The Conference Final Report

1. Development of the final report

Byron Maduegbuna as 2nd Assistant Secretary is in fact largely responsible for compiling all the Sub-committee proceedings into a coherent document, which he manages to do even though he has also meanwhile become enthusiastically involved in supporting the Federal-level political fortunes of the recently-expelled parliamentarian Chike Obi (an Onye-Onicha and well-known regionally as both mathematician and “rabble-rouser”). Byron visits me several times during the writing of the Report, and we discuss some of the new findings surfacing from the work of various members of the Committee. They have made considerable progress in distinguishing between those installation customs created by Obi Okosi I (for example, the giving of cows to each of the major villages of Onicha) and those that obtained prior to the Colonial era.

After a time he asks softly and secretively if, during my own research, I have heard elders speak of a traditional group called uloko obi, which might be translated as “conference of advisors to the king.” I have not, so he elaborates:

“Most people nowadays do not know of this group, only a very few elders do. A new Obi appoints each of his advisers in secret, and they live in their respective villages and act as the ‘eyes of the king.’ They act as Intelligence Officers for the Obi, who cannot move out of his palace; they keep him informed about the Big Men, the Ndichie, who may try to become bigger than the King.”

Byron goes on to describe the group as a traditional form of secret fraternity whom the Obi would select separately from various villages and then summon them all to a meeting at which they would swear together on an Oath of secrecy. I later pursue the subject among my own consultants and confirm the familiarity of some of them with the term, but the nature of the reference group to which it might refer remains extremely vague, and my ultimate inference will later be that it alludes to a traditional but probably informal information-network maintained by the king with persons he especially trusted and which extended through the wider community1. (Some traditionally oriented Onicha   chiefs, however, claim, while accepting the validity of the term, that it refers solely to the chiefs themselves.)

Throughout the period of the Special Committee’s existence, I use what I learn of its data for comparison with my own research materials, and find the feedback quite stimulating. Consequently, in light of such occasional revelations as this, I eagerly await the final Report, anticipating more gems of ethnographic value.

2. Further moves by Enwezor’s side

Compilation of the document however becomes greatly hurried toward the end. Various members had worried aloud to me since early July that the Prime Minister might well present a candidate to Onitsha people without waiting for the Special Committee’s results, and on July 14 they learn of a move by the Odu (the Third Minister) to send Enwezor to the Udo shrine over the weekend. Influential members of the Conference are mobilized, present themselves to the chiefs in their meeting, and argue forcefully that such a unilateral move would be both untraditional and likely to produce momentous, unpleasant consequences. With the Ajie, Ogene, and Owelle present and supporting the position of the Royal Clan Conference, half of the Senior Chiefs speak against the decision and it is (at least temporarily) forestalled. (The Committeemen later express relief at the return of the Owelle, who has ceased attending the Conference meetings and had been seen several times in the company of Enwezor’s group.)

Forestalled from taking this decisive ritual step, Enwezor’s group prepares for a more innocuous ritual, a personal Petition to the great Waterside shrine dedicated to Ani-Onicha , access to which must be obtained by arrangement with its current caretakers, the Mgbelekeke family. (See Chapter 6, Igwe Enwzor Petitions Ani-Onicha.) Enwezor also arranges the distribution of a gift of £200 among the Chiefs (plus an incremental amount to the Owelle to enable the latter to complete his now-postponed house construction).

On July 17 Barrister Luke (now Nnanyelugo)  Emejulu (who is departing for Lagos to assume his new Federal position as a Queen’s Counsel) performs a petition to Aze, the famous Daughter of King Aroli whose great tree shrine is another of Onitsha’s respected sacred sites. I attend this ritual with Obiekwe Aniweta, who proceeds to engage in a brief fist fight with Umera Anazonwu when the latter accuses him of sabotaging local meetings of the Dynamic Party. (Obiekwe, reflectively rubbing his sore fist, says that he had found it necessary to restrain his interest in Chike Obi and his new political party because of Enwezor’s strong affiliations with the NCNC, and besides, he says, “the time is not ripe.”) After a series of speeches by the elders to cool the situation, the ritual continues and Aniweta tells me he has been warned not to lose his self control because there is a potential rift between Umu-Aroli and Anazonwu’s Ogbe-ozala, which certain agitators from the latter are trying to open.

