Onitsha History, Kingship and Changing Cultures

“Mass Meetings” and Prospective “Competition”

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On August 1, 1961, Aniweta tells me there will soon be a meeting “of all Onitsha” at the Prime Minister’s house. I ask various people about it, but none outside Enwezor’s circle seem to be aware of the event. Then on the 3rd a notice is sent out to all Onitsha Ozo-titled men by R. D. Agbakoba, the Agbalanze Association Secretary (a close agnate of the Prime Minister), announcing a forthcoming business meeting of the group.  Appended at the bottom of this mimeographed flyer is a typewritten notification of a “Mass Meeting of Chiefs and Onitsha Indigenes” to be held at the Prime Minister’s House on the afternoon of the 4th, at which time people will hear “the announcement of the next king.”

The members of the Royal Clan Conference are prodded into action by this abrupt announcement, and call a hurried meeting to plan countermoves under the guidance of Peter Achukwu, their master tactician. They send out emissaries to round up supporters to attend the meeting, and encourage families of all currently active candidates to escort their aspirants to the Prime Minister’s abode. They also recruit what Byron Maduegbuna calls some local “ruffians” (who are assigned the task of “roughing up the Chiefs” should something of the kind prove necessary), and exhort the elders to carry their walking staffs for protection in case of disorder. The Conference leaders suspect that the Chiefs will try at this meeting to “usurp the right to select the king”, and might even present Enwezor to the people on the spot. (It is in fact rumored at the meeting that he is hiding nearby, waiting to make an entry and be proclaimed by the gathering there.)

 1. The “Mass Meeting of Chiefs and Onitsha Indigenes,” August 4th

At meeting time, I enter the Prime Minister’s courtyard in the company of Enwezor’s senior son Emmanuel, a fact observed by some members of the rival factions and which brings a demand that “strangers” be excluded from the deliberations. The Chiefs’ bell is rung and I am required to leave, having noticed that a very large number of both titled and untitled men are present.  Enwezor’s supporters appear to be clustered closely together in one group.

Later I am given the following account by members of the Royal Clan Conference. The Prime Minister speaks first (according to custom), and ignoring the Report previously given him by the Royal Clan Conference he refera instead to the two 1935 memoranda of the “Eight Age Grades” and Acting Resident O’Connor, which (the Prime Minister states), prescribed that at the end of Okosi II’s reign it would be the turn of Umu-EzeAroli to produce a king.  Acting on the basis of these documents, the Onowu continues, he has been awaiting the decision of Umu-EzeAroli and is now prepared to receive word of their decision. The Odu (the Third Minister) then follows and speakse in support of what the Onowu has just said.

Then the Prime Minister asks who else would like to speak. According to custom, when this is done any person who wishes to address the court should walk forth to the throne and bow before the senior official, who is then obliged to accord him permission to speak. But on this occasion, a mass of Ozo men comes marching to face the Prime Minister’s throne, presenting a dramatic exaggeration of the customary mode. Spokesmen from the Orowa Family of Umu-EzeAroli present their son, Joseph Onyejekwe, as a candidate for the Kingship. Several titled men from the Royal Clan Conference then speak in turn, to this effect:1

“Thank you, Onowu, for convening this meeting. We know that it is the Umu-EzeChima who will select the candidate, and this is what we are going to do, as you will be informed in due time.”

The chiefs can do little but sit there before this array of opponents and (according to my main sources) the meeting then disperses, under great tension (though the young toughs get no opportunity to play an active role). T. B. Akpom later tellsld me that, as he was leaving, he is approached by the Third Minister, Odu Isaac Mbanefo, who waves his great leather fan before Akpom’s face and says, “We know nothing of any ‘Umu-EzeChima Conference.’ We already have a king and we will soon crown him.”


