Happy 95th birthday to Dr. K.O.N. Orizu, the Igwe Nnewi
A man with an unbroken descendant from a man called Nnewi
To an utter amazement of the youth and to the envy of the other aged citizens, the 92 year old Igwe Kenneth Orizu filed out with his fellow christians at St Thomas Anglican Church, Otolo Nnewi, on the Palm Sunday procession from an assembly point on Oba-Okigwe expressway to the church compound.
His communion with his brethren was not the issue but how a 92 year old could walk unaided with a walking stick nor wearing any sight enhancing eyeglasses.
He had repeated the same feat sometime ago while on a pilgrimage to Israel. As an old man, Igwe climbed up to the zenith of the Mount Sinai the way Mbanagu people stroll up the Ụbụ hill to fetch water from the stream; a feat much younger pilgrims see as daunting.
An interaction with Igwe Kenneth Orizu would confound many. His age has not dampened his sharp wit or sagacity. He still keeps his normal routine of adjudication of cultural matters, mediation and moderation of issues only the Igwe can handle.
Igwe Nnewi’s continued state of wellbeing would later become an interesting research item for historians in years to come. This is because the monarch had weathered more storms, carried more responsibilities and rested less than most men; yet is still stronger than his age mates.
It is noteworthy that Igwe also married two wives and inherited two statutory concubines. This is in addition to his large and extended families which by extension, include all the families in Nnewi; but he is standing tall.
It is possible that Igwe Kenneth Orizu’s non-combative approach to issues, his infinite capacity to persevere and his perfected skills in waiting on his antagonists to repent or to die have made him live longer and healthier.
There is a saying that a town flourishes when the righteous is in power. This Igwe has seen Nnewi transform from a fractious community to an industrial and commercial nerve centre in Nigeria. Under his reign, citizens of Nnewi have excelled and flown as high as their wings could carry them even with mountainous challenges.
Igwe Kenneth Orizu has only followed the footsteps of his predecessors in his town-transforming leadership skills. He has steadied the ship of Nnewi town which had never been as united as it is now.
The man called Nnewi must have been either a good man or a lucky fellow because, it is not by sheer will or hardwork that a man’s posterity or his legacies do last for many centuries after he has died.
Not only did the fortunes of Mazi Nnewi grow, his successors were able to forge a co-habitational arrangements with their siblings, cousins and distant relations from far and near to found a town that keeps breaking new boundaries. Nnewi citizens have made themselves relevant in all areas of life.
The feats they have achieved could not have been possible if the town was not blessed with exceptional leaders.
Mazi Nnewi was surely luckier than Mmaku his grandfather and Ikenga his father. It was he who became a town whereas his siblings, other relations and their descendants from Oba, Ojoto and Oraeri became citizens of a town that bears Nnewi, his name.
When Mazi Nnewi died, Digbo his second son succeeded him as the head of the family or the Obi.
Just like in all Igbo settlements, the first son of a man inherits the headship of his father’s estate. This leadership right could be assumed by any of the sons who foots the bills of the funeral rites of the father.
Also, a father while alive, may demote his first son and appoint his second or a preferred son as the heir to his Obi but he must make this stance known before his male kinsmen for the declaration to stand.
Okpala, the first son of Nnewi, was displaced by Digbo, the second son. Digbo had two sons namely Otolo and Ezeikwuabọ. Upon death, Digbo was succeeded by Otolo.
It is worthy of note that Ezeikwuabọ descendants actually live with their brothers in Otolo just like other relations of Mazi Nnewi were subsumed into Nnewi that has become a town.
This explains some of those agitations and claims by some citizens of Nnewi who are not direct descendants of Mazi Nnewi and who have become members of a convenient geographic entity now known as Nnewi. Some had ignorantly argued that a man called Nnewi never lived. But he did.
When Otolo died, he was succeeded by Enem his first son who willingly bequeathed the obiship to Nnọfọ, his younger brother who was a great warrior. He was convinced that his brother was stronger and more naturally endowed to play the leadership roles. And he was right.
The reign of Nnọfọ ended in another twist as he by-passed Ñlụọnụ, his first son under some unprintable circumstances and handed over the reins of the leadership of Nnewi community to his second son named Udude who later took an ọzọ title of Ezeọnụlụ.
According to Igbo culture and as practised in the Vatican City the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, once a man takes an ọzọ title or becomes a Pope, he drops his given or baptismal name and is addressed by his ọzọ or papal name. That was how Udude’s name changed to Ezeọnụlụ.
When Ezeọnụlụ died, his first son, Ezeagha, who waged many expansionist wars against Nnewi neighbours, succeeded his father.
