By Nwogha Ndubuisi Andy, Abakaliki
Ojiji as it is popularly called by Izzi Nnodo Ekumenyi Clan is a very symbolic celebration in the land, otherwise known as new yam festival. Izzi clan is made up of three local government areas including Abakaliki, Ebonyi and Izzi with great chunk also living in some parts of Benue and Cross River states and beyond.
The feast this year, was held on September in line with the directions of the Ishiuke. It was also not observed in August as usual because this year is a traditional leap year.
Izzi stakeholders who interacted with our reporter harped on the significances and ways to sustain the age-long culture and the likes practiced in their land considering how they contribute to peace and uniting the people with other related issues.
Chief Godwin Ogbaga, Former Minister of Federal Republic of Nigeria:
Today is Ojiji Izzi. Every Izzi man whether at home or in diaspora is obliged to give respect to this age long tradition. The new yam festival marks a transition from the old to the new year in Izzi land. There are ceremonies normally performed at our ancestral home, Amegu before any Izzi man begins to eat new yam. It also marks a change in the traditional calendar, that is to say from the old year to new year. This is very significant as a matter of fact. It is the culture of our people, the Izzi clan. And any group that has no culture is as good as death. There is no how you can do without your culture. Culture remains the way we are living and this is an age long one. So, we commend our people especially the elders and our ancestral leaders, the Ishi-uke Amegu people for maintaining this culture. They have been following it strictly as always been the culture of Izzi man. After Ojiji, the next significant celebration is Otutara (feast of all souls). We are happy that God has brought us back this year to celebrate the new yam festival. We wish our people well as we commend the generality of Izzi clan.
We therefore, wish our people happy celebration of this Ojiji 2020 particularly all Izzi people living in various local government areas, Izzi, Abakaliki, Ebonyi, even those in Cross River, Benue and outside these states. I use this opportunity to commend His Excellency the State Governor and our friends outside Izzi land and the state. Izzi clan hosts the state capital and so much things are happening in our localities. We commend our people in government, the Speaker, and other leaders, traditional rulers, the youth, all our children and so on.
This year’s celebration is very unique and we give all glory to God. But, it is very important that our people including the elders and the youths to do everything human possible to promote peace, love and unity among ourselves. As things are moving on, we pray what is due to us, is given to us. Our people should also do the needful to ensure we are united because, united we stand. Apart from unity, our people need prayers to know the essence of love one another, going by one voice while championing our courses as a clan.
To our youth, you have a lot of work to do. You have to use your experience and what we observed. You have to learn how to give respect to elders. Accept, appreciate our elders, and ensure any time you have an opportunity, you try to have legacies. Those in authorities are doing their best, but we should encourage our people because we are remembered with the legacies leaving behind. That will tell the story when we are no more there. So, anybody that is in a position of authority being it ward councillor, local government Chairman, honourable member both state and national, should try at the end of the day, to write his or her name in gold, by leaving legacies that will tell the story when you are no longer in a position of trust to the Glory of God.
Rt. Hon. Francis Ogbonna Nwifuru, Speaker Ebonyi State House of Assembly:
Distinctively, Ojiji Izzi is the most popular and widely celebrated socio-cultural activity in Izzi land, recognised both at home and in the diaspora. Every year, we mark this ancient beauty of increase, commemorating our huge cultural heritage – thanking God Almighty for His bountiful blessings of a good harvest season, a pointer to another year of prosperity, unity, peace and progress in the land.
The significance of this rich celebration is immense. Yam is considered by an Izzi man as a Divine Gift from God Almighty and the king of all crops. Therefore it is treated sacrosanct. For this reason, ‘Okpobe Nwoke Izhi’ (a typical Izzi man) dedicates a special expanse in his compound for the establishment of a barn ‘Oba Ji’, for the preservation and safe storage of yams. It is usually positioned very strategically to attract the admiration and interest of both the owner and visitors alike. Essentially, Ojiji is characterised by thanksgiving, almsgiving, prayers, pouring of libation, visitation to in-laws and relatives, reconciliation and a lot more, showing the true bequest of Izzi Nnodo.