Odu Mbanefo II

Odu Mbanefo II is in 1961 a man of 64 years from the major non-royal village of Odoje, who rose very early to a managerial position in the United Africa Company, took his Ozo title in 1921, and had maintained and expanded an affluent home base in Onitsha through nearly all the intervening years, being awarded the M.B.E. in 1954 and (a year after his retirement from the U.A.C.) was inducted as a Senior Chief in 1956. One of the founding leaders of the Home Branch of the Onitsha Improvement Union in the mid 1930’s, and a Master Freemason since 1938, he has guided his brothers, children, and the wider Mbanefo family to educational and occupational accomplishments which are now the envy of the rest of the town and indeed of Nigeria as a whole.2

But the impressive successes of this family were won at the expense of forging some bitter enmities. The deceased patriarch Mbanefo, an early laborer for the Royal Niger Company who himself took the Odu title, began a bitter rivalry with an influential elder of the also eminent Ibekwe family of Odoje, a conflict so embittered by 1961 that any position taken by one of these families virtually ensures its rejection by the other, and the hostilities toward the Mbanefo group have spread to other Odoje sub- groups. Therefore if members of the Mbanefo family support one contestant in any conflict, some significant segments of Odoje may be expected to move toward the other side.

The current Odu is a man of whom people speak with both admiration and fear. It is frequently said that he is an outstanding strategist, but some people claim that unless a plan is his own creation he will oppose it by any means, and that once he has embarked on a cause it is unlikely anyone could persuade him to abandon it. Accordingly, supporters of the Royal Clan Conference maintain that the Odu supports Enwezor because he knows from long experience how the Umu-Anyo candidate could be effectively controlled. The Odu however keeps his motives to himself, claiming merely that selection of the new King should be the prerogative of the chiefs and of the chiefs alone. On this position he makes himself quite clear.3


Enwezor’s supporters give me a different interpretation of the outcome of the August 4 meeting from that of Akpom, emphasizing the authoritative quality of the Prime Minister’s decision that the selection must be made within the confines of the subclan Umu-EzeAroli, who as they pointedly remind me have already made their choice. They infer from the meeting that the Onowu has now publicly backed their man.

The Royal Clan Conference people however affirm that they have now completely forestalled any positive decision making by the chiefs, at least for the time being, and that they have successfully asserted the right of the entire Royal Clan to deliberate on the matter. They also recognize however that direct immediate (and effective) action is now essential, for if they do not make very rapid progress toward presenting a candidate, the Prime Minister will surely soon accept the one now being thrust before him.

An immediate problem for them is to counter more concretely the Prime Minister’s claim in favor of the Umu-EzeAroli, based on the two 1935 documents now being discussed. More broadly, they face an acute decision-making problem; when I see Byron after this meeting he wrings his hands and says, “Now we have our worst problem of all: how are we going to produce a single candidate out of the many applications we have been receiving?”

In response to the immediate problem, the Royal Clan Conference consults the large collection of documents available in Peter Achukwu’s files, and carefully examine his copies of both the “Eight Age Grades” Report and the “O’Connor Memorandum” of 1935, on which the Prime Minister is basing his decision. On August 6 they send off a letter to the Prime Minister which points out that the Eight Age Grades of 1935 specifically labelled their recommendations for Kingship rotation between Umu-EzeAroli and Oke-buNabo/Umu-Dei as “suggestions” only, and they direct his attention to the fact that O’Connor’s Memorandum, which possesses on the contrary the force of an official, authoritative (Colonial) statement of Onitsha custom, includes in its contents the following specific paragraph:4

“Upon the death of a King candidates were put forward by the families whence a King could come. These to put it briefly were subjected to an examination by the Umu-EzeChima, upon the heads of whom devolved the duty of an ultimate selection. Having arrived at a selection the heads of the Umu-EzeChima presented the future King to the Chiefs for acceptance. This acceptance was presumably purely formal and the next step would have been the presentation to the King elect of the Royal Ofo.”

This being an “official view” of Onitsha customary law on the subject, the Conference letter concludes, the Prime Minister and the other Chiefs would be well advised to “steer clear from the question of selection of a successor to the throne of Onitsha”, and to await the presentation of a candidate by the Umu-EzeChima.

Copies of this letter are sent as well to the other five Senior Chiefs. Only the Onya (the 4th Minister) makes a formal reply, in his capacity as political leader of the Umu-EzeAroli and supporter of Enwezor’s group. He dismisses the Umu-EzeChima Committee as “unconstitutional,” rebukes it for its “ribald and outlandish views,” and affirms that the Umu-EzeAroli have the “sole prerogative to sponsor a candidate, and we have done so in the person of Mr. J. J. Enwezor.”5

The Onowu‘s subsequent (and rather prolongued) public silence suggests that he has in fact beens given pause by this citation of the 1935 documents, knowledge of which among Onitsha people has until this point been mainly hearsay. Achukwu’s possession of the old materials is indeed a valuable weapon, for an actor able to make tactical use of them.

