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THE IGBO DEMOCRACY, A VERITABLE INSTRUMENT FOR EVANGELIZATION. BY REV. FR. DR. UDEH BENJAMIN CHIBUEZE

THE IGBO DEMOCRACY, A VERITABLE INSTRUMENT FOR EVANGELIZATION. BY REV. FR. DR. UDEH BENJAMIN CHIBUEZE
  • April 27 2017

THE IGBO DEMOCRACY, A VERITABLE INSTRUMENT FOR EVANGELIZATION

A PAPER PRESENTED AT THE 6TH BIENNIAL NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF THE SCHOOL OF ARTS AND SOCIAL SCIENCES, NWAFOR ORIZU COLLEGE OF EDUCATION, NSUGBE, ANAMBRA STATE, NIGERIA.

FROM 15TH - 19TH JULY, 2013.

VENUE:

THE COLLEGE AUDITORIUM NWAFOR ORIZU COLLEGE OF

EDUCATION NSUGBE, ANAMBRA, STATE, NIGERIA.

BY

REV. FR. DR. UDEH BENJAMIN CHIBUEZE -  DEPARTMENT OF RELIGION, NWAFOR ORIZU COLLEGE

EDUCATION, NSUGBE, ANAMBRA STATE NIGERIA.

TOPIC:

THE IGBO DEMOCRACY, A VERITABLE INSTRUMENT FOR EVANGELIZATION

Abstract

The Igbo race is naturally democratic in their system of government. The basic unit was the village group made up of the oldest men form each family and the most universal institution was the role of the family head. The heads of different families that make up a community gather to reach consensus on any matter that concerns the community. This system helped seriously in evangelizing the people. The problem in many Igbo societies today is that the good and systematized Igbo democracy is being destroyed by the influence of money. Also some Christen religious denominations received through the help of Igbo democracy is trying to elbow out many valuable Igbo cultural heritage. The purpose of this study is to awaken people’s consciousness to this very odious and ridiculous situation. The essence of creating awareness is that Igbo race may readjust and bring the situation under control. It was however discovered that very many parts of Igbo culture have been eroded by foreign religious cultures. It is suggested that proper care should be taken to separate religion from culture so that the Igbo system of government may not be destroyed.

 INTRODUTION

The Igbo race of Southern Nigeria, naturally have a system of government which

 From all ramifications qualifies to be referred to as real democracy. It is a system of

 Government that gives every reasonable person the opportunity to contribute positively

  to the common good. As Nwosu (2002) puts it,

The primary political unit was the extended family system known as Umunna. The Umunna is a generic and flexible term which include the children of one father (nuclear family), and the widest range of recognized patrilineal kinsmen. Invariable, many segmentary levels of such group might not only hold significant common estates but exercised considerable political power and influence among their members.

He cited Henderson (1971) who said that “the leader of the extended family, who was

Usually the eldest male member wielded a lot of power in the administration of family

Lands, property, woman, and shrines. In doing this, he was guided by his wisdom,

Custom and advice of other senior and influential members of the extended family”. The

highest political authority is the council of elders.

During the advent of Christianity, the missionaries reached the people through these council of elders so as to be allowed to stay. They were the people who gave lands to the different churches or religious denomination for their kerygmatic activities. With the help of this council of elders and the egalitarian propensities among the different heads of communities or villages or clans, the churches began to germinate and to gain access to the hinter land. Though it was not easy because, the enormous task of proclaiming the Good News, was almost swimming against the great current of a culture wrapped in

African traditional religion, by men who were totally different in colour and completely ignorant of the culture and language. For instance Bishop Shanahan narrating his first experience in evangelizing Onitsha said that Rev. Fr. Lejeune who was his superior once told him,

