The Igbo System of Government
As a result of the existence of many political institutions in Igbo land, there was no centralization of power among the Igbo. Instead, political institutions were performing similar or different functions.
There were no traditional rulers in the form of Kings (as among the Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani) and so no hereditary claims to traditional stools. In this setting, there was never an Igbo Kingdom or Empire. The largest political unit was the village.
The various institutions that exercised governmental power included family heads, the council of elders or the ofo title holders, the age-grades, the ozo title holders as well as the lineage heads.
The Igbo System of Government were as follows:
1. Village Administration
The village administration was made up of kindreds who had patrilineal relationship called umunna. One of the major political institutions that controlled the affairs of villages was the council of elders which comprised heads of families that held staff of authority called ofo title holders.
These elders headed their respective extended families and the most senior member of the Council of elders was chosen as the okpara. The okpara was also chosen from the oldest family in the village.
The governmental system was republican because it was for those that could attain the required age. The okpara lacked real executive powers and merely presided over Council elders’ meeting, and his influence on the council of elders depended on his ability to provide qualitative leadership.
The council had no authority to enforce decisions to compel obedience from their people, but still handled matters regarding tradition, rituals, and custom while other important issues that affected the whole village were referred to the village assembly.
2. The Village Assembly
The village assembly was a meeting of all adult males in the community. The meetings were held at the obi or palace of the okpara or obi, or at the village square, where every adult male had the right to air his views on any issue under discussion, and decisions were reached through a consensus of the people in attendance.
The meeting was presided over by the okpara. The political institutions that often attended such meetings were the council of elders, the age-grade the the ozo title holders.
3. The Judiciary
Judicial functions were performed by the council of elders and the entire village assembly. There was no separation of powers between the organs of government, and all the institutions participated in the enactment and interpretation of laws to the society.
Minor cases were settled by the family heads while complicated cases were referred to the council of elders and the village assembly for determination.
4. Age-grade Societies
One of the traditional political institutions in Igbo land was the age-grade societies. The age-grades consisted of young men divided into various groups according to their ages. Each age-grade had a leader who coordinated the activities of the group.
They performed functions such as maintenance of law and order, arrest of offenders and implementation of judgements pronounced by the council of elders and the entire village assembly. In addition, they mobilized young men for the defence of their territories, maintained security check points, cleared bush paths and performed environmental sanitation.
5. Title Holders
In some areas of Igbo land, the traditional political organization also consisted of title holders. The titles were acquired by very wealthy, honest and trustworthy members of the society who were highly respected.
The highest of all these titles was the ozo. The obligation of the title holders to the society included settlement of land disputes and other quarrels. They also enjoyed some social privileges in the community.
The ozo sometimes wielded greater powers than the elders’ Council.