Onitsha History, Kingship and Changing Cultures


Igwe Enwezor April 8, 1961
Achukwu Ochanja escorting Ijele, 1961Immediately after completing Obi Okosi II’s final Festive Emergence (Ofala) on March 20, Ndi-Onicha now pursue their interests in a context of what many assert must be a traditional “Seven  Weeks” (oge-isa, a total of 28 days) of silent, reflective mourning for the deceased head of state.  Numerous kingship candidates and/or their agents quietly canvass the Inland Town for support, and a number of written letters of application are circulated.

[Note:  Click on any image you may want to enlarge.]

Some additional candidates from Umu-EzeAroli  now submit formal written applications to the Onya and his Peace Committee (multicopying and distributing them elsewhere as well in order to ensure publicity outside the Onya‘s inner circle): Jacob Onyechi, a newly retired senior government administrator from Ogbendda, sends a letter of nomination signed by himself and two others; J. Akie Ukpabi, an official in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture from Eze-Olisa subvillage in Umu-Aroli, writes from his post in Katsina in the Northern Region, boldly nominating himself.  Others, like the supporters of Moses Odita and those of Joseph Onyejekwe, turn their backs to the Onya and send formal applications directly to the Onitsha Prime Minister (Onowu)and other Senior Chiefs.  Outside Umu-EzeAroli, the elders of Ogbe-Oli-Olosi also forward a letter to the Prime Minister presenting “our respected Chief J. O. Mbamali, the Ajie of Onitsha, as a candidate to fill the vacant seat.”

Supporters of these men variously express a sense of frustration that there seem to be no available authorities who are receptive to considering their various candidacies.  It is widely assumed that the Prime Minister and his fellow chiefs now plan to bide their time and demand money from each applicant, without necessarily giving any of the applications serious consideration,1 while within the Umu-EzeAroli,  the Onya and the Peace Committee appear to be closed around Enwezor.

Consequently, some of the statements distributed  by the candidates display a sense of frustration and sometimes a vitriolic tone.  Moses Odita writes a long letter to the Prime Minister denouncing the tactics of the Onya and his men, while J. Akie Ukpabi asserts quite aggressively in his application to the Onya that

“We should not condescend to selecting an uncompromising, sulky, filthy, and selfish villain.  Whosoever that the crown fits must be 100 percent Onitsha man according to custom.”

That Enwezor and his supporters are the focus of such venom is partly an expectible consequence of the fact that in contrast to everyone else they have been effectively organized and conspicuously active from the beginning.  Still, concerned not to lose their momentum, they now seek to place their candidate firmly on the extended ritual pathway that lies ahead for any serious pretender to Kingship.

1. Early Support  for Nnanyelugo Enwezor

During the month of March, Enwezor moves to consolidate the commitment of his most important supporters.  He formally hires the cultural expert of the Umu-EzeAroli Peace Committee, John Ochei, as an employee in his construction firm, and with the Onya the three men enact their strategic plan to move the candidate progressively closer to the Throne.

In the fourth week of March, Barrister Luke Emejulu of the Umu-EzeAroli Peace Committee begins his rituals of taking the Ozo title.  A prominent Onitsha lawyer whose reputation includes nationally-acclaimed pioneering activity in labor union politics and current leadership of the local “Socialist Group”, Emejulu wants to establish himself more firmly in Inland Town affairs and has for some time made an effort to take the title, since he controls more than sufficient funds to do so.  However, the route has been blocked by resistance among some Ozo men of Umu-EzeAroli (and elsewhere), who express objection to the social status of his mother.

Emejulu is a member of Obi-Omozele section of Umu-Aroli village, a highly respected royal group, but his mother came originally from the Ndi-Igbo hinterland town of Nnewi.  Nnewi people being the leading businessmen in Onitsha township and most active among the leaders of the “Non-Onitsha Ibos Association” movement (which has successfuly opposed the people of the Inland Town in wresting away majority control of the Onitsha Urban County Council), Ndi-Onicha feel considerable resentment toward them.  Of more direct significance to the traditional issue of Ozo title, Nnewi has a reputation for harboring a large number of people who in former times were traditional “cult slaves” (Ndi-Osu), a ritually powerful, inherited social status among the Ndi-Igbo, but one which historically made its members effectively social outcasts.

Chinua Achebe’s novel No longer at ease (1960) describes some of the  problems associated with this social status among the Igbo of contemporary Nigeria in his depiction of the heroine Clara.  This status provides a convenient stereotype for categorically devaluing entire towns , and gives those possessing established social power a means of extorting advantages from victims of the stereotype (in this instance, Mr. Emejulu).

Some Onitsha people are now claiming that Emejulu’s mother came from a family of these outcastes. This rumored stain in his genealogy has been enough to prevent him from straightforwardly attaining his title (because Ozo men often seize hold of such rumors to justify delay as a method of raising the monetary stakes). However now the Onya, Enwezor, and other chiefs and titled men among Enwezor’s supporters join together  and mobilize the necessary support to override the old objections, and on March 24 Emejulu’s public ceremonies begin.

In the afternoon he entertains the Ivory Women Association (Otu-Odu) as his mother is now formally inducted into this prestigious titled group; in the evening he comes before the Throne of Obi-Omozele and receives ritual blessings from the senior lineage priests of that group and of all Umu-EzeAroli as well; and at nightfall his Ozo surrogate elder dances out into the village square holding Emejulu’s brandnew claywhitened Ozo Title Staves, wearing an eaglefeather and white wrapper, his upper torso and face bathed in white clay. Then Emejulu too emerges and joins the nocturnal dance of all the Ozo-titled men, as a full array of Ozo men from all parts of the town are there to share the dancing, drink, and sacrificial goat meat that is cooked, distributed, and eaten there in the night.

On the following afternoon, Emejulu and his family come forth into full public gaze bearing signs of their newly prestigeful status.  The climax occurs when the Ozo men of the town join to present the Ozo-elect’s surrogate to the Mother-Earth shrine of King Aroli (Ani-UmuEzeAroli), each man wearing his feathered cap and thumping his Title Staff on the earth as the Ozo men dance in concert before the old, gnarled tree. Afterwards the titled men share in the distribution of money presented by the new Ozo man, now titled  Nnanyelugo  (“Father-gave-feather”) Emejulu.

For a more detailed and illustrated account of this event, see Barrister Emejulu’s Ichi-Ozo.

Barrister  (and now Nnanyelugo) Emejulu’s Ozo rituals are the grandest I will see during my entire two years in Onitsha, are attended by a variety of elites, and are actively enjoyed by nearly all Onitsha titled men (and associated women).  Prior to this event Emejulu, physically a very imposing man,  had presented a somewhat retiring, courteous person, publicly modest in Inland Town affairs, but afterwards he becomes strikingly outspoken in his opinions and one of Enwezor’s most spectacular public supporters, acting as the “Man-of-wealth” (onye-ogalanye) who lends grace to public rituals with his dramatically exceptional displays of generosity.  The distribution of Emejulu’s title money at the end of this ritual falls most richly among the Ozo men of Umu-EzeAroli, probably generating good feelings toward Enwezor’s supporters by those members who still hold themselves outside of the fold.

