Before colonial times, the Igbo people in Nigeria had their own way of governing. This system was simple and based on the principles of local self-rule, each village had its own leaders who made decisions together, and respect for elders was important. The Igbo society didn’t have one big chief in charge instead, they had smaller groups that managed their own affairs.
They made decisions by talking until everyone agreed, and the village councils often involved spiritual aspects. This community-based system was diverse and flexible, adapting to the needs of different areas. The arrival of colonial powers would later bring significant changes to the Igbo system of government. This system changed when the British came. Read also: Pre-Colonial Administration: political organization of Hausa-Fulani Empire
The Igbo System of Government
In the pre-colonial Igbo system of government, village administration was a cornerstone of their governance structure, each Igbo village was a village council, made up of respected community members, often including the elders and titled individuals.
This council was responsible for making decisions on local matters, settling issues, and ensuring the general well-being of the village. The Council of elders was chosen as the okpara while okpara was also chosen from the oldest family in the village.
2. The Village Assembly
The Village Assembly, often referred to as the “Oha-na-Eze” in Igbo communities, this assembly was a gathering of the village’s adult members, usually presided over by the village head or chief. The meetings are always held at the palace of the okpara or at the village square, People would engage in lengthy discussions and debates until a consensus was reached, ensuring that the majority agreed on the course of action.
3. Age-grade Societies
Age-grade societies divide individuals into specific age groups or sets, usually based on a similar range of years. These groups progress through different stages of life together. They learn cultural norms, values, and skills from older members of their age-grade are responsible for mediating conflicts and maintaining order within the community. Age-grade societies exist in various parts of the world, including Africa, where they are found among different ethnic groups. For example, among the Nuer people in South Sudan, age-sets are fundamental social units that help organize various activities, including conflict resolution and resource management.
4. Title Holders
These individuals held titles such as “Nze” and “Ozo” and were highly respected for their contributions and wisdom. The Nze title was often awarded to individuals who had demonstrated outstanding accomplishments and leadership qualities while The Ozo title was another honor, given to individuals who had shown exceptional commitment and dedication to the community. The Nze and Ozo titles were a way of acknowledging and celebrating those who had made significant contributions to the welfare and development of the Igbo community and were often consulted for their wisdom and guidance in various community.
What was a major feature of the pre-colonial Igbo political system?
The Igbo political system of the pre-colonial era was democratic and power was decentralized in which everyone is involved in decision making.
What was the Igbo pre colonial time?
Before the period of British colonial rule in the 20th century, the Igbo were politically fragmented by the centralized chiefdoms of Nri, Aro confederacy, Agbor and Onitsha.
What were the pre colonial economic activities of the Igbo people?
The pre-colonial economy of the Igbo was anchored on agriculture, non-agricultural production and trade.
What is the difference between Igbo and Yoruba pre-colonial system?
The political organisation of the Yoruba Kingdom was semi-centralised with an OBA as the head of government, while the Igbo political system lacked centralisation, and had no paramount ruler as head of the society.
What was the smallest socio political unit in pre colonial Igbo society?
The Government of pre-colonial Igbo land was segmentary system based on village political units with the family being the first and smallest unit.
What was the Igbo economy?
The traditional Igbo economy depends on root-crop farming. Yams, cassava, and many varieties of cocoyam (taro) are the chief staples and provide the majority of the population with its subsistence needs.
The Igbo political institution was known by the wisdom of elders, the importance of age-grade systems, and the involvement of titled men. Spiritual and ancestral elements were important to decision-making processes, reflecting the spiritual richness of Igbo culture. However, the colonial rule in Nigeria brought changes to the Igbo governance structure, and more centralized administrative system that defined their traditional political practices.