Thursday, May 31, 2012

mauricearchibongtravels: Come to Igbo Ukwu Festival 2012, see 200 masquerades and taste 76 yam varieties

mauricearchibongtravels: Come to Igbo Ukwu Festival 2012, see 200 masquerades and taste 76 yam varieties

Come to Igbo Ukwu Festival 2012, see 200 masquerades and taste 76 yam varieties

Igbo Ukwu promises 200 masquerades, over 76 yam species at 2012 yam fest

Ever seen over 200 masquerades, perceieved spirits of departed ones, performing at a go? Would you believe that masquerades could be likened to insects or the Yoruba kokoro? Well, some masquerades alias ojuju Calabar or Mmanwu in Igbo are diurnal, while some are nocturnal?
Pic 1. PHOTOS: MAURICE ARCHIBONG. Copyrights reserved.

But, this is just one of the many semblances between mmanwu and the Igbo ahuhun (insects). Insects come in sundry shapes and sizes, and so do masquerades.

Also, Insecta family members throw up numerous colours just like masquerades’ costumes; and, while some species of insects crawl, others fly; just like masquerades.

During their visit to the world of the mortal, some spirits shriek, some gyrate, they dance and invoke excitement among the living.

Now, if one masquerade throws up so much thrill, then the delectations derivable from some 200 spirits is best left to a conjecture.
Pic 2.

Want to see hundreds of mmanwu in action at a go or in one setting? The Anambra State town of Igbo Ukwu promises that rare opportunity during this year’s Iwa ji ndi Igbo or National New Yam Festival.

Interestingly, the 2012 edition of Iwa ji ndi Igbo does not only promise the thrill of 200 spirits in action, this year’s National Yam Festival will also feature a parade of yams: All 76 species!

Who would believe there were so many varieties of this root crop! Now, this aspect is one of the benefits of a collaboration between the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and Mbido Igbo Association (MIA), organisers of Iwa ji ndi Igbo, on one hand; and, the National Root Crop Research Institute, Umudike in Abia State, on the other.
Pic 3.

Other bodies involved in this collaboration include the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation; International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Oyo State; Anambra State Government, Ohaneze ndi Igbo Worldwide and Igbo communities at home and in the Diaspora, we gathered.
This year’s National Yam Festival will take place from August 20 to the 25th, according to HRH Igwe Martin Ezeh, traditional ruler of Igbo Ukwu and Chairman Board of Trustee of Mbido Igbo Association.

For the six days that the fiesta, which aims at showcasing the best of Igbo Culture and Hospitality, is billed to run; activities will begin from 10am daily, and; as usual, the 2012 National Yam Festival will revolve around the National Yam House in Igbo Ukwu, Aguata Local Government Area (LGA) of Anambra State, added the monarch, who is also fondly addressed as Idu II.
Pic 4.

Welcome to Igbo Ukwu. Among archaeologists, Igbo Ukwu is one of Nigeria’s most famous settlements because, like the Cross River State town of Alok, home of Bakor monoliths, and the southern Kaduna State settlement of Nok, famed for its priceless terra cotta, Igbo Ukwu was launched on the world map by antiquities excavated in this area since 1937 by Professor Thurstan Shaw CBE and Fellow, Society of Archaeologists (FSA).

For helping to bring Igbo Ukwu’s priceless antiquities to universal attention through his works, which includes publications like Unearthing Igbo Ukwu: Archaeological discoveries in Eastern Nigeria, issued in Ibadan by the Oxford University Press in 1977; Shaw was on December 23, 1972; installed Onu n’ekwulu ora (World spokeman) of this Igbo community.

Tourism, Culture and National Orientation Minister, High Chief Edem Duke is slated as Distinguished Guest of Honour; Anambra State Governor, HE Peter Obi (Okute ndi Igbo), as Special Guest of Honour; while Senator Andy Ubah and Hon. Eucharia Azodo have been penned down as Special Hosts of Honour.

The festival will be chaired by Dr. Ikechukwu Omenwa, while Amb Raph Uwechue MFR, President General of Ohaneze Worldwide will be Distinguished Father of the Day.

