The day after publication of Orakwue’s “Historical Treat” in the Spokesman, I visit Okunwa T. B. Akpom at his home in Otu on Akpom Lane, but find him too busy to talk about land tenure as we have planned because of his currently intense involvement with the new Umu-EzeChima meetings. When I ask him what he thinkst about the latest newspaper controversy, he replies that he has told the Ajie that “he was all wet:”
“We Umu-EzeChima plan to go into the kingship, to make it as much like the olden times as possible. First we must decide what lines are eligible. But there is something that may break this group up: some families are trying to push their people in to claim a right. Some villages that have never reigned want to push themselves in now.”
The problem is intensified, he says, because his own Umu-EzeAroli are now very much divided. In his own Umu-Aroli Village, Ogbe-Obi-Omozele,, he knows four persons for Odita, five who favor Enwezor, and others who are neutral.
“And the four for Odita are not all Catholics; three are, one is not. Of those favoring Odita, one is the oldest man in our village, one is a youth of 38. So it is throughout Onitsha.”
Both Akpom and Peter Achukwu tell me that the Prime Minister has declined to forward the Resolution made by the Royal Clan meeting on to the regional Government as they have requested, and Akpom comments that
“We believe that he is taking sides Enwezor, we think. Nothing shows this yet; when Enwezor went (asking) him to take part in his Ima-Nzu, the Onowu refused. But some money may be changing hands: we know he has someone in mind to support.”
Achukwu also informs me that the Odu (the Third Minister, a member of Enwezor’s Masonic Lodge, and a founding leader of the Onitsha Improvement Union, Home Branch) has now called a meeting of the Onitsha Improvement Union for Saturday, April 29 the very same afternoon as the next scheduled meeting of the Royal Clan:
“He is hoping to draw attention away from the Umu-EzeChima, to seize the initiative as Chairman of the O.I.U. He wants to control selection of the King. But I will go to the Umu-EzeChima (meeting) because they should have the first chance.”
1. The April 29 meeting of Umu-EzeChima
[Note: Click on any image you may want to enlarge.]
At the first gathering since signing their Resolution, Peter Achukwu rises at the outset to report on the disposition of the document forwarded through the Prime Minister, but he first pauses to remind those attending for the first time of the purposes guiding the group:
“to rally round Umu-EzeChima and to check unnecessary rivalry that follows the issue of succession to the throne. The meeting will also provide the platform on which Umu-EzeChima can regain their lost rights.”
Elaborating, Achukwu warns of the dangers of repeating the events of the previous dispute, when in 1935, because of the disunity among the Umu-EzeChima, he and the Eight Age Sets found it necessary to step in and resolve the issue. The Royal Clan must unite and fight for their rights “or else those who are not entitled to appoint the King will have their way.” He reminds the house that formerly the rights over all Onitsha lands were vested in the King, a member of the Umu-EzeChima; but due to lack of interest, the Royal Clan has lost its rights to the land.
Having casually dangled this implication that the Royal Clan might potentially claim all the lands in Onitsha, Achukwu then produces a written document dated May 9, 1935 and signed by the then Acting Resident of Onitsha Province (D. P. J. O’Connor), which affirms that by traditional right the Umu-Eze-Chima select the King. Dilating on questions of procedure, he opines that after Umu-EzeChima have unanimously selected their candidate, they will present him to the Prime Minister, who will in turn present him to all Agbala-na-iregwu Onicha, in other words the Common People, for their acceptance. It is therefore an essential task of the present gathering to appoint one single candidate, and he strongly appeals for unity in the tasks lying ahead.
Then Achukwu presents his report on the Royal Clan’s Resolution. When, he recount, the appointed representatives offered it to the Prime Minister, the Onowu professed amazement, inquired why he had not been consulted or invited to any meeting which would pass such a Resolution, and refused to forward the document to the Eastern Nigeria Government. Reminding the Prime Minister that his role in the succession process is merely to hand over the Ofo to the prospective King,1 Achukwu asked him how as a member of a non-royal clan Anatogu Onowu could presume to take command of Royal Clan meetings. (The Prime Minister apparently made no reply.)
Continuing, he says that after they departed from the home of the Prime Minister, agents of the Royal Clan group conveyed the Resolution directly to the Provincial Commissioner’s Office, only to have it later returned with the bureaucratic requirement that the document should be signed by a secretary, provided with a covering letter, and given a return address for future communications. Concluding his comments, Achukwu urges the group to continue their efforts in a spirit of unity and cooperation.
The meeting then moves quickly with a call for appointment of a Pro- tem Secretary to perform these immediate tasks. The names of Jerry Orakwue of Oke-BuNabo and Chief M. Ogo Ibeziako of Umu-Olosi (both of whom are present) were raised, but instead of one of these elders, Byron Maduegbunam of Isiokwe (who has already been acting in that capacity) is selected, and is told to prepare and send off the correct set of documents to the Provincial Commissioner’s Office immediately. The Chairman then reads two more letters of application from candidates for the Kingship, one from James Obi of Oke-BuNabo and one from Joseph Onyejekwe of Ogbe-Ozala (“High-Grass Village”) of Umu-EzeAroli. These letters are handed over to the secretary “to take the necessary action.”