“Yes, right now, there is a village called Ogboli two miles away. Go up and evangelize it! And listen, don’t waste time coming down here for dinner. I’ll send it along to you. Your job is to evangelize nothing else. ..I departed without a word. The village of Ogboli showed little interest in its “evangelizer”— just started, accustomed to see white men periodically. Ibo is the language spoken here as everywhere else, and I was as yet ignorance of it. No need therefore asking for “lodging”

As the Roman Catholic Missionaries (RCM) were struggling to plant the

Catholic faith on Igbo soil, the Church Missionary Society (CMS)who arrived 37 years earlier were also making great progress into the hinter land. Finally the Christian faith was planted on Igbo land. As the (CMS) and (RCM) missionaries were advancing through Onitsha, the Methodist missionaries came into the southern Igbo through

Calabar and made marvelous establishment of the Christian faith in Abia state and environs.

         The problem was that the comings of the British rule and establishment of Paramount Chiefs in towns have directly corrupted the natural democracy of the Igbo communities. Another serious attack on the Igbo democratic system is the installment of “Igwe”. This has caused serious problem in many communities. Again some religious

denominations that found their way into Igbo land have some theological perceptions, interpretations, convictions and tenets which directly oppose the Igbo system of governance. For instance, some religious groups have it as a taboo to participate in village meetings or social gathering, some of them do not have regards for social institutions, some do not take care of those who are not their members be he or her their relations. Some repudiate and expunge the Igbo cultural festivals and exercises from their programmer s and word bank. Some can’t even put on the African traditional attire for their religious activities. They completely alienated our culture from their religion.

Another serious and painful problem is that those who know the Igbo system of government, culture and religion are getting too old and dying out.

The purpose of this work therefore is to awaken the consciousness of the Igbo man to this calamity befalling the Igbo cultural heritage.

Another purpose is that it is necessary and important that the Igbo elites make indepth study into Igbo government and politics as well as their religion and cultural heritage to help the Igbo young inquisitive minds to know the good things God gave to the Igbo people.

The significance of this write up is that as the Igbo pundits who know the real Igbo governance and proper meaning of the cultural and religious heritages are fast extinguishing that those facts might be captured and documented for posterity.

To do justice to this work, there is need to see what democracy is all about so as to be able to categories the Igbo system of government and also see how it helped in the evangelization of Igbo culture.

CLARIFICATION OF THE TERM DEMOCRACY

About theories of democracy, Onyejekwe (2011) observed that there is a debate among the liberals themselves and between liberal and Marxists. Among the liberals, there are mainly three theories thus:' classical, elitists, and pluralists. And all these interpret democracy in their own way. The greatest difficulty with the democracy theory is that democracy is understood more as a form of government and less as a social, political and .moral ideal. This work therefore focuses more on democracy as a system of government that catalyzed the evangelization of Igbo culture.

   DEMOCRACY AS A SYSTEM OF GORVERNMENT

According to Appadorai (1975), democracy is “that form of government in which the ruling power of a state is legally vested not in any particular class or classes but in the members of a community as a whole”. The new Webster’s dictionary of the English language defines democracy as the “government by the people usually through the elected representatives, it is a special equality”.

Onyejekwe (2011) asserted that different definitions of democracy have been given from time to time. Some of the important ones are as follows:

  1. Seelay: “democracy is a government in which everyone has a share”
  2.  Hall: democracy is that form of political organizations in which public opinion has control
  3.  Lincoln: democracy is a government of the people for the people and by the people.
  4.  Macpherson: democracy is merely a mechanism for choosing and authorizing governments or in some other way getting laws and political decisions made.
  5.  Sartori: A democratic political system is one that makes government responsive, accountable, and its effectiveness depends first and for most on the efficiency and skill of its leadership.

Etymologically, Nwanekezi (2008) noted that the term democracy is principally derived from the Greek word “demo” meaning the people and “kratein” meaning rule”. That is to say, Demokratein when Anglicized is written democracy.

