Aro honors and awards: the time to review the system and make improvements has come

Mazi Emma Kanu Ivi

Honors and Awards as socio-cultural practice had been with mankind for some ages; but it has become more popular and a very huge business in this 21st century. Whether they are given in recognition of certain accomplishments or presented as special gifts to people at any special events, or hoisted over an achiever’s neck, all represent a mark of dignity.

When prizes are presented to champions at the end of any sporting competitions be it in form of belts, medals, trophies, art works on wood and metals all constitute honors and awards. Every society has some people they find right and just to respect and honor any time they may choose. Such people, usually few in the midst of many, are highly regarded as achievers in certain areas of endeavors in their community. Many others aspire to be counted as one of them. Competitions for honor and awards are really expanding all over. What criteria and methods to adopt to choose who to honor with awards differ from one community to another and from an event to another. Obviously, there is a thin line of difference between honors and awards. ‘An honor is when someone is officially recognized for his accomplishments. An award is a prize people receive for something special they have achieved’. Both seem very similar; at times, something can be both an honor and an award.

As Honors and Awards events gain popularity across the globe, communities weave them into their calendars. Arochukwu is not an exception to that practice too, as some people may have wrongly thought. Let the truth be told; even in Arochukwu of old, honors and awards presentation had long been practiced. For example, such were publicly being witnessed periodically in the years of yore during the ‘Aro historic wrestling competitions’ usually held at Aro popular wrestling ground at Amangba square in Umuoti, the headquarters of Bianko kindred group in Asaga village Arochukwu. Skillful wrestling champions of different ages including some brave men like hunters who had killed very dangerous animals like tigers, or pythons with bare hands, assisted with crude tools, were publicly honored and presented with special prizes, and some given special title names such as Onyeike, Dike, Ogbuagu as mark of honor for their great achievements.

There is this popular saying ascribed to brave men of Aro clan: “Okeigbo erigiagu, nyara aworo ya’, meaning: Great Aro men don’t eat tiger meat but they deal with tiger and wear its skin. The practice of respecting strength and courage in those seasons of festival of the fittest became popular in Aro soon after the historic Aro-Ibibio war ended in favor of Ndi Aro. Great men of valor were highly honored for the feats they had achieved. Amangba wrestling competition was later moved to Ibom village square for some unfortunate reason that Ibom was more centrally located in Aro than Asaga; wrestling was later merged with Nkwo Ekpe Ibom Isii activities till date. It is also interesting to know that some of the ancient art works or artifacts that today adore some of our traditional shrines and deity temples like ‘Awada or Inyama-avia’ were indeed derived from special award prizes our brave ancestors obtained from others for their great feats in certain areas.

Those prize items were later dedicated to the ancestors’ family gods as treasures and have become part of the paraphernalia of various Aro ancestral temples that some people now go there to worship at and sacrifice to. The practice itself is a sort of respect and honor to the deserving ancestors (ndi-iche). Ofo or Ovo is a special staff with special spiritual power not every man in Aro kingdom would possess. It is a traditional prize of honor given only to men of impeccable integrity to possess. It has a huge history beyond the knowledge of many. All these are some historic facts, not many Aro people knew. And so, giving honors and awards is really not a new thing in Aro kingdom at all. It had been there for long but was wisely restricted to only those who merited and deserved the honor. Therefore no matter how our culture may have changed over time, we should not forget totally some vital aspects of our historic past. The practice of honoring our people should continue but with be wisely restricted to only those who deserve and merit the honor based on the awardees’ worthy accomplishments and impeccable integrity.

Honors and awards should not be cheapened or turned into ‘pay and get nomination gift’ for all manner of people. Honor should be honorable. Honoring people has gradually become part of culture of many societies and should therefore not be debased by merely basing selection on who to honor on ‘who you know’ or wealth some people have acquired. “Nwa Aro icho, Nkponala icho” still remains relevant. Wealth is not limited to money alone. It includes riches and all manner of power and influence that people possess. True Honor abhors wealth of dishonor and people of bad characters.

In Arochukwu in particular, good citizens, usually, are more interested in character standing of any intending honorees than the wealth they possess. Some people may go deep to examine the source of any intending honoree’s wealth and what good use such wealth has been employed to benefit other people and the community. Honor personifies dignity and should be ascribed to only men and women of integrity with dignified achievements. Because people are likely to have different views on the choice of who to honor when the need arises, it has become necessary that some standard criteria or guidelines be objectively set for selecting the best qualified among a desiring lot.

