By Patrick Ochei
Kokooooooooooooooo! That was the reverberating sound of women from the Ezechima’s family who saw the Benin soldiers creeping from the bush into the hiding location of Chima at a place called Aniami in today’s Onicha-Ugbo, which sparked off the war of attack and resistance between the Binis and Chima’s army.
Ine Festival in Onicha-Ugbo incidentally marks the celebration of the new yam, because by history, the people were preparing to eat the new yam in their hiding when the Benin soldiers who had been trailing the fleeing Chima and his household attacked.
The 2022 Ine Festival is a commemoration of that war episode that made the difference in the life of Chima and his household which eventually erased his cowardly posture and gave him the freedom and independence that metamorphosed into royalty for which the children enjoy till date under a large dynasty called ‘The Ezechima Clan’.
His Royal Majesty, Obi Victor Chukwumalieze JP, is the Obi of Onicha-Ugbo Kingdom in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State. He has every reason to appreciate God for the life sustained to be able to partake in his 22nd celebration of the Ine Festival, having been crowned 23 years ago. And so, in his joyful mood, he dedicated the 2022 Ine Festival to God, for keeping him alive after his transition had even been announced by some of his family members. However, in his critical attempt to speak on the unique Ine Festival of Onicha-Ugbo people, he went the historical lane to give a background of how his people evolved and their journey of existence so far.
According to Obi Chukwumalieze, “One cannot discuss Onicha-Ugbo without mentioning the legendary Chima who became a king. Chima is Igbo name by every description of it, which means ‘God knows’. He is from the East unlike the Oduduwa which no historian has been able to prove where he came from. But from the Igbo language, Chima is known to be from the East.
“However, we don’t precisely know the actual community Chima came from, whether Nri or Arochukwu. Igbos are like the Israeli; always migrating for trade, to every nook and cranny of the globe. The Igbos are migrants by nature and this could be alluded to why Ezechima settled here.
“After the fall of Oyo Empire, the Bini Kingdom started flourishing and as a blacksmith, Chima moved to Benin to make money with his craft. The then Oba of Benin, Oba Eweka 1 discovered his skills and engaged him in the art of craftsmanship. He was given a vast area of land, he married a Bini woman named Nana and started to cohabit prosperously as a blacksmith and herbalist in Benin. The chiefs of Benin Empire were insecure as a result of his prosperity and popularity within the Empire, to the extent that they planned a Palace coup against Chima.
“In Benin Empire then, every human and property was regarded as the property of the Oba and that’s why you hear the names ‘Ikpoho Oba, Ikenye Oba’, etc. The Royal family didn’t have need of permission to enter into anybody’s farm to harvest crops. And so on this fateful day, the Royal family members had gone to Chima’s farm to harvest crops unannounced. One of Chima’s family members mustered the courage to challenge the royalty by asking that at least courtesy should demand that the royalty took permission to come into their farm to harvest. Of course you should know that was treason.
“Indeed that guts and temerity infuriated the royal family member who went home to report to others. Of course having been looking for evidence to convince the Oba to kill Chima and possess his estate, the chiefs secretly planned his execution. Chima being a renowned native doctor, got a premonition of their plans, organised his family and ran away from Benin at night. He took him years to get to the present day Onicha-Ugbo and settled at a place called Aniami where the St. Pius Catholic Grammar School is located today.
“While there, the Benin soldiers were still searching for them. For years, they hid here in Onicha-Ugbo until one day when they wanted to eat the new yam that they harvested from their farm, only for the maidens to spot the Benin soldiers who were creeping from the bush into their hiding and in that apprehensive shock, they screamed kokoooooooooo. The shout rattled the Chima’s family and their army who quickly scampered for safety while also taking positions to face their invaders. At this point, the soldiers opened fire and started shooting at the Chima’s household; and the Chima’s army put up a brave fight rather than running away cowardly.
“That was how Chima’s army fought the Benin soldiers to stand-still in order to achieve their freedom and independence from the oppressive Benin Royal family and their chiefs. It was from the war that some Chima’s family members ran to different directions to settle – some to Obior, some to Issele-Uku, some to Onicha-Olona, Ezi and others. This also made reinforcement difficult for the Benin soldiers. There were casualties but that invasion and courageous resistance gave Chima freedom and independence to exist. And so Chima was made king (Eze) afterwards, to now rule over all the settlements under him and his children. And that was how Ezechima came about and he got his freedom and independence through conquest.
“This is an oral story from our forefathers from our own perspective. This was how Chima became king over the kingdom. So, Ine Festival is the commemoration of what happened. Few days ago we had a peace week called Ima Osisi. We prayed all over the kingdom, because our war experience was rough, violent, lawless and a marked period of pandemonium.
“Today is the day of the soldiers who fought that war, to come to give account of what happened during the war to Ezechima. That is the symbolism of Ine Festival. Unfortunately, we have bread and butter chiefs these days, who work and sleep under ACs. In the old when men were men, it was a different ball game. What we now do is just to give an idea of what the war looked like. It is more of satire, and people are at liberty to do what they want to do or say what they want to say just for today”, Obi Chukwumalieze narrated.
