From Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki

A new wave of culture seems to have penetrated Okposi, the famous salt town in Ohaozara Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, as the traditional ruler of Okposi autonomous community, Eze Onyiba Cosmas Agwu, Enechi Ekuma IV, marked his maiden ofala festival.

The event, which took place on Saturday, February 27, 2021, at the royal father’s palace, was actually alien to the area.

Okposi clan, noted for its natural endowment of saline lake called Mmahi Ezi, has three autonomous communities, Okposi, Mgbom Na Achara and Okposi Okwu.

Although the event has come and gone, it is noteworthy that it was the first time a traditional ruler in the entire old Ohaozara, comprising Ohaozara, Onicha and Ivo local government areas, would be holding such activities. The Ofala festival is popular mainly in Anambra State, with the Obi of Onitsha’s event taking the lead.

Ofala is a special tradition whereby the royal father comes out to celebrate with and bless his subjects after some period of absence from the public domain. It is followed by a unique event where the royal father would interact with his people on the way forward for his community, and also recognize and bless some prominent sons and daughters of the community who have distinguished themselves in selfless service to the people. Deserving friends of the community could also be honoured on the occasion.

And this was exactly what happened in Okposi as the traditional ruler commemorated his eighth anniversary on the stool.

It was indeed a carnival of some sort, with the array of dignitaries that graced the occasion, especially those that received chieftaincy titles, and their family members and friends who came to identify with them at the auspicious moment.

Addressing the large crowd, Eze Cosmas Agwu said the event marked yet another great landmark in the developmental struggle of the entire Okposi community.

“You are gathered today to witness my maiden Ofala and eighth coronation anniversary. It is with immense joy and overwhelming happiness that I welcome you to this epoch-making event. I thank God for granting us this special opportunity to gather and commend you immeasurably for you have travelled far and wide in spite of your tight schedules and other numerous engagements. I strongly believe it is the great and deep love you have for me that necessitated it. Thanks a million and welcome to my palace and Okposi autonomous community.”

Giving account of his eight years on the throne, the royal father thanked the people of Okposi autonomous community for being loyal, supportive and protective to the cause of the community, noting that he was able to achieve a lot within the period because of the support and assistance of the people.

“As a traditional institution, we recount our relationship in dealing with the rural populace. Within the past eight years of my ezeship, Okposi autonomous community has made some remarkable strides in the areas of socio-cultural, infrastructural and human development. Okposi community is among the first in Ohaozara Local Government Area to build modern lock-up shops in their local market (Eke Okpoidom). Each of the eight component villages in Okposi does engage in regular road construction and maintenance, and through this communal effort has made roads motorable and easily accessible in all seasons.

“As a traditional institution, the Eze-in Council and I have mediated and arbitrated in disputes involving the people of Okposi and other parts of Ohaozara and beyond who sought redress or justice when and where aggrieved. One of the hardest ventures to embark on in a rural setting is the dispensation of justice between aggrieved parties. However, God has always bestowed us with the wisdom of Solomon to take balanced decisions,” he said.

The royal father also highlighted some of the challenges facing the community to include youth restiveness and lack of good roads to link the villages and communities within the clan.

“Let me place on record that we have achieved a lot, but not without some challenges and difficulties. Youth restiveness, no matter how we have tried, occasioned insecurity from time to time and the resultant effect has always been trepidation, incessant fear and underdevelopment. Thank God that the local and state governments have been doing so much to curtail and restore the much-needed peace through community policing and Neigbourhood Watch. There is no area that can develop fully in infrastructure and socio-economic activities in an atmosphere of fear and insecurity,” he said.

Then came the moment everybody was waiting; the conferment of various chieftaincy titles to different individuals. Thirty-four chieftaincy titles were awarded to people from various walks of life, in the public and private sectors of the economy.

Eze Agwu explained that the investitures were in appreciation of their numerous services and invaluable contributions towards the peace and development of Okposi Ezinasato, Ohaozara LGA, Ebonyi State, and mankind in general.

Notable among the honourees were the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters, Chief Samuel Okoronkwo, who was honoured with the title of Onua Ona of Okposi; his Ministry of Health counterpart, Dr. Daniel Umezuruike (Ikenga 1 of Okposi); managing director of Joscotec Nigeria Ltd, Chief John Agwu Onwe (Ozo Igbo Ndu 1 of Okposi), managing director of Ebere Farms, a reputable agro-industrialist, Chief Ebere Orji Odii; Chief Mchardy Chijioke Ani; Chief John Okorie Ugbunna (Ochiri Ozua 1 of Okposi); and Chief Patrick Mbah as Omereoha 1 of Okposi.

Others are the principal of Federal Government College, Okposi, Chief Garuba Jerome (Nwanne Di Na’ Mba 1 of Okposi), Chief Christian Hope (Omekannaya 1), Chief Iheakolam Igwenyi (Odu Mma Rua Uno 1), Chief John Osi (Kpankpando 1 of Okposi) and Dr. Edward Uche (Ihe Abata 1 of Okposi), among others.

One award that received overwhelming applause was the conferment of the title of Ezi Enyi 1 of Okposi (Good friend) on Dr. Bola Ashiru, a medical doctor with the Ebonyi State Hospitals Management Board. His wife, Nelly Atim, was also honoured at the occasion.