It is not an easy task to perform because human beings are always prone to imperfections and mistakes. Perfection belongs only to God, not to man. And Arochukwu kingdom and its people are also not isolated from the human errors and imperfection tag. The controversies generated by the 2019 Aro Awards list have now provided Nzuko Aro a good opportunity to comprehensively review the entire system of its Honors and Awards protocols with a genuine interest to correct imperfections already noticed.

There is now therefore an urgent need to establish a new set of rules (to be used for future events) with guidelines on: how to make calls for nominations of intending honorees, how and who to screen the nominees and select the right number of persons to be honored from the screened nominees, and an agreed time frame when Aro honors and awards event could be organized. The 2019 Aro Awards List controversies were elicited by Nzuko Aro Lagos Branch petition against its parent  body, threatening to go to court to ensure that the event, scheduled to hold on 26th December 2019, was stopped, if the Awards list was not canceled.

The ‘Lagos letter’, although controversial in itself, had some good message in it. Unfortunately, it also harbored a lot of misgivings, unnecessary threats to court action and propagated some unwise attacks on personalities of some innocent ones on the awards list. It was very unfortunate that most of us from Lagos Branch were not carried along when that letter was written and put in circulation in various social media. Many of us the leaders, patrons and members of Nzuko Aro in Lagos were not happy that such a letter with grave nasty part was written on our behalf without our knowledge. It was very wrong. And also how the whole thing was handled from inception surely gave an impression that there were some hidden issues the protesters were disgruntled about other than the 2019 Aro awards list. They could still have made their good points loud, clear and clean without unnecessary threats to court action and character castigation of innocent others.

I was later told by few of the people behind the Lagos petition that their anger derived from nonrecognition of three nominees ‘their Lagos Branch’ had recommended to Nzuko Aro Central body to accept and honor, and also the way some executive members of the Central body with some members of the screening committee had distributed the awards to themselves, including also the inclusion on the awards list, some people the Lagos petitioners did not consider worthy to be honored. I investigated their claims and discovered that one of the ‘Lagos three nominees’ was accepted, on his merit, and included on the awards list contrary to the ‘Lagos claim’. I also found out that very few people in and outside Nzuko Aro Lagos Branch were instigating the few Lagos petitioners to fire on and ensure that the award ceremony was stopped. That was wrong too.

Nevertheless, that Lagos Branch missive still had some few good points in it. But the petitioners mishandled it all. On the other hand, some of us, as former Presidents General and National Patrons of Nzuko Aro, were not even aware of who were nominated and selected for the awards. The Central body missed it a lot and was wrong on some of the things they were accused of. Yet, I still believe that the style and language Lagos petitioners applied was not the best way to correct the flaws. We don’t have to tear down Nzuko Aro or destroy the entire system in order to correct any errors therein. Fighting other irrelevant battles with different adduced reasons is not the best thing to do either. It happened that all these were happening when I was about to travel outside the country. I then made few calls to some prominent Aro leaders and patrons in Lagos, urging them not to allow our Lagos Branch to be used to fight some imaginary enemies. Things were already heading towards that direction.

Some Aro leaders also called me to confirm it and promised to intervene to stop the ill attempts. We are all stakeholders in Aro affairs. Nzuko Aro is a big institution in Aro kingdom to be allowed to be messed up by any of us. Gladly, interventions were promptly made by few and the entire dust went down to rest. Thanks to some leaders like Dr Alex Otti. The end goes to confirm my usual stand that ‘Ndi Aro ma-akpa isiokwu, ma wo anagi ese okwu’. Usually we may deeply disagree on any issue, but in the long run, we don’t quarrel to fight or kill ourselves over it.

Irrespective of what had happened, umuaro still stand united in purpose to take Aro kingdom to a greater height. In a big family like Arochukwu, there are likely to be several vessels of different makes, shapes and values. And all are still useful, helpful and needed. The major good point in that Lagos Branch missive is still apt, that is: that we should review the entire system of Aro Honors and Awards protocols. This is the positive outcome of the whole episode that we should welcome and thank Lagos Petitioners for. Nzuko Aro Honors and Awards as an event was introduced in 1998 by Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa’s Nzuko Aro leadership to help mobilize and attract Aros both at home and in diaspora to show more interest in Aro kingdom affairs.

The first Awardees in 1998 were 7 and all were bestowed with Ugwu Aro title. Mazi Sam himself, a serving President General then, got the award based purely on his meritorious services to Aro kingdom. Sam conducted another Awards event in 2002. The records of the first and second Aro awards events conducted by Sam were fully rendered by him (Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa) and his stewardship accounts were equally published in a small booklet form and publicly launched.