But the Royal Clan Conference also feels that some stronger immediate action is now necessary. Under the guidance of Peter Achukwu, they schedule a “Mass Meeting of All Onitsha Commoners” to be held August 6 under the formal auspices of the Age Grade Ruling the Town (Ogbo-nachi-Ani), thus ensuring the involvement of representatives of all the important Age Grades (and exclusion of the chiefs), and they also make an effort to attract as many of the local youths as possible. Liberal amounts of palm wine are provided them at the Inland Town bars, along with discourses on the importance of mass participation, and one Conference member boasts to me that hordes of young toughs would be coming to the meeting, “ready for anything.”

2. The “Mass Meeting of All Onitsha Commoners,” August 6, 1961

About 400 people, including Enwezor’s secretary Obiekwe Aniweta (who has told me he would attend “as an observer”), are present at the Onitsha Native Court House when Peter Achukwu begins his long exhortative introductory speech. He starts by tracing the historical roots of Onitsha society, culminating with his vision of the “Three Estates of the Realm”: the King, the Chiefs, and the Commoners. “It is the Commoners,” he continued, “who initiate all activities, all innovations, all laws. The Chiefs serve mainly to act with the King as a court of final appeal.”

Having established the institutional setting, Achukwu proceeds to attack the Prime Minister’s recent behavior. Recall, he says, that the Prime Minister himself announced, shortly after the king’s funeral, that there would be a full month of customary mourning, after which he would call the people together and request them to present a candidate for the chiefs’ approval. Then fully a week before the end of that mourning period, Enwezor got himself Painted with White Clay by his clansmen, breaking the sanctity of the mourning period. True, the Prime Minister warned Enwezor about this behavior at the time; yet now this same Prime Minister is trying to impose Enwezor upon us as our King, though we will not have him!

The crowd responds to this depiction with restlessly increasing displays of anger. Several members of the Prime Minister’s own village, the non-royal Umu-Ase-Iyawu, stand and express their distress over his actions. One reminds everyone that the Onowu‘s village is composed of five sections, and that the Prime Minister himself is a previous party to its recently written and signed covenant that a majority of at least three sections must support one Kingship candidate before Umu-Ase-Iyawu will commit to him their King’s Ofo,  which symbolizes non-royal acceptance and disposition of which they traditionally control.

Robert Okagbue, prominent teacher at Christ the King’s College, Obi Okosi II’s former secretary, and a respected elder of the subclan Oke-BuNabo, speaks out publicly on the subject of kingship for the first time and makes the radical call for a vote of “No Confidence” in the Prime Minister. Some youths begin clamoring for an immediate march to the Prime Minister’s house to “teach him a lesson”.

The Orator-spokesman then moves to cool the temper of the crowd: “Let us not act in excessive haste, lest we make the same mistake as those who oppose us.” He suggests that the Royal Clan Conference send a formal resolution to the Prime Minister, reminding him that the Umu-EzeChima are about to select their King, and warning the Chiefs to maintain their proper position. He also suggests that the Conference set a deadline no later than mid-August for selecting a single candidate from among the pool of applicants.

Another member of the Conference supports him, and voiced the additional suggestion that the Conference’s Special Committee be mandated to continue as a permanent organization dedicated to codifying Onitsha native laws and customs as they have done so impressively thus far.  Enwezor’s secretary Obiekwe Aniweta speaks in opposition to these resolutions and questions the meeting’s right even to make them, but at this gathering he is a courageous minority of one, and all three of the resolutions are accepted by voice vote of the group prior to the meeting’s orderly conclusion.

3.  A Resolution for the Chiefs, August 8 1961

Immediately thereafter a Resolution is drawn up, circulated for the signature of 25 well-known elders who have participated in the decision, and it is dispatched to “The Onowu and Chiefs of Onitsha” on August 8:

“Dear Chiefs,

At a mass meeting of the Commoners (Agbala-na-Iregweu) of Onitsha consisting of Ozo Title Association and members of the various age grade societies…it was therefore unanimously resolved:

1) That whereas the question of selection for appointment of a successor is the prerogative of Umu-EzeChima family of Onitsha in accordance with the tradition, custom and constitution of Onitsha.

