A Comparative Analysis Of Politics And Governance Pre-Colonial And Post-Colonial States; A Study Of Uga Community

Umenwanne Emeka
Department Of Political Science
Faculty Of Social Science
River State University Of Science And Technology Nkpolu-Oroworukwu Port-Harcourt Nigeria
Lecturer: Dr Anthony Egobueze

This study is focusing on Uga; A community in Aguata Local government area Anambra state, in drawing a comparison on politics and governance pre-colonial and post-colonial era in Uga, it discusses the nature of politics and governance within this period; A brief history of Uga and some land-mark events which took place.

Politics and governance is as old as the history man, is a natural phenomenon in all human society, before the colonial era we have different forms of political systems and governance structures in Africa, in Africa we have kingdoms, political systems, social-orders, religions, cultures, customs, e.t.c. Here are some of the major kingdoms which existed before colonialism; Songhai Empire, Empire of Ghana, Mali Empire, Kongo Kingdom, Great Zimbabwe Empire, Empire of Kanem and so many others, African continent was not a vacuous and ungoverned space, there were forms and systems of governance in existence which regulates the activities of men, there were social institutions; processes of reaching consensus, and achieving legitimacy, so when the colonialist came they met in Africa people who are well behaved, cultured, prosperous, with standard political systems, the colonialist left Africa with indelible marks, they altered the political systems and spaces they met; These are chapters to discuss; politics, governance, Igbo society, Uga community pre-colonial and post-colonial era.

The term politics was first used by the Greece philosopher Aristotle, and he refers to it as [the master science] Etymologically, the word “politics” was derived from the Greek word [Greek; “Politika” which means “affairs of the city”] ‘polis’ which means ‘city state’ the ancient cities existed in Polis; consequently, what happens in the polis is politics.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines politics as achieving and exercising the positions of governance-organized control over a human community, particularly a State.
From the above theories I can say that politics is about governance and social control; who occupies what office; who controls what resources; who belongs to what class, in human societies the moment people begins to socialise to do things together, to own things together politics creeps in, individuals will begin to find a way to be in a better position, and to get a better share, while some will be thrown up naturally as leaders, so there’s a form of social classes and roles in every human society, politics can be simply put thus; The activity in which one or a group of individuals takes a decision and enforces it on an entire group.

Governance is the act governing; making of laws, maintenance of social order, provision of security, insuring equitable distribution of common wealth, and resource ownership. This is different from politics. Politics reflects the interest of an individual or group of individuals, politics is what people do to get and retain power, while governance is how they use that power when they have it.

Igbo Society
The Igbo are a distinct ethnic group in Nigeria one of the three major groups, they occupy the eastern part of Nigeria, the society pre-colonial era was one rich in culture, with political and governance structure, the Igbo has a direct democratic form of government, in that every free born son that is of age has a say in the political decision making, this is how the Igbo political structure look like; The society is made up of hundreds of clans, each clan comprising people who speaks same dialect, and some distinctive custom and social order. Clans are divided into communities [Obodo] the community is made up of people who traced their root to a common ancestor. The community is further divided into villages and villages divided into kindreds [Umunna], the kindred comprises some number of families who descended from the same great great grand-father. At the family level, there’s “Obi” and there’s a head to it, usually the eldest man in the family, who offers sacrifices and prayers to the ancestors for welfare of the family, settles disputes, and speaks for the family at kindred, village and community level.

The pre-colonial Igbo society settles conflicts according to the cultural provisions, and social order is firmly embedded in the Igbo culture; there’s this father-son inheritance system, laid-down order of property sharing formula, code of conducts, dos and taboos, the influence Nri was over the lager part of Igbo, Aro on the other part, so the Igbo society lived as a free people, at peace and prospered without imposition from anybody.

After Anglo-Aro war 1901-1902 and Nri conflict 1905- 1911, and Ekumeku resistance 1883-1914, the British finally defeated the Igbo, the imposition began, the warrant chief system was introduced, for administration convenience of the British, please note: The warrant chief system was introduced not because there was no political system in Igbo land for the British to leverage on, since they adopted the policy of indirect rule; There was Eze Nri who was a priestly king, whose influence was over the lager part of Igbo society, and Eze Aro who was also very influential, and there are political structures in every Igbo communities with the Aristocrats making sure that there re social orders. Umenwanne Emeka argue that, it because the British encountered a very fierce and sustained resistance in Igbo-Land that made them to establish native courts and installed chiefs by warrant [hence the name] as a way of getting back at the Igbo, these warrant chiefs were picked arbitrary without regard to the existing political structures and social hierarchies in place.

