Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

New Year and A Traditional Ruler

Happy New Year!

Welcoming the New Year with relatives in Nanka

Welcoming the New Year with relatives in Nanka

I hope you had a joyful New Year’s celebration, or at least a relaxing one! We rejoiced in Clem’s hometown of Nanka with a group of 20 people in our living room. We drank champagne and wine, and toasted the New Year together.

Before going to sleep, I called my sister in Cincinnati to wish her a happy new year, and she said, “You’re too early!” It’s true – we entered 2017 six hours ahead of the eastern U.S.

The Joy of Sons

We stayed with our older son Chinaku in Lagos for several days before travelling to the east, and then for two more days before I departed. Spending time with him was one of the best parts of the trip.

My seat-mate took a pic of him and me, so I did the same. On the plane from Frankfurt before take-off.

On the plane from Frankfurt before take-off. My seat-mate took a pic of him and me, so I did the same.

I arrived back in the US on Monday afternoon. Even this morning, five days later, I still woke up before 5:00 am. But otherwise, I’ve recovered from the time change and travel.

I’ve sorted the mail, bought groceries, and most of all enjoyed the company of our younger son Sam. He is with me for a few days on his way back to Nigeria from California. His wife is there with the children while doing a graduate program in Human Resources Management.

And not to ignore our daughter and her family! Sam and I will see them this weekend if the threatened storm doesn’t hit Philadelphia.

The Obi of Onitsha

The Obi of Onitsha Igwe Nnayelugo Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe is the traditional leader of Onitsha, the largest city in Anambra State, southeastern Nigeria. Igwe is the Igbo word for sky and also the title for a chief.

Clem and I met him briefly at the wedding ceremony for my brother-in-law’s daughter on Dec. 26 in Nanka. I asked him if I could talk with him further about Igbo customs. He agreed.

So on January 2 we went to Onitsha to see him. He was gracious and easy to listen to as he shared his ideas.

Exchange of Gifts

I gave him a copy of my memoir, In return he presented me with a beautiful and massive two-volume work edited by Nkiru Uwechia Nzegwu, professor of Africana Studies at Binghampton University, New York.

The first volume is Onitsha at the Millennium. The second is A Ten-Year Milestone of this Obi who ascended the throne in 2002. It is a compilation of his speeches and writings, with a few article by others that reflect his views on the need to raise Onitsha to new heights.

The Obi of Onitsha

The Obi of Onitsha

He is the 21st Obi in a line that stretches back 550 years. He is recognized by the state and federal governments of Nigeria. He is the chairman of the Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers.

The photo is from the website Nigerian Biography.

The Obi’s undergraduate degree is from Stanford, and his MBA from Columbia. We noted that we are fellow ‘Ivy’ alums since my MBA is from Yale.

Most of his distinguished career was in senior management with Shell in Nigeria and overseas.

Need for Progress While Respecting Tradition

Since the civil war, the Biafran War, 1967 to 1970, the city has suffered.

The Obi said during his coronation, “[Onitsha is] at a crossroads, faced with the dual challenge of being a relevant part of a rapidly changing and more competitive world, and of preserving and promoting those qualities, norms and practices (our culture and traditions) that have earned us respect and distinction as a people.”  (page 7, A Ten-Year Milestone)

A Ten-Year Milestone for Obi Achebe.

A Ten-Year Milestone for Obi Achebe.

He created a strategic plan for change and improvement. After ten years, the city is now thriving, according to the book.

The Onitsha market, the largest in West Africa, wasn’t open. January 2nd was a national holiday in Nigeria since New Year’s Day was on Sunday.

So we were able to drive by it. The traffic would have been impossible if it were open. I admit it looked in a sorry state without the bustle of activity.

Several years ago the home where Clem grew up, at 5 St. John’s Cross, burned. Clem had a block of six apartments  built on the site. Our building is in good shape, but the area now looks disgraceful, with trash everywhere and older buildings in disrepair.

The Obi said in our conversation, “We try to drive our own development with an emphasis on youth.” He talked about programs he has for young people, like training in business.

I loved hearing the Obi speak about the importance of upholding traditional values while checking messages on his cell phone. He was following the election of a new chief taking place that day in Nanka.

He said, “It’s important that every community is properly organized with its own town union and traditional leadership. That’s why I’m watching Nanka.”

He also interacts with other traditional rulers in the country, not just among the Igbo people. And he promotes the development of science and technology.

Nkiru Uwechia Nzegwu, editor of A Ten-Year Milestone and the Onitsha history

Nkiru Uwechia Nzegwu, editor of A Ten-Year Milestone and the Onitsha history

In 2007 he traveled to Paris for a meeting at UNESCO. According to A Ten-Year Milestone, he informed the Director-General of UNESCO that “modern African traditional rulers are strong proponents of change.”

Interest in Art

We met him in his home rather than the palace. As we waited, we had the chance to look at the works of art surrounding us, an amazing collection of contemporary Nigerian art.

Many of the works of Onitsha artists are reproduced in A Ten-Year Milestone.

More to Come

There is much more to share about my time in Nigeria. Meanwhile, tell me in the ‘Comments’ how you spent your holidays and how you welcomed the new year. And a huge thank you to those who sent cards and notes. This year, I just didn’t make it! Maybe for Valentine’s Day? Or next year!

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Catherine,
    Thanks for sharing your recent trip to Nigeria. Your life experiences and your book are most remarkable, and I truly appreciate all you have accomplished. I enjoyed meeting you and Clem at the FON Peace Corps Reunion in D.C. Best wishes for 2017 and I will look forward to reading more about your trip to Nigeria (which I would love to visit) and to your next book.
    Katy Lapp
    Nigeria 8

  2. Wow. Very prolific. It seems as though you had a lot of fun.


  3. Welcome back. Sounds like you had a great trip.

  4. Welcome back, Catherine. I always enjoy reading about your travels and observations. Keep it coming!