Prof. Tunde Babawale, Director General of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC); Otunba Olusegun Runsewe OON, NTDC DG; Dr. Barclays Ayakoroma, Executive Secretary of the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO); Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman, DG of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM); Mr. Abdullahi Muku, National Gallery of Art (NGA) DG; Mr. M.M. Maidugu, Executive Director, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC); among others, will be Guests of Honour.

The Idu II of Igbo Ukwu will be Royal Father of the Day, while Anambra Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism will play Chief Host.

As has come to be the tradition, chieftaincy titles will be conferred on the following select recipients; Chief Jerome Isangedighi, Madam Lucy Okoye, Dr John Ikeorgu and Dr. Robert Asiedu; while HRH Igwe Christopher Umeaniba (Ezechukwukwadolu Azigbo), is Organising Royal Father of this year’s fiesta.
Pic 5.

Speaking during a tour of Abuja, where Idu II visited the offices of the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation; NGA, NTDC and NCAC et cetera; the traditional ruler confirmed this year’s yam fest will feature a parade of over 200 masquerades.

The Igwe of Igbo Ukwu was accompanied on the Abuja tour by HRH Igwe C.C. Okoli, Ezechukwuchiri and Eze Igbo I of Suleja; HRH C.C. Umeaniba, HRH A.N. Onwuneme, Chief Sunny S. Okeke, MIA Secretary; Mazi Ugochukwu Okafouzu, MIA Chairman and Mr. Ade Fernandez Aremu, a former NYSC member, who after completion of his National Service at Igbo Ukwu Palace, was retained and adopted as son by the traditional ruler.

During Idu II’s latest sojourn in Abuja, this welcome bond between an Igbo monarch and Yoruba-born Ade Aremu was roundly commended by several VIPs, who observed it is a sign of hope for the future of Nigerian unity.

Interestingly, too; it also came to light that a Yoruba Moslem from Ogun State served as Best Man to the then Dr. Martin Nwafor Ezeh during the latter’s wedding decades ago.

This year’s Iwa ji ndi Igbo will open with two events on August 20: These are the flagging off of an art exhibition featuring the works of Cyril Nwokoli, with Slave Trade as theme as well as road shows in each of the five Igbo-speaking states in the South-east geopolitical zone. The streets parade will be led by each state’s council for arts and culture.

Day two will feature homage visits to select Igbo monarchs, while a similar trip will be made to the shrine of the Priest of the Festival (Eze Muo) on day three. Other activities slated for day three include Lectures by Prof. Umeh and Dr. Tony Nwaezeigwe, CBAAC Exhibition for the Festival, Ceremonious Public Presentation of New Yams; and, night outings by relevant masquerades.

August 23 (Day four) has been tagged Anambra Local Government Areas Day, but it is on this day the NGA Exhibition for the Festival is also billed to open. Additionally, Anambra LGAs will feature, among other events, folklore presentations, Best Palm wine tapper contest; and, night entertainment by Osadebe Jr. Band.

On Day five (August 24), there will be dances and other performances by communities in Nigeria’s South-South geo-political zone states as well as Traditional Wrestling contests, opening of NCMM Exhibition for the Festival, Carnival, masquerades carnival, followed by a night show by Oriental Brothers International.

The grand finale, Day Six (August 25) is when the Iwa ji (cutting of the yam) proper will take place. However, the day will also feature Living Treasures Awards, Biggest Yam Competition, Conferment of chieftaincy titles as well as performances by Egedege of Africa, Mich Phillips and Mgbajala Ifite Awka in all night outing.
Pic 6.

At the Tourism and Culture Ministry headquarters, where the Igbo visitors met with the minister, who was represented by Mr. Chidi Uwandu; Idu II thanked the minister for attending, through another representative, last year’s yam festival and for the support of High Chief Duke since he assumed office as Tourism and Culture Minister.

“Hon. Minister, you have within the last one year turned around the country’s culture and tourism sector for the better. You are a man sent to conquer and you have started on the right note and that is what brought us here. Your policies have helped in no small way to put Nigerian tourism and culture on its right pedestal”, declared Igwe of Igbo Ukwu.

