Obi Samuel Okolo Okosi 1, 1901-1931
(also called Obi Sammy)

One member of Okebunabo during the late 19th century was a man named Samuel Okosi, one of the few literate sons of the earliest Christian converts in Onitsha, who had been a communicant in the longstanding CMS Waterside congregation (begun in 1857) before he defected to the more recent Roman Catholic Mission in 1895. Samuel worked as a cook in Aguleri for the Mission Fathers, who saw they had an opportunity to accelerate change in Onitsha and gave their employee strong support as a candidate to succeed Obi Anazonwu (in an era when, as some of our elderly consultants put it in 1961, “we viewed white men as Gods”). Okebunabo now strongly contested the Kingship against the descendants of King Aroli, and indeed a second literate candidate from Okebunabo, Samuel Okosi’s own brother Gbasiuzo.Brought to an impasse, the dispute was taken to the new Supreme Court in Asaba, where the British officials holding a hastily‑organized Commission of Inquiry were influenced partly by urgings of the Roman Catholic Mission Fathers to appoint a literate man as king (and no doubt partly by the predispositions of the Roman Catholic official who headed the British establishment there), and in 1901 they chose Samuel Okosi to succeed Anazonwu.8 The kingship thus passed sharply away from six continuous generations of control by the descendants of King Aroli and into the hands of this second major division of the Royal Clan, long excluded from the throne, but now represented there by a Roman Catholic King.

This British Colonial (and Roman Catholic) intervention generated drastic discontinuities in Onitsha Kingship tradition, and produced deep schisms in Onitsha community which extended into the 1961 Interregnum. From the early 1900s, for example, developed the “tradition” among Ndi-Onicha that “the Obi does not keep juju“, which some Onitsha elders project back into the precolonial past, but this is contradicted by the historical record (For example Mockler‑Ferryman 1892:22-23, who describes his visit to Obi Anazonwu of Ogbeozala in 1889: “”Such is Onitsha’s king. On the ground at his feet lay an earthenware pot containing a cow’s skull, and on a wooden framework in front of the royal seat hunga bell, a horse’s tail, a bundle of short iron spears, and a few other jujus.”. These are standard Onitsha ritual objects.)

The new Obi refused to perform most of the required Installation rituals (especially “Going to Udo” and receiving the “King’s Ofo), and his very crown for his initial Emergence was provided by the RCM, who moved physically (for a time) into his new palace grounds. (The crown shown here above does hold traditional bird feathers, but also features a prominent fleur-des-lis; he does appear to be holding the traditional horsetail switch of mourning, Otinri.) At that time, a very large number of Ndi-Onicha refused to give the new Obi his customary tribute, ridiculing him as “the Book (educational) King” (Eze Akukwo) and “Foreigners’ King” (Eze Oyibo

Culled from
Dick & Helen Henderson


Okosi, Obi Samuel Okolo

Not much has been recorded about the parentage of Okolo Samuel Okosi except that he was born in Onitsha–the beachhead for all Christian Missions in Igboland, in eastern Nigeria.

On November 22, 1863 Okosi was baptized at the age of seven. In 1885, the very year the Catholic missionaries of the Order of the Holy Ghost arrived in Onitsha–the Church Missionary Society (CMS) had arrived earlier, in 1857–Okosi began working with the two pioneer missionaries, Fr. Joseph Lutz and Fr. Horne and was made a catechist. Okosi, whose Christian name was Samuel, served as catechist at Aguleri and Nsugbe, both in the present Anambra State.

In November 1900, the totally unexpected happened at Onitsha: his fellow townsmen chose Okosi, a Catholic catechist serving at Nsugbe, to be the new Obi (king) of Onitsha, the highest office in the city’s political institution. Of the other two candidates vying for the same royal post, one was the son of the deceased pagan Obi and the other an unnamed Protestant candidate. Despite his Christian background, and his resolve to do away with all idols, Sami–as Okosi was popularly known–was made the Obi of Onitsha and confirmed in the office of the colonial administration.

Once elected and confirmed as the Obi of Onitsha, Okosi soon demonstrated that he was a traditional ruler of a new order. As his first interest was education, he collaborated with Bishop Joseph Shanahan, the renowned great apostle of eastern Nigeria to establish many schools in Onitsha. For example, St. Mary’s school, Onitsha, was started in Okosi’s palace before being moved to its present location along Awka road, Onitsha.

It is remarkable too that at Okosi’s initiative, the colonial administration promulgated a law making the killing of twins punishable by death despite strong opposition from some chiefs and native priests. This followed the incident in 1901 during Okosi’s reign when his wife gave birth to twins. The people wanted the twins killed but the king maintained his Christian culture and refused to let them be killed. Ever since then, when twins are born in the town, if anyone makes a fuss about it, the parents refer to the Obi’s twins, saying they should be the first ones to be killed. Like the legendary Mary Slessor, Okosi left this legacy to the Onitsha mission. Both helped the church to stop the killing of twins.

Okosi reigned from 1901 to 1931.

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