BY PATRICK MGBODO
‘’Birds sing, not because they have answers but because they have songs” African proverb.
Once upon a time it happened that the world was in a great haste, exhausted from a particularly tempestuous year. A foreign pestilence had traveled from distant lands, leaving fear and sorrow in its wake. A once boisterous generation was forced to forbid gatherings, sew masks to cover their mouths and kept washing their hands as though their sins stuck on them. Their medicine men wobbled and fumbled with no cure in sight; so did their gods.
But somewhere in the floras of Ubulu-Okiti, west of the Niger River, the story was told otherwise. It was just two days to the New Year and the Organization for the Advancement of Anioma Culture (OFAAC), established in 2003 for the preservation, promotion, advancement and development of the rich cultural heritage of the Anioma people in Delta North Senatorial District, had converged for its last meeting of the year to count blessings, notwithstanding the global challenges, and also strategize for a prosperous year.
Adorned in coloured blouses and headgears, their Akwaocha glistened under the midday Sun which occasionally polished their faces to ignite beauty of the African woman. With a fine mix of energy and grace, their waists swayed to the rhythm of the Isaka, beating beads of sweat on their tanned backs. Behind the gongs, young men slapped the leather drums with such dexterity that made the heavens envious. Then something happened and the music stopped for a moment or two.
The monarch of Olodu Kingdom, one of the communities in the Anioma nation, HRM Obi Ifechukwude arose and led the opening prayer, asking for the actualization of the Anioma State. Thereafter the kola-nuts, as was their custom, moved to the oldest man in the gathering for more supplications to the ancestral gods. Perhaps, this may explain why the Anioma people are blessed with long life, good health and fortune. The mood was then established for business.
In his opening remarks the President of OFAAC, Arc Kester Ifeadi did not dither to inform his people of a health insurance policy to cater for families of dedicated members in the eventualities of terminal ailments or death. As he was later to tell The Pointer, ‘’We pray for people to live to ripe ages but in any eventualities, one should be able to provide succor for the bereaved families and other forms of assistance (health-wise) particularly to physically-ailing members.
‘’It is a contributory scheme and members are excited about it. OFAAC has been operating several schemes similar to this (Health Insurance) such as Microcredit schemes. This is just like icing on the cake so funding will not be a problem. It is to create a sense of oneness’’ Ifeadi said, savouring a thunderous applause with his crimson cap regally perching on his head.
With the resurgence of the COVID-19 virus, Ifeadi said that OFAAC has been encouraging compliance with safety protocols, one of which was the cancellation of its 2020 edition of annual festival to discourage social-gathering. ‘’We are conscious of the health of our members and we want to make sure that everybody is healthy. We will watch as events unfold and should there be a second lockdown, we will continue to provide palliatives for our members’’ he said, allowing his people to flatten their mounds with tasty soups as they listened.
Taking their turns, the Chairpersons of the six zones (Oshimili, Aniocha, Ika, Ukwuani and Adokwa) took turns to give their annual reports. They thanked their national President for providing them relief materials during the COVID-19 induced lockdown, confessing that they survived on the palliatives provided by OFAAC. The zonal heads also commended Kester for granting them loans through the microcredit scheme, promising to complete payment by the end or before next month.
Although they tried to shy away from sharing their challenges, the Vice-President of OFAAC Chief Paddy Ugboh nudged them to do so. Ugboh posited that it was necessary for them to share their constraints so that solutions can be provided in the New Year or lessons learned. At this point, the microphone was returned to the zonal heads as they identified a handful of their challenges. The issue of membership drive was raised among other requests for the provision of motorbikes to some remote areas to facilitate the OFAAC Agenda.
On the sidelines, a member of its Board of Trustees and media director of OFAAC, Hon Emeka Madu, emphasized the importance of youths to identify with the apex Anioma cultural body to export its customs and traditions. Madu, who is a founding member of OFAAC, feared that if youths were not properly groomed to take over from the current crop of leadership, the consequences might be dire for as Marqus Garvey puts it, ‘’a people without the knowledge of their past, origin and culture, is like a tree without roots’’.
But the young bird does not crow until it hears the old ones. Therefore, Hon Madu called on Anioma youths to proudly showcase the Anioma dressing, music, language and virtues at all times. Truly, OFAAC ‘’desires to bequeath two things to their children. The first being their roots while the second is their wings’’.
That OFAAC is a success-story today is because its National Managing Coordinator of OFAAC, Prince Andrew Obi is not sleeping on his oars. At the end-of-year meeting, he could be seen darting from one end of the lawn to another, taking orders from one canopy to the other. Indeed, his passion for the advancement of Anioma culture dwarfed him in stature. His family cherished his presence but also realizing that his absence was a worthy cause.
Corroborating earlier speakers in an interview, Obi said that the essence of the meeting was review activities of the organization, plan for the New Year and use the opportunity to fraternize. ‘’I want to encourage our people to identify with OFAAC because it is a medium to galvanize and unite the people of Anioma’’.
Dusk was setting on the horizon and the chicks were coming home to roost. So, OFAAC Theatre Dance Troupe, Ifeaoma’adia’gwu-Uwa Dance Group of Onicha-Ugbo, Ever-Bright Dance Group and Arc Kester Ifeadi ushered in the New Year in an unending blitz of bliss and gratitude. As the crowds gradually disappeared out of sight, slithering past ancient abodes, their banters and cackles echoed through the lush vegetation of Ubulu-Okiti into the New Year for the advancement of Anioma culture. Was Mahatma Gandhi of Anioma roots for him to have posited that ‘’a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people’’.