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February 16, 2022

Outrage in Igboland over desecration of Ozo title by women

Outrage in Igboland over desecration of Ozo title by women

By Anayo Okoli, Dennis Agbo, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Chinedu Adonu, Chinonso Alozie, Ikechukwu Odu, Steve Oko & Emmanuel Iheaka

ENUGU—THERE was outrage  recently across Igboland, particularly among elders, traditional rulers, Ozo title holders, titled chiefs, leaders and stakeholders, over an online viral video showing some Igbo women in the Diaspora, specifically in the United Kingdom and Ireland, who claimed to have been initiated into the prestigious Ozo title society, a respected title that is an exclusive reserve for men of integrity and honour. In the video, the Igbo women also claimed to have formed a group they called ‘Umunwanyi Ozo Prestigious Chieftaincy Association, UK and Ireland’. The action sparked off a barrage of angry reactions and condemnation from Igbo leaders, who are well versed in culture and tradition. However, the recalcitrant women were said to have withdrawn the titles and apologised.

Apex Igbo socio-cultural body, Ohanaze Ndigbo, in reaction to the video, invited some leaders of the United Kingdom branch to find out what actually happened. The leaders, during the briefing, confirmed that the illegal act did happen, but they washed their hands off the whole mess.

On that note, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor, in strong terms, condemned the women and their action, saying that such was not accepted in Igboland. 

Nzuko Ozo Ndi-Igbo Nigeria, a group of Ozo title holders, in angry reaction, summoned an emergency meeting of the  stakeholders of Nzuko Ozo Ndi Igbo, where they vehemently condemned the women and their action, describing it as reckless and irresponsible. They  explained that throughout Igboland, Ozo title taking is an exclusive reserve for men, insisting that “women do not and cannot take Ozo title”.

They also stressed that Ozo title initiation in Igboland only takes place in the ancestral home land of the initiate-paternal or maternal-and never in foreign or strange land, pointing out that “the Ozo traditional institution exists only in recognised Igbo communities and there are rules for recognition of new communities, as well as procedures for initiation of new members, which include bestowal of Ofo Ozo from its rightful custodian”.

Stressing the importance of Ozo title in Igboland, Nzuko Ozo Ndi Igbo explained that “Ozo title is a sacred  Igbo institution for which an intending aspirant undergoes several rigorous puritanical processes”, and not a  chieftaincy title which is awarded or conferred by an Igwe or Eze.

They therefore denounced the ugly action of the women, saying that “it is reckless and irresponsible for a group of Igbo Women within or outside the shores of Nigeria to claim to be Ozo title holders and also claim to have formed an association called ‘Umunwanyi Ozo’ Prestigious Association of United Kingdom and Ireland”, describing them as “bizarre group of Igbo women”, and warn them of dire consequences which will descend on them for this willful desecration of Igbo values.

“Nzuko Ozo Ndigbo hopes that the women will come to their senses and terminate this charade and save themselves from the Igbo Nation ancestral wrath”, the group noted in a communiqué signed by Prof Ike Oluka, the National Chairman and Prince Ikenna Onyesoh, The Regent of Nri Ancient Kingdom, member, board of trustees of the group and Dr. Ferdinand Ozoani, a member of the board of trustees.

In his reaction, a eminent Law teacher at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Prof. Agu Gab Agu, who is an Ozo title holder in Ngwo community of Enugu state, said that Ozo title is well respected and valued in Igbo land that no one ever toys with it.

Prof. Agu, who belongs to Ubelenze-Ozo, the highest Ozo title holding in his Ngwo community, dismissed the action of the women as aberration and a naked exhibition of emotional depression.

He explained that Ozo title holding arose because of the republican nature of Ndigbo and marks show of respect, wealth and fame, indicating the industriousness of the title holder.

Agu stressed that the holder must be self-sufficient, possesses integrity, honour, self-respect and other virtues such as being able to speak the truth at all times and which indeed places the holder as an elder even if such a person is in his young age.

