The Osu caste system is an ancient practice in Igbo land, which discourages social interaction and marriage with a group of persons called Osu and the freeborn called Nwadiala. The Osu, people said to be dedicated to deities, are considered as inferior beings to freeborn.
Interestingly, Nri, the progenitors of the Igbo race have taken the lead in the effort to eliminate this age-long practice that has cast the race in bad light in an era freedom is considered the right of every being.
The fight to abolish the obnoxious practice dates back to the fifties when the late Dr.NnamdiAzikiwe, at the defunct Eastern Region 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”. The late Sam Onunaka Mbakwe, former governor of the old Imo State, banned the Osu caste system. In spite of these efforts, people continued to pay lip service to the issue.
Cultures they say die hard and so it is easy to understand why discussions on the controversial Osu Caste system in Igbo land will not go away so soon. The system is widely adjudged anti-development, anti-social and has been shut down over many decades past but the practice still remains in many parts of Igbo land.
It is disappointing that even as majority of the inhabitants in the South East profess religious doctrines that espouse love, unity and oneness of being yet they lack courage to stamp out completely the dreaded controversial Osu caste system. All the campaigns so far to stamp out the system appear to be mere lip service drawing from the hypocritical stance of the people. It casts a slur on the faithfulness of the Christian adherents in demonstrating their belief.
Some have argued that the exercise to stamp it is an exercise in futility given that the caste system is a global phenomenon which is prevalent in many cultures of the world. Some go to the extent of drawing attention to the racist practices that discriminates against some people especially the blacks even as sophisticated as those doing it are.
The Osu caste system, which classifies some people as inferior to others and denies them some benefits, is still prevalent in communities across the SouthEast region more than 200 years since the advent of Christianity in Igboland. It is regrettable that none of those five state governments had thought it wise to revalidate the Eastern Nigeria Law No 26 of 1960 which abolished the Osu caste system. Osu caste till today poses a serious threat to socialization impinging on the rights of people to freedom of association.
There is a reported experience sometime in America where an Igbo man was elected as the chairman of Igbo’s in a particular state and some people from their town began to protest saying he is “onye aka-ekpe” (left handed meaning Osu) and confessing to his white wife who queried reason for the protest, that he was an outcast cost him his life for refusal to disclose that.
In Enugu, the current governor has abrogated Osu and some communities have already started implementing it. Communities like Abba Nwangele in Imo, Alor in Idemili, Nnewi, Nnobi in Idemili all in Anambra State and other communities have taken turns at different times to renounce the Osu system with their traditional rulers leading the fight.
Reports so far have just like in rape cases that most people who are Osu have not come out to fight. It is very pertinent that these abused people in the society needs to come out to defend their rights. The white men fought against slavery; with the help of some freed slaves who gave their life and fought it. People should go to houses of assembly to demonstrate and say they don’t want it again and this will go.
News Echo is advising that the condemnation should go beyond rhetorics to demonstrable and visible actions to the contrary. Non Osu’s who have married Osu’s without repercussions should show themselves to motivate others. Individuals who are discriminated against should be bold to step out in protest and possibly challenge such actions. The law would naturally fond for those persons
Now that the progenitors of Igbo land have made pronouncements against the practice they should join hands with other social groups especially town unions in Igbo land to mount strident campaigns against it. Christians should live true to their faith and shun hypocrisy. Culture evolves over time and is not static. This is part of that social change that can be extinguished by virtue of common sense and good reason across religious and cultural lines.