By The HILLS and VALLEYS of UDI and NSUKKA
The People… Their Heritage… Their Future
Enugu, November 29, 2002
The Coal Miners who came down in he hails of bullets of the gunners of Major Phillips
…through the windows provided by the canyons and escarpments, we peeped into what was described as the clusters of civilization which necessitated the legendary waves of migration; …these were said to be in honour or deference to some great mountains which marked, in time, the summit of the peoples’ might and valour….the bosom of each matronly mother and the swaying hips of the ever alluring womanhood who in her utter originality, paired significantly with the graceful, even though pantomimic thudding of the bounding feet of the contented female folk; …in due time seeking to explain the daring and unyielding spirit of the then unconquered but ubiquitous men folk; …if they led their goats and sheep to the great kindred alter, it was always to revive the spirit which never went down but which was always on the ascendance for the endless challenges ahead,. …these were all before the arrival of the Aro slaving machinery which preceded the pernicious Major Leonard, the invidious Otikpo Obodo, who in all probability carried the orders of the last days of Queen Victoria too far; …also dangerously, against the dictates of the then slacking imperial courts of the Windsor Castle in the earlier days of King Edward, sleek but humane design of an exercise in annexation went with the burning of the village after another, bluffing through antiquated weaponry of defense from Ugwuoba, through Ngwo, through Ohebe Dim, through Nkanu Egu, through lhube; …all for the imperial interest of a power our people never, ever heard of, through history.
…tales by the Wawa people, now of Enugu and Ebonyi States, in Umuna-Okigwe, 1968, as they reflected on the federal army push which sent them fleeing their homes as the Nigeria-Biafra War raged, 1967 -1970
If today, we all gather to celebrate yet another moment of the evidence of a people’s perpetuity on earth, we may only have served a notice that in whatever political, economic or cultural environment we find ourselves, we shall not let down our forebears. We shall struggle to hold on to that, which is our heritage and work our environment to suit a momentum, which shall propel us to the next generation, while we clutch to those values, which proclaim our pedigree.
We cannot be mistaken in our search to rediscover ourselves. In reality, the enterprise of reviewing one’s history or rediscovering one’s roots and heritage is the highest form of social elevation. Elsewhere, it is the business of the elite, as most of you here today, to dig back in the past and hand to the next generation a definable past, a quantifiable heritage and the challenge of seeking to build on what has been and which should be furthered for the benefit of the exercise in perpetuation of man of the Enugu vintage.
Elsewhere also, this enterprise which is usually
specialised as it needed the perfect dialectical
approach of the social scientist and the patience, prose, eagle eyes, inquisitiveness, interpretive and the analytical sense of the historian, is never taken for
However, the way you see it, the way it is brought in the court of power, the way it is welcomed and the way it is allowed by the powers that be, all go to reveal the depth of history and the meaning to a people. We do not have to take this to the realm of the spiritual. But, whichever way we may have consigned our attitude to the past and contemporary times, we must present ourselves to the ruthless comparative
forces which propel time and temperament, and which compel group tendencies to fall in line, for the ultimate assessment. The seasonal poet, Kwesi Brew,
captured it all in his epic description of an impression gleaned of an encounter with our forebears:
when our ancestors saw us in the procession,
as we shuffled our sandaled feet,
to the same rhythms,
to the same rhythms,
they heard the same words of wisdom uttered,
between puffs of pale blue smoke,
they saw us, and they said:
they have not changed.
I want to say and forcefully too, that we have not changed. We could not have changed, or could we have changed? We are the same Ndi-Udi, Ndi-Nkanu,
Ndi-Nsukka, Ndi Awgu – the same ndi Ugwu n’Ogwugwu; ndi be ha di gbagoru gbada; ugwu Ngwo, gbagoru gbada…Are we not any more?
We may have accumulated the baffling European sophistication. We may have tended to the clumsiness of urban conditioning. We may have imbibed the doublespeak of the Western power player. We may have abandoned our great alters where we gloriously supplicated to our ancestors, but as proclaimed by Professor Ibeakwadalam Nwoga of the blessed memory:
we (may have only) added just the new dresses,
and habits …
as that which enhance what exists…
and which often hides the surprising degree
of continuity of old goals and characteristics.
As a people full of the awareness of their heritage and who must maintain the same momentum of character, we must have to admit that if our values survived in the memory of our modem generation which would have been complacent in the face of the hard driving western values, then we have yet an age of the old in the making. Indeed, in memory, our people never abandoned the thought for the old values and the upliftment of the spirit to suit the challenges before the man.
