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THE ORIGIN OF OGWASHI- UKU, ANIOMA AND THE REST OF DELTA IBO:
By Chris Okafor
“What really is the point of trying to teach anything to anybody?’ This question seemed to provoke a murmur of sympathetic approval from up and down the table. ‘What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that’s really the essence of programming. By the time you’ve sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you’ve learned something about it yourself.’
- Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Agency Detector
Thus, I have chosen to write this article prior to recent election of Chief Ralph Uwaechue, an astute Ogwashi –Uku son of the soil and by contrast, an Anioma man as the President General elect of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo as well as the Newspapers report by the former that “The Origin of Delta Igbo is Indisputable”. Some of the reactionists include Sunny Ofili, the publisher of thetimesofnigeria.com, a United States-based internet news websites. What follows was an Armageddon, an avalanche of people through newspapers and magazines both in Nigeria and Diasporas engaging in endless arguments as regards the aforementioned issues. Interestingly, some has resorted to adding rhetoric in order to buttress their fact less points.
Of all these argument about the origin of Delta Igbo or Ibo, the only one I found completely unacceptable is the statement credited to Chief Ralph Uwaechue and it run thus “It is ridiculous for people who speak Igbo and who properly know their ancestral home to say they do not know their origin again or for another person to begin to give inaccurate facts,” he told Saturday Independent in an interview.
“We have people in Anioma and they form one-third of the population and that has also reflected on the number of local government areas it commands. The entire Delta may not trace their origin to the East (Igbo) it is not contestable but the people of Anioma traced their origin from the East and there is nothing bad in joining Ohanaeze Ndigbo”. The constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria is clear on freedom of associations and so anybody has the right to join whatever organisation he/she so wishes the last statement that the people of Anioma (generalization) traced their origin from the East is something like, Sunny Ofili, I bluntly refuse to accept.
The points here is that if you are making a reference such as Ndi Igbo or Ndi Yoruba or Hausas, you are definitely referring to entire Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa nations. The reference or assertion such as Anioma people can trace their origin to the East is therefore wrong. Unless if he is quoted out of context. Statements like, some Delta Ibos can trace their roots or origin to either Eastern Igbos or the great Benin Empire is, to the best of my knowledge, a formidable fact because the entire Ogwashi-uku where Chief Ralph Uwaechue hails from cannot be said to come from the East.
A chronological history of early settlements in Ogwashi-Uku can authoritatively portray the following facts that the Ikelike people from the Bini kingdom were the first to settle in Ogwashi-Uku (see Ben Nwabua, Ogwash-uku Kingdom, 1000 Years of Traditional Democracy and Cultural Life, 950-1914).
Both traditional and empirical sources gives credence that Ikelike people were the first set of immigrants to settle in the present Ogwashi-Uku as against the notion that Adaigbo who purportedly came from Nri in present Anambra State today is the founder of Ogwashi-Uku. So far, no counter claim has been made on this. According to Ogwashi-Uku intelligence report by Mr. J.E Hull, the then Assistant District Officer dated on the 9th of April 1936, the Ikelike people from all indications migrated from Benin to settle where they are found themselves today, because of a reign of wanton persecution of subjects by the then Benin Monarch, Oba Eweka 11. The story further goes that at the head was Odigie Ikelike with his younger brother Ado who later founded Adonta, a relatively small village close to Azungwu in Ogwashi-uku today. The Ikelike migrants were said to be politically averse and could not, therefore evolve an orderly method of governance even though there were small in number. Jull`s report further went on to point out that because of such indisposition towards an effective means of governing themselves, it cost them the political leadership they were first to settle in. Rather, Adaigbo, the prince from Nri later came, controlled the situation and imposed leadership based on Igbo customs and tradition on them and what later became Ogwshi-Uku kingdom. Adaigbo’s imposed of republican system, however, later gave way to the hereditary system of the Binis.
There are nine federating units that make up what is today know as Ogwashi-uku kingdom sometimes refers as Ogwashi Ebo Iteneni. These nine federating units are: (1) Ikelike (2) Azungwu (3) Umudei (4) Ogbe Ubu (5) Ogbe Aho/Ogbe Ani (6) Agidiase (7) Agidiahe (8) Ogbe Umu Okwuni and (9) Ogbe Ihago. This arrangement was and still is for the traditional governance in the kingdom and each of these units could, without doubt trace their origin to Benin or Eastern Ibo. For instance, Umu Ochele people in Ogwashi-Uku came from Benin during the reign of Oba Ovonramwen and so is the people of Umu Olu Ishiekpe Ogbe Ihago and others too numerous to mention.
In life, if you know the right questions, you can find the right answers. Did Ogwashi-uku derive its present name from Eastern Ibo or from Bini Empire or is the language entirely that of Ibo. Let’s consider the following theories. By the turn of 9th century, the Ogiso dynasty had come into being with empowerment of their kings as the paramount rulers of the land. (Read P26 Ben Nwabuwa Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom). However, the Bini people became disenchanted with all the Kings that ruled the empire under the Ogiso dynasty and by 1121 A.D, Oba Ogiame had sent emissary to OGWANHE (Nshi Adaigbo) to ascertain the strength of the emerging entity. The emissary was said to have met Adaigbo, the Prince of Nri and they interpreted Ogwanhe as that of Bini.
