The popular Ji Mbaise, the annual cultural New Yam festival of Mbaise people in Imo State, turned to a political battleground for political gladiators in the state in the two leading political parties in the state- the All Progressives Congress, APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
This year’s event was no exception, as the event was once again mired in politics and brazen display for power.
While stakeholders and members of the PDP led by former Governor of Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha, celebrated the festival on Monday, August 15, at his Mbutu residence, the All Progressives Congress, APC led by Governor Hope Uzodimma and top government functionaries, stormed Mbaise nation on Tuesday, August 16, to celebrate the festival with Mbaise people.
Governor Uzodimma was conferred with the prestigious traditional title of Enyioha Mbaise by key traditional rulers in the entire Mbaise nation, an event held amidst pomp and pageantry and witnessed by key stakeholders in Mbaise nation and beyond.
Sources said it has been the culture of Mbaise Nation to recognize State Governors with chieftaincy titles.
“It is the right of the State Governor to be conferred with a chieftaincy title by Mbaise people during ji Mbaise festival. It does not matter how anyone feels about it. Uzodimma, as Governor of the State, deserves to be conferred with the title” said a top traditional ruler in the area who spoke on condition of anonymity.
This newspaper observed that the Ji Mbaise event, though a cultural ceremony, most times take the colouration and shape of political carnival where politicians flex muscles, showcase political relevance, might and strength.
In 2018, then Governor Rochas Okorocha desperate to hand over to his son in law, Uche Nwosu, allegedly coaxed some traditional rulers in the area to confer Nwosu a chieftaincy title.
Earlier In 2014, supporters of Okorocha and Ihedioha had clashed. The root cause of the clash, at that time was the contest for power between Okorocha and Ihedioha, then Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
In 2022, while there were no clashes, the festival- though cultural- reinvented the silent and cold contest for political power by the two dominant political parties in the state.
A newspaper columnist, Mr. Richard Odu, had described the ji mbaise as a festival mired in politics and violence. He aptly captured the political undertones which shape the event.
Odu wrote “Gradually, Ji-Mbaise transformed into a political ground where unscrupulous politicians, especially among the gubernatorial aspirants, put up appearance and haul brickbats at each other. In the end, the Mbaise nation gets polarised in this vote hunt. The obvious feeling is that whoever finds favour with Mbaise, an area noted for its dense population, coasts far into victory when votes count”