Do you know that chieftaincy title was foreign to Nnewi culture and tradition?
Nnewi had nothing like chieftaincy title or anyone called a “chief” or so designated before 1900s when the expeditionary forces of Britain led by one Major Moorehouse arrived Nnewi after conquering most of the Igbo mainlands.
Impressed that Nnewi leaders didn’t fight or resist the colonial expansionist ambitions of the British, Major Moorehouse promised to preserve all the traditional institutions and authorities at all levels.
However, British army officer was to return in the first quarter of 1904 to properly disarm the Nnewi standing army.
All able bodied men or ụmụ nwoke kwụ amụ were asked to submit their guns for destruction at Okwu Ọyọ, the general meeting place of the town. They all did to the satisfaction of the white man.
Okwu Ọyọ as at then was located behind Okwu Ulasi adjacent Ikedife Hospital on Igwe Orizu Road in Otolo.
On the appointed date, Ọnụọ Ọra Nwosu Ezeodumegwu led Nnewi leaders to execute the instrument of surrender as prepared by Major Moorehouse. He thumbprinted while the whiteman signed.
By signing the surrender treaty, that was how Nnewi and the environs automatically came under His Majesty, The King of England & Wales’ colonial rule.
At their previous meeting before the surrender 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 who succeeded him was so young to handle state matters and that he, Ezeodumegwu was just holding brief for the young man.
He promised to bring the young Obi Nnewi for introduction when next the whiteman would visit. But Orizu I was actually smuggled to his mother’s place in Ihiala for safety until the real intentions of the whiteman were known.
Major Moorehouse instantly offered to install Ezeodumegwu as the Nnewi king but 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 title holder 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 -the Ọzọ Ataka.
That was then, when squirrels regarded tree tops as 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 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 administrative authority of the colonial government inaugurated Nwosu Ezeodumegwu as a first class warrant chief and asked him 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 the Obi Orizu, the young Obi Nnewi) who would in turn report to the colonial government.
The warrant chiefs were to help the colonial government in administrating the town especially in tax collections and cascading required government information to the grassroots.
The Obis or the heads of other villages of Nnewi were made automatic warrant chiefs just like some other living warriors and big slave merchants like Ezeudohimili, Dim Ohachi etc. Their chieftaincy were as recommended by Nwosu Ezeodumegwu.
Major Moorehouse also established a customary court named Agba Court and appointed some of the chiefs including Nwosu Ezeodumegwu as judges.
At that time oké Nnewi or any thing meant to be shared in Nnewi was shared in the following format:
1. Orizu bi n’obi Nnewi (Otolo)
2. Ezeodumegwu na enedo obi anya (Otolo)
3. Ogidi bi n’obi Uruagu (Uruagu)
4. Obi Ụmụdim (Umudim)
5. Obi Nnewichi (Nnewichi)
This format was to be referred to as “ewelu ewulukwa” by other villages in Nnewi except Otolo. Prior to 1945 when Ezeodumegwu died, anyone that had the boldness to criticize this sharing formula in Nnewi would not wake up on the bed he slept on.
It was not only in Nnewi that the colonial government created chieftaincy titles for the natives to aid its administration of Indirect Rule system.
In some towns where the natural traditional 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 in spite of the natural leadership structures in Igbo land ended up becoming their royal highnesses of their towns till date.
After independence and natural death of warrant chieftaincy, the traditional rulers of Igbo communities who have emulated the king and Queen of England and now answer Eze or Igwe decided to perpetuate the chieftaincy tradition not for tax collections but to decorate their illustrious sons.
Chieftaincy title decoration has also relegated “ichi ọzọ” or “ichi Dim” or “iche Ọzọ Ataka”.
Before the white man came to de-civilize 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 up until the the first son of the first family becomes the obi of the town.
Some incapables or unfit first sons would be bypassed. Their fathers would 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 Lolo and Ekwe.
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 make himself 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 ndị Nnewi and other Igbos and other colonized tribes have made out of the titles they created for mere local tax collectors and loyal allies in their time.
Anayo M. Nwosu; firstname.lastname@example.org