At the mention of Ogbunike community in Oyi Local Council of Anambra State, what quickly comes to mind is the popular Ogbunike Cave. Situated at the valley and boasting of entrances, some roomy apartments and naturally etched designs on its walls, the Cave has placed Ogbunike on global tourism map.
On a regular basis, pleasure seekers, researchers and excursion scholars from within Nigeria and abroad visit the Cave for a unique tourism experience. Already, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) has put the historic site on the Tentative World Heritage Site (WHS) about 40 years ago. Thus, it is one of the 13 sites in Nigeria listed on WHS, though Sukur Spring Site in Adamawa State and the Osun Osogbo Groove in Osun State are the only two properties inscribed on the Permanent List.
However, beyond the alluring view of Ogbunike Cave, the recent Last Ofala Festival of the traditional ruler of the community, HRM, Igwe John Ositadimma Umenyiora (Ezedioramma 1) was an opportunity for guests and visitors to witness the rich cultural heritage of Ogbunike people.
Organised to celebrate the successful reign of Igwe Umenyiora, the first traditional ruler of the community, who joined his ancestors in 2020, the cultural fiesta offered a moment to illuminate on the legacy of a quintessential monarch who brought a good name and fame to Ogbunike.
Born in 1945, Igwe Umenyiora showed sparkles of one destined for greatness right from his youthful days. At the Yaba College of Technology (Yaba Tech) where he studied with the Electrical Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) scholarship, young John had manifested leadership qualities, captaining the school team and earning the nickname ‘Presido.’
His entrepreneurial sagacity led him to establish the popular UNICCO named after his brothers (Uche, Ndubuisi, Ifeanyi, Chudi, Caleb, Osi). Under UNICCO, Umenyiora had other big businesses such as Blue Bell Securities Limited, UNICCO Conk Int. Limited, Continental Oil and Gas Limited, West Coast Engineering and Dredging Coy, UNICCO Hotels, UNICCO Shopping Centres, Ocinental Lines West Africa Publishing Coy and others.
As a wealthy man, Igwe Umenyiora lived a life of opulence, acquiring the best of materials he wanted. But most importantly, he used his wealth to touch lives of individuals and gave a facelift to his community and neighbours.
So, it wasn’t surprising that in 1975, when the defunct military administration of Gen. Murtala Mohammed directed all communities to elect traditional rulers, Ogbunike people unanimously crowned Umenyiora as their first Igwe.
Initially, Umeyiora was hesitant, alluding to his young age, and inexperience of customs and traditions of the community, it took the intervention of the elders of the community, who convinced young John that it is not customary to turn down their request, for him to buckle. Thus, on December 26, 1976, John Ositadimma Umenyiora was recognised and issued Certificate of Recognition as the traditional ruler with the title name, Ezedioramma 1 of Ogbunike, being the first king.
His enthronement, it was revealed, was for several years prophesied by Echedom Oguejiofor of Ifite Ogbunike. Merriment followed, as Umenyiora became the Okpala Iguedo (Igwedo), Ogbunike being the most senior of Umu-Iguedo, alongside Awkuzu, Nando and Umueri who were among the children of a great feminist traditional healer, Iguedo.
A personification of the saying that God ordains kings, Umenyiora exuded qualities of a man of unparalleled panache and majestic and classy disposition. Ijele Iguedo, as he was fondly called, was known to have believed in his principle that nothing is literarily impossible. In fact, his 45-year reign could be described as a call to service, as the period witnessed resounding accomplishments, mostly financed and/or facilitated by him.
As the first traditional ruler of the community, Umenyiora practically established the traditional authorities in the community, including Ugwueze Society (for elders aged 80 years and above), Ogbunike Traditional Council (Ndi Ichie) and Ndi Nze na Ozo Ogbunike. He also initiated and coordinated the Association of Umu-Iguedo Traditional Rulers.
