Magnus Eze, Enugu
Prince Okwy Agbo, a culture enthusiast is in the forefront of the campaign for the abolition of the barbaric caste system among the people of Nkanu land in Enugu state whereby certain persons are seen as ‘freeborn’ and others as slaves. He spoke on the inhuman system, Nkanu culture and other issues.
What’s your take about some Igbo people celebrating the new yam festival abroad?
It’s good that some people will want to travel overseas to promote Igbo culture but in the real sense, every average Igbo man is supposed to stay in his village or community to celebrate new yam festival. In our place Akpugo, this period is precisely the season of Oriri Ani; so many ceremonies are being performed in commemoration of the new yam. It’s the same in so many other places in Nkanu like in Nike, Amurri and others. Oriri Ani is just a name given to it in Nkanu but generally in Igbo land, it’s Iri Ji. We have another feast called Owa Aju; the ceremony is celebrated in Akpugo and is highlighted by exchange of visits. It’s that time people go to each other’s houses to eat and enjoy in so many ways.
Not long ago, we witnessed in Enugu state where communities abolished the Osu caste system. What’s the situation in Nkanu land today?
It’s quite unfortunate that they’re still practicing what’s they call- Ohu and Amadu segregation system. So, what we have in Nkanu land is that concept of slaves and freeborn; there is nothing like Osu there. This isn’t good at all because people in so many places are abolishing the Osu caste system and we are still talking about amadu and ohu. So, we have tried to let the world know that we’re not slaves; I’m not a slave and can never be one. I’m not and can never be a stranger in my father’s house or land. What happened about Osu to the little I know, is that Osu is somebody that’s dedicated to an idol and some of them were pure indigenes who felt that people were marginalizing them and they ran to a shrine for protection; unlike in Akpugo in olden days when slave merchants were going about kidnapping people; people could run to a wealthy man for protection. I was told that my great grandfather was having about 28 men who served him; that didn’t make them slaves; they were just there serving him as their master. At that period, if you’re grown to have a home; you’ll arrange for that, in my place; it’s called obu. I am surprised that some persons in Akpugo said that most of our people are former slaves in this age and time; that we’re strangers but to me, it’s very clear and open that the founder of Akpugo, Eze Nevogwa came from Igala land and first settled at Nike before he later moved to the present Akpugo following threat to his life by Nike people. He had three sons; namely: Uburueke Ogwa, who is Akpugo, Onyida (Ani Obodo) who is presently Agbani and Onyinwodo; that is Akpoufu. Then Uburueke (Akpugo) had two sons: Ani Uburueke and Uburueke Ukuru. The Truth is that all the defendants of Eze Nevogwa are strangers to Akpugo and no one can tell the other not to partake in the tradition that they’re strangers. So, that obnoxious system has reached an alarming stage that where 12 of the 30 units in our community went on to write a constitution excluding 18 others; claiming that they’re the indigenes of the place and that the other 18 don’t have the right to elect or select the Igwe in the community. This issue has continued to bring problems in the community since 1976; such act retards progress and development in the community. Our traditional ruler died some years ago and we have had none since then. Interestingly, on 1st September, there was a reconciliation meeting called by the town union president where everybody aired his/her view and there was a resolution. It was agreed that there’ll be election in the community to produce a new Igwe and that anybody that’s the Igwe will then write a new constitution for the election of subsequent Igwes. The meeting resolved that every member of the community be carried along but unfortunately, about 5 per cent of the people; those who have been causing trouble declined to attend the meeting. However, the entire community agreed on going for election; they asked the President General to take their message which was clearly written to the Government for them to come and observe election; they agreed to use option A4. But to my greatest surprise; up till now, the Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs hasn’t replied that letter requesting them to give us a date their officials would come and supervise our election of new Igwe. I don’t know why the ministry hasn’t responded to our letter but I’m aware that election is going on in so many communities now. How can our own be different; does it take more than a week to give a community date of election or coming to observe the election because we’re very much ready for the election? The challenge is those people causing trouble who said that they’re the freeborn while others are slaves or born of animals; they’re using their influence in the ministry. We’re asking the Government to do the needful by calling one Mr Jacob Nwatu and his cohorts to order.
So, what do you think is the final solution to this segregation issue in your area?
The first step to final solution is to organise the election of a new Igwe where any interested person should come out and contest. We’re appealing to His Excellency, Dr Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to intervene and solve this problem once and for all. There shouldn’t be a situation where one person will hide under the umbrella of freeborn or stranger; to undermine others. If anybody feels that he’s popular in the community; he should come and face the election. We’re 30 units in Akpugo; let there be election so that the masses will elect whom they want. Hiding under the guise of freeborn and somebody parading himself as Igwe elect or whatever can’t work. Somebody is parading names of purported kingmakers; we don’t have such kingmakers in our place. In 1976, before the late Igwe mounted the throne, there was election at Agbani; there was nothing like kingmakers or freeborn then. It was after the election that the man and co went on to file an obnoxious constitution. Even the discriminatory constitution in question has been set aside in the law court in some communities because the same obnoxious constitution is being used in all the five major communities. So far, it has been set aside in two of the communities though there was an agreement that whatever decision taken in one is binding on others. Even at that, the entire community on 1st September agreed on electing an Igwe; then the Igwe-elect with the President General will now come up with a friendly constitution that will carry everybody along; and not be discriminatory.