By Uche Nworah
This past Christmas was my fifth consecutive Christmas celebration in Anambra State. I can still recall the very first one in 2014; the first under the Willie Obiano Administration in Anambra State.
We were rookie political appointees in the Obiano Government at the time looking for ways to make our mark. The Governor, having set Anambra on the path of social, political and economic renaissance, crafted a strong 'Aku Luo Uno' (Think Home) message targeted at Ndi Anambra in the diaspora. We in government needed to show that Anambra was on the way to becoming the safest state in Nigeria.
How best to do this than throw a big party at Alex Ekwueme Square and invite the whole world, especially Ndi Anambra, who heeded the homecoming call. The maiden Anambra Jam Blast musical jamboree was coordinated from the Ministry of Information under Chief Tony Onyima who was the Commissioner at the time, although other individuals in government and MDAs played very active roles. The concert was privately sponsored by corporate organizations and friends of Ndi Anambra and featured Patoranking, Phyno Phyno, Slow Dogg and other acts. The open air concert, the first of its kind in the state, lasted into the morning and had Ndi Anambra attending from their various towns and communities across the state. That whetted the appetite and set the marker for subsequent years.
That same year, towards the end of December, we all converged in Okija for the Face of Okija Cultural Pageant. The now yearly franchise sponsored by Dr. Ernest Obiejesi (Obijackson) brought the best in Nigerian entertainment to Okija, Anambra State and the world took notice. Anambra was on the rise and Ndi Anambra now had social and cultural events to look forward to every Christmas season when they visited home. This was not the case before Governor Willie Obiano assumed the mantle of leadership in the state.
Whereas annual homecoming had always been a way of life for Igbo men and women sojourning outside Igbo land, the practice slowed tremendously, especially in Anambra State, during the dark years of incessant kidnappings and armed robberies in the state, when many of our people chose to celebrate traditional weddings and other family milestones in Lagos, Abuja, London and other cities where they resided. All that is in the past now. Ndi Anambra in their hundreds of thousands, if not millions, now come home to spend their Christmas. They use the time to re-connect with friends and family, commune with Ndi Umunna, rejuvenate for the challenges of the coming year and revel in the several feasts, festivals and events that simultaneously take place across Anambra's 179 communities. No wonder Sir Willie Nwokoye, a native of Amawbia, and Principal Secretary to Governor Willie Obiano, likened life in Anambra State during Christmas to “one large uninterrupted social and cultural feast and extravaganza”.
In the words of Chief Tony Onyima, “Ndigbo are the most migrant sub-nation in Nigeria. The yearly migration begins as early as November every year. Ceremonies like funerals, weddings, Ofala, Ozo title conferment, house warming, naming ceremony, fundraising, etc, are lined up from mid-November to mid-January of the following year”.
Continuing, Chief Onyima said; “Christmas in Anambra State is packed with ceremonies. One is so inundated with invitations that at times you find yourself making a whistle attendance to as many as five events in a day”. He concluded that “these activities are the greatest economic drivers of Anambra State's economy during the Christmas period buoyed by the good security in the state. The fun and revelries continue till January ending”.
For Mike Udah, Director of Communications at South East Governors' Forum, “In Anambra, as in other Igbo states, the Christmas/New Year period is a mixed grill, an entertaining, as well as a disturbing time. It is a time of frenzy, sadness and joy. You are brought face-to-face with age-long, long-missed (if not forgotten friends, relatives. You are reminded of the French philosopher, Epicurus, who said, 'eat, drink and make merry today, for tomorrow we die and everything finishes'. You frolic at traditional marriage ceremonies, weddings and thanksgiving services, but you also suffer Lagos-like traffic jams.”
On the last point by Mr Udah, the traffic jams during the period, that's to be expected due to the influx into Anambra of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of vehicles during Christmas. Add to that, the vehicles from friends and well-wishers visiting their Anambra friends and attending one function or the other. For consolation, the traffic situation is eased by the good road network that Anambra enjoys as it is easy to connect from one town to another on standard tarred roads.
More so, men of the Anambra Traffic Management Agency (ATMA), FRSC, the police and other security agencies, are always on hand to help the flow of traffic, especially at major traffic flash-points such as Nnobi/Awka-Etiti Junction; Ezi Okpalanri Junction, Enugwu-Ukwu; Oye Agu, Abagana Axis; Ekwulobia Axis; Nwagu, Agulu Axis; Ihiala Axis; Upper Iweka Axis, among others.
