By Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Nnewi
In Igbo land, last or final ofa-la festival is the elaborate ceremony used to bid farewell to an Igwe, or Eze (traditional ruler) to acknowledge that he had taken the necessary and inevitable journey into eternity to be with his ancestors and Chukwu Okike Abiama.
It is also believed that Igwes or Ezes do not die when they are no more, but have travelled or embarked on a journey to the next world to go and be with the ancestors to look after and fight for and protect their subjects.
In most, if not all the communities in Igbo land, it is the tradition that when an Igwe or Eze dies, and is being buried, the corpse is not for public glare, but only allowed to be seen by the immediate family members and members of his traditional rulers council, who use such opportunity to bid the traditional ruler farewell before the interment, unlike it is done for ordinary people whose corpses are opened for the relatives, friends and members of the public, even few hours before the interment, to see and bid them farewell. As a matter of fact, that honour is exclusively reserved for only traditional rulers and nobody else in Igbo land.
Even when the interment is being performed whether in an open place or in a Mausoleum, few people, the clergy and few members of the laity, particularly the choristers, are allowed to come close, not particularly because of any fetish activity or thing, but to accord the late Igwe or Eze the deserved respect as it is supposed to be, because of their position as royal father or the first father of the people, be you president, governor, senator, doctor, lawyer or whatever position you occupy in the society, because wherever you come from in the country, you must have a royal father.
Last Ofala for any late traditional ruler in Igbo land is always done after the burial and that is where the people of the community, the friends of the deceased traditional ruler, his fellow Igwes and Ezes, government representatives, friends of the children, in-laws, well wishers and associates, come also to pay their last homage to the late traditional ruler.
The first son of the traditional ruler or any of his sons delegated by the community in case the first son being indisposed, is seated with his male siblings to perform different cultural activities and assignments expected of the Igwe or Eze during his normal Ofala festival, while the people come to pay homage.
The female children of the traditional ruler are not normally seated with the males to receive the visitors, they may be seen at the scene of the Ofala seated somewhere, receiving their friends and well wishers and also entertaining the visitors with food and drinks after paying homage where the male children and some titled men are seated to welcome the visitors who come to pay homage.
Oba community in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State, from December 4, 2018 played host to Nigerians from all walks of life in a weeklong activity of burying their beloved 1st traditional ruler, His Majesty, Igwe Peter Ezenwa, MFR, the Ezeokpoko 1 of Oba who died at the age of 92 after serving them as the traditional ruler for 42 years, and the activities was rounded off with the last Ofala Festival at the Ezeokpoko 1 Ofala Arena, Oba.
Different masquerades from Oba community and Anambra communities, Imo, Abia, Enugu and Ebony states, graced the occasion and performed, while traditional rulers, politicians, businessmen and women from different states of the federation attended to pay their last respect.
President Muhammadu Buhari in his condolence message to Igwe Ezenwa family, the people of Oba community, Anambra and South-East in general, said that they should be consoled for the good works of the late traditional ruler whom he said was exemplary in all his activities.
President Buhari who was represented by Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Dr. Chris Ngige said that Igwe Ezewna as a business man, politician in the House of Representatives and traditional ruler distinguished himself and should be emulated.
In his address to the people during the last Ofala festival of his father, first son of late Igwe Ezenwa and the Regent of Oba community, Prince Noel Ezenwa said “this momentous occasion of the last Ofala of my father and our quondam, Igwe P.C.Ezenwa is celebrated with mixed feelings of sadness, joy and gratitude.”
“It is sad that henceforth I will have to talk about Igwe Peter Chukwuma Ezenwa in the past tense because he has departed from us, happiness, because of the tremendous successes he was in life and the legacies he left behind and I owe a great debt of gratitude to God and many persons here present who have shown us love, encouragement, and support at our trying moment.
“Igwe Peter Chukwuma Ezenwa had a humble beginning in life. He understudied his circumstances, mastered the ropes and surmounted his handicaps creditably. He saw the world, learnt from it, derieved strength and wisdom from it and gave back to it.
“His 92 years sojourn on earth could be divided into two phases. A 50 he had achieved almost all-had all his children, made success in business, politics and in the art of good human relationship. 42 years of his later life he devoted to the service of humanity and Oba in particular. He worked hard lived well and prepared well for this last lap of his life.
“This interregnum of which I am the Regent has the onerous responsibility of upholding and respecting his legacies. I assure you, fellow compatriots of my unalloyed faith and love for Oba, all that it stands for. Life is built on changes, but must be meaningful changes that add values and give impetus to society. I will do all that behooves me to help Oba get a fit and proper successor in tandem with our constitution.”
He said that late “Igwe Ezenwa must have been made of steel to withstand the pressure and challenges of his office for this long-Oba nti enyi, Oba and its challenges, let us continue to live in love and peace. The adage united we stand, divided we fall becomes very pertinent advice at this time.”
“Let’s hope that the desire for personal aggrandizement and selfish interest does not becloud our sense of responsibilities and decency at this time. We must look forward to what is just, right and appropriate for the time. We shall aspire to bequeath to our children and generations to come a better Oba that they will hold their heads high and say “this is my town”
He called on the youths to brace up for the challenges ahead of them and must learn to be proactive and less reactionary, and should remember that there is dignity in honest labour, adding that “everything is not ‘business’, money is important but not one that is earned at all cost, I congratulate all of you who are doing us proud in all works of life, to build Oba and not destroy it, shall be our watch word.”
Let me at this juncture; thank the members of Igwe Ezeokpoko-in-Council for the collective and respective support, without whose support and advice, Igwe Peter Ezenwa would not have been what he was.
“I extend my gratitude to our mother Mmiliaku Ifeoma Ezenwa, who was a pillar of support and beacon of light and refuge to her husband, my siblings Nkechi, Basil, Uzamaka, Peter Junior and Henry and all whose contribution had helped to sustain our father all these years.”
He also thanked various committees that helped to put things together in giving Igwe Ezenwa a befitting farewell and begged God to replenish them abundantly.
President General of the Oba Patriotic Union Ichei Ifeatu Uzowulu described Igwe Ezenwa reign as “wonderful, exemplary, second to none, and a type to reckon with, the past 42 years of his traditional rulership brought blessing and development for Oba.”