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Igbo Political Systems by EzeUche0(m): 2:52am On Nov 07, 2010
Igbo Political Systems

(collated by Uzoma Onyemaechi, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)

Title Men Obi/Eze Functions

The political arrangements for the purpose of administration varied. Obi is the name of the head of the family in the Igbo areas. In old Owerri and Umuahia provinces, the word chief or Eze is commonly used, representing the majority of the state. The members of the eze's cabinet are called the Nze. They are the Chiefs' or Eze's councilors. Among Onitsha Igbos, the majesty's councilors are called Ndichie, meaning chiefs. There are three grades: (1) Ndichie Ume (2) Ndichie Okwa and (3) Ndichie Okwaraeze. The principal functions of both Nze's and Ndichies are to assist the Obi/Eze in keeping law and order in the communities.
The functions of Ndichie in the community generally, irrespective of grade, are: first, to act as the Obi's representatives and play the role of public relations officers in the interest of the ruling Obi; second, to maintain law and order; third, to uphold the property of religious and customary practices; fourth, to dispense justice according to equity and the law of the land; fifth, to promote social welfare; and, lastly, to defend the land against aggression. All these councilors are supposed to play a vital role as peacemakers in their localities and owe allegiance to Obi/Eze the ruler.

Female administrative titles have not been popular among the Igbo since the late 19th century when the European colonialists entered into the heart of Igbo land not merely to trade but as cultural modifiers. The colonial powers have been described as "bringing with them the Pax Britannica at the tip of the sword and the nozzle of the gun well into the first quarter of the 20th century."

Among the Owerri Igbos, the wife of Nze, the councilor, automatically becomes the Lollo, an honorary title of a councilor. But the Onitsha Igbos once had a woman chieftain appointed by the Obi to care for the women's affairs; namely the maintenance of women's dignity, customary laws and their behavior. This is called Omu, the Queen Mother.

In the kingdom of Obi there was a place for the female-counterpart ruler, the Omu. The ruler Obi is a hereditary successor to his clan's throne. Both the Obi and the Omu worked together for the betterment of their subjects. The position of Omu was dropped from the throne by the colonial government. The Onitsha Igbos have not yet restored this great women's institution in Igbo land. The last Omu (Queen Mother) of Onitsha that ruled was her Highness, Chief Nwagboka Egwuatu of Ogbeotu Village. She died in 1890. However, women in Igbo land at present are confirmed with the title of chieftaincy, not for administrative purposes but for the roles they play in the community and in the market.

An Egalitarian Society

The Igbo society is patterned on that of egalitarian society in which almost everyone is equal. The structure of the system looks thus, but in practice does not conform. There are established ranks and positions of honor. There are marked differences in political organization. The Igbos have kings, chiefs, Eze and other titles of honor. Movement to the top is open and free for any individual.
An egalitarian society is characterized by the adjustment of the number of valued statuses to the number of persons, or fixing or limiting of persons capable of exerting power. As many persons as can wield power, whether through personal strength, influence or authority, can do so.

The Igbo social structure is defined by the blood line. This is traced by patrilineal linkage. The family is the center or the nucleus into which the he child compound is formed. From here it extends to village level, clans, and town. The blood relations create associations between man and his neighbor. The social organization develops in the form of an extended family to a kind of village government. There is a strong tie in religious observations, trade and marriages. In each community there are associations of age groups; men with titles, poor and rich citizens interact with one another in war or in peace. All participate in community affairs, in decision-making and all development efforts. The main credo of Igbo culture is the emphasis placed on individual achievement and initiatives, prestige and egalitarian leadership.

Some western and African historians/anthropologists found no credibility in a society without kings. Most of the Europeans who visited Igbo areas could not understand Igbo social organization because of the lack of a monarchy. The representative organization, especially in Igbo culture, was not monarchical but republican. "The Igbo," writes Phoebe Ottenber "have a non-hierarchical type of political organization and have been referred to as 'ultra democratic' in their values." Even Margery Perham (1957), for all her attachment to Lugard's northern Nigeria, was obliged to refer to the Igbo as "sturdily democratic."

Individuals remain loyal to the headman, who acts as the head of the community. The feudal system that is present in northern Nigeria and Yoruba State could not exist in Igbo land because of the level of the Igbo society, and also the separation of tribal religion from the titular headship within the clan.

