…begins cultural revival mission through film project

SHE is many things rolled into one: broadcaster, singer, journalist, actress and politician. From the out set, Onyeka Onwenu ranks among the very best, yet prodigious artistes that Nigeria ever produced in the 21st century.

As if all these attributes were not enough for a woman of her calibre, Onyeka is again gunning for another fame. This time, she is packaging an epic movie, Omenuko-Ojemba to signal a cultural rebirth in Igbo land.

The film project is supervised by the Anya- Igbo Foundation, a non-profit organization set up in response to the need to promote, preserve and project the Igbo culture, language and heritage.

The movie, an adaptation of Pita Nwana’s foremost Igbo novel, Omenuko, portrays resourcefulness, resilience, courage and determination in the face of despair.

Penultimate Thursday in the capital city of Owerri, Imo State, this laudable project was unveiled with great enthusiasm. At the Government House venue of the unveiling ceremony, Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State, who presided over the ceremony solicited the support of all stakeholders; albeit private individuals and corporate organizations to ensure that the Omenuko-Ojemba film project is made a dream come through.

Following the need to actualize the dream of the film project, Ohakim’s wife, Mrs Chioma Ohakim was later conferred the Grand Patron and Grand Patroness of Anya-Igbo Foundations, which was recently set up by the ace-musician, Onyeka herself.

But, while performing the unveiling , the Governor saluted the courage of the Anya-Igbo Productions, the initiators and promoters of the film project for its interventionist initiative aimed at ensuring a renaissance of the cultural heritage of the Igbo nation.

Ohakim lamented the rate at which indigenous African languages and cultures are drifting into oblivion, reiterating that ‘’the Igboness in the Igbo man will never be killed. He also emphasized that when salt losses its saltiness, it is like white sand. He attributed the bane of this scenario to the trend in the interference of the western culture which has subverted the rich repertoire of the African cultural heritage while same has also been worsened by globalization and the internet.

According to Ohakim, Omenuko-Ojemba is the first comprehensive film on Igbo language and culture. “It is an opportunity to project our culture.” he said, adding that ‘the Igbo man should not wallow in self pity. It is wrong to assume that somebody is holding us down. Nobody is holding the Igboman down; we are the one holding ourselves.”

For the Governor, the film has the potential of redirecting the Igbo nation back to its culture, which according to him, has been abandoned following the coming of the whiteman. “It will make us to realize that after rain comes sunshine. It is important to point out that the country stands on a tripod and Igbo is one of the props. Any bonafide Igbo man should know Omenuko and what it stands for.”

‘If this project succeeds it will pave the way for the revival of other aspects of our culture and language. It will interest you to know that up to 90% of Igbo born after independence cannot speak the Igbo language very well while in Yoruba and Hausa lands, 90% of their population speak their indigenous languages. The problem of the Igboman is the get-rich mentality and the propensity to accumulate wealth.”

“Today the Igboman prefers ceremonies like burials, coronations and other forms of costly celebrations to issues like the Omenuko project. That is why our culture is dying. There is something which is called the Igboman philosophy which earns him respect. Where others see challenges and obstacles, the Igbo see possibilities. It is what is called the Igboness in every Igboman.Unfortunately that Igboness is being eroded. If salt loses its taste it will become ordinary white sand.”

Ohakim therefore challenged other Igbo leaders and youths to identify with any project that would help to project the people’s cultural values. The film is the interventionist initiative being piloted by the prestigious music icon, Onyeka Onwenu.

According to Onyeka, fondly called ‘Elegant Stallion by her admirers, the idea to do a monumental film in Igbo came to her in form of a vision, which she shared with the likes of Dickson Iregbu, an award-winning film director and Mazi Uche Ohia, a great historian, writer and research consultant, and a few other people. The film is expected to be subtitled in as many languages of the world as possible.

Onyeka said, among the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria today, the Igbo are the worst hit by the scourge of language, cultural and traditional heritage preservation on the African continent.

Noting that the Igbo language and culture has been under siege since the end of the Nigerian/Biafran War in 1970, Onyeka hinted that Omenuko-Ojemba, an epic film project is an adaptation from Mazi Pita Nwana’s Igbo novel, Omenuko.

Omenuko-Ojemba, she further stressed, is story of hope, a celebration of man’s ability to rise, like a phoenix, out of the ashes of self destruction, to glory. Omenuko is the classical story of the quintessential Igbo man. Igwegbe Odum(Omenuko) was a merchant who lived between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He left home and escaped to a foreign land to escape social and economic adversity. In his new abode, he suffered various challenges, survived them. It is the timeless epic of a resourceful and courageous man, who bounces back after a great misfortune.

Overcoming initial hardships, he conquers the environment he finds himself in. In the course of his sojourn, he succeeds not only in carving a niche for himself and his family but rises to the apogee of the leadership stratum in his adopted community.

Omenuko struggles to maintain his status and to sustain his leadership in his new abode, against various conspiracies and machinations. In the meantime, the fire of patriotism, a yearning for the very land where he was born, burns in his heart.

When Omenuko’s efforts failed and he finds himself and his family in imminent danger, they moved, in one accord, back to their homeland where they were received with joy amidst pomp and celebration.

The story of Omenuko is a timeless epic. It is also in a sense, the story of the Igbo man- a resourceful and courageous man who takes great risks, sojourns to and settles in strange lands, suffers great deprivations and mishaps but who bounces back after great misfortune.

According to songster, “the Omenuko-Ojemba film will showcase the rich traditional heritage of Igboland in general and Imo State in particular- our cultural diversity, our arts, our crafts, our architecture, our dances, our games, our custom and the unique traditional modus vivendi that makes Ndigbo unique in every way. It will also provide snatches from the cultures of neighbouring ethnic groups with whom we have long and cordial history of social, economic and cultural exchanges.”

Continuing she added, “by highlighting the rich and fascinating cultural legacies of various communities in Igboland, this film will unfurl Igbo arts and culture to the world in a way that it has never been unfolded before. Through the powerful multi-media presence, Omenuko-Ojemba will positively expose the tourism potentials of Imo State and Igboland.
Omenuko-Ojemba will put on the promontory, the eye-popping locations and scenic delights that abound in Imo State which make the state a potential tourism haven. This film will provide great opportunities for budding in Imo to explore their innate faculties. It will also provide employment for skilled and unskilled personnel that are required in the film making process.”

“We are standing on the threshold of a cultural renaissance. Other ethnic groups are already promoting their culture and traditions through cinematography. In doing so, they have taken their language and culture out of the path of possible extinction. Sadly, Igbo language is listed among the languages that may become extinct in the next 50 years or less.”

Onyeka noted that, when the film finally premiered, it would serve as a clarion call for all stake-holders to save the Igbo language. “It will also support an eternal truth- that sooner or later the sojourner must return to his or her homeland.

This, hopefully will drive home the need for our people in Diaspora to think home, invest at home, and help to rebuild our homeland to where they must necessarily return in time to come. We call on governments and persons (individual and corporate) who do wish Igbo language and culture to remain alive to support this film project. This generation cannot allow our language and our culture to die and they will surely die unless we do something about it. This is the time to stand up and be counted.”

The essence of putting this magnificent story on film, according to Onyeka, Dickson Iroegbu and Uche Ohia, the initiator and visioners is to tell it in a most colourful, and authentic manner that will showcase the Igbo culture positively to the world.