BY CHARLES KUMOLU
FROM the sound of various traditional Igbo tunes, one might conclude that it was sure going to be a cultural festival. The various traditional Igbo attires adorned by the dignitaries, who arrived with their supporters, nearly gave credence to the belief. But while people, were still savouring the prospects of an Igbo carnival in Lagos, the perception changed with the sound of blaring sirens, which signaled the arrival of Abia State governor, Theordore Orji.
From that moment, Governors Sullvian Chime of Enugu State, Martins Elechi of Ebonyi State, Peter Obi of Anambra State, Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State, arrived within short intervals. And that raised the curtian for the celebration of Igbo Unity, Culture and Transformation, held at Tafewa Balewa Square, Lagos.
The event, which was convened by two pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisations Ohaneze Ndigbo and Aka- Ikenga, was chaired by Ambassador Arthur Mbanefo.
The forum, which was described as a ‘carnival” by the special guest of honour President Goodluck Jonnathan, whose arrival was the highpoint of the occasion, attracted eminent Nigerians across party lines. But Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftains were more visible, a reason some analysts are still asking if it was a solidarity rally for Jonathan by Southeast geo-political zone.
Dignitaries like, former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, First Lady Patience Jonathan, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, PDP Chairman Dr. Halliru Bello, Deputy Senate President Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Senator Mike Ajebo, Dr. Sylvan Ebigwei and Chief Cletus Ilomuanya among others were present.
On hand to add colour to the event was popular female musician Onyeka Owenu, who held the crowd spellbound with her hit song One love keep us together.
While welcoming guests to the event, which attracted crowd from all Igbo speaking states in Nigeria, President of Aka-Ikenga, Dr Ebigwei urged Nigerians to compliment the efforts of President Jonathan in conducting credible elections to ensure that the right people were voted into office.
He commended the president for “setting the stage for free and fair elections,”adding that as the elections draw nearer, people should ensure that they partake in the exercise.
“We are happy to belong to a tribe that has contributed immensely to the economic growth of this country. We also use this occasion of celebration of Igbo unity to stress that we would not relent in our contribution to national growth. The President has displayed determination for meaningful development by setting the stage for free and fair elections, it is important that we ensure that the 2011 elections are free and fair,” he stated.
Others speakers were unanimous in commending Mr. President for what they described as a level playing ground for politicians.
Nonetheless, while Jonathan’s arrival was the highpoint of the event, his speech also unveiled the level of support he commands among the guests. The crowd cheered the President as he was being accompanied to the podium by his wife and other well wishers.
Dancing and singing One love keep us together, with Onyeka Owenu, Jonathan mounted the state box where he was surrounded by all the state governors present.
Mrs Jonathan set the pace with her commendation of the Igbos for supporting the president in every way, just as she urged them to support the president’s bid for the presidency.
The first lady, who spoke in Igbo language said, “I am so happy with the level of support you give to your in-law, we are so overwhelmed. I want to assure you that your contribution to the success of your in-law will not be forgotten. I am appealing to you for more support, thank you,” she stated amid cheers from the crowd.
Also, President Jonathan, whose remarks were usually, interrupted by solidarity chants from the crowd, urged Nigerians to take cue from the event and work for a nation where there are no ethnic boundaries.
He observed that ethnic borders should not constitute a barrier to people’s aspiration in Nigeria, adding that the unity of the country should take preeminence over tribal sentiments.
Jonathan called on Nigerians to dismantle ethnic sentiments, saying that it constituted hindrances to national development.
He also commended the Igbos for contributing to the economic growth of Nigeria, noting that the Federal Government would accommodate Aba and Nnewi in its industrial development plan.
Jonathan, who stressed the need for Nigerians to rise above ethnic affiliations, said: “My coming to this occasion is by divine arrangement because I’m just through with my South-East campaign and today I am also here to grace this event organised by Igbos. The uniqueness of this event would have necessitated for its name to be called Nigeria without ethnic borders.
Remembering our roots is good but as much as we remember our roots, we have to embrace national unity. Even in the United States people still remember where they come from, but that does not constitute a hindrance to national development. That was why Obama was able to emerge as president. The Igbos have demonstrated this unity today in Lagos.
“Igbos in Aba, Yenegoa, Lagos and everywhere are the heart of commerce and the life wire of Nigerian economy, the more Igbos we have in a community also translates to the level of economic growth of that community. I recognize your contribution and will assure you that your contribution will support my plans for the industrial development of Lagos. You contributed to the success story of Kano, Kaduna and everywhere in Nigeria.”
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When Jonathan dismantled ethnic boundaries in Lagos