Iri Ji Festival Awaken Ndigbo in London

by Okey Onwuchekwa

The reawakening of Ndigbo cultural consciousness received a boost recently with the grand celebration of New Yam Festival popularly known as Iri ji Ndigbo in London, United Kingdom. The festival provided a veritable platform for adventurous Ndigbo to embark on soul-searching ritual, concerning the looming danger of extinction facing the Igbo based on the United Nations Educational and Scientific Commission (UNESCO) report on endangered languages.

Besides, the fate of Ndigbo in contemporary Nigeria was brought to the fore at the festival dedicated to the Igbo goddess of fertility also known as Ala or Ani (Land Goddess). The event kick-started with a conference examining “Igbo Unity and the integration of Ndigbo into the UK Community. The festival was a parade of Ndigbo culture in London. From the metropolitan city and other parts of the United Kingdom, Ndigbo stood out in their unique native attires. While Ndigbo men wore their Isi-Agu tops with woollen-stripped caps, their wives were gaily dressed with wrappers and colourful headgears. Children too were not left out in the parade of native colours.

At the venue of the New Yam Festival, the River Of Life Centre (Church Hall) off Ilderton Road, London, it was a beautiful sight to behold. From 7p.m to 4:30a.m (October 14 2007), Ndigbo were in a carnival mood. Excitements rent the air as kinsmen and women rekindled their relationships.


As excitement rent the air, Nigeria‘s Acting High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (UK), Ambassador Dozie Nwanna conveyed President Umaru Yar’Adua’s felicitation to Ndigbo.

The diplomat urged Ndigbo to participate actively in the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation assuring that the president is committed to the cause of the group.

Nwanna said his doors were open to assist Nigerians in UK, stressing that like Yar’Adua, he is an apostle of Servant-Leader school of thought. He, however, pleaded for understanding in the scarcity of international passport booklets due to the introduction of e-passport.

The diplomat, who assumed office barely four months ago, urged Nigerians in UK to feel free in making their observations to him for better service delivery. Nwanna commended the festival’s organisers, the Council of Igbo Communities (CIC) UK for keeping the rich cultural heritage of Ndigbo aglow.


Earlier, CIC leader and chief host of the festival, Chief Udechukwu Onuorah in a welcome address said, the maiden Iriji festival of his association in UK was designed to showcase Igbo culture.

“Iri ji” was chosen this year because of its uniqueness in Igbo culture and tradition. So unique that we need to proudly showcase this great and powerful heritage to the whole world and especially our non-Igbo brothers, sisters and friends – young and old,” he stressed

Underscoring the essence of Iri ji, Onuorah said the festival demonstrated the generosity and selflessness of Ndigbo. But he was quick to point out that these attributes of Ndigbo have been eroded greatly to the extent that the ethnic nationality has become “Nigeria‘s playground and a lost tribe”

Onuorah, however, said casting blames on the decay in Ala-Igbo (Igbo Land) is no solution to the problem.

“It’s high time we retraced our steps with a view to reversing the trend. And, we must do it now for the sake of our children” he said. The challenges facing Ndigbo, Onuorah said are the disappearance of Igbo language and cultural heritage, Igbo unity, identity, networking and empowerment.

“The Igbo Language, culture and tradition are disappearing at an alarming speed. Ndigbo have been moved downward to the fifth or sixth tribe in Nigeria and we allowed it to stick” he noted

The CIC leader also threw another challenge to his kinsmen, “some of us are now asking the inevitable question, what the fate of Ndigbo existence is in the near future at this rate of depletion. One would have thought that in the face of the growing global ethnic identity drive, Ndigbo would need to look to our strengths which increasingly will lie in the talent and diligence of our people: our capacity and ability to refocus and re-educate ourselves and bounce back,” Onuorah noted.

On the challenges facing CIC UK, Onuorah said they include the closure of Igbo school, radio programme, Ogene Ndigbo and unfair portrayal of Ndigbo in Channel Four television’s programme, the “Last Slave”.

“The wholesome use of Igbo Language to express, explain and interpret Igbo thought is very much neglected among Igbo people, if not shunned. It is for this reason and many others failing values that the leader of the Council in the UK, Chief Udechukwu Onuorah and his members came together to organise this unique event” he noted

He later performed the cutting of the New Yam with other eminent Igbo chiefs.


