Reliving the Anambra Homecoming Festival

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Soul-lifting Christmas carols, electrifying theatrical performances, inauguration of the Owerre-Ezukala cave and palm wine tasting festival, among other events heralded the maiden edition of Anambra Homecoming Festival. Omolola Itayemi writes

First of its kind in this part of the world, Anambra was lit for an unprecedented four days in December when it celebrated its citizens both home and abroad to a homecoming festival synonymous with arts, culture, business forum, Diaspora portal and palm wine tasting festival.

It’s no secret Nigerians in Diaspora contribute a huge chunk to our national development. One of the easily identified contributions of Nigerians in Diaspora to the domestic sphere is the remittance of foreign exchange. Whilst statistics suggest that worldwide remittances by the global Diaspora community are estimated at more than $100 billion; Nigerians in Diaspora remitted more than $5 billion to Nigeria in 2005. These remittances were dedicated mainly to supporting family, friends and investments. These remittances also help with targeted poverty alleviation.

Little wonder, Governor Obiano has a ministry dedicated to it. He was in Vienna, Austria in November 2018 where he talked business with one of Europe’s strongest Diaspora body, NIDO. Who else to better steer this ship than the commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Artworks, Culture and Tourism, Dr Sally Mbanefo, a financial guru, artist and former Director General of NTDC-Nigerian Tourism Development Commission.

Organised by Mbanefo’s ministry, the maiden edition of Anambra Homecoming Festival celebrating friends of Anambra and homecoming of the Diaspora in Awka got off to soul-lifting music with the Anambra Christmas Carol of Nine Lessons at the Hollywood Garden and Event Centre on the road to Government House in Awka. Youth was the fair on display, underpinning the vast reserve of talent of the young ones in Anambra State. The youthful choir got a standing ovation.

On the second day, the arts-loving Governor Willie Obiano undertook the grand commissioning of the Mmilioma Anambra art exhibition that marked Commissioner Sally Mbanefo’s ministry as a Permanent Art Exhibition Centre ably supported by Aare Onakakanfo of Yoruba land, Otunba Gani Adams, members of Anambra EXCO, the Diaspora and representatives of Oyo, Lagos and Ondo State.

The sculptures and paintings of the master artist, Chidi Okoye, were aesthetically on display in the rotunda and walls of the ministry. The central sight is the “Mmilioma Anambra” sculpture displaying a maiden pouring the water of life into a larger communal bowl. There is also “Irunne”, a high relief composition of grandmother’s face with the strong presence of daughters leaning on the strength and integrity of motherhood.

The governor, while inaugurating the permanent art gallery at the ministry remarked that “what we are doing today is to lay a platform of encouragement for talents exhibition and exposition. Anambra State is a paragon of creativity and parades artist of different genre. This gallery is a talent beckons for artist and a reminder of the fact that we appreciate our talents. We appreciate our talents and we shall do everything to ensure encourage them.”

Friends of Anambra shared joy with the returnees and homers on the Diaspora Day.

Mbanefo said, “The treasure in living together joyfully entails that homecoming and keeping in touch with one’s roots is immense. Homelands are the bastions of a Diaspora’s strength. This makes experts in development economics advocate a healthy and harmonious regular interaction between homeland and Diaspora.

“Though the economic benefits of such regular interaction between home and abroad are often noticeable in the GDP and other indexes of the economy, the real treasure in such a harmonious relationship is the human capital. Anambra State’s wealth in human resource is not quantifiable. At home and in Diaspora, the state’s economic impact is hugely impressive. What feeds that huge economic growth is the rich homeland and Diaspora harmony.”

Incidentally, Anambra happens to be the only state in Nigeria with a ministry that attends to Diaspora matters. The launching of the epochal Anambra State Diaspora Portal by Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa reflects Governor Obiano’s “Think Home Policy”.

The Anambra State government collaborated with the United Nations to launch the Palm Wine Festival in the homecoming fiesta. Participants had the rare opportunity of tasting the best of Anambra palm wine and tasty cuisine. The palm wine tasting festival is designed to educate, inspire and connect entrepreneurs, governments, captains of industries, nation builders and sundry enthusiasts to effectively understand Anambra’s pride of place in a connected world.

The 2018 palm wine tasting fest was organized in partnership with the United Nations within the context of Sustainable Development Goal 17 (SDG 17). Aare-Ona Kakanfo of Yoruba land, Otunba Gani Adams oversaw the sumptuous ceremony.