Ezeagha was a fearsome warrior and the first Ọnụọra of the fledgling town. An Ọnụọra was a war title in the rank of a field marshal.
It was only an ọnụọra who could wear a chasuble on which were sewn eight bells or ikpo nasatọ which disconcordant rings signified the arrival of the warrior in any gathering or meeting.
Ezeagha had many sons but in a rare patriotic act done for the advancement of his beloved community, he summoned the elders of Nnewi and appointed his younger brother’s son, named Ifeluonye as his successor.
His children and their mothers protested but he stood his ground. His wish was fulfilled upon his death even though Uduji who hailed from Eziabụbọ in Nnewichi, married to Ezenwa, who was the mother of the newly crowned prince had to quickly send her son on exile to save him from the predictable wrath of his cousins.
That was how Ifeluonye, the son of Ezenwa and not Ezeagha took the mantle of Nnewi leadership.
Ifeluonye, who later took an ọzọ name of Ezeọgụiñe, was to justify the confidence his uncle reposed in him. He became the greatest pre-colonial ruler of Nnewi. He waged the most extensive and expansionist wars with neighbouring towns. He was the second warrior or ruler in Nnewi to be crowned an ọnụọra or a field marshal.
It was Ezeoguine who moved the homestead of his ancestors to Obiuno, the current Igwe’s palace from the original residence of Nnewi in Ọkpụnọ Otolo. Mazi Nnewi and his successors lived in and around Okwu Ọyọ located exactly within that swathe of land covering Izuchukwu Park up to Convaj Events Centre down to Ikedife Specialist Hospital on Igwe Orizu Road, Otolo Nnewi. That area is called Ọkpụnọ.
In Igbo land, an ọkpụnọ describes the earliest settlement of a people or a community.
When the great Ezeọgụiñe died at a very old age, he was succeeded by Ezechukwu, his eldest surviving son who was living in Ọkpụnọ. Ezechukwu elected to move in to Obiuno where his father lived.
Upon death, he was succeeded by Ezeukwu who in turn was succeeded by Okafọ. And when Okafọ died, he was succeeded by Iwuchukwu who upon his death was succeeded by his first son, Ezeụgbọanyịmba also known as Orizu I.
It was during the reign of Ezeụgbọanyịmba that the British colonial expeditionary forces led by one Major Moorehouse made Nnewi town to surrender without a shot of a bullet.
The coming of the whiteman heralded a chequered era in Nnewi history. All the inter and intra communal wars were outlawed by the colonial government and Nnewi couldn’t expand beyond its current borders.
Ezeụgbọanyịmba and elders of Nnewi had engaged the British in a battle of wits. They did a self audit and realised that they didn’t have the fire power or capacity to fight the whiteman. They saw the need to learn the source of the powers of the whiteman who cowed all the Nnewi deities when the deities were set up to spiritually make the invading foreigners leave the town.
The Nnewi deities did nothing when their revered evil forests were given to the whiteman to build his residence or places of worship. Instead of dying off, the whiteman kept getting stronger and enticing the natives to follow his ways.
With his eyes on the future, Ezeụgbọanyịmba ensured that his first son, Josiah or Orizu II, went to school thereby becoming the first Obi of Nnewi to convert to Christianity.
Josiah who succeeded his father married an Umuuchu woman named Udeaku from Ikebudu family in Ibuhubu village. Their first son Kenneth, the current Igwe, also known as Orizu III, was enthroned as the Obi of Otolo and of Nnewi on the 6th of February, 1963 and was coronated on the 2nd of June, the same year.
With a divinely inspired wisdom, Igwe Kenneth Orizu stunned his Ezeoguine family when he decided to drop the title of Obi Nnewi to assuage a divisive wind blowing in the town.
He was ready to sacrifice anything to ensure that the lighted candle handed over to him by his predecessors didn’t quench in his hand. He did it for peace’s sake. He must have reasoned that the descendants from Mazi Nnewi know who their obi is.
At 95 years of age, Igwe Kenneth Orizu has become the longest serving monarch in Nigeria and Africa having clocked 57 years on the throne. He is also one of the oldest monarch in the whole wide world.
When next you want to know how the man called Nnewi looked like, you do not need to look too far. Just look at or interract with Igwe Kenneth Orizu. He descended from Nnewi, the man whose name our town bears. Igwe is the embodiment of who Nnewi was and is.
On this your birthday, may all that makes Nnewi thick, including our ancestors converge to energize you. We still need you around.
Longer shall our Igwe live!
Anayo Nwosu is a Corporate & Investment Banker in Lagos.