There was a time in Igboland, when human beings were born equal in dignity and right. People lived and interacted with one another in the spirit of brotherhood. Everybody was free to reside and relate with others without discrimination.
But some centuries ago, things changed. The caste system was introduced. And since then, human rights, dignity and respectability have not been the same again, especially for those who belong to the Osu caste. No one knows exactly when this leprous system started.
Some people say it must have started two centuries ago. Others argue that it has been on for six centuries. But whatever the case, at a point in the history of the Igbos in southern Nigeria, people were being born, described and divided into two groups â€” the Diala (Nwadiala) and the Osu. The Diala are called the sons of the soil. They are the freeborns. The Diala are the masters. They have and exercise their full rights as human beings. While the Osu are the slaves, the strangers and the outcasts.
They are accorded inferior and sub human status. The Osu are perceived and regarded as unclean and capable of defiling others â€” the freeborns. Hence, they are called the untouchables. In the 50s, the government of the then Eastern Nigeria attempted to eradicate this obnoxious practice. It passed a legislation abolishing the Osu caste system. But this legislation was not and could not be enforced. At best, it drove the practice underground.
The Osu prejudice is very much alive inÂ Igbo land. The Osu are still hated, despised and discriminated against as before.The Osu discrimination has caused divisions, divorces and deaths in families and communities across Igboland. The maltreatment meted out to Osu has forced many of them to migrate to cities or to other countries or communities outside Igboland. Many development projects have been abandoned, marriages have been dissolved, and pregnancies have been terminated.
In fact, so many crimes against humanity have been committed against individuals and groups in Igboland in the name of Osu caste system. Unfortunately the government has done virtually nothing to address the injustices perpetrated against the Osu in Igboland. Both the federal and state governments have continued to maintain criminal silence on the issue.
We must face this shameful, bitter and brutal fact and bring it to an end tion.