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Traditional Govt Structure In Igbo Land: Nnewi As Case Study


Every Igbo nuclear family has a head who is also the father of the home. This head of the family is referred to as the Obi. The Obiship is transferred from a father to the first son of the family. The first and the surviving most senior son of the dead Obi automatically succeeds his father as the Obi and this continues ad infinitum.


The first change of Obi lineage recorded in Nnewi happened in nuclear family of a man called Nnewi whereby Obiship was moved to Digbo instead of Okpala whose descendants live in Umunearam, Umudim Nnewi.

The author, Anayo Nwosu

Digbo’s first son namely Otolo, succeeded his father. Subsequently there was a case where the second son of Otolo named Nnọfọ “like play like play” assumed the Obiship of Otolo in place of his elder brother called Enem. Even in Nnọfọ’s family it moved to Udude instead of the first son, Nlọñụ. The same happened in Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi villages. A lot of factors were responsible for these shift of Obiship positions.


1. A father who is an Obi can appoint any of his sons he feels that can protect his stool as the head of his family. This he must do in the presence of Isi Obis (the obis of the constituent families) otherwise it would be nullified upon his death.

2. The person who provided the money used to cater for the funeral ceremonies of the father could lay claim to the Obiship. He can only succeed if supported by the Isi Obis. “Onye aka dị mma kwaa nna ya” is a modern day parlance. It was a bit serious in the days of yore.

3. There are cases of voluntary relinquishment of the seat as Enem Digbo Otolo did to his brother Nnọfọ.

4. An ambitious brother could wage a war against his elder brother and claim the seat.

5. The elder brother could quietly acquiesce and allow his brother take over to avoid an early death. That happens where a junior brother is a warrior or ogbufo.

6. Sterling exploits as a warrior would naturally make the elder brothers allow their junior stronger brother take up the leadership position for assured protection.


The very house or location where the ancestor/progenitor of a family or a community or a town lived is called Okpuno. It is actually pronounced Ọkpụnyo in Nnewi.

For instance, Okpuno Otolo was the place Otolo Digbo, the son of Nnewi lived and died.

An observant person would find out that Okpuno Otolo, Okpuno Nnewichi, Okpuno Umudim and Ọkpụnyo are contiguous and close to each other.


An Obi may move to another location to site a home for the following reasons:

1. He may decide to migrate to a more fortified location as a fortress in the time of war.

2.It could also be to move to an unblemished land. An ancestor might have committed a lot of atrocities that would require expensive cleansing rituals or “ịkpụ alụ” and the new Obi would want to start on a clean spiritual slate.

3. Sometimes, the Obi would want to remain in the house he built by himself and was living in before his aged father died.

4. He could leave his father’s compound for his youngest brother or the children of his elder brother who died before their father as it is in the case of Okpuno Ezechukwu in Otolo.


You can take away the Obiship from the Diokpala (i.e the first son) but not ọfọ Onyeihi of his father’s house.

Ọfọ is a symbol of authority akin to the mace of the National Assembly or the Hammer and Gavel of a judge.

It is made from a stem of a tree named “ọfọ”.

The eldest son inherits his father’s ọfọ and hits it on the ground as would a judge to bring a finality to a matter in a properly constituted meeting.

Though disinherited from Obiship, the eldest descendant of Umunearam, the first son of Nnewi, regarded as “Okpala Nnewi” is the custodian of Ọfọ Okpala Nnewi. It an ọfọ ụmụnna or their hamlet now as power had left them.

Ọfọ Digbo and Otolo is still with Ndiogbe Umuenem in the house of Edward Ojukwu who resides opposite Elders Court on Igwe Orizu Road Otolo. That ọfọ too is of the same historical significance as ọfọ Okpala Nnewi. Power had left the ọfọ.

Please note that only the oldest man in the family “carries” or keeps the custodianship of the ọfọ Okenye. The custodian of the ọfọ Okenye needs not be an Obi.

An Obi can also carry the ọfọ Okenye if he is also the oldest man living in his lineage.

The Obu Ọfọ Okenye or the ọfọ Okenye custodian must be a pure breed without a scandal. No descendant of a slave or adopted son is allowed to carry an ọfọ. A love child or nwa amụtalụ n’ime enete doesn’t carry ọfọ Okenye.