A new trip to Ani-Umu-EzeAroli is aborted

Presenting new Ozo man to Ani-UmuEzeAroli (grand tree at left) March 1961

Shortly thereafter, Enwezor’s group makes a concerted effort to repeat aspects of this event in a broader and more directly charged context, by bringing all Umu-EzeAroli before this same great tree shrine that Nnanyelugo Emejulu has just saluted, representing the Mother Earth of the entire sub-clan (Ani-Umu-EzeAroli), to make an oath swearing their unanimous support for Enwezor.  This event is organized very quietly, entirely within the confines of Umu-EzeAroli, but as the moment approaches for its enactment, intense conflict develops within the subclan and news of the impending event leaks out.

I learn that, When Enwezor’s men try to organize the attendance of all subgroups of UmuEzeAroli before the shrine to make this Oath (Iyi) of commitment, strong opposition arises within each of the three major villages, prominent men from all three segments speak against it, and when an effort is made to mobilize an actual procession to the shrine, a physical struggle apparently occurs near that ancient Egbo tree said to mark the site of King Aroli’s ancestral house (and where Nanyelugo Emejulu had so recently been presented, see above).  Faced with such intractable opposition, Enwezor’s group find  they must back down.

While at the time I view this event as merely an interesting skirmish, I later come to realize its pivotal importance in the moral economy of the struggle.  While the dancing of Ozo men before the lineage Mother-Earth shrine is demonstrably a joyous affair, assembling members of the descent group for the specific purpose of taking a ritual oath on the Mother Earth involves everybody in the descent group and is one of the most serious acts of commitment an Onitsha person can make, for it is overtly binding unto death:  “May Mother Earth kill me” is part of the oath.  While I hear of no other cases of this MotherEarth Oath ritual being performed during our fieldwork time of 1960-62, the salience of the process was later brought to my attention by an announcement in the Nigerian Spokesman in 1965:


This is to inform the public that sons and daughters of ISIOKWE FAMILY, Odoje Quarters Onitsha had assembled to absolve themselves before ANI ISIOKWE SHRINE on the 28th November 1965 declaring their innocence from the cause of tragedy which befell the family of ISIOKWE on June 1965, by the death of Stephen Nwachukwu Okocha.

The brief detail was that the deceased who was among the lot specially invited for family discussions had while speaking out his views on the particular matter fell down colapsed (sic) and died.  It was indeed a terrible shock to the family, hence the decision to clear ourselves at the ANI ISIOKWE SHRINE.
In a case like this according to Onitsha native law and custom it is the place of head Okpala of the family to get all the people involved to declare innocent before Ani Shrine.
This was the wise step Nnanyelugo Melifonwu, the head Diokpala of Isiokwe, had carried out on the 28th November 1965, for which a great number of Isiokwe sons and daughters were fully represented and given their names as follows:”

(Names of 16 men and 26 women are appended.)

This kind of oath (which involves, after affirming the oath, drinking water mixed with the earth of the village square) is believed to sicken and kill the lying but responsible parties within a year, and is one of the most powerful oaths known.  Moreover, once such a ritual is performed, those who have failed to participate are presumed guilty and become subject to mandatory social ostracism by the participants.  Since similar consequences would hold for anyone continuing to dispute Enwezor’s candidacy after a public ritual oath of the kind proposed had been taken, the prevention of this ritual was a highly significant event in the Interregnum.


Toward the end of March, Enwezor’s supporters begin to discuss inducting him into the ritual of Ima-Nzu, an act propelling the candidate on his initial step toward royal holiness when the most senior priest of the Royal Clan smears his upper torso with white clay.  This constitutes a decisive move by the candidate because it is irrevocable, both on the part of the protagonist and of his active supporters.  Once done, the man will forever after be saluted as  “Igwe” (“Sky”) and (according to strict traditional requirements) may never again walk out into public events like an ordinary man (a stricture much lessened however in more recent times) .

For the public at large it proclaims the candidate’s (and his supporters’) commitment:   a dedication to pursue the contest to the very end, so open proposals about deciding a date are tantamount to asserting that their man is the successor.  Thus while not so confrontational as the Mother-Earth Oath, Painting is a major strategic move in the process of succession and an effort to extend the circle of follower commitment.2

2. Isiokwe Family calls out “All Umu-EzeChima”

In this dynamic social situation, Isiokwe family pursues its counter-strategy by convening a meeting of “all Umu-EzeChima” on March 25.3  On this occasion, the Isiokwe organizers are careful to invite important members of all major segments of the Royal Clan, sending messengers around the Inland Town who keep a record of people’s responses to their notification.  They actually manage to draw, besides 13 men from Isiokwe, 4 from Okebunabo, 4 from Umu-EzeAroli, 2 from Ogbe-Oli-Olosi, and one from Ogbe-Olu.  (Thus representatives from all Major Villages of the Royal Clan are present.) Most important, a Senior Chief, Nwokedi the Ogene (Fifth Minister) of Umu-Dei(inOkebunabo), attends and presides over the meeting.  His attendance ensures the gathering a strong measure of civic significance, while the presence of the rightful Senior Priest of Isiokwe (Nnanyelugo Melifonwu) gives it formal Clan legitimacy.

According to the minutes, after presenting kola nuts, a bottle of Schnapps, and four gallons of palm wine to the “House” on behalf of Isiokwe Family, Nnanyelugo Melifonwu opens discussion by observing that one major section of the Royal Clan  namely the Umu-EzeAroli  has “taken it upon themselves to contravene Onitsha custom and tradition,” first by prematurely publicizing the king’s death and second by “unilaterally appointing Enwezor as their candidate.”  Then he argues that the Umu-EzeChima must not sit idly by while their rights were abrogated; they must work to establish a proper system of succession.

19-17-akunwafor-erokwuAkunwafor Erokwu, the next-senior priest of Isiokwe, then rises to speak, appealing to Umu-EzeChima to be tolerant, because they  are many in number and some among them are known for their utter foolishness and roughness, in other words some are “Nsugbe people of Onitsha” (an allusion made perhaps both to the stereotypically gauche behavior of Nsugbe people and to Enwezor’s own filial Nsugbe connections).4

This language arouses a murmur of disapproval in the house.  (Akunwafor Erokwu is well known for a forthright bluntness, often flavored with a startling humor, that sometimes grates into public insult.)  The Fifth Minister suggests that he sit down, but Akunwafor perseveres with his speech, recounting the fact that the Umu-EzeChima had lost their rights as kingmakers during 1931-35, “owing to the carelessness of Umu-EzeAroli at that time.”  He reminds the group that the Royal Clan however are traditionally noted for their cleverness in devising ways to attain their ends (witness the legend of Oreze the drummaker who won them their rights to Kingship over the other members of Onicha-Ebo-Itenani (“Onitsha-the-Nine-Clans”)5; this cleverness must not be dissipated now.

Let us remember, he says, that Aroli was the most junior son of Eze-Chima-Ogbuefi, and that the forefathers of Isiokwe were senior to him.  He reminds his listeners that,  when Nnanyelugo Melifonwu of Isiokwe recently contested for the office of the Prime Minister, he and Isiokwe had been ruled out of contention for that title on the grounds that they are kingmakers. Isiokwe intends therefore to put up its own candidate for the kingship this time.  The Umu-EzeChima as a whole should decide whether our candidate is suitable, he concludes, rather than allowing our junior son (i.e., Aroli) to make the decision alone.

