On Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu...On Whether Ojukwu Deserves

The Title Of Eze-Igbo

By Valentine Obienyem
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There is no primary school boy of Igbo origin who does not know that title taking in Igbo land is a step towards the recognition of a person's achievements. Honour involves the expression of respect, which is due to a person either by virtue of his role on a particular occasion, or by virtue of his status or rank, which is expressed in titles and demonstrated in deference. Hence honour is not only the internalization of the value of society in the individual, but the externalization of his self image in the world.

In a complex society like Nigeria, individual views may differ, and different groups may have different standards for acknowledging greatness. But the significance of the acts and the granting of dignities are essentially the same: they place the seal of public recognition on reputation that would otherwise stand in doubt and endow them with permanence. Therefore, to value a man is to honour him; and the honour in Igboland often comes through titles.

Thus by endowing one with a title, his achievements are institutionalized, even as he is indirectly urged to do more. Igbos therefore cultivate, cherish and promote an elitist culture whose parameter is judged by the excellence of one's achievements and commitment to the upliftment of the people. A lot of things have happened but the urge to excel and to be titled remains the heritage of the Igbo spirit. Unless Igbos continue to respect hard work, they will become misguided progenies of their illustrious ancestors.

In Igbo land, leadership is not an exclusive preserve of a single family or lineage: leadership is not in blood but is achieved. Igbos know the principle of individualism and keep it. They could only allow persons of proven superior traits to lead them. There are many such people, but Ojukwu stands out.

In achievements, antecedents and capability, not many of Ojukwu's critics in Igboland can confidently dream to match him, or exude his charisma! In thinking of the man's character, Innocent Okafo said: 'Ikemba is from all indications a man of proven integrity, man of his people, and voice of Ndigbo as well as the defender of Igbos' interest in our national life.'1 Chekwas Okorie concurs: 'Igbos recognize in Ojukwu the qualities of a hero in war and a great man in peace, a mind imbued with a high sense of justice and pride, and a courage unshaken in the command of armies.'2 What is the secret of Ojukwu's attraction, of his enormous seductiveness to the Igbos?

The secret is very much open: Igbos have tested his leadership, and found their interests secured in his hands. If there is one thing on which many Igbos agree, it is that Biafra would have been unthinkable without this one unparalleled Odegwuanyi as Zik used to call him. There could not have been that national dedication to a cause, that fantastic faith in their own strength, which the people displayed under him. He made Biafra the credo of a mass movement, and he, essentially alone, created that mass movement itself. None of his associates, not even those who criticize his taking of the Eze-Igbo title, could show any comparable combination of ideological ability with practical, cool politics, and his exceptional talent to organize the Igbo masses.

On the day he made his triumphant procession, after his return from exile, through Enugu to Nnewi, it was overwhelming to watch the masses of people who jubilantly greeted him in ecstatic enthusiam. It was as if mass intoxication had overcome more than half of Igbo people along the way wherever Ojukwu came into view. Some had tears in their eyes (tears of joy) because they were deeply moved by what they saw and heard. Igbos must have longed for him, else how shall we explain the eagerness with which they welcomed him. Many Igbos still regard his pardon as the supreme success of Alhaji Shehu Shagari's Presidency. If after his return, he had promised to bring Igbos back to the mainstream of Nigeria politics, that has always been his goal. Some people feel that he has not quite fulfilled that, but they should be objective enough to judge him vis-à-vis the political situation in the country. Indeed, we have not played real politics that would have made his dream come true. In the end, the ultimate question should be: Has Ojukwu had an opportunity to advance the Igbo course and did not take it? In contemplating this question, Tagbo Oguejiofor was forthright:

If there is one man that understands the Igbo problem he is the Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Odumegwu-Ojukwu. I have no doubt in my mind that Ojukwu, given the chance Zik had, Igboland would have been the Japan of Africa and the most progressive ethnic group in Nigeria. Apart from being the most popular Igbo man living or dead, his civil war records speak eloquently for him.3