2) That whereas the Umu-EzeChima family has already appointed a Special Committee to probe into the matter and recommend necessary conditions for the selection of a suitable candidate.

3) That whereas the Umu-EzeChima family has approved and adopted the recommendations of the Special Committee.

4) That whereas the recommendations of the said Special Committee have been read, duly approved and adopted at the above mass meeting of Commoners.

Be it resolved and it was hereby resolved that the Prime Minister and Chiefs of Onitsha be requested to stop forthwith all negotiations in connection with the selection and appointment of a successor until Umu-EzeChima has duly selected a candidate and has presented same to the Onowu and Chiefs of Onitsha according to our constitution.”

I have never managed to learn what the Prime Minister did in response to the Special Committee’s letter of August 6 and this Resolution of Commoners dated August 8. Byron Maduegbuna, who verbally discussed these communications with Onowu, reports that he “has backed down” and (so Byron claims) decided to direct the Onya to join and take over direction of the Royal Clan Conference, since the Ajie, now an active kingship candidate himself by virtue of having submitted a written application to the Conference, can no longer appropriately occupy this position, and the Onya as the next most senior chief of the Royal Clan will now be able to exert decisive influence. The Onowu does say something to the Fourth Minister, but in response the Onya chooses instead to convene a meeting of the Umu-EzeAroli at his own house.

4. The Onya’s “Meeting of Umu-EzeAroli Elders,” August 10, 1961

At this gathering, attended by about ninety members of the Sub Clan (including 5 avowed candidates but not Igwe Enwezor, who having been Painted with white clay (Ima-Nzu), is too holy a personage to attend a social event of this kind), the Onya opens the proceedings by stating that the Prime Minister has now clearly established the mandate for the Umu-EzeAroli to select a candidate, that there are too many people seeking the throne, that the various candidates now pressing their claims should step down in favor of the one man who had the strongest support among the Umu-EzeAroli, and that a popular vote should be taken at this very meeting to determine for the last time who this candidate is. But various people, including some of the candidates present, then stand and speak out against his views.

Candidate Joseph Onyejekwe

Joseph Onyejekwe, the Assistant Commissioner of Police from Lagos, has now arrived in Onitsha and attends the meeting with a substantial following of youths.  Onyejekwe is a large man of impressive bearing, who, alone among the candidates I have gained an opportunity to observe, displays an unswaying public imperturbability, wearing a quiet, faint smile and speaking always in calmly confident and deliberate tones. Some people find the expression of such qualities by a prominent Federal policeman ominous, even alarming, a demeanor perhaps somewhat intensified by the fact that he has (contrary to the Special Committee’s list of qualifications) “a visible physical deformity” in the form of a strabismus.6 Since his eyes do not converge properly it is difficult to know exactly where his gaze is bearing. One effect of this combination of features is to make his presence among a confined group somehow slightly  disconcerting.

Onyejekwe’s obvious strengths as a candidate (which will be discussed in detail elsewhere) are counterbalanced by some serious weaknesses of intra-familial support (which might partly explain why he chooses to attend this meeting in the company of an array of youths rather than his close lineage elders). A member of Orowa family within the descendants of Obi Chimedie,7 he is apparently on bad terms with several of his “brothers” by the same paternal grandfather, who claim that despite his high occupational position he has given insufficient attention to that “family’s” affairs.  It may well have been partly for this reason that his case was weakly presented in the original Umu-EzeAroli meetings in February where Enwezor won the vote.8

In this meeting of August 10, Onyejekwe’s supporters now claim that the true purpose of this meeting is not as the Onya has stated it, but is rather to set aside the “hasty and unrepresentative decision” made by some members of the subclan back in February. By revoking this action, all the candidates now available will be given a fair chance to stand before the Umu-EzeChima Conference.

