You cannot ban Osu with fiats, but with knowledge!

In recent times, a new fad has gripped many Igbo communities, and set fire to the imaginations of some Igbo individuals. Igbo clans have been ‘banning’ and ‘abolishing’ osu, ohu, and amadi lately.  An individual has began to attract a following because he has cleverly linked osu-stopping to the quest for Biafra which symbolizes Igbo demand for equal treatment of Igbos by the Nigerian state.

Last week a young Igbo activist, Blessing Ada Ukelonu, submitted an update on Facebook. Her update was about an Igbo man’s promise to stop ‘osu’ which in the view of this man, is one of the ‘problems’ which are hindering Igbos from having Biafra.

A recent ‘banning’ exercise was reported by the Vanguard newspaper. It was by a clan called Irete, which is in the portion of Igboland baptized Imo, after a river called Imo. During this event which took place on July 14, 2018, the traditional ruler, E.C. Ekwelibe was reported by the Vanguard’s Rotimi Agbana, to have declared, “the Ohu, Ume, Diala and ‘Osu’ Caste Systems, abolished.” In attendance at this event were concerned Igbos such as CY Amako (Irete 1), Lolo Uche Amako, Chief Chris Anukam (Omeudo Irete) Phillian Chima Duru, Smart Monye, Duru Sunny George, and last but not least,  Rev. Dr. AJV Obinna, who in the words of Vanguard writer Rotimi Agbana,  “has become a field marshal in the anti-osu movement.”

During the most recent ‘banning’ exercise, which the Vanguard newspaper’s Dennis Agbo covered, well placed Igbos such as former governor and senator, Jim Nwobodo,  Archbishop of Anglican Communion, His Grace, Most Rev. (Dr) Emmanuel Chukwuma; representative of the Catholic Bishop of Enugu Diocese; Methodist Archbishop of Enugu Diocese, Rt. Rev (Barr) Christopher Edeh; Methodist Bishop Emeritus, Most Rev. M. U Ogoh; Chairman of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, in Enugu State, Bishop (Dr.) Godwin Madu and the traditional ruler of Ozala community, Crescent Okafor, were present. About the event which took place during the 1st week of September 10, 2018, and reported in the Vanguard of September 5th 2018, Agbo reported, “President-General, Ozalla Development Union and Chairman, Ozalla Development Committee, Chief Afam Ani traced the tortuous journey to the desegregation, unification, oneness and love in Ozalla to one Okwudili Chianake who in February 2017 approached him with God’s instruction that the caste system should be abolished.”

Some retired Anglican bishops have come together under a group called Total Liberation Crusaders to ‘ban’, ‘abolish’ and ‘stop.’ According to the Punch newspaper of 22 December 2016, “Addressing a press conference on Wednesday in Awka, in the portion of Igboland christened Anambra State, Bishops Raphael Okafor, Anthony Nkwoka and Samuel Chukuka described the practice as terrible. They wondered why the 1956 law of Eastern Nigeria abolishing the Osu caste system had remained unenforceable.

In 1956, the government which represented a solid majority of Igbos, the Eastern Region government banned the osu.

Unfortunately, and apparently non of those engaged in ‘banning’, ‘abolishing’, and ‘stopping’, has really tried to find out why a law enacted by government, and their own efforts have not yielded any dividend. If any improvement has been recorded, bishops, top politicians, and civic leaders, would still not be in the trenches still issuing bans, and threats against the bogeyman in September 2018.

