First, the statement that the institution of Umunna was destroyed by the British would appear not to be
quite correct. It would seem to be more correct to say that there was always a
struggle for control or dominance in the locality between the Warrant Chiefs set
up by the British Administration and the traditional Umunna
and Village Heads, while the Warrant
Chiefs were trying to establish the authority or influence bestowed on them.
This is what Prof. Nwabueze described as “conflict of
authority” in his Ahiajoku Lecture 1985. No doubt, the failure of the Warrant
Chief System was due to that conflict and their propensity for bribery and
corruption. It was that Conflict of Authority and the Corrupt System that women
challenged, in behalf of the men, in 1929 and made sure that it was abrogated. In
the process also, according to Oriji, John N. (2000)
Igbo Women From 1929-1960, West Africa Review 2, secured for themselves the
right to be appointed as counselors and judges of the Native Courts.
In any case, the Warrant Chief System did not last for a
long time. It lasted only through the time of the establishment of the Indirect
Rule – 1914 to 1929 (15
years) - when the battle against it was fought and won by women. That was, 75
years ago. The question is: What stopped Ndi Igbo
from re-establishing the Umunna
System if anything ever happened to it? The Umunna
System was and still is a lineage based organization. In fact, the Warrant
Chief System was established in the South as a counterpart of the System of
Indirect Rule through the Emirs in the North. Therefore, it could not have
functioned without the co-operation of the Umunna and
village Heads, above whose heads the Warrant Chiefs were appointed. The
protests and revolt against it showed that it did not work. Rather than say
that the British Administration’s Warrant Chief System destroyed the Umunna System, I think that it would be more correct to put
it the other way round.
Prof. Nwabueze in the 1985
Ahiajoku Lecture continued by saying that: The conflict of authority created by
the warrant chief system between the government-appointed chiefs and the
traditional authorities was rekindled in 1950 when the government of Eastern
Nigeria established a new system of local government based on elected councils
empowered by law to conduct the affairs of local government in the various
local communities. Since the people still identified the source of legitimate
authority in the lineage, village and clan heads, the new elected councils found
themselves more or less obstructed in asserting their statutory authority
against that of the traditional authorities. In the ensuing conflict, not much
development could take place. Instead, the councilors devoted themselves to
corrupt enrichment just like the warrant chiefs before them. The conciliar system had again to be abandoned, and was
replaced with a system of direct administration by the state government through
its own civil servants, the so-called system of deve1opment administration,
which in turn was abolished under the Local Government Reforms of 1976”.
Thus, the British Administration had continued to search for ways and
means of circumventing the Umunna and Village Head
System, which they then left alone.
Secondly, if the British colonialists and Administrators left anything
of the Igbo social and political system intact, it was the Umunna And Village Head System. This they did by leaving the Traditional Laws
and Cultural Practices, which constitute the life-blood of the Umunna And Village Head System
un-tampered with. They also provided for them in the series of the Constitutions
of the country.
Thirdly, only as a protection against the infringement of the Fundamental
Human rights of the people by the Native Laws and Customs (Omenana),
did the British Administration create the Repugnancy Test Clause and entrenched
it in the 1900 Nigerian Constitution. It was meant to protect and defend the
fundamental human rights of individuals against what appeared to them as the
obnoxious and oppressive aspects of the Native Laws and Customs, and only when such
cases, which were opposed to the official and written laws, equity and good
conscience, were appealed to the higher courts.
The Clause was especially useful in the protection of the fundamental
human rights of the girl-child and women. However that Clause, which was
supposed to be applied only when a case was appealed from the Native Courts,
now Customary Courts, to the higher Courts, was left to lie dormant for almost one
century. It was not until 1997 that Justice Niki Tobi resuscitated it and applied it in his lead judgement in the case of the disinheritance of women in the
Nnewi Oli-Ekpe Case of Mojekwu versus Mojekwu, in the Appellate Court of Anambra State. This was before the Repugnancy Test
Clause was revived in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
During the hibernating period of the Repugnancy Test Clause 1900-1997 and now,
the Umunna System of justice had been having a field
day and still does, unchallenged, in the Villages and Communities. Wherein and
how is the destruction of the Umunna System?