Thirty-four years ago, in their reclining bamboo- beds in the then blighted, nay physically threatened Umuna Village, near Okigwe, the song had risen from the melancholy spirit of refugees caught between the Biafra dream and the forces working for the crude oil merchants after the wells in the Niger Delta. The testimony of the virtually lost song and the zeal of the interpreter in London all revealed a closeness to tradition and a people’s heritage as it was never ever known of the people whose places had to be conquered in the first few weeks of the war.
We may still say thanks to the attention of the foreign war correspondent, Peter Davidson who felt he had heard another version of the Jewish ballad, By the Rivers of Babylon… and proceeded to assemble and process what was related to him by the conquered evacuees at Umuna.
Picturing the men who were virtually drained of the strength of the erstwhile vigorous man of the legendary ugwu n’ ogwugwu, the horde wailed and melted in their utter regret and resignation:
through the windows provided by the clefts and escarpments, I
we (now) can only peep into what used to be the clusters of our civilization,
these beautiful places had come of the endeavour of our forebears,
who had embarked on the legendary waves of migration,
all in great honour and deference to the great mountains,
which marked in time the summit of our people’s might and valour;
we remember the bosoms of each matronly mother,
and the swaying hips of our ever alluring womanhood,
who in her utter originality paired significantly with the graceful,
even though pantomimic, thudding of the bounding feet of the contented female folk;
in due time seeking to explain the daring and unyielding spirit of the then unconquered butubiquitous men folk;
we led our goats and lamb to the great kindred alter,
to revive the spirit which never went down,
but which was always on the ascendance,
for the endless challenges ahead;
we did these before the arrival of the Aro slaving machine,
which proceeded the overbearing Major Leonard,
the invidious Otikpo Obodo -(country destroyer)
who in all probability carried the orders of the last days of Queen Victoria too far,.
against the dictates of the then slacking co-ordination of the imperial courts of the Windsor Castle,
in the days of the later-to-abdicate King Edward,
sleek but humane design of an exercise in annexation,
went with the burning of the village after another,
bluffing through antiquated weaponry of defense,
from Ugwuoba through Ngwo, through Ohebe Dim,
through Nkanu Egu, through Ihube,
all for the imperial interests of a power our people
never, ever heard of, through history;
today, it is the Nigerian soldier, for whom we have fled our villages;
when shall people with superior weapons leave us alone?
It was indeed a melancholy rendition and it must have come from the most of disturbed hearts in the troubled years of the civil war. For the non-Igbo, particularly those who never graced the scenic majesty of the hilly terrain called home by these people, the question that should issue at the end of the rendition
could be: who are these people who take pride in living in clefts, canyons and escarpments, even deep gullies, found among the most treacherous mountain
terrain, East of the Niger?
If then this question is posed not just to the enlightened, if not sophisticated, composer of the war time tune, it will certainly be daunting to even hazard
a guess which may not fall prey to intellectual and sometimes politically coloured analysis.
Of course, it is not enough to say that these were the original owners of the century-old decomposed forest valley on whose spot the colonial cash cow – coal -was discovered and mined to finance British dominance of Nigeria for so long. It is neither helpful
to begin with any form of the sentiments associated with people engaged in the review of their history. Such has always fallen prey to assumptions and pretensions without a hint of bold objective analysis.
There is this urge to take it all from the political economy analysis which nationalist and liberation fighters thrust forward as the basis for championing causes associated with political and economic relegation, if that was the case. The danger in so doing, solely, is that we may be forced into the elite claims and pretensions which always exposed sober
analysis to the treachery of power seekers and the deception of dubious representative interests.
In looking at it as I have elected to do now, the historical exercises in assemblage, dealing mainly with cross-community interaction and contact with foreign powers or influences will lead in my attempt at showing an appreciation of my people. I intend to proceed with such points flowing therefrom to the full import of the elements of political economy culminating in the birth and consolidation of the prevailing political structure, culture and the consequent consciousness.
Indeed, by the hills and valleys of Udi and Nsukka, much had happened. It has not been established when the first action of man started in those theatres of human civilization. At present, there have been scanty genealogical accounts of the man on the Udi-Nsukka country. Of course, we will not go too far into describing the roots of the people more than we can discuss their contemporary history.
Ordinarily, what may be described as the geographical region called the Udi Mountains commences west, at the end of the Omambara river-rain region at Amansea, near Awka. It runs through Ugwuoba, Oji, Nachi and Udi before it peaks at the leading high rise properly called Ugwu Udi (Udi Hill) at Ngwo. The same topography proceeds north with a generous litter of escarpments and canyons all habouring the evidences of deeply cultivated age-old civilizations and cross-cultural interactions.
