THE AGE GRADE AS A TOOL FOR COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT IN CONTEMPORARY AFRICA: A CASE STUDY OF ABIRIBA COMMUNITY CHAPTER ONE BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY 1.0 INTRODUCTION A number of studies have affirmed the resiliency, legitimacy and relevance of African traditional institutions in their varieties to the socio-cultural, economic and political lives of Africans overtime even in this contemporary times; particularly in the rural areas. Often juxtaposed with this assertion is the sometimes parallel modern states vested with enormous authority in rule application and developmental enforcements. As Africa seeks to build and strengthen capable states, there is need to recognize the role of some traditional indigenous institutions such as the Age-grade in respect to their advisory , participatory and developmental role as well as mobilizing the population , promoting education and health care and not without inspiring respect for law and order. Against this background, this study of Age-grade as a tool for community development in Contemporary Africa, a case study of Abiriba community is subjected to trace the unique origin of Age-grade institution as it has been a major tool in the development of the community as pioneered by their forefathers out of the quest to solve their immediate security problems in the community. Uniquely organized, the Age-grade often referred to as (UKE) in Abiriba language has been structured in such manner so as to ensure a peaceful coexistence in their abode and as such entrench the institution as a unifying belief system that must be observed by everybody. This has been the case such that governance and development of the people have gone on orderly for centuries through this indigenous system (Age-grade) of the people. More so the people had achieved a high level of indigenous technology and democratic government long before the advent of the foreigners’ credit to her indigenous traditional institution. Also many significant modern developments have taken place through the same means. These modern developments are easily noticeable from every aspects of the life of the people of the community. Yet the indigenous tradition of the people have remained arguably essentially intact and dynamic as they were centuries before European Christians and colonial peoples made contacts with Abiriba people. However, it is striking that where as in many other communities of Africa, one reads of the massive devastations of African peoples customs and traditions by foreigners or the results of the reconstruction of devastations caused by foreign people’s ideas, customs and practices hence this project argues that every essential modern development in Abiriba was through the indigenous traditional system of the people (Age-grade) with facts provided. With this, we will therefore try to put into writing as accurately as possible the large orally transmitted customs and practices of the Age-grade in Abiriba Kingdom, more so, judging from the developmental patterns of the communities surrounding Abiriba before the arrival of Europeans in the area, the Abiriba Age-grade traditional system has remained a mystery to outsiders. Some have ascribed the much faster pace of development to voodoo, some supernatural powers or some Christian’s arrival in Abiriba and their proper assessment of the socio-economic strength of the customs and traditions of the people. However some scholars have generally agreed that God answered our Lord’s Prayer in Abiriba during the founding of the community.2 CONCEPT OF DEVELOPMENT There has been few concepts in social, political and economic thought which have been as ambiguous as the concept of development .the theoretical debates and and policy decisions concerning development have varied considerably and have sometimes stressed technological well being and education. Generally , development is the progressive unfolding of the inner potentialities of a given reality. It is to develop , that is to bring out to light ( existential, functional and epistemic) what was enveloped, folded or hidden. As it applies to a people , if we must get a clear understanding of this research work, development is the integration as the various giving, natural, physical, acquired and human as a people towards the full working out permanently and cumulatively of their being as persons of their community and of their real productivity. Moreso to talk as development is to talk as the human being progressing in various aspects, socio-cultural, moral – religious, intellectual – spiritual, political –economical and scientific – technological development.3 1.2 AIMS AND OBJECTIVES This project is a study of Age-grade as a tool for community development in Contemporary Africa, A case study of Abiriba a community in Ohafia local government, Abia State, Nigeria. In the early history of Abiriba Age-grade (UKE) as it is often called in Abiriba land was profoundly introduced in the community with its unique features such that in the contemporary time, the traditional institution had become the backbone behind probably all development in Abiriba. This work aims to analyze the role of Age-grade in Abiriba with a view to understanding how it has been a tool for community development. With the information gathered, advocate strongly for its adoption in several other African communities. Though little professional attention has been paid to the study of Age-grade in Africa, references have been made to it in some secondary documents; however this aspect of Abiriba study has not been taken before now, hence the intention of this work is to document this important aspect of Abiriba historiography using available source materials used in studying African history. It is therefore hoped that this would make a meaningful contribution to the history of Abiriba ,Nigeria and Africa at large. 1.3 SCOPE For a proper historical interpretation, this work covers pre-colonial history of Abiriba up to the contemporary time within the context of Age-grade role to the advancement of the community. To place the work in a perspective of historical analysis, it will be instructive to discuss the traditions of origin as well as the origin of Age-grade, more importantly, the socio-cultural, political and economical development offered by the Age-grade in the pre-colonial so as to give meaningful understanding of their role to the contemporary Abiriba. Also examined is the nature and length of development in Abiriba that can be accrued to Age-grade. The scope of this work has promoted the search of different changes and developments as offered by individual Age-grade in Abiriba in time perspective. It has made the work very expensive, cumbersome and time consuming. 