After the ritual ends, the two of us retired to a small store in Umu-Anyo Village to share a bottle of stout, where he tells me that the Prime Minister has now been brought firmly into support for Enwezor.  Obiekwe himself has laid the foundation for this by repairing the serious rift between Umu-Anyo and the Prime Minister’s wife, Anene, who as I previously noted is a Daughter of Umu-Anyo (indeed, a member of Aniweta’s own Aguzani family, of which Obiekwe is now the spiritual head), but she has been spiritually alienated from all of them.  Aniweta decided to approach her directly, and offered not only to accept Anene’s return into village affairs but also to bestow on her the ofo staff as Head Daughter of Aguzani lineage. He reports to me now that “she has come back, and is using her influence on Onowu to support our cause.” The results of these efforts may have been symbolized by the new refrigerator said to be standing in the Prime Minister’s parlor.

3. Secretary Onyechi Changes Tack (with consequences)

On the same day as Emejulu’s ritual offerings to the legendary Daughter of King Aroli, Byron Maduegbuna completes his draft of the Report manuscript. However, completion of the final Report does not mean its automatic acceptance by the Special Committee. After Byron submits his 5-page report to the General Secretary, J.M. Onyechi, Byron departs instead of attending the meeting scheduled for July 21, when the Report was to be formally submitted to members of the Conference, in order to attend a presentation by Chike Obi (who was visiting Onitsha to denounce the elitism and corruption of the NCNC and to announce his Dynamic Party’s aim to contest all the 146 seats of the new, expanded Eastern House of Assembly in the forthcoming regional elections).

In Byron’s absence, Secretary Onyechi instead submits his own version of the Report, which substitutes “Umu-EzeAroli” for “Umu-Chima-Ogbuefi” as the sole members of the Royal Clan eligible to present a candidate for the present succession to the throne. However, the Ajie upon seeing this change threatens to walk out of the Conference and to cast his lot with the Prime Minister (both his and Byron’s primary motivations for organizing the endeavor having been to gain their segments’ eligibility as Umu-Chima-Ogbuefi to contest for the Kingship). The Conference agrees to consider a more abstracted Report, and schedules another meeting for July 25.

Since Onyechi had approached several members of the Special Committee as an avowed agent of candidate Odita, some members now question the propriety of his concurrent Committee participation and decide to investigate his behavior in more detail.  At the subsequent Conference meeting of July 25 convened to review the Report, some members arise and allege that Onyechi has been reporting the Special Committee’s activities to the Onya (with whom, as a fellow member of Ogbe-Ndida, Onyechi had long-standing substantive relations), and has in fact supplied the Onya with a copy of Byron’s version of the Report even while suppressing its contents before the Royal Clan Conference. (One elder member of the Committee later claims to me that he himself participated in a brief manhandling of Onyechi prior to the latter’s expulsion from the meeting.) With Onyechi expelled, the Conference proceeds to examine and accept the original Report as prepared by Byron.

4. The Special Committee’s Final Report

The body of the report consists of 3 full type-written pages (single-spaced, on legal paper) containing 23 numbered paragraphs, ending with places for signatures of Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and Secretary.   Six pages of Appendices are attached.

The first paragraph provides an account of the group’s formation: “A conference of the descendants of Eze Chima of Onitsha Town commenced to meet on the 4th of April, 1961, with a view to resolving the question of selection and appointment of a successor to the vacant throne of Onitsha….”

Its second paragraph states that “When the period of mourning which was ordered in connection with this demise of our late Okosi II… expired on the 15th of April, 1961, the conference resolved that (Senior Chiefs) and the Eastern Nigeria Government should be notified of the commencement of consultations by Umu-EzeChima….” These opening statements nicely ground the group’s legitimacy in the appropriateness of its initial procedures.

Paragraphs 3 5 record how the Special Committee was appointed and its general mode of operation (including the members’ Oath of secrecy and incorruptibility), and specify its overriding purpose:

“The sole aim has been to select a suitably qualified person who could maintain the prestige of Onitsha anywhere in the world and endeavour to retrieve the lost position of Onitsha, having regard to the present day development of independent Nigeria.”

This passage strongly generalizes the aims of the Conference as they were earlier expressed (i.e., to regain the lost powers and prestige of the Royal Clan) to the level of the whole Onitsha, yet accurately reflects views expressed to me throughout the Interregnum. The phrases “suitably qualified” and “the prestige of Onitsha anywhere in the world” underline the universalistic dimension of the guiding vision. It is not deemed to be enough to have a locally popular leader; the model of Nnamdi Azikiwe as a prototypical Onitsha man has greatly broadened (and heightened) the sphere of aspiration for most Onitsha men.