Idu II went on to plead that a pavillion promised by the minister’s representative during the 2011 fiesta be built. It could be recalled that  the lady, who represented Chief Duke during last year’s yam festival, had said the ministry would, as part of its contribution to the growth of the indaba, build a Pavillion to serve as a befitting sitting place for VIPs that attend events at the National Yam House grounds.

Although the Director General of the NGA, Mr. Abdullahi Muku, was unavoidably absent, the visitors enjoyed excellent reception from a team of NGA seniors including Mr. Achigbu Henry, Director of Finance and Accounts (DFA); Mr. Steve Akusu, Director, Curatorial Services; Mr. Simon Ikpakronyi, Director of Education; Mr. Adamu T. Ibrahim, acting Director Administration and Staff Development; and, Mrs. Maria Obi, former Keeper of NGA Gallery in Igbo Ukwu.

The visitors, after thanking the NGA Management, commended the Gallery for its annual exhibition during the fest.

However, it came to light that on some occasion, foreign tourists from Ireland could not get any souvenir to buy during a trip to NGA Igbo Ukwu.

In response, NGA top brasses explained such would soon be a thing of the past because a business unit was in the offing at Igbo Ukwu to address issues like this.

When reminded that there was no indigene of Igbo Ukwu among NGA staff, the DG’s representative said plans were at an advanced stage to engage an indigene of the town among its staff.

However, the community was advised to prioritise the list of qualified candidates sent to the NGA since the body could only take a few hands at a time.

During his visit to the NCMM, Idu II had; while thanking the Commission for its support and lauding the administration for completing construction work at the permanent site of National Museum Igbo Ukwu; urged the Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman-led NCMM to arrange for the launch of the museum complex to coincide with this year’s new yam fiesta.

“It is unfortunate that the South East (geo-political) zone has none of its numerous sites in the current UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites”, rued Idu II; who observed: “Idanre Hills and Kano City Wall are receiving serious attention (but) little has been done to highlight the benefits of Owerrezuakala Wonderful Fall and Cave”.

This monarch then went on to submit, “We want Owerrezuakala Wonderful Fall and Cave to be listed as a National Heritage Site and Monument in order to prepare it for UNESCO listing”.

Idu II had another plea, hear him: “Your National Museum edifice in Igbo Ukwu has been completed and we are happy about it. We beg that it will be commissioned as part of events marking this year’s festival. The yearly exhibition mounted by National Museum Igbo Ukwu for the National Yam Festival is encouraging and we hope that this year’s edition will be better than what we had last year”.

Speaking at the NCAC office, where the delegation was received by Mr. Malgwi M. Maidugu, Executive Secretary; and, select NCAC top shots; Idu II remarked: “It’s always a thing of joy to be here. No state participates in your annual NAFEST (National Festival of Arts and Culture) and remains the same. We are here to express appreciation for your support to us last year during the Iwa ji ndi Igbo New Yam Festival. The impact of what this parastatal has done toward the preservation and promotion of our ancient cultural heritage cannot be over-emphasised”.

In his response, Mr. Maidugu; after welcoming his visitors, said: “Today, I can confidently say that we have the right calibre of visitors because NCAC and Royal Fathers work together. We thank you for donating the herbal garden to us in Igbo Ukwu and promise that we will attend this year’s festival”.

On the Idu’s submission that over 200 masquerades will perform at this year’s Iwa ji, Maidugu averred: “Out of Nigeria’s 36 states and the FCT, about 30 states of the federation practise masquerade traditions. The root of masquerades, I believe, lies in the East. This is why we have sited NCAC Masquerade Research Centre in Enugu”.

Like other hosts throughout the Abuja sojourn, Maidugu was thrilled by news of the adoption of Yoruba-born Mr. Ade Aremu as his foster son by Idu II.

