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IGBO PRE-COLONIAL SYSTEM OF ADMINISTRATION

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Igbo

Introduction

The Igbos are republican by nature. They maintained a decentralized and a cephalous
society. Igbo society was democratic and egalitarian. In Nigeria, the Igbos generally
occupy the former Eastern Region and a part of the former Mid-Western region. The
Igbo unlike the Yoruba and the Hausa – Fulani, had a complex and complicated
system of administration in pre-colonial era. The Igbo, generally had no kings or
chiefs. They operated a democratic system of government. The executive, legislative
and judicial powers were vested in the Oha-na-eze, the council of elders; the Ofo title
holders; the family; the Ozo title holders; the Age – Grades, the Umuada, and the
“Ala” or the Earth’s goddess represented by a Chief Priest.

Political Administration

The structural organization of Igbo political system was based on the following:-

  1. Village Administration:- A village is seen as inhabited by a group of related families. Each family head held the Ofo title and all of them put together formed the council of elder. The council governed the village.
  2. The Age – Grade:- The age – grade are people of the same age group, they perform the following functions:-
    i. Perform the public duties such as:- clearing the paths, construction of
    roads, and markets etc.
    ii. They were involved in the administration of the villages
    iii. They served as army for the defense of the villages against external
    enemy.
    iv. They acted as the police force for the maintenance of law and order.
    v. They helped in the implementation of policies made by the council of
    elders.
    vi. They assisted in checking abuse of powers by the paramount rulers and
    the council of elders.
    vii. They also perform ceremonial and cultural functions during important
    ceremonies in the village or communities.
  3. The affairs of the village are discussed from time to time by family head.
  4. The villagers make laws for themselves and even the age-grades can enact a
    law which the elders would accept.
  5. Succession to leadership position was not hereditary in Igbo political system.
  6. The political system was of a Republican on. Decisions were reached by
    consensus, different institutions played different important roles in the
    administration and powers were shared by them.
  7. Wealthy and influential men in the community or village are given the Ozo
    title holders. This title makes the holder to be recognized in the society and
    could then preside over meetings about issues affecting the community with
    elders.

Judicial Administration

Minor disputes were settled by the family while major disputes were handled by the
council of elders or “Amala”. The final adjudication of cases was done by the deities.
The age – grades settled cases that are minor among themselves. The Earth goddess
(Ala) plays a great role in judicial functions, for example, offences such as homicide,
murder and birth of abnormal children are crimes against Ala.
The chief takes part in judicial settlement; the whole village may constitute itself into
a court for the purpose of settling disputes. The native doctor called Dibia could also
settle disputes amongst people.

Official Religion

The official religion practiced in pre-colonial Igbo land was the traditional religion.
They had chief priests who performed sacrifice from time to time to appease the gods.
The Igbos have great respect for the deities and the departed ancestors. The chief
priests were the link between the people and the deities, as well as the departed
ancestors. The Igbos believe in re-incarnation. Profaning of deities was a very
serious offence among the Igbos. The religious lives of the Igbos were surrounded by
mysticisms and superstitions.

Conclusion

Nigeria, before the advent of the European powers into the country, it had well organized institutions which some of them are still in place. The Igbo used decentralized system of administration unlike Hausa-Fulani and Yaroba.

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