WE CELEBRATE GOD DURING YAM FESTIVAL
'We celebrate God during yam festival' -Igbo monarch
… Showers of prayers, praises on Runsewe
By MAURICE ARCHIBONG
Thursday, March 11, 2010
•R-L: Runsewe and Idu II
The Igwe of Igbo Ukwu, HRH (Dr.) Martin Nwafor Ezeh, has asked Otunba Olusegun Runsewe to use his good offices as Director-General of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) to assist in enhancing publicity for annual festivals in Anambra State. Igwe of Igbo Ukwu, also known as Idu II, is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Mbido Igbo Association, a socio-cultural organization, whose activities included two festivals, 'Iba Ubi Igbo' and 'Iwa Ji Igbo'. The crowned head, who lamented the perception within some circles that these festivals are fetish celebrations, declared: 'Yam was created by God; so, in observing the commencement of the planting season (Iba Ubi) or harvest of new yam (Iwa ji), we are merely thanking God Almighty, the Provider. Therefore, there is nothing like idol worshipping to these festivals'. The king then went on to implore Otunba Runsewe to help in mobilising publicity to erase any impression that the fiestas are fetish. He made this plea on February 11, when he and other members of his entourage paid an official call on the NTDC Director-General. The delegation, which was warmly received at the NTDC headquarters, Abuja; included HRH Igwe (Dr) C. C. Okoli, Chief Thomas Onyeama Ogbonnaya of Owerre-Ezukala, who was represented by Dr. Okey Obi, a medical practitioner at the Nigeria Law School, Gwari; Chief Robert Ezeife; a former Director at the Federal Ministry of Finance; Chief O. Chukwu, Chief Ositadimma Ofodume and Mr. Okafouzu Ugochukwu; while two other traditional rulers, Igwe Godwin Obiora and HRH Bob Orji, earlier billed for the Abuja trip could not make the journey due to unforeseen developments. According to Idu II, the annual yam festival (Iwa Ji) actually begins with Iba Ubi, which flags of the year's planting season. The latest Iba Ubi was celebrated with pomp and circumstance last February 27. With the 2010 Iba Ubi chalked off successfully, this Igwe went on to invite Otunba Runsewe and other NTDC staffers as well as all Nigerians and tourism/culture buffs worldwide to the Ogba Ukwu Cave Festival slated for 29 and May 30 at the cave site. He later revealed to Travels that this year's 'Iwa ji Igbo' will take place from August 26 to 28. Aside the chief host, Otunba Runsewe, other NTDC chieftains, who joined the DG in receiving the visitors included Alhaji Ibrahim Zuru, Chief Kanayo Oko, Dr. Ola Makanjuola, Hajiya Fatimah Mohammed, Mrs. Margaret Utande and Mr. Akin Onipede, Deputy Director (Press). After formal introduction and exchange of pleasantries, there was the customary kolanut breaking before lunging into business of the day proper. Interestingly, the kola-nut breaking ceremony yielded an effluvium of prayers for the Nigerian nation, speedy recovery for ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua, God's guidance and protection for Acting President Goodluck Jonathan and Otunba Runsewe as well as all NTDC staffers for the obvious and impactful successes recorded over the last three and a half years. Idu II said: 'Thank God for what Otunba Runsewe and his team have been doing for Nigeria. If only other Nigerian agencies were as diligent as the NTDC, our country would be much greater by now. We take good lessons home, after each visit here'. It is worth noting that in 2009, the National New Yam Festival in Igbo Ukwu was officially adopted as a State Festival by Anambra State Government. Idu again: 'We couldn't have got such endorsement, if you didn't intervene. So, we say a hearty thank you for this great gesture shown to us and indeed all Igbo. We are happy because your intervention has woken up Anambra State Government to the tourism reality and they are now living up to expectation. 'The state government on its part has cleared all the bottlenecks bedeviling that festival and now, to the glory of God, it is part of the state government's appropriation under Recurrent Budgetary Proposals. This indeed is a breakthrough and with it, the tourism industry is set for a great boost in the near future, following the re-election of our great Governor, His Excellency Mr. Peter Obi'. The Igbo Ukwu monarch added that the recently held governorship election in Anambra State, which was roundly hailed as a monumental success, bears testimony to the desire of all Anambra people and re-elected Governor Peter Obi to build a better and peaceful and more prosperous society. This, the royal personage deduced, is similar to the efforts and contributions of Otunba Runsewe. Idu II further lauded Runsewe thus; 'We thank you for the documentation of the tourism potentials of the South East, which your staff did very well'. Going by this monarch's assertion, Ogba Ukwu Owerre-Ezukala has been listed as Tourism Destination No. 1 in the five Igbo states of the South-East. Moreover, Igwe of Igbo Ukwu, who described Otunba Runsewe as a symbol of honesty, trust and diligence; said the efforts of the NTDC Director-General has yielded visible fruits leading to this DG being the only head of a 'parastatal' in the country to receive the Vice President of Nigeria on a working visit as well as the ruling president of a foreign nation. Interestingly, the foreign head of state, who visited NTDC, is President Fradique de Menezes of Sao Tome and Principe; and the Nigerian then Vice President is currently Acting President Goodluck Jonathan. 