The 8th Edition of Anioma Cultural Festival held at Arcade Ground beside Grand Hotel, Asaba, Delta State has come and gone but memoirs of the cultural event will linger on in the minds of its attendees, culture aficionados, culture historians, tourists and indeed lovers of culture alike. The MTN sponsored occasion, supported by West African Food Seasoning and put together by the Organization for the Advancement of Anioma Culture (OFAAC) was a cultural festival to behold and perhaps the finest in the history of Delta State as some analysts have put it. It was indeed a colourful event that suggested the aptitude of the people to preserve and flaunt their cherished dance culture to the world.
It was something worth Anioma day. The Anioma Cultural Festival is the single biggest annual event of the Anioma people assembling the highest number of royal fathers and their subjects alike. Nothing has reached this magnitude in the history of the people. It is now an occasion that groups and individuals look forward to hoping it times swiftly because it practically defines and redefines the culture people's culture. In the past, it has brought to Anioma's soil, a former Head of State and other people of greater substance. This year's theme has been "Spirit of Unity in Anioma". The organizers envision that unity is a necessary factor that will accentuate several socio-political and economic accomplishments for the people including separate statehood.
Guests on arriving at the venue at this year's edition had breathtakingly noticed the arresting and leading sights of the "Y'ellow" colour of MTN Nigeria only surpassed by the radiant "Akwa-Ocha or Otogwu" (traditional white attire) of the Anioma people everywhere and it required nothing more to presage that the event in question was not for "children". As events unfolded, guests were tickled heartwarmingly with cultural dances; traditional wrestling, fashion show and a raffle draw so that in the end, it was a wonder just how much the participants had given in their best to rehearsals to thrillingly give the audience an epic-deserving demonstration of the richness of the people's culture that was more than anything worth it. The graspable deduction is that the people are still living with an unbroken culture. Conceivably, the only event comparable to the festival may have been the Anioma rally organized in the mid 1980s by Obi (Senator) Nosike Ikpo, Dr.G. O. Orewa, Prof B. I. C. Ijomah and Chief P. O. C. Ozieh (The fathers of the Anioma nation) for the Movement for the Creation of Anioma State to draw public support for the creation of Anioma State.
This year's edition of Anioma Cultural Festival was fantastically organized courtesy of punctilious and efficient legerdemain of Arch Kester Ifeadi, Paddy Ugbo and Godfrey Osakwe and well represented by quite a whole number of towns that make up the Anioma nation. First, the music of Ogbogu Okonji and Uche Nwalama blaring from the speakers of MTN Nig had to give way to the Master of Ceremonies who promptly acknowledged the presence of guests and participants to the event. Second, a poignant opening speech rendered by Arch Ifeadi, the chief host flagged-off the ceremony with over 100 participating groups and nearly 30 monarchs also royally in attendance.
Several kinds of cultural dance of Anioma including "Egwu Ohuhu (Oshushu or Osusu), Egwu Aguba, Egwu Imanokwa, Egwu Aja, Egwu Amala, Egwu Ekobe, Egwu Oduko, Egwu Idegbani and Egwu Uloko displayed the art of power dance only exceptional to the Anioma group. From Agbor to Utegbeje; Amai to Umusa; Onicha-Ugbo to Ibusa and Ashaka to Aboh, the cultural attire and dance-language of the people were the same. Anioma had quite enough of it to pass on to their children yet unborn. These were kinds of dances that appeared very magically charming to the outside world but for time, the Anioma had more to offer.
In the primary school category, the Seat of Wisdom Primary School, Kwale won the competition. Brighter Future Secondary School, Kwale also came first in the secondary school category that was adjudged very tough. The occupational war dance category which stole the attention of the audience was won by Onu Anioma, Owa-Alero. Chukwu Onyi Rimma of Agbor-Obi won the "Egwu Oshushu" dance style category. The "Egwu Amala" dance category was won by Ika Nrima also from Agbor-Obi while Heavenly Steppers of Kwale came first in the contemporary dance category of the competition. Umu Nzei carried the day in the traditional wrestling competition. The Kwale and Ika's performance tremendously relegated their Oshimili and Aniocha kinsmen to the background.
Some royal fathers and mother graced the occasion and were His Royal Highness, Obi Kikachukwu, the Obi of Ubulu-Unor; His Royal Highness, Obi Okolie I (JP), the Obi of Egbudu Akah; His Royal Highness, Obi Johnson Ekpechilu, the Ezemu of Emu; His Royal Highness, Obi (Prof) Louis Chellunor Nwaoboshi, the Obuzor of Ibusa; His Royal Highness, Obi Emmanuel Offor, the Obi of Adonta; His Royal Highess, Obi Godwin Onyeweuwa, the Obi of Ewulu; His Royal Highness, Ezewali Ahoma Collins, the Obi of Otolokpo; His Royal Highness, Obi Ofuokwu, the Obi of Obior; Her Royal Majesty, Obi Martha Dunkwu, the Omu of Anioma and His Royal Majesty, Dr. Emeka Ilunor, the Ezeduna II of Ifitedunu in Dunukafia Local Government Area of Anambra State. The Asagba of Asaba, Obi (Prof) Chike Edozie was well represented.
