In Onitsha tradition and custom, there are four cardinal institutions; The Obi, Ndichie, Agbalanze and Otu Odu.
These four institutions work in their individual capacity to ensure progress, peace and development of Onitsha people with relevant supports from other subordinate groups. Otu Odu however is an exclusive prestigious society for Onitsha women who as either indigenes, direct relations (Nwadiani) or by marriage, have distinguished themselves in their respective capabilities in life and have been found worthy in character.
Odu literally means Elephant Tusk and in Onitsha tradition, Igbu Odu in clear terms mean wearing of Tusk, it is a rite of honouring a woman after creditable service in life. It used to be conferred as a form of appreciation on a mother by her children at a certain age, on a dutiful wife by her husband.
It is observed as a ceremonious adorning of a woman with Elephant Tusk which is won on both hands and legs. In other cases nevertheless, the ceremony is performed to be worn either on the hands or the legs respectively as a mark of status in the society.
Elephant Tusk significantly because it is rare in quality and possession, ornate and expensive. This calls for the historic importance attached to it in the whole of Africa, making it one of the most sought after ornaments even by the whites who visited Africa earlier in the days.
Till date Elephant Tusk is still precious, a symbol of wealth, regal and beauty. In most African cultures it is used to depict class and authority, especially in Onitsha.
However, at inception, it was recorded that it was very few women that took Odu in Onitsha as a mark of honour. Some that did at that earlier stage had it either as a result of conferment by their wealthy son, or took it as a mark of their outstanding wealth creation after distinguishing themselves in commerce.
Odu was then more of a private or individual affair of famous Onitsha women of character and affluence as rightly described. It used to be revered therefore because of the caliber of women involved.It developed into the only distinguished status symbol for women as very few could afford to be so initiated then and the dream of every woman unlike today that it has become an all comers affair.
Moreover, the tradition of taking Odu title did not originally start as a society that it is today; scanty therefore were the records of women who took Odu title in the past in the earlier Onitsha traditional society until Odua Ngo, J.U. Etukokwu (MFR), organized it into the prestigious institution that it has metamophorsised today.
Precisely, on March 15, 1959 all the individual Ndi Odu in Onitsha were invited together by Chief Etukowku where they were received and entertained as a group so the society was inaugurated.
However, like earlier stated there are different stages or types of Odu depending on an individual’s financial capability. The complete procedure is called Odu Ukwu N’aka while it could be undertaken for either the hands alone called Odu Aka or the legs alone known as Odu Ukwu. Meanwhile there is no age barrier for initiation into Odu; the only distinction is that children below 18 years are allowed Odu aka alone.
Continuing, the elegant white uniform of Ndi Odu today was not always as it used to be, there was no particular uniform for them earlier in the days. Except for the Elephant Tusk won gracefully, an Odu title woman wears whatever she likes; white uniform was later introduced as a result of Etukokwu’s innovation to represent purity as Odu is seen to typify.
The initiation procedure starts with a formal declaration of intent by an initiate. This step enables the executives of Ndi Otu Odu to set up a fact finding process to ascertain the eligibility of the would-be Onye Odu (Initiate). It involves enquiries into the character, personality and the integrity of the person.
When this is satisfactorily done, an intermediary who is a member of Odu Society, who knows the initiate so well to introduce her to the society, is appointed as a mediator and the process continues.
At the inception of the society there were male co-ordinators who helped managed their affairs as it was customary in the past that men should be seen to be involved in the administration of basic societal activities as heads, the first to occupy such responsibility was Odua Ngo J.U. Etukowku, later was Chief Nkpuluma.
A run-down of the past and present presidents of Otu Odu Onitsha Ado N’idu;
Enyi Omenyi Oteka, 1959 – 1969
Enyi Nwabunie Etukowu 1970 – 1973
Enyi Okunwa Nwabuenyi Oranye 1973 – 1976
Enyi Uduezue Azuka Anatogu 1986 – 1988
Enyi Chinyelugo Flo Emodi 1988 – 1993
Enyi Azumdialo Joan Analo 1994 – 1998
Enyi Nwabuenyi Mary Onwualo 1998 – 2006
Enyi Nwamunamma Helen Agusiobo 2006 – 2009
Enyi Nwamunamma Joyce Egbuniwe 2009 – 2012
Enyi Onyechiboleze Carol Okosi 2012 – 2015
Enyi Ugobeze Florence Osoka 2015
Constitutionally, Otu Odu must be presided by an Onitsha indigene married in Onitsha.