THE CHARACTERISTICS FEATURE OF DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL SYSTEM

Democracy abhors monarchy, autocracy, and despotism. The characteristic feature of democratic system includes:

  1.  The supremacy of the will of the people.
  2.  Represented government duly elected by the people.
  3.  Periodic and free elections.
  4.  Universal adult franchise
  5.  Responsible government.
  6.  Limited and constitutional government.
  7.  Aim of the governments is service and social welfare.
  8.  Political power as people’s trust in the hands of the government.
  9.  Popular participation of the people.
  10.      Safeguarding the writes of the people is the prime duty of governments.

11.        Independent judiciary.

12.       At least two political parties and pressure groups [Onyejekwe (2012)]. Democracy therefore is a system of government where the people have the freedom to make some contributions in matters that concerns them.

THE IGBO ORIGINAL SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT Family Structure

Man by nature is a gregarious being. The first stage of Igbo gregarious is the nuclear family system. This is followed by the smallest social unit known as the kindred. It is made up of several nuclear families who have one patrilineal descent. Olisa (2002) pointed out that “this is the most important social unit because it is the starting point of the individuals’ communal identification among the Igbo.... the large lineage. There are often such lineage-usually subdivided into extended families (Umunna) but it is at the kindred level that they are expected to speak and act as separate individual social and political unit”. Next above the kindred is the village. It is the amalgamation of many kindreds.

A conglomeration of many villages is called a town. As a matter of fact, the size of a town depends on the number of villages that make up the town. So the different stages can be thus summarized; nuclear family to the kindred, then to the village and then to the town so that the town is the largest single collection of lineage which share several things in common. Before the Igbo came under the British colonial administration, the independent political communities had only minimal tenuous relationships with one another.

       They were not centralized and institutionalized in the sense of the Hausa or

Yoruba political system. According to http://www.historians.org (1998),

the basic unit of Igbo life was the village group, and the most universal institution was the role of the family head. This was usually the oldest man of the oldest surviving generation. His role primarily involved settling the family disputes and because he controlled the channel of communication with the all important ancestors, he commanded great respect and reverence. In some areas the government of chiefs and elders was composed of the governing age grade. In others, the council of elders was made up of the oldest member of particular families”

As a matter of fact, in Igbo society, the political institutionalization and routinization of

authority and power is not vested on one person, and this makes the Igbo race very

unique. Hence the saying “Igbo enwe eze” (the Igbo have no king).

   The Igbo is one of the few human races in the whole world that democracy and leadership is ingrained. The fact remains that the race is naturally endowed with democracy where consensus is the norm rather than bowing to the commands of one man, the king. Owing to the egalitarianistic tendencies in Igbo culture, every individual is entitled to have a say and then a consensus is reached. It is certain that the direct democracy in Igbo culture is incompatible with, autocracy, feudalism or monarchy.

In most Igbo political communities the highest political authority was invested on the council of elders and this council operate as the highest legislative, administrative and judicial body. This council is made up of outstanding and influential family heads and community leaders, titled men, war Lords, head of secret society, men of wealth and unusual  talent and age grades.

Political and administrative decisions were reached not by a single leader but by

the collective effort of the member of the council. Issues were discussed and alternative

courses and their consequences were considered. Talented and informed members of the

council led discussions and exercised greater influence in discussion outcome. One                                                    of

the remarkable features of public decision making in Igbo land was the fact that decision

makers always endeavor to make their decisions responsive to the popular will (Nwosu

2002). In fact, the Igbo political systems were open and democratic. Nwosu (2002)

further stated that

the democratic and competitive nature of all Igbo political systems allowed the talented and skilled, but lowly bom to attain the highest positive within the social and political hierarchy. It is this system of their political institutions that made Igbo lands such a good example of what democracy should be. Some of the first European visitors to the region was struck by the extent by which democracy was tmly practiced.

EVANGELIZATION OF IGBO CULTURE

Udeh (2001) citing Pope Paul VI (1995) defines evangelization as “the carrying forth of the Good News to every sector of the human race so that by its strength it may enter into the hearts of men and women and review the human race”.

