- In Ogbodu-Aba community, masquerades, cultural festivals are prohibited
- The ban was placed in 2019 after repeated Masquerades brutality
- Divergent reactions continue to trail the ban
In the remote Ogbodu-Aba community, Udenu local government area of Enugu state, an unusual tradition is to have been unleashed on the people of the community.
Tucked away about fifteen kilometres from the council headquarters, Obollo-Afor, Ogbodu-Aba community is said to be living like an alien city.
For more than half a decade now, the community has erased annual masquerade festival, a major uniting factor in a community that inhabits more than ten different people from different communities and clans.
In many Igbo communities, masquerade festival has become literally become a symbol of unity and identity of the communities.
Despite backlash that continued to greet these festivities owing to the advent of Christianity or wanton brutality of the masquerades in those communities, the festival has continued to be seen and known as an enduring legacies in those communities.
However, for the people of Ogbodu-Aba community, they have literally taken such festival as a taboo.
WITHIN NIGERIA gathered that the activities of Masquerades in Ogbodu-Aba, popularly known as “Akatakpa” was banned in June, 2019 following their notorious act.
Our reporter findings showed that this is following a meeting between then governor of the state, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and the traditional ruler and other stakeholders of the community, at the Government House, Enugu.
However, the meeting which was convened at the instance of Gov. Ugwuanyi, was aimed at resolving all lingering issues in the community since the election of the now deceased traditional ruler, HRH Igwe Peter Ejeh, in 2008.
By and large, after about six hour closed door discussion, the former Permanent Secretary and Chief Administrative Officer to the Governor, Barr. Emma Ugwu, announced that “all warring factions in Ogbodu-Aba community have agreed to work together, withdraw all court matters and support their traditional ruler, HRH Igwe Peter Ejeh, in the spirit of peace and reconciliation, after eleven (11) years of misunderstanding”.
Barr. Ugwu added that after “the activities of ‘Akatakpa’ masquerades in Ogbodu-Aba were reviewed at the meeting, it was unanimously agreed that the masquerades be banned in the community with immediate effect.”
With this announcement, the community has become one of the communities in Igbo land where there is no masquerade either for entertainment or for policing as was the case in virtually all the communities in the South East zone.
Reactions of the community dwellers/Traditional ruler
In any case, one year after the ban, WITHIN NIGERIA gathered that the traditional ruler of the community, HRH Igwe Pater Ejeh has declared that he had no regrets taking such seemingly unusual decision.
In a chat with newsmen the late Igwe Ejeh was quoted that it was in the best interest of the entire community to take such action.
According to him, “the interest of the people of Ogbodu-Aba community should be placed above any other personal interest in decision making and taking in the community. The Ogbodu-Aba Akatakpa masquerade and its concomitant Onwa asaa festival remain banned until further.”
Asked when likely the ban will be lifted, Igwe Ejeh told newsmen that “there is no end in sight for the ban. There is no time limit for the lifting of the ban.”
However, our investigation revealed that the ban followed a repeated violent attack of both community dwellers and visitors by the Akatakpa masquerade in recent time.
Though the community is said to be embroiled in leadership crisis over who becomes Igwe following the death of their long serving traditional ruler, HRH Igwe Francis Okwo, the Akatakpa imbroglio was said to have fuelled already volatile situation.
The crisis in the community, our reporter gathered, began with the quest for the succession of their former traditional ruler, Igwe Francis Okwo, who died in 2003.
The election and subsequent installation of the traditional ruler of the community, Igwe Peter Ejeh in 2008 which would have served as a uniting factor further polarised the community as some people rejected the outcome of the election.
In a chat with Comrade Jonathan Onah, a prominent indigene of the area, “they threw the community into crisis as this set of people continued to cause untold confusion in our community.
This situation has also led to high rate of insecurity; everybody was living in fear. In fact, the community was polarised by this ugly situation. You must belong to one camp. Family members were literally divided; marriages were also broken and severed as a result of this crisis There was cold war going on in the community for over a decade. Even the annual women August meetings were poorly and scarcely attended.”
Nevertheless, WITHIN NIGERIA gathered that the situation continued to worsen until June 10, 2018, when two Catholic priests of Nsukka Diocese were beaten mercilessly by Akatakpa masquerades from the camp of those opposed to the traditional ruler.
According to our findings, these priests were returning to their respective parishes after a meeting at St. Charles’ Catholic Parish Ehandiagu.
In a statement released by the Diocese shortly after the attack had partly read thus; “Rev. Fr. Peter Chikwado Udaya, the parish priest of St. Patrick’s Parish Ibenda and Rev. Fr. Daniel Tochukwu Akubue, the parish priest of St. Mary’s Parish, Ada-Obollo as well as the assistant diocesan liturgist were attacked as they were going back to their duty posts after a brief visit from St. Charles Parish, Eha-Ndiagu.”