“I am delighted to hear that, even inside your palace; you have a Yoruba man at home there. This is one of the surest ways of promoting unity and understanding among our people. One of my greatest experiences is that I did my NYSC in 1977 in Enugu; and, at some point, I almost didn’t want to leave. There’s nothing as good as travelling. To move out of one’s closet and see the world because we are all one. We have a common destiny, which is to promote peace for the common good”, the NCAC chief concluded.

1. Members of Ohafia, Abia State War Dance troupe at 2011 Iwa ji Festival.

2. Idu II flanked left and right by NCMM DG, Usman and Dr. Hambolu with Barr. Alhassan, 1st left.

3. Idu II with NCAC chief Maidugu middle flanked by Mazi Okeke (l) and Chief C.C. Okoli.

4. L-R: Maidugu and Idu.

5. L-R: Idu II with Henry Achigbu, DFA at NGA.

6. The visitors and top shots of the NGA.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

mauricearchibongtravels: Prof Ekpo Eyo Memorial Lecture debuts, 30 June

mauricearchibongtravels: Prof Ekpo Eyo Memorial Lecture debuts, 30 June

Prof Ekpo Eyo Memorial Lecture debuts, 30 June

Prof Ekpo Eyo Memorial Lecture debuts, 
June 30

The premiere of what could possibly morph into an annual lecture in memory of the late Prof Ekpo Eyo, the first Nigerian-born head of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM); will take place at the Old Residency, Calabar on 30 June.
The late Prof Ekpo Eyo as he looked in the late 1960s.

The lecture, tagged First Prof Ekpo Eyo Memorial Lecture and billed to start at 10am, will be chaired by Prof (Mrs) Eka Braide, a former Vice Chancellor (VC), Cross River University of Technology (CRUTECH) and currently VC of Federal University, Lafia in Nasarawa State; while Prof Olu Lawal, University of Calabar is slated as lecturer, according to Mr. Sunny Adaka, Curator of National Museum, Calabar.

Prof Ekpo Eyo, who passed on at his Maryland, USA home on 29 May, 2011;  was inducted a Fellow of the Smithsonian Institution in 1984 and would be remembered for his competent leadership of the NCMM as well as his numerous illuminating papers and books, including the unique volume on antiquities; From Shrines to Showcases: Masterpieces of Nigerian Art as well as The Terra cottas of Calabar; the latter, co-authored with Dr. Christopher Slogar.

The root of today’s NCMM lies in the Nigeria Antiquties Service (NAS), which was established in 1943 with Mr. Kenneth C. Murray, an art instructor and Superintendent of Education in the colonial service, as its founding father.

Mr. Bernard Fagg later succeeded Murray for a while, after which Murray was reappointed to that office. In his first term, Mr. Murray was Surveyor of Antiquities for 14 years (1943 to 1957). Mr. Bernard Fagg, who succeeded Murray, held office for six years until 1963, when the former art master was re-appointed helmsman.

In 1967, Prof Ekpo Eyo was appointed Director of the NCMM then called the Federal Department of Antiquities. Records show that the Ekpo Eyo-led Federal Department of Antiquities helped to foster a good image for Nigeria through exhibitions of indigenous antiquities/artefacts abroad.

For example, in 1980, Treasures of Ancient Nigeria: Legacy of 2000 Years was on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA from 14 August to 26 October.

Two years later, in 1982, Treasures of Ancient Nigeria travelled to the British capital, where it was displayed at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, London from 30 October, 1982 to 23 January, 1983. These exhibitions engendered tremendous respect for Nigeria across the world.

An outstanding archaeologist, anthropologist and museologist, Ekpo Eyo left a legacy of efficient management of Nigeria’s National Museums by the time of his retirement in 1986.

After his retirement from Nigeria’s Federal Civil Service in 1986, Ekpo Eyo worked as an anthropology lecturer at University of Maryland, US; where he was appointed a professor.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

mauricearchibongtravels: Echoes of Abia Day in Cotonou

mauricearchibongtravels: Echoes of Abia Day in Cotonou

Echoes of Abia Day in Cotonou

Nigerians set Cotonou venue on fire
In their attempt to raise 300 million CFA (roughly N100 million) to build a Civic Centre in Cotonou, Benin Republic; Nigerians virtually set the venue of their fund-raising appeal on fire.