“The importance of Ozo title holding is that it helps in leadership of the community because the holders are truthful, self-sufficient, represents leadership of the community and it is an apex leadership in the Igboland,” Agu explained.

According to him, women are not bestowed with the title because of the dual nature of their citizenship.

“Without being immodest, in Igbo land, it is said that a woman is another man’s property and can be married out. Forget about Beijing conference and all that, this is the way it has been patented over the time by the people who started it. Women are ranking but they are very important in Igbo cosmology.

“The Igbo women in Europe who took the Ozo title is an aberration and a naked exhibition of emotional depression. It doesn’t talk good of where we are coming from. Are they aiming to become men, are they not satisfied with being women? They have withdrawn the titles and apologized but their villages should admonish them because even the white people recognize their boundaries,” Agu said.

He stated that Ozo title was not tied to fetish practices, noting that as a Christian, he holds the title and does not partake in any fetish activity.

“Ozo title is not just reformed but refined and that is why we have educated people in the system,” Agu emphasized.

A foremost Abia monarch, the traditional ruler of Isuochi Ancient Kingdom in Umunneochi Local Government Area, Eze Godson Ezekwesiri, while reacting to the issue dismissed the initiation of women into the sacred and prestigious Ozo society, describing what took place as “a gross abuse of Igbo tradition and custom”.

Eze Ezekwesiri who spoke with Vanguard on the heels of  the illegal initiation by some Igbo women in the United Kingdom into Ozo society.

According to the monarch, Ozo title is an exclusive reserved title for men with honour and respect who have made the necessary heroic roles to qualify for sure title.

He noted that although Ozo title is not a common in all communities in Igbo land, some communities have Ichie title as its equivalent which he added, is equally exclusively for men 

The monarch, however explained that since the affected women were initiated into the Ozo title abroad, they could be ignored as the strange action has no effect on Igbo custom and tradition.

Ezekwesiri said the affected women took the wrong steps wondering if they would courageously join other titled Ozo title holders in their meeting back home in the country.

“This is very strange. Ozo title is not for women but for men according to Igbo custom. When they come back to the country can they attend the meeting of Ndi Ozo? They should be ignored”, the monarch said.

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Renowned traditional ruler in Imo State, Eze Matthew Onweni, in his reaction, described such conferment as nullity.

Onweni, who is the traditional ruler of Ogbor Autonomous Community in Isiala Mbano Local Government Area, said it is alien to confer ozo title on a woman in Igbo land.

The monarch added that no one has the traditional right to confer an Ozo title in Diaspora, maintaining that the title is ancestry and involves a lot.

Onweni stated that a woman could be conferred with a chieftaincy title in conjunction with her husband, but not an Ozo title. He urged people to respect the culture of the Igbo.

Ozo title
•Ozo titled men in Igboland

“Women becoming Ozo for what? They can be conferred with a chieftaincy title in conjunction with their husbands and based on what they have done for the development of the community, but not Ozo. It is not in our culture. Unless they want to emulate England being ruled by a woman. Those in England can do anything because they are under the Queen.

“But here, it is not our tradition. We are yet to know if it is an innovation.

“You can’t confer Ozo title in America or outside the community. It is not a Diaspora thing. Was the ‘Ofo Ozo’ taken to United Kingdom and Ireland for the conferment? Conferment of Ozo involves a lot. It is an ancestral thing. Nobody has the traditional right or capacity to make someone an Ozo in Diaspora. They should come home and follow the culture of Igbo people.

“Such conferment is null and void, and can never be accepted in Igbo land”, Eze Onweni submitted.

On his own, another Imo monarch, Eze Oliver Ohanwe, the traditional ruler of Ihim Autonomous Community also in Isiala Mbano Local Government Area of Imo state, sounded a note of warning that Ozo title is not easily grabbed in Igbo land the way people cheaply get chieftaincy title.