As the celebration defines the end of a yam farming circle, heralding the beginning of another farming season, so also is its symbolism of stocktaking in our land. It is a time that we all must make sincere assessments of our past years with a vision of correcting our ills to foster love, unity and peace amongst ourselves and the society in general – the values of Izzi clan.
Therefore as we today come together in this wonderful celebration, we must as a people resolve to live, sustain and promote those values we hold dear to our hearts regardless of our political affiliations. Our growth and development as a people can only happen when we come together in love and peace to charge our cause forward. In thanking God Almighty for His benevolence over us, I wish to once more thank all our traditional rulers, the council of elders, stakeholders, various leaders and indeed the prestigious sons and daughters of Izzi Nnodo Ekumenyi, for their sincere and generous efforts in ensuring that our land remains great, peaceful, united and prosperous. Our earnest prayer is that this year’s celebration will enshrine immeasurable glad tidings in Izzi land, now and forever.
Wishing all of us, the very best of celebrations. Happy Ojiji Izzi!
Chief Barr. Peter Onyekachi Nwebonyi, the Chairman Peoples Democratic Party in Ebonyi State:
Every year between the month of August and September, the Izhii people celebrate their new yam festival. Like every other igbo people, the festival heralds the harvest of new yam; the staple food and the king of crops among the Igbos. It is the time the people recognize that they are kins and share the new yam; goodwill to one another. The bond that holds a people together and distinguishes them from others is culture. Festivals is the clearest demonstration of culture and allegorically demonstrates the beliefs and values the people hold sacred.
In Izhii land, the situation is not different. For long, the people had held the new yam festival as the hallmark of unity and cultural identity. It is the time that the people do remember that they are one people who share every identity in common. But today the situation seems to have changed. Politics tends to have torn the bond of brotherhood that binds us together.
I therefore wish to use this occasion of the 2020 new yam festival to enjoin all sons and daughters of Izhii land, especially the political class, to embrace harmony and selflessness. There is no need for tension, and there is no need for acrimony. Those who are privileged should see it as a responsibility to care for the less privileged and above all uphold the virtues and values of Izhii people. It is by the grace of God that you occupy the position you are today. And, the support and goodwill of the people keeps you respected. We should not destroy lives and property of fellow Izhii man under the guise of political violence just for selfish ends. It is God that gives power. Those who use violence and crooked means to get to power will certainly go the way they came.
My message is a message of peace; a message of hope; a message of oneness. We are great people, loved by people around us. Why won’t we love one another? We should realize that what lies ahead of us is far greater than what is behind us. Politics will come and go, we will remain Izhii people, either in unity or disunity. But unity is strength, and our strength will be measured by our weakest point. As I share my goodwill to all sons and daughters of Izhii land, I enjoin the custodians of the culture of the people to brace up to the responsibilities their positions confer on them. They should be bold enough to speak truth to power. They should uphold fairness and justice in all their dealings no matter whose ox is gored.
I also wish to extend my goodwill to our neighbors who have either celebrated or about to celebrate their own new yam festivals. I wish to specifically show profound gratitude to the governor of Ebonyi State Engr. Dr. David Nweze Umahi, who by his love for Izhii land can be adjudged a true son of the soil. It is evident that in all his developmental projects, Izhii land has benefited the most. I pray that the grace of God will always be sufficient in his life.
