All roads lead to Arochukwu, one of the few surviving ancient kingdoms, South Eastern Nigeria for the annual Ikeji festival. The grand finale for the 2017 event holds on Eke Ekpe Day, the 24th of September at the historic Amaikpe Square.
Professor Okoro Ijoma, a renowned professor emeritus of history from the University of Nigeria Nsukka has been selected to Chair the event. His choice on merit is a mark of honour for the erudite scholar’s valued contributions to knowledge of Aro, Igbo, Nigeria and African history. He will be supported by top government officials, legislators, business men, and other executives invited as special guests.
The Ikeji Festival is a historic Arochukwu custom to celebrate the new yam. It is also an opportunity for Aros to reaffirm the strength of Aro unity, consolidate the state of our union, convey loyalty to the government of the day, the Eze Aro and Arochukwu traditional institutions. The event has endured for over 100 years. All Aro sons and daughters from far and near look forward to Ikeji with great memories, excitement, and high expectations.
As part of efforts to reposition the festival to attract the desired national and international attention for potential tourism investments, the new leadership of Nzuko Arochukwu decided in 2016 to set up a high ranking committee to reform and rebrand the event. The committee led by Dr. Orji Ogbonnaya Orji as Chairman has twelve other members drawn from the public service, private sector and the media.
They include Dr. Kanu Ohuche, Dr. Azubuike Okoro, Mazi Nwosu Nwaka, Mazi Chijioke Okoro and Mazi Jideofor Kanu. Others are Mazi Iheanyi Oti, Mazi Julius Imuoh, Mazi Eugene Okey Imuoh, Mazi Ugo Okoro, Mazi Udo Orie, Mazi Sunny Iromantu and Prince Osita Ike (now late). In 2016, the event was positively different, amazing, full of glamour, surprises, entertainment with diverse cultures on display.
Through the efforts of the committee, the Ikeji 2016 was rated by the Eze Aro in council in particular and Aros in general as the best ever to be held in the last 40 years. The rating and attestations were based on quality and quantity of attendance, participation, content of the program, rich masquerades, diversity of the traditional dances, sponsorship and branding, enabling environment, security, efficient event management, orderly conduct among other considerations. The presence, sponsorship and branding of the ceremony by the MTN, Nigeria, and Nigeria Breweries last year took the ceremony to enviable level. In recognition of what was widely applauded as an outstanding job, the Ikeji Committee was endorsed by Nzuko Aro to continue its work in 2017. Its membership was enlarged to accommodate Mazi Cliff Nnanna Orji, President, Nzuko Aro home branch, the youths, and representatives of Nzuko Aro Women’s Wing.
As Chairman, I wish to report that this year will again look different, big and better. We have plans to consolidate on the achievements recorded in 2016 with a lot more innovations. For instance, Ikeji Aro now has a website www.ikejiaro.com designed and donated free of charge by a young Aro computer science graduate of Babcock University. This timely contribution is a reminder by the younger generation that Ikeji should not just be for pouring of libation, breaking of kolanuts, palm wine drinking and other exclusive preserves of the old and aged. The Youths appear to be saying that the time has come for the festival to go digital and join today’s internet age driven by knowledge, e-business, requisite skills, information and communications technology. It is also a statement by the youths for generational equity and balance in reforming the content and concept of the festival to meet the demands of emerging markets. The thinking of the youths is loud and clear that Ikeji is sitting on huge potentials for tourism, internal revenue generation, jobs creation and foreign direct investments if supported with basic social infrastructure. The position of the youths point to new important directions for reforms. This is where we are going with the Ikeji festival. But it is a story on its own for another day.
However, we note that the website has helped to institutionalise the festival and put same on the global map for easy access especially by Aros around the world. We welcome such contributions and expect more. Ikeji Aro is also on social media platforms twitter, Facebook, Instagram, u-tube etc courtesy of the donor of the website. With these innovations, Aros around the world can follow the ceremony as it progresses with the comfort of their mobile phones and other devices in their palms. I also confirm that diverse cultural troupes from the 19 villages made up of masquerades, dances of all types will be on parade and compete for honours. Ekpe Arochukwu will make another historic appearance to usher the Eze Aro, Okpankpo Aro, the royalty, and invited dignitaries to the ceremony. The Ekpe procession is usually a beauty to watch. It is a dignified procession only for Ekpe initiates open to whom it may concern only. None initiates watch the procession from the sidelines with admiration. The sound of Ekpe drum reminds all and sundry of the superiority of “Arochukwu- government” in Igbo land in those ancient times when “boys” were men. Again, Aros in the Diaspora-Arondizuogu, Ajalli, Ndi Eni Asaa are arriving Eke Ekpe with difficult, complex masquerades that spectators are advised to watch with dark sunglasses and from measured distance.
In addition, our sister neighbouring communities of Abam, Ohafia and Ututu are expected at Eke Ekpe for the first time. We have been informed in advance that Ututu, Abam and Ohafia are set to storm Aro with unique, exciting rich cultures of their respective communities. The invitation extended to these sister towns are in line with our desire to sell Ikeji to our neighbours and use the festival to cement good neighborliness, build friendship, partnership and collaboration. All arrangements to ensure precision and efficiency in management of the event have been put in place. To this end, Amaikpe, the venue of the grand finale will be closed to traffic on Sept 24th from 8 am to 7pm. Alternative routes have been created to divert traffic. Major hotels in Aro already witnessing a lot of traffic in bookings. Many of the hotels known as Ikeji partner hotels and their contacts are available on www.ikejiaro.com . Even the Okada ridders responsible for movement of goods and services in Aro urban metropolis have been incorporated as key partners for the 2017 edition. This is also same with Aro vigilante groups expected to work under the guidance of the police and other security agencies to maintain law and order.
The climax of the event is the message from his majesty the Eze Aro on Ikeji and the state of our union. The message expected to carry the weight of royalty and blessings of Eze Aro is usually like water that has no boundary. The Ikeji message spreads blessings to our guests, Aros in all the nooks and crannies of the globe. The state of our union address by the Eze Aro will stress the importance of our unity and the immense benefits. This is inspite of clear challenges of infrastructural deficit in Arochukwu, especially the “humiliating” condition of Ohafia – Arochukwu road. Besides, the divergent opinions of Aros on Aro, state and national issues as well as our political differences notwithstanding, Ikeji 2017 is again to reaffirm that Arochukwu remains united, strong and committed to our kingdom.
On behalf of the President General Nzuko Arochukwu World Wide, Mazi George Ezuma, the National Executive Committee, our corporate sponsors, the MTN, Nigeria Breweries, and the members of Ikeji 2017 Planning Committee, I am honoured to welcome you all to another wonderful festival. I appeal to all Aros and invited guests to conduct themselves peacefully and orderly with love, respect to one another to make this year’s event another memorable ceremony to the glory God, service to humanity, our community and country. I thank you.