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AGHAEZE DESCENDANTS OF ONICHA-OLONA: A FAMILY LIKE NO OTHER, BY SYLVESTER ASOYA

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Aghaeze descendants of Onicha-Olona, in an emotional and nostalgic family reunion, pledge to uphold the family’s moral and ethical principles like unity, honesty, loyalty, industry, compassion, bravery, good neighbourliness and faith in God

The Aghaeze family, comprising the Ocheis, the Anikwues and the Okechukwus of Ogbekenu Village Onicha-Olona, a town in Aniocha Norh Local Government in Delta State, celebrated the Easter season in grand style with a big family reunion. The four-day event that brought together, nearly all the children of this great family from far and near, remained a major talking point throughout the Easter period for good reasons. And for the Aghaeze’s and their guests, it was easy to see that this year’s gathering far exceeded expectations for obvious reasons.

This extraordinary family reunion that holds every four years, essentially promotes a sense of belonging among the Aghaeze family members. This reunion also encourages a healthy communication, brotherhood, strong family relationships, strengthening of family bonds and validating the fact that every family member, irrespective of age or gender, is important.

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But this year’s gathering will remain significant and memorable for many reasons. Part of the uniqueness of this year’s reunion includes but not limited to the celebration of the coming of age of some young people in the family who are already distinguishing themselves in different professions both in Nigeria and outside. It was also an opportunity to celebrate the family’s success and achievements, the Aghaeze family’s core values, the family’s growing size and strength, the conscious efforts at preserving the Aghaeze family dignity and its agelong history of heroism, courage, excellence, love and communion.

Every year, these descendants of Aghaeze gather in the season of Lent for this all-important meeting that points the way forward for the family. And, every four years, they stage a spectacular reunion and mass-return to further discuss and cement a possible path that would lead to the progress of the family. Traditionally, the pattern is that everyone returns every year and after every four years, with members of their respective nuclear families. Even their daughters, including those in far away land, also return home with their children and grand children for this important family reunion.

This year’s activities that ended on Easter Sunday was a major turning point in the family’s yearly meeting that began in 1936. This year’s reunion is also significant for many other reasons. In attendance were some of their illustrious children like Major General Raymond Nkemakonam Ochei of the Nigerian Army and Rt. Hon. Victor Ochei, a former Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, men who are already on a global stage by virtue of their contributions to a better world.

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In an emotion-laden speech, General Ochei recalled the memory of their early years as children in the same house. “We are a close-knit family. In those days, Rt. Hon. Victor Ochei and I grew up in the same home, and no one knew we were of different parents because of the love we shared as a family.” The General who is very proud of his cousin’s immense contribution to democracy and good governance as a former speaker of a state’s legislature, applauded the former speaker for being forward-thinking and also for contributing to Onicha-Olona’s social infrastructure.

There is no gain saying the fact that the Aghaeze family has witnessed a tremendous growth in every sphere of life in the last four years. So, 2024 Aghaeze family reunion was like no other. It was indeed, a sobering celebration of the family’s rich history, exploits, love, togetherness, phenomenal growth and accomplishments in a changing world. For instance, General Ochei, one of the family’s illustrious sons, attended the reunion this time around with two PhDs, two master’s degrees, a new rank as two-star general and other accomplishments too numerous to mention.

General Ochei who was also one of the resource persons at the reunion, delivered a moving speech, with the title: UMU AGHAEZE: A HISTORICAL JOURNEY THROUGH TIME. Presentation of papers which was one of the highlights of the gathering, took the people back in time to their history, genealogy, triumphs and collective struggle as a family.
And the General’s historical journey through time, could not have come at a better time due to the paper’s depth of information.

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One part of the lecture by General Raymond Nkemakonam Ochei that resonated strongly with the family and everyone in the audience, including the invited guests, was the family’s strong faith in God. According to the General, the strength of the family is based on their faith in God.
“Please, permit me to digress at this point”, the General said. “Let me state that I am a living witness to an incident that strengthened my faith in God in my teenage years, and I am particularly excited to share this experience. The event occurred at the usual Easter family meeting in the 1980s. On that day, the issue of Ichinmo title-taking was raised by a member of our family who desperately wanted to be initiated into our town’s clan of red cap chiefs. This family member wanted to know why no one had deviated from the instruction of Ochei, our grandfather, who had outlawed the Ichinmo title in our family due to his Christian faith. I still remember the look on Pa Samuel Ochei’s face as he responded swiftly. “We remain committed and united on the stand of our father, Ochei Aghaeze because we are Christians, and we have no fellowship with traditional practices. If we go against his instruction, we will all live to regret it. It is a no-go area”, he thundered.

