Chieftaincy Title Is A Creation Of Colonial Masters And Is Foreign To Igbo Culture And Tradition
By Anayo M. Nwosu
My people had nothing like a chieftaincy title or a “chief” or anybody, so designated before the 1900s, when the expeditionary Major Moorehouse arrived Nnewi after conquering most of the Igbo mainlands.
Impressed that Nnewi leaders didn’t fight or resist the colonial expansionist ambitions of the British, Major Moore house promised to preserve all the traditional institutions and authorities at all levels.
However, the British army officer was to return in the first quarter of 1903 to properly disarm the Nnewi standing army.
All able-bodied men were asked to submit their guns for destruction at Okwu Ọyọ, the general meeting place of the town. They all did to the satisfaction of the white man.
On the appointed date, Ọnụọ Ọra Nwosu Ezeodumegwu led Nnewi leaders to execute the instrument of surrender as prepared by Major Moorehouse. He thumb printed while the white man signed.
That was how Nnewi and the environs automatically came under His Majesty, The King of England and Wales colonial rule.
At the surrender meeting and before the leaders, elders and chief priests of all Nnewi’s deities, Major Moorehouse expressed his marvel at the high integrity of Nwosu Ezeodumegwu.
Moore house had assumed that being the market leader and speaker of his people that Nwosu Ezeodumegwu was the king or the ruler and referred to him as such.
But Ezeodumegwu quickly corrected him by intimating the white man that the king had just died and that his son would succeed him and that he, Ezeodumegwu was just holding brief for the young man.
He promised to bring the young Obi Nnewi for introduction when next the white man would visit.
Major Moorehouse instantly offered to install him as the Nnewi king, but Ezeodumegwu refused on the account that “anaghị azọ Eze azọ na Nnewi” meaning that “rulership or Obiship in Nnewi is natural and not contended”.
In those days in Nnewi, no Ọzọ title holder like Ezeodumegwu would covet what was not rightly his and still wake up the next day. Not even the holder of his type of Ọzọ known as Ọzọ Ataka.
That was then when squirrels regarded treetops as their footpaths and humans fearlessly trekked by breadfruit trees. Then, our ancestors were very active in the lives of holders of Ọzọ and Nze titles as any infraction like lies and covetousness attracted in instant deadly or fatal blows from “ndị mụọ” or ancestors and nobody ever lived after receiving those blows.
Not giving up, Major Moorehouse who had the military and the administrative authority of the colonial government inaugurated Nwosu Ezeodumegwu as a first-class warrant chief and asked him to recommend names of other prominent persons in the town to be so conferred.
All the warrant chiefs were to report to Chief Nwosu Ezeodumegwu (and the Obi Josiah Orizu, the young Obi Nnewi) who would in turn report to the colonial government.
The warrant chiefs were to help the colonial government in administrating the town, especially in tax collections and cascading required government information to the grassroots.
The Obis or the heads of other villages of Nnewi were made automatic warrant chiefs just like some other living warriors and big slave merchants like Ezeudohimili, Dim Ọhachi etc. Their chieftaincy was as recommended by Nwosu Ezeodumegwu.
Major Moore’s house also established a customary court named Agbaja Court and appointed some of the chiefs including Nwosu Ezeodumegwu as judges.
It was not only in Nnewi that the colonial government created chieftaincy titles for the natives to aid its administration of the Indirect Rule system.
In some towns where the natural traditional ruler appeared stubborn, the colonialist would empower an ambitious local as a warrant chief with sweeping police powers.
Many emergency warrant chiefs raised by the British in spite of the natural leadership structures in Igbo land ended up becoming their royal highnesses of their towns till date.
After independence and natural death of warrant chieftaincy, the traditional rulers of Igbo communities who emulate the king and Queen of England and now answer Eze or Igwe decided to perpetuate the chieftaincy title giving tradition, not for tax collections but to decorate their illustrious sons or to raise money from the awardees.
The first son of a man becomes an Obi or Diokpala of the family. The first of the first succeeds his father up until the first son of the first family becomes the obi of the town.
Some incapable or self-declared unfit first sons could be bypassed or voluntarily pass on the headship role to a more capable brother, son or nephew as was/is still seen in Otolo Nnewi.
Before now, male children of the villages or town who felt that they had achieved so much in their professions could decide to take a Ọzọ or Ichie title.
Illustrious women also could take up the feminine version of Ozo known as Nọnọ or Lọlọ.
There are various ranks in Ọzọ and Nọnọ titles, just as there are pre-admission requirements into the esteemed cultural order.
In olden days, not all those who applied to be inducted into Ọzọ or Nọnọ orders were so admitted.
Someone could aspire and become a Ọzọ but never an Obi in the pre-colonial Igbo settlements.
Obi or Diokpala is born not made by the bearer.
Major Moore house and Lord Lugard (the colonial masters) would be amazed on the resurrection morning at what Igbos and other colonized tribes have made out of the title they created for mere local tax collectors and loyal allies in their time.