The Monarch also said that his forebears fought the Ekumeku war immediately after Ezechima’s conquest with the Binis, affirming that they equally came out victorious.
On the relationship between Onicha-Ugbo and Onitsha across the Niger, Obi Chukwumalieze said Onitsha Mmili which was founded by Oreze came out of Onicha-Ugbo even though they became prosperous, thereby acknowledging the biblical fact that children should be more prosperous than their parents.
Speaking on the place of Onicha-Ugbo being a transit town, the Obi stated that his community is taking advantage of the gains of being a junction town from where other parts of the country like East, West and North can be accessed.
He claimed that the only challenge is a spot between Onicha-Ugbo and Idumuje-Ugboko that had regularly failed after construction, blaming it on some spiritual challenge that had not been handled well. He insisted that the very spot on the road would continue to experience collapse except if handled spiritually.
He said, “The Federal Government has not done anything positive on that portion of the road; if they had, they might not also know about the spiritual angle of that portion of the road. It’s our duty to address that. We know that portion of the road is not only facing physical challenge but spiritual also”, Obi Chukwumalieze stated.
On his final message to his people, he said the 2022 Ine Festival was specially dedicated to him to celebrate his survival from sickness that lasted over a month and almost took his life. He confirmed that his death was even announced by his siblings, but for God who gave him a second chance, he would have been history; adding that “My enemies never wanted me to see this day. I am using this festival to thank God for what he did for me. I was seriously sick for over a month and within two weeks my death was announced when I was in the theatre. Somebody obviously was eyeing this throne but the word of God when decreed, remains established. So I glorify God. It’s my 23rd year on the throne and I must acknowledge that the prayer of my people brought me back to life”, Obi Chukwumalieze concluded.
The 2022 Ine Festival was intense and indeed awesome cultural intricacies were showcased. The six renowned warlords of the community had arrived the Palace from the Iyase’s Quarter of Ogbekenu where the horrible road became a subject of satire.
Each of the Chiefs having presented kolanuts for prayer and blessing, took turn again to have a traditional handshake with the king (Inaka).
First in line was the Iyase, Chief (Engr) Festus Mafiana, being the Marshal coordinating as Chief of Defence to the community.
Second was the Odogwu, Chief Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu as the main Commander prosecuting the war. This position is not just given to anybody; but for Kachikwu, he deserved it based on what he has done for the community. His status as a former Minister of State for Petroleum attracted colourful attention to his performance as a true Odogwu that he is. According to him, “what we do in Ine Festival is not just the physical displays but a spiritual warfare. My position as Odogwu demands much more based on the virtue of the role expected of the office for the community”.
Third in line was the Isama, Chief Michael Diji playing the role of Chief Bodyguard by ensuring the protection of the king.
Fourth came the Oza, Chief Cyprian Mosindi who is the Deputy Commander of the war (Oza Zado Odogwu).
Fifth was the Iyase Agba, Chief Odi Oko, a renowned warlord with unique performance.
The sixth and last to stage his performance was the Uwolo, Chief Mike Elebor who is the Chief Spy in charge of reconnaissance and notable for gathering of information and reporting back to other warlords. Before the Ine, he kept vigil, moving round the community to gather security details for the warlords.
At the end of the traditional Inaka with the King, the warlords returned to their various quarters to prepare for the climax, which is the ‘Idu Olu’, performed at the Abu-Anor junction. This is a moment regarded as fierce within the Ine context and lily livered persons are not expected to get close, let alone watching the terrific displays at the Abu-Anor spot.
The Chi-Obi of Onicha-Ugbo, Chief Ibe Nwawolo described the Ine Festival as unique, replicating the war situation in the history of the agrarian community.
Meanwhile, the Ihama of Onicha-Ugbo, Chief Madu Nwayobuije a.k.a Ojare saw the Ine Festival differently, saying it is a period that affords young men the opportunity to hook up and eventually meet their future wives. Using himself as an example, he said he got married to his wife whom she met over 40 years ago during Ine Festival; and of course, the closely seated wife confirmed it.
For the Alibor of Onicha-Ugbo, Chief Ken Iwelumor, the 2022 Ine Festival met the expectation of our people in terms of security, crowd control and traditional glamour. He averred that there are more opportunities to tap in terms of economic gains and tourism investment as a result of the tourist attractions that the Ine Festival generates.
In a nutshell, the President General of the Onicha-Ugbo Patriotic Union, Barr. Peter Kogolo called on investors to leverage on the opportunities provided by the community’s strategic position as a transit town to other parts of the country.
While thanking the government for their effort on the development of the community, he appealed for support as the Union plans to embark on renovating the primary health centres in the community, vis-a-vis other critical infrastructural projects in the community.
The 2022 Ine Onicha-Ugbo Festival was indeed, one that witnessed the return of prominent sons and daughters, including Major General Lawrence Ayaegbunem Fejokwu to participate. He was full of activities as the warlord chiefs equally celebrated him by taking turn to go have a traditional handshake with him at his sitting position with other Palace Chiefs