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Catholic Church puts seal on abolition of Osu caste in Igboland

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Auxiliary Bishop of Awka Diocese,Most Rev Jonas-Benso Okoye, with priests, some members of Ora-Eri town union executive and the Royal Ezenri cabinet members after the thanksgiving Mass

By Vincent Ujumadu

THE Catholic Church in Anambra State has put a final seal on the abolition of the Osu Caste system in Igbo land with a thanksgiving service celebrated at the ancient town of Ora-Eri in Aguata local government area of Anambra State.

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Recall that the traditional ceremony abolishing the over 500 years old obnoxious system was performed by the Okpala Eri XIII, Anthony Okafor,     on 14th  September last year during which those hitherto referred to as Osu and the freeborn embraced each other and decided to put the past behind.

At that ceremony, the traditional ruler of Ora-Eri, His Royal Highness, Ezenri Emmanuel Nriagu warned that henceforth, anybody who referred to another person as Osu would be seriously dealt with. To drive home the importance of last year’s ceremony, the Ora-Eri community last week invited the church to make Christian pronouncement banning the system in the entire Igbo land.

The Auxiliary Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Reverend Jonas- Benson Okoye was at the head of the celebration, with five other priests in attendance. Bishop Okoye was particularly happy with Ora-Eri community for collaborating with the church in the abolition of Osu system in the town, explaining that the thanksgiving church service was to conclude the exercise that began last year.

Reverend Monsignor Jerome Madueke, who delivered the homily at the church service, traced the origin of Osu in Igbo land, recalling that some people, out of cheer wickedness, were dedicated to idols for no justifiable reason.

He said: “These (Osu) people lived upright life. They were respected because of the idols that owned them. Nowadays, people are busy destroying the physical structures (idols) which were symbols of worship of our forefathers, but still retaining them in their minds and spirit, fearing them and attributing all their woes to them.

“But since Jesus came that we may have life and have it in full, everybody is equal before God and all gifts come from God and to be used for the good of others, especially the less privileged.

“It is regrettable that we worship God and idols together because of our lack of faith. Our ancestors should be pardoned because they worshiped idols out of ignorance. Let us therefore appreciate that Jesus came and abolished distinction between free born and slaves.

“Unless we allow God to come into our minds, in behaviours and relationship with others, the issue of Osu may still linger. I want to observe that in addition to the formal abolition of Osu system, there is still great work to do and I pray that by the grace of God, we can achieve much more.”

. He thanked Ora -Eri people for living up to Christ’s injunctions by taking the bold step to abolish Osu in the community.

The traditional ruler of the town, HRH Ezenri Emmanuel Nriagu commended the Bishop for celebrating the church service and the parish priest Rev Fr Nwakelu Andrew for his unalloyed support during the preparation of the abolition ceremony, as well as the indigenous priests and the entire people of the community for their support. He also affirmed that his cabinet was ready to confer any title on any deserving indigene of the town irrespective of his background.

Eze Nriagu warned that henceforth anybody in his domain who discriminated against others on the basis of Osu caste system would face the full weight of traditional hammer, describing the Osu system as retrogressive. According to him, the people of Ora-Eri were happy to put behind the system that reduced fellow human beings to second class citizens for centuries.

“With the ceremony we have performed in this community, those formerly described as Osu will start taking traditional titles and intermarry with others.

“Those who were hitherto referred to as Osu in this community have been bestowed with all rights and privileges enjoyed by the freeborn. They are good people and many of them are intelligent and beautiful and everybody stands to gain by putting behind this obnoxious system.”

The Royal Father thanked the Bishop for celebrating the church service and assured that his people would never go back to the dark era.

Chief Anthony Okafor, who presided over the abolition ceremony at the community square last year said he had been campaigning for the abolition for several years, expressing joy that his effort had finally paid off.

Okafor said: “When I took the title of Okpara in 1990, I took it upon myself that Osu Caste system must be abolished. It was not easy at the beginning.

“In the past four years, I chose to be sampling people’s opinion on the matter and it was during that period that I found out that many people in our community also wanted the system abolished, but did not know how to go about it.

“We later renewed the campaign and happy enough, the leadership of Ora -Eri Development Union and our traditional ruler were in support.”

In his speech, the President General of Ora-Eri Development Union, Mr. Okey Atueyi said the community had taken a bold decision and commended everybody in the area for their support in putting the discriminatory system behind. “You can see how happy the people are,” he said.

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The Parish priest of Ora-Eri, Rev Fr Andrew Nwakelu expressed appreciation to the people of Ora-Eri for participating in the historic church celebration and enjoined them to remain with the new spirit.

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