Chief Kenneth Onyeneke, HRH Igwe Orizu III
Chief Kenneth Onyeneke, HRH Igwe Orizu III

The Nnewi monarchy, like the British monarchy, is a traditional inheritance of the throne based on Patrilineality and sonship heredity. In Nnewi, the traditional monarch is called the Igwe. The Igwe is born and not made or elected, and the institution of inheritance is the traditional right and Primogeniture privilege. The position is neither transferable nor negotiable.

There have been 20 monarchs of Nnewi Kingdom (see the List of Monarchy of the Nnewi). The Kingdom of Nnewi was formed around 1498 with the original settlement of Mmaku, the grandfather of Nnewi. The present reigning monarch is His Royal Highness Igwe Orizu III is the 20th monarch in the Nnofo Royal lineage

An “igwe” is a king, basically, and this is a title used consistently throughout northern Igbo-speaking areas. The term is associated with the sky deity, pointing to the king’s elevated status – also to his consecration/installation as something like a divinity on earth. The Igwe of Nnewi would be the king of the spirit of Nnewi; chi meaning spirit or life force. The primary cult of most northern Igbo towns is that of the Ana/Ani (the land goddess), and chi usually is considered to be a more human-scaled spirit. However, the term chi is part of one of the major deities of the north, Chineke – the ambigendered creative force that is often associated with Ani. (Ani is sometimes said to be married to Igwe – earth to sky. This divine marriage is also referenced in many northern Igbo royal systems.)

English-speaking Igbo frequently use the titles of English royalty (“His Royal Highness”) to refer to their indigenous rulers. The main thing to remember is that kings partake of the divinities in this region and are important ritual practitioners; any Igwe is also the head of the royal cult – and his ancestors are invoked on behalf of the entire town. Most northern Igbo kingships are not hereditary in a simple sense, however. There are kingly clans whose male members are eligible for kingship, and then there are kingmaker clans, whose elders have the task of “discovering” the new king during the interregnum. This is a process that is part-divination – and ofos might well be involved – and part hard-nosed indigenous politics (30 Nov. 2002).

In Nnewi however, The kingship is a traditional and hereditary monarchy with a tetrarchy system whereby the four quarters of Nnewi has an Obi who has autonomous jurisdiction to his quarter alone. But the Igwe is the ISI obi (head of the Obis) and hence the Igwe, which literally translates as the heavenly one or highness as he is the holder of the Ofo, the religious and political symbol. He is born and not made or elected, and the institution of inheritance is the traditional right and privilege. He is also an Obi. Obi is the title held by ruling chiefs; it is the equivalent of a duke in the nobility.

Igwe Kenneth Orizu
Igwe Kenneth Orizu III

Until now, the ruling house of Otolo which is as well that of the entire Nnewi is in Nnofo family in Otolo, Nnewi. In the other three-quarters of Nnewi, his influence is also felt although there are Obi in Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi quarters.

The present incumbent Kenneth Onyeneke Orizu succeeded his father as Igwe Orizu III in 1963 after the death of his father Igwe Josiah Orizu II. He was educated at Hope Waddell College, Calabar. Before his enthronement, Kenneth worked as a Representative of the then Eastern Nigerian Outlook Group of newspapers, in the defunct Eastern Region of Nigeria. He was also a very successful businessman in Kano.

Each of the four arms has a traditional head called the Obi. Since Otolo is the first arm, the Obi of Otolo is also the Igwe of Nnewi: he leads rather than rules. Within the four arms, there are also villages, and within the villages, there are Umunna or big families. Each level has an obi as its traditional head. The position of every obi is hereditary by primogeniture.

In the event that an obi dies without a son, his oldest brother takes over. This tradition has existed since time immemorial. Nobody schemes to become an obi or Igwe. If the first son is guilty of bloodshed or some other taboos, he will not inherit his father’s throne. Because the throne is not open for contest, it has helped to ensure peace in the town for generations.

The role of the Monarch is limited to the four quarters of Nnewi, and have no part in the formal governance of the Anambra State. The Monarch and the members of the Royal Family undertake a variety of official, unofficial and other representational duties within Nnewi, Nigeria and abroad.

There are Obis in the four clans that make up Nnewi. The highest and the most senior obi is the Obi of Otolo, who is also the Igwe of Nnewi. Chief Nnamdi Obi, Obi Bennett Okafor and Obi George Onyekaba are the current obis of Uruagu, Umudim, and Nnewichi, respectively. These three obis with Igwe Orizu, III as chairman constitute the Igwe-in-Council and they deliberate on the spiritual, traditional, and communal matters, in Nnewi.

Chief Kenneth Onyeneke, HRH Igwe Orizu III

HRH Kenneth Onyeneke Igwe Orizu III is the current Igwe Nnewi. Igwe Orizu III was born on 29 October 1925 and ascended the throne on 2 June 1963 as the 20th Igwe Nnewi.

His Royal Highness Obi Bennett Okafor JP. (Amaukwu), is the Obi of Umudim Nnewi and Umudim Ward 1 and 2.

