The theory of Igbo Enwe Eze:
Some analysts have tended to ascribe Igbo political behavior to the fact that the Igbo are said to be without kings. IGBO ENWE EZE. This is not quite true. The Igbo do have kings, but their concept of kingship is quite unique. Igbo kings did not and still do not enjoy the political and religious powers that was part of royal prerogatives. Yet, it is a historical fact that many traditional Igbo societies set up governments without kings. I shall illustrate.
I have said that it is not quite true to say that the Igbo have no kings. If this were to be otherwise we must then explain how the word Eze appeared in the Igbo vocabulary. Language is the soul and spirit of a people’s culture. Without it you cannot understand their worldview, that is to say their Weltanschauung. The word Eze, that is king, has been part and parcel of the vocabulary and lexicon of the Igbo language as far back as the human memory can recollect. It was neither borrowed from any other language, nor invented as a neologism to enrich the Igbo language and explain a new phenomenon. As a symbol it defined an exponential reality located in the day-to-day experience of the people. It has been part of Igbo history and culture. There were pre-colonial kings in Igbo land. This was mainly in Nri, in Northern Igbo territory. Historians postulate that the Nri culture and civilization flourished between 800 AD and 1910. Its economic mainstay was agriculture but it was famous in iron works, producing the famous Igbo-Ukwu bronze castings which predate those found in lIe-Ife and in the Benin Kingdom. The Caliphate is therefore a much later entrant in the list of royalties in Nigeria. The head of the Nri hegemony was the Eze Nri (King of Nri). A record of all the kings who reigned is said to be properly kept, with their burial sites well preserved.
When therefore we say that the Igbo have no king it should be taken literarily. (By saying this I am not trying to valorize this ancient institution whose functions and values appear rather exaggerated and out of sync with trends in modem governance). The statement Igbo enwe eze is a reference to the character traits of the Igbo. In the context in which it is used the inference is pejorative and infelicitous. This might be due to the apparent high esteem in which other traditional rulers, the Sultans, the Obas and the Emirs, are held where they reign.
The most significant fallout from the concept of Igbo enwe eze is the spirit of self-reliance, which is perhaps the most noticeable character trait of the Igbo man. Every Igbo man wants to be independent, wants to have his own house, his own farm, his own business. Look at the joy an apprentice exudes when he completes his apprenticeship and sets up his trade!
Independent village governments ruled traditional Igbo societies through a council or an assembly, which met from time to time. The assembly was for everybody who could attend and make his contribution on the subject under discussion. Nobody was accorded any preference because of circumstances of birth. Titleholders, however, were respected because of their achievements but not feared or revered like kings in certain communities. In traditional Igbo societies they performed specific functions given to them by the Peoples Assembly or by the Council of Elders.
Traditional Igbo communities were also essentially pacifists and did not see the need for large armies. This is why the Igbo did not have any empires nor were they interested in imposing themselves upon their neighbors. They always found basis for common action, preferring to work rather in loose confederations. This is reflected in the Igbo spirit of egalitarianism and his attitude to governance. The Igbo Ukwu civilization, which was based on farming and technology, could have established empires by force if it so desired, but its primary concern was to carry out commerce with its immediate neighbors and the outside world. Modem Igbo traders appear to have imbibed this tradition.