The minutes then report that:
“Mr. Areh expressed his disapproval of the press controversy over the succession to the throne. Press controversy is an ill wind that does not good. Appealed to all concerned to sheathe their swords for the meantime so as to provide congenial atmosphere for free discussion. The house accepted his appeal and it was ruled that no press releases will be allowed as from date.”
The Ajie then raises the question of forming a “Committee”, to be selected by the entire meeting and consisting of representatives of all sections of the Royal Clan. He feels that the present issues before the house can best be solved within such a group, which would later report to the whole House about their findings. He then proceeds to suggest some names for this Select Committee, but the House objects from several sides to his summarily appointing the members. He withdraws his suggestions, and opens to discussion the subject of the composition and terms of reference for the prospective group.
The House unanimously agrees at the outset that the Ajie should act as Chairman of the Committee. Various members suggest that the Senior Chiefs (Ndichie-Ume)should be in charge of selecting Committee members from their own sections of the Clan, while villages lacking Senior Chiefs could select from among themselves.
Obiekwe Aniweta then rises to speak, and points out that the present meeting is not fully representative of the Umu-Eze-Chima, since the Onya (who as a senior chief is political head of Umu-EzeAroli) is not present. And how can the just-discussed Resolution be valid if the Onya has not signed it?
The Ogene interrupted him, pointing out that all three of the attending Senior Chiefs of Umu-EzeChima (Ogene himself, the Ajie, and Orefo the Owelle) have gone to the Onya and invited him, that he promised to come but has now failed to do so. It is now the task of the Umu-EzeAroli (of whom Aniweta is one) to bring pressure on him to come to the meetings if they really want to have peace.
Aniweta admits his own doubt that the Onya truly desired to attend, but pressing further he questions the right of Chief Ajie to act as the Head of Umu-EzeChima in these meetings, in light of his recent publications in the press. The Owelle (Sixth Minister) responds that in view of the fact that the Ajie is the most Senior Chief of the Royal Clan, he has clear and valid claim to act in that capacity.
Aniweta then inquires whether the Resolution will be valid if he (Aniweta) signs it. The Ajie as Chairman replied that it will, reminding the speaker that the issue at hand is a political one, that a father and son might disagree over it without dislocating their relationship. Aniweta asks if minutes are being kept of the meetings, and the Chairman replies that they are, that as he might have observed a Pro-tem Secretary has just been appointed and now has the official responsibility to produce them.
(Thus the three Senior Chiefs of the Royal Clan form a solid front toward the aggressive questioning of the youthful Aniweta, whose close affiliation with Enwezor and his supporters is of course well known to everyone present. Aniweta raises no further issues in this meeting.)
The “Ranking Chief” (Ndichie Okwa), Onoli, M. Ogo Ibeziako (in 1961 President of the Onitsha Bar Association), now arises to speak. Apologizing for having arrived late, he states that he was unaware of the meeting’s existence until a few days ago, affirms his pleasure at its strong attendance, and appeals for reasonableness and care in dealing with the vital issues at hand.
Suggesting that the members selected for the Committee should be energetic people, he reminds the group of his own active role in the previous kingship dispute of 1931-35, when from his then strategic position in the Resident’s Office he helped the Administrative Officers to resolve the issue. He volunteers to place his personal library at the disposal of the Committee, and offers to “invite fellow barristers, the Onya and others” to contribute to the discussion. He suggests wide terms of reference for the group, including the compilation of a definitive list of previous Kings, procedures for selection, and a list of those who are true Umu-EzeChima, all to be deposited in archives for future generations.2 When the Committee has finished its preliminary work, the prospective candidates should then be brought before it for further consideration, after which time the Committee would “report to the full House the name of the candidate unanimously selected.”
After he is thanked by Achukwu and others for his presence and his constructive ideas, the Onoli arises again to oppose dispatching the Resolution, claiming it is unnecessary. The House however rejects this idea. After considerable discussion the House further agrees that each section of the Royal Clan should select two representatives to serve on the Committee, and that the Secretary should write the Onya requesting him to appoint those who will represent Umu-EzeAroli. The meeting then adjourns.
2. The issue of secretariat: M. Ogo Ibeziako
Discussing the minutes of this April 29 session afterwards with Byron Maduegbuna, he tells me that both Jerry Orakwue and Onoli Ibeziako are making strong backstage efforts to gain the Secretaryship, “for reasons best known to them.” Byron expresses anxiety lest one of them succeed, in which case his own participation in the Conference will become superfluous. Being unmarried, he remains technically a mere Nwa-Ilo (“Child of the Village Square”) and therefore officially an “unimportant” participant in major Inland Town meetings, and the records will fall into the hands of men he claims hope mainly to collect them for their own personal archives (and in Orakwue’s case, probably to sell). However, the Ajie (and numerous others among the participating titled men) remain steadfast supporters of Byron, and he looks forward to participating in the selection of the Executive Committee, which he says will be the pivotal step in the organization’s development: the texture of that Committee will determine in which direction the later meetings will go. Byron feels that the fate of Isiokwe‘s advantageous position in the succession contest “hangs in the balance”.
