The Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese, Godfrey Onah and his counterpart from the Anglican Communion, Rt. Rev. Aloysius Agbo have overseen the abolition of slavery, caste system and all forms of discrimination against human beings in Eha-Alumona in Nsukka, Enugu state.

Meanwhile, note that events are what make one day different from another. Some days are regarded and remembered with greater dignity than others because certain events mark them out from the rest.  31st December 2021 will forever be a memorable and dignified day in Eha-Alumona land as it was the day that marked the end of an era and the beginning of another. It was the day that the entire Eha Alumona people unanimously proclaimed the abolition of all forms of slavery, caste system and discriminations against persons in the community.

The ceremony which was officiated by Bishop Godfrey Onah of the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka, and his counterpart from Anglican Communion, Rt Rev. Aloysius Agbo – together with clerics from both denominations, traditional rulers, politicians and Eha Alumona dignitaries – was the first of its kind in Eha-Alumona. It was the first time that the people gathered to officially distance themselves and disown, overt and covert, ancestral discriminations against some persons in the community.

Ehalumona is in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State.  It shares a common boundary on the South with Ede-Oballa and Opi, South East with Mbu, North by Ogbodu Aba and Orba and West by Nsukka.  Eha Alumona comprises three major quarters, namely: Eha, Agbamere and Umabor. Hence the name Nkpunato— three quarters.

 Eha- Alumona is a home to many illustrious personalities, captains of industries and seasoned intellectuals. It is one of the first places that the white missionaries first visited in Nsukka area. Thus, it is one of the few places that Catholicism first came to in Nsukka.

Before the dawn of Christianity, many obnoxious practices obtained in Eha-Alumona. Like other parts of Igboland, discrimination and hatred against people just because of where they come from were rife. In those days of the yore, many people were ousted from the community for one reason or the other, and some were rendered slaves by conquest.

Those unlucky persons were quarantined away from the main community and thence treated as sub-human beings. They were denied free association with the rest. They were seen, rated and regarded as impure breeds and inferior human beings. By structure and institutions on ground, insiders and outsiders were led to see the victims through the same lens of hatred and discrimination.

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Ever since that tragic incidence in the past, the gully had always remained among Eha Alumona people. The effect was that the oppressed were denied leadership positions, barred from being married or marrying from the oppressors, banned from any association with the oppressors, and treated as unclean persons and good- -for-nothing human beings.

The event of December 31 was historic in that it was envisioned to totally heal the wounds of the past. It was the rise of the voice of reason over the voice of irrationality. It was the eclipse of hatred by love. It was the victory of faith over farce. It was the baptism of culture by the gospel message of equality of everybody before God (Heb. 12:23).

The letter of invitation to the ceremony which was endorsed by all the Royal highnesses of the community reads in part: ‘We the undersigned dignitaries of Ehalumona on behalf of all the Members of Oha-Nkpunato, the Elders, and Elites of Ehalumona who have spoken with one voice, write to bring to the notice of the entire Ehalumonians of our immediate and complete eradication of all forms of discriminations, segregation and name callings such as slaves (Ohu, Osu), Ukweje, Agbamere Oraeja, Umabor Ukwututwofu etc, and inter-marital barriers.’

The event was considered so important that the elders of the community banned wedding, traditional marriages, burial/funeral ceremonies etc on 31st December, 2021 so as to make sure that the people were not diverted to any other occasion. Here goes the ban: ‘We, therefore, use this platform to inform all families, villages, various communities in the entire Ehalumona that the above bodies (Members of Oha Nkpunato, Council of Igwe, Chiefs and Elites), for the sake of this wonderful celebration ban any other kind of celebration(s): wedding, traditional marriage, burial ceremony etc on the fateful day, 31st Dec., 2021.’ They sternly warned that anybody who failed to adhere to the above regulation would have the Oha-Nkpunato Ehalumona to contend with.

Thus, 31st December, 2021 was a red-letter day for the entire Eha-Alumona people. The ceremony for the eradication of discriminations started with an opening prayer that was led by Bishop Gregory I. Onah after which Igwe Dr. Donatus E. Eze (Eze-Igwe II of Eha Alumona) gave an opening remark. In the opening remarks, he disclosed that the gathering was envisioned to bring to an end in Eha Alumona all forms of discriminations and all residual accretions of slavery in the land.