H. O. Bosa of Umu-Dei then addresses the group, thanking Isiokwe family for convening the meeting, and he asks to know whether all major heads of the Royal Clan have been invited.  He is especially curious since the Umu-Aroli  Village are represented only by a “young man who is not important.”6

The messengers from Isiokwe bring forth their list of invitees, which includes Egbunike the Onya, Chude the Adazi and other senior elders from Umu-EzeAroli, Mbamali the Ajie from Ogbe-Oli-Olosi, and Orefo the Owelle (the Sixth Minister) from Ogbe-Olu (Riverain Village).  Indeed they state that a wide range of chiefs and prominent elders from all segments of the Royal Clan have been invited, and that most promised to come.  (The Ajie however  formally replied to them that he was still appropriately “mourning the late King, and would not yet attend any meeting.”)

After the gathering accepts this account, H. O. Bosa continues his speech.  He agrees that kingship is the property of Umu-EzeChima, but argues that an agreement had been previously reached that it should rotate between Umu-EzeAroli and Oke-BunaboIsiokwe is in fact a part of Umu-EzeAroli, and since the latter group had nine kings during the recent era, while Oke-buNabo had only seven in its entire history, his people are now eager to have their nine reigns, as would accord with a proper rotational system.7  He concludes by recommending another meeting with “a fuller house” present.

Other speakers hold forth, each condemning the activities of “Umu-Aroli” (note, thus drawing a distinction between  this subdivision, in which Enwezor’s lineage was located, and the larger Umu-EzeAroli of whom they are a part). One observes pointedly that “to add insult to injury they have sent a young man to represent them despite the fact that the heads of the family were duly summoned to the meeting.”  The final speaker, Chief  Nwokedi Ogene, also condemns the “irresponsible acts of Umu-Aroli” and appeals to Isiokwe to arrange another meeting, urging them to take heart and continue their hard work as “heads of Umu-EzeChima“.  He suggests wide publicity be given for the next gathering, and appeals to everyone present to attend again.  The members adjourn to plan their future moves.

On that same afternoon the people of Isiokwe and the Umu-Olosi meet together, and agree they are embarked on the right path; it is well, says one Umu-Olosi elder,  that Isiokwe has “taken up the Ofo.”  Over the course lying ahead it is most important that, rather than trying to copy those who are proceeding in great haste, both Isiokwe and Umu-Olosi employ as much tact as possible.  Very likely at the next meetings there will be delegates sent to confuse things; as one elderly spokesman puts it, “A wise person is a child at the home of the Prime Minister (Onowu),” in other words arrogant power confrontations should be carefully avoided in the presence of those displaying great visible strength.  The people of Isiokwe and Olosi vow to support one another should either of their candidates appear likely to succeed in the contest ahead.

Afterwards Isiokwe family meets yet again, this time in private, and consolidate their unified support behind their prospective candidate, Akunnia Moses Emembolu.  They also set in motion a plan to summon all Umu-EzeChima again on April 8, two weeks hence.

3. The Nigerian Spokesman takes a Stance

A few days later the Spokesman publishes its first editorial on the subject of the succession.  The Editor of the Spokesman at this time is J. A. C. Onwuegbuna, a member of Umu-Dei quarters in Oke-bunabo, having been approved for his position by the founding owner of the newspaper, Nnamdi Azikiwe  also a member of Oke-bunabo.8

Observing that perhaps the time “is just ripe to give certain warnings in connection with the choice of a successor to the throne,” the editorial emphasizes that “under no circumstance should any of the traditions at any stage be ignored in the course of making the choice.”  Asserting that there remain important issues to be investigated, the editor insists that:9

“It is true that personality counts in the requirements of a worthy Obi of Onitsha. But what counts most is character:  the candidate’s antecedent.

Furthermore, he should not only be capable of expressing and interpreting the views and traditions of the people but, in doing so, he should also make such presentation attractive and diplomatically fruitful to his town and people.  Every ruling house may, for the obvious purpose of asserting its right to the throne, present a candidate.  That assertion is justified both in principle and in practice. But when the hour strikes and the sorting begins, it is hoped that other ruling houses sorted out will sheathe their swords in accordance with the unanimous decision of the kingmakers of Onitsha.

We shall maintain and strongly too that Onitsha will be setting an odious record if they choose a ruler contrary to the traditional requirements of the kingship.  There is more time yet for consideration.  There is time yet for candidates with some traditional black spots to quit the stage honorably.  We look forward to justice and fairplay for all concerned.”

These excerpts are noteworthy for several reasons.  Most striking is the open declaration that the process of selection is yet to be done, that all of the royal lineages have the right to present candidates, that “the kingmakers of Onitsha” will be sorting out the multiple contestants, and that the principles of “justice and fairplay” should dominate this selection process.  These views are surely encouraging to the people of Isiokwe and of Olosi and everyone interested in the Umu-EzeChima meetings (including of course members of Oke-buNabo).  Another significant emphasis is the importance of observing traditional procedures and qualifications.  Finally, the editorial clearly states that both oratorical skills and proper geneaological qualifications are pivotal criteria for a successful candidacy.

All of these comments might readily be construed as attacking the candidature of Enwezor, since he has been increasingly charged with lacking such qualifications as geneaological purity and adequate oratorical skill, because his supporters are openly shortcutting constraints regarded as “customary”, and because they are claiming that the selection is already completed and final.  Apparently the editorial is so construed, since four days later a second one appears, denying that the earlier statement intended to pass negative judgement on any specific candidate.10

4. Enwezor performs Ima-Nzu (Painting with White Clay)

Shortly thereafter, as if to defy their opponents and critics, Enwezor’s supporters send out written invitations to all segments of the Inland Town and to the national wire services and newspapers as well, calling everyone to attend Enwezor’s ritual Ima-Nzu (“Painting with White Clay”), which will be performed at his home on the afternoon of April 8.  Since by that time only five native weeks will have elapsed since the end of the king’s funeral, performing a public ritual on that date again could be construed as contravening “native law and custom” (and also  directly conflicted with the Umu-EzeChima meeting which has previously been announced as scheduled for the same day and time).

April 8, 1961 …………..

The ritual of Ima-Nzu is one of the most sacred to traditional Ndi-Onicha, who ground it in the meaning of an object of unspeakable holiness, the Nze.  In this work, we discuss this complex largely elsewhere. Suffice it so say that the Nze is the instrument of purification in the clan (conceived as an ancient descent group), so secret that, in the Ozo transformation, it may be approached only at night and in darkness (ideally, i.e. that was how things were done in the past), when the most important acts of purifying a self are done.  The culminating self-transformation occurs when the candidate appears, covered with white clay (Nzu, the food of the gods).11 For an aspiring Obi, completing this ritual entitles the candidate to being addressed as “Igwe” (“Sky”), and in former times his subsequent movements were very much constricted.

Helen and I arrive at the Enwezor compound (Umu-anyo sub-village) in early afternoon, where we find a crowd of perhaps 75 people gathered at Enwezor’s compound. Some youths of Umu-Anyo are distributing a press release flier providing a brief biographical sketch of the candidate and commenting that:


“Nnanyelugo Enwezor performed the ceremony of ‘Ima Nzu’ which is traditionally precedent to installation of the Obi of Onitsha.  The Ezearoli family from which he descends has in the past maintained a continuous reign until 1900 when the dynasty passed to Chimukwu family of Onitsha.  He has an overwhelming support of Ezearoli family whose choice has been acclaimed by a large portion of Onitsha as popular and suitable.

