A tale of three tribes

The three main tribes in Kogi State, the Ebira’s, Igalas and Kabba have a rich and interesting history in both the colonial and pre-colonial context. In this report, ONE KOGI takes a look at them respectively.

The migration of Ebira people to the present region is mostly surmised by oral history. However, most versions trace the migration from the Jukuns of the Kwararafa state, north of the Benue River and in present-day Taraba State. One of the relics of their trace from Kwararafa is the Apete stool, their symbol of authority and identity as a group within the kingdom, brought along and kept in a place in Opete (deriving its name from the stool), in present-day Ajaokuta. The Apete is presently the title instrument of Ozumi of Okene. After migration from Kwararafa, they originally settled with the Igalas and both groups lived together for about 300 years. The Ebira later split into various groups and settled in different locations between 1680 and 1750 AD.The Ebira Tao first sojourned with the Igalas at Idah but later crossed the River Niger and settled at Ebira Opete located the vicinity of Upake in Ajaokuta LGA. The ‘father’ of the Ebira Tao who led them to this premier settlement in Ebiraland was Itaazi. Itaazi had five (5) sons who all later migrated from Ebira Opete and were the founders of the various districts in Ebiraland. The children and the districts they founded are Adaviruku/Ohizi (Adavi), Ododo (Okehi), Obaji (Eyika), Uga (Okengwe) and Ochuga/Onotu (Ihima). His daughter named Ohunene settled in Eganyi district.

Members of the various clans in Ebiraland are descendants of the children of Itaazi. Ohizi had five children who are progenitors of the five traditional Adavi clans named after them. These are upopo-uvete (Apasi), Uka, Idu (Aniku), Adeyika and Uhwami. A migrant group from Eganyi known as Ezi-Onogu clan is also found in Adavi. The sons of Ododo who are the ancestors of Okehi clans were Okovi Oviri and Enwgukonyai. Obaji the founder of Eika had ten children named Ohiaga, Iyewe, Avassa, Ehemi, Anchi, Epoto, Egiri, Ubobo, Ogu and Eyire. Uga of Okengwe had two sons whose children constitute the present Okovi and Agada group of clans. Due to a sizeable concentration of other Ebira clans in Okengwe district, they formed a socio-political coalition known as Ada-ehi. Ochuga had six children and their descendants make up the six clans in Ihima.

These are Emani, Oha/Idu, Ohueta, Ure, Ohongwa and Odumi. The seventh clan is Akuta who migrated from Okengwe. Though Itaazi’s daughter named Ohunene was the founder of Eganyi, not all the clans there are descended from her. Eganyi clans are Ede, Esugu, Eheda, Ogu, Onoko, Idu, Anavapa and Ogodo. The Aningere who are skilled craftsmen are found in all districts. They are, however, more concentrated in Okengwe and Adavi districts.

Historically, these Ebiras communities were autonomous units without a central king or recognized royal families but were managed by leaders of lineages in a type of gerontocracy. During the conquest of Hausaland by Jihadists, Ebiras came under a state of conflict with Fulani warlords to the north and west. In the middle of the nineteenth century, two major communities, Igu and Panda were overrun. Between 1865 and 1880, they battled, under the leadership of a warlord, Achigidi Okino, with jihadists called Ajinomoh who were from Bida and Ilorin. However, the Ebiras were not conquered by the Fulanis helped in part by security provided by their hilly environment.

British interest in Ebira started with the location of a Royal Niger Company post in Lokoja. In 1898, the British annexed Ilorin and Nupeland under the pretext of controlling free flow of trade, they set up a military post in Kabba west of Ebiraland and the Ebiras soon were a target for annexation. In 1903, after much resistance, Ebira territory fell under British control. To manage the various autonomous villages, a central figure was appointed by the British to represent Ebiras. The first of such figures was Ouda Adidi of Eika, who ruled until 1903, he was succeeded by Omadivi, a favorite of the British. Omadivi was a clan head who had earlier fought against Jihadists but supported trade with the British. During his reign, his authority over the other clans was minimal. When Omadivi died, Adano was appointed but had a short reign. In 1917, a new ruler, Ibrahim was chosen, Ibrahim was also called Attah Ibrahim or Attah of Ebiraland, he was a maternal grandson of Omadivi.It was during his reign that the British colonists introduced indirect rule, a significant political development that increased the authority of Attah. Ibrahim used his position as head of the Ebira Native Authority to bring together the autonomous communities under his political leadership, a process that was opposed by some members of those communities. He gained the confidence of the British who entrusted territories northwards of Ebiraland such as Lokoja to him. Ibrahim was a Muslim convert and helped spread Islam in the region. However, Ibrahim was exiled in 1954, a consequence of political intrigues. The first primary school in the community was located in his palace and many of his children were educated and some ended up holding prominent positions in the regional and federal governments. Ibrahim was succeeded by Sani Omolori who held the title of Ohinoyi of Ebiraland.