“For good measure, Pa Samuel added: “Who among families in the entire Aniocha Local Government Area of Bendel State is more progressive and forward-looking than the Aghaeze family? In the next five years or thereabout, Onicha-Olona will produce three medical doctors, and all of them are children of Aghaeze. One of them is Bennett Sunday Akaonye Ochei, who is in medical school at the University of Ibadan; the second person is Emeka Nwambueboh, Ishmael’s son and the third one is Ngozi Onyemenem, the granddaughter of my loving sister, Akwananye Ochei-Ikediashi. Are we not blessed? How many families produce three medical doctors in one single year? The singular act of embracing Christianity has given us an edge over many families, and we must be grateful to God for that. We do not need to explain ourselves with Ichinmo or any traditional chieftaincy title to justify ourselves.”

The reunion also offered some of the speakers like General Ochei the opportunity to speak on the family’s heritage and lineal link to the famous Diagbor Igbedion family of ancient Bini Empire. It was indeed, a gathering like no other as family members came from different parts of the world to grace the occasion. In attendance was Pa Enigo Aligbe, a nonagenarian who came all the way from the United Kingdom. (Pa Aligbe’s paternal grandmother was the first daughter of the legendary Aghaeze, the warrior. Similarly, Dr. Nelson Ochei and Cyril Ochei also came from oversees for the same event.

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The highlights of the four-day events also included the amazing lectures and paper presentations by other members of the family.

However, on 30, Saturday March, the celebrations continued with a reception at Onicha-Olona Boys’ Secondary School field where the family and guests were entertained with hymns, traditional performances, the Aghaeze family anthem and a welcome address by Diokpa Echezona Kingsley Ochei who is currently the head of the family. Pa Echezona Kingsley Ochei, a retired secondary school principal who attended two famous institutions (Merchants of Light School, Oba, Anambra State and Fourah Bay College, Freetown, Sierra Leone, one of the earliest public universities in Africa) harped on unity, love, togetherness, patience and charity.

The event also featured family fellowship, morning walk, family get together, family seminar and dinner, children’s party, souvenir distribution and Diokpa’s prayers and blessings.

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For the guests (non-Aghaeze family members) who attended the four-day reunion as observers, it was obvious that a new chapter has opened in the lives of many of them. No one would have witnessed the outpouring of love, fellowship, togetherness and God’s blessing in this large family under review, without going home with a lesson.

For Benjamin Mokwunye, a lawyer and friend of the family, nothing compares to the love and unity of the Aghaeze family. “The Aghaeze family is a family we respected and wanted to emulate while we were growing up as kids. So, no one is surprised about what they are doing with this reunion. As you know, this ceremony dates back to over six decades. Seeing the entire Aghaeze clan from different parts of the world coming together for one purpose—unity, speaks volumes. And this is a thing of pride, a culture that is worthy of emulation. For us in Mokwunye family, we have also started our own reunion. And it will be unfair not to acknowledge the Aghaeze family for inspiring my family. I believe strongly that the world will be better when brothers and sister come together in communion.”

A family Thanksgiving Service at Church of Ascension, Ogbekenu Village, Onicha-Olona eventually rounded off the four-days event that started on Thursday March 28 with arrival and registration. In their homily, Venerable J.A. Mordi and Reverend Solomon Ifeme, the presiding priests of the church prayed specially for the Aghaeze family for more love, unity and growth even with all the challenges besetting many people across the country today.

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There were also other side attractions like the visit of vigilantes of Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State that came on ‘A Thank You Visit’ to General Ochei, a session with beneficiaries of his scholarship and empowerment schemes, visits by the general to hospitals and orphanages and a delegation of Class ’84 of St. Pius Xth Grammar School, Onicha-Ugbo that came with a message of friendship and solidarity. After a moving speech by Afam Okika, a member of the ’84 Set, Ochei who has always been very generous towards his secondary school classmates promised to continue responding to the needs of his friends and classmates.

As this well-respected family looks forward to the next reunion, the Aghaeze’s are confident that the family’s love will continue to grow in leaps and bounds.

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