Ohanwe pointed out that Ozo title has remained hereditary and could take roughly 30 days for the installation process to be completed. 

According to the traditional ruler, “I want to say this; they can do their chieftaincy title in foreign lands. But Ozo title in Igbo land is not matter of eating and drinking the way they do when they are taking their chieftaincy title. 

“The Ozo title in our land will take roughly 30 days including a lot of preparations that are involved. Ozo title is not given; it is hereditary. It is hereditary. You don’t grab it by force.

“The implication is that, it not like other titles being proliferated that has messed up our traditional heritage. Those of them doing it should see themselves as impersonators. This is not the chieftaincy title they can get anyhow and anywhere they want. This is a different thing”, the monarch stressed.

In his contribution, an Ozo title holder, Chief Vincent Ekwueme, of Aku, Igbo-Etiti Local Government Area of Enugu State lambasted hose Igbo women who conferred the revered Ozo title on themselves in the Diaspora.

Chief Ekwueme, who goes by ‘Oyi Igbo,’ as his Ozo title, said that those  women acted in total disrespect of Igbo tradition, adding that women take the title of ‘Lolo,’ which is conferred on women whose husbands are Ozo title holders.

The nonagenarian said that it is wrong to take Ozo title in the Diaspora because the traditional items and rituals which are performed step by step before one is initiated as Ozo cannot be found there.

He also said those women who took the title reserved for the men folks must be called to order and also made to atone for the total abuse of Igbo tradition.

He also said that only those who were already conferred with the title have the authority to confer it on other people.

A chieftain of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prince Richard Ozobu, in his reaction, condemned the act which he described as an abomination in Igbo land.

He stated that no woman has been decorated with the Ozo title in over 50 years history of the title in Igbo land and warned that anybody associated with giving such title to women should be made to pay a heavy fine to cleanse the land.

Ozobu also explained that the Ozo title is one of the most revered titles in the Igbo traditional system and is never adorned on anybody in Diaspora.

“It is absolute nonsense for anybody whether at home or in Diaspora to initiate women to Ozo title. It is not done. It is a worthless thing to talk about. It is a mere joke from people seeking media attention. It is not the culture of the Igbo to initiate women into the Ozo traditional society. It is an abomination in Igbo land.

“In Igbo land, a woman has no place taking Ozo title. In Igbo land, this tradition has lasted over 50 years ago, there has never been a history of women being initiated into Ozo society. To give such title to an undeserving person in a foreign land is to say the least, demeaning.

“Ozo title is never given in a foreign land. So, for a woman to claim to be initiated into the Ozo traditional society is to tell you how much the customs and traditions of the Igbo have been bastardized. It tells you that some Igbo fathers have failed to impart the Igbo tradition to their children. This is a very big failure on the part of such fathers.

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“In Igbo society, women have their own recognition and titles, but it is an abomination to give the Ozo title to any woman, no matter her status.  Anybody who commits the abomination of giving Ozo title to a woman should be made to pay a heavy fine and even pay to cleanse the land which he or she has defiled”, Ozobu said.

The Ohanaeze chieftain disclosed that the Ozo title represents peace, honesty, truth, honour, responsibility and proper administration of the Igbo society.

“The Ozo title is not just any other title in Igbo land. It is not just the red cap and the band on the leg only; the Ozo title also implies responsibility, honesty, honor and dignity. There are certain things the Ozo title holder can’t do because of what he represents. In some communities, many people take the Ozo title and also take it for their unborn children. And when such children grow up, they are informed about what has been done on their behalf by their fathers. They are bound by those responsibilities.

“It is another way of salvaging our society by bringing peace, harmony, truth and proper administration of the society. This is what the Ozo title is all about. It has never been extended to women in the history of the Igbo people. Any woman who wears a red cap and claims to have been given an Ozo title should have the cap removed and chased away. It is an abomination”, he said.

Ozo Dr. McGinger Ibeneme also has condemned the illegal and abominable act, insisting that such is never allowed in Igbo land.

