Nseobong Okon-Ekong reports the flag-off of Eha-Etiti, a new autonomous community in Enugu State and the coronation of its first monarch, Igwe Frederick Odo
“There are many dignitaries going in the same direction,” Ejike Ekwegbalu told me, struggling with a bag he was trying to sling properly on his shoulder. “We are the early batch, there are other guests coming on another flight from Lagos and Abuja. Some are expected to come in tomorrow.” We just arrived the Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu and Ejike, Prince Emeka Odo’s longtime associate whom he took a personal interest in since their days as journalists with the Daily Times and later as bankers at the defunct Intercontinental Bank was in-charge of Odo’s corporate image. Odo is now the Chairman, Enugu State Internal Revenue Services. As Ejike spoke, his competence as a protocol personnel and his reverence for Odo who had been his boss at different times and helped to pull him up the ladder of success more than once was evident. “I was SA to the Group Managing Director of Intercontinental Bank for many years,” he continued. “I had early morning assignments back-to-back, not once was I late.” He was referring to the anxious moments earlier at the domestic wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport when journalists he was scheduled to fly to Enugu with had not arrived.
More cars and buses were pooling what was becoming a large convoy. Another plane had landed and there were a few passengers who had to join us. Soon we were on our way to Nsukka, a town that is majorly known for being the host community of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, that leading citadel of learning founded by Nigeria’s first president, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. The flurry of movements heading to Nsukka on this particular day was to heed Odo’s call to witness the coronation and presentation of staff of office to his father, His Royal Highness Igwe Frederick Agbo Odo, Etiti I of Eha-Etiti by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State.
Odo was ready for his guests when they arrived. He shook hands with everyone. Depending on the degree of familiarity, the courtesies lingered with exchange of banters and boisterous laughter. Uniformed caterers were waiting behind a table arrayed with assorted foods in a corner of his expansive living room. The buffet was a mix of breakfast and lunch-kind-of-meals, as it was that bridge period of the day-nearing, but not quite afternoon. For good measure, palm wine was on the menu. Ejike and a couple of guests made a fetish of it, going on and on about the superiority of palm wine from Nsukka. Of course, the arguments endured as others gave an undertaking that palm wine from their communities was better. The squabble only petered out when the guests were taken to their lodgings. Incidentally, we ended up at the university guest house.
There was going to be one last drama in Odo’s house. We were back there, later in the night. This time, the party was out-door. It rained earlier in the evening, but the stream of people pouring into the courtyard could not be deterred. There was so much food and drinks. A band was dishing out highlife music from the stage. A few people stood up to dance, but the dance space became more populated when the band took a break and the DJ filled the air with modern Nigerian pop. The party which continued into the night was like a dress rehearsal of the coronation the next day.
The road leading to His Royal Highness, Igwe Frederick Agbo Odo’s palace in Akwari, Eha-Alumona was previously a bush path. The freshly cut tree branches and clearing hacked by earthmovers to create a wider earth road for the stream of people going to honour the new royalty. Blaring sirens from escort vehicles of highly placed government officials rent air, multiplying a growing din by different groups of cultural troupes, musical bands-Cornerstone Band led by James Song and Commanders Band led by Ulaga and DJ Ice Wonder. Billows of red dust rose in a thick cloud in the air from stomping feet and speeding vehicles; heading in the direction of the palace.
Cultural dances came from as far as Delta State-Ebu Wonder and Benue State. The later had one her illustrious daughters elevated as a chief in the cabinet of the new Igwe. The different groups showcasing the cultures of Beune attested to the popularity of Chief (Mrs.) Mimi Orubibi Adzape. Incidentally, she was the only woman honoured with a chieftaincy title by Igwe Odo. The composition of other chieftaincy recipients reflected a diversity of ethnic cultures, professionals and experiences being brought to Igwe Odo’s cabinet. The new chiefs were Chief Patrick Okebie, Chief Bola Sodipo, Dr. Clem Nwogbo, Engr. Keen Franklin Uyanwune, Dr. Chukwuemeka B. Eze, Dr. Femi Banbalola, Hon. Chinedu Nwamba, Chief Samson Ugwuanyi, Chief Ugochukwu Ude, Chief Willie Okwor, Chief Pius Ugwunnadi, Chief Anthony Ossai and Barr. Ernest Ngene.