I would rather agree with The EKWE NCHE Organization that it was the (Nigerian Government)
conquerors of Biafra and, therefore, of Ndi Igbo that destroyed the Umunna
Extended Family and the Kindred Family Systems. This they did by consistently discouraging
and proscribing the Apex Organizations of Ndi Igbo,
through which Ndi Igbo came together, planned, acted
and gave expression, in concert, to their aspirations and well-being. But the
system was left intact at the base.
The Extended Family System is totally a lineage based organization,
formal or informal, of the kith and kin on the father’s side as well as on the
mother’s side. In addition, the In-law groups also come in, especially on
occasions of joy and grief. But Paul Odili reports
from the Retreat that: Speaker after speaker lamented the state of Igbo nation,
at the same time agreeing that the lot of Igbo people today, is far short of
what they are capable of achieving, if they get their acts together. Some
speakers canvassed the importance of reexamination of Igbo value system; the
reconstitution of the Umunna system, ( a council of
elders in small hamlets of Igbo nation) the imperativeness of accepting the
authority of responsible and organized leadership, and discarding the syndrome
of Igbo enwe eze (Igbos do
not have kings), or the so-called republican strain which enthrones
individualistic pursuits, and undermines the collective will of the people; the
need to embrace education, especially science and technical education, which
the Igbos have a natural flair for; the need to redevelop infrastructure in the
Igbo nation. In short ideas poured in from almost every speaker”.
The points touched on there are:
the reconstitution of the Umunna System;
the imperativeness of accepting the authority of responsible and
discarding the syndrome of Igbo enwe eze;
discarding the republican strain, which enthrones individualistic
discarding the republican strain, which undermines the collective will of the people;
the need to embrace education, especially science and technical
the need to redevelop infrastructure in the Igbo nation
Our review of Igbo social structure demonstrates its
complexity, both in form and content (Uchendu, 1991:
27-47). Variations in Igbo social structure can be explained by situational
factors; and such variations are practically limited to the kinship domain. We
have noted that the attempt by Forde and Jones (1950)
to contour these variations by pointing out critical cultural traits was not
convincing. In a recent statement on the subject, he suggested that kinship is
the key diagnostic cultural trait to the variations in Igbo social structure
and isolated the rules of exogamy, endogamy and incest as critical variables.
The application of these variables revealed that a distinction must be made
between the Ikwu
and the Umunna
belts of kinship systems (Uchendu, 1994).
Uchendu in his summary of the concept of
the Extended Family Universe states thus: Kinship systems manifest themselves
in many areas of social life. They are involved in domestic activities such as
cooking and eating; in sexual activities like sleeping and copulating; in the
transmission of knowledge, values, status and property from one generation to
another; in the terms of address we use; and in how we perpetuate the memory of
the dead and of our heroes. Claude Levi-Strauss (1963:46-75) stresses that all
kinship systems are built up out of a single "universe", a single
type of what he calls "elementary structure". He identifies this
structure as consisting of a woman, her brother, her husband and their son. His
thesis that "exchange is the universal form of marriage" can be
shared by all Igbo elders. Because of the universally recognized prohibition of
incest, a woman cannot find a husband within her family of orientation. She and
her brother have to seek spouses outside this family group.
However, in the context of Uchendu’s
analysis of the Extended Family 1995, he explains that Mutual Dependence is a central
value in the Igbo Extended Family culture, an attribute of an inclusive kinship
system inherent in the primary descent group whether patrilineal
or double descent. The other important attribute of this descent system is
continuity. Every father-son or mother daughter of sister brother relationship
is link in an endless chain of the descent system. Enmeshed in a network of
continuous relationships, the individual is conditioned to orient himself
linearly, and in a secondary way, laterally within a well defined kinship
system. An individual's place in this line of descent is specific and
inalienable. While the obligations are mutual between parent and child, they
are not equal throughout the stages of each generational cycle. The child owes
the parent obedience, which is transformed into filial piety, a ritual
obligation at the death of the parent. The parent owes the child protection.
Succession to property, name and status is a fact of descent principle, not of
the arbitrariness of law or a testamentary will.
