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OPINION: THE HISTORY OF THE KINGSHIP SYSTEM IN IGBO LAND AND THE PROBLEM OF AUTONOMOUS COMMUNITY IN ENUGU STATE

By Cyril Uchenna Ugwu

14th May 2021.

The way and means people can live together in peace to pursue a better life for themselves has remained a problem since man found himself in this society.

When the British came to Nigeria as colonial overlords, they sought for an easy way to rule the country without committing much
resource into the system. Seeing
the kingship system obtainable in both the northern and western parts of the country as being in
consonance with their desire, the
British authorities decided to select some individuals, who they called ‘Warrant Chiefs’, and charged them with the responsibility to oversee the affairs of the people at the grassroots. This was part of their
Indirect Rule policy.

In the Igbo areas in particular, with the
republican nature of their administration, the Warrant Chief system did not quite work. Instead, it brought social dislocation, which led to its abolition by the colonial government.
Notwithstanding the abolition by the colonial government of the Warrant Chief system nationwide, successive Nigerian administrations in Igboland still looked with nostalgia at the kingship system and sought to reintroduce the system,though
under different guise.

A major distinguishing factor in the pre-colonial political organization between the Igbo
people of Nigeria and their other ethnic neighbours was the republican nature of their
administration.
The traditional Igbo society consisted of clusters of individual family units that constitute kindred, with several of these kindred making up an Igbo
village or town. Every member of
an Igbo village is related to each
other one way or the other, and thus constitutes a network of beings, such that what affects one equally affects the other.

The political administration
of the Igbo village before the coming of the Europeans was a collective responsibility of all
heads of individual family units who pass on their decisions to the
youths for implementation. This made the traditional Igbo political society republican, with no
institutionalized kingship system.
The only exception, however, were the trading cities along the river niger, such as Onitsha,
Oguta, Arochukwu, Ossamari,
(Uzoigwe, 2004); as well as the ‘
holy city’ of Nri, (Onwuejeogwu,
1980), which operated a kingship
system long before the coming of
the European colonial administration.

The Nri people who traced their history to the biblical times, through Zilpah, maid-servant of
Jacob’s wife, Leah, who begat Gad and who in turn begat Eri, the founder of Nri clan, claimed to
have established their kingdom
in 948 Common Era (c.e.), and thus became “the oldest kingdom in Nigeria”. The first Eze Nri, (Nri king), Ìfikuánim, a priestly king, who wielded no military power over his subjects, was famous for upholding a humanistic and a charismatic
system that was uncommon at the
time (Ikime, 1980).
The Nri Kingdom provided a safe heaven for all those who had been rejected in their
communities and thus became a
place where “slaves were set free from their bondage”. It was for this reason that the Nri devised the Ozotitle, which other communities in Igboland later
embraced, to shield initiates from
being taken to slavery, which was
very rampant at the time.

Everything however change upon the arrival of the British colonialists, who saw in the advanced welfarist system of the Nri Kingdom and the wide spread loyalty it enjoyed, a serious impediment to their parasitic and inhumane pursuits. After failing to capture the kingdom and the king, the
colonial forces threatened to
slaughter all the people of the
kingdom, unless the king appeared before a colonial court in another town. It was then a
taboo for the Nri King to travel
outside Nri town, his seat of power, but in order to save the
lives of his people, Eze Nri,
Obalike, who was the king at the
time, agreed to travel to Awka to
appear before the court. Not contented with this humiliation which Eze Nri and his people were subjected to, the British colonialists in order to completely
dismantle the Nri kingdom, forced
Eze Nri to annul all codes of taboo
and abomination still binding other towns to Nri.To finally nail the kingdom,
the colonialists introduced the so-
called Warrant Chief system whereby many artificial
kingdoms were created in igboland.

For most communities in Igboland therefore, their primordial
political organization was
republicanism, where every
family was represented in the
village assembly by its head or the oldest man. It was this village assembly,
also known as the Council of
Elders, which determined what
happened in every Igbo community. The Council performed all legislative and
judicial functions that kept the
society moving. There were, however, some notable individuals, who on account of their personal worth, status or merit, like celebrated warlords, holders of the prestigious Ozo
title, powerful medicine men, members of secret societies, etc.

It was this “village
republicanism”, the democratic nature of Igbo society, or the fact that in Igboland, power did not
reside in one single person, but in
a collectivity of elders, that led to
the common aphorism of Igbo
Enwe Eze,(that the Igbo have no
king).

After the abolition of the warrant chief system by colonialist, successive governments transformed what was left of the warrant chiefs into Igwes and Ezes which still represent the Republican nature of the Igbo race.

THE ENUGU CASE:

In 1999 when Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani took over as the democratically elected Governor of Enugu state. He introduced the autonomous system to water leadership and democratic dividends down to the grassroots. But that effort has become a torn on the flesh of the communities for the abuse of it.

The process that produced most of the traditional ruler in these autonomous communities was without due diligence to their personalities, educational qualification, good moral values. These are qualities that make good leaders. So, instead of benefiting from that visionary leadership of the then Governor the communities now suffer the wickedness of some of these Traditional rulers.

Unlike the old kingdoms where we had reasonable and very democratic Igwes, the autonomous system ushered in miscreants and criminals as Igwe. Most of this Igwe are not far from a dictator who are very determined in usurping the common wealth of his community. And this is the reason crisis are brewing in almost all the autonomous communities in Enugu state.

My aim of writing this article is to draw the attention of the state Government to this very important issues which is eroding the peace of Enugu state.

The attitude, character and the personality of most of the Igwes in the autonomous communities in Enugu state is nothing to write home about. Apart from being questionable some has no moral justification to rule the people. An Igwe should be a good example to the community and not a bad example. The situation in many autonomous communities in Enugu state poses great danger and pleading for attention. The autonomous communities and their Igwes is something the state government should closely observe to weed out some bad eggs obstructing peace and development in the communities. Enugu state is in the hands of God but the crisis in Enugu communities is a creation of the Traditional rulers.

The state Government should set a standard for who becomes a Traditional ruler, and that should be the yardstick for the performance Management of the Traditional rulers in Enugu state.(Ugwu Cyril uchenna. 2021).

Referencing European center for research, training and development.

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