…As Eze Ukpo celebrates 29th Ofala
By Moses Nosike
In Ukpo kingdom, in Dunukofia Local Government Area of Anambra State, the Igwe, Dr Robert Eze (Okofia VI), and his billionaire younger brother, Prince Arthur Eze, have successfully transformed the annual Ofala festival from a mere cultural ritual to a carnival of international reckoning.
The influx of persons from across the world has made the town a tourist centre, and has undoubtedly made the festival a strong generator of Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, for the state. The festival has also become an opportunity for prominent and highly placed politicians, corporate bodies, religious and traditional leaders in the country and beyond to pay homage to the prestigious Eze family.
Ofala is an annual event observed by the people of Ukpo. It serves as a rite of renewal for the traditional ruler and showcases the rich cultural heritage of the people through dances like egedege (acrobatic dancers), colourful attires, various masquerade ranging from ijele, izaga etc., among other traditional displays. Many believe that the influx of people from across the world into the town, outweigh the number of yearly visits recorded by most recognized tourist sites.
The Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, NTDC, Mr. Folorunsho Coker, in a recent media report, gave credence to this assertion when he described the Ofala festival as an asset to Nigerian tourism, which can be developed into a global cultural event.
According to Coker, Ofala festival remained a unifying factor that connects diverse cultures, brings people together from all walks of life, boosts local economy and creates value on many micro platforms.
This year’s Ofala holds of December 19, 2020. It marks the 29th anniversary of Igwe Robert Eze’s ascension to the throne of his fathers. As usual, the activities marking the traditional festival would commence on the eve of December 19, with a quiet meditation and purification service at Dunukofia Palace, to be presided by bishops, and Ukpo indeginous priests of all denominations.
The purification service will be followed by song rendition from various choirs across the country. These choirs would remain at the palace, to render rendition of different genres of music, especially classical, at the main event. The seamless blend of core Christian religion with traditional activities, stands out the Ukpo Ofala from other ofalas.
Also, as part of the ceremony, the Igwe will be accompanied by other traditional rulers from both the east and other parts of the country, to dance round the palace in a procession through the standing statues of the ancient rulers of the kingdom. The standing statues were those of Igwe Eze Odugwu, the Eze Ukpo Dunukofia that ruled the kingdom up to 1870; Igwe M. A. Eze, who succeeded his father as Igwe on October 9, 1920; and Dr. Walter Chukwunweze Eze, who ruled as Igwe until 1991.
Aside the annual Ofala celebrations, another factor that has painted Ukpo with a revered reputation is the philanthropy of Prince Arthur Eze. He is not just known for his wealth, but his generosity, which is extended to anyone who comes in contact with him. The Ofala now serves as the last hope of the poor in that community and offers the weak, the old, orphans, the less-privileged and widows a life-changing opportunities.
Eze’s philanthropic gesture has always kept Ukpo town as busy as an apiary, as high profiled politicians, corporate bodies and individuals deluge his opulent home, which is always open to guests, and each leaves with smiles of having received varying aid from the billionaire. These aids usually range from monetary aids, political supports to employment opportunities.
His home welcomes both the kings and commoners, and he attends to everyone accordingly, regardless of political or social status. He equally believes it would be worthwhile attending to the commons before the kings, since they are usually the ones with the most problems that need exigent aid.
Speaking on the significance of the festival, a community leader, Hon. Abel Chukwu, said: “Ofala is not just a merrymaking festival. It is an avenue for the Igwe to give an account of his stewardship to the community. He tells the people at the festival the major decisions taken by the Palace on matters that affect the people. It is also at the ceremony that they will announce about any son or daughter of the community that excelled in life. The Ofala also enables commoners in the community to have access to every part of the Igwe’s palace, including his bedroom.”