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Saturday, 30 November 2019

Ahiajoku Lecture: The Intellectual Feast of the Igbos



By

Prof. Anthony Oha

In 1979, Ahiajoku Lecture series began with fantastic candour. It was designed to capture the intellectual space of Ndiigbo in all spheres of scholarship and research about the Igbo way of life. Prof. MJC Echeruo began this feast with the lecture entitled, "Ahamefula: A Matter of Identity".

His paper projected Ahiajoku Lecture series to be an unusual intellectual feast aimed at projecting and exploring the identity of the Igbos vis-a-vis Igbo culture, Igbo history, Igbo identity, Igbo milieus, Igbo sociology, Igbo anthropology, Igbo political life, Igbo in Nigeria, Igbos in Africa and world space, Igbo in diaspora, Igbo invention in science and arts, Igbo belief system, Igbos and their neighbours, Igbo intellectualism, Igbo economic blueprints, Igbo medicine and herbalism, Igbo perception of truth, ideals and ordeals, Igbo philosophy of life, Igbo computation, Igbo ideas of business and marketing, etc.

Many intellectual giants from the Igbo stock have delivered successful Ahiajoku Lectures. Notable names like Prof. Onwuejeogwu, Prof. Animalu, Prof. Uchendu,  Prof. Emenanjo, Prof. Onwu, etc. had featured. Such wonderful lecture topics like "Ugwumba: The Greatness of a People", "Ucheakolam: A Way of Life in Modern Scientific Age", "Chukwukadibia: God is Greater than Medicine", "Uzo ndu na Eziokwu: Towards an Understanding of Igbo Traditional Life and Philosophy", among other sensitive topics, really gladdened the Igbo minds.

This yearly intellectual feast rose in leaps and bounds as it became the intellectual mirror for x-raying the wholeness of the Igbo world. Many intellectuals from the other Igbo speaking parts of Nigeria became interested as we have Edo/Delta Igbos, Rivers Igbo, Benue Igbo, Kogi Igbo, among others keying in. Now, Ahiajoku Lecture spreads like wildfire.

Every professor of Igbo extraction sees the Ahiajoku Lecture as his greatest achievement after the university inaugurals. It becomes a challenging ground for intellectual uprising and upheavals. Imo State thus, created a platform of discoursal in the emerging digital explorations of the Igbo nation. The year Prof. Chinua Achebe was to deliver his much expected Ahiajoku lecture, he had auto accident and the Igbo world screamed in tears!

Ahiajoku lecture series had been truncated through the misguided information and unnecessary religious attacks on the onomastic origin of the term 'Ahiajoku'. One of the military administrators in Imo State, Colonel Tanko Zubairu, a northern Christian with overambitious attitude, wasn't comfortable with the name of the lecture as he was told by some fanatic Imo Christians working with him to stop the intellectual feast and he ensured it never held sway. He even uprooted and destroyed the popular Ahiajoku Lecture symbol that was artistically crafted and situated at the popular Wetheral Road Round about by Douglas House in Owerri. That symbolic artistic edifice, designed by one of the finest fine artists in Igboland, was a tourist attraction as it provoked curiosities about the Igbo belief system!

The lecture series continued with time but nosedived with its non-recognition by Governor Rochas Okorocha's administration in Imo State for 8 years. He called the lecture series "an unchristian intellectual programme which encouraged the worship and recognition of an idol called 'Ahiajoku'." He said he wasn't going to be a part of that fetishism. However, the gap he created was filled with 'Odenigbo Lecture' series being pioneered by the intellectual Archbishop of Owerri Archdiocese, Archbishop Anthony JV Obinna. Even Chinua Achebe had come to deliver the Odenigbo Lecture on wheelchair in Owerri!

Many Igbo Christian religious fanatics misconstrue the term 'Ahiajoku' as fetishist and satanic. Ahiajoku is the name given to the Igbo god of yam. It was Chinua Achebe who opined in his novel, Things Fall Apart, that yam is the Igbo king of food. The initiators of the lecture series saw the term as encapsulating the idea of a feast. Igbos consume what they love and they're known as people with no miserly attitude to feasting. Igbo culture is rich and strong and elevates the Igbo spirit of being and resonates the igboness of the Igbo people.

However, what fascinates Imolites about this year's Ahiajoku Lecture is that it would be delivered by Prof. MJC Echeruo, the intellectual matador who delivered the maiden edition in 1979. He will do a review of this Igbo intellectual heritage and cultural harvest after 40 years. He is the only Igbo scholar who would lecture twice at the Ahiajoku. He is an intellectual force; an extraordinary Igbo scholar who has the needed prowess and sagacity to re-initiate us into that dignifying experience of intellectualism, culturalism and powerful interactionism.

The choice of Prof. MJC Echeruo as the lecturer for this year is deliberate. He has come to restore the years that illiterate administrative cankerworms had taken on Ahiajoku lecture and clear the inherent hiatus by reinvigorating the intellectual vigour needed to start a new Ahiajoku Feast! He has always been the grandmaster of formalized academic restructuring. His role is sacrosanct in the face of the needed intellectual leap of Ahiajoku.

Today, Ahiajoku lectures, despite its downturns and trials, have grown to become an institute as designed by Governor Emeka Ihedioha. This means that it has gone beyond a yearly intellectual feast to a research center that explores the greatness of the Igbo nation through multifaceted intellectual discourses!

Dr. Amanze Obi, the Director General of the Ahiajoku Institute, is a square peg on a square hole. As a respected journalist and academic, we hope he brings his experiences to bear in making the institute "a center for continuous intellectual synergy aimed at integrating the Igbos into deeper academic explorations towards elevating the Igbo race on earth."

The need for regular colloquiums, seminars, conferences that should precede the main lecture feast should begin. The publication of Ahiajoku journals, Books of Reading, Special Biographical Series and Omnibus Books on the Igbos must begin now! The institute must be affiliated to pan-Igbo organizations with intellectual bias, universities in Igbo speaking areas and beyond, and the institutes of African studies globally! Let's tell the world who we are, what we are, where we are and how we are!

Always come to Ahiajoku intellectual feast  with your goatskin bag of wisdom and share the contents with those whom our ancestors have bestowed the duty to project our race with pride. We can't stop again!

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