This generalization of purpose however also reflects a shift of aim away from the Committee’s stated original purpose, which was earlier stated as research. The members have decided this shift is necessary because of the intensifying pressures of time, believing that re-convening the entire Conference to begin a second step of deliberating on the issue of selection may take so long that Enwezor will be enthroned before they can even get a process of voting organized. So they decide to make the Special Committee not only a procedure-defining group but also a voting one.

Comparison with the 1935 Eight-Age-Grades’ Work

“6. The final summary of the (1935) recommendations of (the Eight Age Grades, ogbo isato) regarding the settlement of the last Obiship dispute was examined by the committee. It would be appreciated that the (Eight Age grades) started to play that most commendable selfless part after the dead lock which lasted over three years when three candidates had been installed. In these circumstances, conditions which should be required to be essentially fulfilled by an aspirant and the procedure which should be adopted in selection and installation of an Obi of Onitsha, were not definitely laid down. However, the committee took note of the able manner in which (the Eight Age Grades) handled the matter at that difficult period, for which they merited commendations and the stand and recommendation of the Resident of Onitsha Province at that time of dependent Nigeria.”

Paragraph 6 refers of course to the O’Connor Memorandum of 1935, which grounded its stand in the Recommendations of the Eight Age Grades, and which suggested future procedures for selection and installation of the Obi. Since the findings of the O’Connor Memorandum were now increasingly a subject of controversy in the Inland Town, discussion of them here is an essential first step in making a case for contemporary procedures. The slight disclaimer presented here in relation to the Eight Age Grades account is necessary in light of paragraphs 7 through 11 of the current Report, which deals with royal genealogy and “conditions to be satisfied” by candidates, and paragraph 14, which establishes certain “rules governing the Obi of Onitsha”. These sections introduce certain modifications to the suggestions made in 1935 by Resident O’Connor and the Eight Age Grades.

“7. The committee discovered that Oreze family of Obikporo is the Spiritual Head of Umu-EzeChima, but has recommended that the spiritual Head of each particular section of the sons of Chimaefi and Dei from where a candidate has been selected for appointment as the Obi of Onitsha should have the function of Ima Nzu to perform.”

Here the Report accurately states the Committee’s research findings about Senior Priesthood of the Royal Clan, but the members must also deal with the fact that Anthony Agunyego (the young man who is ascriptively the Senior Priest of Oreze) has now committed himself to Enwezor’s candidacy. The qualification thus states a policy with definite historical precedent, and reflects a flexibility of procedure essential to prevent a single priest from controlling the succession process for his own personal interests.

“8. The genealogy of the Eze Chima family in Onitsha Town has been probed, but it seems difficult to obtain accurate results at a moment of Obiship dispute. Nevertheless the committee has been able to ascertain that besides Oreze family of Obikporo which is the Spiritual Head, the other sections of Umu Eze Chima comprised two families of Dei and Chimaefi. Dei family consists of Oke-BuNabo Quarters of Ogbe-Abu, Ogbe-Odogwu, Ogbe-Mbubu, and Umu-Dei, while Chimaefi family consists of Isiokwe, Umu-Olosi, Ogbe-Olu, and Umu-EzeAroli Quarters.

“9. Tables which show the main genealogical trees of Umu Eze Chima are attached to this report. There is no particular need to comment on the genealogy.

“10. It is therefore recommended that the two main divisions of Dei and Chimaefi (Chima-Ogbuefi) families should produce an Obi of Onitsha in rotation and that the existing vacancy should be filled by a candidate selected from Chima-Ogbuefi family.”

These paragraphs establish the central modification away from the 1935 document: expansion of the eligible parties from the Umu-EzeAroli to the larger descent group of which the Umu-EzeAroli are but a major part. More than any others, these paragraphs reflect the effective power of Byron Maduegbuna and the Ajie in the workings of the Conference, and the implications of these passages constitutes their own families’ major reward: establishing the eligibility of Isiokwe and Umu-Olosi to contest the throne not merely “in the future” but now, during the Interregnum of 1961.

