…suspension still stands – Police
Hundred of youths of Awka community in Anambra State have gone ahead with the celebration of the popular Egwu Imo Awka masquerade festival contrary to the suspension order by the state governor, Chief Willie Obino over the dreaded coronavirus pandemic.
Egwu Imo Awka, a festival celebrated with the chief priest as the driving force and the mediator between the Imo Awka deity and the traditional Awka person has in recent time, gained wider recognition.
Aside the Enugu-Onitsha expressway, the festival brings major roads in the city to a standstill on the grand finale day, which by design or default falls on Sundays, The DAILY VENDOR reports.
Virtually all shops close for business on the last Afor Market day, five days before the Egwu Imo Awka, considered the most important day of the festival as it honours women with procession from Amaenyi quarters through Zik Avenue to Umuokpu, Awka and usually on Nkwo Market day.
The state government had recently announced the suspension of the event and other cultural festivals in the state, advising members of the public not to attend such festivals but to stay at home, or go about their businesses, while observing Covid-19 guidelines previously issued by the federal and state governments.
In a statement issued by the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, titled: “Suspension of 2020 Egwu Imo Awka Cultural Festival and other festivals in Anambra state,” the government said the suspension extended to other communities in the state.
The statement read in part, “The government of Anambra state, taking cognisance of prevailing federal government curfew order, state government order on public gatherings, World Health Organisation (WHO), and Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) guidelines on preventing the spread of Covid-19, hereby, suspends 2020 Egwu Imo Awka cultural festival.
“The public, traditional rulers, presidents general, custodians and organisers of such festivals, are hereby, put on notice that they will be held responsible should any festival hold.
“Members of the public are, hereby, advised not to attend such festivals, and to stay at home, or go about their business, observing Covid-19 guidelines previously issued by the federal and state governments.
“The security agencies are, hereby, directed to strictly enforce the suspension order.”
But residents of the area, had expressed dissatisfaction over the suspension, claiming the relevant stakeholders were not duly consulted.
A visit to the capital territory shown groups of youths with masquerade parading the streets of the area displaying their usual characters.
A female custodian, Ezenwanyi Uchenna Okafor argued that the Covid-19 was not enough reason to suspend the festival in view of the benefits derivable from it.
Okafor, an Awka indigene and also married from the town, warned that there would be problem if they failed to appease the gods of imo Awka.
She said, “The pandemic has nothing to do with the Igbo and its culture, it’s for the whites. It can’t deprive us of our privileges we inherited from our forefathers from time immemorial.
“We don’t know what will be our fate if we allow this pandemic to take away our culture from us. There was a time this kind of thing was tried and we fought against it.
“They better allow us go ahead with our usual tradition. There are enormous benefits derivable from the festival. It solves so many problem. They have succeeded in limiting some of the activities involved in the festival.
“I call on the government to allow us go on with the festival. The pandemic we’re afraid of can’t come into the state. We’ve pursued worse things than that, and we can do it again.
“If we don’t celebrate it, we’ll suffer the consequences, sooner or later.”
Another Traditionalist, High chief ikechukwu Ozoemene described the suspension as a big blow to Awka Traditional institution.
He also was of the view that government would have consulted their traditional ruler and President General before announcing the suspension.
A youth leader, kenechukwu Nnacheta condemned total suspension of festival, noting that government would have liaised with the community to set up committee just like it was done in markets.
He said that Egwu Imo Awka is where some people worshipped their gods just like people worshipped in churches.
“We are unhappy because government did not consult the community before issuing the order. They better reverse itz” he noted.
On his part, however, a retired public servant and Head Igu-aro in Awka, Chief Patrick Nweke said he was in support of the government decision due to the pandemic.
He said the decision to suspend the event was for the safety and security of both the indigenes and visitors to the town.
He called on the citizens to be patient till the challenge of the global pandemic was resolved.
Nweke however suggested that government would have consulted custodians of culture before the suspension.
He said, “For people like us who have been following government directives, I’ll say the government did well by suspending, not banning this year’s Imo Awka for reasons known to the whole world, and not only Awka alone, which is the present pandemic.
“If the government have regards for the people of Awka, they would have sent some people to visit the executive of the town who are responsible for such ceremonies for them to put heads together and know how to address the festival.
“It’s true that masquerades always disrupt vehicular movement during the period which is not in the best interest of the community.
“Personally, I would have suggested that his Excellency sent at least two or three-man delegation to visit the omenala Awka members to interact with them.
“I’m in support of the suspension, because since the COVID-19 knows no boundary, wether big or small, it’s not proper to insist on celebrating it.
“As one of the omenala Awka, who is directly involved, we know what to do by appealling to the Imo Awka to exercise patience because what is happening in Awka, I’m sure will also be happening in other towns.
“So I’m appealling to everyone, both home and abroad to have patience till further notice.”
Meanwhile, Anambra State Police Command has said it stood by the Anambra State government’s directive on the suspension of the festival.
The police spokesperson, SP Haruna Mohammed maintained that the command was still working with the directive.