Politics And Governance; Uga Community Pre-Colonial Era
Uga community is politically located in Aguata local government area of Anambra state. Uga shares common boundaries with Ezinifite in the North; North East with Nkpologwu; North West with Unubi; East with Amesi; South East with Akpulu and Isiopko; South with Umuchu and Akokwa; and West with Akwa-Ihedi. The town geographically is bounded by the grids 7.02 – 7.06 east and grids 5.56 and 6.00 north, situated within the equatorial rainforest belt. The community is underlian by the Bende-Ameki geological formation, dominated by the Nanka sand member of the formation, on the western flank of the water shed. The western flank is drained by Obizi, Umura, Ochi, which empty into Nneiyi Akpulu, a tributary of Urashi, The land area covers 34km.

Pre-Colonial era Uga community has no monarch, but has a political and governance structure, through which they governed themselves and achieved societal peace; Uga community has a body of customary laws, a very rich penal system, and other rules and regulations, though was largely unwritten, most of these laws are long aged laws which have lasted for a time immemorial.

In most cases violation of any of these penal laws is not just law breaking, but abomination, and desecration of the land, and the penalty involves so many rituals and cleansing, so hardly you have anybody breaking any of these laws, because even when is done in secret, one of the Deities of Uga [Ogwugwu] will find the person out.

Uga community pre-colonial era had what I can call Ohacracy or Direct Democracy; This is a form of government in which everybody is directly involve in government, there re no political offices to vie for, but there re political groups and units with different functions; Examples are; Family, Umunna, Umuada, Age grade, and Nze-na-Ozo, and there aslo cult groups with designated functions they are Masquerade cult, and Isiabanogu cult.

In Uga the family is the first political and governance unit, in those days family use to be large, owing to the prevailing practice of polygamy, in most cases when put together members of one family under one “Obi” they will be up-to thirty, so the authority of the family fall to the eldest male, who adjudicates on issues and disputes according to the age long laid down customs and traditions of the land, the family can also make their own family rules, with which they govern themselves and apportion works.

Umunna [Kindred] comprises number families, they have authority over families which make it up, the oldest family provides leadership, the eldest male in the oldest family presides over matters, and all male child that is of age is free to attend meetings where decisions are made, so when the interests of different families clashes the Umunna comes in and settle it according to the customs and traditions of Uga.

Umuada [Women guild] they preside over issues concerning women, the Umuada is made up of daughters of the land, the eldest daughter from the eldest family provides leadership among them, every daughter of the soil is qualify to belong their meetings, among them are equal rights and opportunity, they adjudicate on issues among women, and litigants can appeal to the Umunna should they disagree with their decision. The Umuada also serve as enforcement group, a situation where a member of the community refuses to comply with the decision of the Umunna on a matter, the Umuada can be sent to persons house to cause problem, they can invade the kitchen cook and eat every food they can find, pluck and eat every fruit available, defecating everywhere, and tumbling the entire compound.

Age Grade
Theses are youths of same age bracket usually within age gap of 4years, the group usually forms organically because it was a norm in Uga, among them the strongest is usually the leader, and as each group is getting older another younger group is taking over, their functions includes;
Settlement of minor cases among the youth
Doing community work such as; Clearing of roads,
Preparing the community center for a ceremony or religious ritual

Nze na Ozo
This is a sacred and noble title in Uga and lager part of Igbo land, the holders of it are the highest socio-political class in Uga, they are the elites, the aristocrats, the process to taking the title is rigorous and very costly the required items are so many, so only the wealthy can afford to belong, joining Nze na Ozo involves oath taking, series rituals, initiation, fortification, and the incoming member will be bound by a deadly oath to speak truth on all matters.

Nze na Ozo is the highest decision making body and final arbiter on all matters, their internal leadership is by seniority and not age, their conducts in public is strictly guided by their own rules, and they perform their functions as a service to the community.