HRH Eze S.N Oketa, Onuoha III of Nkaleke Echara Autonomous Community and Chairman, Izzi Traditional Rulers’ Forum:
Today is a big day in Izzi Nation. We are celebrating new yam festival, it is called Ojiji in entire Izzi land. It is the day Izzi people always gathered to eat and celebrate New yam. New yam will never be brought to Izzi environs or eaten in any Izzi home unless we marked our own festival called Ojiji. Our ancestors observe and celebrate this festival. It is a day, a married woman will cook beneseeds, millets, snails with dry fishes and other traditional flavours that will make the soup look different and delicious. The man provides chicken (s), goat (s) and even cow, it depends on your reach. It is a special a feast in respect to yam according to our belief. And that’s why, if this festival is not celebrated in Izzi land, no one will entre one’s home with new yam. Yesterday being Azu’a market day, we went to farm to harvest new yam for the festival. Today, all married Izzi men are to send gifts including yams, Chicken or even goat to your in-laws if they are in good relationship. The new yam is so much valued by our mother-in-law(s) to the extended that she can invite family members, friends, and neighborhoods to see the gifts from the son-in-law (s). It is the biggest four yams harvested will be sent to the mother inlaws. Hen, chicken, fish, money and even goat are allowed to send out of your will to show how much you love your in-law and friends. Exchange of visits with your relatives and friends including your in-laws is always paramount. Foods, drinks and pleasantries are always shared. I must advise your younger ones to understand that our cultures and traditions are original and even have a scripture backing. God has created different tribes, race and a certain language was given to them, when you under-rate this gifted language from God, you are simply telling that, He had made a mistake by creating you. There is no tribe or clan without a culture know of her. You could remember vividly that over three weeks now, there was no rain but immediately, our Ishi-uke, the Izzi elders who communicate with both humans and God, visited Ojiji alter, to satisfy modality empowering our people to celebrates this festival, rain began to fall till now. It is a must that any time we declare our new yam festival open, that, rains of blessings must drop. Therefore, our young ones should not forget our long age culture and tradition especially the new yam festival and Otutara. Christians, Muslims and any other religions can’t stop the practice in our own time and the young generation should hearken the voices of Izzi elders. We are full aware of Church, it is a Western life. It is true that the Western culture helped to stop some practices which were not good before men and God, but that doesn’t mean, we have no good ones to preserve. No matter the advancement grows, and grow, our cultural value shout not be tampered with. I advise all Izzi sons and daughters to work to be a mirror of Izzi standard in both cultural practice and building legal legacies in your office and respective homes. In no distant time, we shall revive our traditions in Izzi communities because those practices seen as odds, remain of great help to build peace and unity. Our gongs are set, the traditional is back and nothing is lost now, we are to restore the lost glory and it shall come back in a double fold. We don’t party with individuals, groups or any culture that permits killing of human beings. We have stopped female genital mutilation. This was through the intervention of the wife of our governor. She stopped us from this practice. But the traditions of robbing wood powders, new yam festival, the all soul feast ( Otuntara), observing masquerade dance, and those our cultures encouraging peace and unity, we shall continue practicing because these are heritages of our ancestors. None of our cultures and traditions shall fade off now and forever.
Chief Boniface Ofoke, Elder Statesman,
Ojiji Izzi means transition from old to new year, entailing every Izzi born has a freedom to eat new yam. The moment Ojiji festival is celebrated, the complain of hunger stops in Izzi land because every mature Izzi person is expected to have a farm where his wards can be feeding from. So, it is important our young ones sustain this practice. Some people are like forgetting the culture of Izzi land just because of Western lives. It is important to note that if you are an Izzi man who marries from the land, should always remember to send four tubers of yam with a chicken and if you like add goat, to your in-laws whom you are married to their daughter because of the festival no matter the distance. This gesture shows that you are in a good relationship with your in-laws. Nowadays, children are rather practicing sagging, some dress like the mad people. In Izzi land, we abhor the act, and we equally abhor cultism. All the abnormal practices in some homes, originated from the child, and majorly, how the parents handle their children. I advise our people to take care of their children, teach them good things about our culture and tradition.
Engr. Chief Fidelis Nwankwo, former Minister of Federal Republic of Nigeria:
The land of Izzi is viable and living to our greater testimony despite the growing numbers of churches and different religious societies, we have not stopped observing this long age culture, Ojiji Izzi. Since I became an adult, Ojiji and Otutara feasts have been very significant. Any moment, Ojiji festival is scheduled, rainfall takes whole of the week. On the due day, rain must fall.
Otutara, the feast of the departed souls, who are still having offsprings or lineage on this Earth. It is one of our best culture in Izzi land, because it helps to prove one has deviated from his or her normal behavior. It equally brings and encourages unity among brethren and all the family tree.
So, Ojiji festival is a very long age culture in Izzi land. Any clan who has no culture and tradition, has no way to grow and make a living. Culture is the importer of rules and because of it, respect to elders and our leaders remain paramount as they are the custodians of the society.
