THE BIRTH OF THE IKA NATION; IKA IN THE BEGINNING
BY CHIEF DR. ONYEKPEZE
Ika was little known anywhere before the coming of the British. It was rather a collection of rural settlers without self- consciousness. It was an area shared by people whose identities formed the parameters of their practice and projections. The area was full of people who spoke similar language, held similar values and views of the world due to similar socio-economic level of development, but did not and could not at that time share a concept of common identity, history or future. Thus, there was no Ika then but only Agbor, Owa, Awu, Umu-Ede, Akumazi, Idumuesah, Igbodo, Mbiri, Ute-Okpu, Otolokpo and Ute-Ogbeje, and none was national in actualization or intention. Ika is thus a historical process, a phenomenon, which came into being as a direct result of the British occupation of the area.
The next phase of the history saw Ikas as people that co-existed, each group tolerating and respecting one another, while at the same time, treasuring their pride of one ancestry. This was long after the Bini invaders had come in waves to occupy Ika area. This stage of history found Ika as a historical project with formative possibility, now with a higher level of self and human awareness of an identity. That was the situation at the beginning, which led to a large state of fusion of blood and development of many networks of social relations. They also formed alliances for purposes of defence in order to withstand their powerful neighbours, and gradually lived happily and peacefully with one another. From these cultural groups of settlers, which were distinct and separate, a single community of people emerged. Since then, they have grown in the same community that shapes their basic beliefs, values and norms. They absorbed almost unconsciously, a world view that define their relationship to themselves, others, institutions, the society at large, nature and the cosmos.
The name which is IKA today, was not thought of before 1945. Until the closing years of the 19th century AD, the word was though mentioned in history’s lane of antiquity, it was unknown in the sense in which it is used today. An instance of such mentions was an opinion expressed that the word, Eka might be a shortening of a longer name, Ekaladerhan, the man said to have been disinherited through the conspiracy of the barren wives of Oba Ewodo, the last of the Ogiso dynasty… this appears to be the first time Eka was mentioned in history.
However, Eka in its etymological essence is rooted in the sagacious remark by Oba Ewuare (about 1440) about his fleeing subjects, So ghai Eka no, by which he meant: “Leave them, they are deserters”. Oba Ewuare thus used the name, Eka to refer to a group of deserters from his Kingdom. This is the first place and time in history when Eka was authentically used to refer to a group of people. This is thus, the origin of Eka in Ika history.
Since then, Eka was subsequently mentioned in connection with the first lady of Ikaland, the amiable wife of Ogelle. Ogelle was a patriarch who lived in the Idumu Ika quarters, whose farm land was peopled by Ugbo-Eka community during the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great about 1440 AD. Ika was Ogelle’s first wife, the lady of Ikaland, to whom Ika people owe the language they speak as their mother tongue. Her four children were named Eken, Orie, Afor and Nkwor, traditionally immortalized as market days in Ika native four-day week.
A myth narrates that when Ugbo-Eka people rebelled, Idu their son was captured and kept under the Eleme Oki who sent him to Eze Agbor for service. After Idu had become a man he left the palace and founded Ali Idu now Benin City. The myth says that many centuries after, the Oba of Bini was given a girl, a daughter of Eleme Oki, and it was she that begot Ogwun for the Oba of Bini. Ogwun was said to have reigned with the title Ogiso or Oba of Benin.
With the arrival of the British, Ika constitutionally welded together eleven clans, namely in the following alphabetical order:
ABAVO, AGBOR, AKUMAZI, IDUMUESAH, IGBODO, MBIRI, OTOLOKPO, OWA , UMUNEDE, UTE-OGBEJE, UTE-OKPU.
Under gradual British control, the different settlements in Ika were organized into larger family groups known as clans”, which metamorphosed to a body of people with common language, history and government (nation). By this design of the British, all Ika clans became more united by the same culture, values and types of social organizations, which they share. The clans initially lived on their own, and it did not take long before they all joined in the struggle to promote an Ika ethnic identity and nationality.
Like was already stated, the earlier colonial documents have referred to the Ika people as just ‘Ika-speaking people’. Forde and Jones used the term, Ika, to represent the inland parts of the four groups that make up the Western Igbo group (Aniocha, Oshimili, Ika and Ukwuani) found in the present Delta State.
Egharavba, Jacob mentioned Ika in 1934 in connection. with Eka, (Eka Nagbon). “The early people of Eka emigrated from Bini, wave by wave. A man named Eka, the founder, by whose name the land is known, headed the first wave. Eka was the founder of Evbo-Eka, afterwards called Agbor, according to the name of the conqueror, Agbon, the Ezomo of Bini.