A second implication is the formal separation of “Spiritual Headship” from eligibility to contest the Throne at the maximal level of clanship. There are three major subdivisions of the Royal Clan, but only two rotate the right to Kingship (Oreze family being excluded as “Senior Priest”). If this principle were applied at lower levels of genealogy, of course, Isiokwe would also be excluded (being the Spiritual Head of Umu-Chima-Ogbuefi), but the standard remains implicit (and must be so, since it is strongly contradicted by the norms governing the Onitsha primary family; it applies mostly to higher levels of geneaology).

“11. The conditions required to be satisfied by an aspirant to the office of an Obi of Onitsha is (sic) attached to this report as Appendix ‘A’. It is recommended that selection should be made strictly in accordance with these conditions.”

Appendix A lists these with slight modifications from those presented in the Special Committee’s early deliberations. Requirement 3 now reads, “His mother should be a native of Onitsha Town.” The qualification appended in that earlier statement “but this condition is not essential provided all the other conditions are satisfied” was now omitted, reflecting perhaps the Committee’s increasingly intransigent opposition to Enwezor but also probably the community’s currently strong sense of impending dangers from the surrounding Ndi Igbo.

Requirement 6 (7 in the original formulation outlined in the earlier section) now reads, “He must (instead of ‘should’) not have any visible deformity.” This could be taken as a reflection on candidate Onyejekwe, whose eyes are visibly strabismic (as people said, “he has a squint”), but since “must” and “should” alternate through both documents with no clear variation in significance, the change is probably not intentional and exactly what might constitute a disqualifying “deformity” is not remarked.

No. 7 (8 in the original) reads “He should be medically fit and should be devoid of known traits of hereditary diseases,” and no. 11 (12 in the original) modifies the parenthetical “(he should be intelligent enough so as to be capable of expressing himself fluently in Ibo and English languages)” to the more specific “intelligent enough so as to be capable of delivering speeches and expressing himself fluently in Ibo and English languages”. This change reflects the Committee’s emerging commitment to the idea that a formal contest of speech-making should be held so that the various candidates may be directly compared for their skills in this increasingly pivotal capability (and of course it also implies rejection of Enwezor’s qualifications as well as of the more rigorously precolonial requirement that “the Obi‘s voice not be heard in public”, so embarrassingly reported nationally in 1958).

The final two “conditions” (no.’s 14 and 15 in the original) read thus:

“13. He must be of reasonable financial stability, with feasible means of livelihood.

14. He must have to agree not to have any vested interest and not to be concerned with, or involved or interested in any business other than that of the state administration and official requirements.”

These requirements, so apparently reasonable and modern in their demand for an official’s separation from conflicting interests, in effect appear to limit eligibility to those obtaining substantial retirement pensions. Otherwise the two conditions stand in a contradictory relationship, and indeed are mutually contradictory for Enwezor, whose eminently “feasible means of livelihood” is constituted by his far-reaching private businesses. (Such an enterprise would of course be open to considerable political manipulation by an incumbent Obi who was also its owner and manager.) There can be little doubt that requirement (14) is devised partly with exclusion of Enwezor in mind.

Taken as a whole, this statement of “conditions to be satisfied” provides for the first time in Onitsha history a formalized and explicit outline of the demands to be made by Onitsha people of any man who proposes to become their Obi. Diverse individuals disagreed with the indispensibility of specific items of the list, but the sense of the overall complex as an ideal strikes such forceful chords among the educated people I converse with that I find many already regarding the list as a kind of gospel, only a few days after its public presentation.

Paragraph 12 of the Special Committee’s final Report deals with the “original ofo of Eze Chima” (noting that it has been retained by the Anazonwu family of Umu-EzeAroli and that efforts are being made to restore it if possible). Paragraph 13 recommends the constructing of a single palace for future Kings (observing that the Sacred Grove of the Umu-EzeAroli Kings is the most appropriate site). Both paragraphs retain the full senses of the earlier formulation.

Some major social innovations

“14. The committee scrutinized the (Eight Age Grades’) final recommendations entitled ‘Rules Governing the Obi of Onitsha’ and adopted them with slight modifications to suit the present period, as shown in appendix ‘B’ which is attached to this report.”

This paragraph, referring again to the 1935 document, produced as a set of suggestions for future governance of the society, is entirely new, and introduces (in the cited appendix) a new organizational mechanism for Onitsha society:

Appendix “B”:

“AS RECOMMENDED BY OGBO ISATO, vs. AS MODIFIED BY THE COMMITTEE:”

(Here I must slightly alter some of the numbers in the lists, in order to make the comparisons clear.)

