STEPS to end the obnoxious Osu caste system in Igboland appear to be gathering steam in a way never seen before. In September this year during the 1019th celebration of the New Yam Festival of Nri Kingdom (believed to be the birthplace of most Igbo groups), Eze Nri Enweleana II, Obidiegwu Onyesoh, abolished the system in his community. In July this year, it was abolished in Irete in Owerri, Imo State.
December 28th 2018 has also been set aside by Eze Nri, leading other major Igbo traditional rulers, to phase out the caste system in all communities in Igboland where it is practised. A statement by the Chairman of the Eri Dynasty Traditional Rulers Forum, Eze Nkeli Nzekwe, declared: “It’s time to end this once and for all and unite our people for the new era. It’s time for our estranged brothers and sisters who were sold into slavery to return home. We are more than ready to atone for the sins of our forefathers and reunite with our kith and kin in America, Europe, the Islands, and beyond. It’s time.”
The Osu caste system, which is prevalent in Anambra, Imo and some areas in Ebonyi states, discriminates against families which in the ancient times were dedicated to the local deities because human sacrifice was required to cleanse the land of abominations. The Osu were mostly slaves and other categories of persons considered as “inferior”, as opposed to those who were “freeborn” or “Nwadiala”. As outcasts, they were discriminated against and not accepted by the mainstream of society.
In spite of efforts by clerics, political leaders and social crusaders to consign this system to the dustbin of history it is still being stubbornly observed in many communities. In 1956, the Eastern Nigerian House of Assembly had passed a law abolishing it, but it was not implemented.
There is no reason for this caste system to remain in these modern times. Slavery was abolished long ago, and no human sacrifice is going on anywhere in Nigeria except as a criminal offence linked to some dark cults. The constitution of Nigeria declares every person free and equal before the law. All Nigerians are constitutionally entitled to fundamental human rights, which include the right to freedom from discrimination and the dignity of the human person.
To end the Osu and similar inhuman caste systems wherever they are being practiced in Nigeria requires a combination of cultural reforms, law enforcement and active sensitisation. Serious legal actions need to be taken against any form of discrimination and dehumanisation.
We call on traditional authorities and churches in Igboland to prevail on every community still practising the Osu caste system to abolish it individually after the December 28th 2018 collective abolition.