HRM Igwe Sir (Dr.) Felix Chinedu Nwosu Onyimadu, Nwajiaku 1 of Ukpor, was coronated in 2010 and got government certificate of recognition in 2011. In this interview with O’star Eze, the monarch discusses the traditional heritage of Ukpor and the need for government to give traditional rulers in the southeast due recognition.
How were you chosen as the monarch of Ukpor; was it through election or by inheritance?
Ukpor has seven royal families known as Obi, and in order to prevent rancor amongst these royal families, the monarchy of the town is rotated among these royal families. The Obi Nwajiaku royal family where I belong is the second in the line of royal families and I was chosen by the family to be the traditional ruler. After me, it will get to another royal family.
What is the origin of the name ‘Ukpor’?
Ukpor people do not originate from one man. Ukpor is a conglomerate of people from various places, who migrated to and settled in this geographical space. Some came for hunting expedition and then, settled. Some migrated to this place in search of arable land to farming. That is why we do not have one family that ascends the throne. Ukpor is a very large and vast town with 55 villages; six political wards and three traditional zones. The seven royal families come from these three traditional zones. About the origin of the name, ‘Ukpor’, there are various versions of the story orally passed down to us by our ancestors. Some say it was derived from a tree known as ‘Mkpodu’, which gave shade where the people used to converge for meetings in the olden days. Others say it was a name suggested by someone during one of their meetings and it was accepted as the common name of the community. But the story that is mostly accepted is the one that traces the origin to the Mkpodu tree.
Is there any traditional festival with which Ukpor is known?
We have many festivals we used to observe in the past. But Christianity had stifled the observance of these festivals given the fact that over 90 per cent of Ukpor people are Christians of different denominations. They destroyed many of our traditions; but we have, since my assumption of the throne, been making efforts to revive some of these traditions. For instance, the biggest festival we have is ‘Asara festival’ which is celebrated once every 20 years. We celebrated it last month (April). It started from April 22 and ended in April 27. Each big family and each village is expected to present a cow on April 23 at the central market. The cows are paraded and the village or family with the biggest cow is given a prize. The family or village that presents the highest number of cows is also presented with an award. If we want to celebrate it, we use to notify the people a year before the date to enable them prepare for it properly. We also celebrate the ‘Alaubi festival’, which we celebrate before we start cultivating in our farms; and also the new yam festival which we celebrate before we start eating new yam. We have ‘Igba Ota’, and so many other festivals; but the most notable is the new yam festival.
You said that Christianity have been posing stumbling block to the tradition of the people?
Yes. Like in the last Asara festival, we received a lot of resistance and threats from the Churches, especially the Catholic Church. They said it was a festival connected to idol worship. But we explained to them that it had nothing to do with idol worship but was our tradition. We do not slaughter the cows in front of any idol. We only parade the cows around the market square and then, on 24th, everyone slaughtered the cows in their compounds. They kept saying that we should not parade the cows in Afor central market, insisting that we should take the cows to the church, but we refused. We told them that if we took the cows to the church, it would cease to be a tradition. That was the argument; and they kept threatening my President-General and me. But we stood our grounds. They then tried to turn the mind of the people against the festival and were able to convince some, especially among the womenfolk. But the festival held and it was a resounding success. Our people came back from far and near to participate in the festival.
The new yam festival used to be an individual affair; people were celebrating it in their various families. But, since I ascended the throne, I made it mandatory that our people will be celebrating the festival at the central field on a particular day. That day, the monarch will perform the cutting of yam and then, the heads of the various villages and then, every other person, are allowed to eat the new yam. It is an abomination for anyone to eat the new yam before the monarch. But there are some that want to disobey this tradition but they are an insignificant few. But every other person, especially the titled chiefs, do not eat the new yam until the monarch eats.
What are Ukpor people known for?
Ukpor people, right from the days of old, were known for large scale farming, especially yam cultivation. We were also known for cultivating cocoyam and economic trees; bitter kola, pears, mangoes, oranges and various other fruits. Nnewi and the environs come to our place for these fruits and food items. I am also a farmer, who has yam farm and has also gained reputation as a poultry farmer.
Are there challenges Ukpor community faces?
Like any other community, we have several challenges. We are being ravaged by erosion. We do not have good access roads. It is only one road that passes through our town from Awka Etiti through Isseke, which was built during Ngige administration. Other roads are done halfway and then, abandoned. You saw how terrible the road that leads to my palace is. You can then imagine how other roads look. We also do not have potable water. The only pipe borne water sources we have are privately owned. Power supply only comes once in a while. These are the major challenges we have. Another one is security problem. Ukpor has a central vigilante group and village vigilante groups. But because Ukpor is surrounded by about 12 towns such as Okija, Azia, Mbosi, Lilu, Ebenato, Ezinifite, Utuh, Nnewi and Ozubulu, criminal elements sneak in from these towns and beyond, commit crimes and escape before we could get to them.
As a custodian of the tradition, what do you think Igbo people should do differently in order to succeed as a people?
To tell you the truth, one of the major problems that Igbo people have is disunity. If you look at our political parties, none of our people are firm in their membership. You see someone in one political party moving to another at the slightest impulse. Another thing is selfishness among our political leaders. They only seek to fill their pockets. If you look at those of our people at the national and state assemblies, they do not carry the people they represent along. So, the only advice I can give them is for them to bring themselves together and start speaking with one voice. Moreover, those who have the good interest of Igbo people who volunteer to contest for elective positions are not given the chance.
Finally, sir, what is the benefit of traditional institution in our society and how could it be promoted?
The benefits of traditional institutions are numerous. Firstly, they are the custodians of the tradition of their towns. They are the ones that are supposed to be relaying the needs and aspirations of their communities to the government and vice versa. But most times, you find political office holders usurping this role. They set the traditional institutions aside and do what they like. The Nigerian constitution recommends that traditional rulers should be given 5 per cent of the money that comes to the local government where they are. But we do not see it; they only give traditional rulers stipends. There are traditional rulers that find it difficult to eat three times daily, especially those traditional rulers that inherited the throne from their fathers and might not have been established economically before they were required to ascend the throne. When they live on this stipend, they would be unable to fend for their basic needs. The stipend we are given monthly does not last more than 10 days before it gets exhausted. Across the Niger here from Asaba up to Benin and then the Yoruba and even among the Hausas, the state governments cater for the traditional rulers; they furnish the palace of the monarchs and change them every four years. But all the furniture in my palace are bought with my money. This is why in some communities, the people do not have any regard for their traditional rulers because they are beggarly. The rich in the community would be challenging their traditional rulers. In Imo state where they create autonomous communities rampantly, they have over 800 traditional rulers and majority of them make caricature of the traditional stool. Autonomous communities bastardised the traditional institution. So, I suggest that the government of the southeast should implement what the constitution stipulates concerning the the traditional rulers. Igwes should stand on their feet to defend their rights and their stools. I heard there are traditional rulers that was linked to a kidnapping incident in Imo state. This would not be so if the traditional rulers were given their their pride of place.