Erema Town in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area was agog on Tuesday, August 13, 2019 as thousands besieged the ancient town to celebrate this year's Egwu Ogba New Yam Festival of the Egi people. Across the 17 communities that make up Egi clan, it was spectacular and captured the mood of a people who cherish their customs and tradition.
As the drumbeats reverberated and cannons boomed to signal the start of the great fiesta, economic activities were brought to standstill as the Egi people are by tradition mandated to uphold the sanctity of Egwu Ogba, by confining themselves only to activities that have bearing with the new yam festival.
The Special Guest of Honour and Chief of Staff, Rivers State Government House, Chief (Engr), Chukwuemeka Woke led top dignitaries and captains of industry to celebrate with the Monarch of Erema Ancient Kingdom, HRH, Eze Azubuike Georgewill III, JP, Eze Ali Erema Ukwu of Ogbaland. By virtue of his stool, all visitors and natives came to Erema at the invitation of the Monarch.
He had personally extended invitation to the State Government following which the Chief of Staff, as a friend and compatriot, respectfully honoured thereby making this year's Egwu Ogba to stand out.
The Eze Ali Erema Ukwu of Ogbaland, as the chief host, had personally extended invitation to the State Government for which the Chief of Staff as a personal friend and compatriot respectfully honoured, thus making this year's edition of the festival to stand out.
No wonder that the arrival of the Chief of Staff and his entourage triggered wild jubilation with cannon salute which shook the magnificent palace of the Paramount Ruler to its foundation. That is what happens when a 'big masquerade' in the mould of the Chief of Staff, sets aside his busy schedules to honour the king's invitation!
The lavish reception given the Chief of Staff underscored an appointment with history. It was a red carpet reception as the Erema Council of Traditional Rulers, chiefs, women and the youths lined up at the Erema Palace of Eze Georgewill III to receive the august visitor.
The famous Soft Line Music Band of ONELGA was on hand to thrill the audience with a popular tune titled 'eze biko kpomaniye uzo bianuri ngozi' which translates to 'our king, please open your doors and pour us your blessing!' As if a hornet has been stirred up, everyone, including the Erema King and his guests took to the arena, in a frenzied dance.
The roll call of the Chief of Staff's entourage and other VIPs spoke volume. There was Son of the Soil and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, Chief John Ogbuku, Eze Ome Udo of Ogbaland.
Also present were Chief (Dr) Sunny Ajie; Personal Assistant to the Rivers State Governor on Electronic Media, Mr. Simeon Nwakaudu; member representing Emohua Constituency in the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon. Sam Oge and a former Commissioner in the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission, Hon. Arthur Uchendu.
Still on the entourage was Hon. Deinma Iyalla; Mr. Francis Amadi; Hon. Ilamu Arugo; Secretary, Emohua Council of Chiefs, Chief Vincent Chukwu; Chief Ken Woke; Hon. Collins Amesi; Adiele Ogbor and Elder Mike Obilor.
Members of the Erema of Traditional Rulers present were Chief James Elechi, Elder Vine Nwaisu, Chief Richard E. Owerrre JP, Chief Z. E. Isabu JP, Chief Kelvin Ogunwa, Paramount Chief of Abururu Community, High Chief Ikechi Dede; HRH, Eze Agbna II of Erema Town, Chief Lawson Uche and Chief Ume Odukwu. Chief Egbuniwe Okirie and Chief Ishikaku M. Enyinda were also on hand to receive the Chief of Staff and his entourage.
The event was further graced by the presence of Eze Ugoyibo 1 of Egbema Kingdom, High Chief (Hon) Kenneth Aliba and Hon. (Barr) and Lolo Orlando Amobi.
As expected, the august visitors were treated to the traditional hospitality of the Erema people as the Paramount Ruler spared no effort to regale his guests with assortment of native delicacies. This came after the traditional presentation of kola nut, a bowl of grinded dried fish laced with large chunks of fish and meat decking all sides.