More fundamentally, he emphasizes his fear of the prospect of either Ibeziako or Orakwue playing active roles in the Royal Clan meetings. He feels Orakwue is too opportunistic to provide the necessary impetus to the group, while he regards Ibeziako with genuine fear.
M. Ogo Ibeziako is so important a figure in Onitsha history that his roles in major events and activities must be understood more fully than we want to take it here. Hence I provide a separate page for that purpose so readers can know him well (as far as I am able to provide this from my own limited base): see M.O. Ibeziako, the Onoli of Onitsha.
The Onoli‘s current appearance at the Royal Clan meetings sends tremors through the membership, not only because he is a Daughter’s Child to Enwezor but also because he has had difficult relationships with a number of its participants. Both members of Isiokwe and Umu-Olosi had become involved in a case of ostracism arising over a house built on descent-group land, and relations between him and Mbamali Ajie are particularly strained.
3. The impact of the Resolution
Apart from the serious implications for the group’s internal politics emerging from this meeting, its outcomes have one important external consequence deriving from their formally correct delivery of the Royal Clan meeting’s Resolution to the Regional Government. By notifying the Ministry for Chieftaincy Affairs of the group’s work, they forestall Enwezor’s plan to “Go to Udo” early in June. When Governor General Nnamdi Azikiwe visits Onitsha on May 20 for a three day Official Tour of Onitsha, and all parties to the dispute rally to him, he is given a copy of the Resolution as well, and Zik tells his kinsman the Onowu to wait, rather than make a public commitment to any candidate at this point.
The Prime Minister is a Daughter’s Child to Zik’s immediate patrilineage in Ogbe-Abo. Byron Maduegbuna’s own important relation to Zik (who is a Daughter’s Child to Byron’s major segment in Isiokwe as well as the husband of Byron’s mother’s sister) is also relevant.3
4. Oke-buNabo seeks to control the Conference
Byron’s anxiety over impending decisions about the Royal Clan meetings’ structure is heightened by the application he as Pro tem Secretary has just received from Mr. James Obi of Umu-Dei in Okebunabo. A close agnatic kinsman of a late Prime Minister of Onitsha, Mr. Obi had passed the Junior Clerical level of education in the early 1930s and had risen in the firm of John Holt and Co. Ltd. to the position of Station Manager during 26 years of service. An Ozo– titled man owning considerable landed property, he has now received 34 signatures of support from leading elders of various segments in Oke-BuNabo. This seems a more impressively unified backing than any other candidates have currently shown, and suggests that Oke-BuNabo might be planning a more serious contest than has seemed evident in their overt activities thus far.
At the May 7, 1961 Royal Clan meeting in Isiokwe, Byron rises to read a copy of the covering letter he has sent along with the Resolution to the Minister in Charge of Chieftaincy Matters through the Provincial Commissioner. Dr. J. O. Onyeachonam (owner of the hospital where Okosi II’s body had been embalmed and a prominent member of Oke-BuNabo) arises at this point and, observing that this is his first opportunity to attend these meetings, expresses surprise that Byron Maduegbunam is acting as Secretary of a serious and secret meeting of this type. Onyeachonam points out that Byron is merely a boy, and moreover is known to be keeping company with the American anthropologist currently in town. He argues it is a matter of well-known record that anthropologists “pretend to love their people and then go home and write nasty things about them.” If Byron is indeed keeping such company then he should not act as Secretary for this very important organization. Onyeachonam is immediately supported by Jerry Orakwue and H. O. Bosa, both men also from Umu-Dei in Oke-BuNabo.
Both Senior Chiefs present, the Owelle and the Ajie, then speak in Byron’s defense, and Byron himself points out in rebuttal that Jerry Orakwue himself often associates with Mr. Henderson, as do several others now attending the meeting. The attempt to unseat Byron as secretary is rejected, at least for the time being.
Then another speaker from Umu-Dei arises and argues that, since the Ajie was now himself an active candidate for the throne, he should step down as Chairman of the meeting. This suggestion was also rejected by the attending Senior Chiefs. (This includes the Ogene, himself a member of Umu-Dei.)
This meeting, which is poorly attended, ends indecisively. Byron later observes to me that, if the Ajie should step down, since the Onya (the next Onye-Ichi-Ume in line of seniority) is not participating in the meetings, the next most senior chief would be the Ogene, who is a member of Okebunabo. If Orakwue should become Secretary and the Ogene the Chairman of the meeting, Oke-BuNabo will be in position to steer the course of the group in whatever direction they might wish.
