As far as history supports, most of all Igbo traditional states governed themselves without giving power to any sort of king. They organized themselves into many independent village governments -with these village councils and assemblies meeting periodically, and could also be summoned as the need arose to discuss and take decisions on both internal and external affairs of the village. The councils might have been limited to certain age grades but the assemblies were for all and sundry, thus, the 'oha na eze'.
Although all people present at 'oha na eze' assemblies could have their say on all matters under discussion, no single person usually had his/her way and nobody had any special privilege because of birth, origin etc. Rather, what happened was that social hierarchies were created in the Igbo communities -for instance, social structures were created for age grades, free born, women groups, title-holders and elders; and certain traditional duties were reserved for them and therefore respected. Even the title-holders, who are adjudged to constitute a powerful group within Igbo communities were respected because of their achievements but not feared or revered like kings in certain communities. In traditional Igbo societies they performed specific functions given to them by the Peoples Assembly (oha na eze) or by the Council of Elders. So, the Igbo traditional system of government was purely republican in its structure and function. There was no sort of centralized political authority or kingdom. It is within this context that the popular adage, "Igbo Enwe Eze" was developed. The adage 'Igbo Enwe Eze' means 'Igbo had no King' and this is true since there was (and still there is) no central Igbo King.
The Igbo have been known to pride themselves on democracy and freedom where consensus is the norm rather than bowing to the commands or wishes of the "king". Olaudah Equino, a slave abolitionist who was Igbo but sold to slavery during his boyhood, confirmed this in his 1789 autobiography, titled 'Gustavus Vassa, the African.' It is generally known that the individualistic and freedom-loving nature of Igbo people does not support feudal or monarchical culture -this is incompatible with monarchical culture. Professor Onwumechili at the the 2000 Ahiajoku lecture for Igbos, asserted this fact when he said that "the pre-colonial traditional government of the Igbo without kings imbued in them the characteristic traits that prompt the saying that 'Igbo Enwe Eze' ".
So why are there still a lot of people out there who believe the Igbo have/had or should have a king? These pro-king schools of thought have always cited the Nri kingdom as a sign that Igbo had king. Well, the head of the
Mazi Mbonu Ojike, Nigerian statesman and an Aro man, in his 1946 book, "My Africa" accepted the fact that the Aro people had 'kings' whose area of authority was only restricted within the Aro people and never extended to other people of the Igbo land. Cronje (1972: p.2) popular for her book, "The world and Nigeria: A diplomatic history of the Biafran war, 1967-1970," expressly wrote that the "usual pattern" in Igbo land "is for public matters to be discussed at a general meeting at which every able-bodied male who is a full member of the community has the right to attend and speak if he so wishes… the community is not prepared to surrender its legislative authority to any chiefs, elders or other traditional office holders." Even
There is even another pro-king group of people who posit that it is not quite true to say that the Igbo have no king. Their argument is being that, if the Igbo had no king -what then constitutes a reasonable explanation for presence of the word 'eze' in the Igbo vocabulary? Well, lets face a simple reality, although the word 'eze' was neither borrowed from any other language, nor invented as a fashion to enrich the Igbo language, it does not mean 'king' in the context of kingliness as being used by European Monarchs. "Eze," within the contexts of Igbo social-cultural life connotes three things -"Chief Priest", "King" and "God." The term "Eze" is used in the political sense to refer to Chukwu (King of all or God), the only King of the Igbo -this is why the general assembly of the Igbo, 'oha na eze' (meaning, the general public and God) is referred to as the supreme authority of the Igbo. The only king the generality of Igbo accept and recognize is 'God'. So, from a purely human perspective it is erroneous to say that the Igbo have King.
The search to create a king for the Igbo was a project the colonialists embarked upon with the hope of creating a centralized leadership that could help champion their imperialists' ambitions. According to professor Afigbo (2000: p.32) in his work 'Obi Ikenga: the case of a Pan-Igbo Centre for Igbo Studies,' exposed that "… during the phase of colonization, the colonial government invested so much human and material resources into finding out who the traditional authorities in Igbo land were, what were their symbol of office (ofo or alo?), and whether in the absence of territorial chiefs, the Aro influence through their oracle and alliance with the Abam could be converted to a paramount authority over a large section of the Igbo." This ploy by the colonialist was not successfull. Central leadership of the Igbo does not and has never existed.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was a national and international leader at different fronts and responsibilities but at the Igbo-front, he was a simply a chief -as Owelle of Onitsha, he was an acclaimed Igbo leader, but never was the Igbo leader. Actually there was no central leadership or kingdom in Igbo land, and that was why the then Nigerian colonial government attempted to create one in order to further their imperialists' objectives. Professor Afigbo (1986: p.16) in his work, 'An Outline of Igbo History,' he wrote that "the idea of rationalised and centralised authority led to the creation of artificial chiefs, chosen in all sorts of arbitrary ways, and popularly known amongst the people and in official records as the warrant chiefs" was a ploy by the colonialists to restructure the existing traditional socio-political platform that was in Igbo land. Well, the colonialists succeeded in creating chiefs and village leaders all over the Igbo land -and this is probably why some people argue that Igbo must have had a king. As Professor Achebe (1983: p.47) put it in his book, 'the trouble with
Even the former Biafran leader, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (1969: p.11) emphasized in his Ahiara declaration, that "…Those who aspire to lead must bear in mind the fact that they are servants and as such cannot ever be greater than the people, their masters ." The implication of this statement is, from Odumegwu-Ojukwu's perspective, is that the 'leader' is never the king to the Igbo, but only the 'people' are the 'king.' This reflects the direct ideology behind why the Igbo have no king.
Whether the Igbo have a king is not a debatable issue because there is no such thing as "king of Igbo land or Igbos" but it can become highly contentious depending from what perspective one is making the argument. Based on the facts available, and as Chigbu (2008: p.4) had once, written, the saying, 'Igbo enwe eze' "should not be taken literally as total denial that any king ever existed within one of the Igbo regions or States. However, what the Igbo never had was a central king wielding power and authority over all Igbo land". Different parts of the Igbo land may have had a sort of leader or 'king' (as found in Nri, Aro, etc) but it should be made clear that the entirety of the Igbo nation is and was culturally subjected only to a republican system of government termed 'oha na eze' -long before the theories, principles and practices of democracy were discovered by the western world. So, in general, the Igbo have no king, they respect age but do not accept servitude to one central figure. This is something the Igbo should be very proud and should not be apologetic in any way for inheriting such a unique culture
Achebe, C. (1983): The trouble with
Afigbo, A. E. (2000): Obi Ikenga: The case of a Pan-Igbo Centre for Igbo Studies.
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Awolowo, O. (1947): Path to Nigerian Freedom. Farber and Farber.
Chigbu, U. (2008): The Igbo person - the Igbo people. IN: Igbo catholic Community Magazine,
Cronje, S. (1972): The world and
Equiano, O. (1789): The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.
Odumegwu-Ojukwu, E. (1969): The Ahiara declaration: the principles of Biafran revolution. Markpress,
Ojike, M. (1946): My