The annual Ofala traditional festival of the ancient Onitsha-Ado kingdom was marked on Sunday 11th Sept 2020, has come and gone without the usual pomp and pageantry.
The event was observed in a lowkey manner, without losing the real essence of the annual ritual. Which is, the emergence of the Obi-of-Onitsha from seclusion after his period of consultation with the gods of the land, known as “Inye ukwu na-nlo”.
Few selected persons, officials of the traditional council and leaders of various constituent groups were on hand to witness the ceremony; while the rest of the citizens and the general public had the privilege of following the event online via live streaming conducted by Onicha Media Group.
This year’s low-key Ofala is in line with the decision of the Onitsha Traditional Council, that the community will fulfil its annual traditional and ritual obligations in a modest way to comply fully with the COVID-19 safety and hygiene protocols.
Some of the royalties that were scaled down include the egwu-ota dances, royal tributes, Age grade parades, musical fanfares, sumptuous merriments and art exhibitions, in addition to other associated events that characterises such festivity.
These were in line with the royal proclamation issued on June 18 2020 and signed by Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha.
The royal proclamation explained that “the decision takes an account of the general mood of the country and as a mark of respect for all persons in Onitsha and around the world who have been adversely affected by the pandemic’’.
The proclamation also observed: “the adverse consequences for the economic and social lives of the country, will naturally have a serious impact on our own community life in Onitsha’’.
Some indigenes have argued that the lowkey style of the observance will bring about a gradual decline in the import and purport of the traditional ceremony. Their opinion is that such gatherings engender unity, conviviality and brotherhood among citizens, of which, if excluded will lead to reduced social bonding and homogeneity.
No matter how plausible this argument seems, it does not invalidate the fact that it is only when a man is alive and healthy that he can seek happiness and unity. Attention should also be paid to the drastic reduction in the humongous and unnecessary economic waste that usually characterize such merriments. We must applaud the Obi-in-Council for this economic relief and expect the traditional council to also reduce other financial burdens placed on the already heavy shoulders of the poor masses, in name of customary levies and taxes.
His Majesty, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe and the traditional council has set an example of how traditional ceremonies could be conducted in this phase of new-normal. In his usual conservative but innovative nature, His Majesty has once again shown that things could still be done differently and achieve the same result significantly.
By his position as Chairman of Anambra state Traditional Rulers Council and the leader of southeast Traditional Rulers, Agbogidi has set another standard, that should be adopted by other community leaders and paramount rulers in the southeast and beyond.
In his speech at the solemn event, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe drew the attention of the government to the decaying state of infrastructure in the Onitsha metropolitan city and called for the establishment of Onitsha Development Authority that can provide new infrastructures and maintain the existing public facilities within Onitsha and environs.
The frontline royal father in the southeast was of the explained that this is to ensure that developments in the commercial nerve centre of the southeast is commensurate with the anticipated social and environmental changes that will be triggered by the ongoing construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge, the commencement of operations at the Onitsha River Port and the soon-to-be-completed Anambra International Cargo Airport.
According to him “whilst the Second River Niger Bridge, the ports operations, and the Anambra Airport, will lead to increased economic activity and prosperity in the metropolis, as well as in Anambra and the SouthEast States, they will also put pressure on an already dilapidated infrastructure in the metropolis’’.
He, therefore, called for “the design and implementation of a massive urban renewal plan for Onitsha metropolis based on the existing UN Habitat 2009 Structure Plan for Onitsha and Satellite Towns”.
If only Anambra state government would harken to his voice, then, Onitsha city would be better prepared and properly situated to welcome the massive changes in geographical and demographical changes that are bound to hit the area very soon.
EJIOFO UMEGBOGU, a member of Onitsha Media Group, writes from Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria.
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