Eastward, the rises and slopes ride the crest of the forming plains and connect south with the deep of earth at the Ozalla valley. Yet unspent as any natural force whose tenacity of track seems to reassure of the clusters of civilization on the various theatres of collective human action, these repeated scenic eruptions turn south through Awgu, Ihube and the other areas before they swing eastward again. Here, it seems to seek a completion of a circle of colourful hills, which rise sharper at the outskirts of Afikpo and appears to be finally dipping at Unwana, on the banks of the Cross River.
Indeed, it was a train of rhythmic rises and slopes which nevertheless baffle an ariel view even at 25, 000 feet atop the surface.
It has yet to be unraveled how the people in this vast presence of hills and valleys came to exhibit similar cultural characteristics and are identified as keeping one Igbo dialectical track even in the face of the treachery of their terrain. Elsewhere in history, the difficulty of the terrain, the fortress-like nature of the barrier between one community of native people and the other had given rise to glaring disparities in relations and culture. Strangely, what appeared to be sufficient for a barrier tended to have reinforced the people’s close affinity as they were mere versions which manifested only as varieties and threads which in turn had given vent to a culture of competition and healthy rivalry.
The historical reality of the affinity of these people and the ultimate uniformity of their culture, political and economic attitudes may cause a puzzle on the viability of the claim of a close- knit civilization which had strong infusions of outside influence before the Anglo-Aro slaving enterprise. The deity in the other land is represented as the deity in another only with a different name but a semblance of the trend of the usually long rituals.
There is indeed a wonder in it all. These were communities resting warmly in the protection of the valleys and hills and which had hardly known any major natural disaster. They were seemingly oblivious of the other communities around. They never experienced any form of super national administration or easily definable hegemony. But they did their things the ways they were done from time immemorial, leaving nothing in the striking similarities of community organization. These reinforced the claim that these had come from one stock and could not have risen differently.
Indeed, the glaring confederate patterns, which held communities together, became the basis on which the configuration of clans was pronounced. In the old Udi areas, there were two large clan formations; Agbaja and Nkanu. Modem record points out that while current political considerations appeared to inform the strenuous effort at imputing cultural dissimilarity, between Agbaja and Nkanu, these had indeed come of a common heritage which suffered the bifurcation of colonial actions in disequilibrium. It was further intensified in the emerging class differentiation and the struggle for the resources of the people.
The pattern of formation and migration which erupted at the consolidation of the basic Agbaja culture areas were easily ascertainable in the clan-clusters known as Umu-Oshie, Umu-Neke, Umu-Oshie-Akulu (Ezeagu), Umu-Ojebe-Ogene, Umu-Ugwunye and the sprinkle of deviation noted now as Ngwo. In some cases, clan clusters have claimed autochthony, conceding only to the view of having come from one source at Utoko rise in Nsude.
Particularly, single-source theorists hold that these confederate clans were born of a certain Anugo. However, some generous spread of presence of peoples from far and near culture areas declaims much of these as inexplicable cultural characteristics and linguistic traits reveal incursions from other civilizations. For instance, it is yet to be determined how Anim, a reputedly severe farmer, hunter, diplomat, warrior and founder elbowed his way into Ojebe Ogene, threatening to alter the predetermined position of the founder which the clan and shrine were named after at Ebe. But this is never too foreign to history as accidents and borrowed cultural influences sometimes leave room for doubts.
At the moment, what appears to have passed the eyes of objective analysts, so to say, is that there was however a strong claim of autochthony (aboriginal) though with the acceptance of the historical reality of the Nri/Awka divination and smiting hegemony.
There was also the fact of interaction or awe which induced in the Udi mountains people the reverence of agaba edu (terrifying lion of the jungle) which served as the spirit lord of the Idoma who could never have conquered the people but who, at cursory interaction,
may have injected the expression of their revered kingship and deities in the Udi Mountains-Igbo people.
What may have been noted as the disharmony in the characteristics of the Agbaja actually paled to insignificance at the commencement of the actions, in the formation of the cosmopolitan straddle, which arose east of the Agbaja culture areas in the wake of
Nike, the more westerly part of Nkanu, formed of the migratory activities east of Agbaja; the northwestern part formed, almost inexplicably with more than a hint of Idoma and Igala values. As for the southern part, neighboring Awgu, it formed with some values similar to old time values of the extreme east of the Udi Mountains – Afikpo and Ohaozara. There was also a hint of the great Ezza civilization, which elbowed its way through the northwest of Nkanu.
