Igbo Pre-Colonial Political System in Nigeria


The Igbo occupied the Eastern part of Nigeria. The administrative system is decentralized and characterized by the principle of acephalous (absence of a centralized government). It is therefore a chiefless society which was segmentary and egalitarian in nature. There was no supreme king like Oba and Emirs in the North.
Interestingly, however, each village in Igbo society is normally administered like a Republic, independent or sovereign state.
Be that as it may, there exist many institutions in the pre-colonial Igbo society, charged with the responsibility of judicial, legislative and executive functions like: the family group, village council, Ozo title holder, age grades and the Ala.
The Family Group is one of the most recognized institutions in pre-colonial Igbo society as the basic unit of every political institution. It comprises people of the same family. Not only that, each family group was autonomously headed by the title holder called ‘OKPARA’. The Okpara controls the family and judges any family disputes. He performs ritual and ceremonial functions on behalf of the family.
Village Council is popularly known as council of elders, it comprises of all the family heads in the village. However, the most important thing is that each village was administered as a sovereign entity and each family heads (Okpara) were reckoned or named an ‘Ofo’ title holders in the village. They have the responsibility of discussing the matters that affect the life of the citizens. They also help in maintaining law and order in the society as well as settlement of dispute between or among group of families. The chairman of this council is known as the oldest of the OKPARAS.
Ozo Title Holders can be seen as the highest title of honour which is given to the specific individuals in pre-colonial Igbo society. To become an Ozo title holder, one must be prestigious, popular and wealthy. The most amazing thing is that the position is not hereditary. Ozos are highly influential. They settle and adjudicate on different disputes. Not only that, they rendered valuable advice to the family heads (the Okparas).
Age grade is another important institution in pre-colonial Igbo society. They are group of young men on the basis of age. These age grades carry out lots of responsibilities like maintenance of peace and order, sanitation of the community, helping each other during harvesting period, enforcement of law, etc.
The Ala is another political institution in pre-colonial Igbo society. Ala is popularly known as the goddess of the land. Cases like murder, homicide, etc is judged by the Ala. To any Ala, there is a priest called Ala’s priest who interpret the pronouncement of the Ala. This explains Igbos belief in Amadioha, Igew-ka-ala, Ogbaegbu, etc in terms of needs.
Finally, the Igbo society is segmentry, Republican and sovereign in nature. There were no chiefs compared to Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani pre-colonial administration.

30 thoughts on “Igbo Pre-Colonial Political System in Nigeria

  1. dianabuja

    This is similar to precolonial Burundi-Rwanda, in which large lineages and their clients operated independently of other, similar groupings, and leaders could be chosen – not necessarily hereditary. This is a great generalization, however, as there were differences over space and time. I should also point out there there were no villages in these highlands of central Africa, as are found in west Africa. Thanks for the interesting blog.

  2. Ismail Oke Usman

    It is indisputable dt history guides d present and d present helps shape d future …why then is History tactically removed from our curriculum as if it has no importance?

    1. oyedijioluwaseunbabatunde Post author

      It’s a pity, we Nigerians including our leaders don’t learn from their past mistakes not knowing that history is essential for the growth and development of any country the earlier they realize this and infuse it into our school curriculum the better for our nation. May God help our nation, thanks brother for your comment. God bless you

      1. Darlington c Okoro

        It is a wonderful history.The two other major ethnic groups are exploiting the attributes of the system to control the political power of this country and hark jack the economy of this country which has been the other way round. Notwithstanding, I suggest we should go back to egalitarianism in the eastern zone of the country for sustainable development.

      2. oyedijioluwaseunbabatunde Post author

        you are right but egalitarianism in contemporary society is utopia because everyone can’t be equal. It is theoretical and not practical. Notwithstanding I commend your comment in recongnizing our historical legacy of time past. Thumbs up.

  3. Ephraim

    nice one Sir.
    we really need history in our curriculum
    I cant believe I’m interested on history like never before.

  4. Ephraim

    nice one Sir.
    we really need history in our curriculum
    I cant believe I’m interested on history like never before.

  5. Emmanuel Erhijakpore

    It perpetually aches my stomach, to abide to the fact that our education system has not seen to the precarious edge they put we students in by not filling us in on the details of our country’s history. its sickening!


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