The only substantive decision made in this May 7th meeting is to direct the Secretary to send a circular letter to Senior Chiefs of Umu-EzeChima and (where a particular village has none) to Senior Lineage Priests of the Royal Clan, requesting them to submit names of potential members of the Executive Committee. Byron executes his task with a letter in the following form:
8 May 1961
Sir: I am directed by the Umu-EzeChima (kingmakers) of Onitsha to request you to submit the names of three representatives from your section of Eze-Chima to serve on the Committee of Eze-Chima charged with the responsibility of doing preliminary work in connection with the succession to the Obiship of Onitsha. Submit names of your representatives before 11 May 1961. Inform your section of Eze-Chima that next meeting of Umu-EzeChima will be 13 May.
B. A. Maduegbuna, Secty
A separate letter is delivered to the Onya, conveying the same information but adding a conciliatory sentence expressing a hope for his forthcoming cooperation.
Observe that the copies sent out include one to Melifonwu, the Senior Lineage Priest of Isiokwe (a group at the time lacking any Senior Chief). Therefore if each official indicates in the letter should send in three names, the composition of the Committee will include 6 members from Isiokwe and Umu-Olosi, which will give these two segments of the Royal Clan equal the combined membership being offered to Oke-BuNabo and Umu-EzeAroli. (As Byron explains this arrangement to me, “We are trying to keep the coalition of Olosi and Isiokwe alive.”)
At this time an announcement appears in the Spokesman that the Tasia family of Ogbe-Odogwu (“Warrior Village”) in Oke-BuNabo is planning to sue the late King Okosi II’s lineage, Umu-Chimukwu, for return of the palace land which Ogbe-Odogwu had given over to King Okosi in 1900. Both Aniweta and Byron point this out to me and suggest that Ogbe-Odogwu is using the opportunity of the kingship dispute to force a settlement of the internal affairs of Oke-BuNabo, knowing that the latter are now working to mobilize a common front to contest for the Kingship.
When I inquire why Oke-BuNabo seem so able to form such solidarity and wonder why Umu-EzeAroli finds it difficult to do the same, they each explain that in the latter descent group there are many sections and people eligible to contest the Kingship, while in Oke-BuNabo there are very few actually eligible Royal segments; most are (they claim) known to be “attached groups.”
5. The May 13, 1961 Meeting of the Royal Clan
On this occasion, attendance is again spotty except for representatives from Oke-BuNabo, who turn out in large numbers. They demand that representation on the Committee be made proportional to population size of the sub clans involved, and when the Ajie objects to this they call for a vote, threatening that if democratic procedures are not employed they will walk out en masse and the Umu-EzeChima meeting will become a farce, no longer respect-worthy. Faced with threat of losing their sole base of operation, the others give in and agree to these demands. As a result, the Ajie accepts the following program of representation (whose members are to gather for the first Committee meeting on May 23):
Oke-BuNabo: in Ogbe-Mbubu, 2 members; in Ogbe-Odogwu, 2; in Ogbe-Abu, 2; in Umu-Dei, 2.
Umu-Olosi and Isiokwe, 2 members.
Umu-EzeAroli, 2 members.
Ogbe-Olu, 2 members.
Shocked by this outcome, Byron, the Ajie, and the Owelle talk afterwards and agree that they must do something to counter this, since Oke-BuNabo will now have a decisive plurality in the Committee.
During the days which follow I have trouble finding members of the Royal Clan meeting and and when I do they are somewhat incommunicative. But Byron is very busy acting as a messenger between the Ajie, the Owelle, and his own Isiokwe elders prior to the crucial first scheduled meeting where the “Royal Clan Committee” was to begin its work.
6. May 23, 1961: Resolving “The Committee”
The first gathering of what has so far been called merely “the Committee” is declared open in the residence of Peter Achukwu with prayers said by J. Okosieme, a respected Christian elder from Oke-BuNabo. Then Peter Achukwu rises and delivers an oration:
“(He asked to) outline the aims of summoning the Committee meeting. He appealed to members to cooperate and help in resolving this burning issue of Kingship. The issue involved is for the welfare of the people and Umu-EzeChima in particular. Obi of Onitsha is the political head of the community and embodiment of all the Onitsha traditions involved. He suggested that care should be taken to avoid any serious mistake. (He) stressed the need of unity among Umu-EzeChima and appealed to members to cast aside their sectional interest.
He is aware of series of meetings being held behind doors in order to decide on (what) stand to take. He pointed out that if this type of spirit dominates the meeting, Umu-EzeChima will then lose again their right. He appealed to all to forget for the meantime whomsoever is championing his cause as candidate and unite and build structure on which Obiship will be based.
