In the next two weeks or thereabout, Arochukwu kingdom shall, once more, be thrown into a historic fun and glamour blitz which, in the last three years, characterized the zenith of its new yam festival, the ekekpe Arochukwu. As the Chair, 2019 Ikeji Organizing Committee, a role which I also played in 2018, I deem it necessary to prepare our minds on what to expect. This is particularly necessary as the festival has since it was rebranded three years ago remained a major force pulling umuaro from various abodes on a home-coming mission annually. On behalf of His Royal Majesty, Mazi Ogbonnaya Okoro, CFR, the Eze Aro of Arochukwu Kingdom, Ndi Eze Ogo, the President-General and CWEC, Nzuko Arochukwu World-wide, Villages, Sponsors (Corporate and Individuals) and Umuaro at home and in diaspora, I would gladly welcome everyone to the 2019 Ikeji festival and its grand finale, Ekekpe Arochukwu. It shall be the fourth to be organized by the current leadership of Nzuko Arochukwu, now on the first year of its second tenure. Right from its first tenure, Ikeji was rebranded extraordinarily that successive editions have remained the talk around town until the arrival of another. Most importantly, it has become a home-coming opportunity amongst Aro-Ulo and Aro-Uzo and numerous guests and tourists. This year in particular, we shall be hosting kit and kin from Umuakali-Naze, Owere, Imo state who are residing overseas. In fact, for some members of the tour team, it’s their first visit to Arochukwu, their ancestral abode. The presence of umuaro in great numbers at Amaikpe each ekekpe, I sincerely believe, signify preparedness and willingness to support Arochukwu culture as a vehicle for societal development. I sincerely recognize and appreciate this exceptional sacrifice therefore, implore all to sustain the practice for a greater posterity.
Again, the corporate sponsorship of the festival by local and international brands such as MTN, Nigerian Breweries, SHOBAZ, etc.; collaboration with the youths, budding entrepreneurs such as The Rare Gem, Emmy Entertainments & Events, the advert support by individuals and groups, including numerous assistance by umuaro, friends and associates have greatly enhanced the Ikeji brand and uplifted its status to the admiration of the citizens. Consequently, the entire community and its immediate neighbors, including umuaro in diaspora, as well as those residing overseas that watch the event online, eagerly await each successive edition. Furthermore, the live transmission of the festival via Facebook and website (www.arronewsonline.com) which started in 2018 shall be sustained this year. In essence, its business proposition is being greatly enhanced, thus better opportunities now exist for entrepreneurs to tap into the infinite commercial value it presents. Herein lies opportunities for interested individuals and groups who are willing to explore and exploit this business angle. Again, a number of factors shall feature to distinguish and promote the festival brand and I will mention a few here.
Ikeji Theme – Reaffirmation of our Common Heritage, Ancestry and Identity
Aside from expanding the commercial frontier which presents bigger opportunities for businesses to key into the annual ikeji project; particularly via multiple media and online global presence; the 2019 ikeji shall feature other significant innovations that touch on our identity as a people. For example, the theme, “Ikeji Arochukwu: Culture for Development”, which provides focus for all activities. Why is a theme important in a major festival such as Ikeji. At times, themes are needed to make new points, emphasize different aspects of facts, take a cause a notch higher, etc. Indeed, themes assist convey the intended lesson, conclusion, message, or central characterization in an activity. The essence, usually, is to teach an important lesson and direct communal thoughts and energies towards what shall propel or trigger collective survival and growth. How does Ikeji provide a lever or basis for the development of the kingdom? That Arochukwu is a great and historic center of culture is not in doubt. That our forebears achieved great exploits in expanding the frontiers of our noble civilization which earned the kingdom great repute in the past is equally not in contest. However, how has that enviable status attained over years of hard work by generations past been sustained? Do we see concrete evidence of forces threatening to destroy efforts to reposition the community on the path of peaceful development? Doesn’t this call for new attitude to rediscover ourselves and redirect our energies towards a commitment to achieve the objective? This is where culture has a major role to play and the cultural revival which ikeji signposts is the surest bet to doing that.
Cultural Renaissance and Community Development
Again, the theme has a great role in reawakening the essence of our oneness as a people and the bond that hold us together. Culture is a strong part of people’s lives. It influences our views, values, humor, hopes, loyalties, worries, fears, etc. and its aggregation and channeling towards a common goal ensures quicker attainment of results. In essence, a strong cultural identity is important to a people’s wellbeing and when a people have a strong sense of their own cultural history and traditions, it promotes unity and progress. Given that the society is in a constant state of flux and culture is not static but progressively adjusts to the imperatives of new social order, and, as long as culture is the biggest tool for the development of mankind; Ikeji Arochukwu remains the biggest platform in our life and times to achieve cultural rebirth and renaissance such that would engender development in the kingdom.
