By Ebere Orji
The Igbo culture is an integral part of the lives of Igbos that they long and fight arduously to preserve. It is said that to preserve ones culture it is preeminent that it is bequeathed to the younger generation for safe keeping and continuity as long as humanity exist.
The 4th of April, being the Easter Day, one of the greatest celebration of Christians which marks the completion of the Holy week and in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, also marks the 91st birth anniversary of a Living Legend in the Music world, Gentleman Mike Ejeagha (Omekagu).
The celebration which took place at Mike Ejeagha’s residence welcomed family, friends, associates and other all well-meaning individuals.
The holy mass was celebrated by the Social Communications Director of The Catholic Diocese of Enugu, Very Rev. Fr. Benjamin Achi.
In his homily, Rev. Fr. Benjamin Achi expressed great joy to be in attendance and be privileged to celebrate the mass for a man like Mike Ejeagha whose music he holds dear to heart. He felt proud to be celebrating with a worthy man like Ejeagha and enunciated that he would cherish the memory of the day.
Rev. Fr. Achi titled his homily after the title of one of Mike Ejeagha’s songs- ‘Uwa mgbede ka mma’. He mentioned that he made a choice of the title from all other of Ejeagha’s songs owing to the fact that all he asked of God in that song has come to pass today.
“Gentleman, Mike Ejeagha, I love to address you this way and I said that I would ask you, why in all of the titles that many Igbo men love to take, you have chosen Gentleman. Many men of your caliber would prefer names like Chief, Sir, Doctor, etc. But you do not have to give me a response because action speaks louder than voice. I could not choose a better title for you than this one you chose because you are a perfect example of who a Gentleman is, and I am very proud to address you by that name. There are people who go by the name His Excellency and I sometimes do not like to address them by Excellency because some of them are not even Good not to talk of being Excellent. In your songs you preach peace and justice.” He said.
Speaking further Fr. Achi said; “Life expectancy in Nigeria is 51 years but today you are 91years old. So for me it is nothing short of a miracle. Yet you are strong, you even stood to greet me. For this reason we thank God. I do not know how many times you have been celebrated but I do not think there is any celebration like this one. In my life I have only seen fathers adopt children, but today I see children adopt a father. Special thanks to Amarachi Atama and Charles Ogbu. Also, thanks to his children and all well-wishers”.
Just getting to know 6 years ago that Mike Ejeagha still lives, Amarachi Atama, The initiator of the event, a performance artist and a culture curator adopted Ejeagha as her grandfather in 2016.
In an interview with The Choice Flame, Amarachi narrated how she made the choice of having Mike as her proud adopted grandfather.
“From 2016 I adopted him as a grandfather and I have been on his case. Charles, a co-initiator and I have been writing about him and we wished that the state would celebrate a Legend like him because he is someone who has curated our folktales, folklores and folksongs so well in his music. Again, people thought that he was late but then he is alive and he is living with us. We started encouraging people to join hands with us to celebrate him. The governor did since 2018. Today he turned 91 and I think that what we are doing to celebrate him is just a tip of what he deserves. At 91 he is still strong and articulate. All we are doing is to make him happy because he has lived his life. I wish him longer life, health, beauty, happiness and the grace to see his grandchildren until his last day”, she said.
Charles Ogbu, the co-initiator expressed his admiration of Mike Ejeagha by stating that Ejeagha’s music imparted positively in his personal life. He claims that Mike Ejeagha stands out as one of the few Igbo musicians who never used his songs to sing praises of anyone, no matter how rich they are. And his songs remind him of who the Igbos are, supposed to be but are not.
In his words, “I heard about him while growing up and I thought that he was a myth, so growing up to find out that this man is still alive is an honour and privilege for me. I got close to him through Amarachi Atama who had been with him since 2015. Mike Ejeagha is one of the people who do things because they have meaning and ought to be done, and not worship wealth regardless of how it was acquired. Chieftaincy titles should be given to people who are deserving of it. Being Ndi Igbo as a people, we are supposed to be a unique people. All of us have departed from that route from which we ought to be known. So his song teaches me that Ndi Igbo have a pattern of doing things, we are unique and special. We do not cheat people. We are guided by certain world view that is premised on equity, justice and fairness. This is what you get from his songs, Ever green.”