Welcome to Palais des Congres, the Cotonou scene, where the premiere Abia Day in Benin Republic took place on March 31. It is doubtful that Cotonou’s assembly building ever saw as much fireworks as was witnessed, when Abians in Diaspora Organisation (ASIDO) threw up the debut Abia Day in the Beninese economic capital.

However, the fireworks were entirely cultural, featuring thrillings dances as well as singing by many of the clans that make up Abia State. From the pulsating percussions of Abiriba troupes, to the energy-sapping displays by Ohafia War Dance ensemble through the exciting performances of Odumodu, the solemn hymns of Oha Ngwa choristers and all the way to the scintilating wrigling of bodies by maidens of Nkporo; Abia Day 2012 celebrations would be remembered for some time to come.
Pic 2

Alayi Men and Alayi Women troupes, Aba Enyimba Women, Egwu Abba Uzuakoli and Abam dancers were among other cultural performances that contributed to making Abia Day an event many will not forget in a hurry. But, if you thought their choreography and songs were all that those who did not attend missed, how about the sartorial disposition of Abians? The variety of their attire was a marvel in itself.
Pic 3

Bordered by Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Imo, Rivers and Ebonyi States; you could see a coming together of various customs in the costumes of Abia people. Abia Day 2012 invoked thoughts of cultural diffusion as well as made every Nigeria proud. If so much came from Abia, which is just one of 36 states that, with the FCT, make up the Nigerian Federation; then, the combined wealth of our nation is best left to a conjecture.

Truly, the atmosphere was electrifying and the excitement really infectious. For example, Moslem and Northerner Alhaji A. A. Lawwal, Minister II; who represented the then Charge d’Affaires, Nigerian Embassy Cotonou, Mr. Ayo Roberts; at Abia Day 2012; was no less thrilled by the outstanding displays put up by Abia groups and the level of organisation of the event. In the end, Alhaji Lawwal donated 100,000CFA on behalf of the local Nigerian mission to the organisers.
Pic 4.

In his speech, Chairman of Omena-Abia Day Celebration, Hon. Martin Emenike Kalu, said, the observance; which was the first of its kind, is: “By the grace of God, a demonstration of oneness in the lives of Abians resident in Cotonou and beyond”.

Kalu, who went on to remind that; “Abia State is one of the five South Eastern States of Nigeria and is fondly and officially referred to as ‘God’s own State’”; added: “It (Abia) is the only State whose name is in the Bible”. To cross-check, Hon. Martin Kalu referred his audience to Luke 1:5 KJV.
Pic 5.

Speaking further, Kalu described Abians as “God-fearing, peace-loving and above all, very hard working”.  He went on to declare, enthusiastically: “Due to our prowess in commerce that knows no bounds, we came to Cotonou. We saw and have conquered as our businesses in Cotonou have been flourishing”. As regards the main business of the day, this launcher went on to remind: “We are here also to raise fund, 300million francs CFA, to build an Abia in Diaspora Civic Centre in Cotonou”.
Pic 6.

In his address, Mr. Vincent Itah Okoh Kalu, Chairman of ASIDO (Abia State in Diaspora Organisation), who described the event as an “extraordinary epoch-making celebration”; reminded that: “Abia is an acronym from the initials of four groups of people, Aba, Bende, Isuikwuato and Afikpo”. This quartet, Kalu added, constituted the major groups, when Abia was carved out of the old Imo State on August 27, 1991; by the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida-led military regime.

According to Kalu, Abia; which has 17 Local Government Areas with capital at Umuahia; shares boundaries with Anambra, Cross River, Ebonyi, Imo and Rivers States. Going down memory lane, Kalu said the evolution of Abia in Diaspora, Cotonou featured many twists and turns. Hear him: “It started as Abia Solidarity Forum (ASF) in 2003”. But, in 2004 the body was renamed Abia State Community Union (ASCU) until 2011, when it metamorphosed into the present-day ASIDO.