Is it for nothing that he has, more than any other Igbo man continued to speak out against the marginalization of the Igbos? In 1994, single-handed, he mobilized Igbo elders under the banner of Ndigbo and led them to Aso Rock for talks with the then Head of State, late General Sani Abacha. The delegation was not for any partisan interest, but wholly for the welfare of the Igbos. In his speech, he said that Igbos regretted to observe that their sweat, labour and sacrifices had not been matched with fitting appreciation and reward rather our people, even in very recent times, were victims of unwarranted, unprovoked, and merciless destruction of life and property by fellow Nigerians. This was at the heat of the June 12 crisis. So, if the criteria for being the king of Igbos is: one's love for the Igbo people, one's care and concern for Igbos, and one's selfless service to the Igbo people, Ojukwu deserves the title of Eze-Igbo more than any person. He is among the few Igbo men that have had the rather 'odd' record of rejecting a party he could have personally gained from because of his people. 'It is difficult,' writes a frank Igbo historian, Ebenezer Achebe, 'to distinguish where the Ojukwu in him stops, and the Igbo man in him starts.'4

In the past, Igbos had followed many people whose idea of politics did not transcend their selfish schemes. Such false, selfish leaders would rather not have Igbos under one single symbol of unity, because it will prevent their continued exploitation of Ndigbo. These are the people who always distract attention by saying that Igbos have no king and need none. They say that the title of Eze-Igbo is useless and non-existent. It is obvious, however, that Igbos need a rallying point, and are visibly enthused to have found one in Ojukwu. Chief Ignatius Ezeigbo speaks briefly but illuminatingly about this development:

In the north, they are running to take shelter under the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido. In the West, the Yorubas run to the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade, while the Igbos are usually beclouded by the fact that they are said to be republicans.5

From the foregoing, the following questions become pertinent: Is the claim that Igbos are republicans an absolute truth to be taken at its face value, and not diluted as metaphor? Does it mean that Igbos are very tolerant, ultra-democratic and highly individualistic? Or does it mean that Igbos have no hereditary government? These questions jostled with each other for answers on 4th of May, 1996.

On the above date, the Nri town as important to the Igbos as Ile-Ife is to the Yorubas, decided to give Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu- Ojukwu the highest symbol of Igbo authority, OFOR NA ALOR, thus honouring him as the Eze-Igbo i.e., the king of Igbos. They did that, having considered the exigencies of the time or as the head Adama, Chief Shedrach Mbanefo assured us, 'After having received the requisite spiritual revelations.'6

As expected, emotions were let loose. Some Igbo elite were more frightened than pleased at what they saw, albeit wrongly, as an ominous interlude in the development of Igbo custom. At once, the sturdy rock on which Ohaneze, the apex Igbo organisation was built began to shake. The entire hullabaloo was due to the limited understanding of the import of the title. Ojukwu relieved their fears by assuring them that 'Eze-Igbo has no territorial claims. It is purely a pre-eminence over the spirit of Ndigbo. Eze-Igbo gives no orders. It is an honour. A mark of respect for somebody who is preeminent.'7

Not satisfied, some Igbo elite detected in this act what they thought was Ojukwu's move to deify himself. Consequently, they marked him out as a man to be broken at all costs. Some newspapers satirized him in hilarious caricatures: they forgot his genius and mischievously remembered only his faults. Some placed a disclaimer on him to the effect that the title is 'Non existent and spurious.'

Scandal mongers, even as they acknowledged the right of the title to exist insofar as it came from Nri, assued us that the title was actually paid for. They traced the origin of Ojukwu's genius to the devil, just as some journalists declared that the title of Eze-Igbo was useless and unwarranted.

