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Soludo: The Akwaete Revolution and Promoting the Igbo Values

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By Izunna Okafor

My Akwete dress is not just a dress; it’s a statement. I want to make a statement with it. You know, in the entire Southeast, this is the only textile product alive, and it’s handmade by the women of Akwaete in Abia State. Igboland is one and we must protect it. We want to bring back the zeal of patronizing our own. The dresses I will wear are those made in our place here. We must protect the things that are made in our place. Something is about to happen in Igboland, and together we will get there.”

  This was a statement by Prof. Chukwuma Charles Soludo, who, today 17th March, assumed office as the current Governor of Anambra State, on his love for Akwaete dress and his vision for it.

  Akwete is a special kind of fabric/dress made by Igbo people, though mostly by women of Akwete — a town in Abia State.

  Over fifty decades ago at Ojike Street in Umuahia of old Imo State (now Abia State), the long stretch of women from the Akwete town in in Ukwa East Local Government Area, sat on their kitchen stools facing four long palm bamboo weaving a combination of colourful cloths into a master piece of cloths. With time, the well-galvanised local fabric eponymously became called by the name of the community –Akwete, and it came to stay and be known as its name till date.

  However, with time, the material, just like every other notable and prevalent textile material in the south-east in those days, started going extinct. This extinction was probably as a result of market influence or competition with other foreign materials, drop on people’s love for the material, or certainly as a result of other variables.

  Suffice it to say that other beautiful textile materials in the south-east have consummately gone extinct, while Akwaete was already near extinction before it met a revolution.

  After many decades the colourful material trended, Prof. Charles Soludo announced that he has adopted the almost-forgotten Akwete cloth as an official cloth for him and also pledged to use other locally-made brands, thereby (directly or indirectly) convincing and encouraged all and sundry to do same and patronize the product.

  Prior to this revolution era ushered in by Prof. Soludo, the Akwete village women, who were known before the Nigerian Civil War for the local weaving and selling of Akwete cloth were hardly seen smiling home after their daily sales, due to low patronage.

  However, a recent tour to Akwete market in Abia State reveals that the women now smile to bank everyday, due to high patronage. A popular Igbo adage says that “Ọ na-abụ onye kpọba ahịa, rechaa, ọ nụ̀rị̀a.”

  Again, in line with the popular economic Law of Demand and Supply, this recent high and daily-increasing demand for Akwete fabric has also shot up the price of the materials in the market now.

  This indeed is a commendable result arising from keeping of the promise made by Prof. Soludo, to promote and encourage local brands.

  There is no doubt that almost each Governor or President in Nigeria has or once had an identikit or a dress style with which he is popularly identified. There is also no doubt that the usage or adoption of those materials or by the Governors or Presidents drives and propels people’s love for and their usage/adoption of the materials or dress style. Soludo’s Akwete is not an exemption here. His is even more unique, in the sense that it is a local brand, while those of most of his counterparts are, regrettably, foreign brands. In other words, one can also safely argue that Soludo has come to change the narrative, by making Akwete his official material.

  Recall that he equally promised to make the Nnewi-manufactured Innoson Motors his official cars, and promote palmwine and other locally-made products, when sworn in.

  Aside the economic gains of this Prof. Soludo’s decision to promote local brands, the results of which are already visible; this move is also a reawakening and renaissance on the fast-fading Igbo values in our society.

  From time immemorial, Igbos are known to be a very hardworking people with highly-sought-after values and uniqueness.

  Among other values, the age-long Igbo philosophy of “Nke A Bụ Nke Anyị” obviously has a leading role in this revolution and renaissance that is already ignited by Soludo. As he exhibited, one must first have the understanding and acknowledgement that Nke A Bụ Nke Anyị (This is our own), before considering encouraging or promoting it and its usage. So, by promoting Akwete, palmwine and other local brands, Prof. Soludo is not only promoting the economic benefits, but is also championing a great cause —taking the minds of Ndị Igbo back to their roots and cultural values, promoting their acceptance of their own, and strengthening the local brands to the global stage where they can safely and comfortably compete with other global brands. Little wonder why he said his Akwete is a statement.

  Unlike some other Nigerian leaders who profess to be supportive of local brands but actually patronize foreign brands, Soludo is not just officiating the game here for others to play; he is also the key player and the game master.

  Prof. Soludo has kicked off the ball. It is now expected of Ndị Igbo and, infact, every Nigerian, to keep the ball rolling, until these targeted goals are scored.

  Join this revolution now, and do not be left out.

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