At Enwezor’s grand Iba (“Ancestral House”), Helen is escorted to a chamber reserved for members of the urban elite, who include on this occasion Dr. Onubogu, Barristers Chike Ofodile, Emma Araka, and Luke Emejulu (newly possessed of his Ozo title as Nnanyelugo, and wearing the Ugo feather in his cap). I walk on inside, where  I observe several representatives from the national newspapers being served drinks in a side room.

Enwezor himself is seated in another side room in the company of Barrister Alex Mbanefo, a son of Chief Mbanefo Odu II, the Third Minister of Onitsha.  I have been told that the Odu will be a strong supporter of Enwezor, partly because they are members of the same Masonic Lodge.  The presence of one of his illustrious sons at this Painting ritual implies that such a commitment may have been made.  In another side room sit some leading titled elders of the village  Obikporo “House of women”, in Ogbe-Olu, “Riverain Village”), including the prominent local landlord Victor Modebe, a relative of Enwezor’s.  The presence of any person at such a ceremonial occasion, particularly if he shares the food and drink dispensed during it, strongly implies support for its sponsor, but does not in itself constitute a commitment.

Walking on into the central courtyard where the main throne is, I see seated along the crowded flank to the left of the throne one of my colleagues Jerry Orakwue, the local culture-historian from Umu-Dei.  I greet him and sit down beside him on the bench reserved for untitled elders, to wait for the start of the ritual.

Henderson and Orakwue sit with other untitled elders in Enwezor’s Iba, April 8 1961

As we wait quite a while there, I ask Orakwue if he plans to support Enwezor, and he replies  he is present mainly as an observer, “to gather information”,  (as a member of Okebunabo, Umudei subclan, Onira Village, he is also respected as a Town historian), and proceeds to allude sotto voce to a recent “big battle” within Umu-EzeAroli concerning the proposed ritual procession to Ani-Umu-EzeAroli which has somehow been forestalled.  He says that Umu-EzeAroli seem otherwise to be showing a solid front behind Enwezor except that many of the Youths are supporting  the policeman from Ogbe-ozala, Onyejekwe.

Looking around the courtyard to identify the spectators, I see that most of those sitting along the flanks are untitled elders from Umu-Anyo, from other sections of Umu-Aroli, and also from Ogbe-Ozala and Ogbe-Ndida.  A group of youths are seated in a side room, including some from all three major subvillages, though no doubt the number is quite small in comparison with the total number who might have attended.  Then I notice, seated across from me and regarding me with a somewhat bemused stare, a young man to whom I had previously been introduced named Obiekwe Aniweta.

Obiekwe Aniweta (white shirt, front row) at Enwezor’s Ima-Nzu, April 8 1961

Obiekwe earlier promised to help me do some census work in the Inland Town, but had, I subsequently understood, moved out of town.

Aniweta had been introduced to me the preceding November by fellow social scientist (and like myself, currently a Ph.D. candidate) Ikenna Nzimiro, as someone I might find valuable to work with, but I had forgotten him (a realization perhaps evident in the scowl on his face shown above).  I greet him now with pleasure, had not even recalled that he is a member of Umu-Anyo, Enwezor’s own sub-village in Umu-Aroli. I resolve to contact him again soon (where I would learn that he was now acting as Enwezor’s “Secretary”, and he will become a part-time research assistant with me as well ).

Glancing toward Enwezor’s altar and encannoned throne, I observe that to the right of the throne sit Chugbo the Akwue, an elderly Lesser Chief from Ogbe-Oli-Eke, and beside him Jerry Ugbo, the senior patrilineage priest of Umu-Anyo whom Enwezor has reconciled with his village12.  This position to the right of the Priestly Throne is  reserved for genealogically “senior” figures — Diokpala, Nne-Ochie (“Mother’s People”), and the like.  As I watch, the Ranking Chief M. O. Ibeziako, the Onoli, from Ogbe-Oli-Olosi, enters the courtyard and takes a seat near the throne beside the Akwue.  I ask Jerry Orakwue what this means and he says:

“Well, you see the senior priest of Anyo is there, giving his consent to the ceremony being done on his ground.  The other two are Nwa-DiAni (Daughter’s Children) to Enwezor’s people; that is why they sit there beside his throne.  None of them would sit in that place of honor if they did not intend to support him in future.”

A young Ibeziako (1930s)
A young Ibeziako (1930s)

The presence of the Onoli and the Akwue  suggests that at least two important chiefs of Ogboli-Olosi are not supporting the position of their major-village senior chief, Mbamali the AjieOnoli Ibeziako is an especially important figure among Ndi-Onicha:  one of Onitsha’s earliest  leaders in local township politics, he is currently the head of the Onitsha Bar association, very wealthy, and has a reputation for fierce (and potentially vindictive) competition (as well as formidable knowledge of Onitsha culture).

Below, Akunne Enwezor, the candidate’s senior brother, a man who consistently works to further his junior brother’s aims, walks by, smiling as almost always, telling the men a joke as he passes.

Rain begins to fall while we are waiting, and soon falls very heavily.  The spectators remain dry  by standing along the bench flanking the courtyard, but the roar of the water striking the multiple iron roofs of the ancestral house is deafening and makes further conversation impossible.  When, after about 10 minutes, the rain stops as abruptly as it has begun, Enwezor appears, walking out from the side room to the left of his throne.  Accompanied by Chude the Adazie (the Lesser Chief who is also the Senior Priest of both Umu-Aroli and Umu-EzeAroli) and by Nnanyelugo Luke Emejulu, he is barechested, wearing a long wrapper skirt of pure white.  His arms above both wrists and his upper torso from the neck down are covered with smears of white clay.

Press photographers rush forward into the center of the courtyard from the side rooms where they were previously being entertained.  Enwezor is brought to sit to the left of his throne (its designative altar-chains are visible at lower left here.

In this image at left, he sits there while his Diokpala Chude the Adazie  stands beside him, waiting for the final ritual actions.

After many photographs have been taken by the swarming group, Barrister Emejulu (wearing two eagle feathers in his cap and also dressed in pure white cloth) gestures them to stand by.  The Adazie makes some insulting remarks to the candidate and, pulling him with one hand to stand up, slaps his face playfully with the other.  Then while people are laughing at this spectacle, he takes hold of Enwezor with both hands and forcefully pushes him down into a seated position on his own household throne.

Now installed as a new Igwe, Enwezor sits there on some cow skins, beaming silently, while the photographers again rush forth and resume their picture-taking. (I of course was one of these, largely elbowed aside however.)  Emejulu here stands above him to his left.13

Various men begin walking up to the altar, kneeling down and tapping their heads against it and saluting Enwezor as “Sky,” and then several women come forth to salute him, each doing a brief dance as she sings his praises while the seated men give chorused assent.  After a few minutes of this, the ceremony is over, the protagonists retreat to a back room, and the crowd begins slowly to disperse.

I am directed to another room, where the Umu-ada (“Daughters”) of Anyo are seated in preparation for their own feast.

