Friday, March 31


By Chukwuemeka Iheonunekwu

Just this morning, a woman opened her shop at Ụzọ Anọ Junction, Oparachi-Ihitte, only to see a letter pasted in front of her neighbour’s.

The letter came with a strong warning, and certain promise to visit wrath on some people in Mbaise tomorrow being the 15th of August, 2022 because of one man, Chief Hope Uzodinma.

It says:

“It has come to our notice the plans by some unscrupulous elements in Mbaise to give Chieftaincy Title to the supreme court administrator of Imo State Hope Uzodinma in the forthcoming new yam festival (Iri Ji Mbaise).

It goes on to list the atrocities of Hope Uzodinma especially inaction over the murder and abduction of several Mbaise natives; it called out traditional rulers for making such devious plans. Then it goes on to issue threats to the people behind such plots (and their families) closing with “DO NOT SAY YOU WERE NOT WARNED.”

It ends with a salutation boldly written “Unknown Gunmen.”

Clearly, this is not what our Iri Ji Mbaise is known for – squabbles and threats of violence.

In the lands that became known as Igbo land today, Yam is the most precious crop. Not Rice. Not Cassava (which were brought here by Europeans). The Yam was the Lord of the Farms. The food of the wealthy and a good source of energy. Hence, new yam season came with certain sacredness and celebration.

As you know, 15th August is a special and sacred day in Mbaise as it is the day we collectively have our Iri Ji Mbaise Festival.

The festival is a modern incarnation of our age-old Iri Ji tradition that was observed by our ancestors in their homes and market squares long before Mbaise was born in the 1940s.

It was usually a thanksgiving ceremony to Ahịajọkụ, the deity of Yam and bountiful blessings. Notable participants in the Iri Ji were the Ezeji (wealthy Yam farmers who were ordained Priests of Ahịajọkụ) and Mmaji (their female counterparts and sometimes, consorts to Ezeji).

Though the event has been Christianized to large extents, the essence of Iri Ji remains sacred to Nde Mbaise.

For over 30 years, we have had a unified annual Iri Ji on a fixed date, being the 15th of August, thanks to Chief Joe Ehioma, and his colleagues who spearheaded such evolution in our culture. That date have become the equivalent of 25th December to Nde Mbaise for scores of years now.

Due to the security situation in Imo State (and the country), especially as the date fell on a Monday the leadership of Ndị Eze, Ndị Ezeji and Ezuruezu Mbaise agreed that people’s lives are paramount; thereby, declaring that even though the rites of Iri Ji will be observed exclusively by the Ezeji tomorrow the 15th, there shall be no large gatherings for the Iri Ji ceremony.

They admonished the people to observe the Iri Ji Mbaise 2022 as our ancestors did – in their homes. No large gatherings in any public place.

As published on Onyonyo Mbaise YouTube channel, HRH Eze Leo Nwokocha (Chairman, Mbaise Council of Traditional rulers) said that if the security situation improves by next year, we’ll be sure to have our festival again. This position is supported by the Chairman of Ndị Ezeji as well as the President of Ezuruezu Mbaise.

This stance by Mbaise stakeholders is quite understandable, and even noble.

But then, something else is happening.

A certain group called “Oluoha Mbaise,” purportedly formed less than 3 weeks ago is alleged to be driving a wedge amongst our traditional rulers concerning the direction of the annual event. Of course, the organization has some traditional rulers as members.

This group, said to be championed by politicians with ties to the Imo state government and the ruling party are allegedly moving to shift the Iri Ji Mbaise from 15th to 16th August – a development that has caused an outcry from well-meaning Mbaise people worldwide.

Just as Christmas day cannot be postponed from 25th of December to any other date, even during wars, the Iri Ji Mbaise day cannot be postponed for any reason.

This makes the annual Iri Ji Mbaise unlike any other festival in Ala Igbo. Some people are bent to destroy the significance of this unifying event.

It is against this backdrop that the cloud of gloom has gathered over and above Mbaise. It’s almost like a vampire is waiting for human blood to drink and tears to lick with mindless delight.

There are three primary problems here:

  1. The bid to postpone Iri Ji Mbaise from 15th to 16th of August without the backing nor blessing of our stakeholders (Ndi Ezeji, Ndị Eze and Ezuruezu Mbaise). It wouldn’t be out of place to say that a rogue element seeks to not only bastardize our heritage, but to disregard constituted authority while doing so.
  2. The alleged plan to confer a Chieftaincy Title on Chief Hope Uzodinma during the Iri Ji Mbaise celebrations, again without the support of the leadership of Ndị Eze, Ndị Ezeji and Ezuruezu Mbaise.
  3. The third problem is that of the pre-existing insecurity that has been existing in Imo state since the Supreme Court emergence of Chief Hope Uzodinma. In fact, the stakeholders, as mentioned earlier, had cancelled large gatherings for the fear of attracting violence to Mbaise since the event fell on a Monday (lockdown).

These three problems are akin to mixing a bucket of Harpic toilet cleanser with Hypo bleach and a drop of Sniper insect killer. It’s a concoction that chokes ones oesophagus as it burns the eyes.

Sadly, some unpatriotic elements are choking our cultural heritage and burning our eyes with impunity, toxic politicking and attraction of insecurity to Mbaise.

The Oluoha Mbaise and other politically minded people, alleged to have plotted to confer a Chieftaincy Title on Chief Hope Uzodinma during Iri Ji, are gradually dragging the trend of death and carnage from Owerre and Orlu zone to Mbaise.

Our Cultural heritage is under attack from these politicians who’s sole aim is purely for political and personal gains.

What does this mean for the future of Iri Ji Mbaise, and our cherished traditions?

What do our stakeholders have to say about this? Will they move against these Politicians or watch in silent protests?

Why is everyone obviously angry, but eerily quiet about this?

Shall we fold our hands and watch Politicians destroy our culture and heritage while bringing the scourge of insecurity to our land?

It is said by some people, that where Chief Hope Uzodinma goes, tears and blood follow. If this is true, will Mbaise cry tears and leak blood in the aftermath of his visit on either the 15th or 16th of August?

Far be it from us that we shall mourn friends and family when we’re supposed to be celebrating the arrival of new Yam.

Far be it also, that politicians will successfully hijack our cultural heritage for personal and political benefits.

May Chi la Eke protect Ụmụ Mbaise from the machinations of evil politicians.

May Ala, the Mother Earth give us more bountiful harvests, agricultural wealth and joy.

May the wind of peace blow away any dangers from the Five corners of Mbaise.

Ya gazhiere Ụmụ Mbaise na-mpaghara ụwa liile.

Udo na Ndụ.

© Chukwuemeka Iheonunekwu
(Proud Son of Mbaise).
14th August, 2022.

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