Age Grade System: Driver Of Devt In Communities

Age Grade System: Driver Of Devt In Communities

Wisdom Onyeisi

Age grade system has ensured unity and development in several communities in Southern Nigeria. In Igbere, Bende Local Government Area of Abia State, it is an inheritance cherished by the people. It has been deepened, unlike the practice years ago, women now join their male counterpart. The greatest glamour of the Igbere age grade system is the triennial Ezumezu, where the oldest age grade retires (Igbotonma) and a new a grade is recognized to fill the vacuum.

Over the years, as a result of “cultural engineering”, the functional and effective number of age grades is fixed at 13. With an age grade retiring every three years, the years of participation, is therefore 39 years.

Each age grade is expected to execute a landmark project during its active years, little wonder that development projects that dot the entire Igbere community are the handwork of age grades. The landmark projects are: Igbere Health Centre, Omezi Ebiri Market, numerous bridges and culverts, Corpers’ Lodge at Igbere Secondary School built by Odinma Ebire Age Grade among others.

At the 2020 Ezumezu with the theme, “Building and Beautifying Igbere Together,” stakeholders restated their commitment to continue to promote the cultural heritage bequeathed to them by the eponymous founder of the community. The ceremony was shifted to December 2021 because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chairman, Ezumezu Organising Committee, Dr Oji Okorie Oji, recalled that the ceremony ought to have been held in 2020 but for the COVID-19 pandemic. He restated that the “highlight of every Ezumezu is the celebration of our own people who will formally retire from mandatory community service. As we know, this celebration does not end here today, but continues in different homes and communities until the end of the year.

“So, I wish to recognize and congratulate all members of Omezi Ebiri Age Grade.

“The Ezumezu is also an occasion for us to renew our patriotic commitment to build and beautify Igbere. This is signified in the admission to community service of the youngest age grade which will join hands with other age grades to continue the development of the community”.

President-General of Igbere Welfare Union, IWU, Chief Awara Okorie promised that the union would sustain the tempo of development in Igbere. Okorie, elected in June 2021, said IWU had resolved to make Igbere environment friendly and give the community a face-lift. “Plans are underway to reshape and reorganize the structural design of Omezi Ebiri Market with the aim of upgrading it to a daily market”. The IWU president thanked organizations and individuals that supported the union, as well as renovated schools.

In his goodwill message, Benjamin Kalu, representing Bende Federal Constituency, described the Ezumezu as “the prime gathering of a blessed people”. He assured the people of quality representation and named some of the projects he attracted to Igbere including completion of Uche Ebiri Hall, construction and furnishing of three classroom blocks at Onu Ibina Primary School, construction of three blocks of classroom at Amato Secondary School, among others.

The Chairman, Omezi Ebiri Age Grade, Aba Branch, Mr Ukaegbu Kazi, said the retirement would not stop members from participating in community development.

Kazi, who is also the President-General, Amankalu Igbere Community Union, said members of retired age grades are still expected to give useful ideas on how to move the area forward, saying in Amankalu autonomous community, after three years of retirement, members will now be admitted as full-fledged elders.

The Igbere Council of Traditional Rulers, in their address jointly signed by Eze Okorie Chukwu and Eze Eme Chike, Chairman and Secretary respectively, reaffirmed their resolve to continue to deepen Igbere’s cultural heritage. They stressed their commitment to ensure that marriage is seamless in the area, as well as make burial rites less cumbersome.

The traditional rulers announced that the Igbere 5th Revised Marriage Guideline covering 2021-2031 is ready for implementation. They advised intending couples to get copies. “We strictly want a uniform implementation of the provisions of this marriage guideline, which from 1981 has been revised five times – 1990, 1995, 2010 and 2020 in line with the socio-economic realities and changes in our society”.

The traditional rulers also said that the uniform burial policy established in 2010 has come to stay. The third week of every month serves as the approved burial ceremonies in Igbere. For over a decade now, bereaved families have benefited from this burial policy. A penalty of N50,000 has been imposed for the breach of this bye-law. We pray for the sustenance of this policy made for the good of our people”.

They also reiterated that the ban imposed on the holding of burial and marriage ceremonies from December 24 to 31 on Ezumezu Igbere year is still in force. “The ban is relaxed after that period. Holding of ceremonies commences in January of the new year and throughout the year without restrictions”.

The Traditional Ruler of Amakpo Autonomous Community, Eze Roland Ekeoma, said the marriage guideline was designed to not make things difficult for people marrying from Igbere. He stressed that it is an indication of their dynamism. “We do not want to impose heavy financial burden on people marrying from Igbere. The bride price remains N60”, the royal father stressed.

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