Recognition of Old Age

The Igbo village is made up of two or more compounds. Each compound is based on patrilineal relationships. Status is accorded to the male by seniority, irrespective of polygamous family and agnatic emphasis. In the family, the first son is the head of the family and holds the family heirlooms like Ofo, Chi, and Obi. The first son (Opara) holds the symbol of the family authority. There are two Igbo positions of esteem that are formally institutionalized (1) Opara (first son) and (2) Ada (first daughter). The first two children, namely Opara and Ada, have higher status in an Igbo family. In a monogamous family, the birth order follows. The younger always gives respect to the older brother or sister. Before the younger ones address the older child, whether within the family or outside the family, the younger one adds the word of respect--Ndaa or Dede. The leadership of authority

Seniority accorded to old age is one of the primary beliefs among the Igbos. Besides the age status, the greatest honor is given to one in his mother's lineage or Umunne. When one visits his or her mother's home (mother's lineage), that person is given the highest honor and respect. Whenever one has any serious troubles with a father's lineage (Umunna), they appeal to one's Umunne (mother's lineage) for assistance. As a custom in Igbo land, the Umunne will surely come to one's aid.

The following example is culled from Chinua Achebe's book, "Things Fall Apart," depicting the important role of maternal section of an Igbo person's life:

Okonkwo's gun had exploded and a piece of iron had pierced the boy's heart. The confusion that followed was without parallel in the tradition of Umuofia. Violent deaths were frequent but nothing like this had ever happened. The only course to Okonkwo was to flee from the clan. It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman; a man who committed it must flee from the land -- and before the rooster crowed Okonkwo and his family were fleeing to his motherland.

In Igbo society, the Umunne supports one against Umunna (patrilineage) even when one is affected by the spirit of the ancestors.

Position of Elders

In an Igbo community, elders are respected and honored. All leaders act as a village head and are often approached in both good and bad times. A leader is always expected to speak the truth and is often required to vindicate his innocence regularly at the rite of Itu-Ogu (making a wish). This is a sign of affirmation of innocence. The village head oftentimes is the village priest. He maintains his prescribed status as a necessary condition for the maintenance of his high office. Sometimes an elder is a titled person, who chairs traditional functions in the family compound and in the village.
Re: Igbo Political Systems by Nobody: 3:16am On Nov 07, 2010
So what did you understand from what you read?

Too long. . . . summarize plz
Re: Igbo Political Systems by asha80(m): 3:37am On Nov 07, 2010
i wonder if these political systems can be relevant now
Re: Igbo Political Systems by EzeUche0(m): 3:37am On Nov 07, 2010
Ileke-IdI:

So what did you understand from what you read?

Too long. . . . summarize plz

Take the time to read it. You are college educated my dear. It is very informative.

Your future in-laws will require you to know this information.  wink
Re: Igbo Political Systems by Nobody: 3:41am On Nov 07, 2010
Look, I took 4 exams this week, I dont want to read.
Summarize plz smiley kiss
My in-laws want to me to learn how to pound yam tongue
Re: Igbo Political Systems by ChinenyeN(m): 4:04am On Nov 07, 2010
asha 80:

i wonder if these political systems can be relevant now
I would like to believe that they could be, in some way & to an extent, but not entirely; not anymore.
Re: Igbo Political Systems by Obiagu1(m): 4:19pm On Nov 07, 2010
The earlier we bring back our customs and traditions, the better for us. This is why regional government and strict federalism is imperative to enable every part of the country make their own laws. Our laws have been there since time immemorial, though unwritten but have promoted and nurtured our “ultra” democratic society.

If I ever return to this world again, I’d remain IGBO.  cool
Re: Igbo Political Systems by AndreUweh(m): 7:53pm On Nov 08, 2010
Prior to Republicanism, Ndigbo had Ezes, Igwes and Obis. But the Igbo society attached so many difficult conditions to any aspring Eze. For example in Isinweke areas of Imo state, the man who intends to be the Eze will cook for the entire village for one week as well as other tough conditions. This made the interest in being an Eze to wane. The idea of being an eze withered away and in its place, emerged republican systems.
Re: Igbo Political Systems by PhysicsQED(m): 8:59pm On Nov 08, 2010
Some questions,


1. I have to know, how were Igbo societies egalitarian when many of those societies practiced a caste system and discriminated against "Osus"?

