Ukpo, may not be or have a Tourist attraction, but the influx of people from across the world into the town every December 24, if recorded may outweigh the number of yearly visits recorded by top tourist sites in the World.
Prominent among the causes for the recognition of the town is the annual Ofala festival of the traditional ruler of the town Igwe Robert Eze (Okofia the VI). The annual festival which craves an opportunity for prominent and high placed politicians, corporate bodies, religious and traditional leaders in the country to pay homage to the prestigious Eze’s family is held on December 24, and records the largest turnout of people for any event in the South East, as a beehive crowd of those who could not make it into the Palace are seen at the entrance of the Palace gates struggling for space to have a glimpse of what is going on inside. The crowd at the entrance and around the gates of the palace perfectly paints a picture of a stadium crowd already inside the Palace.
A lot of guests do not attend the festival for their love of or value for tradition, but do so because of the strong philanthopic ties and favours they hope to establish or earn from the Eze’s family, especially from the Billionaire and oil mogul, Prince Engr. Arthur Eze, who is always seen in his benevolent spirit, smiling and receiving guests who had come to pay homage to his brother, the Igwe Robert Eze.
This year’s festival was no exception, as it pulled various dignitaries from across the country down to Ukpo for the celebration. Major political parties were not missing in action, as each came with their stalwarts to show their solidarity to the Eze’s family, as it is believed that such solidarity could earn a political party support and sponsorship from the Billionaire, Prince Arthur Eze. Leading the APC delegation was the APC National Chairman Chief John Oyegun in company of Minister of Labour and Productivity Dr. Chris Ngige. Chief Victor Umeh led APGA stalwarts, while Godwin Ezeemo led a high profile delegation from PPA. Dr. Patrick Ifeanyi Uba of Capital Oil was among business moguls present, and the Emir of Lafia and other high profiled traditional rulers across the country were also present to pay solidarity to the Eze’s family.
Aside the annual Ofala festival, another factor that has painted Ukpo with a revered reputation is the Philanthropy of one of her illustrious sons, Billionaire and Oil magnet, Prince Engr. Arthur Eze. He is not just known for his wealth, but has been popularised by his munificence, which is felt by anyone who comes in contact with him both directly and indirectly.
Eze, still remains the highest individual donor to charity in Nigeria, as his record of 1.8 Billion Naira donation during the Goodluck Jonathan’s fundraising for St Stephen’s Anglican Deanery and Youth Development Centre, Otuoke, Bayelsa State in 2013 is yet to be equalled by any Nigerian. In what could be termed a similar gesture to his 2013 donation, Eze surprised members of St. Mary’s Anglican Church Ukpo on Christmas day when he made donations totalling to over a hundred and sixty five million naira (N165million) to the church. The Billionaire did not only donate 100million to the church’s skill acquisition project, but went ahead to donate several millions for other projects of the church, and even made a million naira donation each for the over six choirs that performed various renditions in church that Sunday.
Prince Engr. Arthur Eze’s philanthropic gesture has always kept Ukpo town as busy as an apiary, as High profiled Politicians, Corporate bodies and individuals deluge his opulent home, which is always open to guests, and each leaves with smiles of having received varying aid from the Billionaire. These aids usually range from monetary aids, political supports to employment opportunities. It is believed that the Billionaire’s recommendation is probably the brightest green light one can find in the labour market.
A trip to his Mansion reveals a wealthy but humble individual who sees life as a passing phase, and wishes to extend the wealth he has to everyone around. Aside the décor of his mansion, which could be likened to a Roman palace, one feature stands it out from other houses of influential Persons. A gospel choir is seen on standby rendering sonorous songs to the delight of guests and in honour of God. This goes a long way to show Eze’s love for music, which he says is his only consolation in life, as he believes that music is the only way he can reach God.
His home welcomes both the Kings and subjects, and he attends to everyone accordingly, regardless of political or social status. He equally believes it would be worthwhile attending to the commons before the Kings, since they are usually the ones with the most problems that need exigent aid.
Speaking after her visit to the Eze’s home, Aisha Edward, coordinator of Association of People Living with Sickle Cell Disorder said that the serenity and orderliness of the home helped her imagine what the judgement day would be like, as she saw revered kings share equal rights and response with commoners, and the standby choir shades more light on the heavenly choir being talked about.
She, however, regretted that Ukpo town has not maximised this blessing God gave them in the form of Arthur Eze. She believes that a town that attracts such influx of persons from across the world should at least develop a tourist centre, as it could be a strong generator of IGR in the state.
Also, another factor that has placed the Ukpo town on the map is Prof. Chinyere Stella Okunna, the first female professor of Mass Communication whose texts are being used in various higher institutions across the country.
Ukpo may not be a town that makes the daily news, but her sons and daughters constantly in many ways affects the lives of most Nigerians daily, especially Prince Engr. Arthur Eze who barely makes the headlines of National dailies but touches lives every day.