In the midst of these devilries, some skeptics joyfully announced to the world that a palace servant gave the title. This is an orchestrated move to discredit the revered Adama. Some prominent Igbos accussed both Ojukwu and the Adama of so bold a violation of precedent: 'Our forefathers had no kings,' they said. They cited the saying: Igbo enwe eze i.e., Igbos have no king, to buttress their argument. Yet the Igbo masses were delighted at the elevation of Ojukwu to an Eze-Igbo. Their dream had come true because they saw him as a foremost Igbo patriot, an Igbo man to the core, who has been given his due. They saw the diatribes of the opposition as the rantings of saboteurs and suggested a worthy punishment to them - banishment from Igbo land. Ugochukwu Onwuegbu echoing those who approve of Ojukwu's title has this to say:

Ojukwu is the Dikedioranma of Igbo. He is the brightest and the best of the luminous sons of Igboland. He is the first before the rest. Anybody who tries to detract from his person or his achievements is nothing but a saboteur.8

Strengthening Ugochukwu's assertion, Jones Ejikeme notes: 'Facts and figures have revealed beyond every doubt that the leadership of the Igbo nation can never be contested until Ojukwu ceases to exist. 'All other Igbos,' he said with some hyperbole, 'are made of silver; Ojukwu of silver and gold.'9

Ojukwu listened and heard the views of both the opposition and supporters and was at once happy and angry. His initial reaction was to ignore them. But the alleged reaction of Ohaneze startled him. He felt betrayed. In a fit of anger, he kept muttering 'Ohaneze!' repeatedly. Finally he said, 'I cannot possibly believe that with whatOhaneze stands for and with their idea of right and wrong, they could have authorized such unworthy excess.'10 He felt very offended but still maintained with confidence that this was a misunderstanding that could be easily resolved. I share Ojukwu's confidence and look forward to a cheerful resolution of the misunderstanding.

The fact that Igbos need to speak with one voice was amply demonstrated during the coronation of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido. Ojukwu led a delegation of almost a hundred Igbo Chiefs. At the Shehu Kangiwa Square, the venue of the coronation, a great concourse of Igbos, including chiefs, commoners, traders, civil servants and urchins followed him. At the end of the coronation, the emotions of the crowd were stirred beyond control. In a frenzy of zeal, they intoned: Eze-Igbo, Eze-Igbo Ojukwu ka anyi ga-eso, ma o na-eje eje ma o na ana ana, Ojukwu ka anyi ga-eso. This when interpreted literally means: 'We shall always follow Ojukwu, the king of Igbos, wherever he goes.' What to note here is that Igbos were attracted to Ojukwu as a rallying point at the occasion. He is anEze-Igbo. For those who maintain that the title does not exist, let them note that it did not exist, but it now exists. It is a move by the Igbos to redefine their essence in the Nigerian society. Even prior to Ojukwu's coronation, Igbos have always known him as their numero uno, theAdama merely announced an existing truth. Even the Igbo traditional rulers recognize that.

It will be recalled that the epidemic of happiness that greeted Ojukwu's return in 1982, infected them too. In a rare show of solidarity, all of them gathered together at Nnewi, Ojukwu's town, and pronounced him the ' Morning Star of the Igbo Nation.' They followed it up by crowning him Dikedioranma (the hero who is loved by all) of Igboland, a title that in its totality made him in all but name the king of the Igbos (Eze-Igbo). I therefore conclude that the title of Eze-Igbo from Nri, which would make its recipient the primus inter pares in Igboland, has been given to the right person.


We do not know beyond doubt whence the original inhabitants of Nri town, i. e. The Adama, came, nor whence. But historians are agreed that the Umudiani kindred (the Adama) are the aborigines of Nri. In an advertisement placed in The Guardian of Saturday, July 6, 1996, 'Nri Development Union' gives the following details, which are useful for understanding the controversy surrounding the Adama in recent times:

Nri town in Anaocha Local Government of Anambra State is made up of six villages, namely Uruoji, Obeagu, Agbadani, Uruofolo, Ekwenanyika and Diodo (the order is based on numerical strength). The first three belong to the Agukwusection with common history of migration and settlement. Uruofolo and Ekwenanyika comprise the Akamkpisi section, equally related through history, while Diodo enjoys some distinct historical experience as the first group to produce anEze-Nri. However, Akamkpisi/Diodo share certain similarities as the first settlers, before the arrival of Agukwu people fromUgbene in 1043 A.D. Hence they were allowed to settle atAgukwu (large farmland). Indeed the areas occupied byAgbadani and parts of Obeagu today were given to them by people of Uruofolo village, for which they still show appreciation.11

