By Patrick Akobo
After the recent communal clashes between sister communities in Igede land, there was palpable fear in some quarters that Igede Agba 2023 may not hold and if it did, it would pass as insignificant event buried in the hatred of warring brothers and tainted by the blood of fallen sons and daughters of Igede land who had paid the ultimate price during the clash.
However, a new sun arose in the firmament of Igede land bringing rays of hope, fresh air, warmth, prosperity and brotherly love which was facilitated by Rt. Hon. Evangelist David Ogewu Member Oju/Obi Federal Constituency. This worthy son of Igede land took it upon himself to ensure that the flames of Igede Agba continued to burn and rise higher.
Thus, the 2023 Igede New Yam FESTIVAL popularly known as Igede Agba was marked with all the pomp and celebration
The week long celebration started with the Igede Stakeholders Summit. The first tranche of the 2023 Igede Agba Prayer / Summit held at Assembly of God Church Secretariat Road Oju L.G.A, recorded tremendous success as it more than took care of the major aim of the summit which is the peaceful coexistence of all Igede people, and the clarification of some misconceptions about Igede Agba.
Speakers reiterated the importance of harmonious living as a panacea to development.
The first speaker and Methodist Bishop of Oyongo diocese , Rt. Rev. Benjamin Egbe Acham spoke on the topic: IGEDE NEW YAM FESTIVAL, THE CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE.
He reiterated the fact that just like the passover feast celebrated by the Jews to commemorate their exodus from slavery in Exodus 2:1-26, and like other tribes who celebrate significant days in their history, Igede Agba is the passover of the Igede people.
According to him, history has it that the Igede people first lived as neighbours with Sabon Gida Ora in the present day Edo State , but there was a conflict with their neighbours, the Ora people which denigrated into war.
“The Ora People with their superior powers did not only defeat the Igedes but subjected them to the worst form of forced labour and treatment . When they could no longer bear it , they ran away and wandered for many years before finding a safer place where they could plant and harvest . Reflecting on the trauma they passed through , Ada, the eldest son of Agba gathered his siblings on the first ihigile market day to celebrate their survival after they had crossed river Oyongo.”
That was the first known Igede Agba new yam FESTIVAL celebrated in history.( Acham Ogboncha, 1st September, 1980)
Another reason for Igede Agba celebration according to Rt. Rev. Acham is that, Igede people used to experience good shortage between the months of March and July, and the arrival of the new yam being the most popular crop in the land brought great relief and it was met with wide celebration . Several clans celebrated the festival on their selected days until 1958 when the Igede Youth Association fixed the 1st Ihigile in September of every year to mark the Igede national day otherwise referred to as Igede Agba or Igede New Yam FESTIVAL .
He unequivocally stated that Igede Agba has absolutely no Link with the Akpang deity as insinuated in some quarters and declared that such warped belief is completely unacceptable, stressing that Akpang in its strictest sense is not one of the original pantheons of Igede people but a charm brought from Cameroun in the early 1940s to deal with those practise evil charm.
“Before the arrival of Akpang , private individuals ate yams when they felt the need.
Even now, members of the Akpang cult eat yams when they are out without first appeasing Akpang or any god” , he said .
He concluded that for Christians in Igede land, Igede Agba is not a veneration of any deity, but a deep reflection on who we are , where we come from , and what we passed through to become who we are .
In his own speech , Elder James Aleje, leader of igabwos, the council of elders who are the chief custodians of the Igede tradition confirmed every single word earlier said by Rt. Rev. Acham. He added that the misconceptions linking the Igede Agba with the Akpang deity came about because, in the earlier days, members of the Akpang cult appeased their god using yam before they can join others in celebration but it was only strictly done by Akpang cult members who felt the need to do do .
On the need for peace, President of Omi NY’IGEDE worldwide, Dr. Ben Okpa emphasized that for there to be lasting peace, there is a need to promote tolerance, respect for human rights, access to justice when the need arises, inter-communal marriages, youth engagement, and forgiveness.
On his part, Dr Iganga Ibn Odeh noted that the Igede People are a unique tribe with their distinct Identity and therefore should not be mistaken for any other tribe within the State.
