Afew days before 2018 eclipsed into history, the people of Etche gathered at their headquarters, Obiri Etche, in Okehi, for the Ogbakor Etche Convention. The annual event was typically a cultural avenue for touching base and social reunion. But it also turned out to be a vast stocktaking and forward-planning exercise for the Etche nation.
Indeed, the December 26 gathering of Ogbakor Etche, the apex assembly of the Etche people of Rivers State, was a hugely successful outing that the people would remain proud of for many years to come. It drew participation from all segments of the Etche nation, both within and outside Nigeria. There was a keen sense of involvement by Etche sons and daughter from the two local governments they inhabit in Rivers State, Etche and Omuma local government areas.
Particularly noteworthy was the presence of the state governor, Barrister Nyesom Wike. President-General of Ogbakor Etche, Sir Machy Nwodim, JP, said it was the first time a governor of Rivers State would honour an invitation to the annual Ogbakor Etche convention.
The people’s rich cultural heritage was also on display, with the parade of masquerades and various dance troupes in an atmosphere of cordiality.
In his address at the gathering, Nwodim, who was also winding down his tenure as President-General of Ogbakor Etche, recounted some of the achievements of the Executive Council he led since the last two years. He noted steps taken by the council to deal with issues that had militated against the development of the Etche nation.
Among others, Nwodim said on assumption of office, he led members of the council on familiarisation visits to prominent Etche traditional rulers, individuals, and security agencies operating in the area. The council also paid a courtesy visit to the governor.
Nwodim said his council had been able to resolve communal conflicts that threatened the peace in Etche, including the ones at Egwi, Umuelem/Odufor, Akwu/Obuor/Mbakiri, Umuakaa-Ulakwo/Umunwauzi-Afara , Umuakaa/Umuarim-Ulakwo, and Umuakaa/Edonam-Mbah. They also resolved chieftaincy disputes at Mbah and Omuma clans, and the herdsmen issue in Etche.
The executive council under Nwodim made strategic representations on behalf of Etche ethnic nationality to the federal, state, and geopolitical authorities on issues of infrastructure, chieftaincy, and security. It initiated studies to properly document Etche history and academic progress, and instituted the Etche Memorial Day to honour illustrious sons and daughters, living or dead, who had excelled in their fields of endevour.
Nwodim, however, implored the leaderships of Etche and Omuma local government areas to adopt measures for the proper funding of the apex socio-cultural organisation of the Etche people. He suggested monthly subventions to the organisation by the two local governments to enable Ogbakor Etche discharge its responsibilities well, and a facelift to the Ogbakor Etche complex. The outgoing President-General urged the incoming executive to ensure continuity of projects and programmes instituted for the good of Etche, and he appealed to the people to toe the path of peaceful settlement whenever there was disagreement.
Thanking the governor for honouring the invitation to the convention, Nwodim said Wike’s presence underscored his love for Etche people and his interest in their development. He recalled that upon assumption of office, Wike directed the reconstruction of the Igwuruta-Chokocho road, which had completely failed and was abandoned, cutting off Etche from the rest of the state.
“Almost simultaneously,” Nwodim said, “the governor directed the reconstruction of the Rumuokwurushi-Igboh, Etche-Chokocho roads, and Chokocho-Umuechem-Ozuzu road.”
He added, “Following these, a new road connecting Ulakwo-Afara-Nihi was constructed, while Odufor-Akpoku-Ulakwo road, Umunju-Umuoroke-Umuelechi-Umuo kpurukpu-Umuagu-Umueke Umugu and Umuelechi-Eberi road are on-going and nearing completion.
“Ogbakor Etche also appreciates the financial donation from His Excellency to the Diocese of Etche (Anglican Communion) for the building of the Cathedral.”
Nwodim also stated, “His Excellency gave Etche an identity, while believing that Etche Nation is capable of providing needed manpower in every phase of human capacity requirements by appointing Etche sons as a Vice Chancellor, Commissioner in the Civil Service Commission and a High Court Judge, amongst others.
“Sir, the Etche man has the culture of reciprocating gestures of love shown towards him. Ogbakor Etche, the apex socio-cultural organisation of the Etche Nation, having made these observations within your first term in office, and in consultation with the people, want to assure you that we shall return this show of love for Etche Nation by voting en masse for you in the forthcoming general elections. “Your Excellency, Sir, having known you and the love you have for Etche Nation, we are convinced that when you are sworn-in on the 29th of May 2019, you will execute more projects and give Etche more attention.
“In conclusion, Ogbakor Etche humbly requests that His Excellency assists us with the renovation, paving and fencing of Obiri Etche and provision of a bus.”
In his own address, the Paramount Ruler of Etche ethnic nationality, His Eminence, Ochie ENB Opurum, MFR, Onye isi Etche/Ochie of Etche land, praised the performance the Nwodim-led executive council. The Ochie noted particularly the efforts of the council to reconcile feuding communities. But he also asked for suitable maintenance of schools, hospitals, roads, and other infrastructural facilities in Etche land by the relevant local, state and federal authorities. The paramount ruler cautioned against politicisation of the traditional institution of the people and urged Etche people to work together to preserve their cultural heritage.
There were goodwill messages from Etche sons and daughters in the diaspora.
Etche-America Foundation (EAF), led by its Executive President, Dr. Richard Nwankwoala, commended the Ogbakor Etche leadership for the good job they had done for the people. EAF disclosed some of its plans to assist in the development and harmonious existence of the Etche people, including perimeter fencing of Okehi Police Station, provision of two operational vehicles for the Police Area Command, and kitting of the neighbourhood security operatives. The group noted its education assistance programmes for the people and urged other Etche organisations to invest in the development of their community.
In his remarks at the occasion, Wike said the report of Justice Omereji Judicial Panel for sale of State Owned Companies will be implemented to the letter. He said the death of former Attorney General of the state, Sir Emmanuel Aguma, SAN, had delayed the report’s implementation.
“Let me also assure all Etche people, including those in the Diaspora, that all ongoing road projects in the area will be completed before the elections. I also promise you all that the sports institute located at Abara-Etche will be completed this year,” the governor said.
Other dignitaries at the convention included Onye-Ishi-Agwuru, Igboh Kingdom, HRM, Eze Dr. S.N. Amaechi, KSC, JP; and Eze Eberi Ugo 9th of Ancient Eberi Omuma, HRM, King Onyekachi Amaonwu, JP. Others were Vice Chancellor, Ignatius Ajuru University, Port Harcourt, Professor Ozo-Mekuri Ndimele; All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain, Hon. Allwell Onyesoh; former Head of Service, Rivers State, Sir P.O. Onuoha; Dr. J.C. Ihejirika; Chief Godwin Amadi; Rev. Fr. Ukulor; and elder statesman, Emma Anyanwu.
Earlier in his address, Chairman of the convention organising Ccommittee, Sir Isaiah Choko, who is a former Chairman of old Etche Local Government Area, tasked politicians of Etche stock to use their offices to attract development to Etche. Choko commended the current executive council of Ogbakor Etche for their selfless service and sense of purpose, calling them good representatives of the Etche nation.
Secretary of Ogbakor Etche, Kas Nworgu, said the institution of the annual convention was “a watershed in the life of the Etche nation. It has afforded us ample opportunity to brainstorm, relate, and bring out creative initiatives for the development of Etche.”
The Etche people inhabit two local government areas of Rivers State, and have a Federal Constituency, Etche/Omuma Federal Constituency. Igbodo is widely believed to be their ancestral home.