Historians are agreed on the strong influence of Nri custom on other Igbo communities. With a few exceptions and alterations, the bulk of Igbo custom came down to us from Nri: divination, tattooing, cleansing of abomination, etc. Most of what Igbos inherited from Nri is largely religious in content and purpose. As C. C. Ifemesia said:

Right to the end of the 19th century, the reputation of the Nri people in Igboland as adjudicators of disputes, cleansers of 'abomination' and conferrers of high title was such that in the 1890s, a British political officer, Major A. G. Leonard, thought that within the neighbourhood of Nri was to be found, the heart of the Igbo nationality. Consequently, he said, 'It is reasonable to look among its people for the original fountainhead from which all other clans have sprung.'12

This testimony of Ifemesia underscores the places of Nri in Igbo civilisation. Edmund Ilogu in his book entitled: Christianity and Igbo Culture,13 confirms Ifemesia's submission, and G. T. Basden14 adds that Nri Priests are indispensable for many rites, rituals, ceremonies and even the coronation of kings. Basden, like many other authors, states that the priests sometimes travel far and wide for this purpose. Elizabeth Isichie15 in her book, The Igbo People and The Europeans,concurs to all these.

Within the nucleus of the Nri town of today, there is a much respected few who, apart from performing their normal duties as Nri men, have the sole function of crowing kings in Nri and many other parts of Igboland. They are the aforementioned, original settlers who were so closely knit that they did not think of having a king: the Adama.

When one of the settlers in Nri, the Diodos came at about 600 B.C. with their great leader, Namoke, they were startled to find the Adamavirtually without a king. Namoke went to the Adama and demanded to be made Eze-Nri Namoke and reached an agreement with them: the people will pay homage to Eze-Nri while, in gratitude for being crownedEze-Nri, Eze-Nri will pay homage to the Adama. The terms of the agreement are what we now have as the widely quoted saying: Efee Nri, Nri Efee Adama' (Nri receives homage, but pays homage toAdama).

Following the Adama and Namoke (Diodo) deal, the Diodo people kept producing the Eze-Nri until the time of Nri Namoke VII's reign. Reports and historical records show that the Nri Namoke dynasty lasted for several centuries, before the coming of Agukwu people from Ugbene in 1043 A.D. It was at the end of Eze-Nri Namoke VII's reign that, as fate would have it, the Ofor na Alor Nri Me Nri went to Obeagu people ofAgukwu.

The dying Eze-Nri Namoke VII had, according to history, asked his nephew from Obeagu to succeed him as Nribuife, in his original palace at Ogwugwu Eze-Nri. But Nribuife, it is said, probably feeling uncomfortable away from home, ran back to Obeagu village. This singular act extended the Nri kingship institution to Agukwu, where it began to rotate among the three villages that make up the Agukwucommunity. But because they still accepted the indispensability of theAdama, the latter continued to crown them and take care of the instruments of power and authority, known as Ofor na Alor.

We therefore see that the partakers of the crown of Eze-Nri, as well as its geography changed at some point, but the position of the Adama as kingmakers did not. Odinanwa16, Onwuejeogwu17, Nwabara18, C. M. Ezekwudo19, Isichie20, Jeffreys21, and Basden22, in their various books, emphasised the enviable status of the Adama as kingmakers in Nri and in Igboland generally.

