Parade of Culture: Memories Of Arondizuogu Day 2008
By Uche Ohia
Saturday, December 27, 2008, will go down in history as a remarkable day in the annals of Arondizuogu - a sprawling cluster of communities spread in three Local Government areas (Ideato North, Okigwe and Onuimo) in Imo State of Nigeria. It was a day indigenes of the community and their well-wishers turned out en-masse in resplendent attires to mark what is known as ÔÇśArondizuogu Day'.
Instituted in 1948, ÔÇśArondizuogu Day' which is held every December 27 is an annual end-of year convention of people of Arondizuogu descent resident in Nigeria and the Diaspora. It is a day set aside to celebrate achievements, review challenges, and generally keep the flag of patriotism flying in the community. For the culture ÔÇô loving people of Arondizuogu, the day is a special annual homecoming which they celebrate with much aplomb comparable only to their popular Ikeji Festival held annually in April which is touted to be "the greatest carnival of masks and masquerades in Africa".
To mark the 60th anniversary of this historic event, Arondizuogu Patriotic Union, (APU), the umbrella organisation of the communities that make up Arondizuogu in Nigeria and the Diaspora, organised the ceremony as a special carnival with the theme: REKINDLE THE FIRE OF PATRIOTISM. Given the poor state of local, state and federal roads which has made Arondizuogu almost inaccessible, the moribund state of the economy which had made UBA PLC - the only bank in the community - to suspend it's services, and the high level of general infrastructural decay affecting even the two educational institutions (National High School and Iheme Memorial Secondary School) constructed by the APU in it's heydays, it was an apt theme for a community yearning for restoration of it's waning glory.
Coming barely two months after the October 25, 2008 election of a new National Executive Committee of Arondizuogu Patriotic Union, the 2008 Arondizuogu Day was planned with dexterity and executed with precision. By the first week of December 2008, well-branded glossy invitation cards of the event had started making the rounds. Two weeks before Christmas, local radio stations began to air jingles promoting the event. A week before the Yuletide, big colourful posters bearing the legend ÔÇś2008 ARONDIZUOGU DAY Celebration' and containing the highlights of the event appeared in the streets of Owerri, Aba, Enugu, Abuja and Lagos complemented by thousands smaller flyers that were circulated more widely. By Christmas Eve, five giant banners heralding the event were hanging across the road at two points along the Okigwe ÔÇô Arondizuogu ÔÇô Uga ÔÇô Nnewi Road, two points along Onuimo - Okigwe road, and at Amazu Ikpaocha on the road to Umunze in neighbouring Anambra State.
On the day of the event, banners of various types fluttered in the wind at the roadside entrance of Arondizuogu Civic Centre site venue of the event beside Ojike Memorial Medical complex. Gaily dressed men and women, boys and girls, students, youths, dance groups, masquerade groups, caterers and vehicles of various types began to pour into the venue before the scheduled time. The arena was elaborately decorated with colourful canopies, chairs and tables with drapery in gold, royal blue and white. Another big banner marked out the main entrance. All the canopies were clearly labeled with one canopy reserved for each of the twenty towns of the community. Canopies were also reserved for students, exhibitors, dance troupes, special guests, traditional rulers, VIPs and honorees. Exhibitions were mounted at the entrance to the arena by some publishers, the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, First Bank PLC and motley of traditional musicians whose audio cassettes, CDs, and DVDs were displayed for sale. There were also water and food vendors with Aba based ÔÇśSweet Fast-Foods' occupying a prime location. Souvenirs including mugs, golf shirts, T-shirts, caps, pins, stickers and so on were on sale. Also on display for sale were copies of the glossy 90-page colour programme/ brochure of the event as well as the book, ÔÇśA History of Arondizuogu Patriotic Union' by yours truly.
The outfits worn by many in the crowded arena showed a people in love with their culture: most people were dressed in the traditional costume of the community. While the men were clad in various colours of George wrapper on top of which they wore loose flannel shirts, the women wore George wrappers beneath white blouses of various fabrics. The most common of the George wrappers worn by both men and women was a brown and gold colour with a logo bearing the inscription "Omu Aro". The Omu Aro cloth was also used to adorn some of the canopies and to drape round the beautiful rostrum at one end of the arena. Some people wore "ukara" cloth ÔÇô a blue and white tie and dye coarse cotton fabric with traditional symbols designed on it. There were many dance groups including the popular Ikeji Festival music idol, Pericomo, and his group. Upcoming artists like Edingene were also on ground with pulsating rhythms which added variety to the gospel music group in the band stand and various Igba and masquerade groups that kept the arena lively throughout the day.