The Onion Cluster Relationships
He then proceeded to explain Igbo Society as a Cluster of 6
Cluster I: This consists of the parents, siblings
Cluster II: It consists of the father's wife or wives, their
children and children's children.
Cluster III: This is located in the ascendant generation and consists
of the mother's siblings, their children who belong to one generation and the
mother‘s and father’s father.
Cluster IV: This consists of a category of relations with whom one
might not have much contact with. But a successful Igbo is "found" by
his remote relatives. This category of relations consists of the father's wives
mothers and fathers as well as the mother’s, mother's father and mother.
Cluster V: This consists of the in-law group of relations for whom Ogo is a
reciprocal term of address, no matter the generation. The daughters create this
relationship, which is further strengthened by the grand children.
Cluster VI. The grand children who in the status of Okene (Nwadiana) or Okene ukwu (Nnekwu Nwadiana),
depending on the generation, are treated with privileged consideration and
Definition Of Ezi Na Uno
Here Uchendu tries to
differentiate between Ezi Na Ulo
ma obu Ezi n’ulo. He says:
is more than a homestead. It is a cultural phenomenon of great complexity. A
basic spacial unit in Igbo social organization,
in structural time, but ezi
loses its functional integrity once ulo disintegrates. It is the peace of ezi that brings prosperity to ezi n'ulo and
poverty that leads to its fusion. Ezi n'ulo should not be confused with ezi na ulo. Although in structural time, ezi precedes ulo, both protect ezi n'ulo. In
cultural terms ezi na
ulo constitute a unity. You cannot meaningfully
think of the one without thinking of the other. In structural analysis ezi na
ulo are polar concepts but they are also
complementary. Their complementarity lies in the fact
that it is the social life in the ulo that activates
the cultural life of the ezi,
the achievements of the ulo
that are celebrated in ezi and vice-versa…………”
His differentiation of Ezi n’ulo from Ezi na Ulo is difficult for me to understand. I can only see
the two expressions as one and the same thing, one being the shortened form in
spelling of the other.
Point Of View
But Ekwe Nche
says: Beginning with the family and extending outward to Umunne (extended family of the
mother in the kindred), Umunna
(kindred), Village (Ogbe)
and town (Obodo,
Ala), Igbo society is seen not as a collection of individuals each with his
own rights and liberties in an atomistic manner but rather as collections of
individuals in groups that systematically and progressively become enlarged.
The structure can be likened to concentric circles (Onion Clusters) that expand
outward in a systematic manner, the larger circles containing the smaller
circles and yet allowing them to maintain their identities and structures and
at the same time using the identities and structures of the smaller circles to
maintain the integrity and strength of the larger circles in a rather symbolic
manner. Just as symbiotic relationship in living organisms requires careful maintenance
of this delicate balance for the survival of each organism, Igbo society
require careful maintenance of this delicate balance for her survival. The
importance of group affiliation in Igbo philosophy and worldview is captured in
Igbo proverbs and idioms. For example, Ofu osisi adiro eme ofia. [A tree does not make a forest.] Ofu onye
nie onwe ya aka ya
aputagi ukwu aputa. [If
a person buries himself, one of his hands or legs must show above the ground.] Onye gbara umu nna ya
mgba isi nebu ya aja
aja [He who wrestles with his kindred folk will
have his hair covered with sand.] Onye kwulu so ya, ijiji atagbue
ya. [He who stands alone will be devoured
by even flies.]
Continuing Ekwe Nche Organization says: Because an individual sees himself
as an integral part of the community, he or she feels obligated to protect the
welfare, integrity and honor of that community by not engaging in any acts that
will be prejudicial to the good of the community, and by doing those things
that will promote the welfare and survival of the community. The community on
the other hand spreads its wings of protection and care over the individual,
but wastes no time in calling an erring member of the community to order. On
rare occasions it imposes such harsh sanctions as ostracism or even banishment
on an erring or recalcitrant member. This socialization enables an Igbo child
early in life to develop the all important principle of self-control in their
daily activities. The delicate balance serves two purposes:
1.) It preserves the integrity of
the community by shielding it from external and internal intrigues and acts of
sabotage aimed at destroying that integrity.