It explained that the two clerics were stopped, blocked and shamefully harassed by some masked and unmasked Ogbodu-Aba youths and their slightest attempt to inquire what was amiss was greeted with rains of lashes and massive downpour of slaps from every side.
The diocese however, condemned the attitude displayed by the villagers whom it said resorted to hailing and cheering the attackers instead of rescuing the priests.
WITHIN NIGERIA equally learnt that it took the intervention of a couple in the village; Mr. Stephen Eze and wife to rescue the priests. But surprisingly, the rescuer and his family members were later ostracized by the some people in the community for helping the priests.
Our reporter also learnt that one of them, Fr. Udaya sustained various injuries leading to near loss of one of his eyes.
It was at this period that the traditional ruler, Igwe Ejeh took a drastic and far reaching decision far reaching decisions to restore peace in the troubled community by placing an indefinite ban on masquerade display in the community.
In a chat with newsmen in Nsukka; Igwe Ejeh who shortly before his demise was also the Chairman of Udenu traditional rulers’ council, declared that it was the best option for peace to return in the area.
He pointed out that since all the relevant stakeholders were consulted and carried along before the decision was made with approval of the state government it is not in his power to solely lift the ban.
“The ban is an offshoot of an unfortunate incident in which the Akatakpa masquerades were going about molesting and beating people mercilessly. One of such incidents was the case of beating of two Catholic priests, Rev. Fr. Peter Udaya and Rev. Fr. Daniel Akubue. The man at whose command these masquerades were molesting people called himself Igwe which he is not and it is my name and that of my community that were now being tainted.
“This is because people said that it was the Igwe that instigated the beating while they didn’t know it wasn’t my own Igwe. We had no other option than to proscribe these murderous masquerades from even coming out in our community. You could recall how they beat Catholic priests mercilessly in our community. Who wants to condone such murderous act in his community? He even dragged me, Bishop Onah and Stephen Eze who rescued the priests from the beating these masquerades to court,” he stated.
Asked why he did not explore other options like regulating their activities instead of placing outright ban on them, Igwe Ejeh, was said to said that the ugly incident had lasted for about five years, adding that the community at some point even tried registering and giving the masquerades numbers, but all to no avail.
“We have also sought the option of making the Akatakpa masquerades come out only three times during the one month period of their outing, yet this couldn’t work. So, for this reason, we had to take the bull by the horn and ban the masquerades indefinitely,” he said.
He said that the decision by members of his cabinet with the Ogbodu-Aba elders’ council, was heart-warming, insisting that it was in the best interest of the community.
“Any culture that is harmful to the people of the community is no good culture. Some years ago, Akatakpa masquerades were for fun and entertainment; but now that they have turned it into an instrument of brutalising innocent persons, we can’t hesitate to proscribe it”
Residents, community dwellers react to the ban
By and large, when WITHIN NIGERIA visited the community to know the reaction of indigenes, especially with the demise of the traditional ruler there seems to be divergent views on the present situation. One of the indigenes, Dr. Charles Chukwunonso Odo said he is happy with the continuous ban on the masquerade. According to him, the Akatakpa masquerade is an evil wind that blows nobody any good.
In his words “Akatakpa should be banned forever. It is a set back to our youths and community. I pray one day all the Masquerades are banned in Nsukka land. We all need Jesus Christ to move forward.”
Dr. Odo, a catechist of the Catholic church stated that any culture that is harmful to the people of the community is no longer but evil to their community.
Another indigene who gave his name as Joseph Okpe said “nothing on earth can or will take away cultures, Traditions and Norms. They are people’s ways of life. Masquerades is cultural entertainment to keep communities joyfully alive and a period where people come together to celebrate. Just like father Christmas, we pay premium for our children to visit white men Masquerades (father Christmas) and we are propagating of ban of our own Masquerades.”
Okpe further narrated that ” it is not in the best interest of the community to ban it indefinitely. The late traditional ruler would have regulated their activities. In other communities like Obukpa and Nru Nsukka, they are regulated. But since the ban, Akatakpa masquerades and onwa asaa festival have become some sort of taboo to the community. Everyone of us knows where these masquerades come out from. If they mess up, we can pin and pick them.”
He further said that he was of the view that the incoming traditional ruler when elected will look into the issue and reunite the community again.
WITHIN NIGERIA equally gathered that the traditional ruler of the community, HRH Igwe Peter Ejeh was buried in December, 2022.
According to the tradition of the community, the new traditional ruler will be elected after one year of the burial of the deceased Igwe.
In any case, all efforts to get the reaction of the Acting President General of the community, Chief Emeka Okwor proved abortive as his phone number was not going through.
WITHIN NIGERIA learnt that though the Akatakpa masquerade has been banned indefinitely in the community, the crisis that led to the ban has continued to fester.