Enwezor’s supporters reply that the decision having already made cannot not now be revoked, and the Onya answers them by denying the legitimacy of the Umu-EzeChima Conference. Onyejekwe and his supporters then abruptly leave the meeting, which according to several accounts I was later given (including from some of Enwezor’s strong supporters) “ended in confusion” or at least in deep disagreement. 9

However, the outcome of the session is deemed sufficiently salient by some parties to warrant a public announcement placed in the Eastern Observer on August 18, which claims that the meeting has “unanimously resolved” that there are now seven candidates contesting the kingship from Umu-EzeAroli village, that the people of this village are hopelessly divided among themselves, that therefore “any previous nomination of any one candidate and all previous actions” by the descent group has been “declared null and void,” that the Fourth Minister has been directed to send the names of the seven candidates to the Umu-EzeChima and to the Chiefs, and that

“any one candidate selected by the Umu-EzeChima and accepted by the chiefs of Onitsha shall be acknowledged and accepted by all the Umu-EzeAroli (together with all other six contestants) without any further question or trouble.”

Ononenyi Emejulu of Umu-Aroli (Obi-Omozele division)
Ononenyi Emejulu of Umu-Aroli (Obi-Omozele division)

This statement is signed by Hector Emejulu, an outspoken and very senior priest representing the Obi Omozele branch of the Umu-EzeAroli.  Ononenyi Emejulu (the Senior Lineage Priest of Enwezor’s supporter, Barrister Luke Emejulu) is, as a member of Umu-Omozele subvillage, a bitter enemy of their immediate village neighbors, Enwezor’s Umu-Anyo, and had earlier supported Odita during the latter’s Ozo-title taking. He now joins the Umu-EzeChima Conference in its effort to draw away attention from the efforts of the Onya and toward the forthcoming selection of candidates by the Royal Clan Conference.

 4. Umu-EzeChima Conference Announces: a Competition

On the 12th of August, the Secretary of the Conference Special Committee sends the following letter to all those declared candidates for kingship who trace ancestry to Obi Chima-Ogbuefi (the Committee having previously recommended that this side of the Royal Clan was entitled now to provide the successor, thus excluding Oke-BuNabo):

“I am directed by the Umu-EzeAroli Conference to invite you to attend and address the conference on Sunday, 20th August at 2 p.m. in the Native Court Hall in order to present your manifesto for Kingship.”

Byron Maduegbuna delivers these letters to each candidate in person, requiring each to sign a receipt.  Afterwards, he expresses eager delight at the prospect of the spectacle to come and describes with some relish the reactions of each candidate upon Byron’s notifying him of the test, which will require seven-minute speeches both in Igbo and in English.  Enwezor, he claims, “went into hiding” when the message was produced, Odita trembled, the Ajie begged him to give some idea of what he would be expected to say, and so on. Only Onyejekwe, Byron reported, smiled and rubbed his hands warmly at the prospect of presenting his case to the masses. These policemen, he suggests, seem to have no fear.

For several days Byron and several other Conference Committee members canvass the Inland Town discussing the various candidates with the residents there. They find a high degree of interest in the prospective competition, and I too hear it from many men, though Aniweta and other lineage-mates of Enwezor dismiss it as a “charade.” There is considerable speculation about whether Enwezor would appear to speak; “If he does, he will be exposed, because he has no tongue,” Byron says to me with beaming confidence.  (I know from Aniweta that Enwezor has no intention of gracing the competition.) “Onyechi will hide away, he dare not appear in the company of his betters. Odita too will shrivel up with fright and shame,” he added.

For the first time, Byron speaks positively of the Ajie and of Joseph Onyejekwe as candidates.  Local people he has interviewed (and especially the youths) declined to speak of Odita, he says, and wanted instead to talk about these two. Those who want a “dynamic” leader, he said, speak of Onyejekwe. The problem with him is first his visible deformity (a “squint”, as Byron calls it, the condition from which Byron himself also suffers), and also that as a policeman he is likely to be tyrannical:  he “could do anything,” he may not be “approachable.” “We fear policemen very much,” Byron said, adding that they are thought to be “too well versed in the Black Arts.” Some of them, he averrs, wear wrist watch radios like those depicted in the Dick Tracy comic books.

Odita is deemed much better in this dimension of sociable trustworthiness, a man open to reasoning and persuasion, but he has shown himself too receptive, and too subject to influence from dubious sources:  his family (and very likely the Roman Catholic Fathers) have led him astray into a very foolish Abomination.  But the Ajie is physically perfect, approachable, honest, intelligent, dynamic, of decidedly royal bearing. He has two disadvantages:  according to tradition no senior chief has ever become Obi, and he is from Olosi, a daughter of  Obi Chima-Ogbuefi (thus violating condition no. 1 of the Report), but, Byron quoted, “the old order changeth, and gives way to the new.”