2.) It protects the individual
from destructive behaviors of other people as well as their own propensity
towards self-destructive or community-destructive activities.
Thus the community protects and preserves the individual
just as the individual protects and preserves the community”.
And Definitions Of Family Relationships From Ezi Na Uno to Umunna; Ikwunne; Ikwunna;Ikwunne Nna; Ndi Ogo
Nuclear Family and Extended Family Relationships are
entirely blood-relationships. These
relationships begin with the Marriage of a man to a woman.
The man, Husband (Di) and the Wife, (Nwunye) become Father (Nna) and Mother (Nne). The children or Siblings of the same
mother and father are the Umunne Ovu-Nne Ojiji.
In a Polygamous Family, there will be Umunne Ovu-Nna Ojiji,
being the siblings of the wives, with the same father. Together, they are all half-brothers
The Eldest Son in this family is the Di Okpala and takes charge of the family in
succession to his father.
All of these members are of the same Ezi Na Uno of the same household of the
father in an Ngwulu or Compound). This is the first or the inner ring or cluster
of the Extended Family. Then there come
the descendants of the sons of each of the wives who trace their blood
relationship to the same great, great, great Grand Mother or the Ancestral
Mother, with the same great, great, great grand father or the Ancestral Father.
These are the Umunne nime Umunna or siblings within the Umunna.
This is the second or middle ring or cluster of the Umunna Extended
Family Kindred. Following this middle layer are the members of the rest of the Umunna Kindred Extended Family who are the descendants of all
the brothers and half-brothers or sons of all the mothers of a polygamous
family, who trace their blood relationship to the same great, great, great
grand father or the Ancestral Father. This is the wider or outer layer of the Umunna (Oli Na Nna) Kindred Extended Family.
The Eldest Male Member of the Umunna Kindred becomes the
Patriarch of the Umunna Kindred Extended Family. He receives deep respect for age, seniority.
He also receives annual obeisance and tributes from all
the male members of the Kindred for his seniority. He also has a particular plot of land as the
eldest, which is cultivated and tended for him, and planted with only annual
crops, by the communal labour of the Kindred. At his death, the land passes over to the
next eldest, after his family shall have reaped the crops.
All the Relationships described above, which are of the
Father’s Side or Patrilinealage (Umunna) System also
exist on the Mother’s Side of the Patrilineage (Ikwunne)
System. They also exist on the reverse in the Matrilineage
(Oli Na Nne) System. Yet there are
systems that are described as Double Lineage System, whereby the members have
the best of the two systems.
is the relationship that exists or connects the members of any level of the
Extended Family Relationship, either of the father’s (Umunna)
or the mother’s (Ikwunne) side. Iri Ikwu ma obu Maintaining Connection
With Relations is
the process of tracing and connecting with one’s relations of the father’s or
Ikwu-Nne are the
relations on anybody’s mother’s side.
Ikwu Nna are the Umunna
Kindred Extended Family of the father.
Ikwu-Nne Nna are the relations of the father on his mother’s side.
Then there are Ndi Ogo (In-laws)
who have also become members of the Extended Family through marriages with the
sons into the families.
There is also the marriage of the daughters to men outside
their paternal families. In Igbo Customs, the In-law relationships connect, not
only the husband and wife who are married, but also the siblings of the Nuclear
or Conjugal Families, as well as of all the layers or clusters of the Extended
Families relationships. Anybody who falls outside of these categories and
definitions does not belong to that Extended Family.
Differentiation Of Ezi Na Uno
From Ama, Etc.
Ezi Na Uno,
therefore, is not the Extended Family. It is the nucleus of the Extended Family
System. The Extended Family comprises the Umunne na Umunna
congregations of as many Ezi Na Uno or
Nuclear, Conjugal Families as there are in that lineage. These include the
brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunties and cousins, extending to
as many generations as could be traced and connected, who have their origins
from the same ancestral father and mother, as well as the in-laws.