Outside I see the Ikporogbe-Anyo (the “Village Wives of Umu-Anyo” also assembled in large numbers (about 20),

ima-nzu-35ikporogbe-ueaand I am highly impressed to learn that the  Isi-Ada (“Head Daughters”) of all the major lineage segments of Umu-EzeAroli have been won over to support Enwezor.  Their leader, Madam Margaret Obinwe (a wealthy trader from LowVillage, and a prominent leader in the Inland Town branch of the N.C.N.C. tells me that every “Head Ofo” Daughter of the entire lineage is in attendance, and insists that I take their group picture.

ima-nzu-34isi-adaMadame Obinwe, standing in the center behind the group, has accomplished a major organization of these women of the Royal Sub-clan.  She is also an important figure in wider town politics.14

Several Umu-Anyo men standing in the compound suggest that the coopting of the Umu-EzeAroli HeadDaughters is one of the most important political accomplishments of the candidate thus far.  They openly acknowledge that Enwezor has given these Head Daughters a considerable sum of money to cement their commitment to support him (though the exact amount remains vague for me). Jerry Orakwue expresses his own admiration for the solid backing Enwezor has attained among these women, saying:

“Women are not like men, who are more delicate in their talk; women talk freely. They will sing the praises of a man everywhere, they will imbue their children with the name of that man.  And this has a powerful effect.  Technically, women have no say  but they are very important in molding public opinion.”

I leave this scene feeling that this ritual has surely generated some new commitments within Umu-EzeAroli  (and also beyond it) which will probably tend to endure.  The actual content of the ritual seems bafflingly slight, the most sketchy of performances, but this would not be a unique experience for me in Onitsha:  the performing of specific act sequences is what is considered crucial, while the detailed performance-aesthetics is (to my rather cinematically-jaded eye) sometimes somewhat neglected.

5. National Media enter the Fray

Enwezor’s courting of the national newspapers also brings some immediately evident results.  While the Spokesman limits itself to a formally correct article on April 11 headlined “J. Enwezor makes first move; performs first ceremony,” on the same day the West African Pilot of Lagos carried the following news flash:


“It is now almost certain that the next King of Onitsha will be Nnanyelugo Jideofo Enwezor, a contractor and retired Public Works Inspector.
Our correspondent reports that Enwezor has the largest backing of the four contestants for the stool.
Last Saturday he performed the ImaNzu ceremony, traditionally precedent to the installation of Onitsha Kings.
Enwezor comes from a royal family in ChildrenofKingAroli quarter from where Onitsha rulers have been chosen SANS INTERMISSION prior to 1960 (sic) when the dynasty passed to the Chimukwu family.  The three other aspirants for the throne are Mr. Onyejekwe, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr.  Moses Odita, a Senior Civil Servant and staunch Catholic who has the backing of Catholic elements, and Edibos Okolonji, man-about-town, and glamour boy politician.”

A noteworthy feature of this release is that the only candidates mentioned are men from Umu-EzeAroli.  The article would give the impression to an uninformed reader that the selection is being made entirely within the sphere of that group, and that the contest is drawing to a close.  Since the Pilot is the most widely read and respected newspaper among Ndi-Onicha throughout Nigeria (being the historically official voice of their Native Son, Nnamdi Azikiwe), the article is likely to bear the stamp of valid truth,  but in this instance it seems improbable that the Pilot reporters had consulted with their Nigerian Spokesman colleagues.

Some Reflections

While most participants are conducting their quiet meetings or “whisperings” during the month following the funeral, Enwezor’s group has made much more public efforts to establish positive commitments and negatively to close alternative pathways for others.  While the initiative seems strongly in Enwezor’s favor, this closure has been dramatically opposed and prevented by groups of dissidents within the Umu-EzeAroli, and has been more quietly countered by the effort in Isiokwe to open the entire process to wider group participation for the Royal Clan.  A noteworthy contrast in the two movements is the emphasis on constructing formal meeting procedures in Isiokwe versus leaning toward expenditure of money and gifts to influence visibly active support (and the associated striving for extra-local mass media influence) on the part of Enwezor’s group.  Though Enwezor’s group appears to hold the widest influence, opposition to him seems also to be hardening, but at the time of Enwezor’s Ima-Nzu, this negativity lacks focus.  However, more organized “whisperings” happen on the very same day that he performed his purification.

 6. The “Royal Clan meeting” of April 8, 1961

04 isiokwe-house
Isiokwe House in Odoje

On that same afternoon as guests assemble to attend Enwezor’s Ima-Nzu, a “Meeting of “Umu-Eze-Chima” convenes at Isiokwe House in that Village. According to the Minutes, a list of names of those who have been invited is read off, including 12 people from Umu-EzeAroli, 14 from Okebunabo, 7 from Ogbe-Olu, and 4 from Ogbe-Oli-Olosi. However, nobody from Umu-EzeAroli is present, and this is distressing news. In addition to a massive phalanx of 14 Isiokwe men, there are 6 from Okebunabo, 3 from Ogbe-Olu, and 3 from Ogbe-Oli-Olosi. Neither the Ajie (Second Minister) nor the Ogene (Fifth Minister) is present, nor any other of the invited chiefs save one: Orefo the Owelle or Sixth Minister, from Ogbe-Olu.

The Owelle however takes formal charge of the meeting, to the great relief of the Isiokwe conveners (who have feared that in the absence of a Senior Chief, the gathering would appear to be little more than a slightly enlarged meeting of Isiokwe Family, which would likely have discouraged any further development of the “Meeting). The Owelle is also a popular man in the Inland Town: In 1935 he participated with Peter Achukwu in the Seven age sets organization which helped resolve the long interregnum of that time, and he has long played responsible and active parts in traditional local affairs.

In his stated capacity as Diokpala of the Royal Clan, Nnanyelugo Melifonwu of Isiokwe again introduces the proceedings, observing that he has received an invitation from Mr. J. Enwezor for his Ima-Nzu ritual, and wonderswhether the other Umu-EzeChima have also received one. (A majority of those present affirm that they have, and that they have “ignored it.”) Melifonwu observes that this issuing of Invitation Cards is quite untraditional; he is sorry that “Umu-EzeAroli people persist in their folly.” He concludes that nonetheless Umu-EzeChima should keep calm and decide what to do about the succession as soon as possible.

In response, the Owelle praises Isiokwe Family for having appropriately summoned the entire Royal Clan to a meeting, observing that a vital issue is now at hand which required the opinions of the whole House.

Ononenyi Gbasiuzo, 1961

Ononenyi Gbasiuzo (the directly senior lineage priest of the late King Okosi II, who presided over that Obi‘s final Ofala less than a month past) then speaks, also praising Isiokwe. He then expresses his surprise at the recent flow of events: before the death of the king was made public, Umu-EzeAroli publicized his death; immediately after his funeral, they are now Painting a candidate before a proper Seven Weeks have passed. Both of these actions are “untraditional, and strong points against Umu-EzeAroli.” Calling for another meeting of the entire Royal Clan to discuss the matter, Ononenyi affirms that “these hurried steps,” these attempts to rob the Umu-EzeChima of their rights over kingship, have been assayed “because the Umu-EzeAroli claim to be rich and many in numbers,” but “It is daydreaming for Umu-Aroli to think that they are the only people who have claim over the throne. Obiship is the bona fide right of all Umu-EzeChima and not of a section of it.”

Akukalia Ekwuno of Ogboli-Olosi also rises to condemn the recent actions of Umu-EzeAroli. He too lists their violations of custom, and notes that they have also recently embarked on newspaper publications which imply that only three candidates are contesting the throne. He suggests sending protest letters to the Eastern Region Minister in charge of Chieftaincy Affairs, telling him that “What Umu-EzeAroli or rather Enwezor in particular is doing does not receive the support of Umu-EzeChima, the kingmakers of Onitsha.” He concludes by suggesting that the Royal Clan send a delegation to the Prime Minister (Onowu), pointing out the violations of tradition and the stand of the kingmakers.

