Is it that the Igbo no longer understand the meaning of the word “kingdom”? Or that their traditional leadership class has somehow assigned an esoteric meaning to it? Because I, personally, struggle with it’s meaning in the Igbo sociocultural context.
Almost every so-called Autonomous Community in Igbo land now describes itself as “Ancient Kingdom”, or “kingdom”. Their Ezes and Igwes, who for the most part are mere traditional leadership appointees chosen through selection processes that are governed by petty grassroots skirmishes, bickering and influence racketeering, are now addressed with such titles as “His Royal Majesty”, “The Supreme Ruler” and similar monarchical appellations.
No one can describe this pitiful development clearer than Chinua Achebe did in his 1983 book ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’:
“The bankruptcy of Igbo leadership is best illustrated in the alacrity with which they have jettisoned their traditional republicanism in favour of mushroom kingships. From having no kings in their recent past the Igbo swung round to set an all-time record of four hundred “kings” in Imo and four hundred in Anambra! And most of them are traders in their stall by day and monarchs at night; city dwellers five days a week and traditional village rulers on Saturdays and Sundays! They adopt “traditional” robes from every land, including, I am told, the ceremonial regalia of the Lord Mayor of London!
The degree of travesty to which the Igbo man is apparently ready to reduce his institutions in his eagerness “to get up” can be truly amazing. At first sight this weakness might appear only as a private problem to the Igbos themselves. But an indifference to non-material value which it portrays might easily spill over into a carelessness and disregard for the feeling of sacredness which others might hold for their own institutions “.
And yet it has gotten worse since Achebe aired this lament. Many “kingdoms” have arisen since that time, and each of the five central igbo states today has no fewer than 1000 “kings”. Even the wives of Ezes and Igwes are now addressed as “Queen Consort” and their widows as “Queen Mother”.
A society that in its recent history (of the last 500 years or so) had in its very DNA a rational and proud hatred of kings, kingship and kingdom; whose recent civilisation evolved, existentially, a sociopolitical architecture deliberately designed to not allow any attributes of kingdom to thrive, now has the largest number of kingdoms than any other society.
In my view and true to Achebe’s observation, this shameful race to ‘copy other people’ denigrates the unique republicanism that defines the Igbo sociopolitical worldview. And even more so, it cheapens the kingship institutions which other people hold with a measure of sacredness-