The many colours of the Ofalla festival
The foremost educationist and a former president of Nigeria, Chief Nwafor Orizu, of blessed memory, was an Nnewi man. At a time many of the communities across the country can not boast of a single motor car, the town already had a multi millionaire in the person of Chief Ohukwu whose luxury car was used to convey the visiting Queen of England round the country when she visited Nigeria many decades ago.
Nnewi is made up of four quarters, Otolo, Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi, with each of the independent but interrelated communities in the town having its own Obi. Otolo-Nnewi, however, produces the paramount traditional ruler of the town in the Orizu royal family. The succession system is hereditary which automatically removes the tension and acrimony associated with installation of a new king in Igboland in particular and Nigeria in general. It has insulated the kingship from opening it up for the highest bidder.
When destiny beckoned on Igwe Dr Kenneth Orizu 111 to mount the throne of his fathers 52 years ago, it was obvious that the man with the Midas touch would turn things around in the then sleepy community. Igwe Nnewi was instrumental to the establishment of the Nnewi main market after the idea was mooted by Dim Chukwemeka Ojukwu(Ikemba Nnewi) of blessed memory. The paramount traditional ruler also played a pivotal role in the industrialization of the town as he single-handedly carried the gospel of transiting from buying and selling to the setting up of industries to the affluent ones in his town. He assisted many industrialists to get land for the smooth take off their outfits.
The royal father, while talking about his staying power, said: “ It was God that helped me but then I worked very hard because I knew that if I must break the poverty circle, I must work very hard. I was ready to do just anything with my hands even if it was laboring to make money for myself. My salary was less than nine pounds when I joined Outlook Newspapers but it rose to 52 pounds before I left in 1962.” Orizu was instrumental to the bringing of electricity, post office and an educational institution to Nnewi which today has assumed the status of a city.
Orizu, while commenting on his experience as a royal father, stated.
“ I can not say it has been rosy. Moments after I became Igwe, I got so bored. I would sit down here from morning till night. I could not move round freely which was quite different with my kind of person who could not stay in a particular place for long. My movement became too restricted for my liking. As early as 7 am, people would start bringing cases to be resolved. I had great responsibilities as Igwe Nnewi because I was in charge of 25 towns; that was before the mass recognition of traditional rulers in the second republic. I would have rather preferred to be a laborer or anything that would fetch me money and allow me to move round freely. It was not fun sitting down here all day. The other challenge, apart from sitting here, is that of the people that wanted four kings for Nnewi but our progenitors knew why they said it would be one and hereditary.”
The Igwe, while speaking on his achievements since he became the traditional ruler of Nnewi, said: “Nnewi was formerly governed by town unions. We had the Nnewi Patriotic Association (NPA). They were developing the town at their own pace. Later, the youths came in. We then had the Nnewi Youth League. I was working with everybody for the development of the town. People did not want to hear about levies but I made them change their mind after persuasion. The first work I did was the clearing of Agboedo forest. There were five deities controlling the town when we were pagans. I was controlling them and the three Obis were my foot soldiers. It was like that until the late Chukwuemeka Ojukwu wrote me that we should clear the evil forest and make it the center of Nnewi.
The belief then was that if you entered the Agboedo forest, Edo would kill you. In fact, when the call to clear the forest was made, everybody ran away in fear of what would happen but we got it done most especially because people started returning home because of the crises in the North. After clearing the forest, Ojukwu said Agbo would only have meaning if a market was developed around the place. We negotiated with the land owners and the market became a reality. When the market was growing, I found out that the water works at Amuoko was no longer enough to provide water especially because of the population explosion that happened after the civil war.
I was always at the Water Board at Enugu where they demanded N30,000 to sink a borehole at Umuenem. I also addressed the issue of mortuary because our people were depositing the remains of their loved ones in Onitsha, Igboukwu and Ozubulu. The youths actually gave me the money for the borehole and they said they would personally handle the mortuary. I played major roles to ensure that industries were established in Nnewi. Prior to that time, our people specialized in buying and selling but I told them that what would move the town forward was companies and industries. One of them is Chikason. I was instrumental to the setting up of a Teacher Training College, which was later upgraded to a teaching hospital, NITEL, and even electricity with the cooperation of my people.”
A former governor of Anambra State, Dame Virgy Etiaba, described the monarch as one who has positively impacted on Nnewi.
The 2015 Ofala started as early as 6.00am on the first day with canon shots heralding the festival. There was also a memorial service for those who died in the gas factory accident in the town.
The preparation for the Ofala, held in December, was as robust as any of the previous celebrations. Committees and sub committees were set up and manned by competent personalities.
Not even the death of one of the royal father’s daughters days to the Ofala could stop the cultural event, which was to be used to celebrate the Igwe’s 90th birthday and his 52 years on the throne, thus making him the longest reigning traditional ruler in Africa.
The Minister of Science and Technology, Chief Ogbonaya Onu, was represented at the occasion by Ichie Mike Ejezie and his wife. Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano, took out time to grace the occasion in company of Dr Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah, the publisher of The Authority Newspapers.
The Nnewi royal father used the occasion to stress the need to do something about the decayed infrastructures in the industrial town. The Igwe also called attention to some roads in Nnewi which equally need urgent attention.
Meanwhile, the traditional prime minister of Nnewi, Chief Ofili Nwosu, has described the 2015 Ofala as a huge success, pointing out that it was one of best he has ever witnessed.