Akunne Uwechia of Isiokwe speaks even more harshly, that Umu-EzeAroli have committed Abominations (Alu) which they will live to regret. They are also trying to give the impression that the king can be appointed by the Prime Minister alone, but is it right that non-royals like Onowu from the people of Ugwu-na-Obamkpa should make the kings for Onitsha? Truly, this present meeting is historic, because through it the Umu-EzeChima will resolve the kingship dispute and “salvage the good name of Onitsha from the mess Umu-EzeAroli [have] plunged it into.” The entire Royal Clan, he concludes, will soon evolve a satisfactory system of succession to the throne.

Akunnia Anikamadu of Ogbe-Odogwu (in Oke-bu-Nabo) then observes that the previous meeting was adjourned to allow Umu-EzeAroli a chance to attend and defend themselves, but that today they have not only failed to honor the invitation but have also chosen to violate custom even further by doing the Ima-Nzu. However, he appeals to everyone not to be discouraged by this fact, pointing out that in 1931-35 two candidates from Umu-EzeAroli, Sam Nzegwu and James Egbunike performed not merely the Ima-Nzu but also the Ije-Udo (“Going to Udo) ritual, “paraded themselves as ‘Igwe‘ {‘Sky’} and even held Ofala rituals, yet they were not appointed kings.” Supporting a system of succession by rotation (“starting at the head,” at Isiokwe) in order to “avoid future confusion,” he appeals to the House to resist the temptations of bribery and to make an attempt “at all cost to redeem the name of Onitsha.”

Ezenwammadu Emembolu of Isiokwe observes that according to tradition, only “full blooded Onitsha men” may succeed to the throne, but now Umu-EzeAroli are championing the cause of someone who fails to satisfy this condition; he appeals to the Umu-EzeChima to rectify this mistake. Ononenyi Emengo from Umu-Olosi then speaks, commending the conveners of the meeting, and emphasized that it is first the duty of this house of Umu-EzeChima to decide on a system of succession and then to select a successor to the throne. Reminding everyone that 3/4 of the Umu-EzeChima are represented here, this meeting could now with full authority begin their task. He recommends that the meeting be resolved into a committee of elders to do so.

Achukwu “Ochanja” 1961

After some debate between speakers over whether or not to formally protest the activities of Enwezor’s group, Peter Achukwu steps forth to address the group. The Minutes succinctly paraphrase his speech:

 “Peter Achukwu expressed appreciation for being invited to the meeting. He praised the step being taken to resolve the issue. He likened it to the step he took to resolve the previous dispute during the succession to the throne after the death of King Okosi I. He pointed out to the house that what is happening now is the fulfillment of what was said in the early thirties by some people, that the Umu-EzeChima can never agree on adopting a single candidate. In the previous contest for the throne, fruitless attempts were made to get together all Umu-EzeChima to adopt a candidate. The attempts were dropped when it was reported that the Umu-EzeChima cannot agree. This was the work of the enemies, so he took it upon himself to organize the Eight Age Sets to resolve the issue. Chief Orefo {the Owelle} can bear him out as he {Orefo} was the Secretary {of the Eight Age Sets} at that time. History is about to repeat itself; let us arrest the situation before it gets worse.

He suggested convening another meeting and all senior chiefs of Umu-EzeChima to be invited. Suggested having a Secretary and records of the meeting to be preserved as history is being made. He further suggested forwarding a letter to the Eastern Regional Government, appraising it of the system of selecting a new king by Onitsha people, and to point out that it is the prerogative of Umu-EzeChima, thereby forestalling any further steps by Umu-EzeAroli. He suggested that the letter should embody the point that the Umu-EzeChima, the kingmakers, will discuss the issue of succession after 16th April, 1961, which will make it Izu-Isa {Seven 4-day Weeks} since the late Obi was buried. The letter will also point out that all previous steps taken by certain interested persons were against the tradition for they were premature.

He suggested that the matter should not be rushed. He appealed to Umu-EzeChima to unite and restore their rights, for what is happening is a calculated attempt to deprive Onitsha of their glory. Unless this issue is settled amicably, Onitsha will lose its First Class Chieftaincy to the strangers.

Moreover, the Eastern Regional Government is anxious to know whether Onitsha people really have a traditional procedure for selecting a king. The pride of Onitsha rests on its tradition, so it is the reputation of Onitsha that is at stake.

In conclusion, he counseled caution and patience, and appealed to all to attend the next meeting.

This speech evokes a powerful response from those present, for it outlines both the dangers suggested by evidence from the past and a coherent set of procedures for immediate future action which might forestall what appears to be an imminent steamrolling of the process by Enwezor’s group. Note especially the closing arguments raising the spectre of domination by “strangers”, and connecting Onitsha pride in confronting outsiders with maintenance of coherent tradition.

Chief Orefo the Owelle summarizes the main points, supports them, and recommends holding a series of weekly meetings of the group until the issue is settled. In conclusion, “He appealed to all those present to stand firm against evil and to resolve within themselves to contribute toward settling this dispute.” The next meeting is scheduled for April 15, and the members disperse sensing they now share both a “case” (a coherent brief of complaints against the frontrunner) and a viable program of action. They have established a ground to build upon.

7. An Interview with Okunwa Akpom April 11, 1961

Apparently these events of April 8, including both Enwezor’s ritual and the spottily attended meeting of the Royal Clan, have considerable impact on Onitsha community, because in their aftermath I find greatly intensified concern throughout the Inland Town about what may happen next. On April 11, for example, I visit Okunwa Theophilus B. Akpom, a senior judge on the Onitsha Native Court bench and a member of Obi Omozele section of Umu-Aroli Village. Shortly after my arrival in Onitsha, Chuba Ikpeazu (one of the most famous Onitsha lawyers in Nigeria, and deeply involved in Enu-Onicha affairs) recommends Akpom to me as an unparalleled expert on traditional culture, and indeed in a series of meetings with him I find him deeply insightful on nearly all aspects of Onitsha social life (and a delightful person to spend time with; I recall him with deep fondness).

Like most other men whose perspectives on Onitsha I find especially valuable, he is something of an outsider to the core world of the Inland Town, living in a multi-house compound located in a rather commercialized part of the Waterside. His father (whose own father held the Ede chieftaincy title in the late 19th century and regarded himself, as a descendant of the great Obi Omozele, as a likely successor to the Onitsha throne) became an early Anglican convert, moved out of Enu-Onicha and into Ogbe-Umu-Onicha (“Village of the Children of Onicha”) where most Onitsha converts lived in the Waterside in those early days. He was about to be ordained as a priest when he (along with his wife, T.B.’s mother) died suddenly when Theophilus was only 8 years old. He was then raised as an orphan in direct care  of the CMS and was also pointed toward the clergy, but instead he left for government service where he rose to become Chief Clerk in The District Office at Awka by 1924. Later he returned to Onitsha, became prominent as an expert on Onitsha custom, took his Ozo title, and served for many years as a Customary Court judge.  In 1961 he is highly respected for his knowledge (both for its comprehensiveness and his way of conveying it with an unusually reflective and balanced way). People tend to listen carefully when he speaks.