1.  1935: That no Obi under any circumstances should introduce any British Government measure in Onitsha without  the unanimous consent of Ndichie and people of Onitsha.

1a. 1961:  That no Obi under any circumstances should introduce any new measure in Onitsha without  the unanimous consent of Ndichie and Agbala-na-iregwu of Onitsha.

1b. 1961: That a council, which shall be known and called Uloko-Obi shall be established for the purpose of advising the Obi and Ndichie in all matters affecting Onitsha. This Council shall consist of representatives selected from each of the quarters in  Onitsha and shall not exceed fifteen in number.

2.  1935: That Obi must not offer an appointment of Ndichie Ume to any candidate without the consent of the  people of Onitsha. (This does not include other Ndichies.)

2.  1961: That Obi must not offer an appointment of Ndichie-Ume to any candidate without the advise of council of Uloko-Obi and consultation with the existing Ndichie-Ume. (This principle does not include appointment of the other ranks of Ndichie.)

3. 1935: That the office of Iyasele Onowu must not be given to any quarter in Onitsha where  the reigning Obi originates. That before giving the title of Ndichie-Ume as Onowu, Ndichie Ume, the Obi must consider with the people of Onitsha the rightful quarters (e.g. Ugwu-na-Obankpa, etc.) in Onitha that had ever held the office.

3.  1961:  That the office of Iyasele Onowu  must not be given to any quarter in Onitsha where the reigning Obi originates.  That before giving the title of Ndichie-Ume, the Obi must consider on advice of Uloko-Obi and in consultation with the existing Ndichie-Ume, the right quarter that should hold that particular Ndichie-Ume. 

4. 1935:   That after the present Obi (James Okosi) Umu-EzeAroli  and Oke-BuNabo  will be taking this office of Obi in rotation (i.e. the next to fall to Umu-EzeAroli).

4.  1961:  That the descendents of Chimaevi (Chima-Ogbuefi)and of Dei should be taking this office of Obi of Onitsha in rotation; the existing vacancy should be filled by a member of Chimaevi  family and the next vacancy should be filled by a member of Dei  family.  (Note here in No. 4, the ambiguity between “Dei” and “Oke-BuNabo“.  This reflects some internal disagreement among Dei/Oke-BuNabo members of the Committee regarding the appropriate name for different genealogical levels.)

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The comparative presenting of these rules was not, it should be noted, part of the Special Committee’s original charge, but it grew naturally out of their research and it nicely reflects one of Peter Achukwu’s longstanding goals: to devise a written Constitution for Onitsha people. And just as the 1935 document was in significant measure his own production, so this 1961 Report bears unmistakable evidence of his continuing influence and will.

Some of the modifications in this list of “Rules…” are of course editorial in purpose and aimed simply at clarifying the intent of the 1935 document. 1961 Rule 1a inserts the Onitsha native concept (translated as “Those Who Support and Dignify”, or in English generic terms, “Commoners”) rather than the more general “people,” implying a social entity with greater corporate standing than the latter, and in similar fashion other rules are modified to specify meanings more carefully.

1961 Rule 1b however marks a striking innovation, the “reintroduction” of a seemingly obsolete native term,  the Uloko-Obi and the associated proposal that a new social entity be formed under its name. The suggested make up of this “council” (assuming a numerical compromise struck between 6 Onitsha Divisions and the ancient “Onitsha the Nine Clans”, and assuming 2 representatives per traditional unit) bears striking resemblance to a more generalized, pan-Onitsha form of the Special Committee itself.

New rules 3 and 4 then follow up the implications of this social innovation. The two rules are rather redundant, the justification for such overstatement being the tendencies of recent Onitsha history in which the King became too egocentric (and descent-group centric) in distributing the offices of Senior Chieftaincy, and especially the intransigent conflicts generated by his bestowing the Prime Ministership (Onowu title) within the Obi‘s own village or sub clan. But it is noteworthy that this 1961 Report does not state a rule allocating the Prime Minister title to the non-royal clans (as the latter have for some years been insistently demanding). In this final regard the Royal Clan orientation runs true to its earlier form, seeking to retain potential access to the Onowu title for its own segments (though excluding the one currently providing the King).

