Prince Okwy Agbo, a culture enthusiast, is an angry man. He is angry that instead of promoting the robust culture of the land of their birth and preaching the gospel of oneness, some of his ‘kinsmen’ are still living in the past and wearing the ugly robe of segregation and discrimination that make some indigenes helpless, pitiful victims of their ancestry and the system.
Indeed, due to the caste system in their homestead, Akpugo in Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State, some people are enjoying certain privileges and rights while others are denied same merely by the circumstances of birth. For instance, in the selection of traditional rulers, those regarded as Ohu (slaves) are schemed out in favour of the Amadu (freeborn).
Agbo is angry that not long ago, Enugu State witnessed the abolition of the caste system but it still persists in Nkanuland even today.
Take this from Agbo: “It’s quite unfortunate that they’re still practicing what 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. 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 with 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 the 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 but 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: 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 September 1, this year, 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 will 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 should be carried along but, unfortunately, about five 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. Why should our own be different? Does it take more than a week to give a community date for 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 Jack and his cohorts to order.”
Against the law
Ndu Chris Ani, a lawyer, is scandalised that this man’s inhumanity to man is still thriving in Akpugo despite the United Nations declaration, the African Charter and the constitution of Nigeria.
He said: “Article one of the universal declaration on human rights, a United Nations law, says all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and should act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood. The consequence is that everybody should be a free born. This law was made in 1948.
“The African Charter, another law made by African nations, consequent upon the universal declaration, has this provision in Article 2 that every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of rights and freedoms recognised and guaranteed in the present charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status.
“The consequence of this provision is that all human beings, in Africa in particular, are entitled to equal rights as guaranteed by these laws.
“It says that ‘every individual shall have the duty to respect and consider his fellow beings without discrimination and to maintain relations aimed at promoting, safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance’.
“Beyond this, the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has continued to further entrench these rights and freedoms in her constitutions. Some of the germen provisions as contained in Chapter IV of the constitution are as follows:
“Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment; no person shall be held in slavery or servitude.
“Section 42 says a citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person – (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic group, places of origin, sex, religious or political opinions are not made subject; or be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religious or political opinions.
“No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.
One cardinal principle underlining these provisions is that the rights and freedoms are available to all human beings by virtue of humanity only. In particular, each of the provisions is prefixed by the following: religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or any status.
“Article 3 says every individual shall be equal before the law. Every individual shall be entitled to equal protection of the law.
“Article 5 says every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition of his legal status. All forms of exploitation and degradation of man, particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment shall be prohibited.
“Article 13 says every citizen shall have the right to participate freely in the government of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives in accordance with provisions of the law. Every citizen shall have the right of equal access to public property and service of his country. Every individual shall have the right to access public property and services in strict equality of all persons before the law.
Article 19 says all people shall be equal. They shall enjoy the same respect and shall have the same rights. Nothing shall justify the domination of a people by another.
“In Article 20, it is stated that colonized or oppressed peoples shall have the right to free themselves from the bonds of domination by resorting to any means recognized by the international community.
“In Article 27, it is stated that the rights and freedoms of each individual shall be exercised with due regard to the rights of others, collective security, morality and common interest.”
“As we know, every other law bows to the 1999 constitution of Nigeria as amended. Any law that is inconsistent with it is null and void.”
Freedom for all
For Ani, it is disgraceful that some parts of Igboland still practice the caste system. He said: “In some parts of Igboland, we have classifications of individuals on the basis of Osu, Dialla, Amadu, Obia, Ume and so on. Some Igbo people operate a caste system that so much indicts their intelligence and psyche.
“That was in the olden days; maybe caused by associated intrusion into our pre-colonial institutions whereby human beings were said to be owned by oracles and, thereby, classified as Osu. Others were owned by human beings and classified as Ohu or slaves.
“But in 1958, the government of Eastern Nigeria abolished the caste system in Igboland. It went further to say that nobody in eastern Nigeria shall be discriminated against on the basis that he is or was Osu, Ohu, Ume or the like.
“The same law said that whatever rights that were accruable to one class (Amadu or Dialla) becomes automatically accruable to the other group (Osu, Ohu or Ume). That is in agreement with the African Charter. All human beings are born equal.
“Notwithstanding these provisions, these practices have persisted in some communities. One of such places is Nkanuland with particular reference to Akpugo in Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State.
“Some communities in Nkanu have gone very far in trying to extinguish the hangovers of this discrimination, others are still neck deep in it.