While on previous visits to his house at No. 4/6 Akpom Lane I have focused our discussions mainly on various dimensions of precolonial society, on this day he keeps turning our talk to current issues of kingship. He complains to me about how the Umu-EzeAroli Peace Committee have “suppressed” the applications of such candidates as Onyejekwe, and then he proceeds to criticize Enwezor’s style of what he calls “giving kola”:

 “The way it is done is that a candidate goes, say, to Ogbe-Obi-Omozele, gets two people and begs them to get that village on his side. So these men call the village together and say, ‘X has given us such kola’ (i.e., a present of money). If they agree to support him, they accept it and divide it. But they can change their minds the next day.

That (Umu-EzeAroli) Peace Committee, they gave me appointment last Sunday but then they didn’t come. These young boys sit down, make their own rules, do what they like. They do no good. They never notify their elders of what they do.”

Enwezor has much money but I still doubt whether he can get it. He has scattered his money throughout Onitsha, but still people object. I know one family, about the size of Ogbe-ObiOmozele, has been given £50; he has been spending £100 in some places. But these families may still ask for more and even then disappoint him.”

Akpom makes it clear that such “bribery,” “dash,” or “kola”, is not in itself objectionable every candidate must at some time give something to his supporters. The question is rather when and on what occasions to do it. Akpom emphasizes that over-eager bribing for support in the early stages of a contest might well backfire against a contestant. (He cites the example of “Sea-Never-Dry” Nzegwu’s five wasted pots of money in the 1931-35 dispute, see the Section on “Umu-EzeAroli and other Royals” .) The bestowal of dash should anyway not be the decisive consideration in supporting a candidate. It is more appropriately the sealing of a bargain already made on other grounds, the validating of a course of action already endorsed, and it should be done at ritually appropriate times.

Akpom also complains about the Enwezor group’s recent attempt to bring all sides of Umu-EzeAroli to the Ani-Umu-EzeAroli (Mother-Earth-Umu-EzeAroli) shrine, and tells me how he himself successfully fought against this “trick.” Averring that Enwezor’s Ima-Nzu ritual has now placed the candidate on an irrevocable course, he emphasizes that it does not matter which candidate performs this ritual first, that others would come forward when they have mobilized their supporters, and these contestants would have an equally good if not better chance to win the Kingship.

8. Umu-EzeChima meet, April 15, 1961

Theophilus B. Akpom himself appeare as one of 44 people present at this next gathering in Isiokwe, including no less than three of the four senior chiefs from Umu-EzeChima (the Onya being conspicuously absent): the Ajie now presides as Second Minister, while the Ogene (5th) and Owelle (6th) sit beside him in support. 13 men from Umu-EzeAroli are present, 9 from Okebunobo, 4 from Ogbe-Olu, 5 from Umu-Olosi, and 11 from Isiokwe; for the first time a fairly representative group has assembled, and well over half of these are Ozo titled men.

A small clipping from the West African Pilot (the Lagos newspaper backed by Zik and the NCNC) on April 11, 1961, is passed around, accompanied by some voiced consternation:

The West African Pilot April 11, 1961

Several people express alarm at the newsclip., and suggest the Royal Clan should respond with a newsclip-message of their own to be sent to national media, but an initial concensus is to disregard these press games and remain focused on what the Meeting hopes to do.

After introductory statements are made, Peter Achukwu and several others again raise the idea of sending out a letter of protest disclaiming the current actions of Umu-EzeAroli. Then Okunwa T. B. Akpom stands forth, and presents a carefully reasoned speech systematically denouncing the activities of the Onya and the Umu-EzeAroli Peace Committee in furthering the candidacy of Enwezor. He concludes with the suggestion that a Resolution be framed, to be signed by representatives of all major sections of the Royal Clan and sent both to the Onowu (Ndi-Onicha Prime Minister) and to the Eastern Regional Government, clarifying the nature of the situation for all concerned. As a prestigeful elder from Umu-Aroli itself (Enwezor’s home ground), Akpom’s words carry additionally heavy weight: his natal home base in Ogbe-Obi-Omozele lies right across Jagwu Street from the opposition’s main camp in Umu-Anyo.

Much discussion ensues regarding the essential points to be made in this Resolution. A distinct preference develops toward itemizing the various desires and claims which the Royal Clan has for some decades felt denied them in the political economic life of the Inland Town. Achukwu in particular reminds the group that the Umu-EzeChima are “the real landlords of Onitsha,” and also the “holders of the original brass ofo from Ife.” He argues that thorough research should be undertaken in order firmly to codify these ancient, traditional rights which ought to be held by the Royal Clan as a whole. Another elder argues that in the future all Senior Chief titles should be reserved for the Umu-EzeChima to the exclusion of Onitsha’s non-royal clans, “as was done in the days of old.” Visions of exalted outcomes for the whole Royal Clan are expressed by a number of people.

But at last these grand visions are for the time being set aside, and a committee of four is nominated to draft a Resolution and present it to the meeting for approval and signatures on the following week. T. B. Akpom is chosen to head the committee, along with Jacob Onyechi of Ogbendida (prominent, recently retired Principal Assistant Secretary in the Political Section of the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs of the Eastern Nigeria Goverment, who has just proclaimed himself a potential candidate for the Obiship as well), Nnanyelugo Obiozo Abutu of Ogbe-Olu (President of the Onitsha Ozo Title Association, the Agbalanze), and Byron Maduegbuna (who has been acting as ad hoc secretary of the conference thus far and is included for his known skills as a scribe). The fact that two of these well educated men are members of Umu-EzeAroli is felt to lend much authoritative strength to the work.

Byron comments to me after the meeting that the people of Isiokwe and Umu-Olosi now have a strategy to break firmly away from or at least modify the 1935 rotation set up between Umu-EzeAroli vs. OkebuNabo, and to create a system of numerous divisions which would give the smaller units of the Royal Clan a better chance to contest the throne. He also observes that many people at the meeting were fearful of the threat Peter Achukwu is making verbally off-stage: if the Umu-EzeChima cannot act decisively, he will go elsewhere to form some kind of mass organization. A strong and effective Resolution, signed by representatives of all major groups and especially by the Senior Chiefs, is deemed quite essential at this time.

9. Umu-EzeChima meet and Resolve:  April 22, 1961

The committee of four place the following statement before this meeting (held as before in Isiokwe):


 In a mass conference of the descendents of theEzeKing Chima Family of Onitsha, held at Isiokwe Quarter of Onitsha on the 15th day of April 1961 and attended by representatives of DEI (comprising Umu-Dei, Ogbe-Abu, Ogbe-Odogwu, and Ogbe-Mbubu Quarters) and of Umu-Chima-Ogbuefi (comprising Umu-EzeAroli, Isiokwe, Olosi, and Obikporo Quarters), it was unanimously resolved that the Ndichie (Senior Chiefs) of Onitsha and the Eastern Nigeria Government should be notified immediately through the Prime Minister of Onitsha, that:

Whereas the period of mourning in connection with demise of Okosi II, the lateObiof Onitsha, ended on this 15th day of April, 1961:

we, representing the entire Umu-EzeChima family of Onitsha who are the exclusive King Makers, have started consultations with a view to nominating or selecting a successor to the late Obi;

and as soon as a successor has been nominated, he would be presented to the people of Onitsha through the Onowu of Onitsha for necessary action;

also that at the present moment no nomination or selection of a successor to this vacant office of the Obi of Onitsha has been made by the Eze Chima family all allegations or rumors to that effect notwithstanding.