Igwe Umenyiora established Ogbunike Development and Education Trust, awarded scholarship to students in universities, especially those studying Medicine, Law and Engineering, set up Ogbunike Think Tank and made community roads motorable. He singlehandedly built Boys Secondary School Ogbunike (now Cave City Secondary School), Ogbunike Town Hall, Oye Olisa Market Ogbunike and drilled boreholes in the community. He played a role in the involvement and emergence of one of his subjects, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo (Oyi of Oyi) as the Special Adviser to the late former President of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
Umenyiora, who peacefully joined his ancestors in April 2020, was happily married to Roseline Ijeoma, and was survived by Prince Ogochukwu, (Ononneyi), Ejimofor (Okunnaya), Okwudili (Osinanwata bulu Ogalanya), Ositadimma Junior (Omekannaya), Chidubem (Nwannebuife), and Arinze (Ezenwa).
Her daughters include Princesses Nkemakonam, Alozie, Nkemjika Nwobi, Ijeoma Sea, Buchi Ken-Worgu and Uche Elochukwu.
Igwe Umenyiora possessed natural grandeur, presence and his voice was never missing in any occasion. Yet, he was meticulous in observing issues and was ready to stoop to conquer for peace to reign. In fact, his spirit of thoughtfulness and wisdom made him to okay the filing of the long-vacated position of the Aka Eze (Traditional Prime Minister) in accordance with the Ogbunike Constitution of 1978.
Before he joined his ancestors, Ezedioramma was said to have donated various items for distribution to the villagers and other needy persons in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic. His death at age 79 was a big shock to his immediate family, members of the community from Ifite, Umueri, Azu, Osile and Amawa villages, circle of friends, associates and colleagues in the traditional institutions.
Two years after his transition, the tradition of Ogbunike still reckons with his presence, leading to the Last Ofala festival held in his expansive Round Palace. The event was a beehive of activities, as it witnessed the attendance of traditional rulers in the state, including Igwe Ben Emeka of Umueri; Igwe Chris Chidubem Oranu of Omor and Igwe Onyido of Ogidi, who came to pay their last respect. There were also members of Ogbunike community, in-laws, members of Umu Iguedo Clan, Ogbunike Youths in the Diaspora, Age Grades, Umuada, and guests who graced the occasion.
At about noon, cannon shots thundered in the air, announcing the readiness for the public procession of cabinet members, Ndi Nze na Ozo, and traditional title holders. With the bell ringer in the lead, followed by crown staff bearers, alongside Aka Eze Ogbunike, Chief Anene C. Osadebe, the first son of Igwe Umenyiora, Prince Ogochukwu (Ononenyi), dressed in gorgeous royal resplendent robe, stepped out to the sound of the royal Igbaeze Ogbunike, as the procession marched around on three occasions before stopping at the vacant throne to pay him his last respect.
Then the Aka Eze, facing the empty royal stool, sounded bell, informing the Igwe of the readiness to commence the Last Ofala celebration. Prominent among Chiefs who joined in the procession are Chief Barr Ogochukwu Onyekwuluje (Ekwueme Ogbunike), Chief Erik Anyaegbunam (Akajiana Ogbunike), Chief Aniwetalu Onunkwo (Ichele Ogbunike), Chief Ndubuisi Oduche (Ugogbuzue Ogbunike), Chief Michael Emesiana (Ochudo Ogbunike), Chief Obi Azodo (Okpataozueora Ogbunike), Chief Goddy Mbaneme (Omekantinu Ogbunike), Chief Victor Aniekwena (Ifeadigo Ogbunike), Chief Dr. Nnabuike Osadebe (Mmilinamamkpume Ogbunike), Chief Godwin Onwura (Akobundu Ogbunike), Chief Oduche Okafor (Mmilililenyi Ogbunike) and Chief Agwuenu (Omekekwu Ogbunike). Others include Chief Godwin Nwosu (Akwaakwulu Ogbunike), Chief Afam Okeke (Agunechemba Ogbunike), Chief Jonathan Elobisi (Akatanayaegbungwu Ogbunike), Chief Dona Offiah (Ojembaenwilo Ogbunike), Ogbuefi Amaechi Ibekwe (Akuatuegwu), Ogbuefi Aghaegbuna Odelugwo (Oputaobie) and Ogbuefi Barr Peter Offiah (Nwachinemelu).