We therefore note the following points, made by the Akamkpisi/|Diodocommunities on the basis of which we can affirm that the Adama are kingmakers: (i) the Adama perform all rituals and keep custody of sacred objects associated with the office of Eze-Nri; (ii) the most sacred inner chamber (Uno-Ngu), the sanctuary or abode of the symbol of authority and justice of Eze-Nri (Ofor na Alor) is, reportedly, accessibly to the Adama alone; and (iii) the Adama have been historically associated with the office of high priest in Igboland. Confirming the actual role of the Adama in the king making process, Odinanwa said:

Once a person is accepted as a candidate for the title of Eze-Nri, the Adama people will control all the stages of the king making process, till the actual coronation, which is performed by the head titled man, 'Isi-Nze' of Adama. He places a crown of cowhide, with eight eagle feathers surrounding it on the head of the candidate and declares him an Eze-Nri.23

Onwuejeogwu confirms this and even gives details, which show what is given to Eze-Nri as symbol of authority. He describes a concluded coronation thus:

The Isi-Nze of Umudiani lineage placed the crown, made of cowhide, Okpu-Eze and encircled with eight Ugo feathers on his head. The Isi-Nze of Umudiani brought Ofor-Nri and Alor-Nri Menri from the palace of his predecessor and handed them to him. The Adama enumerated all the taboos the new Ezemust observe and those that people would observe on his behalf.24

The foregoing is supported by the 'Chieftaincy Constitution Based on 'Omenani Nri,' endorsed by the Akamkpisi and Diodo communities. This document, which was once tendered and accepted in court, states that Nri kingship moved from Diodo to Nri-bu-ife of Obeagu when his grandfather, Nri Namoke VII, rotated Ofor Na Alor to him for loyal services. Succession to the throne of Eze-Nri since then has been full of disputes, as was the case when Tabansi Udene of Agbadani and Okpoko of Obeagu struggled for eleven years over the right to becomeEze-Nri.

This Omenani Nri has a list of nineteen Nri kings duly crowned by the Adama (from Nri-Namoke I to Nri-ji-Ofor II). Odinanwa, emphasizing the status of the Adama says:

The king looks at the Adama as the people he will consult in need, while the Adama benefits from all that comes into the kings's possession in form of tributes. One may assume that the king's property is generally that of the Adama.25

Agukwu community rejects the position of the Akamkpisi and Diodo. The 'Nri Political Constitution Based on Odinani Nri,'26 which they endorsed (and not by Akpmkpisi/Diodo) shows on page II (appendix II, section c) the duties of the Adama. These do not specifically include crowning the king. But it says that the symbols of authority and justice (Ofor na Alor), or staff of office, can only be touched by the Adama and that only the Adama has access to the person and the sacred sanctuary of Eze-Nri.

On coronation, this document says on page 4 (Odinani 2:1) 'Once anEze-Nri is crowed and consecrated, he may not be deposed or asked to abdicate. Nri system makes it impossible for an Eze-Nri to be dictatorial since he depends heavily on his people.' It does not however, say anything about who crowns the king. On page 6, under 'Compostition and Functions of Nzemabua,' it lists the functions of this council (also know as Ndi Izu Eze) as (i) advising the king on traditional matters, local customs, title taking and 'Their ancient function of king making.' We are being told here that they are, and have always been the traditional king makers.

This is the claim of G.A.D. Tabansi who said: 'The Adama has no say in who becomes the Eze-Nri; rather after the Nzemabua have completed the formalities of choosing and installing the Eze-Nri, the Eze-Nri visits the Umudiana family where he is provided with a servant, an Adama. When one Adama matures to adulthood, he is normally retired and replaced with a younger Adama who continues to live with the Eze-Nrias palace servant.'27 This line of argument led Chukwuemeka Onyeso's observation that 'If Ojukwu wishes to be chief steward of Eze-Nri, he should apply to Eze-Nri, and Eze-Nri will consider his application if he deems him fit to be his chief of steward and if the custom allows it, then it will be given a thought.'28

Since, according to Onyeso, Tabansi and others, the Eze-Nri did not confer any title on Ojukwu, Onyeso and Tabansi were saying that he is no Eze-Igbo. They maintain that the Adama who cannot do anything without the approval of Eze-Nri has no rights or duties pertaining to giving Ofor na Alor when Eze-Nri has not spoken. Tabansi insists that the Ofor that the late Eze-Nri gave Ojukwu in 1967 symbolised the blessing and solidarity of the Igbos for the just course he was pursuing. The Ofor na Alor is said to be exclusive to Eze-Nri and the implication here is that Ojukwu wants to wrestle this from him. Yet they know that what Eze-Nri holds is Ofor na Alor Nri me Nri and not ordinary Ofor na Alor

