Although going into historical archives of Igbo race, the concept that Igbo enwe eze has become dismissive and inoperational in our community. Those who conceptualized that idea did not take comprehensive appraisal of the institution of traditional structures in Igbo land. From history, we will learn that the Igbo race is by nature structured in a republican pattern.
From time immemorial, from the emergence of Igbo race Ndigbo have had regard for chiefdom, kingship, onyeishi-ala (head of the land in a community.) historically, republicanism does not exist in isolation or in a vacuum. What this concept means is that, in a gathering of Igbo race at whatever level beginning from family, there is always somebody at the head.
For example, at the family level, the most family senior member of the lineage is the head, at the kindred level, the oldest member of the number one family is the head, at AMA-ala level, it is the most elderly from the most senior family lineage is the head.
At village level known as the Aladimma because of its structure, the head of such institution is usually elected beginning with the most senior family in that community. Therefore in every Igbo gathering there must be a head, chairman or a leader usually chosen is the first and most senior in the family or kindred.
The republican nature ascribable to the Igbo race emanates from the fact that in Igbo gathering everybody, indeed everybody has equal right to contribute his or her opinion to every issue that is being discussed. Let it be made clear here that there is a difference between seniority and respect. In Igbo culture, there is emphasis on seniority hence there is the institution of age grade system.
Every community today has in existence a system of initiating maturing young men into appropriate age grades. Many communities have different ceremonies to initiate maturing young men into certain age grade. For long in Igbo communities, the institution of the age grade is an important mobilisation force. They are given special assignments in some communities. Sometimes they are organised and mobilised to undertake some community responsibilities.
I can recall with great satisfaction that working as a state MAMSER director in old Imo and Anambra states in today’s southeast states, I visited every traditional ruler in every community and from where I learnt of some uniqueness of some age-grade system. For example, in Abiriba community in today’s Abia State, I observed with great interest that age-grade system in Abiriba is highly organised, mobilised and respected.
There is one square with a very big tree in the centre. This was the gathering of the community of Abiriba. The square is divided into segments and cluster of huts built by each age grade. And once one comes into the square, one goes to the age-grade’s hut for their convenience. In this regard, there is order. The issue of “Igbo Enwe-eze” should be removed from our cultural lexicon. This is completely absurd and does not hold water. In almost every Igbo community, one is bound to join an age-grade.
Thus, the Igbo race is an organized race with age-grade system which helps in different developmental projects and this brings analysis to the importance of the Igbo culture. Today, every community in Igbo race must appoint an Igbo traditional ruler known as Eze or Igwe depending on what each community uses.
However, some communities use different titles but within the Igbo core nationalities, Eze or Igwe are most commonly used. Many years ago before and after the colonial administrations, the title of chiefs was adopted. These chiefs then were appointed to regulate community responsibilities.
Their responsibilities were to collect taxes on behalf of the colonial powers. They have the power of maintaining peace and tranquility in communities. In some places then, they were representatives of the colonial powers. But since independence in Igbo race, most of these institutions survived with permanent recognition to the effect that in some areas such as Onitsha, Orlu, Oguta, Obosi, Oba, etc, such institutional lineage has remained transfixed and it has become hereditary by some families.
However, since 1976, there has been proliferation of chieftaincy institutions leading to some conflict. But with modern developments, some people with affluence and influence have been rested with these authorities of original holders. These conflicts are more in Imo, Anambra, Abia and Enugu states where the authorities of traditional rulers have become very significant.
Unfortunately, since the administrations of Mbakwe, Evan Enwerem, Udenwa, Rochas Okorocha the institution of the Ezeship has been bastardised and their power almost rubbished particularly during the time of Rochas Okorocha. He was reported to have turned traditional rulers to a classroom formation in which they were forced to line up and do a match past in his honour. Thank God this level of humiliation has disappeared.
And I must be quick to add that the style of Rochas Okorocha’s abrakadabra, who organized traditional rulers council and gave them a befitting secretariat and introduced certain measures to their status. These notwithstanding, traditional rulers have become important institutions in our culture because of the type of roles they play.
Today, traditional institution in Igbo world is an important institution requiring community “to shine their eyes before electing or assigning someone to be a ruler”. Time has gone when anybody could be selected to fill the vacancy of the traditional ruler. Time is gone when people of low mentality and means should be selected as traditional ruler.
Anybody that must be selected should be educated in order to grasp certain local issues to be able to proffer solutions. Time is gone when a traditional ruler is a beggar. It is not mandatory that he should be a rich person but a person with visible means of livelihood who should be able to plough something into his community and not taxing his subjects to be collecting food items from. Those who have vacancies in their communities to fill must not be induced to select those who will create more problems for the community.
One to be selected as a traditional ruler today must be one of good character with the ability to proffer solutions to community problems. Traditional title of Ezeship or Igweship must be modernised and should go in line with our level of civilisation and modernity. It is no longer for everybody. It should go to those who have civility of the mind and mental intellect but above all it should go to those who understand the importance of tradition.