After Sam’s administration, came in my humble self, Mazi Emma Kanu Ivi; I was elected the next President General, Nzuko Aro Worldwide, on 26th December 2003; but our team assumed full leadership control on Easter Saturday, 2004. We served two terms of three years each (6 years in all) and organized three Aro awards events on 26th December 2005, 2007, and 2009 respectively. All the three events were successful. They all attracted many dignitaries: governors and senators from different states, eminent business people and other respected professionals to Arochukwu.

Proceeds from those events helped us to do a lot of work in Aro kingdom including taking Aro civic center project from an uncompleted ground floor level to a visible height with certain part of the central portion of the hall roofed and fully paid for. We also left some millions of Naira in Nzuko Aro’s bank accounts for the next leadership to inherit. In addition to Ugwu Aro title, our administration introduced three more classes to Awards, namely: Ada-Ukwu Aro, Ikemba Aro and post humus awards titles.

With Okpankpo Aro, we constituted an Aro Award screening committee to screen and recommend from usually long lists of nominees those the committee thought fit and proper to be honored. The position of the Chairman of the screening committee was ceded to Eze Aro palace. And Rev. Prince Joshua Kanu Oji was appointed. We published list of the nominees on Aronews and called for reactions from the public. We had nominees from villages, organizations and Aro Diaspora communities. The names of the nominees were made public and discussed at various meetings; some Ezeogos even opposed one or two nominations from their villages. Our Executive team considered the final list and made tough decision on who to (or not to) honor based on verifiable reasons with consultations to Okpankpo Aro.

Our leadership were bold enough to cancel some few names that were even on the recommended award list but which we later found not appropriately fit for the awards based on verifiable reasons. It wasn’t an easy decision. But tough decisions had to be made for public interest. It had its ugly cost; we decided to bear it as we did it. At the end of our leadership tenure, we immediately published detailed records and accounts of our Stewardship in a colorful historic book of about 280 pages titled: ‘Nzuko Aro Leadership, an Accounts of My Stewardship, by Mazi Emma Kanu Ivi’.

The book was a marvel and was distributed free to all Nzuko Aro Branches; and each branch got about 5 to 7 copies; all members of Okpankpo Aro, all village heads and other umu Aro got at least one copy each on Saturday, 3rd April 2010, being the same date our leadership fully handed power to the next incoming Nzuko Aro leadership. No time gap! It was historic. But unfortunately, when the controversies on the 2019 Aro awards list were heating up some social media space, especially on Rebuilding Aro nation platform, some of our people who were not well informed on these issues as at then were even asking for records and accounts of the past honors and awards events.

Now that such people have been well informed, they can now ask me and or Sam Ohuabunwa for a copy of our books of records on our respective stewardship accounts. I assure you they may get the books from each of us the same day or just few days after asking, depending on one’s location. After my team’s leadership tenure, my brother, Engr Nnamdi Udo and his team fully took over from us on same day, 3rd April, 2010. He and his team served for six years too. People are also now free to ask him and members of his team for the records and accounts of his stewardship. Interestingly, one of the most vocal persons on the controversies, who is not even from Lagos Branch, was a key member of the last regime; and I think it was his official responsibility to ensure that good records and accounts of any honors and awards events conducted during their own tenure were properly kept and published for all to see and get.

Indeed when I called for internal self-appraisal during the heated controversies, I was really calling on us all to reexamine our individual selves and consciences with a view to making some amends wherever necessary. It is important that people who ask for equity must come with a clean hand. Some lessons from the 2019 Aro Award controversies are indeed very useful and interesting. Some positive inputs which some Aro patriots made on various media on how to improve on future Aro Awards events still remain valid and vital. In addition to that and to what we have already discussed earlier, let us now ask ourselves some few relevant questions, and also try to provide some answers:

