Pix: Chief Willie Obiano, Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Alex
Ekwueme, former Vice President of Nigeria and his wife Beatrice,
lighting their candles at Ozemezina, a ceremony held to commemorate
the memory of Igbos who lost their lives in the Civil War, World War
II and other conflicts in Nigeria at the Alex Ekwueme Square,
Following the clamour for a formal burial for millions of Anambra indigenes who lost their lives in the Nigerian Civil War, the World War II and pockets of sporadic violence in the country, the Government of Anambra State today performed a formal rite of passage for the fallen heroes and heroines as well as the civilian victims of the Nigerian Civil War, the World War II, the pogroms and other ethnic and religious violence in the country.
The very elaborate but solemn ceremony which took place at the Alex Ekwueme Square, Awka, attracted distinguished Igbo sons and daughters from the entire South Eastern geopolitical zone including the former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme and the maverick billionaire businessman, Prince Engineer Arthur Eze, Chief Victor Umeh, APGA National Chairman and Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho, APGA gubernatorial candidate in Imo State among many others.
Delivering a highly emotional address under the title – Ozoemezina: Memory and the Quest for Igbo Renaissance, the governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano explained that the event aptly tagged Ozoemezina (Never Again!) was held in response to the strident calls from Ndigbo at home and in the Diaspora for a formal burial for their kit and kin who lost their lives in the Civil War and the endless cycles of violence that characterize the country.
In a voice that quavered with emotion, governor Obiano recalled that “thousands of these people died because they believed in the ideal of a united and strong Nigeria. They died courageously because our people do not acknowledge fear.”
Describing Ndigbo as a great people whose entrepreneurial drive has taken to known and unknown places in pursuit of wealth –creating opportunities, Governor Obiano declared that Ndigbo do not have a SINGLE STORY.
Said he, “we are the owners of a proud history; paved with pain and anguish and watered by the blood of the innocent. Hardly is there a family in this gathering without a story; a story of profound loss. But beside every story of loss sits a story of success; of glory and of abundance. Ndi Anambra, to the glory of God, we are not a people with a SINGLE STORY…we are a proud, intensely driven, hardworking, innovative, adventurous and forward-looking people with more gifts than the world can take!”
Situating the event within the ebb and flow of time, Governor Obiano observed that the ceremony was the beginning of a long symbolic “look backwards, beyond the immediate horizon of our national experience, to honour the memories of our loved ones who lost their lives to the various dark chapters of our national history.”
Waxing rather philosophical, Governor Obiano observed that “in doing this, we are guided by our belief that life itself is an unbroken stream of experiences stitched together by memory. Without memory, life assumes the attributes of a futile gaze into the void of time!”
The governor also pointed out that it was an integral part of the Igbo culture to recall the events of the past as an important guide to the future, explaining that this belief was succinctly captured in the Igbo saying that Ncheta ka (Recall is supreme).
Comparing the Igbo experience to the Jewish Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide, Governor Obiano regretted that while those two extra-ordinary events in human history had been etched on global memory through a carefully directed effort, the response of Ndigbo to their own tragic history lacked boldness and organization.
Throwing more light on the reason behind the formal burial accorded the fallen heroes and heroines, Obiano explained that Igbo “culture upholds the centrality of ‘burial’ as a crucial epilogue in the narrative of life.”
He praised Ndigbo as the “inheritors of an uncommon valour” which makes it easier for them to climb over an awful experience and rebuild the broken walls of friendship that will open fresh doors of hope. “We do this with ease because we are a people of the faith. We believe in the centrality of God in the affairs of men, we are bold enough to accept the cruel verdict of fate and bury our dead with fanfare!” he reasoned.
Concluding, Governor Obiano observed that with the ceremony, “we honour our dead in words and deeds. We offer them a final resting place; a sanctuary where their memory will forever ruffle the leaves of time. Today, as we lay down their memorial stones, we bring closure to the wanderings of our brothers and sisters whose great souls have yearned for the dignity of a formal burial over the last half century.”
The governor also called on Ndigbo to vote massively for President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan in the February 14 Presidential elections as he represented the best hope for national integration and unity for the country. He also urged them to vote for all the candidates standing election in various states of the federation on the platform of APGA.
Also delivering a Homily at the Ecumenical Service held as part of the ceremony, the Catholic Bishop of Awka, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor applauded governor Obiano for the initiative which he said had enlarged the scope of the activities marking this year’s edition of the Armed forces Remembrance Day.
According to him, the event was special because, “we are not only celebrating patriotism, the sacrifice of life and limbs mad eby some members of the armed Forces in the various conflicts – the World Wars, the Nigerian Civil War, the peace Missions to Congo, Darfur etc – but also commemorating the civilians, especially Ndigbo, who lost their lives and property during the Nigerian-Biafran War and the various riots and insurgencies in Nigeria.”
Observing that “what is remembered and how it is remembered is of utmost importance,” Bishop Ezeokafor argued that the identity of individuals and communities are tied up with the memories they keep alive through stories and celebrations.
Underscoring the importance of memory, Bishop Ezeokafor observed that “the history of the modern Igbo nation cannot be complete without the narrative of the Nigerian-Biafran war. Bseides, recent events in Nigerian history would remain incomprehensible without knowledge of that war. It is therefore my view that efforts should be made to promote greater awareness of that pivotal event in our lives as Ndigbo and as Nigerians,” he surmised.
Highlights of the event were the parade by unveiling of the cenotaph for the fallen heroes and heroines, a parade by different socio-cultural groups who paid a condolence visit to the Governor as the Chief-Mourner and a colourful display of masquerades as is typical of the burial ceremony of a wealthy Igbo personage.
Present at the highly successful ceremony are Former Vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dr. nkem Okeke, National Chairman of APGA, Chief Vicor Umeh, Speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly, Princess Chinwe Nwaebili, Secretary to the State Government, Oseloka Obaze, Civil War veterans, Col. Joe Achuzia, Col. Ben Gbulie, Col. E.M Udeaja, Col. Emma Nwobosi, the Chief of Staff to the governor of Anambra State, Prof. Joe Asike and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu Jnr, son of the legendary Biafran warlord, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.