LEADERSHIP IN IGBO SOCIETY: ANALYSIS, CHALLENGES AND
SOLUTIONS

BY
EKWE NCHE ORGANIZATION
LAW and ORDER COMMITTEE



HOW IS POLITICAL DISCUSSION ORGANIZED IN IGBOLAND?

In traditional Igbo Society it is extremely important for ones voice to
be heard. To deny an individual the right to have his or her voice heard
is the equivalent of social death or at best the status of a slave. It
can be interpreted to mean that the person does not exist. An Igbo person
will therefore protest and fight with utmost vehemence if this right is
infringed upon and may not give in until this right is restored. If this
humiliation continues, the individual will "cry" to his Umunna who will
take umbrage at this humiliation of one of their own and demand that the
degradation stop immediately. One of the worst things that could happen
to a man is to make this appeal and be ignored by the Umunna. It can be
interpreted that the Umunna regards such a person almost as a living dead.
From the extended family (Umunna) to the Town Union, discussions are
usually frank and forthright even as individual presentations are laced
with idioms and proverbs. Honesty, frankness and forthrightness are seen
as great virtues while rigmarole is often regarded as evidence of
weakness and cowardice. At an assembly each person is expected to
indicate their intention to speak by clearing their throat, raising their
hand, standing up or using any other such as saluting the last speaker.
Then the person chairing the meeting will recognize his presence. Should
two or more people indicate their intention to speak at the same time,
the chair will recognize them according to their chronological age
beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. Sometimes titles
such as Ozo, Onyeishi (in the areas that take these titles) can enhance
an individual's recognition to speak at an assembly. To attract optimal
attention at ones presentation, an individual may begin his speech by
saluting the Assembly; Kwenu! Yaa! As the discussion progresses, members
present at the assembly will have a feeling as to which point of view
has the greatest support. Once it becomes clear which view has
overwhelming support, the chair will declare that, and close the
discussion. Henceforth all opposition to the prevalent view will cease
and even the losers though unhappy, will be bound to go along with the
majority, satisfied that at least their "voice" was heard.

In Igbo Society, each Village of Community, sees itself as autonomous,
sovereign, and would not accept dictation from any other group. In most
traditional Igbo Societies, the entire village or community acting as
Amala, Oha (Community Assembly), makes the laws. In such communities
there are no special law making bodies. More recently, in several
communities, a small group elected from and representing all the villages
or Umunna is mandated to make laws which are then presented to the
Community Assembly for ratification. Such law-making bodies go by various
names in different communities: oti-ekwe, oji nkpo, Town Union Executive
etc. Communities often enforce the laws through these bodies, which act in
judicial capacity, adjudicating cases, handing down judgments, imposing
sanctions and other penalties. In more traditional settings however, the
entire community also acts to enforce the laws using Umunna, Age grades,
Okonko and other small social units to enforce the laws. The community
also assesses taxes and levies for the purpose of executing development
projects. Once the Community Assembly has determined the qualification
for taxation, every Umunna provides the list of its taxable adults to the
village representative who transmits such to the Town Union. There are
procedures in place to crosscheck for undercounting. Besides since
everyone knows that the same list will be used for sharing any amenities
and benefits that might come to the town, the motivation to undercount is
undermined.

A close look at this organizational structure shows that in relation to
the village assembly, the Umunnas act like federating units, exercising a
significant measure of autonomy on most issues in their relationship to
the village and yet subjecting its members to the authority of the
village on other matters. The same relationship exists between the
villages and the Town Union. There is probably no better definition of a
federation than what we see in Igbo social organization.