If an unqualified or a tainted person carries the ọfọ in error, not only will the person die mysteriously, a calamity might be visited upon the family involved requiring some form of appeasement of the gods.

Some Umunna have now deemed the wooden ọfọ of their forefathers as idolatry and have replaced it with Bible.

The oldest man in some families now carries a Bible in place of ọfọ. It is that bad!


In Nnewi, a nuclear family consists of a man, his wife or wives and children. Each nuclear family is a member of an extended family. Extended families form an Umunna.

Umunna is the unit of administration in Nnewi.

Each head of an umunna is regarded as Isi Obi, that is the first amongst obis of the extended consanguineous families or a family having the common descendants.

An Umunna needs not be consanguineous. It may be an agglomeration of families of both master’s families and those of his slaves, a phenomenon imposed on us by the abolishment of slavery worldwide.

Not all slaves returned to their homelands upon the abolition of Slavery as many were assumed into their former masters’ families.

Only few families like Umuezenwegbu Ezeoguine of Otolo in Nnewi can be said to be purely consanguineous. All the constituent extended family members are blood relations with exception of those whose mother’s rigged their pregnancy.

All the Isi Obis in Otolo defer to the Obi of Otolo just as all the Isi Obis in Uruagu report to Obi of Uruagu; this is the same in Umudim and Nnewichi.

The Obi Otolo is the first amongst his counterparts from Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewi.

The Obi Nnewi has chosen to be called Obi of Otolo and Igwe Nnewi in 1980s to accommodate the ego of his brothers, cousins, uncles and Nwadianas who have emerged as Obis and Isi Obis of various villages to bring peace to modern Nnewi town.

For a couple of centuries and since the turn of the last two centuries till date, the Obi of Mazi Nnewi has been in Otolo stemming from the circumstances I had earlier adumbrated. For about ten scores of years Obi Otolo has been with Ezeoguine family which Orizu- Iwuchukwu family heads.

Whoever is the Obi of Otolo automatically becomes Igwe Nnewi.

The stool is with Igwe K.O.N Orizu III who succeeded his father. We have had three generations of Orizus on this throne. Orizus are descendants of Ezeoguine, the descendant of Otolo whose father was Digbo. Digbo was the second son of the man called Nnewi or Ewimnga.

Division of Nnewi into four namely Otolo, Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi was divinely instructed.

In Uruagu and Umudim villages are subsumed many children of Nnewi and other cousins of Nnewi that settled and earned their headship of the villages via gallantry and other awesome leadership qualities. Nnewichi village depicted the last born of Nnewi. The word “Ichi” means “the last son”.

Otolo village is populated essentially by children of Otolo’s brother named Ezeikwuabo (who was the second son of Nnewi) and other settlers from Oraeri and other cousins of Nnewi.

But it is in Otolo that Nnewi’s Obiship power instruments and core tradition are preserved.


The word Igwe means “the sky”. It is a metaphorical description of a man above his fellow men as the sky is above the earth.

Igwe is the Primus inter pares, the first amongst equals.

All the the Isi Obis are somewhat Igwes to the obis below them and to all from his consanguineous extended families.


Every man living in his own house is an Obi. He makes his own rules which must be obeyed by his children and wives.

The rule a man makes must be in compliance with those of the extended families’ rules. Also the rules of the extended families are subject to that of the Ụmụnna. Those of the Umana are subject to those enunciated by the Isi Obi.

The agreed rules sanctioned by all the Isi Obis with the Igwe presiding become the tradition and laws of Nnewi.

The Igwe in CONSULTATION with the Obis of Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi decide on Nnewi-wide matters. He does not lord it over his fellow Obis.

In the past, critical meetings that required neutrality or where contentious issues needed to be discussed were held at Okwu Ọyọ, the last permanent abode of the man called Nnewi lived. This is located idea where Con-Vaj Event Centre and Ikedife Specialist Hospital on Igwe Orizu Road.

In an Nnewi community meeting, Obi Otolo and Igwe Nnewi presided and still presides.

This is the way Nnewi had been as shall ever remain but with modifications forced on it by war, greed, colonial government and modernity.

About the writer :

Chief Anayo Nwosu is from Okpuno Otolo Nnewi. He is a Corporate & Investment Banker based in Lagos; anayo_nwosu@yahoo.com

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