituted a Diocesan day that ushered in Odenigbo Lecture in 1996. In 2000, when it started, Prof. Cyril Agodi Onwumechili gave the Ahiajoku lecture, while Prof. Emmanuel Nwanolue Emenanjo delivered Lecture in 2001.
Still counting in 2002, Rev. (Prof.) E. N. Onwu delivered while Prof. Michael Anagamonye Nwachukwu in 2003; Prof. Inyang Abom Ette, 2004; Prof. Laz E. N. Ekwueme in 2005, and Prof. Chibuzo Sampson Agomo Ogbuagu, gave the lecture in 2006. Others were Monsignor (Prof.) Theophilus Okere in 2007, Prof. Chinualumogu Achebe in 2008, Prof. Barth Nnaji in 2009, and Prof. Chinedu O. Nebo in 2010 (both former ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria).
The states involved and part owners of Ahiajoku Lecture were enraged that from 2011 through 2018, under the watch of Mr. Rochas Okorocha, as the governor of Imo State, did not organise any lecture, despite the fact that a big edifice was built during the administration of Ikedi Ohakim, for the purpose. Okorocha completed the structure and renamed it Imo Trade and Investment Centre. The Okorocha years have been aptly described as the locust years in Imo State. Imo State Governor, Emeka Ihedioha, has reverted the name to Ahiajoku Convention Centre, complete with Ahiajoku Institute. He appointed Dr. Amanze Njoku as the Director-General.
A spectacular thing about this year’s lecture is that the state government had upgraded it to a festival status, thus making it to embrace a broad spectrum of activities, including art exhibition, egwu onwa (traditional dances at night at Mbari Cultural Centre), among other Igbo cultural events.
At the colloquium held on November 29, prominent Nigerians were invited to ventilate their views on Igbo culture and its greatness. They included former Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka, a former minister of aviation, Mr. Femi Kayode, and Mao Ohuabunwa. Various topics were dissected.
Echeruo, who delivered the first lecture some 40 years ago, in his lecture expressed the hope that Igbo would achieve greatness by its dogged aspiration and hard work. Echeruo, a United States-based Williams Safire Emeritus Professor of Modern Letters, spoke on the theme ‘Ogu Eri Mba: We Shall Survive’ that had the governors of Imo State and host, Ihedioha, Dr. Okezie Victor Ipkeazu of Abia State, Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom State, representatives of the Igbo-speaking states, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, among others.
Echeruo, in his 23-page lecture, regretted that the intellectual harvest could not take place all through the eight-year rule of the immediate past administration of Okorocha despite the good aspiration of late Mbakwe and former governor of Imo State, who instituted the lecture in 1979, which saw him delivering the first lecture.
According to him, “I have been privileged again to be asked to give the Ahiajoku harvest lecture today, exactly 40 years after the first. Therefore, this is my second lecture in the Ahiajoku Lecture series.
“When I delivered the first lecture in 1979, some eight years after the Nigeria-Biafra War, in the dawning of a post-war civilian administration in Nigeria, at a time when Ndigbo appeared very confident that a renaissance of spirited energies exhibited in the war effort into new and productive directions, we believe that such a drive would transform Igboland.
“Although still lacking serious access to national political power, we nevertheless believe in the possibility of Igbo self-fulfillment as well as national growth in our traumatized Nigerian fatherland.
“We believe it would be possible for Ndigbo to show, through new policies and practices, what Alaigbo might have looked like had it survived as a nation-state, a kind of showpiece homeland. What we needed, we believed, was faith in ourselves and faithfulness to our destiny.”
He continued: “Even the quality of our pride in ourselves and our inheritance as Igbo people – these still left much to be desired. Our capacity for serious introspection has apparently diminished under the pressure of our needing to just survive and the anguish of having to put a stop to our dreaming of the might-have been; to abruptly stop singing songs of fatherland in an often unweloming imperium”
He drew historical ways Igbo moved and the symbiotic areas with the Jews.
In his speech, the state governor, Ihedioha, noted the resuscitation of the festival after years in oblivion. He expressed happiness over the brilliant lecture given by Echeruo. Ihedioha, who presented Ahiajoku Medallion to Echeruo, harped on the need for people of the region to work together to come out stronger, urging the need to build up the spirit not withstanding the civil war scars, stressing the assemblage of intellectual minds to do more work on research and presentation to policy guidance in governance and Igbo cultural revival.
Abia State Governor, Ipkeazu, regretted that though the lecture was difficult to comprehend and gave the task of simplifying it to Ahiajoku Institute, headed by Dr. Amanze Obi, to handle.
In his contribution, Akwa Ibom State Governor, Emmanuel, opined that whatever the people of the South-East and South-South region wanted could be gotten.
“Whatsoever we want as a people,” he said, “whatsoever we want as a region, whatsoever we want, we will get. It depends on our hands.”
Chairman of the event and Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Anachebe, hailed Ihedioha for bringing back Ahiajoku Festival after it was almost rested by Okorocha. He commended members of the planning committee, headed by a former governor of the state, Ohakim, for a wonderful job.
In separate speeches, chairman of the 2019 Ahiajoku Planning Committee, Ohakim and the Director General of Ahiajoku Institute and Secretary of Ahiajoku Planning Committee 2019, Obi, said the choice of Echeruo to deliver the 40th lecture was designed to reawaken the spirit of the festival, including bringing in one of the members of the 1979 (maiden edition) planning committee and former Secretary of Establishment and Management Services during the defunct Ernest Shonekan three-month Interim Administration, Chief Innocent D. Nwoga.
Ihedioha also presented Ahiajoku Medallion to the governors present.