All the eleven clans of Ika were affected by this movement of waves of migrants, a relatively small group of invaders, and who assimilated the existing population in every Ika clan. Ika people were already there for generations past. The population of these invaders from Bini and (Igbo in the case of Idumuesah and parts of Ute-Okpu clans) to the original inhabitants of Ika was less though, it had great consequences on these clans. For instance, they provided the basis for the ancestral administration and formed the apex of the traditional government for each clan.
For about many centuries after these migrations, the distinguishing characteristics of the people of the different Ika clans and their improved homelands were becoming fixed. Since then, although there were many new influences to come, the history of each clan started to be traced continuously to the present day. Before this time, the clans had their rulers and were independent in their different domains. They had their prominent men who assisted their rulers to manage the business of traditional government in response to varying natural conditions and problems of everyday life. Each group was affected mostly by what happened in its geographical area, and thus managed its own affairs in spheres as diverse as religion, festivals, healthcare, administration of justice, exercise of sanctions, etc.
Ika has come very far, and what are needed now are theories and practices, out of which can be created a new Ika World, which will self-consciously and significantly contribute to a new world and high level of human life. Today Ika stands for ethnic co-existence on the basis of equality and respect for human dignity; it stands for the political, economic and cultural unity of the Kingdoms of Ika nation; it rejects outside control of any type, and stresses the projection of the Ika personality in Nigeria affairs. Ika is now a concept that stresses the spiritual unity of the Ika people, upholding their right to self- determination in Delta State, and the need to be treated with dignity as an equal of the other communities in all parts of Nigeria.
Now, the major Ika ideas include Ika as the homeland of Ika and persons of Ika descent, the rehabilitation of the Ika past, the vision of a united and glorious Ika solidarity among men of Ika blood, belief in a distinct Ika personality, respect for the culture and traditions, and Ika for the Ika in Church and State. It aims at the regeneration of Ika and the promotion of a feeling of solidarity among the people of the Ika World; it glorifies the Ika past and inculcates pride in Ika values.
Until the beginning of the British Colonial rule in the early 20th century AD, Ika was larger than it is today. It enveloped a sizeable geographical area including the present two Ika Local Government Areas then as one Ika community and Igbanke, Ogan, Ute- Ohenze, Ugo, Urhonigbe and many other towns presently located in Edo State. So also, was Egbudu Akan now in Aniocha South Local Government Area of Delta State. These towns and villages were manifestation of Ika identity, and they once enjoyed a full share of Ika culture, freedom and identity before they were cut off from their roots. In addition, was then the seat of administration of Agbor District, by which Ika was referred to at the time.
Agbor, being a very important focal town from time, the colonial rulers made it the Administrative Headquarters (1901- 1906) for Ishan, Kukuruku (Auchi), Agbor, Ogwashi-Uku, Asaba, Ukwuani, Issele-Uku, Ubulu-Uku, etc. In 1912, the District Native Court and Council Hall were built with two face-tower-clocks for the Chiefs from these areas to attend. In 1915, some important men were appointed as warrant chiefs from these areas to attend the Court and Council. In 1918, Agbor and Asaba Districts were joined under the name Asaba Division. The District Officer, (D.O) was stationed at Ogwashi-Uku, while an Assistant District Officer (A.D.O) was left in charge of Agbor District.
Agbor District was more extensive than it is now. It embraced all the towns and villages of the Ika-speaking people “with their camps of settlement in its region and beyond”. But the District declined little after the inception of the British rule.
Many factors led to this decline:
- Late arrival of firearms to the area: The people within the coastal line acquired firearms and steel weapons from Europeans by which they terrorized Agbor and the environs and encroached upon their heritage. Furthermore, with the expansion of the Binis, the Obas of Bini became terrors in Ika communal forests, which they grabbed without opposition. Inevitably, one without arms cannot oppose one with arms. Ika lost Ogan, Ute-Ohenze, Ugo, Urhonigbe, Ekpon and many other towns and villages to the rulership of the Obas of Bini through this means.
- Military campaigns:
In those days, the citizens of Ika were though peace loving and law-abiding, preferring the dignity of labour rather than be warlike, they hated oppression and man’s inhumanity to man. They organized themselves to fight wars when their national liberty and freedom were threatened. Individuals would die by hanging or drowning or escaping, if their liberty and freedom were denied them. They waged many wars, most of which were on the order of the Obis or Ndichen against any village that flouted the kings’ authority, or broke any village rule flagrantly. Sometimes, they fought for prestige. Then, every Agbor king was customarily bound to invite war to fight in order to prove his courage before, or after three or more years of his accession to the throne. Before the coming of the Whiteman, Agbor Kingdom was regarded as a city of refuge in this part of the coast on account of her formidable warriors and excellent social organization that belligerent nations or rebellious villages feared to challenge her pride. Ika lost Ottah and Igbanke with the federation of six autonomous communities to Benin; Egbudu Akan to Aniocha South Local Government Area of Delta State, and Ugbo-Eka to Benin as a result of such military aggressions.
