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Sunday, June 23, 2024

New Yam Festival: Another Anambra Village Petitions Soludo As Powerful Politician Ignores Deity’s Warning, Moves to Thwart Traditions


By Izunna Okafor, Awka

An air of uncertainty hangs over the tranquil community of Nanka in the Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State, as a brewing storm of crisis and a breakdown of law and order threaten to mar the community’s forthcoming New Yam Festival, slated for Friday and Saturday (August 17th and 18th, 2023).

The representatives of the Nze na Ozo Cultural Association of Agbiligba Nanka, who hosted newsmen at a press conference held in Awka, the capital city of Anambra State, sounded the alarm and appealed for the urgent and heroic intervention of the State Governor, His Excellency Prof. Charles Chukwuma Soludo, to avert the looming crisis.

This desperate call for aid comes as the village grapples with a burgeoning crisis that threatens to fracture the harmonious fabric of their traditions and community.

At the heart of this escalating drama stands the enigmatic figure of Hon Chief Christopher Okwudili Ezenwankwor, a dynamic political figure who has allegedly cast his influence over the intricate tapestry of Nanka’s affairs. His alleged connivance with H.R.H. Igwe Godwin Ogochukwu Ezeilo, the revered Obunanka of Nanka, has set tongues wagging and suspicions aflame, as the two figures appear to be steering the community towards an uncharted territory of uncertainty.

The roots of this multifaceted conflict date back to 2021, when Chief Ezenwankwor’s political machinations allegedly intertwined with Igwe Ezeilo’s authority, setting off a chain reaction that now threatens the sanctity of Nanka’s deeply ingrained traditions and customs. The ongoing imbroglio, which has simmered since that fateful year, now stands poised to cast a shadow over the eagerly anticipated New Yam Festival, scheduled to take place on the 18th and 19th of August, 2023.

Addressing newsmen, the representatives of the Nze na Ozo Society, who include Nze Barr. Dr. Chidozie Ezeozue (the Legal Adviser, Nze na Ozo Agbiligba); Nze Gabriel Ezekafor; Nze Michael Ezekafor (the PRO); and Nze Osita Anwuna (a historian and retired principal), passionately recounted the saga that has unfolded over the years: a tale of power, manipulation, and a struggle for the rightful custodian of the title of Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka. They took the journalists on a narrative journey through a series of events that have unfolded like the chapters of a gripping novel, with each turn of events carrying its own weight of intrigue.

Among the critical pieces of evidence presented was a letter they penned to the President General of the Nanka Patriotic Union (NPU), Rev. Canon Ifeanyi Ezike; and one recently written to Governor Soludo, seeking their highly sought-after intervention on the issue. Corroborating the contents of the letters with an oral narrative, one of the representatives, Barr. Dr. Chidozie Ezeozue, who spoke on behalf of the group, painted a vivid picture of the intricate web of disputes that have been gnawing at the heart of Nanka’s communal harmony. It is during his narration, which sounded more like a chronicle of concerns and grievances, that the backdrop of the turmoil was unveiled in intricate detail, laying bare the history, nuances, and conflicting perspectives that have fueled the ongoing tensions.

According to him, the issue started in 2020, a year of transition and upheaval as the mantle of Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka passed from one generation to the next. He said the Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka is a highly revered and sacred traditional position in the community, held only by the most senior nze-titled man from Umuezekeli clan, one of the 17 clans that make up Agbiligba village, the head village of all seven villages that constitute the Nanka community.

He narrated that the holder of the position would also be the custodian and holder of the Nne Ọfọ, one of the two most powerful symbols of authority in Nanka community. He said the Nne Ọfọ symbol of authority is so powerful and sacred that if it is handed over to someone who is not innocent, the person would die after a few days. This, he said, means that anybody who must occupy that position and hold the Nne Ọfọ must be innocent and the right person, to avoid being struck dead by the Nne Ọfọ. This, he also said, has been the tradition in the community since time immemorial.

Going further, Barr. Ezeozue said the passing of Ichie Innocent Ezekafor, the 16th Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka, marked the commencement of a new chapter in Nanka’s history, setting the stage for this ongoing saga. He said this happened, despite the fact that before Ichie Ezekafor died, he called the next person on the seniority list of Nze Agbiligba and Nanka, Rev. Fr. Prof. Romanus Muoneke, and told him he was about to die. He enjoined him to prepare to take over the revered traditional position of Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka.

He narrated that when Ichie Ezekafor eventually joined his ancestors, Rev. Fr. Muoneke, who lives abroad, took over the mantle. However, he appointed the son of late Ichie Ezekafor, Ichie Gabriel Ezekafor, to represent him in official functions, including in the Igwe’s cabinet, since he (Ichie Gabriel Ezekafor) represented his late father in such official functions when he was the Isi Nze. This appointment was made because Rev. Fr. Muoneke himself lives abroad.