Igala history on the other hand revolves around the institution of the Ata or Attah which in Igala language means “ Father” but according to legend the first “Ata”, the title given to the ruler of the kingdom, was Ebule- Jonu, a woman; she was succeeded by her brother Agana- Poje, the father of Idoko.  Idoko would later succeed him as Ata, and had two children Atiyele and Ayegba om’Idoko (Ayegba son of Idoko), Atiyele the first son of Idoko migrated eastward of the kingdom to establish Ankpa kingdom while Ayegba the second son of Idoko succeeded his father as Ata’Gala. He led a war against the Jukun, which resulted in victory.

The ata-ship of Igala rotated among four branches of the royal clan. Igala Kingdom was founded by Abutu- Eje in the 7th century. The kingdom was ruled by nine high officials called the Igala Mela who are custodians of the sacred Earth shrine. Between the fifteen and eighteen century the Igala’s became a mega state with the colonization of Ibo tribes to the north.

The Igala mega state attained the height of its fame during the mid-17th century. The rise of the Igala mega state disrupted and contributed to the shift of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade from the Bight of Benin and the decline of the Benin Empire between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Idah-Benin war (1515–1516) was a war of mutual independence. The Igala state reached its political and commercial supremacy afterwards, when it became a leading exporter of choral beads, horses, medicine, skills and of course, slaves to the coastal region. Its growing power, nevertheless, changed the dynamics of the earlier complex relationships with several northern Ibo communities. Joseph Hawkins in 1797 already captured the relentless raiding of the extreme northern Iboland by the Igalas. In his A History of a Voyage to the Coast of Africa he noted the growing conflicts between the “Ebo Country” and “Galla”. By the late 17th century, the Igalas conquered and held socio-economic, political and religious control of the northern Ibo mini-states. From Opi (archaeological site), Nsukka, Nsugbe, several Ibo communities on the Anambra River, the lower Niger, through Okpanam to Asaba the Igala held sway. Trading out post with Onitsha and the Ijo middlemen were fully established. The mythical Omeppa, Inenyi Ogugu set up garrison at Opi (archaeological site) and several Igala warlords played their part in the buildup of the Igala colonial takeover of these northern Ibo states. But no other individual played a greater role in shaping Igala-Ibo colonisation during the 18th century than Onoja Oboni, the legendary Igala warrior and slave trader. Onoja Oboni’s personality and heritage has been shrouded in mythical imagery over time. Ranging from being the Son of Eri, the grandson of Aganapoje to being a descendant of one of the Idah royal families; the priestly sub-clan of Obajeadaka in Okete-ochai-attah. The key areas of consensus are; he was a master strategist, slave raider and trader, conqueror, coloniser and imperialist. Added to these were his diplomacy, expansionist traits and the acculturation of conquered territories. He built himself a walled city in Ogurugu and recent archaeological findings of the remnant of the ruins of his fort on the grounds of the University of Nigeria Nsukka confirm this. The Igala soldiers built forts and fortifications that stretched from Ete down to Opi (archaeological site) and then to Anambra.  Oboni’s rise to power affected the history of the North-western Nsukka and the Ibo communities on the Anambra River and the Lower Niger during the Igala commercial and socio-cultural ascendancy and domination. This was the reinforcing of the golden age of Igala imperial expansion. In this way, Igala mega state took control and allegiance were paid. Until the decline of Igala power, the Ezes of Enugu-Ezike, Akpugo, Nkpologu, Ibagwa Ani and Opi continued to receive their titles from Idah; investiture, installation and confirmation of their office was only by the royal blessing of Attah Igala in Idah. The Eze were only validated when they returned home with Igala choral beads aka, staff of office believed to be imbued with protective charms to ensure longevity and security of the Eze as well as prestige animal (horse) to bolster up their ego. There were also periodic royal visits to the Attah Igala to pay tributes and as well intended to strengthen diplomatic ties and inter-group relations, renew allegiance, and assured insurance from slave raids. In terms of indigenous technologies, the Igala soldiers built factories (forges) for manufacturing Dane-guns, ironworks, carving, introduced arrowheads with tip-poison from sting ray; cloth knitting, terracing of Nsukka hillsides and brought in a well-developed political and social hierarchies. At this time Igala empire had become a cultural exchange hub for other emerging states; the influence was felt as far north as the Nok civilisation and down east to Ibo-Ukwu civilization. Till date many of the Igala-Nsukka borderlands remain bilingual. On the religious level, the Igala installed their own priests- the Attama- as the custodian of the dangerous Alusi, shrine, took control as mediators between the spirit and the Ibo communities, presided over divinations and fashioned Ikenga, Okwute (ritual staffs) that combined both Igala and Ibo religious elements. The Attama thus became the major agents of Igala socio-cultural control. Several efforts to keep the Attama lineage Igala failed; eventually the priestly office has been ibonized, even though the nominal Igala identification is still predominant. Many of the northern Ibo state settlements have lineages with Igala names, cultural practices with marked Igala modification and adaptations. The use of Igala circular basket in contrast to the Ibo rectangular types persists till this day. By the turn of the 19th century, the Igala empire was too large for any reliable and robust central control. Internal decay and implosion set in. The Fulani Crusaders started contracting the Igala imperial power, conquered territories in the north switched tributes, forced or/and seceded from the Igala empire. The Bassa war added more pressure to the war-weary empire. The abolition of slave trade brought in untold economic recession. In 1914 the British burnt down Ibagwa and Obukpa as a punitive measure. By the 1920s, Igala empire was a spent force and a limping shadow, the British easily took over control of both Nsukka and the Igala territories.