Filled with joy that he met a good friend indeed, Adigbo commended the disposition of Oba`s emissary who went further adding Uku which in Bini language means “great” The subsequent interpretation of this therefore means a place of greatness. And since the great meet, the place came to be known as Ogwanhe Uku while the Igbo pronunciation has it as Ogwashi-Ukwu which is also called Ogwanri Adaigbo or Ogwashi Adaigbo.
Traditional source gives credence to the Ikelike Aborigines as having christened the entity Ogwanhe after the Bini tradition of building a small house known as OGWA at the front yard of a natural ruler. In Bini tradition, an Ogwa means royal palace or a royal people of destiny and to some extent; this historical claim could be justified since the culture of building an Ogwa in Bini kingdom is still popular even to the present day.
Ogwashi-uku share some acceptable relationship with present day Igbo bi nuzo, igbuzo or Ibusa which is entirely based on the same sickening stories of Adaigbo, the Prince of Nri who defiled one of the fathers wives and was sent out with his brother Ogboli and some slaves. Around 1091 A.D on this journey to nowhere, Ogboli pot was said to have fallen and his brother Adaigbo had instructed him to settle there. However, there is a different twist to this assertion which is practically based on oral history between Ogwashi-uku and Igbuzo. Some oral history suggest a different scenario which further attest why the subject paid some certain homage to Ogwashi-uku during the reign of the erstwhile monarch Obi Izedunor. I will reserve my comment on this topic for now.
Over the years, I have read a lot of trash from some unscrupulous elements that cannot deduce facts from fictions neither can they make a proper research or investigation towards a given phenomenon before writing and publishing rubbish in the internet. This is not only annoying but an extraordinary frame of reference for agile minds. Most stories from these elements attributed to the founding of Ogwashi-uku are often frivolous, baseless and has no single foundation. It is quite difficult for me to believe any story that is not supported by 5 W`s and one H, i.e., What really happened? Where did it happen? When was it? Why and Who were involved and finally How did it happened? Of course, I know how desperate most of these miscreants are to have their names in the media. That`s Ok but when it comes to writing what you have not truly investigated, I think extra care need to be taken so that whenever that writing is FLORG ( Facts, Logic, Rhetoric’s and Grammar) the message one is trying to convey would be justified.
As a writer, you can only write what you know about and as a historian, you can tell what you are familiar with rather than relying on unverified information you gathered from the internet for people’s consumptions. As such, I dare anyone that has contrary opinion to the above claims to go back to Ogwashi-uku for proper verification. Ikelike people are still in Ogwashi-Uku today and so are Ishekpe and other people that have their origin right from Bini kingdom. They need to be interviewed and after this, I will need a proper conviction that the entire Ogwashi-Uku came from the Igbo East of the Niger or that Adaigbo is the founder of Ogwashi-uku.
On the issues of language, how are you sure that the Ogwashi-Uku language is that of Igbo and not that of ANIOMA and even if it is Igbo, the fact that English language is being used freely in United States and some other countries today does not make America an English country. Of all the names of the nine federating units that make up Ogwashi-Uku almost all as you can see above were Ogbe which means quarter in Bini language.
Still on origin of Ogwashi-Uku, an Anioma town. My quest for personal identity began when I was growing up as a child and that was sometimes in early 80s, I was in secondary school and had gone to Onitsha main market from Ogwashi-Uku in company of friends to buy clothes in preparation for children day disco party. There in the market somebody had listened to our conversation, held our hands and dragged us to his shop and had said something like “don’t buy from Ndigbo, buy from me for we are brothers”, I didn’t get it because I did not understand why someone from Igbo Onitsha, an igbo city would be making such reference. Two days after the trip to Onitsha, I had told my grandma whose formidable memory at 83yrs then was unbelievable. The only explanation I got from her was that Onitsha people are not truly Igbos.
In the university, I had the opportunity to read Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, My Odyssey and there and then, the great Zik of Africa was able to trace his origin to the Ezechima via Bini Kingdom. In fact, Phillip Emeagwali, a Nigerian-American computer whiz kid was more apt on his roots. The following is Emeagwali in his own words, “I am a Yoruba by birth (born in Akure, western region) and Igbo by heritage. As a native Onitsha Igbo, I trace my ancestry to Eze Chima, a prince who rebelled against the Benin royal dynasty and emigrated from the kingdom. Other Igbos that trace their lineage to Eze Chima include Onicha-Ukwu, Onicha-Olona, Onicha-Ugbo, Obior, Issele-Ukwu, Issele-Mkpima, Issele-Azagba, Ezi, Abeh and Obamkpa.Native Onitsha’s speak a dialect of the Igbo language with several
Benin/Yoruba words such as “Obi” (of Onitsha) and “Oba” (of Benin). In fact, the word Onitsha (Onicha) is a corruption of the god “Orisha.” The bini name for River Niger is Ohinmwin. The Onicha Igbo call it “Orinmili.” In a few years, we will have DNA tests that proves (or disapproves) the Onitsha-Benin-Yoruba connection.”
