September 12, 2018, will for a long time remain a date in the socio-cultural history of Egbema ethnic nationality. It is a sure date the people of Aggah community, both at home and in the diaspora, will not forget in a hurry.
Aggah community, the second most populous community in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area celebrated its popular festival known as Igwaji Aggah, a cultural fiesta with all side attractions, cultural dances, quiz and football competitions witnessed by people from all walks of life.
The cultural carnival has remained a permanent feature in the cultural calendar of Egbema people from generation to generation; dating back to their ancestors whose major occupation was farming and fishing before the advent of oil and gas. Though activities of the hydro-carbon industry may have taken a huge toll on the cultural identity of the people, nevertheless, the festival remains intact, with some innovations to spice its modern trends.
Aggah people, known for hospitality and generosity, have over the years remained the pacesetters in traditional history of the Egbemas. They have been the trail-blazers of the custom and tradition of Egbema cultural heritage far back 300 years ago, when the Egbemas migrated from the Great Benin empire traversing several forests, rivers and creeks to settle in their present location after various civil strifes in the then Benin Kingdom.
The Igwaji Aggah for the past three decades or more has indeed transformed into a tourists destination now witnessed by people from all walks of life, including expatriates and tourists from Italy, Britain, France and other nationals who work and do business with multi-national corporations that operate in ONELGA, the oil and gas hub of the Niger Delta region.
In the last 10 years, what was merely regarded as a local affair has eventually transited to a national/international festivity with partnership from Mobile Telecommunication Network (MTN) Nigeria collaborating with the community’s leadership to raise the stake to an enviable height.
This year’s edition witnessed an eleven-day programme of activities which commenced with the kick-off of a football tournament comprising males and females on the 2nd and 3rd September, 2018, followed by Orije dance held between 4th and 6th. Mothers from Umudiali village led the procession round the community hitting their guns and praising, singing to the Supreme Being for His blessings and mercies and a successful farming season.
Between 7th and 8th September, was the Oko (Men) day which several age grades had a dancing competition, while the Reggae nite came underway on the 10th. Similarly, on the 11th was Oyoo (Echi-bu Uzor) also known as burn fire nite which signals the awakening of the ancestral spirits and the finals of the community’s football match tourney.
The grand finale of the festivity took centre stage on the 12th of September 2018, with Igwaji Uzo Onwa Isaa at the Eze Ihuchukwu square while other ceremonies were held at the community’s primary school in which MTN and other organizations featured prominently.
The climax of the fiesta on the 12th September was blessed with showers of the rain, which from historical perspective was symbolic with the Igwaji Aggah festival. It is strongly believed by traditionalists that any Igwaji Aggah festival without rain is incomplete and not acceptable to the gods of the land. The rain, therefore, is seen as a blessing and sign of good and bountiful harvest in the next farming season.
To cap the fiesta, other side attractions included a gala nite/peace carnival, old skool party, free medical services and a thanksgiving/church singing competition held on the 13th and 14th of September, 2018, respectively. Various prizes and awards were given to best performing persons and groups for excellence in different competitions, all sponsored by the MTN.
Speaking on the essence of the festival in his palace, the Ezeali of Aggah, Eze Ignatius Ekezie, said that the Igwaji Aggah is as old as the community itself, tracing it to ancestral generation in which their forefathers celebrated annually on the fourth quarter of the year to thank God and the gods of the land for bountiful harvest and showering indigenes with multiple blessings despite the challenges facing them.
Eze Ekezie explained that the festival has been modernized in line with civilization and technology adding that culture and society are dynamic and Aggah community cannot be left out.
According to him, despite the customary and cultural aspects of the fiesta, major stakeholders like the Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC), MTN Nigeria, among others, usually gave a good account of their social corporate responsibilities during the festival.
He recalled that MTN in particular has partnered with Aggah community’s leadership in ensuring that the Igwaji Aggah remains the best of its kind. “By 2019, we shall be celebrating the 10th anniversary of our sustainable relationship and partnership with MTN,” he declared.
Indeed, the Igwaji Aggah is special, unique and colourful. It remains a home coming event for all indigenes when families, friends and well-wishers re-unite and project for the future. The 2018 edition had all the trappings of an international carnival.
To many observers, the Igwaji Aggah marks a turning point for the community that was hit by youth restiveness in the days of turbulence in ONELGA.
Some indigenes from other Egbema communities and outsiders commended the community’s leadership with Eze Ekezie as the arrow-head for successfully navigating the Aggah community from an era of despondency, desolation and devastation to a regime of peace, unity, prosperity, ecstasy and euphoria.
Chief Ephraim Amadi said it only takes the ingenuity and innovativeness of a good leader to achieve this and appealed to other communities in Egbema and ONELGA to borrow a leaf from Eze Ekezie’s example.
Also speaking in the same vein, ONELGA chairman, Hon. Ifeanyi Odili, who was full of praises for the peaceful disposition of the community, noted that the festival has brought various warring groups together and called for its sustenance.
The council chairman further noted that culture plays very vital role in our life as any society that ignores its cultural heritage is doomed.
Odili said Aggah community has remained one of the most peaceful in ONELGA over the years and this was demonstrated before, during and after the festival. “We are, indeed, proud of Aggah and we will never relent in appreciating and encouraging the community.”
He urged for a sustainable synergy between the Ezeali, Aggah Council of Chiefs, the CDC and youths for better understanding and development of the community in particular and Egbema clan generally.
The general manager, MTN Eastern Zone, Innocent Etonu, who was honoured with a chieftaincy title as the Omemma I of Aggah, said the company would continue to partner with peaceful communities, adding that as part of their corporate responsibility, the MTN encourages grassroots and human resource development.
Chief Etonu described the Igwaji Aggah as a showpiece of cultural identity promising that MTN would continue to showcase Aggah to the world and the world to Aggah. We have no regrets identifying and partnering with the community,” he affirmed.
Dr. Uche Mike Chukwuma, the director-general/chief executive officer of the Rivers State Neighbourhood Watch Agency called for continued peace, security and development. For him, no community achieves something under chaotic and insecure environment. Peace is the bedrock of societal development and any society or community without security, peace and order is bound to collapse.”
He charged the youths to remain supportive of government’s efforts to develop the area adding that Governor Nyesom Wike loves Egbema people and that is why he appointed an Egbema son to oversee the agency.
Highpoints of the events include cultural dancers, award of prizes to winners of various competitions, coronation of chieftaincy titles to deserving indigenes and stakeholders (including MTN) for community service, sharing of yam tubers to communities and individuals, among others.
While the world looks forward to the 2019 edition of the festival, the CDC chairman of the community, Comrade Ironye Evidence Paddy, said that next year’s festival would be exceptional and big with all the trappings of a national fiesta.