The carnival was a steamroller as the youths and adults alike celebrated in style. The Mmanwu Festival kicked off at the Ekwueme Square with ancestral spirits springing forth and dancing onto the highway. Titled elders such as Chief Pete Edochie superintended over matters to ensure that the uninitiated did not break the taboo of the masked spirits.

Well over 40 works of art were on display on the curatorial direction of Sir Chuka Nnabuife. The Ije group of young artists showed ample evidence, at the exhibition, that there are young artists in Anambra State poised to break the records of the likes of Prof Ben Enwonwu. The works of the young ones shared space with established artists such as Chuka Nnabuife, Chidi Okoye and Nkiru Ekemordi. The esteemed Obi of Onitsha Nnaemeka Achebe, Agbogidi, a renowned art connoisseur added regal presence to it all.

Bob Manuel Udoku, Veteran Thespian turned politician was on hand to cherish the young Thespians who reprised the drama at the homecoming festival. The youthful actors of an abridged one-hour staging of Things Fall Apart equally got a standing ovation from the very grateful audience. Every scene in the drama was a refresher of sorts, especially the symbolism that Okonkwo and Umuofia represented in the pre-colonial Nigeria.

Except for the ages of the casts, who are mainly undergraduates, the young thespians gave a good account of themselves as they thrilled guests to a rich drama presentation of Things Fall Apart, a true homecoming bouquet for Ndi Anambra and their friends. The choice of the book may not be unconnected with the fact that the author, the late Prof Chinua Achebe, was from Ogidi in Anambra State, and Things Fall Apart, which is one of the most translated African literatures, is 60 years old this year.

Present were Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe; Otunba Gani Adams; Secretary to the State government Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu; Head of Service, John Harold Uduh; Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Artworks, Culture and Tourism, Mrs Sally Mbanefo; her Permanent Secretary, Mr Tony Ezenwaka; Director of Programmes, Nigeria Diaspora Commission, Obienu Tobechukwu represented Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, and Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba.

Others included Health Commissioner Dr. Joe Akabuike; his Trade and Commerce counterpart, Dr. Vincent Madubuko; Very Rev Monsignor Jerome Madueke; Chairman, House Committee on Culture , Kingsley Iruba.

The vision of Mbanefo in initiating the Anambra Homecoming Festival was more than met in this maiden edition. The motto of “Ka anyi luo uno” (let’s return home) reverberated all over Awka and indeed the entire state while the festival lasted.

“This is why Anambra State government always creates opportunity for the sustenance of that relationship through such programmes as this annual homecoming festival, which is marking its maiden edition this year. This year, the festival package comprises several aspects of our people’s arts, culture and tourism. The goal is to, once more, create a memorable opportunity for all Ndi Anambra, home and away, to freely enjoy homeland in an atmosphere of security, joy and love, while celebrating with citizens and friends of Ndi Anambra. Hence, a whole day of activities in the seven-day festival is dedicated to friends of Anambra,” she said.

According to her, the exhibiting artists have made distinctive studio creations that communicate the attributes of the special homecoming event, which is holding for the first time in Anambra State and the entire Igbo land during the Xmas and New Year season.

She added that through their creativity, “we see ourselves and our society in ways that make us feel nostalgic about homeland and see our lifestyle in new days. The exhibition collection is rich. It is a delight to savour.”

The third day brought to fore the developmental phase of the festival, the inauguration of Owerre-Ezukala Cave and Waterfall, Orumba South LGA, Anambra.

The natural tourism site which has several caves also harbours an alluring waterfall in a very scenic rainforest region, has been crying for enhancement which takes only the wisdom of Governor Obiano to do under the supervision of Dr Mbanefo.

Igwe Thomas Ogbonnaya, the Owerre Ezukala, said: “Governor Obiano has done well. We, the people of Owerre Ezukala, will never forget him, not only for his general policies and projects, but particular the enhancement of this natural blessing and gift from God to our people and state. This is a development which we have been crying for so long a time, but we are happy that he has not only listened to us but has turned our prayers into a reality. May the almighty God bless him.”

The Ikolo musical jam climaxed it all on the fourth day. With the launch Diaspora portal, designed to promote Igbo culture, especially the language, which many Igbo indigenes cannot speak these days, it is a huge relief to see culture take its rightful place in the society…”Ka anyi luo uno”.