The western Nkanu cultural expression which tended to arise from the exploits of Anike Nwa- Owuwa, a descendant of Ugwunye, founder of the Ugwunye confederate clan in the Agbaja culture areas, somehow got coalesced with the values transported down by the legendary Onaji-Ifeji-aba-nnamchi, a traveler from Oturkpo (Idoma).
The trend of incursion into the south east of Nkanu, particularly at Amagunze where an Onicha community had formed, revealed a hint of a widespread of activities of persons and forces sporting the cultural traits of Ohaozara, Afikpo and Ezza. The seeming central part of the western axis, forming the budding communities called OzalIa, Obe and Itukwu (Ituku) had arisen of a strange but swift and unsettling migration resulting from the dread of war and the attendant wholesale shifting of a vital segment of a civilization. Their original home was Okpatu, a northern town of the Agbaja cluster.
These marked incursions into and from the rising Nkanu dominant culture areas, did not easily get aggregated to form the current consciousness on whose stead the cosmopolitan and multi-dimensional frame of Nkanu took its vent. But today, the microcosmic nature of Nkanu has yielded for it the semblance of a multi-national federation, exposing the people to a vigorous tradition of competition as well as a level of consciousness, which underlined man’s drive at attaining superiority of values, traits and heritage.
Heading south of the Udi Mountains areas, same multi socio-cultural configuration, though of a lesser degree, played out in Awgu where the same Ezza civilisation contended with Afikpo, Nkanu, Agbaja and Orumba mini-civilizations. The ravages of this region was further worsened, in later days, by the Aro slaving entrepreneurs who sought passage for their human trade but soon evolved a tricky interactive pattern of co-habitation, which manifested in divide and rule, divide and relate and divide and exploit.
It is believed that after the first wave migration which commenced from the Isiagu/Afikpo areas, a closely-knit mini-civilisation had started out at a spot in the depth of the valley near Ihe. The elements of this small patch of civilisation were said to be extremely vigorous but for reasons yet to be fully ascertained, they had moved, almost en-masse to western side of Nkanu in what is today called Awkunanaw.
Represented as heavily Igbo stock and easy to imbibe the Nkanu cultural values, they soon got melted into the more sweeping values of their host elements.
In the Nsukka version of what we may call the Udi Mountains civilisation, Igala incursion was reported to have been exceptionally noticeable. Although the Aku and Ukehe, of later-day migration, had carried the core Agbaja values deep into Nsukka, there appears to be an intermingling of Udi and Igala patterns, which rode side by side with Nri/Awka tendencies in the same region.
Indeed, the same Aku, in its typical mystery of frame and characteristics has always borne a baffling degree of cosmopolitanism expressed fuller in its spotting of the traits of Olukwumi cultural intrusion, Oguta river-rain expansion and the West Niger Igbo remigration. In addition, of course, was the Nri/Awka hegemony, which had elbowed its way through the Uzo-Uwani areas and could not have been expected to ignore the trend of civilization, which erupted on that hilly terrain.
In reality, the large scale activities of diviners and gun-wielding Nri and Awka arrivals had so much influence on the people that at points in the course of objective search, some confusions arise as to whether to concede the origin and foundation to claimants of Nri and Awka or to apologists of autochthony and Igala/Idoma influence.
To avoid getting dragged into the debate and claims of outright independence, interdependence, autochthony, counter claims of origin by peoples of the Udi-Nsukka mountain areas, we had better head out for the benefit of establishing the reasons why we are so connected, almost without any form of deviation even as we were never herded into one vast empire structure or forced inclusion, as obtained for peoples elsewhere.
It amuses me indeed, noting the current trend of cultural analysis where people tend to erect barrier where there may never have been, simply because oral tradition has held that people at certain times had come of different ancestral background. This does not bother me one bit. What holds attraction for me in the study of the people of the Udi Mountain areas, stretching as we have seen, from Ugwuoba in the west to Enugu Ezike in the far north and from Amadim Olo in the northwest to Ndiabor in the southeast, has been the core factors which brought about the current state structure, development or underdevelopment and the prevailing consciousness.
