Tuesday 8 February 2022


ikenga ezenwegbu
Nnewi and the entire Igbo people had nothing like chieftaincy title or a "chief" or anybody so designated before the 1900s when the expeditionary Major Moorehouse arrived in Nnewi after conquering most of the Igbo mainlands. Impressed that Nnewi leaders did not fight or resist the British's colonial expansionist ambitions, Major Moorehouse promised to preserve all the traditional institutions and authorities at all levels.
However, the British Army was to return in the first quarter of 1903 to disarm the Nnewi standing army properly. All able-bodied men were asked to submit their guns for destruction at Okwu Ọyọ, the town's general meeting place. 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 whitemansigned. That was how Nnewi and the environs automatically came under His Majesty, The King of England and Walescolonial 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. Moorehouse had assumed that being the marked 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 whiteman that the king had just died and that his son would succeed him and that he, Ezeodumegwu, was holding brief for the young man. He promised to bring the young Obi Nnewi for introduction when next the whiteman visits.
Major Moorehouse instantly offered to install him as the Nnewi king. Still, Ezeodumegwu refused on the account that "anaghị azọ eze azọ n'Nnewi", meaning that "rulership or Obiship in Nnewi is natural and not contended." In those days in Nnewi, no Ọzọ titleholder 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 colonial government's administrative authority, inaugurated and Orizu 1 ( also known as Ezeugbanyamba, the young Obi who had been hidden by Nnewi elders in faraway town where his mother hailed from) and Nwosu Ezeodumegwu as first-class warrant chiefs. The whiteman then asked the duo 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 Orizu, the young Obi Nnewi),who would report to the colonial government. The warrant chiefs were to help the colonial government administer the town, especially in tax collections and cascading required government information to the village or community heads. The Obis or the heads of other Nnewi villages were made automatic warrant chiefs just like some other living warriors and big slave merchants like Ezeudohimili, Dim Ọhachi, etc. Their chieftaincies were as recommended by Nwosu Ezeodumegwu.
Major Moorehouse also established a customary court named Agbaja Court and appointed some of the chiefs, including Orizu 1 and 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 traditional natural 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 despite the natural leadership structures in Igbo land became their towns' royal highnesses. 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 chieftaincy title decoration has also relegated "ichi Ọzọ" or "ichi Dim" or "iche Ọzọ Ataka." Before the white man came to de-civilise us, Igbo had Obi or Diokpala as the heads of family units, extended family,i.e., Ụmụnna, communities, villages and towns.
The first son of a man becomes an Obi or Diokpala of the family. The first of the first succeeds his father until the first son of the first family becomes the town's Obi. Some incapable or self-declared unfit first sons could be by-passed 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 an 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 an Ọzọ but never an Obi in the pre-colonial Igbo settlements. Obi or Diokpala is born, not made by the bearer.
Major Moorehouse and Lord Lugard (the colonial masters) would be amazed on the resurrection morning at what Igbos and other colonised tribes have made out of the title they created for mere local tax collectors and loyal allies in their time.

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