Sadly, all the efforts, likely with good intentions, failed, because today no Igbo is an osu! Every Igbo who was an osu stopped being one when the majority of Igbos, including, and especially the first to acquire Western education, who became Igbo leaders left the Igbo religion due to British colonial pressure, and became Christians. When Igbos stopped being Igbos and became Christians, Igbos effectively abolished the osu community which the function of its members was to work with the Igbo priesthood in Omenana, the Igbo religion. What is plaguing the Igbo community is forgetfulness, and hatred of their past and religion, which they were coerced into hating and despising. I will draw an illustration which will give us a very vivid picture of what those who are with good intentions doing ‘bannings’, ‘abolishments’, and ‘stoppings’ are doing. Let us assume that most Igbos became Buddhists, and they were tricked to view Christianity as the epitome of evil and backwardness. Let us look at a century after: the mass servers, acolytes,  monks, nuns, of the older demonized and abandoned religion had began to suffer discrimination, at the hands of Buddhist Igbos, who thought that the discrimination had always been part of their culture, and let us look at these folks as some well meaning Buddhist Igbos who rose, began to ban, abolish, and stop what stopped existing before they were born.

I know, and every Igbo knows that no Igbo is an osu today, because no Igbo serves with Eze Mmuo or Eze ana in Omenana today, after dedication for life-long service. Or after fleeing to an Igbo sanctuary for safety. In fact most of the sanctuaries have been destroyed by crazed fanatics. But I, and most Igbos also know that discrimination against descendants of osu exists. This impelled me to research the matter. I came out with the monograph Dissecting the Osu Institution: The Bell of Freedom Tolls for the ‘outcasts’ of Israel, which numerous Igbos have read, and given rave reviews, because as it explained exactly the service Igbos who became osu performed in Igbo religion, and how they became osu, which most Igbos either have forgotten or do not know, the study laid an axe on the root of the discrimination. But I was not able to get at the most important reason behind the most sensitive part of the discrimination, until two Igbo scholars, Attorney Emeka Maduewesi, and Professor Onyebuchi James Ile, also took intensive and extensive looks at osu, and got information which bridged gaps. Maduewesi saw that the Netinim, temple servants, in the Israelite religion which is very similar to Omenana, were enjoined to only marry within their own community. And Ile explained that what Igbos view as discrimination, was not discrimination, until the religion of the Igbos, and its adherents, Igbos, became odious in the eyes of contemporary Igbos who subconsciously view themselves as Christians more than as Igbos. The osu, as part of the priestly class, were part of the elites, if one can use the word elite to describe anything in a society which was the most egalitarian in the world, or one of the most…. What do elites do? They try to marry fellow elites. Presently, I am also thinking that the Eze Mmuo, Osu, Eze Nri, Umu Nri, who all served the Igbos in public capacities, like the priests, Levites, and Netinim in biblical Israel, married only within their folds, because marriage between a priest and a daughter of a priest would work more easily. So, as we can see, the barriers against inter-marriage between those in the priestly institution, and those outside it, which we see as segregation today, was present in older times, but was not disabling.

So, those applying bans, abolishments, and stoppings, in 2018, to a community that ceased to exist decades ago, should rethink, and redirect their energies. Our people are in such a dire need to study this issue that most apply terms which are not in any way close to what osu stands for. The osu was not an outcast traditionally. Outcasts would not be in charge of a community’s temple. I used the word community, which best describes the osu. Grandstanding, issuing of threats, and braggadocio will not solve a problem which humble, patient and skillful research will solve.  And good intentions alone will not solve problems. Research, and dissemination of authentic information, will solve problems. Fortunately, Igbo film-maker, Arinze Cre Ahanonu is taking steps to tell the true story of osu in a forthcoming movie.

Remy Ilona is the author of Dissecting the Osu Institution: The Bell of Freedom Tolls for the ‘outcasts’ of Israel, a lawyer, co-founder of Omenana Defenders, founder of Hebrew-Igbo People, and author of nine other books about Igbo people. His next article will be about Igbo people at crossroads. He thinks that if Igbos take the right turn Igbos will become one of the most important peoples in the near future, but if they take the wrong turn, ominously the dustbin of history awaits this enigmatic people.

About the Author
Remy Ilona, is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside, where he also functions as a teaching assistant. He is also the secretary-general of Hebrew-Igbo people, an Igbo socio-cultural organization. He is also an author of 10 books. He is of Ibo or Igbo extraction, and a lawyer by training, as well as a historian of the Ibo. He is among the leaders shepherding the Ibos re-emerging Judaism.