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Enugu community in disarray over Osu caste system

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By Uzoh Ugwueze, Enugu

Three years after the much-celebrated abolishment of the Osu system in Ishi-Ozalla, Nkanu West local government area of Enugu state, the practice appears to have resurfaced.

Orient Daily recalls that, following the painstaking efforts of some prominent indigenes of the town, the system was abolished in 2018, bringing to an end, decades of segregation. It had been all fanfare then as religious and traditional leaders gathered in the community and cemented the agreement.

From that moment, discriminatory practices gave way, as both parties began to relate as one, including inter-marriage, with a N200,000 package given to anyone who married from the other side.

However, the effort seems to be fading away as, only recently, the people of Edendiagu village of Ishi-Ozalla, took to the streets in their numbers, after they were allegedly ostracised by a section of the community.

They claimed that the decision was taken during a meeting at the residence of a former minister of information, Frank Nweke Jnr., an indigene of the community.

This is not unconnected with the chieftaincy tussle in the community.

The protesters carried placards with the inscription: ‘Say No to Ostracism’, ‘All we Want is Peace in Ishi Ozalla’, ‘Enugu is our State, Stop Dividing Us’ and ‘Resurgence of Caste System in Ishi-Ozalla is an Act of Greed and Wickedness’.

The villagers marched from the Enugu state House of Assembly to the Enugu State Government House where Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi was said to have described the said ostracization as a hoax.

Ugwuanyi was quoted as saying that such practice had no place in the state.

The governor described such alleged pronouncement as a practice which does not exist in the state, adding that the state government would take the necessary steps to restore normalcy in the area. He was also said to have suspended the March 22, 2021 proposed election to fill the kingship stool in the community, which was at the centre of the crisis.

According to the governor, a people in crisis cannot be allowed to go into such election, adding that peace should be paramount. The leader of the protesting villagers, Chief Munachimso Okoye, said they had gone to notify the governor about a looming crisis in their community.

Okoye, a priestess of Edeaniagu village, described the current situation in their village as ominous, adding that it needed urgent intervention of the state government. She said that their community had been without a king since the death of their traditional ruler, Igwe Frank Nweke in 2012.

She said that the community had known no peace since then as some prominent politicians had hijacked the administration of the community.

The priestess said that their late traditional ruler was the father of a former minister of information, Mr Frank Nweke jnr. She said that the crisis was instigated by some of the political bigwigs in the community who wanted to become kingmakers.

Okoye said that the constitution of Ishi-Ozalla Development Union empowered any of the 12 villages in the community to field candidates during the election of a traditional ruler. She said that their trouble started when Edeaniagu village nominated one Sylvester Nweke to contest the traditional stool.

“This did not go down well with a prominent politician in the community who instigated the rest of the people to tag us as outcasts and subsequently ostracised us,” she said.

Okoye described Edeaniagu village as an aborigine and the first settlers in Ozalla clan, adding that it was demeaning to tag them as outcasts. “How can a single person instigate the ostracism of a whole village and put a law that anybody that talks to us will either be banished or pay a fine of N200, 000?

“This is against the law of the state and if we do not stop this type of practice now, then I do not know what they will call our children,” she said.

Okoye appealed to the governor to impress it on the ministry of chieftaincy affairs to put off the election to enable the various interests to iron out their differences.

The protesters, numbering over 200, were earlier received by the House Committee Chairman on Chieftaincy, Mr Ezenta Ezeani.

Ezeani assured them of the intervention of the legislators to ensure that the right things were done in the community.

Meanwhile, the leadership of Ishi-Ozalla Town Union has disputed the allegations.

In a statement signed by Obinna Nvene, the president general and Ikechukwu Igweonyia Ngene, the public relations officer, the community said they had long ago abolished all forms of segregation in the community. “We hereby state, without equivocation, that no one has been ostracised from Ishi-Ozalla autonomous community.

“Ishi-Ozalla is a progressive and peace-loving community and together with the other four autonomous communities in Ozalla town – Etiti-Ozalla, Obeagwu-Ozalla, Okorouba-Ozalla and Obeagwu-Ozalla, on Saturday, September 1, 2018, accomplished the widely applauded and historic Project for the Abolition of Segregation in Ozalla (PASO) which ended all forms of social discrimination in the entire community.

“Laudable as the initiative was, the greater Ozalla community recognised that segregation practices had been in existence for centuries, and therefore established a standing committee known as the Ozalla Unity Committee (OUC) which principal responsibility was to nurture the abolition initiative and manage issues that may arise on matter related thereto on an ongoing basis.

“What was achieved by Ozalla in September 1, 2018, was historic and to date has not been successfully replicated in any other community across Nkanuland and Enugu state in general.

“All persons of goodwill within and outside Ozalla should see that achievement as a legacy worthy of preservation and should desist from actions or utterances which may undermine that historic initiative.

“Most importantly, our people have lived together in peace and harmony through the ages and we must therefore resist any and all attempts to undermine the harmony and peaceful coexistence between and amongst the entire people of Ozalla,” they said in the statement.

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