When I ask him his opinion now of Enwezor, he said, “Never.” He tells me that the Onitsha High Court had just decided the land case brought against Isiokwe by Umu-EzeAroli in favor of the latter, and now the Umu-EzeAroli (and especially the Onya and his fellow conspirators) are widely being labelled “land grabbers”.(In my own humble ethnographer’s opinion from many years later, that is an accurate assessment of what they were doing.  I provide additional discussion elsewhere:  see A Case of Land Seizure. )

As for Enwezor himself, Byron gives me some allegations too offensive to dignify by repetition here.

On August 18, the Spokesman in its front-page banner headline announces “Candidates (8) to address Onitsha on Sunday”. Accompanying the announcement, an editorial observes that “Onitsha people are traditionally democratic” and that nobody should be disturbed that a King has not yet been chosen. It also emphasizes the importance of education, so that the traditional ruler “can hold his own in the council of Nations.”

On the morning of Saturday the 19th, the day before the competition is to occur, Byron and Peter Achukwu visit me and after a while Achukwu asks me if they might borrow my tape recorder. “We want to record these speeches for all posterity,” he said, “so that our future king, should he ever fail to follow his Manifesto, will hear the very words he has spoken being played back to him.” I gladly lend them my recorder, thinking that thereby I will be able to obtain a verbatim copy of the speeches.10

On the evening of 19 August, I go to Byron’s house to get some information and find him sitting in the open air of his courtyard, his  recent air of exuberant confidence gone. He sits fingering a bowl of jollof rice (of which he eats about three mouthfuls during the twenty minutes or so I am there) and looks emptily off into nowhere, occasionally addressing one or another of his servants to make redundant requests. After a period of silence which seem to me more than sufficiently dramatic, he says very quietly, “There is new intrigue.” I ask, “What?” He replied, “You will learn everything. But now is a time for action and not for words.” After this he again lapses into a long stream of silence, rolling his head occasionally in a very slow and thoughtful motion. Finally he tells me he must attend an after-midnight emergency meeting which he declines to specify, and I departed. Byron is a good communicator of matters unsaid.

 5. Some Chiefs schedule a “Mass Meeting with Onitsha People”

On the following morning, I learned that the Chiefs have met in an emergency session called by the Prime Minister, and the Onya reports to them that Umu-EzeAroli have unanimously selected J. J. Enwezor as their choice for king. The Chiefs direct the Onya to tell Umu-EzeAroli to present their man at a mass meeting of the Chiefs with the Onitsha people to be held at the Prime Minister’s residence at 2 p.m. on August 20.

This date and timem is of course the very moment chosen by the Royal Clan Conference for the candidates to begin presenting their Manifestos. The Chiefs’ meeting is, as Emmanuel Enwezor puts it to me, such an “impromptu affair” that there has been no time to get an announcement of it in the newspapers, so the Prime Minister sends his bellringer through the Inland Town on the night of the 18th. For that reason, some of the most active members of the Conference Special Committee, who live on the peripheries of the Inland Town, miss the announcement and thus have little opportunity to plan a prompt response; in their after-midnight discussion they decide to do nothing in response, but to allow people’s attendance patterns at the meetings to speak for themselves.

Under the circumstance, I think it unwise for me to attend either meeting, because to do so will in the eyes of most Onitsha people imply support for one side over the other. I therefore have to rely on reports from both sides about what transpires at these two gatherings (including however, hopefully, tape-recorded data from the Conference’s gathering).

A crowd of several hundred people gather at the Prime Minister’s house on the 20th. I am later told by Emmanuel Enwezor that all the candidates were invited, but that of them only Jacob Onyechi and Enwezor appeared, and when Onyechi surveyed the situation from a distance he departed before the proceedings began.  Of the six Senior Chiefs, four were present: the Onowu, Odu, Onya, and Owelle. There were also six Ranking Chiefs and four Lesser Chiefs, making up a strong majority of the existing Onitsha Ndichie title-holders. A large number of Umu-EzeAroli were present, but of the names recorded in the meeting minute-books , hardly any participants hailed from other subclans or non-royal clans this was very much an Umu-EzeAroli affair.

