Dr Chuks Osuji, Public Affairs Analyst
Though different scholars in different disciplines may have varied opinions on this subject, culture, the sum total of collective agreement is that culture is the sumation of people’s ways of life. This may include language, food, folklores, social outlook and interactions including all things which unite the people together on daily basis or periodically with which the people could be identified with. Sometimes, many may tend to link culture with tradition. Although there may be very tenous distinction between culture and tradition, both are not the same. Efforts made here to expalin dismilarities between the two should not be seen to be absolute but a lead.
Culture is said to be the people’s way of life. For example, some basic cultures of the Igbo ethnic nationality include endogamous marriage, struggling and believing that the Igbo sons and daughters should marry among themselves, tribes and ethnic configuration; that there should be patriachal marriage system in which the man is the head of the family. It is the obligation of the parents to strive for the upbringing of their offspring. Also the Igbo nationality believes inhomegenous collective living as part of their culture.
On the other hand, various marriage traditional practices are merely tradition and not culture. For example within the Mbaise nation, marriage tradition varies within the nation. And if one goes to another community such as Mbano, the tradition may change; the bride price, the number of items for marriage, etc.
Therefore, it is not uncommon that every Igbo community must have their own cultural display and not traditional display. For example, the Mbaise have the Iri Ji festival, Owerri has Oru Owerri, there is the Ila Oso festival Uzuakoli, the Okonko of Ngwa, the Masquerade of Mgbidi, the Ekpo of the Ibibios, etc. Irrepestive of the type of cultural practices which the community adopts, they do everything to preserve them because in the recent times, we have begun to realise the damage which colonialists and their indigenous collaborators inflicted on our culture. Afterall many, today, believe that Christianity and Islam are imported religious cultures of the British and the Arabs.
Thus, in the next few days, exactly on the 15th August, the Mbaise nation will be celebrating Iri Ji festival. This practice which began several years ago has become mature into something huge, attracting the attention of Mbaise sons and daughters even in Diaspora who surge home to join their kit and kin in the celebration.
Unfortunately, the Iri Ji festival which had enjoyed serenity over the years began to witness some nasty political undertones when the financial aspect of the festival began to be so attractive and elucidated some envy and competitions among three major bodies. The Ezeji which actually are the custodian of the people’s Iri Ji culture, Traditional Rulers who claim the Iri Ji festival should be their own and the Ezurueze which is the umbrella Socio- cultural body of Mbaise elite.
As time went by, the Iri Ji festival became a forum for political campaign and inconclusive exchange of blows.
The matter became worsened in the time of Rochas Okorocha whose divide and rule tactics nearly destroyed the festival. Hence, there was a declaration last year that the festival should be decentralized to the effect that communities should organize it in their respective communities or even families.
We may recall that in 2014 at Ahiazu edition of that year, there was open clash between the then Governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha and the incumbent Governor, Governor Emeka Ihedioha, when Ihedioha openly challenged Okorocha to prepare to hand over power to him in 2015. Rochas was reported to have lashed out then;“There is nobody in Mbaise he has seen capable of becoming the Imo state Governor.”
This statement infuriated so many political elites in Mbaise nation. There were other anti-peoples policies and programmes of Owelles that did not go down well with the political elite in Mbaise. That, coupled with the suspension some powerful Traditional Rulers in Mbaise nation for joining the reception of the Past President, Goodluck Jonathan.
There was also the issue of a movement,and serious plan for the takeover of Douglas House by a man of Owerri extraction. Although working underground, such a movement became powerful and expansive. But in an attempt to counter it, members of APC in Mbaise were not tactful. They did not understand the feelings and intensity of the movement for the Owerri zone to dislodge Orlu at the Government House. They took the joke too far when they tried to polarize the Mbaise tradition and political fortresses which had strong emotion for Mbaise nation.
Owelle’s determination to hoist his son in-law as the Governor of Imo state further united the people of Imo State against Owelle’s seeming Third TermAgenda and the Mbaise nation whose sons were seriously eyeing the Douglas House were more voiceferous in opposing Owelle.
The greatest insult was the belief by Owelle that with money he could buy everybody over. There came the issue of Chieftaincy Conferrement on Nwosu at last Year’s Iri Ji Festival. Many Mbaise Political elites saw this as “asking a child to watch his mother being sexed.” Mbaise people in all and all opposed this and did everything to forestall the conferrement. This further polarized the Iriji organizers leading to almost ostracisation of one of the leaders of the Traditional rulers who was alleged to have netted in several million naira from Uche Nwosu for such an unpopular design. Although the conferrement took place but it was boycotted by the main stream of Mbaise powerful blocs such as the Ezejis, some of the Traditional rulers and mostly by the entire leadership of Ezeuruezu, resulting in last year’s Iriji Festival to be or not to be held at all.
Now, a lot of things have changed. There has been the emergence of a Governor of Owerri extraction from Mbaise and ironically it is Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha who told Rochas to prepare to hand over power to him. This landmark and historic victory follows the general statement, “Who say men no dey, men dey.” Obviously, referring to Owelle to counter his over loquacious outburst.
Thus, this year’s Iri Ji Mbaise festival will be one characterized with up bit jubilations and fanfare. It could be christened, “Unification Iri Ji Festival.” Because, there will be no rancor, no political campaign, no acrymony. Besides, the organization is in the hands of highly experienced committee members under the Chairmanship of Sir Austin Onwubuiko, a veteran publisher and public affairs guru, assisted by another experienced person, Chief Allan B Onyemaechi. Interestingly, the Chairman of the occasion is Chief Dr. Okeh Aguwa, while the Chief Harvester is Sir Stanley Amuchie.
In conculsion, those elements and characters which promoted disharmony among Mbaise nation have given way and today the chickens have come home to roost. Afterall, come rain come sunshine, water must always find its level.