The presence of Dr. Emeka Ilunor, the Igwe of Ifitedunu symbolized the kinship that Anioma share with their Igbo kinsmen across the Niger and is well praiseworthy. The arrival of the Igwe ushered in joy and added colour to the event as he was applauded by the other Highnesses in recognition of his shared relationship with the people of Anioma. The light-hearted royal father beamed with so much joy upon arrival at the venue and did not find it difficult to blend with the rest of his kinsmen from the other part of the River Niger. His participation and especially the formal procedure that trailed his influx to the venue were supremely and glamorously majestic.
The Umu Anioma Foundation Inc was also well represented at the occasion by the delegation led by this writer (Emeka Esogbue). The Foundation members dazzlingly and gloriously shone in T-shirts, fez-caps and jean-jackets specially branded for the occasion with the inscription that symbolized Anioma as the nation's 37th state in the making. The presence of the apex Anioma organization was well received following the announcement of its presence by the Master of Ceremonies. The group presented its aims and objectives with bottles of wines to the royal fathers in attendance. It also offered the monarchs, a pre-prepared speech from the convener of the Group, Prince Emmanuel Ohai.
The event was also well covered by the media. Some of which were Channels Television, Silverbird Television, Ovation Magazine and others. Interviews were richly entertained from important guests and representatives including this writer on behalf of Umu Anioma Foundation. The writer (Emeka Esogbue) told Silverbird Television crew that the actualization of the proposed Anioma State was most significant for the Anioma people so it represents one of the key-targets of Umu Anioma Foundation that the people gets it. The Umu Anioma Foundation is working tirelessly towards achieving the objective.
He also expressed his optimism that the Jonathan's administration would grant it because the proposed state is more viable than several of the existing states. He had earlier expressed his desire for the continuation of Anioma Cultural Festival to the MTN Publication. He stated that that there were quite a lot to benefit from the festival. He also praised the organizers of the event for their ability to put together such a huge event while explicating his awareness that a number of Anioma indigenes have in the past profited from the micro-scheme facility of OFAAC. OFAAC is one of the best things to happen to the region despite all odds that it needs to surmount.
Although, the cultural Festival was a colossal accomplishment, it was sad that many of the region's politicians and political representatives had their faces missing at the event. As one of the guests at the event puts it "It was cheerless and ironical that these politicians who after riding on the backs of the poor masses to gain positions refused to show their faces at the festival". It was also cynical, mordant and irreverent that the Anioma big names were also missing. What could have happened to the teeming Anioma academicians, technocrats, community leaders, educationists, politician, top government functionaries, serving and ex-service men and sportsmen and women?
Political rallies should never only be meeting platforms for politicians who have made immense benefits from offices using the name of the region and its people. Except, the cultural festival is for royal fathers and dancers only, the Anioma politicians and indigenes that parade big names must be made to explain why they refused to identify with their people. Leaders of Anioma socio-political and economic groups should also not be spared for their absence because an event like a cultural festival remains the best platform to determine the feelings of the people they purportedly represent. The people should not be represented in absence. Although, lots of Groups exist in Anioma, these Groups were never found inside arranged canopies sparking off speculations that they are too far from their own people.
Personal interviews granted by this writer revealed that a larger number of attendees expressed satisfaction that politicians were not in attendance. To them, the presence of politicians meant assassinations followed by violence and such would not be in the interest of OFAAC and what they hope to achieve. However, this should not be so. A gathering like this will offer politicians the opportunity to fraternize with their own people.
The roll-call of monarchs present at the event also confirmed that only about 15% of them were present at the ceremony. OFAAC is a non-governmental body and belongs to every illustrious son and daughter of Anioma. There is therefore no reason why royal fathers should rather choose to be present at a political rally over a cultural festival of the people the claims to truly represent. As custodians of traditions and cultures, a cultural festival celebration is the day of any royal highness who has the interest of his people at heart. We may argue that political rallies are more financially rewarding to attend but it is more graceful for a monarch to majestically and smilingly watch his own people perform excitingly since a monarch remains part of the society he traditionally presides over.
OFAAC on their own part should also show readiness to carry everyone along and ensure that the numerous towns and communities of the region are parts of the event. Of importance to the region is that invitations are extended to Anioma areas outside Delta State. One would have wished that Anioma communities of Onitsha, Igbanke, Ekpon, Ozza, Ogbaru, Ogidi, Oguta, Ogba, Oba, Akwukwu-Obosi, Ozobulu, Oraifite and Ndoni feature in the cultural festival because the people remain one with strong ancestral links. Although, His Royal Majesty, the Ezeduna of Ifitedunu was present, guests were open-mouthed as to why there were no participants from his distant part of Anioma land. OFACC should truly use the cultural festival as a rallying point to culturally reunite the Anioma people in the five Nigerian states that they have found themselves.
Although this year's edition featured secondary school groups, it will be nicer if Anioma higher institution groups are made to participate in the parades for in this way, the youths of the region would have carried the day. We are aware that Anioma Groups are now springing up in different higher institutions and will remain fortified with events like what OFAAC offers. The future is indeed bright for OFAAC and the Anioma Cultural Festival because in time to come it will surely attract foreign tourists and Nigerians in Diaspora to the Anioma soil. Once this is achieved, Anioma soil will become the home of African culture lovers.
Importantly, OFACC with every of its event has demonstrated that there is room for further improvement. I salute the Board, trustees and members of the Organization for the Advancement of Anioma Culture for a job well done. I stand up for you!