According to Barr. Ezeozue, surprisingly, since the demise of the immediate-past Isi Nze, the community has found itself embroiled in a battle over the rightful custodian of this hallowed title, a position that holds a sacred place within Nanka’s intricate hierarchy. He alleged that some people from the Oka Kindred, one of the seventeen kindreds in Agbiligba village, started pushing for the Isi Nze title to be rotational, instead of being the exclusive reserve of one clan. He said, the people, knowing fully that their demand was contrary to the age-long existing traditional practice, and that the gods would not permit such an occurrence; they (the masterminds of the push for rotation) started by opposing the use of Nne Ọfọ as the traditional symbol of authority for the holder of the Isi Nze title. Instead, they pushed for the introduction of a metallic staff as the new symbol of authority, even though they were aware that the Nne Ọfọ would be fatal to any unqualified person that holds or takes custody of it.

He narrated that the people encountered their first shock when they surreptitiously moved the Nne Ọfọ from its original location to another place. This, he said, was followed by a series of mysterious incidents in the town. First, the person who relocated the Nne Ọfọ took a wrong path home after carrying the staff, and was later found at Isuofia community in Aguata Local Government Area, along with his bicycle, after hours of searching. He recounted further signs, including discovering a dead sheep atop a tall palm tree, the beheading of two individuals in that section of the village, and the calamities that befell the family that concealed the Nne Ọfọ. These occurrences prompted the swift return of the staff to its original location.

Continuing with his narration, Chief Ezeozue stated that amidst this tumultuous backdrop, accusations of illegitimate meetings, unconstitutional appointments, and political maneuverings emerged, casting a shadow over the very foundations of Nanka’s societal fabric.

He alleged that one of the individuals masterminding the entire scenario is a former federal lawmaker and former governorship aspirant from the community, Hon. Okwudili Ezenwankwo (from Oka Kindred in Agbiligba village of Nanka), who is determined to install his uncle, Ichie David Ezenwankwo, as the Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka. This is despite the fact that his uncle is still ‘very young’ in the seniority list of Nze-titled men in both his kindred, Oka, in Agbiligba village, and in the entire Nanka community. This desperate bid to ruin or subvert a traditional process that predates him by centuries raises questions about their motivation, be it their political influence, wealth, or connections.

Further addressing the newsmen at the press conference, Barr. Ezeozue and his co-representatives presented a meticulously documented timeline of events, complete with a series of correspondences, memos, and petitions they had written to critical stakeholders in the community and at the local and state government levels for intervention. This tableau paints a vivid portrayal of a community grappling with its identity and heritage.

According to him, the climax of the unfolding drama occurred in 2021 when Nze na Ozo Society members and the self-acclaimed Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka, Ichie Ezenwankwo, clashed in a symbolic battle for authority and legitimacy during the community’s New Yam Festival for that year. This event drew many personalities from both within and outside the State, including the then PDP gubernatorial candidate in the State, Chief Valentine Ozigbo.

It was gathered that the chaotic scenes that unfolded during the New Yam Festival were marked by a tussle for recognition, rights, and privileges. Ichie Ezenwankwo boldly stepped out to partake of the kola nut and sliced yam meant for Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka, while Mr. Ezekafor (jnr.), the representative of the authentic Isi Nze, Rev. Fr. Prof. Muoneke, was present. This single act, combined with the publication of Ichie Ezenwankwo’s picture and name as the Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka in the festival brochure, turned the event into a tumultuous affair as the members of the Nze na Ozo Cultural Society of Nanka opposed, objected, and vehemently protested against these misdeeds.

Barr. Ezeozue stated that it took the timely intervention of some guests at the event to defuse the situation, which could have escalated into a full-blown crisis.

The year after this dramatic incident, it was learned that Nanka community did not celebrate New Yam Festival, out of reverence for their former President General, Chief Paul Chinedu, who was killed by unknown gunmen a few months prior to the event, leading to the cancellation of that year’s festival.

However, as the 2023 New Yam Festival of the community draws close, the Nze na Ozo Society has written to Governor Chukwuma Soludo, urging him to intervene to ensure that the misdeeds of the previous two years do not recur at this year’s event. This pertains to the taking of kola nut and a slice of yam meant for the Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka and the publication of the wrong person’s picture and name in the event brochure as the Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka. It has also been alleged that the self-proclaimed Isi Nze and his nephew have hired some individuals and thugs to attack and deal with anyone who may oppose them or stand in their way during the event.

Amidst the threats, tension, and looming crisis, Governor Soludo stands as a beacon of hope, and his intervention could quell the rising storm, douse the impending crisis, and restore a semblance of tranquility to Nanka. The village’s appeal for the Governor’s intervention is anchored in their unwavering commitment to the principles of justice, truth, and unity – the very values that have guided Nanka’s journey through the annals of time.

The stage is set, and the narrative poised on the precipice of its next chapter. As Nanka prepares for the New Yam Festival, the community’s gaze turns to Governor Soludo, eagerly awaiting the resolution of a tale that has captivated the imagination and emotions of all who bear witness.

With the stage set and the stakes high, all eyes are fixed on the Governor as they anticipate a saga of heroic proportions. His influence holds the power to quell the brewing storm, ensure a peaceful and orderly 2023 Nanka New Yam Festival celebration, and restoration enduring peace to the Nanka community.

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