He reminded the house that (the) non kingly section of Onitsha are anxious to usurp the rights of Umu-EzeChima. It may interest the house to note that during the previous dispute, the late Chief Owelle and Chief Odu publicly declared that kingship is not the sole prerogative of Umu-EzeChima but that it is the prerogative of the Senior Chiefs. This was an argument put forward by the non kingly section of Onitsha. It was a plot pure and simple hence he (Achukwu) with others like present Chief Owelle organized the Ogbo-Isato (Eight Age Sets) so as to restore the right of Umu-EzeChima.We fought a relentless battle and applied all diplomatic tricks at (our) disposal and succeeded in installing James Okosi from Umu-EzeChima.
It is true that the late king (Okosi II) made several attempts to perpetuate the kingship in Umu-EzeChima and (an) abortive attempt to appoint Onowu from Umu-Dei. Owing to pressure from Ugwu-na-Obamkpa, the King did not have his full way. At any rate he had tried. It is left for King Chima to rally round and fight out their course as the opposition now is very still indeed.”
Here Achukwu performs the essential function of the Orator Spokesman, to stir the crowd into unitary enthusiasm by giving them a vision of a common course. The sole “sectional” interest emphasized is that of the Umu-EzeChima as a whole. No narrower (or wider) voice is encouraged. After warning against narrower voices, he identifies two clearly opposing external interest groups: the non-royal clans and the Senior Chiefs. His concluding passages about the late King’s efforts to appoint the Prime Minister from within the ranks of the Royal Clan are not to be interpreted as a criticism of that particularistic act but rather as a compliment, praise for an admirable effort on the King’s part which had to be abandoned at that particular time.
Achukwu’s oration here thus presents (as has his previous one of April 29, with its allusion to “all Onitsha lands”) a glorious vision of any expansive aims to which the Royal Clan might aspire in opposition to a variety of “others”.
However in this meeting “sectional interests” nonetheless erupt immediately after the opening oration. Jerry Orakwue of Oke-BuNabo rises and suggests that since the Committee now has a Pro tem Secretary, there is need for a Pro tem Chairman so that work can begin at once. He suggests Akunne Iwenofu, “he being the oldest man present” (and a member of Oke-BuNabo). Nnanyelugo Obiozo Abutu (of Ogbe-Olu) then stands forth,
“to stress the need for unity and to avoid the house being divided into blocks as he has noticed what is about to take place. (He) pointed out that he vehemently opposed people coming here to be stumbling block to the Committee. He appealed to all to subject their sectional interests.”
Akunnia Ekwuno (of Umu-Olosi) reiterates the previous speaker’s views.
Since the events that follow constituted the keystone moments of the Committee’s development, I shall quote the Minutes of this meeting verbatim and entire, making breaks between each portion to provide editorial commentary on the events described. I shall also place in parentheses each speaker’s village membership to facilitate the reader’s comprehension of the significance of the interchanges occurring.
“Orakwue (Oke-BuNabo) spoke up again and raised the issue of whether the house is properly constituted, insisted on roll call by the General Secretary so as to know those present as there seemed to be strange elements in the house. P. Emengo (from Olosi) rose and opposed the language used by Orakwue and asked for withdrawal. Orakwue refused and appealed for protection from the Chair. The Chairman allowed him to continue. Obiozo Abutu (from Ogbe-Olu) rose to oppose the ruling of the Chairman as it clearly shows that the sectional interest is at work. Heated debate ensued. The House broke down and sharp exchanges were made. The House calmed down later.”
The “Chairman” at this point is Akunne Iwenofu (Oke-BuNabo), an ally of Orakwue, who is complaining about the presence of more Committee members than had been agreed upon at the previous meeting. Nnanyelugo Obiozo Abutu is a widely respected elder, Chairman of the Ozo Title Association (Agbalanze) in Onitsha. It is noteworthy that he, as a member of a Royal group not regarded as eligible to contest the throne and hence not obviously a partisan figure in this context, speaks out against maneuverings for the purpose of advancing “sectional interest.”
“Peter Achukwu rose and appealed to members to be calm and avoid using indecent languages or provocative ones. (He) appealed to members to overlook the mistake for those present are members of Umu-EzeChima and most of them are more qualified than those opposing their representation.”
Achukwu is technically a member of Oke-BuNabo but (very atypically for an Onitsha man keeps his lineage affiliations intentionally ambiguous. Here he labels the presence of members additional to the list composed at the previous meeting as a “mistake”, but supports their inclusion on the grounds of both descent and competence, and implies that Orakwue (a member of Ogbe-Onira within Umu-Dei)might have less valid qualifications as a member of the Royal Clan than they.
“Kpajie Onyechi rose and pointed out the injustice in former representation that made the Chairman to reconsider representatives. The General Secretary pointed this out last meeting but Oke-BuNabo people unanimously opposed it. They even went further to suggest that the Committee is above the Chairman which is impossible and unthinkable. They further fought hard to conduct election during the last meeting despite the fact that Maduegbuna pointed out that the meeting is not representative enough as intended by the General House. (He) warned members to abstain from inciting others and suggested that the new members should be accepted. The House is properly constituted.”