The kingdom of Igala survived well into the 19th century, becoming a British protectorate in 1901.  Colonial rule brought lots of social dislocations in many part of Africa. In Igala land, the experience was very bitter. In 1906, Igala land was segmented into two spheres of political regions. Idah the capital of Igala kingdom fell under Onitsha province of the southern protectorate while the rest of Igala land was in the northern protectorate. Attah Ocheje Onapka, whose kingdom was divided fought to regain the integrity of the divided kingdom, rather he was disgraced, banished and died heartbroken at Asaba in 1903.
The worst destruction of that time in history was that non-royals and aliens were installed in oppositions to Attah in different part of Igala land most notably Hausa men- Sherif Abu. Onu Ankpa: Umar Meliga, Onu Ajobi (Dekina); Mahmudu, Onu Abejukolo; and Mamn Lafia, Onu Ojoku. However, this event came to its peak following the tyranny of the installed Onu Dekina, Ahmodu, a Yoruba man, who was ridiculing and challenging the authority of the Attah institution even claiming a right to the Attah throne in Idah. This was the direct cause of the 1916-1917 Mahionu war in Biraidu (Abocho) district leading to the Igala fighting against their subjugation, fragmentation and tyranny.
This affair led to the resistances and agitations evoking the restoration of the Igala land as one holistic entity.

More often than not, the story of how Kabba was established have caused controversies as there are different and conflicting accounts from different sectors of the community.
Some group of people claim that Kabba was established by three hunters who were brothers from Ile Ife and were looking for where to settle down after leaving Ile ife, they arrived at a location and decided to settle down there. After some time, they decided to move ahead for further exploration of their new home. They got to another location and decided to offload their belongings; they stayed there for some time but later moved further ahead in search of a better place to stay.

The place they finally chose is the “Kabba” we have today.
However, they never forgot their first two settlements; they visited them from time to time and they referred to their first settlement as odo ilu which means “down town” in English Language. That first settlement is now referred to as “Odolu”.
Their second settlement was called “Katu” because that was where they first offloaded.
That is the reason Kabba town is today referred to as “Kabba Oloke Meta” which means (Kabba with three mountains). The three Mountain each representing Odolu, Katu and Kabba (the three settlements.

Another group opined that Kabba was established by a Saudi Arabia prince (known as Obaro Odide) over two thousands of years ago. The prince was said to have opted to leave the comfort of his home due to instability in the arid region. He was said to have settled in many places with his family during his trip before he chose to make “oke-aba” (now Kabba) his final destination.
It is important to note though that the Prince who finally arrived Kabba was not the same one who started the journey. Due to the distance and ageing, the first “Odide” (Saudi Prince) died, his son (Odide II) took over and died along the line as well. The prince that finally chose to settle in Oke-aba was infact “Odide V”.
The latter account seems more tenable to me though because in the first prognosis, the early settlers were said to be hunters. Since they were hunters and not tourists, I see no reason they will travel from Ile-Ife to Kabba (over 4hrs by car) just to hunt; considering there were no other means of transportation other than trekking at that time. This means the journey would taken days (if not months).

Kabba kingdom is comprised of thirteen clans, while Kabba community is made up of six clans, Katu has three clans and Odolu has five. The founding father (Obaro Odide) automatically maintained supremacy over the whole of the kingdom during his lifetime. Not much have changed in the traditional hierarchy of Kabba kingdom as his direct descendants who make up the Ilajo clan have maintained the status of the royal family. The Ilajo ruling family is made up of three houses (Mokelu house, Ajinuhi House and Ajibohokun House). The title of Obaro of Kabba was rotated among these three houses.
The supremacy of the Ilajo Royal Family was however put in jeopardy in 1960 after Oba D. O Aka who wasn’t a member of the ruling (Ilajo) family succeeded Obaro Atobatele Ologbonyo Arokoyo as Obaro of Kabba. He reigned for twenty-two years and after his demise, power was returned to the Ilajo Royal family.

Worthy of note is the fact that Kabba operates a tripodal traditional ruling system which is made up of The Obaro, The Obadofin, and The Obajemu.
The Obaro is the overall head and is saddled with the responsibility of appointing the two others.
The Obaro is produced by the Ilajo Royal Family in Kabba, Odolu people produce the Obadofin and Otu produces the Obajemu.
Kabba kingdom has been ruled by a total of twenty three “Obaros” till date. Twenty-two of who were said to be produced by Ilajo clan while one emerged from the “Akumejila” clan. Akumejila means twelve clans. The clan is said to be a coalition of twelve of the thirteen clans in Kabba kingdom with the Ilajo clan on another side.


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