As one enters Nnewi from Nnobi town you will not need any introduction to know this is the home of metal fabricators and skilled technical craftsmen; from welders, aluminium technicians, refrigeration repair shops, bolts and nuts, oil and grease shops, etc. Four out of every six shops are selling or repairing one technical item or the other.
From the market women, the vulcanizers, okada riders, the apprentices and all, Nnewi is a place where women compete favourably well with male riding okada. Apart from the Ultra-Modern Market called the Japan of Africa for a good reason, women and young ladies delight in flaunting their motorbikes as their personal two-wheels Mercedes Benz with no apology to anyone. Just as the rich women drive to school to pick up their children home, mothers ride to the same school and can take as many as four children home on their bike.
The Monarch and Paramount Ruler of Nnewi land is HRH Dr Kenneth Nnaji Onyemaeke Orizu III, JP, CON. He is the 20th Monarch in his father’s genealogy and has been on the throne for over 50 years.
A devout, Born Again Christian and the skilled business administrator himself, the royal father has motivated and aided the establishment of industries and educational institutions in his kingdom.
In this exclusive interview granted Daily Times at his ancient palace in Nnewi, Igwe Orizu, holding his wits high against age at 90, took our correspondent back to the good old days before he ascended the throne at the age of 26. A photograph in the palace showed the chiefs and people of Nnewi presenting him to Dr M.I. Okpara as their new Monarch before he sat on his father’s throne.
“I worked with white people as a young man in the late 1950s and later became General Manager of the Eastern Nigeria Outlook which was owned by the government of Eastern Nigeria at that time. In that capacity I was area manager for the I had the responsibility in that capacity to open the Port Harcourt office of the newspaper, then Onitsha branch followed by Asaba before the final one in the whole of Midwest-based in Benin City.”
The Monarch recalled his salary started from £8 flat month, and then grew steadily to 12 pounds, 15 and rose to 30 pounds before he left office. ‘I was a fairly rich man with that kind of salary at that time’ he said with a chuckle.
The young Kenneth was called to the throne following the ascension of his father, Igwe Orizu II in 1961. It was not the tradition for young princes to refuse the call to the throne because according to the Monarch, it is ancestral and only in the genealogy of the Orizu family house.
“We don’t struggle for the throne in Nnewi kingdom; it comes to the young princes naturally whenever the reigning father journeys home.”
A proof of the new reformist monarchs of our times, Igwe Orizu is a sound, Born Again Christian who preaches the gospel of Christ and the necessity for salvation and repentance to his subjects.
It has been suggested that the town got its name from an animal which name begins and ends with the last three letters of Nnewi, and as a result indigenes of the kingdom do not eat the creature called ewi, but the Monarch waved our correspondent to order, adjusted himself on his seat and set the record straight.
“Nnewi is a person, a full-blown human being who had four children named Otolo, Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi; and like the 12 sons of Jacob that became the 12 tribes of Israel, the four children of Nnewi became the four regions or communities that make up Nnewi kingdom.
“Though it is true that there is an animal called ewi which our people don’t eat because of its name which has some closeness to the name of our people but let it be known that Nnewi from whose bowels the people of this town came from is a person.’
History has shown that indigenes of this land have an indisputable affinity with steel and transportation as the town has turned our Nigeria’s massive land transporters over the ages. The Monarch nodded with satisfaction and counted on his fingers, transporters of the early days like L.P. Ojukwu Transport, the father of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegu from Umudim lineage; Ekesson Transport from Uruagwu; Ekene DiliChukwu from Otolo; D.D. Onyemelukwe from Nnewichi the last quarter. There also is J.C. Ulasi, Mbanefo Motors; Chisco Motors, and one of the newest transport companies, Orizu Motors, among others.
Among the roll call, EkeneDiliChukwu is a relation of the Igwe, while the Chairman of Orizu Motors, as the name implies is a cousin of the Monarch.
When asked what is the spirit behind Nnewi’s big boys dominating the transport business in the country the question stirred something in the old man’s ego; he pointed that Nnewi is not only the home of mighty transporters alone but that his kingdom is a land of technical giants, skilled craftsmen, manufacturers, importers and exporters and he praised their ancestry for this.
“The skill and ability of Nnewi people is hereditary; it is in our blood; there’s not one child in Nnewi that lacks ideas of what he or she wants to do and become; in fact, they are gifted in this regard from the womb. Move around the town and you confirm that no hand is idle, male or female.’ The royal father praised sons and daughters of Nnewi kingdom who have worked so hard to bring so much good to the land in particular and to the country in general. ‘Our sons are on the forefront of putting Nigeria on global economic chat,” he said.
Since his reign the Monarch, one of the most revered in Igbo land has not been sitting idle; his track record of achievement is as good and worthy as those of the sons and daughters he has acknowledged and commended. Igwe Orizu has a reputation of going outside to bring in what will benefit his people and ensures it works.
“The problem people have is that they don’t want to work anymore; they just want quick money and that is why they have problems.
“What used to sustain the nation before the colonial days have been abandoned, and you know that when you forsake the land, the land will also forsake you. We had agriculture, cocoa, coal, steel and other things, but where are they now? When you refrain from sowing into the land, how then can the land give her fruits to you?”
Being skilled technical men and traders of all ventures, the Monarch regretted the shortage of raw materials to aid his people’s traditional work.
“The people of Nnewi do foundries from the days of our ancestors. If Ajaokuta Steel Mill is operating well, our people here will have the steel to do a whole lot of work and achieve great heights. But Ajaokuta is not working, there is no light to power anything and this makes everything to fail.
“Since Ajaokuta Steel Mills and Aladja Steel Mills have not been producing any steel; there is no profit in running an industry and importing raw materials to run the industry in Nigeria; that is not progress. Progress is when you run your industry and you get the raw materials here. M.I. Okpara supported agriculture in his time. Until they return to the land, I don’t see how anything will change.”