Do You Know That Chieftaincy Title Is Foreign To Pre-Colonial Nnewi Culture And Tradition?

by AnaedoOnline

By Anayo M. Nwosu

Nnewi people had nothing like chieftaincy title or a “chief” or anybody so designated before 1900s when the expeditionary Major Moorehouse arrived Nnewi after conquering most of the Igbo mainlands.

Impressed that Nnewi leaders didn’t fight or resist the colonial expansionist ambitions of the British, Major Moorehouse promised to preserve all the traditional institutions and authorities at all levels.

However, British army officer was to return in the first quarter of 1904 to properly disarm the Nnewi standing army.

All able bodied men were asked to submit their guns for destruction at Okwu Ọyọ, the general meeting place of the town. They all did to the satisfaction of the white man.


On the appointed date, Ọnụọ Ọra Nwosu Ezeodumegwu has made good his promise to the whiteman to produce the very young natural ruler of Nnewi, Orizu Iwuchukwu (aka Orizu 1) who later took ọzọ title of Ezeụgbọanyịmba to execute the instrument of surrender as prepared by Major Moorehouse.

Out of wise safety precaution and out of the factual fear of the whiteman, the young Orizu was hidden and didn’t attend at the first meeting at Nnewi with the whiteman. He was spirited to his mother’s place in Ihiala for protection because the merciless actions and stories of the whiteman as he took over powerful Igbo towns were enough to make a lion put its tail in between its legs. Nkwụcha abụhọ ụjọ.

The young Ezeụgbọanyịmba or Orizu 1 supported by Nwosu Ezeodumegwu thumbprinted the surrender treaty while the whiteman signed.

That was how Nnewi and the environs automatically came under His Majesty, The King of England and Wales’ colonial rule.

At the surrender meeting and before the leaders, elders and chief priests of all Nnewi’s deities, Major Moorehouse expressed his marvel at the high integrity of Nwosu Ezeodumegwu.

Read Also: Chieftaincy Title Is A Creation Of Colonial Masters And Is Foreign To Igbo Culture…

Moorehouse had assumed that being the marked leader and speaker of his people that Nwosu Ezeodumegwu was the king or the ruler and referred to him as such.


But Ezeodumegwu quickly corrected him by intimating the whiteman that the king had just died and that his son had succeeded him and that he, Ezeodumegwu was just holding brief for the young man.

Major Moorehouse instantly offered to install him as the Nnewi king but Ezeodumegwu refused on the account that “anaghị azọ eze azọ n’Nnewi” meaning that “rulership or Obiship in Nnewi is natural and not contended”.

In those days in Nnewi, no Ọzọ title holder like Ezeodumegwu would covet what was not rightly his and still wake up the next day. Not even the holder of his type of Ọzọ known as Ọzọ Ataka.


That was then, when squirrels regarded tree tops as their footpaths and humans fearlessly trekked by breadfruit trees. Then, our ancestors were very active in the lives of holders of Ọzọ and Nze titles as any infraction like lies and covetousness attracted in instant deadly or fatal blows from “ndị mụọ” or ancestors and nobody ever lived after receiving those blows.

Not giving up, Major Moorehouse who had the military and the administrative authority of the colonial government inaugurated Nwosu Ezeodumegwu as a first class warrant chief and asked him to recommend names of other prominent persons in the town to be so conferred.

All the warrant chiefs were to report to Chief Nwosu Ezeodumegwu and the Obi Josiah Orizu, the young Obi Nnewi who would in turn report to the colonial government.


The warrant chiefs were to help the colonial government in administrating the town especially in tax collections and cascading required government information to the grassroots.

The Obis or the heads of other villages of Nnewi were made automatic warrant chiefs just like some other living warriors and big slave merchants like Ezeudohimili, Dim Ọhachi etc. Their chieftaincy were as recommended by Nwosu Ezeodumegwu.

Major Moorehouse also established a customary court named Agbaja Court and appointed some of the chiefs including Nwosu Ezeodumegwu as judges.

It was not only in

Nnewi that the colonial government created chieftaincy titles for the natives to aid its administration of Indirect Rule system.


In some towns where the natural traditional ruler appeared stubborn, the colonialist would empower an ambitious local as a warrant chief with sweeping police powers.

Many emergency warrant chiefs raised by the British in spite of the natural leadership structures ended up becoming their royal highnesses of their towns till date.

After independence and natural death of warrant chieftaincy, the traditional rulers of Igbo communities who emulate the King and Queen of England and now answer Eze or Igwe decided to perpetuate the chieftaincy title giving tradition not for tax collections but to decorate their illustrious sons or to raise money from the awardees.

Chieftaincy title decoration has relegated “ichi ọzọ” or “ichi Dim” or “iche Ọzọ Ataka”.


Before the white man came to de-civilize us, Igbo had Obi or Diokpala as the heads of family units, extended family i.e. Ụmụnna, communities, villages and towns.

The first son of a man becomes an Obi or Diokpala of the family. The first of the first succeeds his father up until the the first son of the first family becomes the obi of the town.

Some incapable or self declared unfit first sons could be bypassed or voluntarily pass on the headship role to a more capable brother, son or nephew as was/is still seen in Otolo Nnewi.


Before now, male children of the villages or town who felt that they had achieved so much in their professions could decide to take an Ọzọ or Ichie title.

The qualifications for application to become an Ọzọ or Nọnọ are known and the requirements and procedures are stiff. There are nsọ or abhorrence to the bearers of the revered Ọzọ and Nọnọ titles.

Illustrious women also could take up the feminine version of Ozo known as Nọnọ or Lọlọ.


It is noteworthy that once an Nnewi man takes an ọzọ title, he will drop his given name and will be called his new title and never his given name like Roman Catholic Church cardinal or bishop he is made the Pope. Well known examples are: On taking ọzọ titles, Ifeluonye Ezenwa became Ezeoguine, Iwuchukwu Orizu became Ezeụgbọanyịmba, Nwosu Mgboli became Ezeodumegwu, etc.

There are various ranks in Ọzọ and Nọnọ titles, just as there are pre-admission requirements into the esteemed cultural order.

In olden days, not all those who applied to be inducted into Ọzọ or Nọnọ orders were so admitted.

Someone could aspire and become an Ọzọ but never an Obi in the pre-colonial Igbo settlements.

Obi or Diokpala is born not made by the bearer.

Major Moorehouse and Lord Lugard (the colonial masters) would be amazed on the resurrection morning at what ndị Nnewi and the entire Igbos and other colonized tribes have made out of the title they created for mere local tax collectors and loyal allies in their time.

Excerpts from a book titled ORGANISED TO SUCCEED : NNEWI SOCIETY, CULTURE AND TRADITION written by Anayo Nwosu (Ikenga Ezenwegbu)

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