AGE grade system is common in most communities in the Igbo land of the South-Eastern Nigeria. It serves as the strongest structure of governance among communities in Igboland and each goes by a peculiar name. At the formative/outing stage, the age grade acquires its name and they go by it until all the members are gone to the world beyond and the age grade no longer exist. Age grades are groups of persons who, according to societal norms and values, are regarded as people of the same age bracket, though it varies from one community to the other. A specific period of three, four or even five years age bracket form an age grade in most communities in the south-eastern Nigeria. In most case scenarios, the female wing of the age grade operates independent of the male wing due to the fact that a man and his wife could belong to different age grades. Also in some communities, entry into an age grade is usually marked by an initiation rite which may be the crowning of a long and complex preparation. In the pre-colonial era, the newly formed age grades had to prove their prowess and maturity by defending the community against hostile advances or their enemies. Each age grade is given a special name that helps define its position in the community, relative to other age grades. Members of each age grade are meant to know one another fairly well, to choose leaders among their members, to meet regularly to discuss issues of mutual or communal interest, and should be willing to help one another and defend the community when the need arises. In spite of the speed of modernization, industrialization and urbanization, the roles of age grades in the communities in Igboland remain significant and have great impact. The most important roles of age grades are that they unite their members, they secure lives and properties, they enforce law and order, age grades are also responsible for the development and execution of community initiatives and projects, crime control which is a growing area of need in many communities. Furthermore, they are in to conflict resolution within the age grade and the entire community at large. Other roles of age-grades include serving as agents of change and modernization and sophistication; role models and community conscience; educators and socializing agents; managers of projects; advocates of best practices; power balance in community initiatives; providing voice and support to the poor and the disadvantaged; enforcers of ancestral wishes and protectors of cultural values and norms; and pulling the community ahead and ensuring good value orientation. With the discipline and organisation that many age grades exhibit in Igboland, they do better in projects execution than what has been seen in recent times and should therefore be better funded to impact the community’s socio-economic development. It is often a sight to behold during certain festivals, like New Yam festival, when various age grades put on their various uniforms. Many age grades learn dances which they import from neighbouring communities or age grades and such dances are displayed during important festivals or burial ceremonies. Where there is unrest, high level of criminality and social dislocations in communities, the age grades are trusted and called upon to bring about sanity. If a member of an age grade is not financially up to date, he loses his rights should anything happen to him or any member of his family. In Adazi-Nnukwu for instance, age grades are so powerful that they can decree that nobody should attend the burial of a member that is in default. It is therefore common to see many families fulfill all demands, including payment of all the unpaid dues, before the community could attend such a burial. In many communities, the leadership of the age grade is usually rotational such that after a period of three or four years, the leadership of the grade grade steps down for another to take over the mantle.
In many communities, age grades build town halls, provide boreholes, renovate schools and institute scholarship schemes, among other projects. In Adazi-Nnukwu, Anaocha Local Government Area, Anambra State, Nigeria, the Udoka Age grade built a magnificent hall named after the age grade. Umuife age grade also built a very large structure in Afor village square which accommodates the community library. Oganiru, Ifunanya,Obinwanne, Ofuobi, Igwebuike, and Ifeadigo age grades also have great commercial projects which generate revenue for the community. Such projects bring development and everyone in the community benefits one way or the other from them.
Age grades in Adazi-Nnukwu ensure discipline in the community. One can imagine what could have happened if there were no age grades in the community. During burials, age grade members in the community sit together, make contributions towards the burial of the deceased and entertain themselves. Members of the age grade who fail to attend the burial without cogent reasons are made to pay stipulated fines. If such fines linger till anything happens in the family of the defaulter, no age grade member would be allowed to enter the family. That is why even people residing abroad have their dues paid by members of their families, just in case anything happens. Age grades also settle quarrels in the community bringing about a ban in the involvement of the police in the settlement of rifts.”
The time has come again for the memorable event, an event which no ‘onye Adazi’ would deliberately like to miss, even those in diaspora. An event which attracts friends and well-wishers of Adazi-Nnukwu from every part of the globe. It is about time again for the new age grade initiation in Adazi-Nnukwu come 1st January 2019. Don’t be left out of this showcase of rich African cultural heritage as each of the clans will entertain the crowd with their peculiar cultural dance steps. Various masquerades will also display to grace the occasion.