Jacob Onyechi is a relative newcomer to the Royal Clan meetings, but important first because he is a member of Ogbe-Ndida within Umu-EzeAroli. (In fact one of his ancestors was Enendu, the unsuccessful pretender in 1872.) A retired senior Government Administrative Officer and honored by the Queen as an M. B. E., he is known to be quietly proposing himself as a candidate for the Kingship and, rebuffed in his efforts to get his village mate the Onya and the Umu-EzeAroli Peace Committee to consider his candidacy seriously, he is currently consulting with Byron and the Ajie about the Royal Clan organization’s potential. In the preceding passage he nicely exposes the hidden aims of Oke-buNabo to stack the structure of the Committee in their favor at the last meeting, and his voice carries additional weight because of the various entitlements he bears in his person.
“Orakwue rose up and insisted on roll call. The roll call was made and thereupon he jumped and said that the election of officers should be postponed in view of the fact that the House is not properly constituted. He queried the right of the Chief Ajie (Olosi) to appoint new members. It was the specific instruction that each section should have only two representatives and now Chief Ajie has flouted the decision of the general meeting. (He) appealed to members to view the situation in a serious light.
Ekwuno (Olosi) interrupted and asked Orakwue dragging the name of Chief Ajie into controversial issue. After all being the Chairman he has the right to amend any mistake made by the general meeting. (He) pointed out that it has been the wish of Oke-BuNabo to dominate the Committee although it was not to affect the majority that the new representatives were appointed but to give each section equitable representation.
L. Achukwu (Oke-buNabo) appealed to the House to drop this matter for it may lead to the breaking down of the Committee.
Akunne Iwenofu (Oke-BuNabo) interrupted and pointed out the issue is fundamental and must be fully discussed.
P. Emengo (Olosi) opposed Iwenofu and pointed out members should not make capital out of the issue. (He) suggested adopting the new members and future ones if any section is not well represented.
In this sequence a confrontation occurs between Umu-Olosi and Oke-BuNabo, focussing on the Ajie‘s action in unilaterally appointing additional members to the Committee. The interests of Oke-BuNabo (who as we saw “stacked” the committee at the last meeting) are opposed by those of Umu-Olosi (affirming the Ajie‘s authority and thus their own position of leverage). The absoluteness of descent group opposition is however broken by Mr. L. A. Achukwu (of Ogbe-Abu in Oke-BuNabo), one of two devout Christian members of that group assigned the Committee and a man well respected for his adherence to Christian principles above more personal aims.
“Onyechi (Ogbendida within Umu-EzeAroli) pointed out that he could not understand the logic behind Orakwue’s argument. For instance why should Umu-EzeAroli that consisted of Ogbe-Ozala, Umu-Aroli, Ogbe-Ndida, and Ogbe-Ozoma have only two representatives whilst Umu-Dei which is equivalent to one of the important parts of Umu-EzeAroli will have two representatives. He wondered whether this is a plot against certain sections of Eze-Chima.
Akunne Erokwu (Isiokwe) supported the step taken by Chief Ajie in view of the fact that one of the Senior Chiefs was about to back out because of misbalanced representation. (He) appealed to members to accept the step taken by Chief Ajie.
Mr. Ananti (Umu-Dei) maintained that if the house accepts Ajie’s step then Ogene (Oke-BuNabo) will have to appoint more representatives as Umu-Dei consisted of many sections.
Kpajie Onyechi (Ogbe-Ndida) rose again and wondered whether the representation was on basis of family or village. If on family basis then Isiokwe which is made up of Ebo and Chimukwa are entitled to four representatives. Why should Ogbe-Ozala an important village in Umu-EzeAroli or Umu-Ikem (in Ogbe-Olu) not be represented in the Committee? (He) reminded the House that if any decision is taken other villages not represented have the right to disassociate themselves with the decision.
In these passages Onyechi performs the considerable service of laying bare the mathematical logic of what the May 13 decision implied, and shows how this could destroy the representational fairness of the Committee in the eyes of any critically-inclined outside observers. The fact is that some of the major villages of the Royal Clan have been excluded from separate representation by the earlier allotment. His observation about family versus village representation is also important since adopting a lineage segment (“family”) basis of representation could lead to an indefinitely large number of representatives from all subdivisions of the Royal Clan. Of course, a “village” basis could also produce ramifying representation, but for this type of grouping population numbers become more salient.
“(Onyechi) pointed out that there was one more point for the Committee to discuss and that is whether all (members) serving on the Committee are real Children of King Chima.
Peter Achukwu supported Onyechi and pointed out that he himself is not (real Children of King Chima) and all sections must be represented unless there is a plot to influence the decisions of the House.
Thereupon the Pro tem Chairman (Iwenofu, Oke-buNabo) asked Mr. Maduegbunam to write a stinker to Chief Ajie and ask him not to appoint any future members. The number is now enough.
Maduegbuna opposed writing such an insulting letter to the Chairman but suggested modifying the protest and appealing to Chief Ajie to restrain from further nominations.