“Ozalla community was able to do theirs last December. Some communities may have done theirs earlier. However, Akpugo town has not acted in that respect.”
How the cookie crumbled
It was gathered that the introduction of the 1976 chieftaincy constitution of Obuno-Akpugo tore the community apart. The high degree of camaraderie in the community was killed and distrust and suspicion were enthroned. Brothers now dine with long spoon, if any. The centre can no longer hold.
Chieftaincy constitution of Obuno 1976
This constitution shall be known and cited as the chieftaincy constitution of Obuno 1976.
In this constitution, “Obuno” means Obuno Njoku Ani Okwesi Ubreke Ukuru, an autonomous town in Akpugo clan.
“Chief” means a traditional head of Obuno community identified, selected and installed in accordance with the provisions of this constitution.
“Town” means Obuno Njoku Ani Okwesi Ubreke Ukuru.
“Ndizun’eze” means the Chief and his cabinet councillors, chosen by and representing the following indigenous kindred groups- Umu Ani Njoku Eji, Umu Ukuru Ubereke, Umu Nnajiori, Umu Onovo Ani, Umu Ngene Njoku, Umu Nnamite, Umu Egbo Ejiogwo, Umu Nneji Ani, Umu Chiuba, Umu Nnajiyovo, Umu Edea Njoku.
“Ochioha” means the traditional title of the chief and traditional head of Obuno.
“Ekwuluoha” means the traditional parliament of Obuno made up of five adult men from each of the 12 indigenous villages/kindreds, plus the following interests represented as follows:- Ndi Oha i.e. Ndisifulu 8, strangers or resident non indigenes 5, religious bodies 3, and not more than 1 representing any other interest or interests as nominated by the chief, in consultation with Ndizun’eze cabinet. All local government councillors. All national and state representatives.
Designation: The chief of Obuno shall be known and called Ochi Oha 1 of Obuno.
Qualifications: (a) The chief of Obuno must conform to the requirements and conditions as set out by the government in power in the Edict No. 8 of 1976.
(b) He must be a free born citizen of Obuno and descended from Njoku Ani Okwesi Ubureke Ukuru.
(c) His father must be a free born citizen of Obuno.
(d) His mother must be a free born citizen.
(e) His wife must be a free born citizen of comparable social status with the husband.
(f) The chief of Obuno must be a male adult and shall not be under 21 years of age.
(g) He must own a house at Obuno.
(h) He must have fulfilled the “Ibube” tradition or if he has not done so he shall perform Ibube within 4 weeks of his selection as a chief.
(i) The chief of Obuno must not necessarily be literate but literacy will be an advantage.
(j) He must not have been guilty of any act of abomination repugnant to the tradition, customs and usages- ( oshi ji, oshi okuko, oshi abani, inye nshi, or ori nonu, etc.)
(k) He must satisfy essential traditions in vogue within 12 months of his selection either traditionally or in modernised Christian way.
(l) The chief must be a man of high respect, integrity, dignity and probity, i.e. his character must be without reproach.
Traditional rulers law
Going back memory lane, Ani said: “In 1976, the then government of Anambra State comprising the present Enugu and Ebonyi states promulgated what it called the traditional rulers law. It was that law that introduced traditional rulers in our community.
Before then, Nkanuland, in particular, never had any traditional ruler whatsoever.
“A little semblance of a local ruler we had was the notorious warrant chiefs system introduced by the colonial people, which they tried in Igboland for very few years because the Igbo resisted it. The warrant chiefs were very oppressive and the communities could not tolerate them. Different versions of this system were introduced such as spokespersons of different communities.
“It was in 1976 that they decided to bring what they called traditional ruler system whereby communities were created and people were elected to be traditional rulers. In the then Imo State, they became Ezes. In the then Anambra State, they became Igwes. That’s why in Enugu, Anambra and some parts of Ebonyi State, they have Igwes. Imo, Abia and some parts of Ebonyi State have Ezes.
“With the introduction of the traditional rulers in the communities, some mischievous people surreptitiously introduced the age-long abolished caste of Osu, Amadu, Ohu, Obia and Ume, giving it all manner of names. A good example can be seen in the chieftaincy constitution of the then five communities of Akpugo – Ndiuno Uwani, Obinagu Uwani, Obuno, Ogonogoezi Ndiagu and Ogonogoezi Ndiuno. The late Igwe Cyril Nnaji was the last traditional ruler of Obuno. In the chieftaincy constitution of Obuno of 1976, section four talks about the qualification for the appointment of Igwe. It talks about the person being a freeborn indigene of Obuno and a descendant of Njoku Ani Okwesi Ubureke Ukwuru.