The occasion was preceded by the hoisting of the twenty flags of the twenty towns of Arondizuogu by the APU President ÔÇô General, Hon. Barr. Uche Ohia. The event was witnessed by five representatives from each town and many more enthusiastic spectators. One by one, the flags rose: Ndiawa, Ndiuche, Ndimoko, Ndinjoku, Ndiamazu, Ndiejezie, Ndiucheagwu, Ndindubuisi, Ndiawauwaonu, Ndianyakei, Ndiadimoha, Ndianiche, Ndionuoha, Ikpeze, Ndiokonkwo, Ndiogbuonyeoma, Ndiakeme, Ndiukwu, Ndiakunwanta and Ndiekwuru Imenze. As each flag rose fluttering gloriously in the harmattan wind, it was heralded with blasts from a trumpet, loud cannon shots and jubilant shouts. Soon, the flag of each town in Arondizuogu was waving furiously in the wind symbolizing the reawakening of the spirit of patriotism and progress in each community. It was a joyous event that brought tears to the eyes of many. Even as he held back tears of joy himself, the APU President-General was ushered into the expansive arena by a jubilant crowd singing triumphant songs.
Soon after, the Chairman of the occasion, Chief Victor Ngozi Green-Mbadiwe (Osuohia), son of the late gold magnate and West Africa's first acclaimed millionaire, Chief J. GreenÔÇôMbadiwe, arrived with his entourage. With sirens blaring intermittently, prominent guests continued to pour in throughout the event. These included the Guest-of-Honour, Chief Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, Governor of Imo State (who was represented by the Hon. Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Prof. Nnamdi Obiareri); the Special Guest, Prof. Maurice Iwu, Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), university dons, senior police officers, well known clergymen, prominent politicians, traditional rulers and corporate moguls. Among those in the crowd were the Chairman of APU National Congress of North America, Mazi Emma Kanu, Chairman of the Board of Chief OGB Uche Memorial Health Centre, Dr. Inno Chima, foremost estate valuer, Chief M.I. Okoro, former Imo State Commissioner for Works, Engr. Donatus Muotoh, former Commissioner for Environment, Chief Nnachebe Ojike, Senator Tony Anyanwu, Rev.Fr. Dr. Josephat Nwankwo, Chief John Okoroafor, Chief H.N. Ohia, Chief Oliver Ogbonna, Chief Peter Obiagwu, Barr. Vin Okpareke, Grp. Capt. (Rtd) Charles Orizu, Col. Marshall, Chief Paul Mbadiwe, presidents ÔÇô generals of various autonomous communities in Arondizuogu, presidents of town unions and chairmen/presidents of various APU branches in Nigeria and the Diaspora, etc. The attendance list could be compared to a "Who is Who in Arondizuogu".
Even as more guests from far and near continued to arrive in clouds of dust and blaring sirens, opening formalities for the occasion proper commenced with opening prayers which was said by the Bishop of Okigwe Anglican Communion, Rt. Rev. Dr. AIS Nwaizuzu. After prayers, all the towns in Arondizuogu, major branches of the APU, students, clubs, associations and groups took turns to march round the arena and past the podium in a colourful parade to the accompaniment of Igba music. The President - General, the traditional rulers present, HRH Eze Dr. M.O. Kanu (Ochiriozuo Ejezie Izuogu), HRH Eze Prof Green O. Nwankwo (Eze Ohazurume Aro Amuro), HRH Eze Dr. Mike Nwosu (Ugocha Ndiakeme), HRH Eze Ezeana Enekwa (Ezennia Aro Ofe Imo) and Chief Victor Ngozi Green-Mbadiwe, the chairman of the occasion, took the salute atop the richly decorated podium. It was a picturesquely captivating parade. The masters-of-ceremony, Prince Charles Okoli, Hon. Chukwunonye Irouno and Dr. Cy Maduabuchi Nwankwo (Konkiri) took turns to capture the unfolding scenes in lavish imagery as the LOC Chairman, Mazi Okey Kanu paced up and down like a commander ensuring that what was planned on the drawing board was realized on the battle field..
Some towns came with large numbers of their members; others came with lesser numbers. Some towns came prepared with dance groups and banners; others seemed taken by surprise. Among the branches of the union that turned up for the parade, Aba branch led by Comrade Uche Ugbaja stood out: it's massive green banner held aloft and it's members spilling over in all directions. Among the organizations in the community that participated, Lagos based Movement for Arondizuogu Progress (MAP) led by Eric Ikoro (Atiku) gave a good account of itself with a large contingent. One of it's members was decked out handsomely in the regalia of an Arabian Sheik to the delight of the crowd. So exciting were the processions that some eminent persons already seated in the VIP canopies even rushed out to join their towns in parade. It was a very touching scene that reminded many of their great historical heritages.
After the parade, the presentation of kolanuts followed. Opening remarks were made by the Chairman of the occasion and a welcome address was presented by the chairman of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC). The President-General of APU, then presented a thought-provoking ÔÇśstate of the union' address titled "Rekindling the Fire of Patriotism" in which he decried the state of neglect and infrastructural decay in the community. He called upon indigenes who loved the community not to sit on the fence but to stand up and be counted.