Then there is the Ogbe or Neighbourhood within which
several Umunna live;
Several Neighbourhoods or Ogbe make up the Ama or Village;
Several Ama or Villages make up the Onuku or Community;
Several Onuku or Community make up the Obodo or Town or
Several Obodo or Towns make up the Clan or Ebo;
Several Ebo or Clans make
up the Ethnic Group or Ana (Land).
In some cases, having met some criteria, an Onuku or Community is authorized by Government to become an
Autonomous Community of its own.
Dr. Uchendu differentiates Ezi from Ama by saying
that: While Ezi and Ulo are culturally complementary, Ezi and Ama are structurally opposed but
functionally interactive. Ama, he says, is
the path to Ezi
and it does not discriminate between the "good and the evil” which it
carries to the Ezi.
It is, therefore, compelled to limit "evil traffic" at the Qnu Obu by ritual
fortifications. Simon Ottenberg (1968), the American
ethnographer on Afikpo, describes in his provocative
essay, "Statement and Reality...”, the role which protective shrines, Egbo, located
above the compound entrance, plays in guarding against evil entering Ezi. The
antagonism between Ezi
and Ama is
further demonstrated by the fact that the path used during the construction of
a compound (Ezi) is usually abandoned and a new path (Ama) would be
constructed, with a protective shrine in place, therefore the new compound
could be occupied by its residents. Ezi N'ulo is not just a bundle of material cultural traits;
it is a people -- people united by a bond of kin network and interlocking
functions and reciprocities. We term this network of people Ezi na Ulo, an extended family.
There are significant differences here in the explanations
and use of the terminologies of: Ezi, Uno, Ezi na Uno, Ama,
from one Dialect Area to the other. For instance, in the Old Anambra Riverine Area Dialect, Ezi na Uno
refer to the compound and the house inside it in which a nuclear or conjugal
is the Space around the House.
Azu Uno is the backyard.
The whole of the space inside the fence-walls of the house
is known as the Ngwulu
or the Compound.
is the House inside the Compound or Ngwulu.
This is the home of the nuclear or conjugal family and
cannot at the same time be the home of the Umunna, which is the Extended
Ama ma obu Ilo mean all the spaces outside the Ngwulu or
ma obu Ilo also means the Village Square or Playground.
Ilo also means the Road in some Igbo dialects.
by different pronunciations also mean a Pig or a Woman’s Menstrual Period.
Ilo by different tonal inflections mean an Enemy, the
Eyelashes of an Elephant, or the Bark of a Kind of Elephant Grass used in
Igbo Leadership By Social Statuses of Birth; Age; Seniority; Kinship;
We have seen that mutual
dependence is a central value in Igbo culture; that Igbo life is based on the
principle of equality (for men only); and that lineage or consanguinity is recognized
as a stepping stone for bringing the people together. These statuses affect
leadership among the people as much as do seniority, kinship, wealth and above
all social status. By social status we mean whether the person is a free born, Diala or Diana or Osu or Oru or Onye eji bili
aku or a ransome or an mbi-mbi (sourjourner),
says Dr. Uchendu. Osu is a cult-slave tied to the
service of the dedicator's deity. The descendants of such a cult slave were
The osu system was legally abolished by
the Eastern Nigerian Government in 1956. In a few communities, the status of osu is ranked with that of ume (those
who wither away), a social category that is also considered ritually polluted,
and on which we have practically no ethnographic documentation. Osu and ume should have no place in any civilization. The Social Statuses of Osu
have lived with Ndi Igbo for as long as their history
and worship of their God through Deities go. These statuses, which are
descent-based caste systems carry a stigma. It is a
shame and an embarrassment on Ndi Igbo that not even
the law passed by the Eastern Nigeria Government in 1956 has made an
appreciable dent in the body politic to erase the ugly practice. We have quoted and also said the
foregoing to say that the Osu na Ume na Oru na Nvu
nvu aku na
mbi-mbi (sourjourner) do not qualify for
leadership in Igbo traditional Society.
continues: Our discussion seems to have ignored women. In the kinship domain,
distinction is made between two categories of women: umu okpu lineage women who may be
married, unmarried, divorced or widowed and ndom (ndinyom) or okporo alu alu (nwanya an’anu anu), who
belongs to the lineage by marriage. In most communities, first wife ranks
highest no matter her age or other social disabilities. In the public domain, the sex-linked roles. which clearly foster sex segregation,
have a leveling effect of leaving women and men to manage their own affairs. (In
these cases, the Ndinyom do not go by their ages of birth. They take
seniority by the sequence of their coming into the kindred families as wives).
