From Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka
It was a mini-carnival of sorts recently as the people of Nanka in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State celebrated the last Ofala for their late traditional ruler, Igwe Gilbert Nwabueze Ofomata.
The community which is rich in culture showcased their various cultural dance groups and masquerades, as who-is-who in the community were present like it used to be during their annual mass return to grace the ceremony which was meant to bid the late monarch final goodbye and separate him from the living.
Igwe Gilbert Ofomata whose title was Obu Nanka of Nanka ruled the community for 24 years before joining his ancestors on February 9, last year at the age of 86. He was selected and crowned in 1991 after recognition by the then military administrator of Anambra State, Navy Captain Joseph Abulu.
The late Ofomata who succeeded Igwe Joseph Nwankwor Ezenekwe who joined his ancestors in 1982 was among the first traditional rulers to be recognized after Enugu State was carved out of old Anambra State.
At the last Ofala ceremony which took place at the Nanka Civic Center at Agbiligba Nanka and which marked the end of the one-year mourning of the monarch, friends, well-wishers, inlaws and leaders of neighbouring communities also came to celebrate and pay homage to the traditional ruler.
Village by village, the seven villages that make up Nanka led by their chairmen, starting from Agbiligba, Enugwu Nanka, Etti, Ifite, Ubaha, Umudala and Amakor, came with gifts to pay homage to the late monarch and were received at the table by the Igwe-in-Council and the President General of Nanka Patriotic Union (NPU), Chief Bernard Onyekwelu.
The ceremony which had the state Commissioner for Health, Dr Josephat Akabuike; Air Commodore Henry Ifezue and Chairman of NEROS Pharmaceuticals Limited, Dr Poly Emenike, all natives present, came to a colourful climax when the various masquerades and other cultural dance groups were given the stage to perform, which brought out the cultural heritage of the people.
In various tributes to the late monarch, the people described him as a good man that worked for the development of the community.
The Cabinet/Palace Secretary, Chief (Sir) G. N. Nwafor said: “Igwe Gilbert Ofomata, Obu Nanka, commands respect of his people and beyond. His social life remained unbeatable. Even when he became unable, he was still very eager to attend functions and perform the traditional dance to the admiration of his people. Igwe Nwabueze Ofomata is a symbol of humility. His palace was very much accessible to both the rich and the poor.”
Secretary of Igwe-in-Council, Chief E.O. Uba in his own tribute described the reign of Igwe Ofomata as peaceful, saying that “all the villages in Nanka accepted and recognized him as the traditional ruler of this community. He listened to reasonable opinions and advice. Igwe Ofomata preached peace in our community and was an apostle of peaceful co-existence. His popular slogan during festivities in Nnaka where he was invited was always prayer to God to bring peace and development.
“He was an astute administrator reputed for his overt avuncular disposition towards his fellow men. It was in consideration of the love he had for the people and the community that made the entire seven villages to gather in large numbers to give him the desired last respect.
“The Igwe-in-Council cannot sufficiently use words to describe this honourable patriot and we sincerely hope that God in His infinite mercies will accept him as a worthy servant.”
For the traditional council of chiefs, the late Igwe was an inspirational leader whose fatherly advice and personal sacrifices made Nanka unique.
“We have missed an icon in our midst; his fatherly advice would be difficult to replace, but we are comforted by the belief that he is resting in the bosom of our Lord,” they said.
The female-folk were not left out in the tributes as the Nnaka Patriotic Union, Women wing, while mourning the Igwe said: “Sir G.N. Ofomata, an Iroko of the town, a custodian of our culture, our traditional father has gone, things have fallen apart and the centre cannot hold.”
It is the general belief that with the last Ofala performed, the coast is now clear for the process of selection of a new monarch to commence.