(15 April 1961)

Signed: Representatives of Chima-Ogbuefi:

for Umu-EzeArolii:




Representatives of Dei: {Oke-bu-Nabo}:

for Umu-Dei:





Byron Maduegbuna later expresses a secret satisfaction with this signatory breakdown of Royal Clan divisions, which closely approximate the pattern Isiokwe and Olosi people have been hoping to establish. The sole question raised in the meeting about the definition of village categories concerned the use of the term “Obikporo“, which reflected only one sub-village of the three groups making up Ogbe-Olu. The more comprehensive category was substituted for it without disagreement.

However, when the floor is opened to comments on the Resolution itself, objections are raised about it. Umera Anazonwu, a youth from OgbeOzala known to be a recently hired workman in J. J. Enwezor’s Engineering and Constructing Company Ltd., argues that the Umu-EzeAroli are not adequately represented at this meeting, and he asks what has happened to the decision made by the Eight Age sets during the 1931 35 kingship dispute, which stated that the next Obi should come from Umu-EzeAroli. Finally, he observes that not all the people present are truly members of Umu-EzeChima. Then, Obiekwe Aniweta from Umu-Anyo in Umu-Aroli (and now known to be acting as Enwezor’s Secretary), also speaks opposing the resolution.

Peter Achukwu responds to the criticisms, pointing out that the resolution is the outcome of a previous meeting to which all members of Umu-EzeChima were invited. He points out that he participated in the decision taken by the Eight Age Sets in 1935, but that while it served its purpose then, “the present issue should be handled according to the light of the day.” He appeals to the house to accept the Resolution; its aims are to organize the Umu-EzeChima and provide a platform for further action. Mbamali the Ajie, as Chairman of the gathering, rules Aniweta’s objections out of order “in view of the fact that he was making irrelevant points.”

Chief Orefo the Owelle then moves the signing of the Resolution and, after it is agreed that all three Senior Chiefs present and two senior elders from each section of the Royal Clan should act as signatories, the Resolution is “unanimously adopted” and signed.

The Ajie then reads from the chair some letters from a number of candidates for the Kingship who are now addressing their applications to the Umu-EzeChima (in some cases copying older letters they previously sent to the Onowu or to the Onya, now forwarding these together with covering letters). These are referred to the Secretary for holding and acknowledgment. Finally, after arranging to meet April 29 at the Reverend Anyaegbunam Memorial Elementary School, in order to “accommodate all,” the meeting adjourns. Messengers are urged to make a special effort to encourage the Onya to attend the next session.


With the passage of this Resolution, the Umu-EzeChima meetings have completed their first essential task: making a formal affirmation of unity of purpose by a sufficiently large, representative, and prestigeful group to command respectful attention. The significance of the document is most impressively underlined by the signatures of three of the six Onitsha Senior Chiefs (three of the four representing Umu-EzeChima), and the signatories from the major village segments of the Royal Clan are also men of prestige and authority who cannot easily be discounted.   The stature attained by the meeting is also reflected in the applications coming in to the Secretary from various candidates and which continue to flow in through the month of May. Hopeful contestants have now found an agency willing to give their cases serious attention.

A less visible achievement of the group derives from the concerted airings they made of various grievances about Enwezor and his supporters, beginning with the first gatherings in February and gradually becoming an orchestrated chorus. Since a detailed account of all meetings is recorded by Byron Maduegbuna in writing, they are in effect not only exploring their differences, but are compiling a dossier of complaints and evidence, in effect building a case that will assist in guiding their own moves at later stages of the contest.

In addition to the contribution of Byron’s valuable skills toward achieving these aims (including his roles in mobilizing the early participation of Isiokwe Family), those of the three Senior Chiefs are clearly indispensible. At each crucial meeting, the presence of at least one of them gives the assembly a degree of incontestable formal authority, and since they act as responsible agents of their respective village groups, they strengthen the gatherings’ effectiveness as well. The participation of Ozo men with strong reputations from all the major divisions of the Royal Clan provides similarly effective voices.

Also important is the participation of Peter Achukwu, who both contributes ideas that energize the people participating and help to organize the direction of their efforts. Although he contravenes the convention that only Ozo-titled men should have a strong voice in Onitsha public affairs, his reputation is such that the mere suggestion that he might turn away and organize another group has galvanized the gatherings to make active and effective responses. He also has an unusual sense for timing appropriateness of action: for example, while the April 15 meeting initially intended to send the Resolution both to the Onowu and the regional government, the final statement was instead sent entirely through the Onowu so they could not later be accused of bypassing him.

As the meetings progress, Isiokwe people see the organization they instigated slowly begin to evolve in directions beyond their control. At subsequent gatherings held in the grammar school near their village, Nnanyelugo Melifonwu continues to occupy his symbolic position as Senior Priest seated to the right of the chair, but he ceases to direct the course of conversation (having suffered a stroke during his recent unsuccessful candidacy for the Prime Ministership, he no doubt would anyway find active participation in the meetings a severe strain). Discussion is increasingly dominated by the Senior Chiefs and by prominent elders from other villages (e.g., Peter Achukwu, Obiozo Abutu, and Okunwa T. B. Akpom). Isiokwe men continue to press their own case for candidacy as the situation permits, but the meeting has now become a genuine forum for all branches of the Royal Clan.


  1. Members of the resident European community tend to regard the propensity of the chiefs to play this game as their main purpose during Interregnum. []
  2. This ritual probably marked the level of accomplishment attained by those described in the royal genealogies from precolonial times as having attained the status of “Regent”. []
  3. This date does not coincide with that given by Harding 1963:71 as the “initial” meeting of the Royal Clan group, which he listed (quoting Byron Maduegbunam as source) as April 4.  The error, one of compilation by Secretary Maduegbunam in submitting the minutes to the Commission of Inquiry, was probably inadvertent. []
  4. See Henderson 1972:p. 498n for an account of the “Nsugbe man” stereotype current among Ndi-Onicha. []
  5. The Oreze legend (see e.g. Henderson 1972:79-80), a foundation narrative for Onitsha kingship, clearly links success in interregnum struggle to cleverness in deploying deceptive tactics. []
  6. Such public derogation implies at the very least that the person present is untitled, and probably he is also “a young man” by Onitsha standards. []
  7. This “nine reigns” argument was a standard form of assertion made by members of Okebunabo in claiming their right to override the claim of Umu-EzeAroli that it was “their turn” to take the throne following Okosi I and II. []
  8. I assume therefore that to some extent the editorial reflects an Oke-buNabo perspective, and certainly Onwuegbuna knows about the “All Umu-EzeChima” meeting of March 25, where the Fifth Minister, a member of his own section of Umu-Dei, presided. []
  9. Spokesman March 28, 1961. []
  10. Nigerian Spokesman April 1, 1961. []
  11. See Henderson 1972:259-61 (for Ozo Title), 302 (for Kingship); Bosah :156-7 (for Ozo);153 for Kingship; Nzekwu 133; Orakwue 23. []
  12. This was briefly described in the page “Umu-EzeAroli and other Royals []
  13. Note the  realistic statue of a cock on the throne to his right.  This icon points  to his loyalty to the NCNC political party. []
  14. See  “Religion Matters:  From ‘Sin’ to “Alu” []
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