Igbo Political Systems

  • E Nwaubani


In spite of the increased and sophisticated scholarly output on the Igbo, there is still a tendency to depict precolonial Igbo political systems in general and therefore overly simplified and misleading terms. This paper is an attempt to reconfigure the depiction of those systems. As with previous works that have carefully studied precolonial Igbo, it emphasizes the diversity and complexity of Igbo political systems—and argues that because of their underlying republicanism, those systems are best labelled as “acephalous.” The paper identifies three types of acephalous systems: (a) those based on segmentary lineages, (b) those based on age-grades, and (c) those in which political authority was exercised by associations. It is argued that Igbo systems were sufficiently diverse to provide examples of all these variants of acephalous systems. The reconfiguration here is innovative in several respects. For example, the Onitsha and Oguta monarchical systems are identified as “segmentary monarchies” that fall into the category of segmentary lineages. No doubt, the Onitsha and Oguta monarchies exhibited some of the basic features of a centralized political system: there was, in each case, an easily identifiable head of the political system, some concentration and institutionalization of authority, and there were specialized roles in the exercise of political power. It is, however, clear enough that each monarch was only one of several complimentary, if not competing, sources of power. Above all, as with other variants of the segmentary lineages, lineage or kinship principles constituted a key feature in the recruitment of political participants in Onitsha and Oguta. This and other categorizations may be provocative—but they seem more intelligible, certainly going by the local studies.

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eISSN: 0075-7640
print ISSN: 0075-7640