The Prime Minister arose, gave an account of the last previous meeting of the Chiefs, and stated that on the strength of it he summoned the present convocation. Later, he said, he learned that the Ajie, the 2nd Minister, had “in the guise of political head of the Umu-EzeChima, called a meeting on the same subject and at the same time.”

Onoli M. O. Ibeziako then inquired to “know the right and powers of the Onowu in the absence of a King.” The Prime Minister replied that all the Chiefs have assured him that he held the full powers of the King in the latter’s absence. The Onoli then expressed surprise that another party should be “holding a similar meeting at another place and at the same time, knowing fully well that there is a meeting convened by the Onowu….” The crowd affirmed their agreement in unison.((The Nigerian Spokesman (Aug. 22, 1961) provided a supplementary description of this meeting. See also Harding 1963:106 7.))

The Prime Minister then directed all the candidates to step forth, and only Enwezor responded. The Onya presented Enwezor as the candidate selected by the Umu-EzeAroli, and Enwezor was acclaimed by the crowd. The Onowu called out the names of all the Senior Lineage Priests of the major segments of Umu-EzeAroli, claiming that all except the Senior Priest of Omozele lineage (i.e., Ononenyi Emejulu) were present. The elders came forward and pledged their support to Enwezor; then a youth did the same on behalf of his peers. As the minutes kept by the 6th senior chief (the Owelle, Secretary for the Senior Chiefs) put it,11

“The Onowu then turned to the Onitsha Community present and asked if they followed the events and proceedings. All accented Aye! expressing the feeling that the Umu-EzeAroli people have proved that they are unanimous. The Onowu told the Umu-EzdeAroli to go back, and that they will be informed of further developments, then the Chiefs will sit over the matter again in conclusion.”

From the Prime Minister’s house Enwezor, his face now covered with a smear of white clay, danced all the way home to his village, led by the Chiefs in a procession of automobiles and followed by a crowd of his family and lineage who sang, “We have triumphed, we have beaten them!” At Enwezor’s house beer and other drinks were provided for all who came to salute him.

It was noteworthy however to everyone who learned the details of this event that the Prime Minister had stopped short of directing Enwezor to “go to Udo” (the sacred grove of the ancient kings where the candidate would be dedicated to the spirit dwelling there), which was what the Royal Clan Conference had feared (and Enwezor’s supporters had hoped) the Onowu might do. Clearly, the Prime Minister was still hedging his commitments for a while, waiting to see what would develop from the other meeting before pledging his public commitment to Enwezor.

  1. Okunwa Akpom and Byron Maduegbuna give me this account, each providing a quotation approximating that presented here. Return ↩
  2. Only the most prominent of these is Sir Louis Mbanefo, knighted in 1961 and at that time Chief Justice of Eastern Nigeria.  The Odu‘s brilliant autobiography was published in 1990.  See our Bibliography, and Also Akosa 1987:112-19, 151-7. Return ↩
  3. For more details about my contacts with him over the years, see A Tribute to Mbanefo Odu II. Return ↩
  4. O’Connor, D.P.J., 1936.  Some notation of his motivations and tactics should be noted here, but fuller treatment of his role probably should go elsewhere. In particular it’s important to note the dubious status of the “purely formal” role of the chiefs as stated by O’Connor (who no doubt hoped to diminish their future influence). Return ↩
  5. Onya ltr to UEC Comm dated –see file. Return ↩
  6. Byron Maduegbuna also had this condition. Return ↩
  7. See Henderson 1972:453-4 for Orowa’s position in the Chimedie genealogy Return ↩
  8. This kind of conflict appears very frequently among Ndi-Onicha between those “abroad” and those at home, reflecting a structural opposition the underlying basis of which usually concerns home elders questioning the adequacy of remittances being sent to them by their relatives abroad. Return ↩
  9. The Onya will later maintain in court that this August 10th meeting was primarily concerned with the ongoing land litigation against Isiokwe.  See Harding 1963:97 99. Return ↩
  10. My tape recorder is a Wollensack 7 1/2″ reel-to-reel, of adequate quality for voice recording but requiring an electrical outlet for power.   Achukwu plans to use extension cords to place the machine on the speaker’s table at the meeting, to be held at the Onitsha Native Court building. Return ↩
  11. Harding 1963:107. Return ↩
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