• Kalu Foundation promotes tourism, lures thousands to Abia community
From Okey Sampson, Aba
Former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, has ignited the fire of cultural revival in his native Igbere community in the state.
In an attempt to further unite his people, Kalu, through the Orji Uzor Kalu Foundation, organised the maiden Igbere Cultural Carnival on January 6. With the theme “Celebrating Our Heritage,” it was indeed a true carnival of the people’s heritage.
Speaking at his Camp Neya Carnival Village, venue of the event, Kalu recalled how he had been thinking of reviving his people’s cultural heritage until late last year, when a group of people from his community, led by the president-general of Igbere Welfare Union (IWU), Elder Uwakwe Okoronkwo, Chief Jones Udeogu and Rev. Jemima Kalu, came to see him on the matter. A date was picked for the maiden edition, which was planned to be low key. He said he was surprised at how things turned out.
“Now, look at what is happening; it is a big carnival featuring more than 50,000 people. There has been nothing like this in the whole of the South East.
“We are trying to do exactly what people see in Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil and some other countries. This is the maiden edition, another one will be coming up in January 2019. If God gives us life and good health, Nigerians will see what we will do here then.
“We spent a lot of money to organise this event; we hope it will be an annual event in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s wish that we find a way of bringing foreigners into our country. I’m sure that, next year, everyone will see people from different parts of the world coming to this event.
“We started something like this in Aba with the Enyimba FC. During their first match, the crowd was scanty but it grew bigger during the next match. By next year, we hope that our budget for this event will be approved by the National Assembly and Mr. President. Then, this festival will witness greater fun, with the community making money from tourists,” he said.
Kalu stated that the carnival would also serve as a rallying point for unity: “Before this carnival, many Igbere indigenes usually travelled back to their respective stations before January 2 after celebrating Christmas. But today is January 6, yet people are still everywhere in the community because of this carnival. Therefore, we will sustain this carnival and make it bring money to Igbere, Bende and Abia people in general.”
Kalu thanked the minister of culture and tourism, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, for sending a representative to witness the event. He also thanked the commander, 14 Brigade, Nigerian Army, Ohafia, Brigadier-General Abubakar Ibrahim, and other guests for being part of the day.
The immediate past minister of labour and productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu, maintained that the Igbere Cultural Carnival had tourism potential that could be turned into a revenue earner for the country. He recalled that countries like South Africa and Brazil were good at such carnivals, as Kalu earlier pointed out.
He said: “I am not surprised that Kalu is sponsoring the Igbere Cultural Carnival. You know I served under him when he was governor of Abia State. He will continue to remain my boss and my leader. I know what he can do and I will want him to continue to espouse those qualities that endeared him to the people. There is virtually no prominent person in Abia State at the moment that did not pass through his tutelage.
“Someone similar to him is Senator Bola Tinubu, one-time governor of Lagos State. Even the immediate past governor of the state passed through Kalu, and the current governor of the state passed through him. So, I urge people to recognise the political sagacity of this great Abia son.”
Wogu expressed joy that the carnival was fashioned to run within its own model, noting that it was quite different from others, including the Calabar carnival: “This carnival is unique to the Igbere heritage; so, I don’t think that it is here to compete with any other carnival because it is simply predicated on Igbere heritage, which is different from every other one.”
He urged the Federal Government to support the Igbere carnival by giving the people requisite institutional support and, to support other cultural activities that would boost tourism in the country.
On his part, Brigadier-General Ibrahim said: “Igbere is one of the communities close to my headquarters; we don’t have any problem with them. So, when they invited me to this cultural carnival, I felt happy and decided to come here to celebrate with the people and get to know more about the unique culture of the Igbo. I’m very impressed with what I have seen here. I wish we could have more of this as it will promote unity, understanding and create an atmosphere for economic development.”
He stated that the army brigade in Ohafia was planning to have its own cultural festival very soon, and people from neighbouring communities would be invited to be part of the event.
Mr. Princewill Ike Ukaegbu, president-general, Ibeku Egwu Asaa Development Association, Umuahia, described the event as an impressive and sweet gathering, where the people showcased different aspects of culture. He added that it was a gathering that had brought the people of the area together. He congratulated Dr. Kalu, who is the chairman, OUK Foundation, and the Igbere people for staging the event.
“This carnival is a sign that Igbere is one; it is a sign of unity, which is lacking in many communities today. Before now, we have been celebrating our culture in Umuahia, but after some time some level of disunity and acrimony made it quite difficult for us to come together to hold it. But very soon, we will be re-inventing our culture and bringing Ibeku back on track.
“What I’m taking home today from this event is a sense of unity and the willingness of somebody to spend his resources for the good of his people because it is not easy to organise an event like this. Look at the costume here; you will see that good money has been spent to organise this carnival; so, I thank Kalu and other Igbere indigenes for making this happen,” he said.
Chief Solo Akuma, SAN, an indigene of Igbere, expressed delight at the event: “I feel highly elated that this is happening today in our clan. I must commend Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu for the efforts he has made to revive our culture. It is a thing everybody should emulate and accord him necessary appreciation and respect.
“This carnival has opened the eyes of investors. It will encourage those who want to invest in the hospitality industry. There are a lot of options open to investors who want to take advantage of this huge opportunity.”
A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Sam Nkire, commended the cultural enterprise, which he said was never seen before throughout the South East. He asserted that Igbere community would go places in terms of culture.
“Because the carnival is being powered by the Orji Uzor Kalu Foundation, it is not going to be ephemeral. It is going to endure; it is going to improve.
“I see the businessman in Kalu in this event because I know when people come for this type of carnival, they are bound to spend money and help the economy of Igbere people. So, it’s a wonderful innovation, I admire it and I will want to take it home to my people,” Nkire said.
Kalu’s mother, Elder (Mrs.) Eunice Uzor Kalu, and younger brother, Mascot, said that the carnival was a platform for the promotion and celebration of the culture of the people with the aim of enhancing their tourism potential.
Mrs. Kalu congratulated her son for sponsoring the carnival and the organisers for putting up an event that would remain a reference point in the annals of Igboland.
Mascot Uzor Kalu said that the event was a way of teaching the younger ones things they didn’t know and reminding the older ones of things they might have forgotten.
Earlier, chairman of Igbere Cultural Carnival, Chief Jones Udeogu, said the festival was predicated on the objectives of the Orji Uzor Kalu Foundation, which provided vulnerable women and youths with skills and opportunities to improve their livelihood and reduce social ills and youth restiveness by engaging the unemployed among them in farming and other ventures.
Over 20 dance troupes featured at the event. There was one from Nkpa, which the people of the community said was featured in appreciation of what Kalu did for them by reconstructing their road that had been impassable over the years. There were also prizes and awards handed out to outstanding performers.