Of great significance in the festival was the 'Ichunjo' segment which the Government House visitors did not witness because they couldn't come early enough. But explaining the event to his guests, the monarch revealed that that aspect of the ceremony was the presentation of light to cleanse the community spiritually. According to him, the action is akin to what the 'Holy ghost Fire' did in the both the old and new testament dispensations.
His words, “This aspect of Egwu Ogba known as presentation of light is very crucial and mandates every son and daughter of Erema to witness it. Even those in the Diasporas who are not present due to one thing or the other are spiritually connected.
“Erema Community is made up of 23 families comprising of the 3 major families in the kingdom. The head of each family comes to the arena with one light. We use the light to pursue evil spirits and cleanse the town. It has coloration with the biblical Holy Ghost fire!
The difference between the biblical Holy Ghost fire and that of our new yam festival is that ours can be physically seen with the eyes, while that of the bible is spiritual. As the fire burns, people will be shouting 'njontua njoje' meaning that all evil people should die”.
The monarch said the belief amongst the people of Erema is that this is the moment of recompense for all evil doers such adulterers, witchcraft and sorcerers, armed robbers to be consumed by the fire.
Asked if the fire is expected to consume the evil doers at the very moment, the Paramount Ruler said the gods of the land for whom these rituals were made to, kills the evil doers spiritually which later manifest in physical deaths.
“After these cleansing comes a new atmosphere of peace, progress and tranquility in the town”, he said, adding that the fires so lit would continue to burn while the ritual lasted, and would finally be disposed into the evil forest that had been in the community from time immemorial.
The Egwu Ogba New Yam Festival which is expected to culminate with a traditional dance and wrestling contest that usually leaves fond memories on the minds of both participants and spectators.
“Probably this is the highlight of the celebration as wrestling champions of our respective communities would slug it out amongst themselves. Even wrestling champions from other Egi communities would come here to flex their muscles against us but Erema wrestlers 'no de carry last' as we usually say here”, he enthused.
After the winning and dinning with his guests, which usually characterize the Egwu Ogba celebration, Eze Azubuike Georgewill III gave his celebration address. With the Chief of Staff as his Special Guest of Honour, and the Special Assistant on Electronic Media to Governor Wike, Mr. Simeon Nwakaudu physically present at the Erema Palace, it turned out to be a most convenient moment for the monarch to communicate his message to His Excellency, Chief (Barr) Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, Executive Governor of Rivers State.
The Paramount Ruler began by commending the chief of Staff and his entourage for honouring the event which he said invitation came at a very short notice. He declared that 'Erema Town is for Wike and Wike is for Erema Town', adding that his people voted overwhelmingly to elect Governor Wike in 2015 and went on to replicate same in the recent 2019 general election.
“Even as 2023 beckons, wherever Wike goes is where Erema would go”, he emphasized amid intermittent applause. The paramount ruler reminded the Chief of Staff that when Governor Wike visited Erema Community in 2015 for his campaigns, he made the following promises:
Dualization of Erema Junction Road with street lights; Revamping and effective functioning of the Erema General Hospital; Appointment of Erema sons and daughters into positions of trust; and Establishment of higher institution of learning/award of local and international educational scholarship to deserving sons and daughters of Erema Community.
In his response, Government House Chief of Staff, Chief (Engr) Chukwuemeka Woke commended the Erema monarch for instilling good leadership to his people while urging Erema people to reciprocate the gesture by remaining peaceful and supportive all through his reign.
The Chief of Staff used the opportunity to appeal to all traditional rulers in the State to key into the Operation Sting initiative of Governor Wike so that peace will reign in all the nooks and crannies of the State.
“The state government will not tolerate any form of cultism or insecurity in any part of the State. We need to have our investors back so that more job opportunities will be created for Rivers people”, he said and restated Governor Wike's vow to sanction any traditional ruler whose domain serves as ground for crimes and criminality.
On the promises made to Erema Community by Governor Wike, the Chief of Staff assured that the governor as a promise keeper would not hesitate to fulfill all the promises. He promised to remind the Governor of the promises when he returns back to Port Harcourt.