According to Ozo Ibeneme, they are women who claim to be modern feminist but in reality are they are modern anarchist who try to truncate everything and turn the world upside down.

He however said though women cannot be initiated into Ozo society but can be recognized as Ada-Ozo following the initiation of their husband into Ozo society.

He expressed disappointment that the same Igbo women who were trained to be advanced by the men are the one mocking the Igbo culture.

“Assertion that Ozo title is exclusive for men only is not completely right because it is men and their wife that receive the honour at same time. 

“When a man is initiated to Ozo Society, the wife will become Ada-ozo, and that is the only way a woman can join the society. Ozo was founded by men. All these women are those who identified themselves as modern feminist but in reality they are modern anarchists who try to truncate everything and turn the world upside down.

“I have never seen where men insisted on joining Umu-Ada meeting or form Women meeting, Norway branch. It is always the women who want to force themselves into masculine things. Women have their things, even in the old, they have women group, market group, dancing group, women society and during that time the society was in order, there was complete synchrony among the various group, none dominated the order.

“As a matter of fact, the Igbo women were more influential than the men. The men were tasked to do all the risky jobs and the women do jobs that are not risky or physically tasking. There was no conflict or rivalry. It was for the purpose of orderliness and complimentary engagement in the communities.

“But in modern world, most of the people who propagate this so called feminism are people who do not want to do things that women do and are not also ready to so what men do because when the chips are down, they still want the men to do all the things they cannot do as women.

“Ozo society was a cultural association founded by Igbo men and it conferred responsibilities to the men who were initiated and their wives. It is an exclusive society that conferred nobility on the initiated. A married woman or single woman can never by herself be initiated into Ozo society. It is never done and it can’t be valid when if is done.

“I try to see it in a comical perspective, like in ESUT, they have Nze and Ozo which is a student things; it is not serious but a parody group. That’s how I see the so UK called Women Nze and Ozo thing. To that effect information needs to be given out that it is a parody association and does not deserve the outrage it is really commanding at a point in time because that is making it look more serious than it is.

“Moreover, you can’t take Ozo title outside Igbo land and not outside Igbo land but your community. In some Igbo culture, they only permit the Ozo title from your mother’s home. In my own side, Achi community in Oji River, the only place you can take Ozo title and be recognized is from Achi, any other title outside that is not recognized.

“The origin of Nze and Ozo is from Nri in Anambra State and most of Nze and Ozo in Igbo land get the initial authority from that ancient kingdom where the association was formed. So, Nze and Ozo is not something that after eating and drinking in a foreign land you just decided to have the title. Did they do the rituals preceding the initiation proper?

 “Why didn’t they look for other chieftaincy group since they like Igbo culture without trying to mess up association that has existed for over three hundred years? It is a attempt for anarchy. Why is it that it is Igbo people that are doing this? The Igbo women are the most advanced in Nigeria.

“Ndigbo empower women to be advanced but not to be making mockery of the culture that empower them. No matter what the motives are, they were not well thought out before embarking on it. I suggest they will retrace their steps and chose another thing else or make it clear that they are a parody association but not to be making mockery of our culture.

“The Ozo title is a noble order created originally for the purpose of truth and mobilization of funds for Igbo traders founded by Prince of Nri in 1420 AD and it grew into a noble association that began to play leadership roles in the community. It has different connotations in different Igbo clan; it has different recognitions in different communities, even the reach is not exactly the same as it differs from place to place.

“The real thing has been watered down because people who are very modern were not comfortable going into the actual ritualistic things. However it does not make it inferior, the important thing is that you swore the oath of purity, to live above the board, to always tell the truth, to be in a truthful arbiter and do contribute in the development of your community.

“It is an exclusive Association that one of its basic qualifications is that you are an Igbo man and you are married because once you become initiated into the Society your wife automatically becomes Ada-Ozo. The person who is qualified is screened by the community”, he explained.

Vanguard News Nigeria