Arondizuogu is located in Imo State, spanning three local government areas of the state; Okigwe, Ideato North and Onuimo. It is home to people from the Eastern extraction of Nigeria, known as Aro people, which are spread across 20 villages or communities in Arondizuogu. It has a rich and enduring history, with its people known over the years for their laudable achievements in various spheres of life. Historically, Arondizuogu is believed to hold their existence to two founding fathers; Mazi Izuogu Mgbokpo and Chief Iheme and they are both honoured and venerated by their descendants till date. It is also to the credit of their progenitors that the Aro people were feared and respected by neighboring communities as its people were noted for their commerce, trading and farming prowess. They were also noted for warfare and featured prominently during the slave trade era. Their ancestral home, Arochukwu in present day Abia State had an advanced administrative system in ancient time that ensured that the various clans, villages and communities was well administered, with everyone deferring to the traditional institution with religion playing a significant role in the affairs of the people. Some of their prominent traditional rulers include: HRH Oliver Mbadiwe Dike III, Eze Ozuomba, the 10thmonarch and crown head of Awa and HRH, and Eze Prof. Green Nwankwo, Eze Ohazurume I of Aro Amuro, renowned scholar.
With an expanse of land consisting of different villages and clans, one of it attractions is the geographical feature, which exudes a scenic beauty and makes it a must visit for many especially during the hosting of many of its communal festivals, with Ikeji Festival as the most suffusing cultural festivals to see in any part of Nigeria. Part of this feature is an undulating landscape with rich vegetation, such as lush green scenic beauty is to behold at certain period of the year. Arondizuogu has a temperate climate and exciting topography that give visitors a feeling of awe. Varying from 150 meters of cool climatic low grassland sub-tropical plain towards Akokwa, it goes to a multiple hilly terrain of between 500 and 600 meters above sea level towards Okigwe. Strategically sitting on the northern most part of Imo State along Awka/ Okigwe Highway, it is also accessible through the Okigwe/Owerri Highway.
From a traditional economy sustained over many years by farming, commerce and trading, its economy has developed to a modern economy driven by industries of different types especially small and medium scale enterprises in the areas of agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, hospitality, and many more.
Icons and legends
Just like many other communities in Nigeria, Arondizuogu, besides it found fathers, Izuogu and Iheme, boast of notable icons and legends who through dint of hard work have their foot prints in the sand of history. Some of these personalities include: Mazi Mbonu Ojike, a nationalist, writer, second Vice President of NCNC, Deputy Mayor of Lagos in 1951 and fondly called the ‘boycott king’; Ambassador Dr. Kingsley O. Mbadiwe, a nationalist, pan-Africanist, noted for his grandiloquent, political sagacity and flamboyancy; Chief M. O. Kanu, foremost hotelier and owner of Agura Hotels, Abuja; Onyeka Onwenu, renowned musician and fondly called ‘the elegant Stallion,; Chief LN Obioha; Chief Greg Mbadiwe; Emeka Okoli; and Chief Pericoma Mezuo Okoye, a highlife music maestro, singer, songwriter, cultural ambassador and traditionist.
Preserved in near pristine and rustic state, with some vestiges of pastoral features and attractive pull, a visit to the Eastern part of Nigeria without a detour to savour the richness of this admixture of rustic and modern community would be considered incomplete because of its many attractions and historicity. You get a bit of adrenalin and natural pull driving or hiking through the valleys and peaks of this vast landscape that is dotted with diverse tourist attractions, ranging from natural and man-made. Your discovery is that it is simply a tourist delight just as this writer discovered in a recent tourism survey for CGSK Tourism to interact with the people and map out its tourist market for product development and promotion. People who seek the mystique and diversity of an indigenous African community, the natural drama of both the scenery and the enterprise of Africans, particularly Nigerians of Eastern extraction or the desire to simply relax in a natural labyrinth and idyllic enclave are welcomed to Arondizuogu. Notable among it array of tourist attractions are: Mbonu Ojike’s Cottage, Uno Ogologo (A safe house built in 1887 for hiding children during the slave trade era); The Stone Palace, Ngeze legendary stream, Ogbuti Ezumezu, National High School, (Pioneer model school commissioned in 1951); Iheme Memorial Secondary School (second model school commissioned in 1951); The People’s Palace commissioned by late Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa in 1965); Upiti expansive rice fields; Obi Omenuko, Ngene Okwe natural spring, and Obi Ezerioha.
As an emerging tourist destination, different sections of the community feature a number of hospitality outfits and eateries of different categories, including hotels, guest houses and home stay facilities. Some of the notable hotels include: LN Motel Plaza, Home Diamond Hotel, Hometown Resort, Greens Manor, Zumex Resort, amongst others.
The Ikeji Festival
Cultural festivals offer unique opportunities for communities to explicitly showcase the vital components of their worldview. These are displayed through various cultural acts, amplified with unique and colourful costumes and culinary delights. Renowned for sumptuous feasting, fascinating masquerades, pulsating rhythms, dance, music and colourful performances, Ikeji Festival is one of the most significant cultural tourism events of the people celebrated annually. It is communal, celebrated to usher the planting of New Yam, which is held around the Easter period, however, it has over the years assumed more a communal religious gathering to a socio-cultural event that reiterates the story of the Arondizuogu people, strengthening their sense of identity, belongingness and rekindles their values whenever it is celebrated. The festival is said to have originated from Arochukwu in Abia State, which is regarded as the ancestral home of the Aro people scattered across the eastern states of Nigeria. It is celebrated annually to mark the end of the year in thanksgiving to God for keeping the people alive through the past years and to witness the New Yam. It commenced about 912 AD and now observed in their numerous communities, including The Diaspora. The festival is marked with colourful display of different masquerades such as Ogionu, Mgbadike, Nwaaburuja and Ozoebune; prestigiously parading across the market square to the admiration of the public. Ikeji has recently assumed a carnival dimension with many products and brands sponsoring activities around it. This great event is now more unified, better organised and managed.Ikeji traditionally depicts the four market days of Igbo calendar, namely; Eke, Orie, Afor and Nkwo. The grand finale is held on Nkwo day, which is the fourth day with the most spectacular masquerade extravaganza. Portraying a rare exposition of the biggest masquerade (known as Nnekwu Mmanwu) appearing in its regal and suffusing but most dreadful mien to entertain the people with enthralling dance steps to the sounds of ‘Nkwa Egwu.’ Dating over five centuries with strong heritage and international recognition, it is witnessed by thousands of people. In contemporary times, each passing year has seen increased grandeur, in the reenactment of this festival, eliciting an all-inclusive participation of all Arondizuogu people and friends from across the world according to Eze Ozuomba III. A tour of this natural enclave, Arondizuogu, would be amazing and would explain why people proudly refer to their community as a land of scenic beauty and home to people of timber and caliber!
*Chikezie Osuagwu, a tourism destination specialist, writes in from Pretoria, South Africa; Email: Chikeosuagwu66@ gmail.com