THE TRADITIONAL ADMINISTRATION: LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITIES
BY CHIEF DR. ONYEKPEZE
All male adults meeting in a General Assembly, Ogwa, performed these activities. Indeed, the traditional Ika government gave its citizens real participation in decision-making process. The meeting place could be in the Ogwa of the Onyechen of the Ogbe or in an open square centrally situated where all paths converged Ogbe. In recent times, the Ogbe Community Hall has become another commonplace for this type of meeting, especially where gatherings involve more of the youths.
Like in the olden days, public matters are thrown open for discussion. Every member willing to contribute to the discussion is given a hearing. If any issue is contentious, the Assembly debates the matter thoroughly until it arrives at an agreement. No person or group of persons persistently oppose the “common will” merely for the sake of maintaining “balance” in the debate. Bad contributions are jeered at with occasional embarrassing shouts of ‘sit down denu or node all. Good contributions are widely acclaimed with occasional clapping of hands and shouts of your speech is good, speak on, that is how we want it’, meaning ezi okwu, ekwue, erera, enyikwu, etc.
In most cases, the reactions of those present help to know the acceptable line of action. But it is still necessary that the elders should give the verdict. When the matter has been thoroughly debated, the elders direct a few from each of the Idumu/Ogbe to withdraw out of earshot for consultation, ume. The right to participate in ume is greatly cherished and highly esteemed, and is restricted to men of “weight and prestige”, men who have the wisdom to understand and appreciate all schools of thought and achieve a compromise which the Ogwa can accept. In more recent times, influential, intelligent, responsible and out-spoken men, rather than the leaders from the different Idumu or Ogbe, are often delegated to go for ume, especially when social and political issues are involved. If the matter is clearly defined by tradition, there is usually little or no room to maneuver. After the ume, a spokesman, a speaker who is chosen not because of his age, but for his power of oratory, persuasive talents and ability to put a verdict in proper perspective, announces the decision. This is either accepted by the Ogwa by general acclamation or rejected by shouts of derision. In the latter event, the view of the Assembly prevails. The Idumu are jealous of their legislative authority and are not willing to surrender it to a smaller group of individuals. “Those who take decision behind a truthful man’s back may have to meet again on an issue”, the wise old saying remains. We ekudo oku węku azu onye ezi oku”.
Once a decision was acclaimed into law, iwu, it was given a “ritual” binding by the Ofo holders, Ndichen, who evoked this formular, (this iwu is in accordance with our custom and must be obeyed and respected). Those who refuse to obey the iwu have defaulted, “the fine for which they will pay in this world or in the world to come”. This done, it became the duty of every adult male and householder to explain the legislation to the household group, and to see that the members obeyed the iwu.
Matters within the legislative competence of the villages formally ranged from the control of economic affairs to questions of peace and defence of their Ogbe. The economic control exercised in the Ogbe took the form of boycotting an enemy market, regulating the use of bushes and palm trees, environmental sanitation, and imposing levies to be paid for welfare schemes initiated in the Ogbe. In addition, they arranged for the vigilance of their villages, (iche oka), regulating cost of funeral rites, cost of marriage, and hunting wild animals in their bushes.
The Ogbe Assembly was concerned not only with the deliberation and legislative functions, but also with judicial administrative and executive matters. There was no separation of powers involved. The Assembly of Ogbe after funeral rites, or communal work, was used for all-purpose governmental machinery. The same people who made laws also interpreted and executed them. When it met the Ogbe Assembly might make new laws, try old cases, or delegate its executive powers to a group of age grade or other functionaries for action.
Town: Several Ogbe or Idumu combined to form a town. The oldest man born within the limits of the town became the head and the holder of the town’s guardian deity. The other features of the town were similar to those of the Ogbe already discussed.
