Catholic youths in Mbaise celebrate Dr. Ugorji Ugorji
By Chigozirim Ephraim Anokwuru
On Sunday, September 12, 2021, members of the Catholic Youth Organization of Nigeria at St. Michael’s Parish Uzunorji in Aboh Mbaise Local Government Area of Imo State, honoured Dr. Ugorji Okechukwu Ugorji, the Special Adviser to Governor Hope Uzodimma on Homeland Security and Intelligence was invited as both Chairman and Keynote Speaker at the youths’ Igbo Cultural Day in the parish.
When Dr. Ugorji was introduced to speak by Kenneth Nwankpa, and as he walked up to the podium, he was ambushed and surprised by the members of the Youth Organization (led by Chinedu John Oyinwa) and the Parish Priest, Rev, Father Emekwuru, as well as Reverend Father Patrick Opara, who serves as Assistant Parish Priest and Chaplain to the Youth Organization.
The youth and the clergy jointly presented Dr. Ugorji with an award about which they deliberately chose not to inform him ahead of his attendance.
A visibly surprised Ugorji was cited by the youth and clergy for his “intellectual and in-depth contributions as a custodian of Igbo culture and traditions” and was declared “Ambassador of Igbo Culture and Traditions.”
He is an author of ten books and publisher of over 100 books by African writers from Africa, the Americas, and Europe. By the age of 29 he had earned five university degrees (2 Bachelor’s degrees, 2 Master’s degrees, and one Doctorate degree).
Until his appointment by Governor Uzodimma, he was the long-term Executive Director of the US-based African Writers Endowment, and had served as a public administrator in the US for over 25 years.
Igbo, know thy self
In his remarks to the congregation, Dr. Ugorji lauded the youth for the audacity to celebrate and uphold Igbo culture within the confines of the Church. “As Catholics, it is gratifying not to have to choose between our culture and our new faith. The Catholic Church, perhaps more than any other denomination, has respected our culture while propagating the message of Christ,” he said.
A scholar from the Afrocentric school of thought, Dr. Ugorji couched his message to the youth in two questions: What’s in your hands? And who do you know you are?
Using the Biblical stories of Moses and David, Dr. Ugorji illustrated that an anointed hand will be triumphant any day, no matter how little the resources in her or his hands. For Moses it was a staff or walking stick, and for David it was a catapult and a stone, he reminded.
“If you identify what’s in your hands, keep your hands clean, and prepare yourself adequately for the opportunities that will come your way, God will anoint your hands and your contributions to humanity will surprise you,” he said.
Dr. Ugorji reserved his most provocative remarks when he instructed the youth to know who they are as Igbo people. “I submit that knowing who you really are and the heritage from which you come, is fundamental to shaping your consciousness and your lives moving forward,” he preached.
As Igbo youth, Ugorji said they are “a creation people. Your ancestors were among the first set of humans Chukwu created. From us many others originated. When the Bible says that God created man in his image, the holly book must be interpreted to mean the image you see in the mirror.” He asked them to look to no other images for what God looks like.
Dr. Ugorji also told the youth that they come from a heritage of freedom. “You not only cherish and protect your freedom, you propagate, advocate and advance freedom in all of its ramifications in every environment you find yourself, including the freedom to worship and pray as one chooses” he said.
He shared the information that from the cotton fields of America to the sugar plantations in the Caribbean during slavery and slave trade, wherever there were slave revolts, chances were great that descendants of Igbo slaves were organizers and leaders of the revolts.
He cited the case of the liberation of Haiti, Igbo Landing in the State of Georgia in the United States, the Aba Market Women’s Revolt, and Nnamdi Azikiwe’s pioneering role in Africa’s independence movements, to drive home his point about the Igbo being what he referred to as “Freedom People.”
However, the keynote speaker cautioned the youth not to be seduced to violence by anti-Igbo men who themselves do not understand their heritage. The Igbo commitment to freedom, Dr. Ugorji opined, has been mostly through non-violence.
“The Igbo do not spill human blood carelessly or recklessly, and definitely not our own blood. Rarely have we resorted to violence, and when we have used violence as a group (not as individuals) it has been in self-defense.”
Finally Dr. Ugorji told the Igbo youth that who they are is an African people. “Your Yoruba brethren, your Ijaw brothers, your Ibibio brethren, your Igala brothers, and your Fulani brethren, are all African peoples.
“I beg of you to reject group hate. Hate none of your African brethren on the basis of group identity (ethnicity and religion in particular).
“We as Igbo, have been victims of group hate and stereotypes. Let’s not do to others what we don’t want done to us.”
In closing, Dr. Ugorji told the Igbo youth that if they get to know who they are and become comfortable in their skins, “You will find that you don’t need foreign names; you will realize that you don’t need foreign titles of any kind to make you feel good about yourself (including Prince); you will understand that there is no group of people in the world more chosen by God than you are; you will come to know that there is no other land in the world holier than the land where your ancestors are buried; and for the young men in the audience, if you understand the divinity in you and in women, you will know that under no circumstance should you raise your hand to slap, hit, beat, or injure your woman – your Igbo woman, your African woman, your Black woman, and women in general.
“For when we say that from us many others originated, what we really mean is that from the wombs of our women many others originated.”
In response to Dr. Ugorji’s remarks regarding the sacredness of the consecrated Igbo kola nut as the first Holy Communion known to humanity, the youth decided not to use kola nuts on that day for fundraising. “Just as we don’t use the Eucharist for fundraising, we should not use the kola nut for fundraising in Church,” Ugorji had admonished.
“The youth led the Church congregation in a voice resolution to never again auction or use the kola nut for fundraising in Church, out of respect for one of the things the Igbo hold sacred. Instead, kola nut was shared freely to all in the congregation.
At the Igbo Culture Day of the Church, young men and women were decked out in various outfits of the Igbo hue.
There was also Iwaji (the cutting and sharing of roasted new yam, led by the chairman of the occasion), the presentation and launching of an almanac (also led by the chairman of the occasion), presentation of awards, traditional dances, cooking contests, and the symbolic, ceremonial and unofficial “conferment” of chieftaincy titles to four young men within the Church, by HRH Eze Stephen Nwabueze Ugorji, the Orji Ukwu 1 of Lorji Nwekeukwu Autonomous Community.
Dr. Ugorji is the Opara (first son) of the traditional ruler.
Dr. Ugorji was accompanied to the ceremony by officers from the Office of Homeland Security and Intelligence, including Mr. Kenneth Chidi Nwogu (Executive Assistant, Administration); Barrister Roland Chukwudi Uwakwe (Executive Assistant, Research and Analysis); Mr. Ikechukwu Okorie (Transportation Officer); Mr. Alex Elugworonu, and yours truly, Ephraim Chigozirim Anokwuru.
The writer, Mr. Chigozirim Ephraim Anokwuru, is Media Aide in the Imo State Office of Homeland Security and Intelligence. He writes from Owerri.