Posted by / Tuesday 3 October 2017 / No comments

The pre-colonial political structure of the Igbo in eastern Nigeria

The Igbo ethnic group is native to Nigeria. It can be found, currently, in the South-eastern and South-central parts of the country. The ethnic group is divided into two, occupying two sides of the Niger River. The larger of the two occupies the eastern side and the smaller one occupies the western side of the Niger. 

Under the Igbo political structure, all male adults took part in the making of political decisions. The executive, legislative and judicial powers were vested in different groups of people. These groups included, but were not limited to the Council of Elders, the title holders, family heads, the age-grades and the Chief Priest, representing the Earth Goddess.

The Council of Elders
The political structure of the Igbo consisted of a Council of Elders. This Council was constituted by all the Family Heads of the village. The Council was headed by the head of the senior-most family. He was a first among equals and took decisions after a consensus has been built during discussions. It was this Council that took decisions affecting the entire village. They also constituted a kind of judicial body to handle cases brought to their attention and exacted punishment to offending parties.

Family Heads
Each family in Igboland was headed by a senior member of the family. Usually, such senior members of the family held the Ofor title. They were the political and religious heads of their family. It was this head who represented his family on the Council of Elders. It was the function of the Head of Family to settle disputes that arose among the members of his family. The family heads made laws at their meetings and these laws were binding on the members of the family. They also settled disputes among members of the family. They also ensured that the necessary religious rituals were performed on behalf of the family

The Village Assembly (Oha-na-eze)
All the male adults of the village were members of this Village Assembly. This could also be seen as the People’s Assembly. Every adult male could contribute to the discussions on the floor. Decisions, which were taken, based on the consensus of the gathering, were binding on all. Some major kinds of decision handled by this Assembly was the negotiation of peace and the declaration of war on other villages. 

Village Title Men
There were some members of the community who held titles. Some examples of these title holders were the Ozo and Ofor title holders. The titles could not be inherited; they were conferred on wealthy members of the community, who could pay for it. An Ozo title holder, for example, was vested with some political power; he could therefore head meetings of elders to settle disputes.

The age-grades refer to groups of young men segregated into various age brackets. In some Igbo communities, the age-grade was unisex. The age-grades helped in the maintenance of peace and order. They ensured that the community was cleaned. It was expected that, during harvests, the age-grades could help each other on their farms. They also enforced laws of the community.

The Chief Priest
The Chief Priest constituted part of the political structure of the Igbo community. He was the representative of the Earth Goddess. Major judicial decisions were taken by the Chief Priest on behalf of the Goddess. In cases of murder, stealing or bringing forth of abnormal children, the Chief Priest, was responsible for adjudicating the matter. His decision was final. The Chief Priest performed religious rituals on the behalf f the village as and when it was required. 

1. Outline the structure and functions of the Igbo pre-colonial political system.

Back to Home Page
Go to other topics in Government
Go to the list of other subjects

Related Posts