His Royal Highness Obi Bennett Okafor JP. (Amaukwu), is the Obi of Umudim Nnewi and Umudim Ward 1 and 2.

Obi Afam Charles Obi

Obi Afam Charles Obi is the Obi of Uruagu-Nnewi. He was enthroned after the death of his father, Obi Dr Nnamdi A.C

Ofo” refers to a particular type of staff (as well as the wood from which it’s made) that is carried by elder men – notably patrilineage priests and some masqueraders. Christopher Ejizu, in his invaluable but very arcane book, Ofo: Igbo Ritual Symbol (Enugu: Fourth Dimension 1986), tells us that there is an ofo masquerade group in the Nnewi area called the Ofo-Anunu-Ebe and later associates that ofo group with the practice of “sending” the spirit of ofo out against miscreants. … I believe that ofo can generally be inherited through the paternal line and that it is also associated with the work of some healer-diviners (ndi dibia) in divination (AFA). This is a complicated ritual [practice], and you see a lot of variation -as with most Igbo ritual – from town to town (30 Nov. 2002).

The ritual of the consecration of the higher grades of Ofo, professional and institutional Ofo, is a much more elaborate exercise in most parts of Igboland. The items normally used bespeak the status of Ofo. For instance, for the Ofo-Ataka, the symbol of the highest grade of Ozo title in Nnewi, the aspirant would make a gift of a cow, a goat, and very many other things to the kindred that acts as the protector of that particular Ofo (4 Dec. 2002).

Commenting on Ejizu’s observation the FMC professor said that it tells us that there are institutionalized and “professional” types of Ofo in the Nnewi area – not only personal ones. This speaks to the idea of Ofo cult. These less personal Ofo can be very dangerous objects indeed; if used for the good of the town, they can find and punish criminals. If used to meet the ends of the cult membership, they can cause harm to people who have crossed them – but who not necessarily are criminals in any simple sense. Ozo-titled men are important elders and fierce politicians; evidently, in Nnewi, they can be invested with one of these institutional Ofo, besides having their own lineage-tied staffs (4 Dec. 2002).

Ofo is symbol objects. The Ofo is the sacred symbol of truth, justice, law and authority. It plays a role in sacrificial rituals, prayer, oath-taking, pronouncing judgement, deliberating policy within the family or community and involving blessings or curses. Brass Ofo often serves as symbols of family or community authority and become revered family heirlooms.

Bronze Ofo serve as symbols of power and authority for officeholders and titled men or a sacred family icon. Ofo represents the collective power of the ancestors and the truths given by Chuku (The High God). The Ofo symbolizes the link between the living holder of family or ruling authority and their ancestors (Nancy Neaher).

Ofo also symbolize the link they make between Chukwu the High God and Humanity, and between the living, the dead, and those yet to be born (Njaka). Ofo plays a role in prayer, ritual sacrifice, contact of spirit patrons, magical uses, naming ceremonies, determining calendars of events, affirming moral uprightness, sealing covenants, legitimizing states or office, decision making, settling disputes, taking oaths of administration, and promulgating and enforcing laws (Christopher Ejizu) (Aug. 1999).

Since 1477 till date, the list of all the monarchs and the time of their reign has been chronicled.

Line of succession to the Nnewi Throne Names of Monarch DOB Death Reign
1st Chief Mmaku 1477 1529 1498-1529
2nd Chief Ikenga 1503 1577 1529-1577
3rd Chief Nnewi 1530 1607 1577-1607
4th Chief Okpala 1560 1629 1607-1608
5th Chief Digbo 1563 1635 1608-1631
6th Chief Otolo 1566 1639 1631-1639
7th Chief Enem 1598 1675 1639-1651
8th Chief Nnofo 1600 1685 1651-1685
9th Chief Udude 1625 1710 1685-1710
10th Eze Agha (Onuo Ora) 1650 1745 1701-1745
11th Eze Agha Jnr 1685 1763 1745-1747
12th Eze Nnwa 1701 1791 1747-1791
13th Eze Oguine 1740 1831 1791-1831
14th Eze Chukwu 1769 1840 1831-1840
15th Eze Ukwu 1799 1862 1840-1862
16th Igwe Okafo 1830 1891 1862-1891
17th Igwe Iwuchukwu Eze ifekaibeya 1855 1904 1891-1904
18th Igwe Orizu I (Eze Ugbonyamba) 1881 1924 1904-1924
19th Igwe Josiah Nnaji Orizu II 1901 1963 1924-1962
20th Igwe Kenneth Onyeneke Orizu III 1925 Living 1963 –


Associate professor of anthropology, Frank and Marshall College, Pennsylvania. 4 December 2002. Correspondence.
__. 30 November 2002. Correspondence.
Norfolk State University (NSU). August 1999. “Lois E. Woods Museum: Nigerian Research.” http://www.nsu.edu/resources/woods/nigeria.htm [Accessed 29 Nov. 2002]

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