The gathering was the first of its kind in Eha-Etiti. The fanfare that was witnessed at the coronation of Igwe Odo is not likely to be repeated in that community in a long time. This was the landmark day that the community had long prayed for. It was an event that promised much and delivered, by far beyond expectation, in terms of the eminence of dignitaries who descended on the community from all over the country, the abundance of food and drinks and variety of cultural and musical entertainment. Therefore, every strata of the society; from primary school pupils to children in secondary schools, youth groups, women groups and different categories of male age grade groups put their best foot forward to register their presence in a colourful manner.
Governor Ugwuanyi, Senate President Ike Ekweremandu and the other two senators representing Enugu State were present. There were members of the House of Representatives representating different constituencies in the state, commissioners and local government chairmen, including, Mr. Malachy Agbo.
The governor arrived to a warm welcome by the community. He was praised in glowing terms in a speech by Igwe Odo, particularly for making the dream of the people to have an autonomous community come true. They were even more grateful to him for installing their traditional ruler and honouring him with a staff of office. Expectedly, Ugwuanyi was beset with a few requests chief of which was construction of the major road leading into the community. “You turned our collective dream into an abiding reality. You transformed what had seemed unattainable into a perpetual actuality,” said Igwe Odo in his speech to the governor.
Citing Section 7 of the Traditional Rulers Act of Enugu State, Ugwuanyi said the creation of the autonomous community and the installation of the Igwe were in line with his government’s rural development agenda for the state and the need to bring government closer to the people. He said the elevation of Igwe Odo was well deserved.
As each group danced in front of the Igwe to pay obeisance and tribute, he smiled and waved in acknowledgement. Igwe Odo, the 96 year-old retired headmaster is reputed to be the oldest man in the community. He became the pioneer secretary of Eha-Alumona Development Committee in 1987, a position he held till 1997. He was also a pioneer member of Igwe Charles Abangwu (Eze Igwe’s) cabinet. On January 24, 2009 he was installed as the Onyishi Ugbele Akwari and by implication Onyishi Akwarinato.
In recognition of his selfless service and devotion to his community, the people of Akwarinato, Nguru, Amanato, Isiakpu and Ugwuezegwu unanimously elected him as the Igwe of Eha-Etiti. The dream of Eha-Etiti Autonomous Community came true in September 2017 with the approval of the request for an autonomous community.
Married to Nnemuruoha Theresa Odo and blessed with 11 children
Eha-Etiti community was carved out from Eha Ulo and Eha Ndiogu communities respectively in Eha-Alumona Nsukka local government area, Enugu State.
Eha-Etiti is bounded in the north by Orba community, in the east by Eha-Ndiogu community, in the south by Agu Umabor and the in the west by Eha-Una community. Six major villages make up Eha-Etiti community: Ugbele Akwari, Elugwu Akwari, Akwari Ani, Ngwuru, Isi-Akpu/Ugwuezegwu and Amanata.
Eha-Etiti community is famous for its coal deposit in commercial quantity and for the production of cashew and yellow pepper.
Igwe Odo hails from the Ugbele Akwari ruling house. He was selected by the kingmakers of Ugbele Akwari and unanimously endorsed by the entire Eha -General Assembly. There are six ruling houses, reflecting the six major villages, that make up Eha Etiti.
There aEha-Etiti is the latest of the over 400 autonomous communities in Enugu State
The kingship is expected to rotate among the six ruling houses in the community in line with the Eha-Etiti General Assembly Constitution. After the rule of Igwe Frederick Odo, it will rotate in accordance with the seniority of the ruling house
At his installation, Igwe Odo took the title ‘Etiti I’. Explaining the significance of the title, one of his sons, Prince Emeka Odo said, “Etiti means the centre. As the Igwe, the king is the centre of gravity of the community. Everything in the community revolves around him.”
He also explained that the Igwe’s cabinet members are chosen for variety of reasons. “Some represent the royal families from the ruling houses. Others represent those that perform specific traditional functions in the community-security, information/publicity. Others are chosen because they have distinguished themselves in various areas of endeavor-academic, trading, public service and business.”