Some Anambra communities have also devised their own local solutions to managing the traffic situation to complement government efforts. For example, the Enugwu -Ukwu Community Development Union (ECDU) introduced Volunteer Traffic Marshalls who were trained and commissioned by ATMA just for the Christmas season. This past Christmas, they were sighted with ECDU President, Bonny Nkwuaku, at several locations in the town, controlling traffic. This is commendable.
For the traditional ruler of Nteje, Igwe Rowland Odegbo, “Nothing beats Christmas in Anambra. It is a season of joy and happiness”.
Nwabunwanne says that during the period, “women cook from morning till night for family to enjoy meals”. An indication of the love, joy and conviviality people share during the period.
Engineer Sunshine Raymond, says he “witnessed the most powerful music concert, east of the Niger. Friends, in and around the state, trooped in and enjoyed the smooth atmosphere. With that, I was proud to be onye Anambra.”
Raymond is talking about the concert which took place at Alex Ekwueme Square that featured Flavour and other top acts which was a continuation of the now traditional end of year concerts that take place at the venue.
On a pleasant note, many communities are now organizing music festivals, masquerade festivals, carnivals and other events to entertain their people, especially those returning home, and to also place their communities on the map. People don't have to travel to Awka, the capital city, anymore for entertainment events.
A few of such events that took place during this past Christmas included the Nawfia Unity Carnival, Enugwu-Ukwu Masquerade Festival, Golibe Festival Onitsha, the annual Face of Okija Cultural pageant, Stanel World Christmas Carol and also the Uli Music Festival which was powered by singer, KCEE, and his brother, E-Money of Five Star Music fame. Several communities also organized cultural beauty pageants.
Other events also took place in many families and communities during this period. These collectively contributed to the overall fun and mood of celebration Ndi Anambra experienced.
For example weddings, Nze, Ozor and Chieftaincy title taking ceremonies, Church Harvest and Bazaar, birthdays and anniversaries, appeal fund launchings for community development projects (Ndi Anambra are very good at self-help development initiatives and projects) etc.
Many traditional rulers and communities also celebrated their annual Ofala festivals. These are great cultural spectacles that feature music, dance, masquerades and of course traditional Anambra cuisine. The Ofala cycle is usually rounded off every first Saturday in January with the celebration of Ovala Aguleri and Igu-Aro Enugwu-Ukwu.
No doubt Christmas in Anambra in the last five years has been memorable and Ndi Anambra continue to hope for, and look forward to celebrating many more peaceful Christmas seasons in their state. Kudos to Governor Willie Obiano and his team, the security agencies and all those who collectively work hard behind the scenes to ensure that Anambra continues to remain peaceful and secure, thus making it attractive for its indigenes and their friends to want to always come back home.
The Governor actually set the ball rolling in November 2018 when he launched a special Ember Months security initiative at Ekwulobia and promised Ndi Anambra a peaceful Christmas celebration. He later lit the Christmas lights at Upper Iweka, thus heralding the 2018 Anambra Christmas season.
Sally Mbanefo, the Honourable Commissioner for Indigenous Artwork, Diaspora and Tourism and her team, also helped to create lasting experiences for Ndi Anambra this past Christmas. They organized a series of events as part of the 2018 Anambra Homecoming Festival.
Yusuf Abiodun, a Lagos based accountant, sums up the experience of his friend who spent Christmas in Anambra in these words, “My neighbour and walk-mate is an Anambra man. He was in Anambra for the Christmas. Today during our walk, he regaled me with loads of fun experience with his family. His son has never been so excited seeing masquerades and all.
What stood out for me was what he said about the state of inter-city and intra-city roads which was awesome, with sidewalks and drainages. According to him, that encourages him to continue to walk even while at home.
Delighted with the peaceful way Ndi Anambra celebrated this past Christmas, Governor Willie Obiano through a message issued by Mr C. Don Adinuba, the Honourable Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, commended intelligence and security agencies in the state and some state-owned agencies for providing impressive security in the state, especially during the Christmas and New Year fiesta. Governor Obiano said, “We achieved an excellent result in terms of security during the recent yuletide season because of the wonderful cooperation among the sister agencies.''
As we thank God for his abundant blessings and for granting our brothers and sisters who returned from the diaspora journey mercies, we look forward to celebrating the 2019 Christmas season in Anambra State, and hope that it will continue to be as memorable and as colourful just like Poet Chisom Udeoba describes here, “My Christmas was filled and celebrated in love, I spent mine with family. The numerous activities that took place in the state within that period added colour to my Christmas as my family, especially those that have not been here for a while, had an indelible experience.''