The Arondizuogu Day 2008 was used to accord a Grand Civic Reception to some eminent members of the community vested with public office. Among these were Clement Owunna (MFR), member of the board of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Chief Benbella Anachebe (SAN), Chief Leo Okereke, National President of the National Association of Technologists in Engineering (NATE), Prof. Anezi Okoro, a popular novelist and former chairman of Universal Primary Education Commission (UPEC), Right Rev. AIS Nwaizuzu, Bishop of Okigwe North Anglican Communion and Amb. Greg Mbadiwe (MFR), former Chairman of Federal Road safety Commission (FRSC). Others were Dr. Catherine Okpareke, Group Managing Director of NICON, Chief Okey Ikoro, Chairman of Owerri Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (OCCIMA), Onyeka Onwenu, Chairman of the Imo State Council for Arts and Culture (ISCAC) and Chief Barr. Julian Okpareke Commissioner of Police of Bayelsa State.
The occasion was also used to bestow honours on some ÔÇśIcons of Excellence'. These included Prof. Anezi Okoro, (a popular novelist, professor of medicine, consultant dermatologist and respected authority on tropical skin diseases), Prof. O. C. Nwana (an accomplished educationist, teacher of teachers, author of many books and tireless contributor to educational policy formulation in Nigeria), Chukwuemeka Oforeh (a respected scholar and author of several volumes on quantity surveying), Dr. Mrs. Catherine Okpareke (a seasoned technocrat, a former President of ICAN, a former Commissioner of Finance in Imo State and a distinguished lady with an unwavering commitment to fiscal responsibility), Jullian Okpareke (a respected lawyer, career police officer and acting A.I.G), Clement Owunna (a renowned pharmacist, corporate mogul, philanthropist and industrialist), Ben Anachebe, SAN (a distinguished legal luminary with an exemplary commitment to advocacy and a reputation for successful case management), HRH Eze Prof. Green O. Nwankwo, OON, (doyen of finance and banking education and renowned authority on fiscal and monetary policy), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, MON, (an accomplished pharmacist, esteemed leader of the organized private sector, role model and mentor) and Mr. Alex Otti (first class banker and Executive Director, South, of First Bank Plc).
Prominent Indigenes of Arondizuogu decorated with awards for Outstanding Patriotism included Chief H.A.P. Nwana, a pioneer activist, trade unionist and writer whose father Pita Nwana wrote Omenuko, the famous first Igbo novel, O.C. Nwana, professor emeritus of Imo State University, Dr. Emmanuel Udogu, former Minister of Culture and Tourism, Chidi Marume, a former Commissioner for Health in Imo State, HRH Eze Dr. M.O. Kanu, Chairman of Agura Hotel, Abuja, Onyeka Onwenu, a multi-talented artiste, Dr. Marcellina Okereke, a rural development catalyst, Chief Mike Obioha, an industrialist, Hon. Chief Ralph Obioha, a politician, Rev. Fr. Prof. Jerome Okonkwo (Okosisi), a university don, Mrs. Nwaka Laeticia Akinlami, Director General of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, Engr. Ndubueze Enekwa, Dr. E.E.J. Okereke, Chief L.I. Okoro, Dr. C.C. Modu, Chief E. Chux Okoro, Chief Osita Oruche, Chief V.N. Green-Mbadiwe, Amb. Greg Mbadiwe (MFR), Chief Barr. Mrs. Ijeoma Uche-Okoro, and the famous traditional music exponent, Pericomo.
The awards were presented by Prof Nnamdi Obiareri (representing the Imo State Governor), the INEC Chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu, a well-known daughter of the community, Barr. Mrs. Udeaku Shaldas Obioha and by HRH Eze Ezeana Enekwa. Many of the awards were carry-overs from the last three years when the annual event could not be held on account of the indisposition of the former President-General, Chief Oguguo Okereke.
The climax of the Arondizuogu Day 2008 Celebration was the lighting of the patriotism torch. At the end of the presentation of awards, the awardees and honorees lined up behind Prof. O. C. Nwana (whose late father, Rev. Chima Nwana was the first President of Arondizuogu Patriotic Union) to symbolically rekindle the fire of patriotism. It was a dramatic moment. As all the eminent men and women stood in a single file behind Prof. Nwana, each placing a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of him/her, there was pin-drop silence. With the aid of a wooden pole held by Nwana at whose tip a wick had been attached, the patriotism torch mounted beside the podium was set alight. As the flame burned like a gas flaring pipe, fireworks positioned in the centre of the arena went off to the delight and applause of the fascinated crowd. It was a magical moment that left no one in doubt about the determination of the new APU National EXCO to rekindle the fire of patriotism in the community. It also served as an eloquent testimony of meticulous organisation. The crowd rose in a standing ovation.
Then, it was time for the guests and honorees to respond. Speaker after speaker poured encomiums and expressed confidence in the new APU President General, the new national executive officers and the LOC of the 2008 Arondizuogu Day. At the end, almost fifteen million naira (N15m) was raised in support of the new APU administration and, in particular, in support of the APU National Headquarters Building Project Fund which was flagged off at the occasion.
It was a very memorable day. As HRH Eze Dr. M. O. Kanu made the closing remarks, it was obvious from the rueful smiles on the faces of the people in the teeming crowd that surrounded the podium that memories of the Arondizuogu Day 2008 Celebration would linger for a long time to come.