Although practices vary, Igbo
women have the freedom and the opportunity to engage in trade on their own
account. Wealthy Igbo women, in their role as "social father",
traditionally contracted a legal marriage with other women and enjoyed all the
rights and privileges of husband, except the role of a genitor. The institution
of gynaegamy, a term Dr. Uchendu
coined for woman marriage (Uchendu, 1968), enables
wealthy women to convert their wealth into one of the most prestigious rights
of Igbo society, the exercise of rights in the reproductive powers of women.
Those who confuse sex with marriage, no doubt protest this institution. But
marriage is not co-terminus with sex. While marriage is associated with sex,
and in fact, formally gives husband and wife mutual sexual access, which
cultures may define as exclusive or not, many societies still fall short of
Conversion Principle or Factor
The Social Conversion Principle or the Achievements and
Success-In-Business Factor In Igbo Leadership is one
to be very much reckoned with. The Igbo are also known for their achieved
status, a point emphasized by all students of this society. In a very
enterprising theory of social structure and personality that combines
historical, sociological and psychological factors into one frame in an effort
to uncover the determinants of achievement motivation in Nigeria, LeVine, quoted by Uchendu, postulates
that Igbo status system is occupationally oriented. In his formulations among
the Igbo, the acquisition of wealth led to political power. Thus, status
mobility was achieved through the demonstration of economic skills of an
entrepreneurial sort. The ideal successful Igbo appears
to have been the energetic and industrious farmer or trader who aggrandized
himself personally through productive or distributive activity (LeVine, 1966:33-37).
He continues: The process by which the individual Igbo
transforms his material wealth into highly desired intangible symbols is what
we call social conversion. The Igbo lay a great emphasis on wealth in their
stratification model. They distinguish between Ogbenye or Mbi
(the poor), from Aka Ji Aku (the hand that command wealth) or Uba (the wealthy). The Igbo make clear status
distinctions between wealth (Aku). They treat wealth
and prestige as two different variables. For instance, a person impoverished by
costly title-taking may have no wealth but still commands high prestige. The
conversion process is at the heart of Igbo title system which is the concrete
structure or institution which mediates the social conversion process. While
the occupations and prestige institutions do vary among Igbo communities, the
principle of conversion is invariant. Wealth is a social product. It is not an
end in itself. Rather, it is viewed in Igbo society as a means of achieving
prestige; and prestige is the reward which society bestows on those social
climbers who use their wealth in ways approved and most esteemed by their
neighbors and communities. The object of wealth is to further achievement both
personal and communal. Traditionally, wealth was not used for things that would
not effect a positive change in status (such as title-taking, marrying a wife;
building a house, etc).
Age, Seniority and
Kinship Factors In Igbo Leadership
Uchendu says” Seniority by birth order in
the lineage is the normal basis for Opara and Ada statuses; and also succession to those positions.
By the extension of these structural principles, the first male child in the
family is Opara and the first female child is Ada. Affinal
relationship creates an important status position for one's children. Every patrilineally dominant Igbo enjoys an okene (okele) Nwadiana status in his
or her mother's lineage, a privileged position that ensures support, which may
be emotional, political, or economic. In
the double descent systems of Cross River basin Igbo, individuals enjoy rights rather than privileged in their Ikwu Nne. Ottenberg
(1971:17) estimates that about 85 per cent of the farmlands in Afikpo are controlled by the matrilineal groups. This means
that an upward mobile individual farmer must depend on his matrikin
for a large measure of his economic success”. In the Anambra Riverine Area, the Nwadiana of the patrilineal system
enjoy rights and privileges denied to their mothers.