“Meanwhile, the law says all citizens are freeborn but the chieftaincy constitution describes a particular family group as the freeborn who should produce the Igwes of Obuno. This is quite obnoxious. That is offensive to the constitution of the country and the abolition of the Osu caste system of Igboland.
“A lot of representations were made by the people to the government of the then Anambra State, the latter Anambra and Enugu states but it does appear that the government has persisted in error in disregarding the complaint of these groups of families. Classification of people has continued in some of the communities.
“However, a lot of suits have been instituted against the so-called freeborn people. Some of the cases have been concluded and judgments given in support of the abolition of the caste system yet the classification of people thrives in these areas. People still want to ascend the throne of the Igwe of the community on the platter of freeborn and non freeborn.”
So, what is the way out? Agbo answered: “The first step to the final solution is to organise the election of a new Igwe where any interested person should come out and contest. We’re appealing to Governor 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 out 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 his cohorts produced 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 September 1 agreed on electing an Igwe. Thereafter, the Igwe-elect and the President General will come up with a friendly constitution that will carry everybody along.”
Following reconciliation directive from the governor, the community wrote to the government on September 3, through the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Chieftaincy Matters, inviting the state government to come and observe their election for the following positions: Igweship stool, town union executives and Neighbourhood Watch executives.
The letter signed by Comrade Augustine Okoye, the President General, Obuno-Akpugo Town Union, said: “We, the stakeholders, elders, youths and women groups of Obuno Ndiuno autonomous community wish to draw the attention of the state government via Ministry of Chieftaincy Matters to come and observe our election into the Igweship stool.
“Based on the meeting held on September 1, 2019, the entire community’s resolution is as follows:
That we are ready to conduct an election into the position of Igwe in our community.
To write to government via Ministry of Chieftaincy Matters to come and observe our on the suggested date.
That anybody contesting should go and buy form from the ministry; indigenes that wish to contest should go now and obtain the form if they have not got one before.
That since we are 30 kindred units that make up the community, those families should select one person each to represent them in Igwe’s cabinet.
Most importantly, that the constitution filed in the ministry in 1976 is highly obnoxious and discriminatory and will never in any condition in our community.
Based on the reconciliation meeting, it was resolved that the chieftaincy position and other elections in Obuno will be by option A4.
That after the election, whoever emerges will write a friendly constitution or a constitution that will carry everybody along.
Finally, these resolutions were taken by the entire Obuno community in Nkwo Nnajiani, where such decisions were taken for decades, in line with these and the deadline of September 8 given by the governor. We, therefore, suggest the following dates: September 20, 28 and October 5.”
The letter further said the dates were subject to the ministry’s amendment, adding that the video CD of the reconciliation meeting was attached. The governor, Nkanu West LGA, Ministry of Rural Development and Ministry of Poverty Reduction were also copied.
However, the chieftaincy ministry is yet to grant the request of the community but someone is allegedly parading as Igwe-elect of the community..
In a letter to Ugwuanyi through the Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs dated September 3, a group, King Makers Committee, appealed to the governor “to graciously issue certificate of recognition to our Igwe-elect – Chief, Jac Nwatu, of Obuno Akpugo.”
According to them, Nwatu has undergone the traditional processes of selecting the Igwe for the community, presentation to the local government on April 4, 2016 and thorough verification carried out by the Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs on November 30, 2016.
The group added: “However, few individuals had an after-thought and instituted a court action against the already verified candidate.
“The litigants even joined the government and its officials as co-defendants in the matter. Subsequently, having heard the matter, the following judgements were obtained in our favour: (1) A judgement removing government and its officials from the suit. (2) A judgement dismissing the suit.
“In the light of the foregoing, your Excellency, we appeal to you to kindly issue certificate of recognition and staff of office to Chief Jac Nwatu, the community having remained without an arrow head for about four years now.”
As soon as the issue was mentioned in a chat with Nwatu yesterday, he switched off his phone. But in an earlier chat with Nwatu, alleged to be one of those propagating the gospel of segregation, he said that the Amadu/ohu segregation does not exist in his community.
When Daily Sun contacted the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr Sylvester Ugwuagbo, on telephone yesterday, to find out why the letters from Obuno-Akpugo Town Union were yet to be replied, he declined to comment on the matter.
He said: “Do us a letter for your own information. We don’t reply to questions by phone call on official matters. Do us a letter, please.”