The New Yam festival was spiced by hilarious performance by stand up comedian, Julius Agwu. At every point, the audience would not help but laugh as Agwu dished out rib cracking Jokes. He equally deployed his creative mind in raising some funds for CNC, but not much was achieved as “Londoners” are typical “Aka Gum” (tight fisted) way of life remained intact. In his act, Agwu danced away with the charming laughter of Nze Odu-Obi, but he met a stonewall, when a young man refused to allow his “oyibo” girl friend to hit the dance floor with the big time comedian. Incidentally, the “oyibo” girl’s skimpy wear raised eyebrow in the hall, just as some whispered why the lover boy was protesting Agwu’s open invitation for a dance. Apart from Agwu’s bag of humour performance, the traditional Abiriba war dancers, igba akwune echenyi and ikporikpo ogu dancers thrilled the audience with their scintillating songs. For young Nigerian Brits, Ndigbo culture was on parade without the luxury of travelling home to see it.

Preceding the festival was a conference with the theme “Igbo Unity and the Integration of Ndigbo into the UK community. Although Prof. Sunny Nwankwo, who was billed to deliver the keynote address on the conference’s theme was unavoidably absent other speakers held the select audience spellbound through their talks.

Hope that Igbo language can be salvaged was ignited when every speaker delivered his lecture in the native language. A senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University, Uche Nworah set the ball rolling by giving a talk on “The culture of Igbo of Nigeria”. According to him, the major cultural features of Ndigbo were Kola nut (oji), language (Asusu na Okwu), trade (Aka Olu Ndigbo), festival (Emume), Title taking (echichi), etc.

On kola nut, he stressed that it as a spiritual significance and not a mere item for consumption. Nworah, who is a controversial Nigerian internet columnist, noted that Kola nut is not only used to welcome visitors but a ritual item.

He expressed dismay that most Ndigbo abroad have relegated their native language to the background so much that their children hardly speak Igbo Language.” To reverse the ugly trend the prolific writer called on Ndigbo to freely teach their children Igbo Language irrespective of where they reside abroad. On titles, Nworah lamented the abuse of traditional title taking in Igbo land especially with people of questionable characters buying up honours with a fee. Such abuse of title amongst Ndigbo, Nworah contended should be checked before the Igbo culture is further eroded by charlatans.


Another speaker, Enyinna Amadikwa used the platform to push an ideological agenda, claiming that Ndigbo’s salvation lies in restoration of the republic of Biafra

He said his London based group, Good Shepherds Movement (GSM) is at the forefront of restoration of Biafra Republic based on the earliest Portuguese map recognising the country and its Biblical origination. Amadikwa stressed that Biafrans were offspring of Ishmael, who migrated to Ethiopia before dispersing further to the dream country.

“We are not Nigerians, we are Biafrans, we want our country back” is the catch phrase for Amadikwa’s group. The GSM leader contended that Ndigbo would be restored to pre-eminence through the return of Biafra, adding that Nigeria was a political contradiction as it was evolved without a plebiscite. Asked later if GSM was an offshoot of the embattled Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) Amadikwa said no, he said that GSM believes that the ills plaguing Igbo Land like lack of respect for elders, corruption and others would not be tolerated in the new Biafra.

Amadikwa, who said his grand father was among the fearless Ndigbo men who challenged colonial rule in Owerri, said his group has been putting structures in place to boost Igbo Language. You may not agree with Amadikwa’s group ideological learning but the native wear (Isi-Agu) and caps its members wore celebrated quintessential Igbo culture.

On his part, Chief Kene Mkparu admitted that his peer group has been held captive by not teaching their children Igbo language based on reality abroad.

He however called for understanding of their plight. Mkparu said while efforts should be made to reverse the dwindling fortune of Igbo language that is his peer group is taking Ndigbo culture to a higher pedestal through exporting Nollywood to UK.

While the young speakers pointed the way forward for Ndigbo, Chief Vincent Umenyiora stressed the imperativeness of unity and stability in Igbo Land for sustainable development to thrive. Umenyiora chaired the conference held at Tabard Community Centre, London.


Reviewing the New Yam Festival, a former intern with Daily Champion and a postgraduate student in London, Miss Nkiru Orekyeh, Secretary-general of CIC, Afamefuna Anawana and CIC spokesman, Killian Enujuba gave the event a pass mark. They however admitted some organisational lapses, which they said, would be corrected for a better outing next year.

Until the next edition, the just concluded maiden Iriji festival in UK is a tip of the Iceberg on Ndigbo’s potentials abroad, if only they can get their acts together.

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1 comment

Michael Orekyeh December 17, 2008 - 5:53 am

This is a good development and should be encouraged as an annual event in countries / cities with large Igbo Communities.

This will let our children and the World know our culture and what we stand for.

Pls other diaspora should celebrate this in their communities


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