Commentary: The Countdown: Ozoemezina-Obiano`s Tribute To Igbo Memory

Commentary: The Countdown: Ozoemezina-Obiano`s Tribute To Igbo Memory

Seven years ago, Governor Willie Obiano symbolically laid wreaths before a long list of Ndigbo who fell to the booming guns of the Biafran War. On that January day, as he bent down to place the wreaths at the foot of a piece of plain glass bearing the names of the casualties, time stood still at Alex Ekwueme Square! Thousands of Ndigbo from the five states in the South East, Rivers and Delta States had gathered to make peace with a troubling past.

In that EPIC moment, Governor Obiano nudged Ndigbo to accept the full weight of history and march proudly onto a bright new future with a resolve to NEVER AGAIN allow history repeat itself at our expense. That event, which remains the most widely accepted Memorial of the Biafran War to date, was titled Ozoemezina – NEVER AGAIN!

Ozoemezina was a day set aside for memory; a watershed in our collective ability to remember. You felt it once you set foot on Ekwueme Square that day. Masquerades from different parts of Igboland filed out in their bizarre splendour to lend solemnity to the day.

In the distance, the Ajofia masquerade from Otolo Nnewi stood out among the visiting ancestors of the clan who had returned to mourn their children that the war claimed. It towered above fellow ancestors like a silhouette, a dark silver grey smoke curling out of its head to complete the dread it inspired.

Over there in the milling crowd, Ijele swayed in extravagant showboating. There were lesser ancestral spirits in the audience, each with its peculiar gait and sense of selfhood. There were masquerades that spoke only in grunts. There were some that spoke nothing at all. Yet, there were those that seemed to have found exaltation in their hideousness and others that sought to echo the heavenly essence of beauty in its manifest fullness.

Dr Alex Ekwueme, for whom the Square was named, was in the audience with his wife, Beatrice. He looked so distraught that on his face alone it was easy to read the full meaning of Ozoemezina. Biafran War veterans, Joe Achuzie and his comrades-in-arms were all there.

The veterans looked every bit like people thought they would; wizened but spritely with eyes that blazed like headlamps in the dark. One imagined what these men must have experienced; the pangs of hunger and starvation, the guts of erstwhile comrades spilling out in final supplication to the earth goddess to heal the land that had been overwhelmed by evil, the smell of death in the rubble of gutted afternoons as they prayed to see nightfall.

One wondered which one of them had stood next to the Ogbunigwe Launcher, lying idle now at the War Museum, and pulled the trigger on an advancing battalion in an ambush. In their fading dignity, they reminded us that pride was still important; that when a war is lost, something is lost but when pride is lost, everything is lost!

A sense of absolute grief swept through the audience when Obiano and Dr. Ekwueme moved over to a little tent with a little sign that says Ndi ife melu (meaning, the bereaved or the mourners). There in the little tent, they sat in representation of the entire Igbo nation to receive sympathizers who filed out in a long line to condole with Ndigbo on the tragedy that had befallen them.

Billionaire businessman, Prince Arthur Eze, soon joined them in the tent. Governor Obiano’s face was a mask of anguish and pain as he shook hands with the leaders of the delegations of all the town unions, market associations and cultural groups across Igboland who played the role of early callers to the house of the bereaved. Gazing into his ponderous countenance that afternoon, the weight of what Willie Obiano had done with Ozoemezina finally sank in.

There is no doubt that he had always wanted to do this – to confer dignity to his kit and kin who were denied the appeasement of a proper burial. However, it had been a nerve wrecking contest between him and the entire security apparatchik that had expressed grave concerns about the event.

This is why rational thinkers shake their heads ruefully when some youngsters and the uninformed accuse him of ordering the killing of some youths who took part in a protest at Nkpor some years ago. Nobody who remembers Ozoemezina will believe such a story!

»Commentary: The Countdown: Ozoemezina-Obiano`s Tribute To Igbo Memory«

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