Thus, the above example from these two great men from Onitsha an Igbo extraction is an example of people who have successfully traced their roots and origin. The big question now from the above analysis is, is the origin of Onitsha an Igbo city indisputable just because they speak Igbo? You be the judge! Is the origin of Ogbaru, Oba, Akwukwu Obosi, Ozubulu and Oraifite in present Anambra state indisputable? Or is the origin of Oguta in Imo state or the Ndoni and Ogba people of Rivers State indisputable? They are all Anioma people who were balkanized after they lost the Ekumeku war of resistance against the British imperialism in 1914. Surprisingly, no attempts were made thereafter by the people of this region to reclaim these lost territories into the Anioma home of Delta state.
Anioma people just like every other tribe, villages, towns or ethnic groups in Nigeria today cannot be said to come from one particular area. This is not what is at stake. What is at stake is that we, the ANIOMAS are over due for the immediate creation of our own State. My main purpose of this writing is to set the record straight that all the Aniomas or Delta Ibos are NOT Igbos just because we speak Igbo. The Aniocha, the Ndokwa, the Ika and the Oshimili which form the acronym for ANIOMA can authoritatively trace their roots or origin to Benin or Igbo across the Nigeria; again, this is not indisputable.
Those who has been able to trace their roots to either Benin or Igbo is just for record purpose because I know deep down my heart that no Anioma sons or daughters would prefer to join the Benin or the Igbo across the Niger just because our origin could be traced there. We have been unforgivably been betrayed by these people and this is about the only time that we should stand up on our own and fight so that Anioma state could be created.
There is this popular saying in Ogwashi-Uku which says that “onye nwa ju adi aju onwe” meaning (whenever you have been forsaken, you probably be the last person to forsake yourself) I couldn`t agree more than Kunirum Osai. Ph.d and erstwhile National President of Anioma Association in United States submission that “Ethnic identity exists because individuals include among their repertoire of social roles one or more culturally defined uniqueness. The conscious sense on the part of an individual that he/she belongs to a given collectivity is the basic building block of identity. Our Anioma ethnic identity derives from our common set of symbols and cognitions shared by our people. Aniocha, Ndokwa, lka and Oshimili, share the same cultural space and delimited physical geography. They dress alike. They dance alike. They use the same musical instruments. They speak the same or similar languages. They show the same deference to their elders and women. They respect character and integrity. They are not exploitative. Money is not everything, character is everything. In short, they have the same worldview. Our Anioma ethnic identity is cultural self-definition and philosophical affirmation of our self-determination as a people who see themselves at the crossroads of the contemporary Nigerian state. Anioma provides for us the physical and cultural space that defines the necessary locus of our highest fulfilment as a people.”
What more do I need to add to Dr. Osai`s dispositions over a journey that hitherto began since 1951 when Chief Dennis Osadebe (Oshimili) F.H Utomi (Aniocha) Hon Obi of Akumazi (Ika); Hon. Frank Oputa Ututu (Ndokwa) and Hon Oki (Ndokwa) jointly moved a motion in the then Western House of Assembly to seek “a separate province” for our people, who had been balkanized and merged with Benin and Warri provinces by the colonialists. There is no doubt that Anioma remains the oldest state yet to be created in Nigeria today. Its agitation has been on since 1951 but unfortunately most people with whom we have relied on are neither there nor here.
Here in Ireland, I have consistently and repeatedly told various Anioma organizations that it doesn’t matter whether it is Anioma Progressive Union, Izu Anioma or Otu Anioma provided we have one common objective. We need to know ourselves, understand ourselves and possibly project a common front for urgent actualization of Anioma State so that the ideas and views of those pioneers that started it would not be in vain. We can do this through constant meetings and interactions devoid of any acrimony. This is the only way we can emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.
Agitation of state creation in Nigeria federation is a very tricky one. Those that ask for a creation of a particular state in most cases have absolutely nothing to sustain the state. Their target is the 15% Federal allocation courtesy of oil in Niger Delta. Unlike the Anioma people, we have what it takes to be self reliant. The records are there.
I understand that most people are not conversant with certain history that brought them to fame and as such, what you do or say as a role model in cause of fighting for a particular reform matters because if you are not judged by humans, you will be certainly judged by posterity in no distant future.
The Anioma people in Ohaneze Ndi igbo could join whatever association they deem necessary if it is the only way they could convince the Iwuanyanwus that we need our own state. Anything contrary to this is unacceptable.
Chris Obiajulu Okafor was born in Ogwashi-Uku in Delta state of Nigeria few months before the outbreak of the protracted Nigeria civil war. He had both his primary and post primary education in Ogwashi- Uku and later studied Mass Communication in the University Of Lagos.He came to Ireland in 2002 where he is presently living with his wife and 3 children. Chris is a journalist and a creative writer that has participated in many comtemporary issues both here and in Nigeria.
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