Gender Factor In Igbo Leadership: Women On Their Own
Ndi Igbo should not forget that there
are also the counterpart women Organizations of Umuada ma obu Umuokpu (the
married kindred Daughters), the Inyom Di (Kindred Wives) and the Umuagboghobia (the unmarried Kindred Daughters) Organizations, comprising all
ages of the women and girls in these categories under which the women, having
been shut out of boys and men’s associations and community governance, come
together for their common interests. The Otu Ogbo or Age Grades, which classifies and
admits boys only from birth in most of the Towns and Communities groom them to
maturity into the Umunna and Village Assemblies, Town
Unions, Cultural and secret societies and organizations, etc reserved for men
only. They retain such memberships and participation for life. In all of these,
women are shut out and ignored, except by being on their own, and doing their
own thing. Even in their seclusion, women have to obtain permission and
supervision from men to do whatever they have to do.
Uchendu says: “Our discussion seems to
have ignored women. In the kinship domain, distinction is made between two
categories of women: umu okpu, lineage
women who may be married, unmarried, divorced or widowed and ndom or ndinyom, or okporo alu alu,
who belong to the lineage by marriage. In most communities, the first wife
ranks highest no matter her age or other social disabilities. In the public
domain, the sex-linked roles, which clearly foster sex segregation, have a
leveling effect of leaving women and men to manage their own affairs. Although
practices vary, Igbo women have the freedom and the opportunity to engage in
trade on their own account. Even at that, women are still grossly handicapped
for matrimonial interference in their businesses by their husbands; lack of
moral support, illiteracy, lack of adequate capital, and the wherewithal to
move about and transport their wares. Except in the Ihiala, Nnewi
and Imo areas, women do not even own bicycles. Rather they own Sewing Machines,
some of which are just showed under the bed.
Uchendu continues: Wealthy Igbo women, in
their role as "social father", traditionally contracted a legal
marriage with other women and enjoyed all the rights and privileges of husband,
except the role of a genitor. The institution of gynaegamy,
a term I coined for woman marriage (Uchendu, 1968),
enables wealthy women to convert their wealth into one of the most prestigious
rights of Igbo society, the exercise of rights in the reproductive powers of
women. Those who confuse sex with marriage, no doubt protest this institution.
But marriage is not co-terminus with sex. While marriage is associated with
sex, and in fact, formally gives husband and wife mutual sexual access, which
cultures may define as exclusive or not, many societies still fall short of
The fact is that a woman who wishes to contract a legal
marriage with another woman does not have to be rich or wealthy. Invariably,
other factors other than the desire to display their wealth push them into that
status, especially childlessness and the desire to redeem their image by having
children procreated in their matrimonial families in their behalf. I believe
that the time has come for Ndi Igbo to put a stop to
marginalizing women in separate associations, and to confirm that the Umunna Organization should be merged with those of the Umuokpu ma obu Umuada, for inclusion in modernized governance, suitable for this day
I believe that with the possibility that the demands for
Sovereign National Conference will materialize, or that the Ethnic
Nationalities could take the bull by the horns themselves and convene a
Conference for themselves, that the get-up for the Conference would touch the
roots of Umunna na Umuokpu na Ndi
Inyom. Also the Otu Ogbo (Age Grades) and the Umuagbogho
should merge into one. In other words, the girl-children should be admitted
into the Otu Ogbo or Age
Grades as of right. For proper control of nominations and elections into
leadership positions, anybody who does not come up on this ladder, man or
woman, should not qualify for any position at the local, state or national
Ndi Igbo have had enough of upstart
representations and assumed leadership roles. Women are also weary of being
left out of the scheme of things. It is about time that they are allowed, as
mothers of the Nation, to belong, plan and work together with the fathers of
the Nation, for wholesomeness. Damages Of The Past To
The Igbo Umunna System?
Whatever the damages that were
done to the Igbo Umunna Social and Political
Structure by the British Administration had been done well over 75 years ago. Ndi Igbo have had a great deal of time to control and reconstruct
the damages. There is no need crying over spilt milk. It would be better to be
positive and look forward to the future. Since the Umunna
System is lineage-based, it is believed that every Umunna
Group must have been intact to take care of their internal businesses. It is
the Umunna groups that make up the Village and
Community Groups, and to form the Town Progressive and Development Unions,
which are registered with the Government. It is only when it gets to the
forming of Town and Development Unions and Apex Organizations that the
Governments become really interested.
