Beginnings of Ozo


The featured book titled ‘Origin & Developments – Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Association’ is a major contribution to the growing body of published materials on, and documentation of, the life of the people of Onitsha Ado N’ldu. It calls for-further research and understanding which will enable the present generation to effectively strengthen and re-position our Ozo institution and Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Association for the future. I welcome this book and commend it to a worldwide readership of both Onitsha indigenes and everyone interested in indigenous cultures and traditions.

His Majesty, Nnaemeka Alfred Ugochukwu Achebe, CFR, mni
Obi of Onitsha
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Apart from some mention of integration of some communities through the Ozo title
and marriages, there seems to have been no clear-cut point of introduction of the Ozo title ceremony and its
“successor” Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Society in the socio-political development of Onitsha. From the Eze Chima Dynasty, subsequent kings of Onitsha emerged. One of the kings, Obi Chimedie, who reigned in the 18th century, was on record as making over his ozo title to his grandson Orezeobi in the first-ever Ozonwa (Nzekwu: 140). However, the record of the first Onitsha son to take
the Ozo title seems unavailable, but with interpolation and scanty information available, one can use the age grade societies as starting point.
Starting from Omekome Age Grade (1876 – 1878), one can use both oral tradition and genealogy to situate the beginnings of the Ozo title which is the precursor of the ancient Agbalanze Society in Onitsha.

Here we are concerned principally with Ozo Muo and its derivatives Ozo Nwa, Ozo Nzukwa Ozu and Ozo Transfer (Nzekwu: 140-142). It is safer for us to assume – as many authors had – and start by discussing the objectives and processes of Ozo title, at the end of which facts about the early beginnings of Ozo would emerge. This is more so as the records of activities of our ancestors in the early days of Onitsha Ado kingdom were not kept by them in written forms. Some writers maintained that the economy of early Onitsha was agrarian until the advent of the missionaries and European traders with whom they established trade and commercial contacts. Hence, “in the late nineteenth century Onitsha was rural with powerful traditional and agrarian motifs” (Ofodile, 2009:2l). Ofodile, also informed hisreaders that his maternal uncle, Chief Umerah Obumse Onika, the Ozi Adamagbe of Onitsha, was renowned for bravery, oratory and farming prowess.

He was acclaimed “di ji”, literally husband of yams for his astonishing agricultural yield. Many houses were of the mud and thatch structure. Behind some of the houses were barns where yams were stored. In some villages, these barns were built in the “Iba” houses which hosted the farm produce of different family members, such as the “Iba Iwegbu” in Odoje Odu, Odimegwugbuagwu village.

Facts and Findings

The di ji phenomenom was replicated by Chief Aniekweogwu Okolonji Iwegbu of Odoje Odimegwugbuagwu village. Born in 1879, Okolonji Iwegbu became the Akpe Olodi of Onitsha in 1942 during the reign of Obi James Okosi II. Okolonji’s agricultural prowess made him to cultivate many farmlands, not only in Onitsha but also in distant riverain towns like Nzam, Ozigono and Anam.  The offshore farms were cultivated under joint venture contracts (Amara Ekee). The yields were ferried into Onitsha in canoes during the harvest seasons. These yam tubers were kept in the barn at Iba Iwegbu. Apart from farm produce, Okolonji Iwegbu boasted a substantial flock of sheep and goats just like his brother-in-law Chief Samuel Chukwuemeka Obianwu, the Owelle of Onitsha, of “Atulu Obianwu” fame. This gave a very fair evaluation of the wherewithal of aspirants to the Ozo title in the medieval days in Onitsha.

