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Obinugwu Festival: Promoting peace and unity

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For seven days, Obinugwu town in Imo State and all adjoining villages were in a festive mood. The different cultural dances displayed everywhere in the ancient town underscored the importance of the occasion.

Daily, the various cultural groups, made up of youths, market women and men, farmers and hunters, took to the streets drumming and dancing. The annual cultural carnival attracted the young and old, local and foreign tourists, who joined the cultural dancers and drummers to dance and sing to sonorous songs and native rhythms.

To kick off the event, all participants trooped to the palace of Obi of Obinugwu, His Royal Majesty, (Dr.) Cletus I. Ilomuanya, Chairman, Igbo Traditional Rulers Forum, who is also the Chancellor, Federal University, Birni-Kebbi, Kebbi State, to pay homage. To a first time visitor, the annual event was, indeed, a cultural sight to behold.

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This happened daily, until August 14, 2018, which was the climax of the festival, when former President Goodluck Jonathan attended the event alongside other dignitaries from across the country. They gathered at the Obi’s palace to celebrate this year’s New Yam Festival. Not far from the palace’s main entrance was a large pile of yam arranged in the traditional, preservative fashion and covered with palm fronds.

Upon arrival at the palace, invited guests were greeted with drumming, singing and scintillating dance steps by the various cultural groups, which added pomp to the occasion, to the delight of indigenes and guests. After about three hours or more of intense cultural display, the Obi-in-Council and his chiefs emerged from the inner chamber of the palace to a loud ovation of Igweeeeeee!!!

Thereafter, the Obi and his chiefs led guests on a tour of the large yam ridge on the palace ground, with drumming, singing and dancing going on in the background.Afterwards, the Obi led guests to a table, where roasted yam and local sauces were laid out to show gratitude to God and offer prayers to the ancestors for bountiful harvests in the past years, and better and more prosperous years ahead.

Even before the prayer session ended, the Obi cut a small portion of roasted yam, dipped it into the sauce and took a bite. Former President Jonathan, who was the Special Guest followed suit, as well as other dignitaries. At the reception, after all necessary ceremonies had been concluded, the 59-year-old monarch, who ascended the throne 22 years ago, told the gathering that he was determined to continue pushing for the expansion and development of the age-long culture and tradition of his people.

He said though Obinugwu is known today for trading and farming, the people’s principal heritage, especially their ancestors, is farming business. The Monarch explained that his great grandfathers, who founded Obinugwu, lived up the hills. But while there, they were embroiled in constant strife and disagreement with their neighbours, which eventually forced them to relocate to the present day Obinugwu, where they engaged in large scale farming. They specialised in planting of palm oil, yam and cassava, which traders from all over the country and beyond come to buy.

He told his audience that since ascending the throne, he has deliberately worked toward entrenching peace and unity among his people, who are law abiding.“It is only in a peaceful environment that development can be achieved,” he said. “The nine villages that make up Obinugwu, when I ascended the throne 22 years ago, are now big towns bustling with life and various commercial activities. This was only possible through a dint of hard work and the cooperation of my people.

“But in spite of all our efforts to key into Federal Government’s agricultural policies to obtain loans for agricultural purposes, we have been unsuccessful. I would be very happy, if I am told what my people should do to benefit from it.”The Obi said although traditional rulers are expected to be apolitical, they must ensure that peace and harmony reign supreme in their domains and the state.

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“What most people do not understand is that once peace is ruptured in the community, state or country, it is the traditional rulers that bear the brunt. This is the more reason traditional rulers must be proactive in all that we do,” he said.But why was former President Jonathan invited to the event?

“This is not the first time ex-President Jonathan would visit Obinugwu,” he explained. “While he was in office, he once had cause to visit Obinugwu and since then, he has taken interest in all we do here. So, when I extended an invitation to him for this year’s festival, he graciously honoured us with his presence. I believe he came to see for himself how we are doing and to be part of our cultural activities this year.

“If you must know, it was in this palace in Obinugwu that all traditional rulers in the Eastern region then gathered in 2010 and conferred ex-President Jonathan with the title of “Chenemeanze,” meaning (it is only God that makes a king) of Igbo land. So, the former president considers himself a part of Obinugwu.”


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