By Odogwu Emeka Odogwu
After several tutorials and series of stage performances to select the best, ''I can sing Gospel Music Talent Hunt 2018'', has ended at the Cathedral Church of St Andrews, Amichi, Nnewi South Local Government Area, with a thirteen year old boy, Master Udochukwu Okereke, emerging the winner with a mouth-watering take home prize.
Udochukwu who is from Ndikelionwu, is a JSS 2 student of Union Secondary School, Afube, Amichi. The first runner-up prize went to Master Okonkwo Onyebuchi and the second runner up went to Master Decency Ifeanyi Umeokoli from Igboukwu, Aguata LGA. Ifeanyi is a law student of National Open University and has been singing since he was 12.
Nine year old Little Miss Nzubechukwu, who was among the 13 finalists, got herself a scholarship for excellent performance, even though she did not win the grand prize.
The chairman of the occasion and Immediate past Transition Committee Chairman of Orumba North LGA, Chief Emeka Aforka, could not hide his amazement at the performance of the singers being groomed on the platform of ''I Can Sing Gospel Music Talent Hunt'' programme. He singled out for great commendation the 2016 and 2017 winners of the competition, Miss Chinenye Amara and Okey Mehong, describing them as reference points for other young people.
While congratulating the previous winners, Chief Aforka praised the initiator of the programme, Ven. Chukwuebuka Chukwuemeka, for his passion and vision for youths and giving them the opportunity to develop and showcase their talents. He reminded the youths that each of them had a talent that should not be allowed to die but nurtured to blossom.
In his view, the Medical Director of Calvary Hospital, Amichi, Dr Ude Marcel, described the event as the most innovative and educative event he had witnessed in recent times in the backdrop of what he described as the adulterous and pervert generation the youths had found themselves in.
He appealed that more youths, particularly children, should be invited to such competitions to get inspired instead of wasting their time watching or playing video games.
Prof U.C Nzewi, former Rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, and Mr Obioma Amaigbo, commended the initiative of the church to catch the children young through singing.
Parents of the 2017 winner of the competition, Mr and Mrs Ernest Okoli, of the Grace of God Mission International, Amichi, said they were shocked at the liberalism of the Anglican Church, Diocese of Amichi, by awarding the grand prize to somebody from another church without discriminating. They said it was evidence that the Anglican Church in Amichi truly worshipped God unlike what she described as the hypocrisy obtained in some churches today.
'This has exposed Bishop Ephraim Ikeakor as a true man of God and a real born again Christian, carrying the gospel. My Children are in his school. This singular act and many others we have witnessed proved that Bishop Ikeakor is ordained by God because action speaks louder than voice'', Mr. Okoli, an Evangelist, concluded.
In their remarks earlier, successful singers, Brother FearGod and Pastor Ben Stevenson,
assured the competitors of equal opportunities to win the first position as they believed in their abilities. This is even as they commended Venerable Chukwuebuka Chukwuemeka for remaining committed, dedicated and focused in championing the cause of great children and youth singers for God.
They said that the 'Music Made in Amichi' was now being exported beyond Nigeria by the production of the music albums for the 2016 and 2017 winners of the competition.
The project coordinator, Mr Makuo George Ofonagoro, commended the efforts of those who took the courage to contest, and advised them to work harder.
The Grand finale of the 2018 ''I CAN SING Gospel Talent Hunt'' featured the unveiling of the maiden album of the winner of last year's edition titled, "At the cross", by Okey Mehong, as witnessed by the royal father of the day, HRH Igwe S.A.C. Obika, Ezeoha 11of Ezinifite kingdom.
In his address earlier, Ven Chukwuebuka Chukwuemeka thanked His Lordship, The Rt. Rev. Ephraim Ikeakor, Bishop, Diocese of Amichi, and Mama Amichi Diocese, Dame Nkem Ikeakor, for their unequalled support to ensure the success of the programme and the chairman of the occasion, Hon. Emeka Aforka (Ochinanwata), among others, who supported the ''I can Sing Talent Hunt.''
Ven Chukwuemeka said: 'I thank and appreciate my Lord Bishop, the Rt. Rev'd Ephraim Ikeakor, and Mama Amichi Diocese, Dame Nkem Ikeakor, for giving us the opportunity to freely exercise our ministry in the cathedral. May the Lord continue to enlarge your coast in Jesus name. Amen.
' ''I can sing is a vision'' God gave to us and we have seen it grow in all ramifications. Every year for the past three years now, we gather young people here and nurture them to become better singers. Winners are always rewarded in our own little way. However, for me the biggest success is not the positions or the money attached. Our success lies in the fact that we have been able to see young people develop and grow to become better singers.
'The impact some of our young people are making in their churches, especially in the Cathedral, is eloquent testimony of the tremendous impact ‘I Can Sing’ has made in them. Today again, we have yet another evidence that we have not wasted our time and money. We have been able again this year to produce a music album for the last year's winner.
''Last year, it was Chinenye. This year, it is Okechukwu and I know another winner will emerge today. I repeat, it is not really about the money. We will continue to push until under God we raise the hidden and unsung giants that abound around us; men and women who are passionate about God and righteousness. Let me announce here and now that Chinenye and Okechukwu have won for themselves an opportunity to embark on a musical tour to Abuja come November this year. This is courtesy of my friend and twin brother from another mother, Pastor Ben Stevenson.
'Pastor Ben is a music producer and singer based in Abuja. He is the Chief Executive of Beams Dynamic Communication Ltd. He also organizes similar talent hunts in the FCT. There are bigger and better days ahead. If you keep your head down, I assure you that you will get there.
'Sometimes, people do not know where to put their money. Every year governments, corporations and individuals sink millions sponsoring television reality shows that deform lives of young people and ignoring such projects as this that actually enrich life and society. We crave for and covet your support, not just for today, but in the days ahead. We need your money, we need your goodwill. We need everything you can muster. We need you to stand with us.
'Let me once again declare my appreciation to the project coordinator, Mr. Makuo George Ofonagoro, who has shown great diligence in working with these young ones. He has been able to dig out the gold in these young talents and he is not relenting in getting the best out of them. He does it every year without any financial attachments. All the back-up singers working with you - IK, Stephanie, Stella, Sam and all the music instructors and instrumentalists who have performed miracles with these raw talents.
'My very good friend and the chairman of the planning committee, Sir Dr. Jeff Okeke, has been invaluable to us in this project, working ever so tirelessly to ensure success all the time. You will not be forgotten in the day of God's visitation.
'How can I forget my biggest supporter, the only wife I have and will ever have, Mrs. Nkechi Chukwuemeka? You are the silent force that keeps pushing me. When others went away, you were there for me. When others did not believe, you were fanatical. If it is a mistake having you as my wife, I will never be right in my life. You know that if I could reach the skies, I will pluck out all the stars, even the sun and the moon, and lay them at your feet.'
He concluded: 'In keeping with the tradition of ''I Can Sing Gospel Music Talent Hunt'', the church will also sponsor the production of a music album for Master Udochukwu Okereke which will be presented at the grand finale of the 2019 event.