Jesus Christ enjoined his disciples to “ go therefore and make disciples from all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). Igbo nation is among the nations to be evangelized.

The evangelization of the nation means to help the nation recognize through her own experience that Jesus, dead and risen, is the truth that lights up the nations life (commentary on matt 28:19 in the New Community Bible Catholic Edition). The government of such enlightened nation' should always aim at the self actualization of the human beings in that nation. Abanuka (2007) rightly stated that “if a man is master of himself and of the universe, proper government has to be concerned as one in which the state fulfills itself through the self-actualization of its members”. Reasoning along the same line, Odoemene (2005) asserts that O’Dea a Catholic theologian concludes that “religion could lead the individual to a new value consciousness and reform from inside. Such a development of charisma within a religion highlights the contribution religion could make towards self definition and towards self consciousness and identity, which definitely overtakes ones traditional identity in the society”. In fact, there are many links between the message of salvation and culture. In his self revelation to his people culminating in the fullness of manifestation in his incarnate son, God spoke according to the culture proper to each age (Gs:58). The kerygmatic activities of the church in Igbo land are geared towards the evangelization of the Igbo. This is because the church has been sent to all ages and nations, and therefore is not tied exclusively and in dissolvable to any race or nation, to any one particularly way of life, or to any customary practices ancient or modem (GS 58).

The Church Missionary Society (CMS) arrived Onitsha on the 27th of July 1857 by Bishop Ajayi Crowther. Twenty eight years after their arrival, the Roman Catholic Missionaries (RCM) came. As Obi(1985) puts it, “on Saturday December 5, Fathers Lutz and Home arrived at Onitsha Wharf. Thus they became the first Catholic Missionary team to come to Onitsha and settle in Igboland on the eastern side of the Niger”. The Igbo race are known for their openness and generosity especially towards visitors, so when the missionaries arrived at Onitsha, they had to go to the Obi of Onitsha- Obi Anazonwa who received them with warmth and cordiality. Obi (1985) citing the very words of the missionaries said, “Mr. Townsend accompanies them immediately to the king of whom they desire to request the permission to settle in the country. Fr. Home, ill of fever, remains on board. The king receives Father Superior well and promise him land of his own choosing”. It was in effect the democratic nature of the community that gave the Obi of Onitsha the audacity to make such promise without the fear of contradiction. This is because democratic morality it based on high ideals like equality, liberty, right and fraternity. Its central point is human values and welfare of human beings. For in a democratic society, unity is achieved together with differences of religion, caste, colour, culture and language. (Onyejekwe 2011).

By 1901, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) has moved far into the hinter land

as far as Oraifite. The democratic nature of the people led the Oraifite converts into taking “the decision to merge the churches in the villages to establish one church to be centrally located. Okoye (ed. 2000) reported that “apparently, all the chiefs in Oraifite were interested in seeing a strong virile and viable church in the town instead of a multiplicity of weak churches. This is another factor in favour of the smooth take off of the proposed church.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Missionaries (RCM) who had to crack the kernel with their teeth before they could establish,- the Church Missionary Society (CMS)did not find it as hard because, Bishop Agayi Crowther was a black man from southern Nigeria and had an idea of Igbo culture. In addition, he has some Igbo ex-slaves who were with him, for according to Ugochulcwu (2000), “when the liberated Igbo slaves settled in Sierra Leone, Fernanda Po, Liberia, and Gambia, they developed and Igbo lingua franca, a sort of Igbo esperanto called Isuama dialect named after the Isu kingdom in Igboland at the time they left the continent. Citing Tasie, Ugochukwu (2000) stated that “it was through patriotism of Sierra Leone. Igbo and their compatriots in Fernanda Po, and Gambia that the Church Missionary Society (CMS) for many reasons interested in the hinterland mission, responded to an Igbo lobby and founded its Niger mission”.

