The Eze Ndigbo conundrum - An illegality By Kelechi JK Onwumereh

An Eze must be in union with the council of Ndi-Eze of a state, South East Council of Traditional Rulers as well as Ohanaeze Ndigbo (the apex socio-cultural Igbo organisation). It is clear that no so called ‘Eze Igbo’ either in Nigeria or in diaspora fulfils any of the above listed criteria.

The attempt to proliferate and bastardise the Ezeship institution outside of Igbo land by mindless people is a cultural aberration. The emergence of this obnoxious, divisive and regressive practice in the Republic of Ireland as well as a few European countries makes a caricature of the authority of the Igbo traditional institution and the Ezeship as a sacrosanct expression of the people’s leadership structure in Igbo land.

In part, the Igbo Ezeship institution consists of the Eze or Igwe of a kingdom or an autonomous community. He rules with his cabinet. Every authentic Ezeship must receive a seal of approval and recognition from the governor of a state of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This authentication is symbolized by the presentation of a staff of office and certificate from the governor to the Eze.

An Eze must be in union with the council of Ndi-Eze of a state, South East Council of Traditional Rulers as well as Ohanaeze Ndigbo (the apex socio-cultural Igbo organisation). It is clear that no so called ‘Eze Igbo’ either in Nigeria or in diaspora fulfils any of the above listed criteria.

What is clear about Igbo monarchy, like other monarchies the world over is its definition by the following parameters: they must have a ‘traditional’ geographical territory (autonomous community) characterized by a people (subjects) who recognize the leadership and authority of the monarch. A monarchy must adhere to as well as apply certain mores, cultural values and traditional practices which are consistent with the customs of the people. For any Igbo in diaspora to arrogate to himself a position of monarchy amounts to an absurd assumption that the Igbo geographical territory as we know it extends outside of Igbo land. Culture is dynamic but it is equally evident that not every aspect of the Igbo culture can be practiced in a foreign land since we are subject to the laws of our host state or country.

Though there is no clear history of the evolvement of this practice, it is presumed that it arose from a corruption of the leadership structure within Igbo communities in Northern and Western states of Nigeria nearly two decades ago. Ostensibly, to provide a strong voice for Ndi Igbo and to instil the Igbo culture in our children, the normal leadership structure of certain Igbo associations stealthily morphed into the current ‘Eze Igbo’ malady. Another reason that has been cited relates to the legendary sense of humour of Ndi Igbo who are known for their praise singing and light-hearted comical elevation of individuals to high social status. ‘Eze Igbo’ was a parlance that was never intended to be recognized as a legitimate monarchical structure as it has no cultural locus.

To further buttress the gullibility of certain individuals, it needs to be stated that ‘Igweship’ or ‘Eze Igbo’ exists in most Nigerian universities, especially those in the Eastern states. During our undergraduate days, I knew of some students who actually insisted on been addressed as ‘chiefs’ or ‘Igwe’ in public on the basis of their mock college ‘chieftaincy’. It is therefore simple, illogical and preposterous to argue that ‘Eze Igbo’ has existed for many years.

Without constitutional approval, it is imminently an affront to any host community for a non-indigene to parade himself as a monarch with claims to substantive traditional authority. It is therefore a social and cultural anomaly for Ndigbo to claim monarchical jurisdiction in foreign lands. Now, assuming that it was even possible for Ezeship to function in diaspora, it would mean that such ‘Ezes’ are paramount rulers – a structure that has never existed in Igbo land – let alone in a foreign land. It also means that an ‘Eze Igbo’ has parallel autonomy and powers to the subsisting traditional authority. 

Further more, Ndigbo in diaspora hail from all over the Igbo speaking states in Nigeria which include: Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Delta, Imo, Rivers, etc. An Igbo person from Abba, Agulu, Mbutu, or Udi recognizes only one stream of traditional authority – that of the Eze of his/her autonomous community. For any person to claim to be the ‘Eze Igbo’ or ‘Igwe ndi Igbo’ in a country such as Ireland which is populated by diverse Igbo indigenes therefore amounts to a claim of supreme leadership or paramount ruler-ship, and this is a most ludicrous joke.

Since 2008 when an ill-advised Colonel Achuzia – the erstwhile Secretary General of Ohanaeze attempted to constitute a bogus ‘Eze Igbo’ structure in Ireland, the cultural and social cohesion that existed among Ndigbo has been squandered, leaving the Igbo community polarized. The experiment has been the greatest disservice done to Ndigbo in Ireland as unhealthy rivalry, hatred, and disunity now festers unchecked. Despite the Ohanaeze and the South East Council of Traditional Rulers announcing a ban on the ‘Eze Igbo’ title outside of Igbo land, fame seeking charlatans now go about bullying people (not only Ndigbo) into recognizing and addressing them as ‘royals’ in Ireland. This is diversionary as much needed time, energy and resources are dissipated on banalities instead of bridge-building and community development.

The shameless impostors are clearly on a self-serving mission and will not backtrack without pressure. They are impervious to the needs of the Igbo people they claim to ‘rule’ because they do not understand the Igbo culture. Any Igbo who is concerned about the erroneous label our great people will earn on account of the duplicitous and dishonourable opportunism of a few people will speak up now or distance themselves from their atrocious cultural infractions.  

When the noise of selfish ambition drowns out the sound of reason society is always the worse off for it. The ‘Eze Igbo’ conundrum is a cancer that threatens to ravage whatever is left of the cultural heritage of Ndigbo. It promises to decimate an already weak moral fabric by rendering ineffective the authority of Ndi-Eze in Igbo land. This will in turn militate against our social cohesion and overall collective interest.

Following a protracted debate and overwhelming affirmation to abolish the controversial ‘Eze Igbo’ title in any shape of form, the Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo and South East Council of Traditional Rulers approved the Onye Ndu (Leader) title in its place. This structure which already exists in so many places where Ndi Igbo reside can be strengthened so that people can contest for the position through a democratic process. It is culturally appropriate and in tune with the republican and egalitarian disposition of Ndi Igbo.

In order to avoid a situation where Aru gbara afo ga bu omenala (when evil lingers it becomes acceptable), it is important that Ohanaeze Ndigbo led by Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, in collaboration with the South East Council of Traditional Rulers and the governors of South East States of Nigeria continue to make emphatic pronouncements proscribing the ‘Eze Igbo’ illegality once and for all. The former Ambassador of Nigeria to Ireland, Dr Kema Chikwe and Eze Cletus Illomuanya were unequivocal in their refusal to recognize the ‘Eze Igbo fraudulence’ in Ireland in 2009. Nigerian Embassies across the world and state governments must borrow a leaf from their boldness. The stand of the governments of Lagos and Oyo state which declared the ‘Eze Igbo’ title illegal and punishable by law needs to be commended.

Ndigbo all over the world need to be making progress and should not waste time on cultural jamborees and self indulgent fame chasers parading themselves as ‘Eze Igbo’. The wise counsel – wepu aka enwe n’ ofe ome buru aka mmadu (to beware of monkey delicacy as it may well be human) – will suffice.

Kelechi JK Onwumereh

Publish Date: 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012