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MORAL COMPASS

October 2015: OFFOR & OGU

In Igbo cosmology, affairs among people, especially serious disputes between them, are regulated by the deities, who alone are truly able to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. And, in contrast to the Judeo-Christian God that will wait till you die and then roast you in a fire for ever and ever, Igbo deities do their protecting and punishing in the here and now—both to cleanse and reform you, and as an object lesson to all.

For justice the Igbos invoke two deities: Ogu and Offor. The former, Ogu (pronounced ‘Oh-goo’), is a divine instrument to protect the innocent, in other words a shield of defense against false accusation. The latter, Offor, is the instrument of offence or retribution against a perpetrator. Since ogu is a shield, it is neutral, conceptually passive; offor, on the other hand is aggressive and has graduated strength: If you come after me and I’m innocent my offor will always prevail against your ogu and your own offor.

(Note: offor and offo are used here as exactly the same word; it is really spelt ọfọ in Igbo.)

So when an Igbo person says “Ejim ogu,” or “Ejim offor,” he or she is making a potent appeal to the deities to be mindful of who is guilty and who is innocent in a particular dispute. Names like Offodile and Offodike literally warn the adversary that “My offor is potent: Don’t mess with me.”)

Igbos invoke offor more often than ogu, but that’s just a convenience because one implies the other: You can’t hold offor if you don’t have ogu (i.e. if your hands are not clean). Hence the saying: “Oji offor ga ana” (one who holds offor —i.e. whose hands are clean— proceeds safely).

Offor and ogu are not just about religious belief, their concept transcends dogma. In real life if your hands are clean, your conscience is clear and you proceed confidently. That’s human nature