Hierarchy and demarcation of responsibilities
Obi In Council
The culture and customs of Onitsha are strengthened by the clear hierarchy and demarcation of responsibilities among traditional administrative cadres. With the Obi as apex, he is levered by the able support and collaborations of distinct institutions, led by Nd’ichie.
Nd’ichie were in ancient times warriors in their own right – military commanders of sorts – within the polity. It must be stressed that their roles then were defense and advisory because the monarch does no wrong and therefore cannot be corrected as it were.
Nd’ichie (traditional red-cap chiefs) by Onitsha customary practice, are the only recognized chiefs. They are classified into three distinct groups with various levels of authority within the polity. They are also traditional political heads of various clans from where they emanate.
The Nd’ichie Ume are on top of the hierarchy. They are just six in number – Onowu, Ajie, Odu, Onya, Ogene and Owelle. They are followed in the second group by Nd’ichie Okwa – while the third group is Nd’ichie Okwaraeze.
The functions of the Nd’ichie are as follows:
The Ndi Ichie are classified into six, namely: Onowu Iyasele, Ajie Ukadiugwu, Odu Osodi, Onya Ozoma, Ogene Onira and Owelle Osowa, with Onowu Iyasele as the traditional Prime Minister. There are also other Ndi Ichie, who are ranked second class, known as Ndi Okwa and third class, known as Ndi Ichie Okwareze. The Ndi Ichie serve as Council of Advisers to the Obi who solicits their advice in major decisions he takes in the Kingdom.
These are the spiritual heads of the different quarters and clans in Onitsha. The presence of the institution is an interesting maze of democratic checks and balances designed to inject probity and accountability within the polity. It is interesting because those institutions provide safe valves against autocracy. The various levels of administration help to provide guidance to the Obi-in-Council, offering wise counsel and providing quintessential participatory democracy.
The appointment is made out of the Obi’s volition, consequent upon the character and the experience of the members of the age-grade group. The age range of the appointed group is usually not less than 60 years, to enable its members to utilise their experience in life in the execution of their duties.
This society is a socio-political and religious all-male group that is also highly revered in Onitsha traditional society. It is also known as the Ozo title association. The Agbalanze prides itself on voluntary but selective association based on ancestry and success. It is so prestigious that no matter how wealthy or educated an Onitsha man may be, he cannot acquire the status that goes with the title without joining the association. The Agbalanze are known for the plumes (eagle feathers) adorning their hand-woven caps
The Odu title is the most prestigious title for Onitsha women. Originally a private organisation of Onitsha woman of character and affluence, it has transformed into a prestigious society with modernised rules and functions.
The Otu-Odu women are distinguished by their ivory ornaments on their wrists and ankles.
The strength of Onitsha democracy lies in the common citizens, otherwise called Agbalaniregwu. Although they are not titled men and women, they are the bulwark of the body politic. They are the fuel which supplies power to the administrative machinery of the community. Their interest is regarded as paramount in the intricate manipulation of human relations in order to maintain peace, and good government. Social reforms are undertaken primarily to ensure social justice for the greatest good of the greatest number of people.
The candidate for such an exalted office must be a woman recognized* for her high social standing in the community. She must possess a proven ability for patriotism and dynamic leadership. While the candidate for the Obi must come from the Umuezechima kindred, the Onye Isi Ikporo Onitsha may come from any kindred group in Onitsha, irrespective of affiliations.
Ikporo Onitsha is a society of mothers/women of Onitsha. It deals with all matters that affect Onitsha women and is headed by Onye Isi Ikporo Onitsha (mother). She is selected and installed by the Obi from among the entire women population of the town.
Other unique additions to the maze of political institutions as stakeholders in the monarchical institution are Age-grade societies – associations of men and women born within a certain period, usually three-year intervals. They constitute another vital hierarchy within the polity. They are usually the vanguard in giving flesh and meaning to pronouncement from the royalty. It is from among the Otu Ogbo that the monarch selects the Ogbosoachiani.