2. Also how can "The Igbos have kings, chiefs, Eze and other titles of honor. Movement to the top is open and free for any individual." and "As many persons as can wield power, whether through personal strength, influence or authority, can do so." make sense? How can one just move up to the status of chief or Eze without being made so by someone who already has such a title and thus was previously one's superior? If so, movement to the top is not open or free (I don't see why it should be, actually).Is this effectively stating that there could be thousands of chieftancy titles if need be and thousands of people "wielding power" in a single community? What is the chain of command, really?
Re: Igbo Political Systems by AndreUweh(m): 10:04pm On Nov 08, 2010
@physisQED: You are not straightforward here. In Igboland of today, there are no kings. What is obtainable are Ezes, Obis and in some places Igwes. They are traditional rulers who received their staffs of office from government. An Eze is never addressed with the English title of ''chief''.
Igboland is not exceptional on the most powerful wielding power. We are living witnesses to Maccido-Dasuki saga of the Sokoto caliphate. IBB appointed Dasuki but Abacha usurped him with Maccido. Cases like this are bound in the West as well.
Nevertheless, thosands of people do not wield power in Igboland. The Eze and his cabinet are responsible for traditional matters. But to be a member of this team, there might be power struggle, and in this case the most influential becomes victorious.
It is so because the British made it so.
Re: Igbo Political Systems by ifyalways(f): 10:24am On Nov 09, 2010
asha 80:

i wonder if these political systems can be relevant now
Did u notice the writer somehow concentrated @ Onicha?
Those things are very much still [/b]relevant and upheld in Onicha,i dunno abt other parts of Igboland.
@PhysicsQED,Movement to the top is NOT open and free for everyone in the [b]whole of
[b] igboland.[/b]There are certain criteria or status one gets to before one wud qualify for any status eg in Onicha the "Obi" status is rotated btwn certain families within the 4 royal vilages.Its not contestableor open for discussion!
In Arochukwu,there is an age grade or society for only those above 90,no amt of money or fame can get u there and it goes on and on.
Chain of power(Onicha):
Obi
Onowu(prime minister)
Ndi ichie(ume,agbalanze,okwa and okwaraeze)
Ndi Ozo.
Village heads.
Diokpa(family heads)
Nne muo na ndi gbara odu(women only).
Re: Igbo Political Systems by africhika(f): 5:02pm On Nov 09, 2010
read it all. fascinating info. this 'omu' title sounds cool cool
igbo kwenu
Re: Igbo Political Systems by ChinenyeN(m): 7:19pm On Nov 09, 2010
"Igbo amaghi eze" & "Igbo enweghi eze". . . do these two expressions not have antiquity?

Andre Uweh:

Prior to Republicanism, Ndigbo had Ezes, Igwes and Obis.
Seriously. . undecided
Re: Igbo Political Systems by AndreUweh(m): 7:34pm On Nov 09, 2010
ChinenyeN:

"Igbo amaghi eze" & "Igbo enweghi eze". . . do these two expressions not have antiquity?
Seriously. . undecided

The word eze, Obi or Igwe does not exist in a vacuum. If Ndigbo had none, those words could not have existed. As I said earlier on, some Igbo communities made it so difficult for any one to be eze then. For example, one has to cook for the entire village for one week before you may be considered as eze.
As a result, ezeship gave way to gerontocracy, theocracy and republicanism.
Re: Igbo Political Systems by ChinenyeN(m): 7:49pm On Nov 09, 2010
Andre Uweh:

The word eze, Obi or Igwe does not exist in a vacuum. If Ndigbo had none, those words could not have existed. As I said earlier on, some Igbo communities made it so difficult for any one to be eze then. For example, one has to cook for the entire village for one week before you may be considered as eze.
As a result, ezeship gave way to gerontocracy, theocracy and republicanism.
It doesn't add up for me. I seriously have a difficult time believing what you're postulating, and the bolded is also the same argument someone posed me a while ago, when I had this discussion with that person (which also seems to be the basis of your argument). This all just takes us to square one; the antiquity and pre-colonial meaning and application of those terms. Who can answer that?
Re: Igbo Political Systems by AndreUweh(m): 8:14pm On Nov 09, 2010
The Russians had a Czar, but at a point, a popular revolution led by The Bolsheviks ousted the Czar. As a consequence, what stops you from believing that at a point, Ndigbo had ezes.
Re: Igbo Political Systems by ChinenyeN(m): 8:29pm On Nov 09, 2010
Andre, you're way too fond of bringing up other, unrelated peoples' circumstances as a measuring stick. Anyway, it's like I stated earlier, this all takes us back to the square one which I previously spoke of.

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