Isiabanogu Cult
This cult is not open to all sons of Uga, its members are chosen from birth, through Afa [Divination] Isiabanogu itself is a deity of war, the primary function of this cult is defence of the community against any external aggression. there are instances;

The battle between Oka one of villages in Uga and Amesi, during which Amesi hired Ohafia warriors, the cause of the conflict was that Amesi people cleared a section Uga to expand their territory, and then hired hired Ohafia warriors, this event was remarkable, in that when battle began, Isiabanogu wiped out all the hired Ohafia mercenaries without recording any casualty on own their side, and drove Amesi dip into their community. Amesi was annexed after the expedition, at their request to be part of Uga, hence “Amesi-Uga”.

Boundary dispute between Umueze one of the villages in Uga and Ezifite, the war had gone on for days, before Isiabanogu was brought in, Isiabanogu pushed Ezinifite back beyond the area in dispute.

Politics And Governance; Uga Community Post-Colonial Era
After the Uga resistance against the British 1916 and seize fire agreement that followed, Uga began to allow British institutions to be, churches, schools, e.t.c. the governance system in Uga began to adapt to the British system, in 1940 the Uga Improvement Union was formed, [UIU] as a central government administering Uga, in 1975 the most senior Obi was chosen to become the first monarch of Uga, the office is just ceremonial, the main government business lies squarely on UIU, and the structure flows down from UIU to the Villages and to Umunna.

With the prevailing English system at the time notable sons of Uga joined Nigeria politics, 1n 1963 the UIU sponsored Chief T.A. Umeukeje to the federal house of representative on the platform of NCNC, he won and served up-to 15th January 1966 when the first military coup took place, and a host of others held different political offices both within the region and national level.

The British legal system: in which the court rely on facts to decide cases, even when the litigant is telling lies, because it lack the means to uncover the truth; Replaced the Uga traditional penal system: in this traditional system there are mechanics to uncover whether or not if a litigant is telling lies, some of the deities of Uga specializes in this uncover the truth business, that why people rarely commits crime in those days.

The Nigeria Police replaced the Uga enforcement groups, the Nigeria Army replace Isiabanogu cult, e.t.c. the traditional political and governance structure in Uga was reshaped, and most of the governance institutions evaporated, and the English system fully takes place.

The British colonialist came with a different civilization, religion and political system, when they came they met a complete political and governance system in place in Igbo land, and Uga is part of Igbo land, they ignored it and impose their own system, unilaterally, using guns and bullets, the coming of the British impeded the growth of Uga civilization, at some point of Uga political metamorphosis Uga had “Obuofo Council” which was the council which brought together all the age grades in Uga under it, and can take political decision as one unit, Obuofor Council was instrumental in the Uga decision of resisting the British in 1916, and also led the resistance.

The British destroyed all we hold sacred, branding them evil, Nri civilisation was spreading all over the region, even beyond Igbo land, up-to present day Kogi state and part of Benue state, most of the cultures and traditions the Igbo practice, came from Nri, Nze na Ozo title and society, which is the highest and most important spiritual and socio-political class in the Igbo society. Initiation into the aristocratic Nze na Ozo society marks the person as nobility, Nri was the spiritual headquarter of the entire region, even the Oba of Bini consults Nri on spiritual matters, Nri almost unite the entire Igbo under one believe system and tradition before the British stuck. The British desecrated the Nri sacred stool and force Eze-mmou Nri to appear in Awka native court for questioning in 1911.

Comparatively Umenwanne Emeka argues that the political and governance system we have pre-colonial era is better than the one they brought. They amalgamated Nigeria without any Igbo man present, they created three regions without consultations, they imposed warrant chiefs on Uga and Igbo at large without regards to the existing political and governance system in place, they planted their churches with guns and bullets, the school system they brought was just to prepare our people to work and labour for them, the Nigeria’s census of 1952 and 1953 was rigged, the out come of Nigeria’s 1959 general was influenced, with all these he asserted that the political system post-colonial era is not fair and just.

From all the available facts, the British actually did more harm than good to the people of Uga, Igbo nation and Africa at large, they put a sword on what held us together and render it asunder.

Dr Anthony Egobueze [2019] Perspectives on African Politics
Amanachukwu Obiabaka [2013] History of Uga

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