He made it clear that the convention was aimed at stopping all manners of denigration, underrating of persons based on the unfortunate accidents in history; removal of every barrier in intra-communal relationship in Eha-Alumona and evolving a new Eha-Alumona where people will be treated no longer based on the inherited mistake of the past.

As the spokesperson of Eha-Alumona community, Igwe Dr. Donatus E Eze, stated in his opening remark that the journey for the reconciliation that culminated on 31st Decemeber 2021 was begun in 2008. He revealed that earlier attempts made to bring the reconciliation about failed because those who self-styled themselves as the free born and pure race gave conditions for the readmission of their brothers and sisters into communion.

It was learnt that previously, those who were discriminated against were required to present nine live cows for their ‘cleansing’ and reintegration. These obnoxious conditions were turned down by the injured and victims of the age-long oppression. That made the conversation for reconciliation to linger for 13 years.

Having declared the intention for the historic gathering, the Bishop of Anglican Communion, Rt Rev. Aloysius Agbo prayed intently for God to hearken to the stated intentions and heal the land. He prayed for the cleansing of the land and for the dawn of a new day in Eha Alumona with the abolition of discriminations. The Bishop stormed heaven with prayers meant to change the heart of God towards Eha-Alumona people and the hearts of the people towards one another.

The prayer of the Bishop was followed with a reading from the Holy Bible. The Reading which was taken by Rev. Fr Edward Okeke was drawn from Galatians 3:23-28.  Verse 28 of the scripture clearly stated thus:  There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female—for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

The Catholic Bishop of Nsukka, Rt. Rev. Godfrey I. Onah reflected on the scriptural passage. In a free narrative style, the Bishop related a question he was once asked by someone: ‘Which is older between Christianity and Igbo culture?’ The intent of the questioner was to show that Christianity came late in Igbo pantheon and as such is inferior to African Traditional Religion. The Bishop made it clear that he himself posed a counter question to the questioner: ‘Who brought Igbo culture?’

The answer came: ‘Igbo forebears’. Then the Bishop said that he probed further: ‘Who brought Christianity?’ And the answer came: ‘Christ’.  To answer the first question then, he asked the questioner: ‘Between Christ (God) and the Igbo forebears who is older?’ And the man responded: ‘Christ is older’. Therefore, Church is older than culture.

Bishop Onah did not stop at that. He posed further questions: ‘Between being naked and wearing cloth, which is older? Between walking a far distance on foot and using means of transportation, which is older?

Between killing of twins and acceptance of twins in Igbo culture, which is older? Between addressing people with bare natural voice and the use of microphone, which is older?’ In all of these questions and similar ones, it was agreed that the later development is better than the older ones.

The Bishop, therefore, made it clear that it is a wrong question to ask which is older between the Church and culture.  According to him, the correct question should always be which is better and not which is older. He wrapped up his reflection by telling his audience not to blindly insist on their culture especially where the latter antagonizes Christianity.

After the reflection, Igwe Dr. Donatus Eze on behalf of other traditional rulers, on behalf of entire Eha Alumona people past and present, went to the oppressed and apologized. That was one of the highpoints of the ceremony! It was tear-inducing when His Royal Highness intoned the plea for forgiveness.

It is important to note that earlier the oppressed were required to bring nine live cows to be welcome back into full communion with the community. But the reconciliation that was effected on 31 December, 2021 was unconditionally. Instead of bring anything for reintegration as earlier demanded by the oppressors, they rather lavishly apologized to their victims.

In the course of the apology, His Royal Highness Donatus Eze stated that a number of people who were ostracized by the community, or who were threatened to be killed and who ran away for their dear lives constituted those who were discriminated and before then treated as slaves.

He hinted that some of the families that were before then stigmatized as unclean race could still trace their root to the other side of the divide. They can still tell who their brothers and sisters are among the oppressors.

Following the apology of Igwe Donatus Eze, a representative of the victims of the discrimination, His Royal Highness, Igwe Daniel Ugwuanyi, the Igwe of Ezebunagu community, accepted the apology in the name of all the oppressed—past and present. The touchy acceptance speech marked the definitive eradication of slavery, discrimination and recriminations arising from it in Eha-Alumona. It began the end of disparagement in the community. It opened the page of mutual brotherliness and sorority between the formerly disparate groups.