Immediately after the establishment of the Church Missionary Society, mission at Onitsha, Bishop Crowther exploited the Igbo democratic spirit and as Azuonye (1992) explained, “summoned a language conference in 1857. Apparently, influenced by the enthusiasm of the Isuama Igbo speaking evangelists and catechists in his party, the conference decided that the dialect to be used in writing Igbo should be Isuama dialect”.

Ipso facto, an average Igbo man is democratic in nature. He loves freedom for all, he hates autocracy, he says his mind without minding. The democracy Nigerian people are talking about after fifty years is a culture in Igboland. Nobody can give an Igbo man democracy because it is part of their culture. It is only the Igbo you see at this end of the year from one comer of the street to the other having meeting, deliberating and allowing other people to say their mind while they arrive at a general conclusion and I think that is what democracy is all about fhttp://www.historian.org). It is an indubitable fact that any where there is a Christian church in Nigeria, if Igbo people are not found there, the church hardly thrives. The secret behind this is that the Igbo people are naturally religious and their democratic and religious propensities spur them into either beginning a church or boosting the already existing one in their vicinity. Their democratic approach and their kerygmatic strategies are some of the instruments they use in evangelization.

SOME CONTEMPORARY ACTS THAT MILITATES AGAINST THE IGBO DEMOCRACY

  1. The Igbo democracy is being negatively challenged by the mad quest for wealth and the acquisition of higher cultic powers. This is very evident in the problems and squabbles in many families today, over the acquisition of land and family properties. The wicked and heartless attack on widows over the wealth of their deceased husbands.
  2.  The problem created by the struggle for Igweship has brought about the disintegration of many peaceful communities and many lives have been lost mysteriously to that effect.
  3.  The attitude of some religious denominations towards Igbo democracy is very appalling. For instance some religious denominations banned their adherent from taking part in village and even family meetings. They also reject most customary events and activities. They are completely alienated from Igbo democratic activities and from their neighbours who are not their members.
  4.  Another painful aspect of it is that many of the Igbo cultural heritages are being

eroded by the current of foreign religious imports, modernization, civilization and

urbanization, and many people who know the Igbo culture very well are gradually

dying out. Pope John Paul II (2000) in his Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation

“Ecclesia in Africa” strongly exhorted and prayed Africans not to give in to the

erosion of African culture when he said: African cultures have an acute

sense of solidarity and community life. In Africa, it is unthinkable to celebrate a feast without the participation of the whole village. Indeed, community life in African. societies expresses the extended family.

It is my ardent hope and prayer that African will always preserve this priceless cultural heritage and never succumb to the temptation to individualism which is so alien to its best traditions.

Consequently therefore it is imperative for Africans especially the Igbo to preserve and protect their culture.

  1. Another horourful phenomenon that threatens Igbo democracy is that some Igbo indigenes have stopped their children from speaking Igbo language in an attempt to make their children learn English language. Such parents also join their anti Igbo counterparts to bam Igbo language in schools (thanks to Prof. Pita Ejiofor and his Subakwa Igbo group). Many don’t even give their children the opportunity to leam Igbo culture. Such children are alienated from their culture, and some grow up to imbibe and practice' another system of governance other than their natural Igbo democracy.

CONCLUSIONS

From what have been seen so far, it ,is clear that the Igbo race have democracy as their natural endowment. This is because the Igbo system of government possesses all the objectively stated features of democracy. It is therefore qualified to be called democracy in its entirety. Igbo democracy coupled with largeness of heart and hospitality are the instruments that brought Christianity into Igbo land and gave it a firm grip among the Igbo. Their egalitarianistic tendencies and their endemic zeal to serve God gave them the audacity to feign the place of the missionary and open churches wherever they go and invite ordained ministers to come and confirm their work. Finally it is suggested that meaningful Igbo person should by all means repudiate and expunge from his or her world view anything that will in any way besmirch the Igbo cultural heritage.

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