Egi monarch prays for sustainable peace, restoration at New Yam Festival

Eze Egi III of Ogbaland, HRM Prof Uzondu Wokoma, performing rite at the festival

For some years, the famous New Yam Festival celebrated yearly in Egiland, in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State, was halted due to man-made crisis.

The rich cultural festival attracted tourists, multinational companies, visitors and prominent daughters and sons of Egiland.

However, during the four-year crisis, which occurred from 2013 to 2017, and was linked to gang battle and political tussle, where people were killed, maimed, with consequent devastation, the feast naturally suffered.

The situation did not only damage the socio-economic backbone of the people, but also affected human resources and their agricultural prowess, which is the mainstay of their livelihood.

And maybe due to this, this year’s festival was unique and heartwarming, as the once vibrant celebration is gradually bouncing back, following restoration of peace and the killing of some notorious cultists and criminals that masterminded the mayhem in the area.

At the flag off of this year’s celebration, known as the Egwu Ogba sacred festival, which marks commencement of the harvest season, the Monarch, Eze Egi III of Ogbaland, HRM Prof Uzondu Wokoma, the chiefs, people of Egiland, Rivers State government, management of Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited (TEPENG), and other well meaning Nigerians graced the event to show solidarity and appreciation of culture.

They were all happy for the restoration of peace that paved way for this year’s mega New Yam Festival.

The monarch described the festival as remarkable, as it symbolises restoration of peace and love in Egiland. He noted that the presence of the state government, Council of traditional rulers, other dignitaries and corporate bodies attested to the fact that peace is, indeed, being sustained.

The royal father, however, prayed for the restoration of farm crops in the land. He blamed lack of agricultural produce to oil exploration.

He said: “Our cash crops have all gone extinct, as a result of oil exploration. But we shouldn’t go hungry because of oil.

Therefore, we pray to God Almighty to replenish our land with food items. We have peace now, so we want multiplication of our cash crops.

“We do not have good harvest this year, but we hope it will be multiplied next year, because we believe that as God sanctifies our land, restoration and multiplication would follow.”

The former President of Egi Peoples Assembly, Chief Oris Onyiri, said: “The huge success of this celebration shows that peace has returned to the kingdom and this would confirm to others that are still watching to see that peace has indeed returned.

Therefore, people should return home, forgive one another and join hands to take Egiland to greater height.”

While describing the festival as very unique, the Managing Director of TEPENG, Nicolas Terraz, said he was excited to share the joyful moment with Egi people.

Represented by the Executive General Manager, Corporate Social Responsibility, Mr. Vincent Amadi, Terraz said the success of the event shows the resilience of Egi people and their ability to weather the storm of adversities.

He regretted the socio-economic, agricultural setbacks the crisis caused in the area, but expressed joy over the restoration of peace. 

He said: “The past one year had been very challenging for you and our operations in your kingdom.

The security challenge within the field and associated social and environmental concerns that followed in the area negatively impacted on our operations.

These challenges notwithstanding, like you, we are gradually recovering, even though its effects are still visible and remain a major concern for the company today.

“In line with the firm’s core value of respecting its host communities’ cultures, the company would continue to support the kingdom and ensure sustainable development of the people.

We will also draw from the rich cultural identities showcased at the festival in order to enrich our own cultural diversities, which is a major quest for social integration in a multicultural work environment.

“Total will continue to partner with you and the good people of Egi kingdom, to ensure continuous industrial peace and harmony, as well as sustainable rapid development of our communities and people.

It is our collective responsibility to continue to forge common ground in ensuring that our business and communities develop and thrive side by side.”

On her part, the President, Egi Women Welfare Association, Mrs. Okwudiri Okummadu, expressed joy over the festival, but noted that the crisis situation forced a lot of women out of farming.

She noted that if women were empowered with seedlings and farm crops, the agricultural produce in the coming year would be massive.

Similarly, the former President of the Union, Mrs. Ngozi Agoh-Jacob, said women are the custodians of culture, stressing that whatever touches the land touches the women.

She said: “The crisis which affected our land affected the women most. When we were growing up, we didn’t buy food items in the market.

From our farming business, our families were well fed, and we even sold some crops.

We, however, hope that the festival and restoration of peace in Egiland, will usher women back to the farm, and we will again begin to witness bumper harvest.”

She called on the Federal Government to extend the clean-up exercise to Egiland to pave way for adequate farming, stressing that the entire Niger Delta region deserves to be cleaned from oil devastation. 

The Queen of Egi, Grace Wokoma, said the kingdom’s prayers to God Almighty and the whole process of the festival shows that the festival is not fetish, contrary to the belief of many.

She expressed optimism that next year’s harvest would be great, following restoration of peace and the women’s willingness to return to their core cultural heritage, which is farming. 

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