Continuing, Kalu further recalled that: “Hon. Emmanuel Agu, who was the first Chairman of the Union, held office from August 25, 2003 until May 25, 2009; when an interim administration was installed”. The ASIDO chief revealed that the “interim government was marred by bickering, accusations and counter-accusations”.
Pic 7.

On a more cheery note, Kalu added; “But, thanks to God for the timely intervention of Chief Emmanuel Uko Elendu, who calmed the storm; through the introduction of a peaceful and acceptable election formula”. On June 12, 2009, Chief Elendu’s intervention culminated in the setting up of a 16-man electoral board headed by Hon. Chris C.C. Onyeukwu. On July 8, 2009; this board, Kalu continued, “conducted a free and fair election that brought this present administration into power”.

At the inauguration; on July 11, 2011; of the current ASIDO, which he chairs: “We met a State that had been brought to its knees by mistrust, divisions, accusations and counter accusations and lack of fund, all caused by the selfish interests of some insidious enemies of progress”, said Kalu.

But, “Undeterred by these impediments, we started working tirelessly day and night to restore peace and sanity in our dear State, to create a ‘level playing field’ for every community, irrespective of size or wealth; thus engendering a sense of hopeful belonging”; added Kalu, who also revealed that ASIDO now has Abia State Prayer Forum and a Peace and Reconciliation body.

“Our dear State in Diaspora has a need: In the words of the Mighty Diamonds, ‘we need a roof over our heads’. In history, the three essential things the early man needed first were shelter, clothing and food. We need a shelter in Diaspora. Hence we have resolved to acquire land and build Abia in Diaspora Civic Centre here in Cotonou as a symbol of shelter for all Abians.

“Today is the day of revelation of the truth that Abians are indeed in Benin Republic. We are celebrating together today to foster greater love, unity, progress and sense of belonging. Today, you will behold the ‘Revealer’.  We are aware that there are still other basic needs of our people: such as subsidizing the exorbitant cost of education through scholarships award and participating in human welfare”, the ASIDO chairman further remarked.

Unofficial statistics put the population of Nigerians in Benin Republic at between one million and two million and the majority of these immigrants are Igbo people. Interestingly, despite being a celebration of Abia State, virtually every Nigerian in Benin Republic was sucked into the observance, which consequently made the premiere Abia Day in Cotonou an unforgettable event.

It could be recalled that, to assess the state of preparedness, a delegation of Abia State officials were in the Benin economic capital for two days, from February 23 to the 25th on what could be termed a surveillance mission. And, at the end of their visit, it was obvious these forerunners, which included Mr. Kingsley Megwara, Special Adviser to Governor T.A. Orji on Diaspora and Foreign Matters; and, Mr. Felix Azu, Director of Abia State Liaison Office, Lagos; left convinced Abia Day in Cotonou would be a huge success.
Pic 8

mauricearchibongtravels can authoritatively reveal that, though Abia State Governor, Chief Orji and numerous other Nigeria-based political heavy-weights did not attend, celebrations of the premiere Abia Day in Cotonou, Benin Republic; was a huge success nonetheless.

As usual, the ceremony started with Christian prayers. The opening ceremony also featured the traditional breaking of kola-nut, which as one of the MCs was wont to remind us, “does not understand any language except Igbo”.

Although many Cotonou-based Igbo are engaged in various occupations, most of them hail from Abia State and make a living from trading in used clothing items. It was hoped that Abia Day would serve to consolidate unity among not only Abians but all Igbo and other Nigerians in general living in the neighbouring country; and, there is no doubt that this goal was achieved.

For Abians in particular, it was hoped that the governor and his state’s indigenes would use the opportunity to explore possible areas, where they could synergise with a view to improving the social and economic conditions of Abia people at home and abroad. Although the governor did not attend and sent no representative, Abia people in Cotonou are still optimistic that even this aspect was still realisable.

General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd), a former Foreign Affairs Minister; Prof Raph Uwechue, President General of Ohaneze ndi Igbo; Rear Admiral Ebitu Ukiwe, a former Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters; Navy Commodore Ndubuisi Kanu, a former Governor of Lagos State; and, Senators Uche Chukwumerije, Enyinnaya Abaribe and Nkechi Nworgu as well as all National Assembly members of Abia State origin; were among the invitees that missed the observances.