In a photographic and an elaborate chronicle, Chief Isaac Aniegboka Mbanefo (1990) said that his grandfather Iwegbu took the Ozo title and became a prestigious member of the Agbalanze Society adopting the name Nzeanata in the process. As an ndichie he became the Eze Idi chieftain of Ugwunaobankpa clan, the most senior okpala when the eze-idi office was in vogue. Aniegboka’s father Mbanefo Iwegbu, born circa I872, a member of the Akpali Age Grade, also took the Ozo title. In the course of this research, we learnt that his father took the cognomen of Amalunweze, a name taken by one of Aniegboka’s brothers Osmond Etuka Mbanefo, a member of the Ogbo Isato group of activists and think tank during his time. Aniegboka was initiated into the Agbalanze Society at age 23, in his own father’s lifetime. A member of Ositadinma Age Grade born in 1898, he took the ozo title in January, 192l taking the cognomen of Nnanyelugo. I Mbanefo enumerated a few young initiates in the 1920s to include Akunne Eju Agbakoba (later Asagwali), Akunne Phillip Okonkwo Anatogu (later Onowu), Nnanyelugo James Eju Ofodile, Nnanyelugo Robert Osungbo Adibua (later Onya), Nnanyelugo Achebe Okechukwu and Nnanyelugo Charles Njaka. Even as these “few legends were named, there were many unrecorded citizens of Onitsha whose initiations into the Agbalanze Society predated theirs. However, these unrecorded but highly revered pioneers are recorded in the Agbalanze roll as contained in the database project conducted by the Agbalanze Onitsha-Cultural Association.

The evidential features of modernity came after l900 with consequential socioeconomic and political effects that made Onitsha the cradle of western civilization east of-the Niger. Prior to the pre-colonial era, yam tubers and other agricultural produce constituted the main source of funding the ozo title fees. The Onitsha environment in which our great ancestors were nurtured occupies a unique position in the history of Nigeria because of the struggle between Europeans and Africans which began there in the mid-nineteenth century. The official date of the contact between the two races at Onitsha was July 26, l857. This during the reign of Obi Akazue (1840-‘l863).

The inhabitants of Onitsha having never seen white men in their country before they no doubt suspected the motives of the large ship anchoring off their shores. They were quite frightened armed themselves for defence and shunned us as we approached them; but a little explanation and friendly conversation soon ensured confidence and one of them Odili, the son of King Akazue, offered to be our guide to the town”. The colonialists noted that the economic order of Onitsha was based on, “extensive cultivation of yam and Indian com, among which were young cotton plants: in the trade that followed this visit,  two yams sold for an empty bottle”. Their survey showed them that salt and other goods (among them “shirts, jackets, and straw hats that were in great demand by the people”, were brought from lower parts of River Niger and sold for cowries or ivory, and the cowries were brought to Onitsha market to purchase palm oil. They bought two casks of palm oil from a woman for large coral beads. They noted that during celebrations, “the people appeared in their best, in clothes of their manufacture generally plain or fanciful white), and both sexes danced to the beat of drums at funerals, with which they kept up constant firing of muskets”. They estimated the population of Onitsha to be about 6,500 souls, “a population troubled by war with their lgbo neighbours in the interior”.

This period produced Chief Obiogbolu Ezeoba, grandfather of Nnabuenyi Professor Chike Obi, the world-renowned mathematician. Obiogbolu was from Ogboli Olosi village. He was a contemporary of King Akazue, the 15th ruler in the line of kings from Hzechima in Onitsha. Obiogbolu was the Ogene of Onitsha. Obiogbolu also saw the reign of Obi Anazonwu which commenced in.

In 1892, at the peak of his influence: Obiogbolu, “ascribed to himself’ a new title as “Ezeoba”. This act intensified the personal rivalry between him and Obi Anazonwu. Obi Anazonwu became king in 1874 and transferred his Ozo title of Nwaenyi to his younger brother Agbakoba Akazue.

In this same period – circa 1892, a hostile clash after a prolonged acrimony broke out between Obiogbolu Ogene of Ogboli Olosi village “alias” Ezeoba and Mozie Odu Offlmudei village. Ezeoba was exiled to Asaba where he died during the reign of Obi Anazonwu. The name of Ezeoba also flashed through the traditional Ozo title of Onitsha when Nzekwu (p.140-141) stated, “Nwagbolu Ogbuefi, father of Ogene Ezeoba, first emulated this prerogative of the Obi (Ozo transfer) in the reign of Obi Udogwu. Obi Udogwu reigned from 1820 to 1840.

We are on an irreversible course and march to progress; we remain in line with the aims and aspirations of our founding fathers.