Ashiru represents all a community/rural doctor should be. He has spent all his 26 years of medical practice in the various communities of Ebonyi State, starting from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) community-based health centre, Oyege, in Izzi LGA in 1995/1996. He also worked in a mission hospital, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Ndubia, in Igbeagu, Izzi.

A native of Atiba LGA of Oyo State, Ashiru, who presently serves at the Owutu Edda General Hospital in Afikpo South LGA, had served at Okposi General Hospital for 15 years (2002-2017). During the period, he was reputed to have taken healthcare beyond the precinct of the hospital to people’s homes.

A title recipient, Chief Christian Hope (Omekannaya 1), expressed gratitude to the Eze and his cabinet for finding them worthy of the recognition even as he pledged that those qualities that earned them the recognition would be sustained.

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Chief Hope said: “One thing this award has taught me is that people take account of whatever anybody does in life; good or bad deeds are always recorded for people. So, I am convinced that those good qualities that they found in us and honoured us would be amplified and sustained for the good of society.”

He, therefore, wished the traditional ruler more years of peaceful reign on the throne.

Social cultural studies focus on ways in which society and culture affect everyday life. It goes to explore the rituals, beliefs and traditions of different cultures and societies, including family backgrounds.

Etymologically, the term ofala derived from two Igbo words, “ofo”, which means “authority” and “ala” which means “land”. Historically, the people of Anambra State, mostly the Obi of Onitsha, usually showcase a very colourful cultural heritage within Igbo society where the people and groups define themselves and conform to the society’s shared values.

Truth is that communities stage ofala to support, contribute and promote Igbo sociocultural concepts with a view to bringing development using the traditional stool.

An indigene of the area, Prof. P.J. Eze, head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Nigeria Nsukka, said, in some Igbo communities, especially those that have pre-warrant chief kingship institutions, the monarchs celebrate fala.

He said the king rewarded the accomplishments of his subjects and friends of his domain with titles. Elsewhere in the world, there are equivalents in the knighthood that some European kings or queens still confer on deserving candidates.

Eze noted that the Okposi traditional confederacy ran (and should still run) on different principles that are equally well respected locally and among numerous groups everywhere.

He maintained that, “Members of the community achieve their statuses. No king confers honorific chieftaincies on anyone. You worked for your social status and achieved it,” adding that fala was not known to Okposi custom.

He emphasised that Eze Solomon Chima Nkwo and Eze Benedict O. Agwu, the Enechi Ekuma II and III, respectively, two predecessors of the current traditional ruler, never staged an Ofala.

He warned that the risk in hurriedly foisting these practices on communities where they are alien is that traditions of every group are well known.

Eze advised: “You may modernize but be a little more discreet about it. There are certain things that are better left as they are. Patterns of traditional social organisation are matters of group identity; as in individuals, so also in social groups. Be proud of who you are.”

Similarly, dean, Faculty of Law, Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu Alike, Ikwo, (FUNAI), Ebonyi State, Dr. Onyekachi Eni, said there was nothing wrong in the traditional ruler conferring titles on deserving persons or marking his anniversary, but frowned at the choice of the word Ofala.

Eni, who also hails from Okposi, said he had suggested an alternative nomenclature for the said event: “In the heat of the moment and for want of a better alternative at that time, I even suggested that it could be called “Oziza nganga” wherein “Oziza” stands for an annual commemorative convocation and “nganga” stands for joyous celebration.

“I also acknowledged the imperfection of my suggestion and that others could be encouraged to come up with other suggestions from which a more suitable name could be selected from the pool. But my intervention did not appeal to those concerned and I decided not to push it in order not to be misunderstood.

“In spite of the situation, the good side about the whole thing is that the celebration has given a whiff of visibility to Okposi as a community.

“It is to be hoped that in future greater thought will be given to the issue of the name because, in the final analysis, a people’s culture remains their identity. To those who may ask what is in a name, the truth is that a name is the peculiar signature of an individual or group.”

Others who commented on the issue included a retired director in the federal public service, Agwu Christopher Agwu, Pastor Nwanja Omoke, Dr. Kenechukwu Ugwu, Chief John Agwu and Pastor Obumneme Joseph.

Agwu, the retired public servant, described the event as a seeming aberration in Okposi custom. According to the culture enthusiast who has written books on Okposi culture and tradition, what took place on February 27 was an “obliteration of familiar accolade for less alternative.”

However, not minding the capsulated problems, he said the idea was a novelty as it encouraged industry in recipients of the award and future awardees.

Regardless, another lecturer in UNN, Dr. Kenechukwu Ugwu, argued that culture is dynamic.

For him, people acquire knowledge and other things they did not have to improve their standard of living; he queried why Okposi people should remain stagnant.

“What we witnessed on the 27th of February, 2021, at the palace of HRH Eze Cosmas Agwu indicated the acceptance of the Ofala in Okposiland by a significant number of people. It was overwhelming, seeing those we cannot ignore as they thronged the venue and had a swell time. For once, we buried our precarious situations and thought about our place in the scheme of things and how ‘charity can start at home’. People were appreciated and applauded. Pledges were made that would enhance our community. It won’t hurt to find ways that would improve on the Ofala for the betterment of Okposi,” Ugwu asserted.