Is Aro Honors and Awards event a strange thing in Aro culture? The answer is No. Aro culture supports recognition of honor to whom honor is due. But our culture does not support giving out any social chieftaincy title as an honor or award to anyone at all. Only Eze Aro and Aro traditional village heads and compound heads are accorded recognition of traditional chieftaincy titles of different classes; some exceptions in Aro Diaspora communities do exist because of some cogent political reasons. In Arochukwu of old we had age grade system in every village. Age grades then used to give recognitions and some social title names to some of their members who had made some significant contributions to projects the age grades had initiated. Some of those social title names include: Ikenga, Ekwueme, Ugwumba, etc. The practice constituted honor bestowals. Aro villages like Atani have also been honoring some of their people within the past 50 years or so. You can see the progress Atani village has made at home and abroad. Nevertheless, Aros still abhor parading such ‘social title names’ as if there were chieftaincy titles. Ndi Aro value our ‘Mazi title’ more than chieftaincy title, to the extent that even our Eze Aro and Ezeogos prefer Mazi title to Chief this or that. ‘Mazi’ is a unique Aro title reserved exclusively for qualified Aro men whose fathers are no more and who have given their deceased fathers full burial rites according to Aro custom and tradition. And in addition, such men might have attained certain age of wisdom with valuable experience in life and might have played some significant roles in their families and community to merit the high regards and respect attached to Mazi title in Aro kingdom. It is not quite true that Mazi title is merely available to any Aro man whose father is dead and been buried. It is unfortunate that Mazi title has been badly abused and bastardized by many umu-Aro and non-Aro alike to the extent that every Aro man and even Igbo man, no matter his status in the society, now wants to be addressed as Mazi. Some have wrongly reduced Mazi title to equivalent of a ‘Mister’. We may quit further discussion on Mazi title for now.

Has Nzuko Aro Honors and awards event brought any good thing to Arochukwu?  The answer is Yes! The Honors events have been attracting  prominent Aros in diaspora and many eminent Nigerians, politicians, business people, etc to Arochukwu. It has helped to draw wider attention to developments and infrastructures needs of Arochukwu town. It has encouraged positive inter community neighborhoods relations with states like Akwa Ibom whose governors have been invited severally; and they have been very helpful to our need for access roads to and from Arochukwu. It has also encouraged some Aro elites in diaspora to relocate and make some positive contributions to political, social, economic, and physical developments of Arochukwu town faster. Dr. Alex Otti’s contributions so far and many others like him are some living good testimonies too.

How can we improve upon the mistakes and imperfections of the past? First, we should accept that some mistakes have been made and we should be ready and willing to correct them. We should reduce the frequency with which we hold the awards events. May I suggest that the event be held only once in every 3 years and on a special Aro day, 26th December of the appropriate year. This will help any incumbent President General  to organize not more than two Honors and Awards events during his full tenure, if he is lucky to secure two terms; or organize only one event in each 3-year term of his tenure. This will offer him an ample time to plan for a big event and to prepare and render proper Accounts of his stewardships at the end of his each term. The number of Awardees on each Award class in any event should also be reduced. A  maximum of not more than 15 Awardees in total in the one event of the 3-year period may not be a bad idea. This may be spread across the different award classes, viz: UgwuAro, 5 Awardees only in 3 years; Adaukwu Aro, 2 Awardees only in 3 years; Ikemba Aro, 5 Awardees only in 3 years; One special honoree of a non Aro stock in 3 years and only 2 Post humus awards in 3 years. I believe the fewer the number of honorees, the highly respected and better the awards and events will be.

Screening Committee should be made an ad-hoc; and members limited to only 7 persons of 5 men and 2 women who already are Ugwu Aro and Adaukwu Aro title holders respectively. They should be persons of high repute and should have no interest in any prospective nominees. However, should it be found later that any of the Committee members has any critical relationships with any prospective nominees that could lead to a possible conflict of interest, such committee member should honorably excuse oneself completely from membership of the screening team. It will also be necessary to publish the list of all the nominees well in advance, in Easter and Ikeji editions of Aronews or any other local newspapers, in the year of the awards event, so that the general public may be given ample opportunity to air their opinions on any of the nominees. Such opinions may be confidentially sent to the screening committee. The whole event processes should be transparent and accountable.

It may equally be necessary to now have in the new Nzuko Aro constitution, a provision that will empower Nzuko Aro, in consultation with other relevant Aro leaderships, to publicly withdraw or cancel any honor or award title earlier extended to any recipient who, in the course of time, falls short of expected standard of behavior to warrant continuous retention of the awards.

All these recommendations are suggestions, not conclusive and not exhaustive. We believe much better ideas and opinions still exist and may be added to enrich the whole process. A continuous evaluation and review of the Aro honors and awards systems to ensure continuous improvements process should also be put in place. We urge us all to support every good program of Nzuko Aro. We should not work to destroy any good thing Ndi Aro have labored hard over the years to build. Criticism is a welcome thing if it is constructively done without any malice and bad intentions. I sincerely believe that if we work together as a people with clean hearts and minds, we can easily take Aro kingdom to a greater enviable height in many spheres of developments. Aro Honors and Awards events have come to stay and should be made to get better and better. Let us therefore contribute more on how to make the system work better. It is even an honor to be counted as one of those who are genuinely working together to make things work better for the joy of all Aros and the Aro kingdom of this generation and others to come.

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