Africa's Oldest Masquerade Marks 100 Years On Earth…As Host Umuoji Celebrates Uzoiyi Festival

By Okechukwu Onuegbu

In what could be described as the aesthetics of cultural heritage, Umuoji community in Idemili-North council of Anambra state last Sunday, celebrated its 2014 Uzoiyi festival in a gland style.

This was even as the Ezenmou Umuoji masquerade marked its 100 years of existence on earth. Ezenmou, it would be recalled was founded in 1913 but made its first appearance at Enugu, during the official celebration of the January 14th amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Nigerian Protectorates.

Perhaps, this 2014 Uzoiyi festival was best of its kind, as its venue, Umuoji township stadium was crowded with over twenty thousand people of different caliber and disciplines, from within and outside Anambra state, comparable only to what is tenable in a-UEFA Champions league final.

As usual, the Africa's most senior masquerade, Ezenmou intrinsic appearance kick-started and closed the festivity officially even when it was persuaded to wait while the Traditional Ruler of Umuoji, HRH Igwe Dr. Cyril Enweze was delivering his opening speech.

It was this great masquerade that obstructed the King's speech, made way into the cultural arena, displayed and left amidst encomium and appraisal from the spectators (participants) despite the Monarch's plea, and pleading from the armed Police Officers and Master's of Ceremony therein.

Speaking at the occasion, Igwe Dr. Cyril Enweze posited that Uzoiyi festival is an ancient annual event whose celebration ushers in raining season, noting that the community reverence it much as it usually witness mass return of Umuoji people in Diasporas comparable to Christmas.

Igwe Enweze who poured encomium on Governor Peter Obi, for transforming all sectors of the state economy, further extolled the Governor for providing them with skills acquisition center, health center, and construction of a road that linked the town with Eke-Abatete, even as he disclosed that Obi break the record of good stewardship for prompt payment of workers salaries and for been indebted to nobody.

He therefore, implored Chief Joe-Martins Uzodike, the state Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism who represented the Governor at the occasion to inform him (Obi) that Umuoji would pay him a courtesy visit soonest because according to him, Obi left a legacy worthy of emulation.

The Monarch further pledged unflinching support of the community to the administration of the incumbent Chairman of Idemili-North Local Government Area, Hon. Obi Ikem Obi for smooth running of the council affairs.

Also speaking, Chairman of the occasion, Chief Celestine Aniuno (Ochudo), who incidentally was the sole financier and sponsor of Uzoiyi festival (in 2013 and 2014 respectively), announced 1.5 billion Naira launching of what he termed “Umuoji Economic Development and Rural Trust Fund” aimed at industrialization and empowerment of his people for wealth creation, self-sufficiency and employer of labour.

Chief Aniuno who stressed that the festivity was a vehicle to showcase the Africa's rich cultural heritage and tradition, noted that Umuoji is a home of hospitality, accomplished and embedded with much tourist attractions and natural endowments, and called for a collaborative efforts with Billionaires and brains of the land for restructuring and development of the town economically and otherwise.

In a similar vein, President General of Umuoji, Hon. Basil Okonkwo commended Ochoudo Umuoji, describing him as a peace
loving philanthropist whose wealth of experience, monetary gifts and free donations have wiped tears of uncountable Nigerians.

On his part, Hon. Ikem Ike Obi, the Chairman of Idemili-North LGA, said his administration is determined to make Uzoiyi gain an international recognition, while disclosing the council's resolve to provide all communities under the jurisdiction with social infrastructures.

Highlight of the occasion was masquerade parade of the 23 villages in the community, including Akum, Afuekwe, Ebubeagu, Great Igada, Aguiyi Umuoma, Inyinya Umuazu, Zebra, Enyi Abidi, Anogu Egbenuoba, Akwunecheni among others.