On the significance of the Last Ofala, Chief Osadebe said: “The Last Ofala is organised in honour of HRM Igwe John Ositadimma Umenyiora (Ezedioramma 1 of Ogbunike), our quintessential monarch whose glamorous reign for 45 years on the throne brought fame, dignity and development to Ogbunike community and glamour to traditional institution and monarchy.”
Osadebe informed the gathering that the celebration was in accordance with the custom, tradition and culture of Ogbunike. “It is an occasion and period when the king (Igwe) is accorded befitting honour and celebrated for his exceptional services to the community. It is a chronicle of assessment of progress made during the reign of a king, monarch or Igwe from coronation to the end of his reign.
He will be celebrated for infrastructural development, community development, philanthropy, educational empowerment, business and entrepreneurship development and for his special love for Ogbunike community,” Osadebe said.
A community leader, High Chief Godwin Mbaneme (Omenkantinu Ogbunike) said the Ofala was a mark of respect to show that a traditional ruler never dies. Mbaneme extolled the family for their unity that saw to the success of the event, saying those who had wished for trouble were disappointed.
In his tribute, Prince Ogochukwu Umenyiora (Ononenyi Ogbunike) expressed happiness with the prevalence of atmosphere of peace and unity as his father was honoured. He recalled that Igwe Umenyiora did great things for the progress of the community, stressing that the Last Ofala would be the best gift to him and beginning of more good things to come to the people and the community.
Another community leader, Ogochukwu Onyekwuluje, informed that the throne of Ogbunike community is not hereditary. “So, after six months of his travelling today, we will commence the process of choosing our next monarch, and the person must be well screened,” he said.
The President General of the community, Mr. Gozie Ikegulu, extolled the late monarch’s virtues, saying the Last Ofala was organised to pay last respect to the king who had gone to meet his ancestors, and to celebrate him for what he stood for throughout his lifetime.
“In our culture, it is believed that the Igwe does not die, rather he only travelled. Our Igwe has travelled, and what you see here is the rite, which we usually hold each time an Igwe travels.
“The culture is that the first son of the monarch will wear his father’s cloth for 28 days, after which he will show himself to the people. That is why you have seen the son of the Igwe coming out today to show himself to the people after wearing his father’s dresses.
“He (son) has engaged in procession three times today, and now is the time to receive visitors who have come to pay homage to his father. That is the tradition of our people.”
Nollywood Actor, Chiwetalu Agu, a traditional title holder in Ogbunike, who was present at the event, recalled the hey days of the Old Anambra State when Igwe Umenyiora was celebrated as an unprecedented wealthy man with the name UNICCO.
The cultural fiesta featured dance troupes and performances by masquerades, including Izaga, Agboghodike of Umueri Ogbunike, Ajofia Nnewi and Ijele Ifite-Dunu.
As expected, the Last Ofala of Ezedioramma turned into a campaign ground for candidates in the ongoing 2023 general elections; they showed up with their supporters to pay last respect to Igwe Umenyiora. Prominent among them were the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate for Anambra North Senatorial District, Ebelechukwu Obiano, his Labour Party (LP) counterpart, Dr. Tony Nwoye, and Maureen Gwacham, who has been elected to represent the Oyi-Ayamelum Federal Constituency.
Others were the Director-General of Atiku Campaign Organisation in Anambra State, Prof. Obiora Okonkwo; member of Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign Council (PCC), Ify Morah, and the Young Progressive Party (YPP) candidate for Oyi-Ayamelum Federal Constituency, Uche Okafor.
Interestingly, some of the guests at the Ofala made out time to have the tourism experience of Ogbunike Cave, the wonder of nature.