Other speakers were representatives from Ukpa, Ibila, and Oju clans, the three, clans occupying Igede central . Hon. Samuel Ode from Ukpa clan , Chief Edo Uta from Oju clan, and Rev. Ada brown from Ibilla clan all emphasized the need to extricate bitterness, and hatred for one another and maximize the things that bind us together so that development can come to Igede land.
In his closing remark, Hon. Ogewu thanked the Igede people for heeding his call and promised the people that he will never relent in delivering the dividends of democracy to the people, the mandate of whom he presently holds, enjoying them to make conscious efforts at embracing peace , without which no meaningful development can take place.
He also thanked the executive governor of Benue state , Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia for his magnanimity towards Igede people as shown through his recent appointments where Igede people has two commissioners, two special advisers, and three special assistants in addition to his earlier appointments. He extended the governor’s willingness to work closely with the Igede people to ameliorate their divers infrastructural challenges.
The Prayer Summit was rounded up with the Gospel Music Concerts which also held at the Assembly of God Church Secretariat road Igede.
The grand finale of the activities of Igede Agba 2023 held at the Oju Local government Council Pavilion was a gathering of who is who in Igede land and had in attendance
the executive governor of Benue state, His Excellency, Rev. Fr. Dr Hyacinth Alia, the former First Lady of Nigeria, Dame Patience Good luck Jonathan, Hon. Speaker of House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Tajudeen Abbas ( ably represented by Rt. Hon. Idris Salman from kogi State) , Senator , Benue Senatorial District, Senator Abba Moro ( ably represented), Senator Barnabas Gemade ( ably represented), the Och’Idoma( ably represented by Chief Benjamin Omale) , and a host of other top government functionaries both at the Federal and State levels.
The unanimous message of all the guests was peaceful coexistence without which no development can take place.
In his address, Governor Alia reiterated his Commitment to work closely with the Igede people as demonstrated in his recent appointments. He stated that he in collaboration with the Federal Government will ensure that both the Federal and State roads linking Igede with the rest of the world will be given top priority. He mentioned specifically that Oju – Awajir road will be given Special attention within the shortest period of time.
He also pleaded with the People to exercise a little more patience with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu as he tries to fine-tune the economy of the country, assuring that the palliative materials provided by the President will be fairly distributed to those who truly need them.
He charged the traditional institutions to sit up and ensure lasting peace, and emphasized that any traditional leader who aides or abets communal crisis through their actions or inactions , will be severely punished , as royalty, he said , must not only be in the wearing of royal regalia , but in being the custodian of lasting peace and tranquility.
He concluded by enjoining the people to embrace peace without which any attempt to deliver on their infrastructural needs will be an exercise in futility.
The general superintendent , Assemblies of God Church, Rev. Dr. Isaac Igwe preaching from Psalm 1: 33 stressed on the need for unity amongst siblings and prayed God to sustain his love in Igede land to help the people actualize their destiny .
In their separate speeches , Her Excellency, Dame Patience Jonathan, and Hon. Speaker , House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Tajudeen Abbas ( ably represented) promised to play their parts in bringing development to the people as they unanimously sued for peace as the panacea to any development.
Hon. Ogewu in his address thanked the executive governor for his love for his people as already demonstrated in divers ways since his assumption of Office , and pleaded with him to expedite action on the Awajir – Oju road amongst many other good plans he has for the Igede people.
He assured the Governor of his people’s resolve to give him their total support in his task of emancipating Benue from the claws of scavengers.
The high point of the event was the decorations of Governor Alia, the Hon. Speaker Abbas T., Former First Lady Dame (Dr) Patience Jonathan, and the Och’Idoma ( ably represented) with the Igede traditional attires signifying royalty and acceptability as parts and parcel of Igede people.
Financial gifts were also given to the widows and the less privileged at the end of the auspicious occasion.
All said and done, the Igede Agba 2023 activities have come and gone , but they mark a turning point in the celebration of the Igede New Yam FESTIVAL as it took the event to an entirely new height, evoking the spirit of brotherhood, peace, unity and prosperity. It is the fervent prayer of every Igede son and daughter that the tempo be sustained and Igede Agba 2024 shall be greater than 2023 version .
Akobo, a public affairs analist writes from Oju.