Although an Ogbe government was based on direct democracy, the government of the town-group involved a representative principle. The political solidarity and the autonomy of the former contrasted with tenuous political relationship and minimal government characteristic of the latter. The solidarity of a town-group was explained by its common territoriality and possession of common guardian deity. The town-group government was neither a federation nor a confederation. In Ika, it had no well-defined powers except on matters affecting the guardian deity, and such other issues as common market places, which might affect some Ogbe or a whole town, hunting grounds in those days, and in recent times, common institutions like the schools, colleges and health centres. In the olden days, group consciousness and solidarity of a town were renewed periodically through polity-based ceremonies and festivals connected with ancestral worship commemoration of foundation events, etc.
Decisions and enactments were arrived at after consensus deliberations in various Ogbe. In the town -group assembly, every Ogbe had equal voice. There was no majority decision. The villages representatives, in most cases, appeared to be permanent body of legislators. Depending on the importance of the issues to be discussed, the Ndichen to the different Ogbe might attend the Assembly. In some cases, men who had ability to present the point of view of their Ogbe were selected at each session to accompany the permanent members, llotu, or the Ndichen to the Assemblies. Some successful sons of the town who were prosperous and known for their proven courage, judgment, and oration might, as it were, Join in these Assemblies, and help in reaching judicious decisions. However, all the people who attended the Assemblies at this level had delegate status, and could not commit their Ogbe to any matter not previously discussed and agreed upon by the Ogbe Ogwa. The town association might impose equal labour and money contribution on all the member Ogbe, an obligation duly compensated for, by the principle of equal sharing of facilities and perquisites.
Clan: Several towns or Ogbe or Idumu as the case might be, came together to form a clan. They were bound together by the cord of common descent from a common ancestor. The legend of the mutual relationship of the towns was expressed in the recognition of a hereditary ‘head-chief who was reputed to be the direct- descendant of the original founder of the clan. Among the Ika people, this head-chief is known by the name Obi. It is known as Okparan- Uku in Idumuesah and the next oldest Okparan succeeds the incumbent Okparan-Uku, all from Ali-Obume village, in Idumuesah clan.
In the administration of the clan, the Obi or Okparan-Uku was assisted by his Council, Obi or Okparan-Uku -In-Council. This Council was made up of representatives of all the Town Councils. It consisted of the Ndichen, who were members of the Councils of the different towns. All the holders of hereditary titles might attend even though they might not be of Ndichen grade, and perhaps, did not attend their Town Councils.
In theory, the government of each clan rested on the Obi or Okparan-Uku-In-Council. In practice, however, each town or quarters, had a large measure of local autonomy as has been discussed earlier on. The rights of an Obi or Okparan-Uku and his Council were regulated by custom. Each town held its own Council. Its Ndichen presided over the town’s Assembly, held their court, led their men to the Obi or Okparan-Uku’s as the need arose and acted as the Obi or Okparan-Uku’s ambassadors, and represented the interest of their towns the Obi or Okparan-Uku’s Council. Matters of common interest to all towns were discussed in a General Assembly in which each was represented.
However, the Obi or Okparan-Uku -In- Council had jurisdiction over matters concerning murder, war, peace, theft, divorce, land disputes and ‘national festivals’. The Obi or Okpara Liku, the supreme ruler of the clan, though not necessarily despotic, had almost absolute powers. In his executive capacity, he directed what should be done. In the judiciary province, he adjudicated with his Council members of whom were appointed by him. He formed a council of higher jurisdiction to which some of the serious crimes were referred. Clan meetings were held in Obi or Okparan-Uku’s Ogwa. A delegation from each town, composed of the physically fit members of the highest age grade, a considerable number of second age grade and the palace Chiefs were always in attendance.
In recent times, the town-groups, vis-a-vis, the clans in Ika have grown in importance and into the status of kingdoms. The literate sons and daughters who work away from their Ogbe realize the need for a political community. The drive for a ‘welfare clan’ in which schools, colleges, health centres, good roads, electricity portable water supply, form parts of major problems and compel the coming together of the elites of a kingdom. These “facilities, which no single village or town can provide unaided, are made possible at the town-group level through their co-operation.
(To be continued)…