- Ogbe-Umudein and Ottah war, 1937: Ogbe-Umudein and Ottah fought because Qttah villagers encroached upon their farmland. After all, Ottah was subjugated and as a result, twelve people were captured, two killed and many were wounded; and their houses were set on fire and looted before police and the Administrative Officer with the Eze Agbor came into the scene to calm the rioters. Some were arrested and charged to court and fined. In 1937, the government surveyed the area in dispute and pegs fixed as boundary demarcation between them.
- Agbor fought Igbanke in 1895: Igbankę was besieged and conquered in 1895 for the vengeance of Chief Ozomor of Agbor who was murdered at Igbankę. Because of the high handedness of the Eze Agbor on them, his innocent Chief Ozomor was made a scapegoat. But after bloody conflict and severe resistance, they surrendered. The leader, Nmorka of Idumu Iru escaped to Ewhohimi. The Agbor henchmen, forced him to die, pursued him and his head brought to Agbor. Igbankę paid ransom with Arowohę and Gumedia for the Ozomor of Agbor (Irabor Egbe) killed. The people of Igbanke resumed their loyalty to Eze Agbor until 1916 when Eze Akę pledged to become Benin administrative subject because of the past war against them.
- Agbor fought Egbudu Akan in 1915: Egbudu Akan was in Ika domain but because of the internecine war caused by Chief Iroh when he disobeyed to surrender murderer by name Osahon to Agbor supreme head according to custom for trial. It was a bitter fight. The Obi’s legion devastated Egbudu. The inhabitant resisted very strongly, climbing the roof of their houses to prevent Agbor warriors from burning them. At last they were defeated and the murderer was forced to commit suicide. The ruler of Egbudu fled to waylay the return of the Obi of Agbor with face-to-face cutlass fight. Egbudu Akan streets were littered with blood of the dead and wounded. Because of the ruthlessness and ferocity of Agbor warriors, the people of Egbudu Akan never forgot the pangs of their defeat; and wished the British in 1915 to separate them from Agbor Administration.
- Agbor fought Ugbo-Eka: One of the earliest known Agbor war was the one against Ugbo-Eka when they rebelled. Ugbo-Eka situates on the south and was described as the farmland of the Ika people, Ugbo-lka. At that time, they were under the sway of the Obi of Agbor. They served him with specified class of the bush animal meat they killed. Ugbo-lka consisted of six villages. When they discontinued with the cult services, Agbor besieged them. Ugbo-ika was overrun; some took refuge in the vicinity of Ebohighai, Ugo, Awu, Ugboko Ewoso, etc.
- The people of Agbor waged wars against some of the villages before the coming of the Whiteman, and because of that ancient grudge, anarchy and chaos reared its ugly head in the social and constitutional organization of the kingdom. Consequently, homage and tribute discontinued. The role of the Okoeduale or governors of the villages among the members of the royal family gave way to mediocrity of the warrant chiefs appointed. The warrant chiefs themselves became so tyrannical, oppressive and cruel that common people were denied justice. Between 1902- 1934, these chiefs became so selfish and arrogant that Ika traditional history was distorted to suit their whims and caprices with resultant effect that clans fell into decadence. With over thirty years of Government backing behind them, these Chiefs wielded in their villages a power, which was practically autocratic.
- The influx of republican villagers from East of the Niger: Some Igbos who, driven by Aro Chukwu vandals, fled to Agbor District for protection. These renegades too, had firearms acquired from Europeans by whose influence they became arrogant and disloyal to Ika kings, which they displayed in Ika society, because they knew not what was meant by natural ruler.
- Administrative Laxity and struggle for independence among subject towns and villages: Agbor rulers lost control of their dependent towns and villages on account of the strange ideology of the Igbo in their midst, who having become the Court Clerks, carpenters, cooks and stewards, coaxed the natives to obstinately interrogate administrative principles. Consequently, some town and village heads, who were not before then, claimed independence and called themselves Obis of their areas. Under such social and political instability, the Agbor Patriotic Union formed on 1st May, 1926, at home and abroad resolved and approached the erstwhile government to withdraw the Igbos from the Native Courts for the sons of the soil, and the appeal was heard and Reorganization resulted in the Nineteen thirties. It is important to note that before, the formation of the Agbor Patriotic Union, there was in Lagos, a body formed of government and commercial clerks who called themselves Agbor Improvement Society. They took a spasmodic interest in the doings of their home villages.