Alozie Marcel, Enugu
The journey routing the discriminatory Osu caste system in Igbo land did not start today. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in his historic address to the defunct Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly in 1956 described the system as “devilish and uncharitable to brand any human being with a label of inferiority due to the accidents of history.”
This obnoxious practice in Igbo land has over the years, discouraged social interaction and peaceful coexistence among the people. Its continued observance in some places negates the level of modernisation in the region.
Several communities last year banned the caste system in Imo and Enugu states. Recently, the people of Ede Oballa consisting of 29 villages in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State rose in unison and abolished the archaic practice. That fateful day, sons and daughters of the community gathered at the Otobo Umuogbe village square where the proclamation was made.
The traditional ruler, Dr. Christian Asogwa, Ezechichilu 1 of Ede Oballa, while addressing his subjects announced the decision of the council, Ndi Onyesi, town union and other stakeholders to abolish the discriminatory practice. His pronouncement elicited excitement and jubilation across board.
God, he said, has decided to use them to free people from unnecessary bondage. “It’s not our own making, God decided to use us to free people from bondage. People all over the world have been given names, slave, Osu and so on and when I came on the throne as Igwe, I met with the council, town union and other stakeholders and told them that it is an evil, and that we have to abolish it and that such will not exist in Ede Oballa ancient kingdom where I am in charge. We all agreed to it, and I thank God I pronounced it today,” he said.
He explained that he was able to achieve it because of his experience as President-General of the town union for ten years, and traditional prime minister (Onowu) to the late Igwe for another ten years before emerging the Igwe. He recalled that some persons were not allowed to be the head of their various villages when it was their turn because they were seen as Osu, a situation he said would not continue under his watch as traditional ruler.
Parish priest of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Ede Oballa, Rev. Fr. Brendan Obasi commended the community leaders especially the traditional ruler for their courage in taking the progressive decision.
He said: “It is a thing of joy that Ede Oballa people unanimously decided that there is nothing like (Osu) slave in this land again, that we’re all freeborn and we have one father; our Lord Jesus Christ, the father that has all of us and since we’re under Him, there is nothing like slave that everybody who’s doing the right thing is a freeborn and the only thing that qualifies a person to be a slave is when you are into sin. As human beings, we’re one and the same, there is nothing like slave, we have one father and thank God the community has accepted it to stay and it has been signed by the whole community”
Reacting to the development, one of the beneficiaries, Chief Ezeudo Ikenwatabu Chukwu said the segregation had drastically affected his people noting that his 72-year-old father who happened to be the next head (Onyeishi) of their village will not be deprived of his right.
The highly elated man said: “I can’t say what existed before the birth of my father; when I was born, I heard about it, and at this stage, I still hear about it, I don’t know when it started but I’m happy I know when it ended.”
Also, Secretary, Nsukka South Development Centre, Dr. Oliver Ngwoke applauded his people for the laudable decision describing it as a new dawn in the history of the kingdom. “Before now, in theory it have been abolished you don’t mention it, but in practice today, practically it has been killed and we are happy that our people unanimously took a decision to abolish it because of our community and our people, we’re happy about it,” he said.
Ngwoke urged other communities where the practice is still prevalent in Nsukka, Enugu State and parts of Igbo land to emulate what happened in Ede Oballa because without that, there would not be meaningful development.