Do Igbo have a King?
By Fredrick Nwabufo
It is a quotidian belief that ‘Igbo nwero eze’ – the Igbo have no king. But this belief may not be entirely accurate.
I often squirm in disagreement when people say, “the Igbo are not united; they have no king, everyone is a king in Igboland”.
True, the Igbo are republican, but they have always had a leadership ensconced in “abridged or fettered” monarchy. Absolute monarchy has never had sufficient reign in Igboland. This is because of the presence of sacerdotal institutions of checks and balance.
I found ‘Anambra …Light of the Nation: A compendium (1991-2016)’, published by Okonkwo Emeka forthright in fossilising my belief that the Igbo have always had kings – they are not are a people without a lodestar.
The compendium explained kingship dynasties in some Igbo communities in Anambra state. Anambra is to the Igbo what Ife is to the Yoruba. The Igbo progenitor, Eri, settled in the area – from where other consanguinal communities and towns germinated.
The publication captures my thoughts in these lines: “The Eze Chima dynasty in Onitsha (founder of today’s Obi of Onitsha stool) dates back to over six centuries.
So too is the kingship of several towns and communities in Anambra. Some of these dynasties may not be as old as the Eze Chima dynasty but records show that kingship in these communities including Aguleri and Nri date centuries back.
History is replete with communities in Anambra state, particularly, in the Anambra north senatorial zone, which at some point practised rulership by kings, but which eventually resorted to some form of republicanism and gerontocracy: leadership by the eldest in the community.
A good example is the Nsugbe community, in Anambra east local government Area, whose dynastic leadership ended over a hundred years, as the people embraced an amalgam of republicanism and gerontocracy.
Just as republicanism and gerontocracy once influenced communities with kingship, the tide has continued to change in the last few decades. Today, there is hardly any community in Anambra state without a traditional rulership stool.
In some cases, though, the stool may be vacant as a result of disagreements in the community regarding candidates for the throne. The King usually referred to as the Igwe, Obi, or Eze, usually exercises his powers through a council-of-chiefs. Most communities have a one-tier council of chiefs. A few communities like Onitsha have multi-tier council of chiefs.”
I found other gems in the publication – basically of how the Christian religion penetrated Igboland, and orgasmed in the region. John Christopher Taylor, an Igbo son and a contemporary of Samuel Ajayi Crowther, did the duty of proselytising the Igbo, who are predominately Christians today.
However, I doubt if he is as memorable and celebrated as Crowther, who ultimately did the same thing in the south-west. This is why we must all enlist as marshals of our history and culture.
Here is a narration on Taylor
“An Igbo son, John Christopher Taylor, played major roles in bringing Christianity to Anambra and the entire Igboland. John Christopher Taylor was a contemporary of Samuel Ajayi Crowther.
He was born around the year 1815 in Sierra Leone of Igbo parents (an Isuama father and an Arochukwu mother), who had earlier been sold into slavery from the Igbo country of present Nigeria, but were later rescued and settled with other freed slaves in Sierra Leone.
He studied at the Charlotte Primary School and Fourah Bay College, Freetown. Having grown up in Sierra Leone, Taylor was tremendously influenced by its Christian environment. This led him to a strong commitment to the Christian faith, which eventually culminated in the ordained ministry of the church.
He served first as an Anglican Catechist in the Temne Mission, and then was pastor of Bathurst Church, Freetown. He was also a schoolmaster for sixteen years, and was subsequently ordained as a priest by the Bishop of London in 1859.
The Igbo in Sierra Leone, just like their Yoruba counterparts, retained a strong interest in their homeland and especially in its Christianization. In the early 1850s, some of them petitioned the Bishop of Sierra Leone to establish missions in Igboland.
Consequently, a party of three prominent Igbo citizens, led by the first black American college graduate, the Rev. E. Jones, visited Nigeria, but they were prevented by circumstances from entering Igboland.
The Igbo community in Sierra Leone was not discouraged by this failure, since they believed that just as God has people in other parts of the world, He also has many people in Igbo country.
The import of this is that even though their first attempt failed, they had a strong conviction that God would use other people in the Igbo community for the promotion of His work at the appointed time.
Several years later, God honoured their faith and the project came to fruition, when the first Christian mission in Igboland was established at Onitsha in 1857, under the leadership of J. C. Taylor.”
As I read the book, which also puts in picturesque the immense tourism potential of Anambra state, I ask myself, “where have you been all these years?” I thought I knew the state – being my place of origin. But I was marvelled by the sights and scenes vicariously.
First, there is Agbonabo, the confluence of Ezu and Omambala rivers, of which emulsion is evident in the divergent colours of the rivers; there is the Ogbunike Cave, there is Obu Gad; Agwuve Trinity Tree, Ikenga Virgin Forest, Okpu Ana Natural Spring, Ukpor and other places of wondrous splendour.
In general, this book affirms my belief that Anambra and the entire Igboland have a rich history, which must be protected from contortors and distortors.
Nwabufo, a media entrepreneur and until recently, Abuja Bureau Chief of THE CABLE is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of The Detail Online