Akunne Erokwu (Isiokwe) supported the last speaker.
Emengo (Umu-Olosi) supported the last speakers.
The issue was put to vote and majority agreed on adopting the new representatives.
Orakwue rose to protest and threatened walk out by Oke-BuNabo.
Anani (Oke-BuNabo) supported, but the House pointed out that the majority must have its way so they returned back to their seats.”
Here we see the pivotal decision of the Royal Clan meetings being made. Several additional nominees to the Committee are accepted by majority decision and none of the members from Oke-BuNabo walk out in protest, as some of them threatened and most of the other participants expected them to do. The event is described to me by several eye witnesses, and all agree that the crucial intervention was made by Peter Achukwu. When the point is made that it was important to identify which members are “real” Umu-EzeChima and which ones are “attached”, Achukwu makes salient (in the final quoted passage above) the threat of open, public revelations on this point by proclaiming that he himself is an attached person. In his actual full response (as opposed to the written Minutes, he reportedly said, “I myself am from Ogidi, and there are some members present here today….”4.
In Onitsha few displays of courage are more respected and feared than this one, because a person who will do this must be practically fearless: he has no shame for his own blighted ancestry. Should this person then boldly proclaim the attached status of others as well, his words bear the stamp of truth by virtue of his prior public confession of a stigma which, while shared with many others, no one else will admit. Since the effort from Oke-BuNabo was on this occasion to question whether the “House was properly constituted,” and since it is widely (if informally) agreed in Onitsha that within Oke-BuNabo a substantial number of lineage segments are widely thought descended from “immigrants,” Achukwu’s bold statement greatly weakens this strategy. At the threat of having these shameful identifications openly exposed, the Pro-tem Chairman gives in, and gradually the other members of Oke-BuNabo follow.
It is also noteworthy that other participants introduce universalistic standards into the argument (Obiozo Abutu, Onyechi), especially important being the assertions of L.A. Achukwu from Oke-BuNabo and the final emphasis on “majority rule”.
Thus, instead of watching Oke-BuNabo participants walk out (which would effectively have ended the Royal Clan meetings, and eliminated the last major social obstacle to Enwezor’s installation) the full Executive Committee is now ready to begin its first tasks.
“Election of Officers:
Ekwuno (Umu-Olosi) supported by Erokwu (Isiokwe) nominated Mr. Obiozo Abutu (Ogbe-Olu (for President). Onyechi (Ogbe-Ndid) supported by L. Achukwu (Oke-buNabo) nominated Mr. T. B. Akpum (Umu-Aroli). Votes taken: Akpum 9 votes, Abutu 8 votes. Akpum appointed President and Abutu Vice president.”
Each of these electees has in my experience a strong reputation for wisdom transcendingbeyond Onitsha sectional boundaries. Either one would be appropriate in light of the aims of the Committee: to have a Chairman whose name will bring respect from a broad sampling of outsiders.
“Election of Secretary:
J. Orakwue supported by Ananti (Oke-BuNabo) nominated Mr. Onyechi. Akunne Iwenofu (Oke-BuNabo) supported by Okosieme (Oke-BuNabo) nominated J. Orakwue. Votes taken: Onyechi 11, Orakwue 6. Onyechi unanimously elected Secretary and Orakwue Assistant Secretary. Onyechi rose and suggested having Maduegbuna (as a second) Assistant Secretary. Orakwue opposed on the grounds that Maduegbuna is not an official representative. Iwenofu (Oke-BuNabo) supported Orakwue and opposed idea of bringing Maduegbuna into the Committee. Ekwuno (Umu-Olosi) rose and vehemently opposed Orakwue and said that Maduegbuna should be an Assistant Secretary and he wondered why Orakwue was against that. Some members shouted inferiority complex. Thereupon Orakwue stood up and said if Maduegbuna is accepted as Assistant Secretary he will resign his post. Akunne Erokwu (Isiokwe) attacked Orakwue for insulting the House and to stop such foolish threats. Maduegbuna should be adopted as Assistant Secretary. Emengo (Umu-Olosi) supported the last speaker. Obiozo Abutu (Ogbe-Olu, the new Vice President) supported adopting Maduegbuna as Assistant Secretary. Onyechi rose and explained that it is necessary to have Maduegbuna in the Secretariat. Chairman (Akpom, Umu-Aroli) pointed out that it is the wish of the majority to have Maduegbuna as Assistant Secretary. Iwenofu (Oke-BuNabo) opposed and Chairman put it to vote and majority carried.”
It should of course be remembered that Byron Maduegbuna is himself the author of the minutes quoted here, but I checked the accuracy of several specific contents with other participants and feel they quite adequately reflect the course of events. Whatever their exact motivations, the coalition of members from Isiokwe, Umu-Olosi, Ogbe-Olu, and Umu-EzeAroli which had formed to oppose the takeover bid by Oke-BuNabo have a strong distrust of Orakwue occupying the pivotal role of Secretary of the group.