1961 Rule 4 reiterates the Special Committee’s genealogical findings as a normative rule. “Dei” refers in this context to the whole of Division is two, a usage now given formal genealogical grounding in the more senior of two Dei ancestors. The substitution of “Umu-Chima-Ogbuefi” for “Umu-EzeAroli” is of course the pivotal gain sought from their conference participation by Isiokwe and Umu-Olosi, and their success in this endeavor testifies to the importance of their contribution to making the enterprise work. That the specified sequencing of rotation (this turn goes to Chima-Ogbuefi) was accepted by the strong phalanx of Oke-BuNabosupporters in the Royal Clan Conference is itself testimony to the consensual effectiveness of the Conference’s ultimately parliamentary organization.

Some further modifications of tradition

Paragraphs 15- 20 identify the appropriate ritual steps to be undertaken as an aspirant to the throne progresses toward his final installation.

“15. The committee deplored the system of aspirants ot the office of Obi of Onitsha moving round Onitsha to offer drinks. It is therefore recommended that the policy should be that the family whose turn it should be to produce a successor should meet, select and recommend a suitably qualified candidate to Umu-EzeChima. If the candidate is accepted, he should be presented by Umu-EzeChima through (the Prime Minister and Chiefs) to (Those who support and dignify) of Onitsha. The selection must be made strictly in accordance with the laid down conditions. If it is not possible for that family to present or recommend only one candidate, it would be the duty of the whole Umu-EzeChima to select the most suitably qualified candidate from among the list of applicants from that family strictly in accordance with the conditions which have been laid down, after which the selected candidate would be presented through the Onowu and Ndichie to Agbalani-iregwu of Onitsha. No candidate who has been selected by Umu-EzeChima and presented accordingly could be rejected unless previously unknown reason in accordance with the laid down conditions has been adduced, when the matter should be referred back to Umu-EzeChima for reconsideration.”

This provision carefully emphasizes the central importance of the stated “conditions to be satisfied”, and if followed would eliminate much of the social advantage derived from being a chief during interregnum (namely the candidates’ accepted practice of approaching chiefs informally, the proverbial custom being that “one does not approach an Ndichie empty handed). More broadly it would channel (and consequently much curtail) the distributing of gifts to people a candidate might perceive as potentially influential. Significantly, under this dispensation the Royal Clan gathering would become the central selective mechanism, and the accepted candidate would then be presented through the chiefs to the Commoners for final approval, sharply narrowing the role of the chiefs in the selection process. Other provisions of the installation process duly emphasize the rights of the Senior Chiefs to be “approached,” “notified,” and “consulted,” and for the chiefs in general to receive refreshments (or cash equivalent thereto) during certain ritual procedures, but otherwise the chiefs’ role is reduced to that of a conduit between Royal Clan and the more general social grouping of “Those Who Support and Dignify”.

Paragraphs 16 and 17 propose some formalities regarding the Obi-elects ritual procedures.

“18. Before proceeding to Udo, the Ofo should be handed over to him by Ugwu-NaObamkpa family for whom food and drinks should be provided, since no fees were in actual fact payable for the appointment and installation of an Obi in the past; but the value of the food and drinks could be assessed and paid for in cash amounting to a figure not exceeding £100.”

This statement formally confirms the traditional right of Umu-Asele-Iyawu village (identified with the “Obamkpa” segment of the larger group, and to which group the current Prime Minister belongs) to bestow the Anvil Ofo (or some equivalent thereof) upon the succeeding King as a symbol of his acceptance by the non royal clans. Affirmation of this right (which had fallen into abeyance after 1900) indicates the Committee’s willingness to modify its original Royal Clan ethnocentrism in the interest of obtaining non-royal support. In addition, this paragraph inserts an assumption which implicitly challenges the Onitsha chiefs: a denial that an Obi-elect must pay “fees” in order to complete his Installation (though this is partially self contradicted in the final clause).

Having completed its formal charge, the Special Committee suggests that its own reward might be its permanent institutionalization in Onitsha society:

“21. The committee finally recommends that this committee or a similarly selected one to which a few representative members from non-Umu-EzeChima family should be added, should continue after the installation of a new Obi of Onitsha, to examine and to make recommendations for improvements in respect of any outstanding matters of interest.”

The structural similarities between this recommendation and those of Appendix ‘B’ regarding the uloko-obi could hardly be overlooked by a thoughtful reader. The “eyes of the King” (as some informants rendered the semantic implication of this group’s name), formally composed of Special Committeemen and others co opted, might become a permanent Research Committee arm of the Inland Town’s constitutional Government.

