With Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu, Director Communications/ Media Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri
Every first week of September in every year since 1996, all Christ faithful in the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, in joyful reunion with their sons, daughters, friends and well wishers from within and outside the metropolitan gather at the Maria Assumpta Cathedral Owerri to celebrate the yearly Owerri Archdiocesan day.
The two days’ celebration kicks off on the first Friday of September with cultural entertainment. It is rounded off on the first Saturday with a thanksgiving mass, fund raising and Odenigbo lecture. This year’s festival is unique in several ways, (1) It forms an integral part of the on going Catechesis in our ecclesiastical province. (2) The lecture is going to be delivered by one of us, Rev. Fr. Prof. John Iheanyi Obilor (3) The topic is symbolic and instructive, Obe Jesu Kristi: Ofo Ndu, Ogu Ndu.
The Owerri Archdiocesan day is an annual celebration which primarily recalls the 1994 elevation of the Catholic Diocese of Owerri to an Archdiocese and ultimately to the status of metropolitan See within the “Owerri Ecclesiastical province. To this end, the Most Rev, Anthony Obinna, Archbishop of Owerri strongly felt that the day of the inauguration of the Archdiocese, September 3, 1994 should be recalled yearly with thankful festivities.
Odenigbo lecture, written and delivered in Igbo language was made an essential part of the Owerri Archdiocesan Day celebration by the same Archbishop. A lecture that carries a vibrant intellectual spirit, autenticates our Igboness and stimulates a novel appreciation of the Igbo language and of healthy Igbo values.
In the main, Odenigbo is an event anchored in the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ which glorifies God for all His Goodness. It is an event that ennobles humanity particularly the Igbo man, the Igbo culture and the Igbo world. By implication it ennobles the Christian world at large. This may be the reason why not only the Igbo Catholics and other Christians, but Nigerians at Large, as well as people of other races, tribes and tongues look forward to this yearly celebration.
Given the already established Christian atmosphere in Igboland, it is expected that this 19th edition of the lecture in the series centered on the Cross of Christ is going to be outstanding. It is expected to bring the good news of salvation into greater intimacy with all aspects of Igbo life and culture.
In line with the principle aim of the early Christian missionaries, Odenigbo lecture series endeavours to spread the massage of charity for one another, the message of forgiveness and the message of making sacrifices for the good of our neigbours. Odenigbo carries the message of truth, the message of dropping all forms of discrimination, Osu, Diala, Ume and the likes. Odenigbo tries to reintroduce the Christian world view which points to the primacy of love and the hope for eternal life. It embodies the passion to win souls for Christ bearing His Cross.
History has it that before the introduction of the Odenigbo lecture series in 1996, the Igbo Language and culture suffered from a carefree neglect by the white missionaries who brought us Christianity and who out of ignorance branded everything in our culture as fetish and pagan. This position of the missionaries and our colonial masters was worsened by the attitude of most Igbo elites who furthered this uncanny approach by becoming ashamed to identify with Igbo language and culture, As a result, the Igbo language was rapidly heading for extinction before this patriotic Nwa afo Igbo, a pathfinder and a trailblazer, Archbishop Anthony J.V. Obinna took up the challenge when he introduced the Odenigbo lecture series. From this moment the situation changed for the better.
Today more people now take pride in speaking the language, enjoying Igbo diets, music programmes, folklores etc. Some indigenous authors can now write their books, addresses, pamphlets and journals in Igbo language. Some current newspapers today include Igbo columns. Even some telephone networks presently do their adverts in Igbo language. The line of successes in this regard continues.
However, there are still a lot that need to be done to move the Igbo language and culture to the enviable height already occupied by its two leading counterparts; the Hausa and Yoruba languages. These include the fact that the number of those who understand and speak Igbo but cannot read or write it is still on the high side. The refusal of few elite class to encourage their children to take interest in Igbo language and culture and the failure on the part of many Nursery and Primary schools in Igboland to instill the love for Igbo language have continued unchecked.
At this point, we wish to joyfully thank the lawmakers in the Imo state house of assembly who have embraced the efforts of His Grace Most Rev. AJ.V. Obinna by enacting a law making it mandatory for legislators to dress in Igbo attire and to conduct the legislative businesses of the Hallowed chambers in Igbo language on special days to be set aside. Worried about the negative influence of Western culture on Nigerian youths they are determined to revive Igbo language and culture and guarantee intergenerational transmission of Igbo language and culture.
Similarly, the state ministry of education in addition to making the language compulsory for students, can also fashion ways whereby pupils and students may identify more actively in promoting Igbo dresses rather than blindly copying the dress pattern of other cultures.
Finally we ask that the Odenigbo lectures should not be a one dose medication which instantaneously rejuvenates the endangered Igbo language and culture purported to die in 2025 by UNESCO. All hands must therefore be on deck in an effort to re-orientate the psyche of our people in the right direction. Ndi Igbo are called upon to take the fruits of Odenigbo to the next level. We pray that the ideals of the lecture series become actualized in the day to day lives of our people, all to the greater glory of God. Let us be sure of the fact that whoever loses his language and culture has lost his identity.