Immediately, new yam festival is celebrated, every Izzi man is at liberty to eat new yam. I expressed gratitude to all Izzi sons and daughters and those who came to celebrate with me, my family today.
Hon. Mrs. Chinyere Nwogbaga, Executive Chairman Ebonyi Local Government Area:
Today is a new yam festival of Izzi clan. It is called the feast of woman because all our husbands are to harvest new yams. In Izzi land, our people go embarking on yam farming looking towards August period for the harvest of new yam for the feast. Man champions on providing yams but woman cares for the soup flavours except meats like chicken, goat or more because we believe our husbands can provide those ones.
Wives provide millets, mushrooms, snails, and the the flavours to use in preparing soup. We cook mostly today beneseeds, and you can bear us witness the food is ready. We must thank God for this opportunity given to us to celebrate this year’s new yam festival. We used to observe this ceremony on August every year but due to leap year, we have to adjust our traditional calendar. That’s why we are celebrating this festival by September. We thank God for keeping us all alive. We appreciate His Excellency, Governor David Nweze Umahi who made this state to be calm and makes this celebration to be going on peacefully.
One thing, I so appreciate is that our new yam festival is celebrated by all religions in our clan and the culture did not in any way contradict our Christian faith. It is very important to tell you that in Izzi land, today, every man who married from this clan will send gifts including yams, hen or goat to the in-laws. By so doing, it shows that you are still in a good relationship with your in-law unless you have some challenges. At the evening time, the man has to visit his in-law’s family. At this juncture, I want to pray that we shall celebrate peacefully and remain healthy and sound to celebrate more years in Jesus name amen.
Hon. Mrs. Elizabeth Ogbaga, Ebonyi State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism
Ojiji festival marks the reawakening of Izzi huge cultural heritage and promotion of peace, hard-working, oneness, love , unity in Izzi Land, and eating of first fruit from the farm (yam) which signify moving from period of scarcity to period of abundant harvest.
It’s season of thanksgiving, mending a broken relationship and totally reconciliation amongst Izzi sons and Daughters!
As we celebrate let us reflect on the importance of our culture as it’s tools in unifying our land. Happy celebration Izzi Nnodo Ekumenyi
Lending his voice, the National president of Izzi Nnodo Youth Forum, who also doubles as the Special Assistant to Ebonyi state governor on Internal Security Ebonyi North Zone, Comrade Ben Nwovu, while interacting with newsmen at the traditional prime minister’s palace Amegu community in Abakaliki Local Government Area, thanked God for making it possible for him and his family members to witness another new yam festival despite all the challenges that have been facing the state and the country at large especially the global covid-19 pandemic.Comrade Nwovu who sees yam as the king of all crops said that, ojiji new yam festival is one of the oldest cultural heritage of the people of Izhi which is being celebrated every year, the festival was coming a beat late due to the absence of the new moon occasioned by leap year.He hinted that the celebration of new yam festival by Izhi people is usually brings hope, and enjoined them to embrace their cultural heritage saying that any nation without culture is like a nation without history.He added that the period of the new yam festival is the time for sober reflection but not a season to engage in a verbal abuse, fight and any other social vices, and urged the Izhi clan to see it as the period of making peace, unity and reconciliation.On his part, the Traditional Prime Minister of Izhi clan, Elder Mbam Ngele, called on the entire clan people to continue to love one another to attract development to the clan. Elder Ngele prayed for God’s protection among sons and daughters of Izhi nation as they celebrate this year new yam festival.While narrating the significance of the day celebration, revealed that the new yam celebration is so important that in their tradition that any person who dug yam in his or her farm before the official declaration by the custodian would pay a life cow and other items without hesitating to serve as deterrent to others as that amount to bridge of their cultural belief.Others who spoke includes the pioneer president of Izzi Nnodo Youth Forum, Elder Mike Nwambam, a member of Ishiuke, Elder Nwibo Nwali and the president of Okpuitumo development Union, Comrade Alfred Agbo expressed optimism that the celebration of ojiji new yam festival would bring good fortune to the people of Izhi and called for unity and love among members.They, however, noted that ojiji new yam festival is an annual event which usually comes up between August and September every year and Izhi people cannot eat new yam until celebration is done by elders of the clan known as Ishiuke.