As already noted, colonial presence which soon revealed a kind of educational advantage in favour of the other Igbo areas had created a dichotomous tendency which sought to relegate our people, against which erupted a battle. Indeed, prior to the pronouncement of educational gap and the social disadvantage of the people, the rating of cultural institutions as well as the resurgence of the colonial agents in the Udi Mountains areas conferred the air of superiority on our people. Of course, the colonial master who knew those who owned the land where he had settled to extract the best of minerals -coal -for transportation to Europe, also knew his bounds and those of other immigrants.
But before I get into the intricate manipulations which suddenly turned the tide and caused the inferioration of the Udi and Nsukka Mountainous people, it may be helpful to peep into the economic profile of the primordial people in time and in relation to themselves.
Ordinarily, the economic base of the people was agriculture. There was never any much of accumulation to warrant interests in the fortunes on the other lands. Of course, the tales of the exploits of the empire builders on the western borders of the West Niger Igbo had always filtered through. Same was the case of the stories coming down from the North, particularly Bida, where a certain monarch, perhaps an Etsu, had revealed more than a casual interest in a people said to be heebu, who are very stout and who are farmers but who do not accept authorities outside their areas. Possibly, the Northern delegates and merchants who frequented the famous Isiugwu Salt Mine in the heartland of Agbaja served as the spies who interpreted the consensus approach and liberal economy as anarchic. The natives may have rebuffed gestures of acknowledgement of some monarch whose outright rejection must have whetted the conquering appetite of the Bida aristocrat who started salivating about a people to be taken for rulership.
Although the threat of a Bida expansion never really came, the dusts raised by the storms of Mohammedan missionaries and Jihadists did filter in so vaguely but the people never lost the details of the awe-inspiring accounts rendered by far distance travelers. It is even possible that what was gleaned from the tales gave rise to the claim that the colonial interests of the British saved the entire South of Nigeria, including Udi – Nsukka – from being enveloped by the imperial interests of Sokoto. It was possibly true that such threat existed in that magnitude, but this did not seem to be- a more potent threat than the Aro Slaving machine. Whereas the former, though unwelcome, sought a people to rule and exploit, the later actively obliterated kindred, village and clan and served on the people the most predatory exercises which sought, in the main, to physically root the people from their land to the far away New World. Mind you, my analysis, in no way, represents a justification of any of these which served as the sign post of man’s endless attempt at seeking to dominate others to their injury.
Prior to these, though, our people had achieved a proper coalescence having intermingled in their journeys to Isiugwu and Ubulu Salt Mines, Ogbede Continental Bazaars, Akpugoezenevo Traditional Regional Fairs, Orie Ukwu (Affa) Trade Fairs, Mbara Opi Trade Circle and Oku Nja (bank of River Niger) Bazaars. These markets located virtually at the far ends of the Udi-Nsukka Mountain areas, and even beyond, marked the trade roots, which assured the rejuvenation and re-harmonisation of traditions and other values. It also secured the path to inter-marriages and cultural exchanges. It may have, as well, accounted for the strange infusion of cultural traits from far lands, which seemingly had no contact with the people in their secluded valleys and canyons.
Before the arrival of the British colonial overlords, most of the time honoured and serving trade routes which gave fillip to the booming trade centres had been closed or ceaselessly threatened by the marauding Aro slave raiders.
In some cases, some of the trade centres such as the Ahia(ogbo) aka n’olokpo-Ugwogo, were forcibly closed and replaced by the rising slave depot at Iji-Nike. Painfully, too, it was at the Iji-Nike Slave Bazaar of disastrous memory, that most of the (Agbaja, including Nkanu) Udi-Mountains able-bodied men and women were carted to Igwenga, the huge Ibani coastal depot, from where they made the infamous Trans-Atlantic journey to the New World.
One notable factor of social contentment of the people was that the agrarian economy provided for all and never allowed the attitude of unemployment to fester and nurture. The cultivation of yam, which was the mainstay of the farming culture was so engaging that no matter the low size of land held for the occupation, the farmer is deeply involved, the year round, in bush clearing, soil tilling, planting, weeding, growing, tending, harvesting and storage. Each of these, intricate in their rituals, required careful handling.
The advent of industrial culture, which preceded the British, and Aro had its concentration in a hint of the foundries said to have existed at Ugwele, near Okigwe, with a subsidiary reported to have sprung at Animielu, near the banks of Nja (Niger River), a five-hour foot journey from a vanished clan near Umulokpa. Perhaps, the later-day Awka smiths who thronged northern Igboland including the Udi-Mountains people derived a lot of their raw materials from these flows.
Also, these vital economic activities were disrupted and in most cases forcibly stopped completely by the Aro Slave hunters. Perhaps, as in other areas of Igboland, the chances of the culture evolving meaningful technology patterns were aborted with impunity.
