Being the highest oil and gas bearing area in the country, playing host to numerous oil prospecting and servicing companies including, most prominently, the Agrip Oil Company and Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited (TEPNG), the Ogba Kingdom in Rivers State of Nigeria has been influenced by such social components as the values, behaviours, laws, and traditions of modern life. In fact, Western culture has left its mark on the people’s life and values especially in the areas of economic and vocational aspirations, education, and social life.
But inspite of all these, the Ogba people have maintained their distinctive identity and retained many of their traditional customs. They are known for their elaborate greetings, praise names, and titles which make them very prominent in any gathering. They are also known for their cultural celebrations which are staged to show gratitude to God for fertility, cleansing, and protection, and to mark the end of the planting or harvesting season.
The most prominent among the cultural celebrations of the Ogba people is the Nchaka festival. Oher cultural festivals celebrated by them are Igba-Ogwe, Ebiam, Egwi-Iji Onube, and Egwu-Ohali.
Nchaka is celebrated by virtually all the clans and communities that make up the kingdom. It is an annual new yam festival that is celebrated between the months of November and December.
The 2009 Nchaka festival was celebrated from 1st to 5th of December. Though the main festival is performed for five days, beginning from the female one called Nchaka-Ki-Inyenwa to the male one known as Nchaka-Ki-Ikenwa, several activities take place before and after the five days of singing, dancing, jubilation, and merry-making which involves eating of yam as the main food throughout the festival period.
The festival is heralded by its proclamation at the famous Ahiakwo, the main market in Omoku, headquarters of the Kingdom, by the Ogba Council of Traditional Rulers and Chiefs under the directive of the King and custodian of the customs and tradition of Ogba people.
The King, His Eminence, Sir (Dr) Chukwumela Nnam Obi II (OON JP) Oba (Eze Ogba) of Ogbaland kicks off the festival with a dinner which attracts chiefs, elders, sons, and daughters of the 39 towns and villages that make up the kingdom. The dinner which also attracts dignitaries from outside the Kingdom therefore ushers in this ancient carnival of beauty, colour, abundance, and sharing.
The festival is marked with beautification of the environment including painting and decoration of houses. The Nchaka festival encourages courtesy calls on well wishers, friends, relations, the King, and community leaders. It is associated with harvest of plenty, and a period of rebirth, in which diseases, evils, misfortunes, and calamities are repelled.
It therefore goes without saying that the Nchaka festival provides a sound indigenous cultural foundation for socio-political progress and sustainable economic development for the state and the nation especially in view of the natural endowment of the Ogba kingdom.
The objectives of any cultural policy for the country should thus aim at ensuring the continuity of traditional skills, sports, and cultural festivals and their progressive adaptation to serve modern needs and establish a disciplined moral and enterprising society.
It is believed that the giant economic, political, and social strides of both China and Japan are rooted in their culture.
Now what is required to make Nchaka rank among the cultural festivals across the world that attract tourist attention? Since culture is human centred, the Nchaka festival can attract tourists from both within and outside the country if, among other things, the environmental problems especially those of degradation, resources depletion, and oil and gas pollution faced by the kingdom are addressed.
The annual carnival can also be elevated to its pride of place if the required foundation is laid for a true urban life that is already characterizing the Ogba Kingdom especially Omoku, its headquarters. This will involve providing the area with the necessary infrastructures and putting in place model markets, holiday resorts/recreational centres or beaches, zoological gardens, libraries, and sports centres in such major towns and villages in the Kingdom as Omoku, Erema, Obrikom, Akabuka, Ogbogu, Obite, Oboburu, and Ede.
Considering the primacy of the Ogba Kingdom in the growth and development of the Nigerian nation, the provision of any facility by government and the oil companies operating in the area to upgrade the living condition of the people and the Nchaka festival should be treated as a priority.