Charles Ogbu however maintained that Music is more than making sound and upcoming musicians of this generation ought to pass a message in their songs. They have to say something definite, something that whoever listens to can benefit positively from. For him, this is what music is all about.
“We are fast leaning towards the culture of celebrating people by giving them a befitting burial when they are dead against a befitting living whilst they are alive. The major reason we are celebrating this man is because we want to change a narrative. We want to create our own narrative which is that people ought to be celebrated whilst they are yet alive. You do not give someone a befitting burial when you did not give him a befitting living. If someone means something to you, show it while he or she is still alive. Give a befitting living before talking about a befitting burial. Do not wait till the person dies of hunger to spend a million naira on them. This is what we want to change. I wish him nothing but long life and good health. It is a unique privilege for one to be alive till age 91 in a country where life expectancy is even below 50. He has almost doubled the life expectancy in Nigeria”, He said.
In the words of his son, Emmanuel Ejeagha Chibuike; “The world has placed my father in a place of honour better than I can say or do. It is God that knows everything. But my father is truly a gentleman and if I have the opportunity to be in this world again I would love him to be my father again. My father is a disciplinarian. He knows his priority, he loves peace and preaches love for one another as it is in the Bible. He believes that the world will be a better place when there is peace. My father’s songs have been a source of inspiration and encouragement to me, and they have kept me till today because the lyrics of his songs espounge good values that gives courage, strengthen and keep one going, even if that person feels downtrodden.”
He further revealed that his father’s song ‘Uwa mgbede ka mma’ explains that before a person can do a second thing, he must do the first. “‘Uwa mgbede ka mma’ being a philosophical song that preaches continuity. It urges people to move gradually like the palm tree that never dies, and even if it will die it would take a long time before it dies. Man has to struggle but he should however not let the wants of this world to envelope him and pull him down”, Emmanuel explained.
Emmanuel Ejeagha also encouraged the younger generation of musicians to acquire knowledge and do whatever that is good to do to the best of their knowledge and to the glory of God. “I advise you artists to see my dad as a role model. Good values and morals should be conveyed in your music because you are addressing the society. I encourage you to inculcate the spirit of positivity in your message and not preach negative things. God has told us to go to the world and disseminate my gospel. And the word of God is excellent” he advised.
His daughter, Ejidike Nneka described her father is a good man and a disciplinarian. Responding to the reporter, according to her; “My father is not somebody that can be pushed around. He is a man of great value and we appreciate him. He has really imparted so much in his children and he is indeed a gentleman. We thank God for a day like this, we have been looking forward to such a day. I am grateful to God that this day finally came. In fact, only joy and goodness can express what I have in my heart.”
A family friend and well-wisher, Chief Benjamin Ugochukwu Ikeokwu, CEO of Bijec Movies International called him a gentle man.
In his word; “Gentleman Mike Ejeagha is a wonderful man. He is an icon. We Igbos are proud of him. He maintains our culture and language, language being the greatest value of culture. This is why he is being celebrated today. All his music is unique. We call it ‘Akuko na Egwu Mike Ejeagha 1 in Africa’. You cannot see another person playing his kind of music. Just like Fela playing Afro, in our culture here we have Mike Ejeagha playing Akuko na Egwu.
In protraction of Mike Ejeagha’s genre of music, Chief Ikeokwu guaranteed the success of Emmanuel Chijioke Ejeagha, Mike Ejeagha’s son, in the music industry. “After this event I believe that his son in particular will become big in the industry in a hot way with Bijec Movies International because the music is in their blood. So I do am praying that God will grant our plan success. I also pray that Mike Ejeagha will live up to 140 years. He is the oldest and strongest musician in Nigeria”, he said.
Other pictures from the event