It was then an irony of fate that the people who felt secluded and comforted by the impregnable nature of their terrain became wrestled and almost overwhelmed by the Aro Slavers and agents who had no regard to humanity, culture and civilization. In what has been described, by Greene, as utter despair, the people virtually forgot their values, abandoned their gods and pillaged on the alters of their most sacred deities, perhaps in vengeance against the gods which did not do its duties in holding back the Aro and which had not remembered the vow never to allow enemies such as the British to take the reins.
Indeed, the first recorded encounter between the Udi-Nsukka outlaw represented the sharp loss of hope and dread of what was in store for the erstwhile-unconquered man. That day of all days, at a spot near the present-day Ugwuoba, the entire fairy tales of some white, strange elements resident in Onitsha-Ado turned a dreadful reality. Certainly, the cornered Udi-Nsukka outlaws who now realised that they were never going to outsmart the domineering Aro predator wondered whether they had to cause or bless the day when they realised that there was a superior force which did not take people away from their lands or away from kindred but which remained all the same, menacing.
It was the day the barrel-chested Agbaja-man had stood in his thick set frame and blinked as the strange white figure approached. His breath had rattled out of the nostril just as the other towering, lumber-like co-outlaw stood by him and glared. The third African who was quizzical in figure, presented as an Nsukka-man, had bent over his knee in a reclining appreciation of the fate that awaited them.
It was a scenario, which signified the new powers of the Aro in the new British Colonial dispensation. The Aro was the slave merchant who instigated communal wars and carted away erstwhile free people into slavery in Europe. Now, he is the British Colonial interpreter, contact man and forerunner who still preyed on the people, the now timorous Udi-Mountain people of Northern Igboland.
The people could not comprehend this ubiquity of the Aro, hence the heart-rending wailing, Ozu k’Eru of the northern Ojebe Ogene clan areas:
The Aro is everywhere;
he is known and appreciated by every force;
by every god;
he is not of a kind race;
but those who have power have always drunken of his tricks;
and followed him as goats follow our priests to the alters;
is it true that this Aro has the key to gain access to the deities of the sky;
and the earth beneath?
Well, the Aro, both as the unchallenged slave , master on the hills and in the valleys as well as the cunning agent of the British colonial powers, only served as one of the phases of the subjugation of the Igbo of which the Udi-Nsukka mountains people were a part.
But then, the Aro agent who was the forerunner, at Ugwuoba, had concluded that he was going to declare as outlaws those who stood before him and who were being paraded before a gruff and sour colonial army commander. They were among the over hundred rebels accused of murder by the Aro hinterland fore-runners who could not extort them and so had resorted to roping them into acts considered injurious to British Colonial interest.
Over a decade before this particular encounter, a certain Major Philips had taken a look at the peoples and described them in his letters to his commander in Aboh District headquarters (now in Delta State) as being a set of incomprehensible lot whose manners are so indecent to be justified as the home-base cultural equivalent of the freed slaves in London. The conquistador, however, took a second look at them and concluded that these peoples were muscled and could provide most of the labour to transform the lands to suit imperial British interests in the regions of Elugu (Udi-Nsukka Mountains areas), Isiago (Ohaozara areas) and Isielu (Ezza civilisation areas). The son of this same man, another Major Philips, led the expedition, from Oturkpo to Enugu, which resulted in the killing of 52 colliery workers in the Coal mine in 1949.
Indeed, the muscles of the native people provided the forced, as well as the paid, labour for the establishment and consolidation of the Colonial infrastructure and industries. Able bodied men in the then Agbaja cluster of federalist clans provided the
bulk of the miners in the pits of Enugu coal mine; those in the Nkanu cluster were used to build the Enugu – Abakaliki road while those in Nsukka shed their sweat and sometimes blood on the development of the Enugu – Oturkpo road. These were, midway, to provide human labour for the construction of the Milliken road, Enugu -Port Harcourt railway track and Enugu – Okigwe – Owerri – Umuahia road, and more.
In examining the trend of activities, which resulted in the current structure and consciousness, we are now forced to examine the colonial, post-colonial, regional, Biafran and post Biafran challenges of the Udi- Nsukka mountain people.