1.4 LITERATURE REVIEW Age-grade system is an age long socio –cultural Institution in Africa land; One of the oldest institution used in the administration of communities before the advent of the whites. Argued that one of the greatest achievements of the Age-grade system is healthy competition and assistance that members of the community give to each other and the fear of being sanctioned if any crime is being committed by an individual.4 While Kalu Ogba a Journalist having taken a part in a research conducted by his newspaper Daily Times argued in his article that most Age-grade in Africa, even up to date, are embarking on development and upgrading of the infrastructural facilities of their towns. He closely maintained that the Age-grade sometimes call for abrogation of some obvious practices and fight against juvenile delinquencies.5 Ejim Akuma on the other hand posits that it is a means of enrollment among the grownups in town.6 Kalu O. Uche observed in his own work that It’s a system whereby all males are put into various groups according to time of their birth for the purpose of rendering compulsory services to the community as recognized groups. Uche later instructively noted that though the communities around Abriba such as Igbere, Umuhu, Item, Nkporo, Ohafia, Abam and Edda have their people grouped according to their Age grades. These communities that share boundaries with Abriba do not have the Age grade system in the form it exists in Abriba. The reason for this development he argued could be traced to certain circumstances within the Abriba community and history.7 Oji Ukegbu Oji gave a unique argument in his work, The political history of Abriba, when he asserted that the introduction of the indirect rule for native administration in Nigeria by lord Lugard Fredrick after the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorate in 1914 was indeed to all intents and purposes a modification of Abriba Age-grade system of community administration, in the sense that while indirect rule used Emirs in the North, the Oba’s in the West and Obis in the East for Native administration, the Age-grade system was and still is the machinery of commercial administration and mobilization in Abriba.8 Ijekpa Kalu Ijekpa, to him the Age-grade system emphasizes the sub-ordination of the individual to the society. “madu bu nke oha” the individual belongs to the society. He further maintained that the Age-grade system is a civilized master piece of socio-political science conceived by wise minds aimed at serving the community in war situation, home security situation and social services at peace time and in modern days community development services.9 However, in all of these, yet professor Elizabeth Isichei showed that in nearly all Igbo societies, the system existed in one form or the other. And it would appear that not only in the Igbo nation but also in East, central and South Africa is the system also practiced. Okolo Ikechukwu in his work “the Igbo Age-grade and African traditional Religion in an international online multi-disciplinary journal, argued that Igbo age grade system is a social phenomenon which is organized in various places throughout Igbo land in order to give men and women common places in various Age-grade union; his observation contended that these members discuss matters that are peculiar to themselves and as a result make their situation better.10 Interestingly, some literature on Abriba studies and African studies have asserted their different views about the subject matter but none has distinctively tolled the line of assessing their role in community development within the context of social, economic and political changes or the time under discuss. This is the gap this work would fill in the historiography of Abriba with a careful approach in assessing the sole institution (Age-grade) that is predicated on the socio cultural, economical and political service to the people of Abiriba. It is however pertinent to note that Abriba community until the early twentieth century remained a non literate community. There are at the moment insufficient written documents about the settlement and the stage of socio political development of the people of Abriba. However, Abriba people have a rich tradition on every aspect of the life of the people. Interestingly too, almost every aspect of the tradition can easily be evaluated to ascertain its accuracy.11 A lot of work has also been done concerning the use of the above data in writing the history of Africa or any other community. Jan Vansina’s work Oral tradition: A study in historical methodology is a significant contribution to the proper evaluation of African sources in writing African history.12 More so, the contribution of R. Cornevin in his paper, The African problems and character of African History, is also significant.13 ENDNOTES Kalu O. Uche: “the African community life” indigenous concepts on society, government and development: the Abiriba community case study Neleg and Company publishers, 2008, pgs xix, xx, xxi. Ibid: pg. xxiii. R.I Ohikhokhai, Educational and National Development in Nigeria a historical perspective, in A.D Nzemeke and E.O Erhagbe, “The Nigeria people and culture”, Mindex Publishing Company Ltd. 1997, pg 137 – 139. Elizabeth Isichei: History of Igbo people, London: Macmillan 1976, pg 64. Daily times: Monday March 16, 1887. Ejim A. Ejim: comprehensive History of Abiriba people, unpublished, pg. 26. Kalu, the African community life: indigenous concepts on society government and development: pg. 139. Oji. U. Oji: Abiriba political History, RHYCE Kerex publishers Enugu-Nigeria 2011, pg 31. Ijekpa K. Ijekpa: the Abiriba civilization early days to the 20th century, heritage house publishers Aba, 2007, pg. 53. Okodo Ikechukwu, “the Igbo age grade and African traditional religion” in an international online multidisciplinary journal. Kalu, the African community life: indigenous concepts on society government and development pg. xxiii. Jan Vangina: Oral tradition: A study in Historical methodology, Chicago, Aldine publishing company, 1965, pg.139. Cornevin .R : “The problem and character of African history” in emerging themes of African history, pg. 943.
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