Interviews

Ikenga Forest should be a UNESCO Heritage Site – Alupuoaku

Anambra state

 

Igwe Ezeobi Onwuneme, the Alupuoaku 1 of Ikenga kingdom, in Aguata local government of Anambra state is regarded as one of the oldest traditional rulers in the state.
In this interview with Ijeoma Ekwowusi and Jonekay Emejulu, the septuagenarian gave a historical perspective of the formation of the community. He proposes that the Ikenga Virgin Forest should be recognized as a World Heritage Site, among others.

How did Ikenga come to existence?
Ikenga was a warlord who carried out successful hunting expeditions. That is why the town is referred to as Ikenga Obododike (a town of warriors). The community was formed through migration.

Ikenga, thus, was prominent among his siblings, brothers. Adazi enu, Adazi ani and Adazi nnukwu became jealous, as a result, teamed up and chased him out of their father’s house. He ran away and settled in this present location.

Ikenga is surrounded by Igboukwu, Isuofia, Ezinifite and Ekwulobia and has a population of 10,000 people with a large land mass. One striking thing about Ikenga is the Ikenga Virgin Forest.

Our monarchical system is not hereditary but rotational beginning with the eldest village in the eldest quarter of the community. We have already had three monarchs since the inception of the town, my immediate predecessor, Igwe Dimaku Ezeorizu (Ebubedike) having passed on in 1981. Transition processes were such that I was elected on July 20, 1983 and coronated in 1985.

What tourist attractions can you pin point in your community?

Our community is blessed with untapped natural habitat. In fact, the virgin forest known as the Udo Ikenga Forest is a tourist centre which we believe should be recognized by UNESCO as a Heritage Site. It covers a large mass of land and is the boundary between us and Igboukwu.

Another monument is the Udo Shrine the development of which dates back to 1914. Although some overzealous youths went to destroy the shrine the chief priest was able to salvage remnants of the structure.

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You did not mention any spring or river; don’t you have any here?

There is none. Our only source of water, since the 70’s has been the Obizi River extension from Uga. Our topography is such that it will take about 1400 feet to get to the Aquifa level. Unfortunately, this source has now ceased in the last few years even after our people contributed to get water from the river. In fact, the European Union extended the river

so as to relieve other towns bereft of water supply but this was never ratified. In 2004, we led President Olusegun Obasanjo to the place and he promised the federal government would swiftly look into it. It remains a promise, till date, just as the European Union effort remains unratified.

Aside that river, how have you been coping with water?

We get water from wells. There is no household here that will build a house without digging one or two wells.

What about your markets and festivals?

We have two major markets – Eke and Afor.

We used to celebrate the Udo deity in October but, nowadays, only very few pagans still celebrate it due to the influence of Christianity. People now celebrate only the Easter and Christmas. However, the new yam festival is celebrated on the last Saturday of August. It is a two-day affair, with the first day earmarked for the elders of the community, members of the Igwe cabinet, Nzes and the Umuadas while the following day is open to all. The ceremony features various masquer- ade dances and cultural troupes in an atmosphere of funfair and fanfare.

At the turn of every new year, the community holds an interdenominational Christian service in the morning masquerade display later. These masquerades include the popular Ikenga masquerade known as Omejirishi. It is a very big masquerade seen in January during the new year or during the burial of a prominent man especially on the last day of the rites when the village is expected to pay their last respects to the deceased.

Is the Ofala not among your festivals?

Yes it is but our constitution stipulates that the Ofala should be celebrated triennially. The aforesaid festivals take place annually. Hopefully by God’s grace in 2018 we shall be having our Ofala.

Share with us on what your community is known for?

We are basically an agrarian community. We are known for palm produce. We produce cocoyam and yam

in large scales and sell them at the Nkwo Igboukwu market.

Are there any instances of involvement of individuals in your community development escorts?

We have people who have contributed immensely to the developments of our community but unfortunately most of them are late now. However, one of our sons, Prince Sunday Dim, the son of my predecessor, helped to erect some structures like a secondary school. He also electrified the streets in Ikenga town, among others.

What message do you have for your people and potential investors?

We are in need of cottage industries which can go a long way in employing our teeming youths. Although our major challenge is that there is paucity of land. Here a plot of land can go for as much as 3 million naira whereas in the urban areas we can still buy land for as low as 600, 000 thousand naira or even less. Nevertheless, we would welcome investors who willing to site their businesses in our community.

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What is the relationship like between the town union government and your majesty?

There was a big crisis that still lingers till date. The former president general, PG, of the town union and his secretary connived with some people who levelled an allegation of misappropriation of funds on me. The allegation was that I did not utilise the fund the [former] Peter Obi government brought out for the tarring of our roads. Among all the 14 communities in Aguata local government area, it is only Ikenga that is still lagging in the tarring of its roads. But the truth is that nobody actually awarded the contract of the roads to anybody, let alone such funds being embezzled.

The executives simply felt they would not hand over until they amended the constitution, probably to suit their egoistic plans, which is an anomaly. The other two quarters objected to it because it was the turn of one of the quarters to produce the town Union Government. The matter is being heard in the court right now. So this halted most of our developmental projects. Out of the 177 communities in the state, Ikenga is the

only community without a president general. The case has been adjourned till February 2018.

Have you approached the government on the deplorable state of roads in your community?

The state government has awarded the contract for the construction of the roads. Even the ministry of works has started with the grading of the roads so that our people can usé them with ease during this yuletide seasons.

What stretch of road are you talking about?

It is the stretch of road beginning from the Igboukwu Ikenga axis up to the federal prison Ekwulobia. It was awarded during the flag off from the Ekwulobia Secretariat road down to Ezinifite and then upwards to Unubi road. I am positive that we will soon start experiencing development in our community once the road project is completed.

Are you saying that all the parties who are at loggerheads with each other welcome the developmental strides in your community?

Well it is only those that call themselves concern citizens of Ikenga that seem to be putting in more resistance to the peace process. However, a call for peace is being initiated by some church priests, including the par- ish priest of St Anthony’s Catholic Church, Ikenga, who is trying to broker peace between the warring parties.

Finally, what message do you have for the Ikenga people?

First, I am very grateful to God and my people, without exception, and this includes those who have offend- ed me and those whom I may have offended. I want to convey to them that this world has no meaning; you just come and go. Life is too short to spend on trivialities. I will also plead with my people that everyone should show love and live in harmony with one another. There is nothing beyond God.

One major challenge we have is in telling the truth. Those of us who swore under oath should, by virtue of that oath, remain steadfast and always abide by the truth.

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