It may be necessary to state that although the Aro had stayed in-between as an unfriendly agent, the people of the Udi_Nsukka Mountains were able to assert themselves quite adequately. Relegating them was, initially, no more than the colonial oppression as was commonly meted to other ruled peoples in the British style. It was true that the British colonial administration, which came with a peculiar pattern of codification of conducts – written rules – was strange: It was also true that some other Africans, particularly those of Southern Igbo, had imbibed some rudimentary knowledge of the style of codification – writing. Such had positioned them to take pre-eminent positions in service of the British masters who nevertheless worked at keeping some people low while the others were used to exploit them. But these could not have explained the sudden turn resulting in the relegation of the Udi Mountains people to the backwaters of the colonial system. This must have been why it remains a puzzle determining at what particular point the demarcation commenced with the people set in retrogression while the immigrants were set in progression.
First all, it was proper to blame the arrangement where the aboriginal people -Udi-Nsukka – who were recognised to possess of physical muscles were soon propelled to the coal mines and construction sites, with shovels and diggers in hand, while the immigrants headed for the more socially appreciated plush administrative offices. It was equally in order to consider the idea that the immigrants, having arrived on the wheels of dominance, side by side with the British, the natives never really had a chance.
But if we must admit the reality of our history, there were aboriginal (native) forebears who were agents and go-between of the British as the Aros and the lettered Southern compatriots. These were, in the main, the Onyeama n’Eke (core Agbaja) and Chukwuani of Ozalla (Nkanu). But rather than provide the beacon or lifebouy for their people to brace up for the class-determined contest that would ensue, they had preyed on their people, in some cases, in ways worse than what the Aro or Southern Igbo would inflict on the people.
Indeed, it was not too strange that these would- have-been earlier nationalists preyed on and bled their people. They were both, as clearly known by the British, redirected slave dealers. In reality, the opportunities of the post of Warrant Chiefs, which they assumed and which was the British design of Indirect Rule in Southern areas of Nigeria, were principally to further their intentions to exploit the people with whom they never bothered to worry about any kinship. In fact, the British masters were utterly embarrassed and soon realised that they could not just induce the emergence of refined conducts in mere native agents as Onyeama and Chukwuani, who never cultivated the organic aristocratic benevolence to represent a cunning exploitative machinery as in the North of Nigeria.
So, following the insensitivity of these earlier lords, the native people who ought to have assumed the higher points of participating in the emerging colonial situation, became inferiorated and consigned to obscure positions where protests were easily tackled with the help of the dominant immigrant elements.
But if we admit that the people of the Udi Mountains areas never operated such political hegemonies from which Onyeama and Chukwuani could draw some experiences, it might be tempting therefore to offer apologies for the two native forerunners who never ever heard of or practised the fine points of statecraft. If then we pardon Onyeama and Chukwuani, how do we explain the long period of relegation which when it exploded revealed a pretension of structural equilibrium whose exterior core only hid a socially degrading system and culturally offensive rot.
These came after the proper delineation and designation of the old Udi-Nsukka mountain area, as it were, into a district with one major sub-township, Enugu, created. The arrival of the coal mining gang led by William John Leck, in 1915 and the subsequent expansion, characteristic of emerging industrial towns, caused the erection of administrative machinery whose composition inadvertently, triggered off the consciousness associated with aboriginal awareness. But that was not the explosion which swung the requisite mood and altered the entire configuration. It was the insurgence of nationalist agitation giving birth to a thirst for involvement in the sharing of the values.
Of course, the status of Enugu as a cosmopolitan city bearing the frame of structured industrial base, provincial administration and the services, fell into the dirge of the urban centers where the immigrants (elite and commoners alike) competed fiercely with the natives/aborigines (elite and the low). As usual, the people who never really bothered about their differences had to pick every element of differentiation to gain advantage in the scramble for the scarce resources. But these were never really magnified until the late 1940s when internal self- government was in sight and the local politician arrived with astounding loquacity and rattling boastfulness. This easily degenerated into the exercises in derision of the Udi-Nsukka mountain people who were called the Wawas.
Ordinarily, Wawa ought not to have been derided since it was simply an emphatic expression of refusal or no in a dialect of the same Igbo language. It was not that the other Igbos did not use the word “Wa.” They did and even had their own versions of emphasis: of the same expression, but for sometime, it was their weapon to whip the people into line or force them to realize who they really were.
But I must tell you that I have not reduced the entire vast predicament of the Wawaman to a single word relative to a dialect of a vast language as the Igbo. No, I have not. It was only natural that since the aim was to relegate the people and compel submission, the exercise in ridiculing them took a wider dimension as in segregation, oppression and blacklisting of persons of the entire Udi Mountains areas, including those from the present day Ebonyi and Enugu States.