Father Bishop Godfrey Onah then blessed holy water which was used for the cleansing of the people from all inherited curses, filthiness incurred in the course of the age-long discrimination. Very Rev. Fr. Amuluche Gregory Nnamani, the Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka and a native of the land, performed the ritual of taking the holy water to the elders and leaders for their purification and the cleansing of the land.  The eldest man from Eboh first did the ritual washing before others followed.

Bishop Aloysius Agbo of Anglican communion led the people in a prayer session in which the people distanced themselves from the past discriminations, oppressions, and victimizations meted out to the oppressed. In the prayer sessions, the people promised to shun every act of discrimination, oppression, defamation, denigration, disparagement, and snobbery. Instead, they resolved to love and relate with one another as brothers and sisters thenceforth.

Implications of this milestone achievement are far-reaching. First, it signified the end of hostility towards anybody based on where the person is coming from. It signified the end of discrimination against people in Eha-Alumona. In other words, the people are now free to inter-marry unlike before. It also means that leadership positions are now open for all.

Another significance is that anybody can now buy land in any part of Eha Alumona unlike before. Another fall out of the reconciliation is that anybody who is stranded anywhere in Eha Alumona can now walk into any house to pass a night or rent a house to live in for businesses unlike before.  

A lot of positive reactions have continued to pour in since the achievement of this feat.  When contacted on phone, His Royal Highness Dr. Donatus Eze expressed his unalloyed joy that the reconciliation happened in his time. He disclosed that his son is free to marry from Ezebunagu community without any fear of any sort.

Igwe Donatus Eze enjoined all to abide by the new code of mutual co-existence. His counterpart, His Royal Highness, Daniel Ugwuanyi, Agun’eche Ibe of Ezebunagu, revealed to this writer that his people feel so fulfilled with the eradication of marginalization and discrimination in Nkpunato.

According to him, ‘It is hope fulfilled for the entire people of Ezebunagu.’ When asked whether his people will be ready to marry from and be married to Eha Alumona, His Royal Highness Igwe Daniel Ugwuanyi confided in this writer that he has decided to blaze the trail in having his son marry from Eha-Alumona. He stressed that his son who is currently in Netherland will break the jinx when he finds someone from Eha Alumona. He was full of gratitude to the two Churches for championing the dawn of the new era.

It is important to recognize the remote efforts of past and present priests and pastors who had labored in Eha Alumona soil for the quality of faith they sowed. Like mustard seed, the gospel they preached and witnessed to have come to fruition.

This achievement is a proof of the fact that our people are amenable to the gospel even if they are tardy in responding to it. It is an encouragement to preachers not to slack in their zeal. It has taken more than a century for the gospel to conquer hatred. But our joy is that it did conquer in the end. We encourage present and future pastors in Eha-Alumona to cash in on this achievement to extirpate division among the people. They need to consolidate on this achievement.

We are much beholden to the elders and leaders of thoughts from Eha-Alumona for piloting this re-union. It shows that Eha-Alumona people are open to progress. They have proven that their education is not for nothing. They have equally proven that their Christianity is not fake.

History will concede a place of honour to all those who supported and sacrificed a lot for this great peace. History is also open to record the first to marry and be married, the first to sell or buy land, the first to rent house and so on.  

The roles of the two friendly Bishops—Bishop Godfrey Igwebuike Onah and Bishop Aloysius E Agbo of Catholic and Anglican Dioceses of Nsukka respectively cannot be over-emphasized.

What they did at Eha-Alumona on 31 December, 2021 they already did at Alor Uno. The most amazing thing about the two Bishops is their unhidden friendship. Bishop Onah addressed both priests of Anglican and Catholic Churches who came to the ceremony shortly before he left the arena. He teased them thus: ‘It is the business of any Anglican priest and Catholic priest that quarry. For Bishop Aloysius Agbo and I, we are friends.’ There is no better way of preaching ecumenism than that.

Indeed, the two Bishops have successfully healed the undeclared but waged war and tension between the mother and daughter Churches.  It was beautiful to watch both Anglican and Catholic priests being entertained at St. Mary Catholic parish house at the end of the ceremony! Thus, these two Bishops are not only healing the divisions of slavery, they are also mediating a healing along Church divide.  They have taught us Catholic priests and Anglican priests to continue same in our rectories.

Before leaving the arena of the reconciliation, the two Bishops jointly blessed the people and that was followed with the sprinkling of holy water amidst paroxysm of joyous songs. It is our prayer that other communities where there are extant discriminations should borrow a leaf from Eha-Alumona.

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