Igwe Nnayelugo Alfred Nnaemeka recently marked his 10th year of coronation as the 21st Obi of Onitsha with a spectacular Ofala festival. Since his emergence as the traditional leader of the Onitsha people, the commercial city and its people have enjoyed tremendous growth and development. He spoke with IMELDA CHINYERE NWOSA on his leadership and how it has been affecting lives positively
IN announcing the harvest period that ushered in the 2011 edition of the Ofala feast, a cultural extravaganza that marks the climax of the new yam celebrations in Igboland every October, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnayelugo Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe observed the necessary rites. It began with a five-day seclusion, during which he offered prayers for the wellbeing of his people. At the end, being one of his major duties, Igwe Achebe saw through a unique celebration of the annual festival reputed as the biggest traditional festival in the Southeast.
Over the years, since assuming office 10 years ago, the traditional ruler has raised the profile of the cultural fiesta, securing a stable sponsor for it in telecoms giant, Globacom. But he still aspires to elevate it to international festival status given its potentials of adding to the growth of the nation’s tourism sector.
This year’s Ofala coincides with the 10th year coronation anniversary of Igwe Achebe. And under his leadership, Onitsha has witnessed immense development and remarkable improvement in the lives of its people. His charisma has attracted a lot of goodwill and support for the people. An example of such is seen in the recent engagement of 100 Onitsha youths in an entrepreneurship and empowerment programme. Globacom also invested in the city through the construction of a brand new dormitory and blocks of classrooms in Metropolitan College, Onitsha. This is an addition to the poverty alleviation materials donated to the youths.
As the Chairman, Anambra State Traditional Council and the most influential traditional ruler in the southeast, he has been a strong voice on the issues of autonomous communities and coronation of traditional rulers and implications for Igbo traditional institutions. In 2010, he led a delegation of southeast traditional rulers that paid a visit to President Goodluck Jonathan. While opposing the creation of autonomous communities in Igbo land, he cited Onitsha as a homogenous community that has been in existence for over 500 years and will be absurd for anybody to think of creating an autonomous community out of town. “I think Igbo again is a reflection of our republicanism. Everybody wants to be a king and a chief. This therefore leads to the splitting of the communities over and over again,” he lamented.
He cited the likes of the Sultan of Sokoto, Ooni of Ife and Oba of Benin as the superiors in hierarchy followed by other junior traditional rulers. With his believe that the autonomous communities syndrome have been more harmful than helpful to Ndigbo, he stressed that the act would not be accepted by Onitsha people, as it may lead to the infiltration in the traditional institutions in Igboland.
However, Igwe Achebe sees the process of selecting kings in Onitsha as worthy of emulation. “The process does not ask you how much you have because at the end of the day, the town is there to support you. They don’t ask you how much you have but they want to know who was your father, who was your grand and great grandfathers.
“They also consider character; if they are people of honour or dishonour? They will trace your whole genealogy; it is your pedigree that is the most important. Your personal qualifications, character, where you worked, how you performed there and so on would also be checked. They don’t ask questions about how much you have in your bank account. Rather the way you talk, and the value of your contributions in meetings and in the community is what matters. And I will advise other communities to use the same approach to focus on how much services the would-be leader can render to the community.”
Seen as a man of strong principles, the monarch has always urged his people to remain on the good path of the tradition. “We all should go back and re-evaluate the whole concept of the role of money in our society. The way we place material wealth as compared to the rest of other qualities in a man – humility, good behavior, honesty, love for mankind, respect for fellow human being and how much it works together as part of the community. These are more important to us and that’s the way we follow it here in Onitsha.
On moral decadence in the society, the monarch lamented that churches have also been affected with the same problem. “Some people have received church honour and respect when in retrospect, they are not qualified. But may be they gave a lot of money to the church and they pay their tithes or something like that.”
A first class traditional ruler, Achebe has an excellent educational background. As a member of the royal family kingmakers, he was chosen to succeed the late Obi Ofala Okagbue in June 2002 after been selected by the people. He was born in Onitsha in 1941 as the first child of Akunne Anthony Chinwuba and Chukwuebuka Winifred Ogbenyeanu Achebe.
Achebe had been soundly prepared for life. He saw through his education with excellent results in his early years. In 1963, he gained admission to the prestigious Standford University in California, United States where he took a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. This was followed by a Master’s degree in Business Administration in Columbia University in New York City. He continued to develop his skills and abilities by engaging in several local and international in-service training programs. In 1979, he was nominated for the maiden set of the Senior Executive Course of the exclusive National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in, Kuru, Jos.
WRITTEN BY IMELDA CHINYERE NWOSA