Onyechi himself stated afterwards that he does not himself want to do the secretarial work, only to supervise it, and several members express the fear that if Orakwue gains primary control over the recording of meetings this information might well find its way into the hands of Enwezor’s group. Thus Maduegbuna is inserted into a counterbalancing role which enables him in effect to continue his previous work. He is trusted by virtue of his consistent performance in the earlier phases of the group’s development, and for his broader reputation for reliability in other “secretarial” roles he has played, including services for the local branch of the NCNS and for his kinsman Nnamdi Azikiwe in the past).
“Chairman called for election of Treasurer. Mr. Emengo (Olosi) supported by V. Modebe (Ogbe-Olu) nominated L. Achukwu (Oke-BuNabo). No opposition and L. Achukwu appointed Treasurer.
Suggestions for terms of reference was called. It was agreed that the terms of reference should be:
1) to find out the families that composed the Umu-EzeChima and the claim of each family to Obiship;
2), 3) to probe the issue of Spiritual Head of EzeChima and to trace the Ofo of Umu-EzeChima and recommend how to restore it;
4) to recommend a system of succession to the throne;
5) to make recommendations on having a Common Palace for future Kings.
Rules and regulations were discussed and it was agreed that the House should adopt with modifications any existing rules and regulations. Members were called upon to submit such rules and regulations during the next meeting.
Mr. Obiozo Abutu appealed to the House to appreciate the value of time and need for members to be punctual in future meetings. He further appealed to members especially those who can speak real Onitsha language to express themselves in Igbo so that others could learn. House took note of that.
The question of agenda was discussed. The House agreed to hold its meeting at Achukwu’s and to hold meetings in the evening and Saturday most appropriate day provided it is not Oye.
Finance was then discussed and the House agreed that each section, that is eight sections should pay one pound each. P. Achukwu suggested one pound per member present. Majority opposed the idea. It was agreed that each section according to how Resolution was signed should pay one pound each.
The meeting ended with prayers.”
In these concluding passages the terms of reference are particularly striking, in that they proclaim the primary task for the Committee to be what is in effect cultural-anthropological research. During the weeks when the Royal Clan Conference (my rendering for a general readership of the bilingual name “Umuezechima Conference“, as the plenary group now comes to be called) was being formed, I sensed a growing enthusiasm on the part of various members for canvassing the elders in order to uncover the “true” core of Onitsha tradition, the “real native law and custom” that was followed by the ancestors in the past. Now the Committee explicitly sets that goal for itself. Out of these aims to sort the legitimate from the attached lineages of the Royal Clan, to establish its order of Senior Lineage Priesthoods (which seems so much confused) and to establish how the succession process could and ought to work might well emerge a recommendation about which one among the increasingly numerous candidates appearing in the Inland Town is most qualified to become King. But in the first days of the Committee’s existence, this aim is partly swept aside in the enthusiasm of a group which sees as its central task the clarification of all those obscurities that has clouded their visions of Onitsha’s glorious past.
Observe, finally, the comment reflecting one source of those obscurities. When the new Vice President, F. O. Obiozo Abutu, admonishes the Committee members to express themselves in Igbo, he reveals the fact that much of the formal discussion in these meetings is being carried on in English. The reader should not infer from this comment that many Onitsha people can no longer speak fluent Igbo, or that Igbo is presented less frequently than English in these gatherings, but I do observe that in formal meetings of this type people move fluidly between the two languages, and when making important points often shift into English or at least rely on English words or phrases when pivotal issues arise. Obiozo-Abutu is trying to encourage more use of “real Onitsha language,” that is the proverbially rich traditional speech with which many Western educated Onitsha men do seem to be somewhat unfamiliar. It is not that they cannot speak their native tongue, but rather that to an increasing extent many seem to express themselves more (and thus think more) in metaphorical styles and lexical categories whose bases are not Onitsha but “English” (that is to say, “Western European”) in origin. This issue will became significant later when the candidates begin to speak for themselves in the context of competition.
- This was an exaggerated view of the facts but also a boldly accurate response to what the Onowu was presuming. Return ↩
- Note the value attached to possession of archives of this sort, values that include their monetary potential but reflecting intensely-felt personal and social needs for history as well. Return ↩
- By chance during this visit of Zik to Onitsha, I was in the lower chambers of the Maduegbuna house at 65 New Market Road with Byron when the Governor General appeared, wearing a full Agbada gown. Byron introduced me to him as an American Anthropologist studying his people, and as we briefly shook hands he regarded me with an unexpressive gaze. I was so completely awed by his presence that I said no word I can recall. Return ↩
- Ogidi town, contiguous to Onitsha on the northeast side, is famous in part through the brilliant works of its native son, Chinua Achebe. Its precolonial military opposition to Onitsha is well documented in Crowther & Taylor (1859), and it is of course an Ndi-Igbo community (though one with numerous interweaving ties with Onitsha Return ↩