“22. In conclusion, members of this committee wish to express sincere thanks to all responsible for their appointments and more particularly to all the people of Onitsha who voluntarily supplied information to the committee without giving them previous notices. The committee acknowledges with thanks all such useful information and prays that such spirit of willingness to furnish information at any moment without previous notice, in order to help Onitsha out of any difficult situation, should continue to prevail in future.”

5. The Conference Submits the Report to the Chiefs

On the day after the Conference accepted the Special Committee’s final report they submit it to a meeting of the Onitsha chiefs (July 26). By this time, however, it is common knowledge throughout the town (and see Aniweta’s comment above) that a majority of the chiefs have met and shared £200 contributed to them by Enwezor, and now at their audience with Conference representatives they refuse to accept either of the Committee’s two pivotal positions as specified in the Report (the “conditions to be satisfied” or the scheme of rotation).

Instead, they refer its representatives to the O’Connor Memorandum, which they note postulated a rotation between Oke-BuNabo and Umu-EzeAroli. It is now Aroli‘s turn, the Spokesman of the chiefs says, and Umu-EzeAroli should be the selecting agents at this time. Both the Ajie and the Ogene however reject this view (thus establishing as definite the split among the Senior Chiefs), but the Owelle now remains silent and accepts the position of the majority.

A second meeting is held by the Onitsha chiefs on July 28. I do not obtain good information on either of the two meetings, either concerning which senior chiefs are present or which if any walk out, but apparently the outcome is similar in both:  a majority decides as described in the previous paragraph, and a minority (the Ajie and Ogene, at least) refuse to accede to the decision.

6. The Conference (and its Assisting Secretary) become Important Players

The members of the Royal Clan Conference however display no evidence of dejection over their rebuff at the hands of the Onitsha chiefs. As their Report is circulated through the Inland Town, various candidates now respond with formal applications, until the list of applicants include not only Odita and Onyejekwe but also John Onuora Ikeme (a former Onitsha Town Clerk), J. Akie Ukpabi (a government official writing to them from the North), Ediboss Okolonji (the noted musical comedian and “man about town” from Ogbe-Ozala), Emembolu of Isiokwe, and both the Ajie and Onyechi as well.  (Onyechi remains persistent despite his recent explusion from the Committee.)

When I visit Byron Maduegbuna in his late father’s cool and cavernous residence in the Waterside on July 31, I find a young man who has (following the departure of Onyechi from active participation in the Special Committee) somewhat suddenly become a very important person. He tells me that the Policeman, Joseph Onyejekwe, has just flown in to the East from Lagos and has offered Byron £300 for his support. Byron also claims that the previous night he suffered another abortive assault on the street, this time from an unknown assailant who accosted him near St. Mary’s Church and tried to seize his file-folders. And when I ask him who he now thinks might become the next king, he points toward Moses Odita (who was, as it happens, just departing from Byron’s house when I arrived) and says, “I’ll bet money there is the next king.”

Astonished, I ask, “What about his (dragging-abomination ritual)?” He replies,

“We went to the elders about this, asking if it had ever happened that a man who had committed alu had ever gone on to become king. They told us, ‘Why do you think he should go to udo, if not to purify himself of any past abominations he has done?”

When I ask him about the prospects of Enwezor, Byron (whose files are filling with letters including both applications from prospective candidates and insulting communications from the Onya and members of the Umu-EzeAroli Peace Committee) replies that the Committee is intransigently set against him. “He has dismissed us as a ‘social club,'” he observes, “and we are going to strike him down for that.”

Some Reflections

The Royal Clan Conference Special Committee’s Final Report now presents before all Onitsha people a cultural charter which if eventually implemented would (1) significantly expand the numbers of Royal Clansmen formally defined as eligible to contest the throne, (2) substantially upgrade the standards for qualifying for the Obiship in terms of Western bureaucratic values, (3) considerably democratize future political processes by giving legislative centrality to a broadly representative committee of “advisors to the King”, and (4) definitely diminish the power of the chiefs as an organized interest group for profiting from the Interregnum process. As such it has a very broad potential appeal to the many Western educated Onitsha people. But these same features make it much less desirable to those whose interests are more strongly aligned with those of the chiefs.

 

  1. Henderson 1972:295.Orakwue 1953:38 refers to “a body of men known as ‘Ulogo-Eze‘” whom the Obi  consults on important matters.  Nzimiro 1972:30 suggests that the “Ulogoeze” are a group of “the Obi’s close agnates” who provide an informal council which the Obi can consult before making decisions.” [Return ↩]