'All (these) are eloquent testimony of what you have been able to achieve in the tourism industry of the country,' Idu II observed. 'My DG, we want you to, as usual, fulfill your pledge of giving prizes to the winners of last year's event in the following competitions: Wrestling, Folklore, Dancing, Masquerade, Biggest Yam, Best Palm Wine 'Tapper', and Tourism Friendly Town. You gave a cash award last year; and we wish you to replicate the gesture. At this point, we wish to remind you that three of our subjects; Mr. Chidi Perpetua Umeokwonna, Mr. Chimezie Nze and Mrs. Nwabuonu Okeke, who had been offered employment here (NTDC) not been given their employment letters. We wish you could look into it and give necessary attention to it' he concluded. In his response, Otunba Runsewe, who was recently voted President of African Tourism Promotion Initiative (ATPI), remarked: 'If every community leader had the passion of Idu II, then we would have had a better society'. Apparently alluding to challenges that groundbreaking leaders often encounter, the NTDC DG declared: 'To become a champion, you must encounter challenges. It is the price every great leader must pay for the vision God had imbued such a one with. I'm not bothered by crisis, I refuse to be distracted. I remind myself of the words of the late 'Bashorun' MKO Abiola, who said: 'The day people stop talking about you, then you must have died''. Speaking further, Runsewe revealed: 'Because of Idu II's vision to empower his people, the NTDC has received some 30 other communities. This means that Igbo Ukwu has brought us closer to all Igbos'. Each community comes with legitimate prayers for assistance in growing the tourism sector of their economy. But, while wants are insatiable, resources are limited; this means that funds have to be managed prudently and projects prioritized. Albeit, Otunba is generally seen as 'Ekwu-eme'; one, who stands by his/her words, he has always fulfilled promises. If, resources are not immediately available, he always saw to it that help was offered as soon as possible. The huts that NTDC is building in Nri, also in Anambra State, and more huts in Edo State are just two examples of this tendency. Thus, when Otunba Runsewe said the possibility of building huts at Owerre-Ezukala Wonderful Cave/Waterfall, which like Igbo Ukwu lies in the same Local Government Area of Aguata, this year would be explored, applause exploded spontaneously inside the hall. During the visit, Dr. Obi, representative of Chief Ogbonnaya, also presented a letter of appreciation from the latter to the DG of the NTDC. In that memo, titled 'A thank you letter for adoption of Ogba Ukwu Wonderful Cave/Waterfall, Owerre-Ezukala', Otunba Runsewe was commended for his efforts, 'endeavours and painstaking steps leading to the recognition of Ogba Ukwu Wonderful Cave/Waterfall as a National Tourism Destination'. Chief Ogbonnaya added that the locals have resolved to repackage the annual Ogbo Ukwu Cave Festival, to meet international standards as required by the NTDC, which he recalled, has promised to promote the Indaba. During their Abuja tour, the delegation also visited the headquarters of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) and the National Gallery of Art (NGA). Over the last three and a half years, the Runsewe-led NTDC has become synonymous with success. Expectedly, other people have dreamt of progress too; however, it would seem that Otunba Runsewe has always succeeded in pushing his programmes through because of perspicacity, efficient management and good planning. And lest we forget; the torrents of prayers Runsewe and the NTDC often come under must have helped along the way too. Epilogue. Typical of Otunba Runsewe; who is not given to resting on his oars, the man is forever coming up with great ideas to boost Nigeria's image and the tourism industry. On of the laudable strategies he has devised is Educational Tours, whereby some NTDC workers are sent on exploratory trips to other countries. One of such exercises took some 19 Nigerians to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Today, we serve a photo from that journey; keep a date with us for a harvest from that sojourn in the former Abyssinia.