Barely six decades ago was the man laden with passion for Igbo culture and exceptional literary skills. Nature placed him in Nigeria, but the operators of the clime recognized him not. They were myopic to identify the diamonds buried in him. The young man was endowed and needed to step out in order to blossom.
Exactly in 1958, in far away United Kingdom, the man delivered, courtesy of Heinemann Publishing Company. His baby has since marveled the world. His brainchild became one of the best the world has ever had, translated into over 50 languages and one of the best sellers.
It was then, Nigeria realized she had born and nurtured one of the world’s greatest. This is the story of late literary icon, Prof. Chinua Achebe and his first novel, Things Fall Apart. He was said to have presented the script of the book to some publishers in Nigeria, who saw nothing spectacular about the literary work. But having been sent for a training in British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC Staff School by the Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation, NBC, Achebe’s instructor in BBC realized Nigeria had exported a literary genius to the United Kingdom. He encouraged and assisted Achebe to publish Things Fall Apart. It took no time the book was published that the Nigeria born author became a celebrity.
Achebe came but his own people did not accord him due recognition, little did they know he would later be the pride of the country. He was determined to sell the people’s products, the Igbo nay African cultures, their values, but his people saw no prospect in the business. The man in “UK saw that Achebe was bearing one of the world’s most valued commodity and decided to project it. It took foreign and international fame for the indigenous recognition to come.
There is a man whose situation could be likened to that of Achebe. His is Ugo Stevenson. Both share passion for promotion of the lgbo culture and values.
Stevenson last year initiated what he called All Igbo Music Awards, popularly known as Ekwe Awards. The event was meant to appreciate and honour all musicians who had produced songs in Igbo Language. It was part of Stevenson’s efforts in promotion and sustenance of the Igbo Language. Remember, the United Nations Education Scientific Organisation, UNESCO had predicted that the Igbo Language will go extinct in the year 2025. As a result, many have been making concerted efforts to ensure the prediction does not come to reality.
When Stevenson invented the Ekwe Awards in 2012, one had expected stakeholders in his home state, Imo, particularly the state government to embrace the initiative and make sure the event held. The Ekwe Awards being the first of its kind, it would have afforded Imo the opportunity of taking the lead in the promotion of Igbo music and encouragement of the artistes who could make songs in Igbo language.
Unfortunately, little or no recognition and encouragement were accorded to Stevenson’s initiative, as was the case of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The much concerted efforts made for the Imo State government to adopt the Ekwe Awards and ensure Igbo musicians were celebrated, yielded no positive result. Due to some challenges, the Ekwe Awards could not take place at a time it was initially billed to hold. The event met some sponsorship challenges. But like Achebe would step out, Stevenson had to step out with his wonderful brand. Thanks to the government of Ebonyi State led by Governor Martin Elechi that made the ground fertile for Stevenson’s brand to flourish. It required a BBC Staff School instructor, away from home, to sell the classic work of a literary icon, Achebe, to the world. So it also took the men in Ebonyi State to sell a laudable brand of an award-winning highlife artiste, Ugo Stevenson
To reciprocate the interest showed by the government and the role the government ensuring that Igbo musicians were celebrated. The maiden edition of the Ekwe Awards had to be held on December 23, 2013. Igbo musicians converged in the state to be garlanded. Ebonyi State became the history ground and the event was a big success.
Igbo musicians, custodians of lgbo cultural values and all true Igbo indigenes will continue to be Stevenson for the history made in Ebony State. At a time majority seem not to be confident of speaking Igbo Language and identifying with the values of the Igbo nation, few are in the vanguard of the promotion language and the Igbo values. Stevenson is one of the few championing the sustenance of the Igbo language.
The UNESCO prediction that the Igbo language will go into extinction in 2025 is a mirage. The language will surely be spoken. Though there is low interest in speaking the language, it can’t result in its extinction.
The bell for another Ekwe Awards has begun to toll. No doubt, Stevenson must have been spurred by the success the event recorded in Ebonyi State. According to him, this year’s own will be hosted in Imo State, come January 24, 2016 at the Prestigious Rockview Hotels, Owerri. It is interesting to know that the Ekwe Awards has been instituted as an annual event. Thanks to Ugo Stevenson and his Ekwe Award team.
This is the time for Imo State to take back its brand. It will be a slight on the state if Ebonyi State, as young as it is, would adopt the Imo State’s first born baby, in promotion of Igbo music. No responsible parents would allow their child to be adopted by another, owing to their inability to fend for the child. It is an aberration, at least in Igbo land. Ekwe Awards ought to be treasured and held so dearly by all Igbo as its own. There is no such event meant to celebrate the entire Igbo musicians in the country, cutting across every genre of music made in Igbo Language. The players of the Igbo originated music styles as Abigbo, Ekpili, Udubunch, Odumodu, Nkwanwite, Bongo, Ogene, Eri-Obo, Oyolima, Highlife and Gospel will be honoured. This is the unique feature of the event. The Ekwe Awards could grow to become the biggest fiesta in the country and even Africa. It usually starts with one man. Stevenson has begun it. He should be supported. Corporate bodies and companies should come in, to sponsor the event. This year’s own should come with a bang.
Those who pride themselves as being much concerned about the welfare of the Igbo people, should stand and be counted in the promoting of Igbo values and culture. This is time to act.
Emma Iheaka is the Editor of the Owerri based National Newsbreak Newspaper
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