But, in a chat with Mr. Itah Okoh Kalu, Chairman of Abia Community in Cotonou, he observed that those that failed to turn up were preoccupied with pressing issues at home. Mr. Kalu went on to add that, “The event was to help us raise 300 million CFA and the fund-raising is still on, so we are still hopeful that those, who could not attend the March 31 event would still send in their contributions”.

Select Donors
It is worth noting that over 6millionCFA was raised during the fund-raising appeal. Although the amount relaised is only a small fraction of the 300million CFA targetted; the Igbo Leader in Benin Republic, Chief Ebuka Onunkwo; had put up an encouraging presence.

Though an indigene of Anambra State, as Eze ndi Igbo in Benin Republic, Chief Onunkwo automatically became principal stakeholder of Abia Day 2012.  In his address, the Igbo Leader had observed that the 300 million CFA fund being sought by Abia for the erection of a Civic Centre in Cotonou; was no big deal. In his view, Abia community in Cotonou boasts many millionaires; and, if each of these wealthy Abians were to come out and contribute 1million CFA; then 300 Abians would have helped to raise the 300million CFA needed.

In any case, when it came to the fund-raising aspect of the occasion, Chief Onunkwo aka Odozi Obodo I did not disappoint. In his characteristic generous manner, Chief Onunkwo doled out 1million CFA (over N320,000) to the organisers. In the same vein, the immediate-past President of the Cotonou Chapter of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), Chief Emmanuel Uko Elendu aka Aka eji eje mba I; also contributed 1million CFA.

Hon Ukachuckwu Igwe, CEO of Success Group of Companies, on behalf of Arochukwu in Abia donated 400,000CFA cash; Mr. Okom Emenike Kalu gave 400,000CFA cash; Dike Ubanichukwu (300,000CFA); Mr. Ben Ihekire, Managing Director of  Diamond Bank in Benin Republic, gave 1millionCFA on behalf of the bank as well as 500,000CFA on behalf of himself and family. Another financial institution, UBA, offered 200,000CFA; while the Obiwanne 1 of Abia, Chief Okechukwe Agu, contributed 100,000CFA cash.

The funds were further swelled by donations from Deacon Okey Sunday Okoroafor, Coordinator, West Coast Movement of the pro-Goodluck Jonathan group Rebuild Nigeria Initiative (RNI), who chipped in 50,000CFA; and, Mr. Emeka Ezikpe, who gave 100,000 CFA; while Mr. Lawrence Okoroafor donated 50,000 CFA.

It is worth noting that despite the infectious nature of the surrounding excitement, there were sobering moments, too. For example, as the donations poured in; Mr. Ogubuike Udeala, Chief Launcher of the Day, elicited resounding applause; when apparently directing his comment to those in charge of managing the funds; he declared: “This means that all eyes are on you people. Every penny we invest here will be accounted for”. With regard to unveiling The Revealer magazine, which was part of the day’s events, he went on to add, “I unveil this magazine with 500,000CFA  cheque”.

Another moment of introspection was thrown up by the Reverend Sunny Oriakwu, who declared; “Abia cannot remain like this. We must do something about our state. Thank God that we came here today to rejoice. But, there is no joy in our hearts. Let your prayers be that our state must come back again. I believe God that after today, Abia will rise again”.

On the whole, such was the success of the event that many, including this writer, wished Abia Day could morph into an annual fiesta in Cotonou.

Pic 1. Immediate-past NIDO President, Chief Emmanuel Uko Elendu.
Pic 2. Eze ndi Igbo, Chief Ebuka Onunkwo on Abia Day.
Pic 3. Nkporo maidens showing their steps on Abia Day.
Pic 4. Ohafia War Dancers.
Pic 5. More Abians at Palais de Congres.
Pic 6. Oha Ngwa choristers.
Pic 7. Some Abia women at Palais de Congres.
Pic 8. A heart-warming free for all: Abians showing their stuff on the floor.