Youth Empowerment and Fun Shows
Moreover, a related development is the conscious effort to assign a significant role to our youths in the Ikeji activities. Granted that the youths are integrated into most of the stages as they accompany the elders to various ceremonies, the imperative of modern civilization dictates that youth empowerment program should be a structural component of the ikeji circle. In most communities, young people make up the bigger piece of the population which indicates the crucial role they play today. With the number advantage on their side, youngsters could do so much in our communities if properly harnessed. In the very least, engaging the youths constructively can help reduce the risk of becoming involved in unsafe activities, thus reduce social malaise. My committee therefore, deem it necessary for the total development of Arochukwu kingdom to incorporate the youths in the ikeji program by creating pre and post Ikeji fun shows, a variety night which aim to empower and bring out the best in the hidden talents of the youths. This year, it shall hold on the evening after ekekpe, in collaboration with the National Association of Arochukwu Students (NAAS). In this wise, we appreciate the current exco of NAAS, led by Genesis Praise Obasi, for seeing the need for this innovation and working hard to actualize it. We shall continue to partner with all youths, students and non-students alike, to ensure the attainment of this goal, especially via proving a platform to showcase their talents and creative energies aimed at the growth of the kingdom.
Ikeji Kick-Off Ceremony
Following the commendation that trailed the innovation in 2018, we shall sustain consultation with villages through Ndi Eze Ogo and other special groups ahead of ikeji to ensure that the previous event was exhaustively appraised and pitfalls identified avoided in the future. The kick-off ceremony this year occurred on Saturday August 31, 2019 and it witnessed interactions with Eze Ogos, presidents of village welfare associations, Students and Youths, representatives of other significant groups, etc. It also afforded opportunity for formal inauguration of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) led by the president of Nzuko Arochukwu Home Branch, Mazi Jerry Onwumere. The forum provided opportunity for interaction and clarification on the modus operandi of the 2019 Ikeji Organizing Committee. The highly elated individuals and groups promised to work jointly with other groups to ensure the success of the ikeji ceremony.
Recognition for Outstanding Cultural Performances
One of the important lessons from previous years is that there are a few cultural groups and masquerades whose appearance add so much glamour to the ceremony, and spectators are always longing to have them appear and perform. However, the assessment of these category of troupes for award of prizes is usually difficult as they do not fall within existing criteria being used by judges to determine winners. Assessment criteria most times rely on indigenous cultural dances, aspects of civilizations at the risk of going extinct that is displayed for education and socialization purpose and remarkable traits associated with ancient and historic traditions of the kingdom. Consequently, these groups are, year-in and year-out, left out without award of prizes whereas their presence set the whole environment afire with excitement and joy. We equally reckon that villages incur a lot of costs to ensure that such rare performances are showcased at ikeji arena. We therefore, see the need to create a special category of honor to recognize such groups and ensure that their presence is fully appreciated.
Program for Ekekpe Day – Tradition versus Christianity?
Arising from the fact that ekekpe has in the last few years always fallen on Sundays, which obviously conflicts with the activities of various Christian groups; and wrongly convey the impression of a conflict between the forces of tradition and Christianity, many individuals and groups have canvassed opinion about shifting the grand finale of Ikeji to accommodate everyone. This is inclusive of umuaro who are public servants and who should not be denied the opportunity of their means of livelihood even as they partake in ikeji festival. Any day outside Sunday will also promote collaboration with Christian groups and assist cement their relationship thus, avoid seeing ikeji as something opposed to Christian practices. That it was possible to achieve such a situation in the past which made it possible to avoid any form of rancor reinforces the argument of people opposed to having ekekpe on Sundays. Staging it on Sundays makes it impossible for Christians to attend at all or to attend very late, thus negatively affecting the timing of activities. During the annual Ikeji Christian Lecture on Friday August 30, 2019, now on its 14th edition, the opinion was seriously canvassed and the majority of umuaro in attendance agreed that the presence of personalities such as the royal prince of Arochukwu kingdom and current and past leaders of Nzuko Arochukwu Worldwide was enough and capable to find a solution to the matter. It is expected that any such intervention would positively impact ekekpe and assist to build the brand into a bigger and unifying festival for people of all faiths.
Finally, I continue to savor the honor and privilege of working with the palace, Eze Ogos, patrons, village associations, clubs, iyom, traditional, administrative and political elites, agencies of government in our community, special guests, youths, umuaro, etc., and our kit and kin in diaspora to rebuild our kingdom to an enviable status. As usual, I enjoin umuaro to, in our characteristic manner, extend courtesies to all guests and conduct themselves orderly. In a special way, I appreciate members of the 2019 Ikeji Arochukwu Organizing Committee, particularly the very active few, including the LOC, whose onerous sacrifices have always stood us on a solid ground for success. When the curtain shall fall on ekekpe 2019, each and every one of us shall depart peacefully and the grace of the Almighty shall be our guide. I consider it a great privilege to serve the community in this capacity in the last two years. I enjoin umuaro to enthrone a new socio-cultural order for the benefit of the present and future generations. As a people, I see us on the door of a new beginning. Ako Bu Ije.