The two supposed claimants to the title of Eze-Nri today are Chief Obidiegwu Onyeso and Chief Chikadibia Ogbummuo. The Adama filed a case in court against the alleged coronation of the former in 1988. Chukwuemeka Onyeso claims that they, the supporters of Onyeso, tendered the political constitution, or Odinani Nri with which the Anambra State Government 'broke the case of this trouble makers.'29Yet the same Anambra State Government would not recognise theirEze-Nri then.

Investigations show that both Agukwu and Akamkpisi/Diodocommunities have their respective Nzemabua and that the Agukwu people are pretending that their Nzemabua, which must meet with its counterpart before deciding on anything that would affect the whole of 'Nri Town,' can usurp both the functions of a full cabinet known as Oru Nzenano30, Nri, and that of the Adama.

As the rift progressed with a court injunction on Chief Obidiegwu that was upheld all the way to the Supreme Court, the Adama crowned Chief Chukwukadibia Ogbummuo Eze-Nri Namoke VII on February 24, 1993. They saw no point in continuing with the case after the Eze-Nrihad been crowned by those with the powers to do so.

The Nigerian weekly Law Report of Chief Gani Fawehimni, commenting on the ruling of the Supreme Court which slammed an injunction on Chief Onyesoh in 1992, says: 'That the Adamas who are the only kingmakers and who only can crown the Eze-Nri have not been consulted and have not consented to the crowning of the appellant (i.e Onyesoh).'31

Part of the Supreme Court ruling on Chief Onyesoh's appeal against the Adama, delivered on Friday, March 3, 1993 by Chief A. G. Karibi-Whyte, Justice of the Supreme Court, says: ' all the issues for determination formulated failed. The appeal is accordingly dismissed. Appellants (i.e Onyesoh and Co.) shall pay costs to the respondents assessed at 1,000.'32

Thus if indeed there was no government recognised Eze-Nri and there were two claimants to that title, reason and history ought be on the side of the one crowned by the Adama. It can then be said with justification that the Adama who crowned Ojukwu with the approval of Ogbummuo acted on instructions from Eze-Nri. The Akamkpisi/Diodocommunities insist that they have dealt with the actual troublemakers from Agukwu in court, and that, in any case, the kingmakers have spoken.

If a perpetual interlocutory injuction restraining Chief Obidiegwu Onyesoh from parading himself as Eze-Nri is still in force; if the court's decision rested on the fact that Onyesoh was not unanimously selected by the six villages and that he was not crowned by the Adama; if an existing gazette of the Anambra State Government specifically forbids him from parading himself as Eze-Nri until recently, then where lies his authenticity as Eze-Nri?

The justifications for the conferment of Eze-Igbo title on Ojukwu, forAkamkpisi/Diodo and the Adama are:

(a) Adamas are the kingmakers of Nri and therefore have a right to grant and confer titles;

(b) Ofor na Alor are part of the heritage of the Adama; and

(c) the Adama have prerogative of deciding who gets a title in the absence of a government recognised Eze-Nri.

The foregoing precludes any inquiry into who or why they give a title. As law-abiding citizens we must all wait for the government to see through the artificial maze and take side with justice and truth by acknowledging the right person as Eze-Nri. But what must be accepted without further ado is that the Adama are traditional kingmakers and high priests and thus had the right, priviledge and honour of crowning Ojukwu the Eze-Igbo. The issue of whether Ojukwu should not have waited for the controversy to end must not blind us to the fact that he took the title from the right people and might, by that very act, be drawing attention to the pretensions of one side. The Ikemba himself is a distinguished student of history and must know what he was doing.

Those who crowned Ojukwu Eze-Igbo were eminently qualified to do so. Though the government of Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju recognised Chief Onyesoh as the Eze-Nri, it is one of the cases of allowing politics and bonds of friendship to becloud our sense of judgement. History and time shall vindicate the just.

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