By James Eze
Like a royal peacock spreading its splendid tail to welcome the morning sun, the ancient city of Aguleri recently lit up with colour to honour some of the best and brightest sons and daughter of Igboland.
It was the 118th Ovala Festival of the legendary Idigo dynasty as Igwe Christopher Idigo (Ogalagidi) marked yet another great year on the throne of his ancestors. It was no ordinary day. The sun deliberately hid behind the harmattan haze; waiting for the sound of the royal drums. The clouds strolled aimlessly across the skies wishing they carried the weight of joyous rain. But it was January and rainfall was not even a distant hope.
The blast of the bugle brought us to unexpected attention. Akpokuedike slid out of the car, reached out and grabbed a hold of his sceptre and walked regally over to the red carpet. A guard of honour had been mounted for him by the police band. The dazzling red of the police band blended perfectly with the red carpet and ricocheted off Akpokue’s red cap festooned with tall eagle feathers. Everyone in the expansive compound of his country home knew that it was time for serious business. There was pin-drop silence. The bugle sounded again in a raspy broken voice as if underfeed with air. May be the trumpeter was underfeed himself.
Akpokuedike observed a guard of honour. It was a brief but colourful ceremony handled with military precision. But it was also a magnificent opening sequence for the big splash at the Ovala Square in downtown Aguleri. A real plume of colour awaited us at the Square. A high ceremony broken into several movements steeped in strong cultural significations. Akpokuedike (the buzz of a warrior) was about to transform to Ebubedike (the glory of a warrior). His face shone like golden mirror in the evening sun as we arrived. The crowd rose to its feet to herald his arrival. Already seated in the open pavilion were Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth and Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, (Agbogidi) the Obi of Onitsha. The very air was redolent with royalty. The Jewel of the Niger, Ambassador Bianca Odumegwu-Ojukwu was also seated in the front row; smouldering and glowing like a burst of fireflies in defiance of the harmattan haze. She was made perfect!
Soon after Akpokuedike’s arrival, the ceremony began in full. First came a royal procession of all the high chiefs of Aguleri and members of the Igwe’s cabinet. Akpokuedike was at the head of the procession with a golden scepter in his left hand and a large fan in his right on which is embroidered the Nigerian Coat of Arms. As they filed out in splendid combination of purple and white robes and long red caps with tall eagle feathers, you wondered if you were watching a scene from Things Fall Apart with the leaders of Umuofia heading to the Ilo to answer the summons of the Ikolo. Four of the chiefs slung long, gleaming elephant tusks across their shoulders as they marched to the beat of the royal drum while some had the star of David and other insignia of the state of Israel embroidered prominently on their robes.
Next came the grand ladies of substance, swaying to their own music with some colourful rectangular objects that looked like royal stools evenly balanced on their heads. They were followed by a group of pacey young men with metal gongs (ogene) in their hands who made their own music and danced to it too. Then, a group of young girls and then a procession of regally dressed maidens who carried in their royal strides the pride of Aguleri as the birthplace of the Igbo where Eri the son of Gad had found anchor after the dispersal of the tribes in the Old Testament.
Then came the Igwe Ogalagidi himself, sweeping out of his palace in a blistering pace with the agility that belies his age. He had all the colours of the rainbow in his royal hat which fanned out splendidly like the tail of a peacock. He swept through the royal pavilion, acknowledging cheers and welcoming the large assemblage of his fellow Igwes. He soon returned to his palace only to re-appear for the second time. His second coming carried greater weight though as he quickly headed to the specially made royal tent in the middle of the square where a throne was waiting for him. Addressing the gathering from there, he explained that it was not the custom of Aguleri to confer an honorary title twice on any individual no matter how distinguished. But Akpokuedike had done something that called for a second look at that custom. Even so, he would not be given a new title entirely. He would simply be upgraded from Akpokuedike to Ebubedike. The crowd responded warmly to the announcement.
Governor Obiano walked regally to the tent, acknowledging cheers from the crowd. Moments later, he stepped back, beaming with smile, a leopard skin draping his back to clearly indicate his glorious elevation to the status of the most exalted warrior in the land. The drums throbbed in reverence to him while the flutist sang his praises. The all-new Ebubedike Aguleri went round the pavilion, shaking hands with fellow royal fathers and acknowledging cheers from the audience. He broke into a short dance as his feet struck amazing communication with the deep sounds of the royal drums. His nimbleness and agility erased all doubts about his transformation from Akpokuedike to Ebubedike. It was a war dance and fellow warriors soon lined up for a warrior salute. Simultaneously, he shook hands with Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth Secretary General, Senator Victor Umeh, Ohamadike Ndigbo and Prof Solo Chukwulobelu, the SSG while the crowd cheered.
All eyes were on Anyanwu Ututu, Ambassador Bianca Odumegwu-Ojukwu when she stood up with a flourish and waltzed her way amid cheers to the royal tent to receive the title, “Ugo Eji Eje Mba.” She assumed that position once Igwe Idigo gently placed a sacred bead around her neck and a beaded hat on her head. As she rose to her feet from her earlier squatting position, her face lit up with smiles that sprayed a thousand sparkles across the audience, melting hearts and drawing applause from the crowd. Someone said her honour was well deserved because she of the way she had practically transformed into a force of nature and swept every venue of the gubernatorial campaign train with unexpected magic. The crowd hailed her by her new title as she took her first handshake with the Igwe in a manner that is customarily reserved for accomplished men. With this gesture, Ambassador Odumegwu-Ojukwu had once again broken another barrier in a life laden with honour as she automatically became a member of the Igwe’s cabinet. A woman who had crossed the boundary of womanhood.
Alhaji Sani Abdullahi Shinkafi, APGA gubernatorial aspirant in Zamfara State was also honoured with the title, “Enyi Ndi Igbo.” It was a great gesture in national bridge-building. The import was not lost on the Zafara born politician who has become firmly embedded in the Anambra socio-political environment.
The Vice Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Prof Joseph Ahaneku was conferred with the title Aka ji Omumu while the Chairman and CEO of Ejison Group of Companies, Chief Joseph Ukaeji was honoured as the Ukpaka n’agbalu Ora.