Of Bribery And Corruption Into The Igbo Body Politic
However, it must be admitted that no matter how repulsive
the British Administration and the Warrant Chiefs systems were, they did not
introduce Bribery and Corruption into the Igbo body politic. The British met
the system and exploited it for their own purposes in establishing their rule
and in their trading, including slave trading. The Warrant Chief System could
not have functioned without the co-operation of the Village and Umunna Heads or Leaders. According to Jacob Ekemezie Akwuba, 1894-1990,
Bribery and Corruption that were rife in that period only went to underscore
the existing social practices of Ndi Igbo of: Ive Nru (paying
tribute or obeisance to the eldest person or authority in the Extended Family); Ime mbam n’uno (a gift to allow
entry into the house of a person in authority); Ime oji onu okwu (giving of kola nut for the mouth to speak); Inye mmanya onu okwu (presenting palm-wine
for the mouth to talk; Adi-agba aka avu nwata eze
(A child’s first milk tooth is not to be viewed empty-handed); etc. The
Warrant Chiefs may have carried the practice to a ridiculous extent to
establish their own authority and to enrich themselves but, certainly, they did
not initiate bribery and corruption in Igbo culture.
The Followership Ndi Igbo Want and
Need to Espouse
As much as the leadership of Ndi
Igbo should be articulate, so also should their followership
be; otherwise, there will be a communication gap. According to Ekwe Nche, because
Leadership is of such critical importance in the renaissance of Igbo Society,
to achieve the purposes for Igbo leadership and followership,
strongly suggest that the following things must be done:
i. Leadership at any level in Igbo Society begins
from your Family and Umunna, to your Village,
Town/Autonomous Community and Igbo Society…….
must insist that the people you elect as the leaders of your Umunna, Village or Town are men
and women of integrity……..
You must never again accept money or any other bribe from any politician and
indeed anybody in order to vote them into office….….
iv. Local Government Councilors and Chairmen must be
elected from leaders of Town Union/Autonomous Communities, which make up the
Local Government……..Such fraudulent money-bags must be rejected because they
are not your leaders. They want to be your Rulers…….
who want to represent you at the State Assembly, House of Representatives, Senate or to become your Governor must be people elected by
their Town Union/Autonomous Community to run for such posts. ……..
someone in whose hands you will trust your future, the future of your children,
your Umunna, and Town/Autonomous Community is very
serious business and must never be taken lightly henceforth………..
must reject any candidate who tries to intimidate your community by coming to
your Town Meeting with a bunch of thugs most of who are high on drugs. Such a
candidate does not deserve to be your Councilor, Chairman, Representative,
Senator or Governor…..…….
you are about to elect someone to represent your Umunna,
Town/Autonomous Community or State, never say or think, "Let us send that
rascal or crook. Let him go there and fight with other rascals and crooks"……
Always remember that it is your future they are going to decide…...
begins with the family. In most societies all over the world, unmarried people
are rejected for high public office….. A person who cannot manage a family will
find it very difficult to manage a Community, State or Nation. Therefore take a
candidate's marital history into serious consideration when considering them
x. You must
reject the "W.I.M.P" politician. The WIMP politician
actually means: "Whoever, (it is) I Must Please (am)" politician. The
WIMP politician is like a prostitute. He has no conviction, no moral character,
no values, does not stand for anything, believes in
nothing except Money…………
Ekwe Nche continues, unlike
our fathers (and mothers), grandfathers (grand mothers) and great grandfathers
(great grandmothers), who stoutly resisted warrant chiefs and thus conquered
British colonialism, we accepted and succumbed to the Rulers imposed by
Nigerian imperialists………..” We cannot agree more! See Ekwe
Nche Leadership Series, Leadership in Igbo Society:
Challenges, and Solutions, by Ekwe Nche Organization
on Law and Order (BNW
Cite as: Oyibo Odinamadu on the Newspaper reports of Aka Ikenga-Ohaneze Asaba Retreat 2004