I will not bore you with the details of the struggles, which ensued, but it may be worth} of note, nonetheless, to say that the avalanche of Wawa consciousness, which gave birth to the frontal attack against denigration, came when it became incontestable that deliberate policies of administration seemed to expunge the rights of participation of the Wawaman. From 1917 to 1928 when Africans were nominated into the Enugu District government, there was never a Wawa man. In fact even as the doors to Africans opened in the Township administration, other Africans particularly of Southern Igbo extraction appeared to be preferred. It took a decade-long, tough fight by the Enugu Aborigines Improvement Union, to accept in 1941 the admission of Wawaman, Charles D. Onyeama, into the Enugu Township Advisory Board. But it was soon realised that as the Wawa had learnt the game of using his local number to effect a serious consideration, other groups of residents including the Urhobo, Yoruba and the other Igbos formed intermittent alliances to scuttle their ambition of determining values and allocation of positions. This was the arrangement which aided the rise of Umaru Altine, a Sokoto cattle dealer to emerge the mayor when Enugu was given the mayoral status in 1949.
This militated so much against the later-day freedom fighters that they were barely left with no options than the devil-may-care tactics of Christian Chukwuma Onoh whose entry into the fight gave so much vent and vigour to the struggle that the Wawaman soon became feared.
The Wawaman’s expectation to be reckoned with in the Eastern regional arrangement before the eruption of the Nigeria-Biafra war was an embarrassing expectation as they were resoundingly rebuffed. No person of the real Wawa extraction earned more than a mention as an appendage of the real wielders of power. Even the war situation, which expectedly should have pooled the people, to form an aggregation of national purpose and feeling of oneness did not improve their situation. In fact, they appeared worse off as they made severe sacrifices of sending their young and able to battles but were never brought into such reasonable positions to express their preferences in times so threatening as war situations.
It was in that state that the Umuna rendition was cast and it was the prevailing feeling which caused the assemblage at Okohia, that Saturday, September 6, 1969. It was a serious business with such notables as Samuel Mgbada, D. O. Nnamani, and C.C. Onoh in attendance. Others were Enechi Onyia, Frank Onyeke and Charles Abangwu. And yet more were Godwin Odenigwe, Eze Ozobu, Philip Nnaemeka Agu, Augustine Nnamani, D.C Ugwu, B.C Okwu, J.U Nwodo, J. O. Igboji, Paul Okehi, Emmanuel Oji, and many others who had determined as they declared in finality that the matter had really come to its head. They were seeking self-determination, whether the Biafra project succeeded or not. The extreme choice was indeed a resolution to return to Nigeria.
The struggle which further ensued in the old East Central State was such that even as the composition and attitude of government weighed so heavily against the Wawa clamour and expressiveness, it was evident that the machinery of denigration designed as dichotomous and not analogous to all inclusiveness was doomed. The weapon of stereotyping which depreciated the native people and their values had given rise to a consciousness, which was set to erode the stead of its erstwhile oppressors. However, much was not realised until the excision of the Imo Rivers areas, leaving the former Onitsha-Awka bureaucratic hegemony against the Wawa in the then Anambra State. But the reality of number, thanks to the fierce exercise in conscientisation and mobilisation, permanently altered the power equation. So, although the leverage of latent but more effective power resided in persons of Southern Anambra origin, the apparent political headship of the State would always fall into the hands of the then relegated people. It was such a drastic political development whose import only revealed itself with the subtle fact of Wawa intrusion into the sanctuary of bureaucratic power reserved for the erstwhile privileged others.
The last-ditch battle, which even involved a military officer of Southern Anambra origin only, hinted of the last phase of the power cabal conceding power with considerable reluctance. But then, it already had the full knowledge that the days were gone when the people were hustled from the then narrow streets of Enugu, at the shouts of Wawa – wakiriwa.
It is then against this foregoing that it was declared that the battle was already fought to conclusion. The gigantic animal had already been fatally injured that the emaciated hunter can go to rest. Indeed, it was a hard battle which eventual victory was proclaimed, seemingly at the drop of the hat, August 26, 1991.
Now eleven years into the realisation of the Wawa structure in Enugu should mean an eleven years into the dances of the scenic hills and rhythmic valleys. Though the canyons are never dried of their streams and the gullies remain protective, the question I pose to you the founders of Enugu-Wawa is this: How much of your history of struggles does your grandchild know? A few of you have attempted to document, for public consumption, the junctures of the struggle you carried out. I am scared that you may have taken it for granted that you have a prevailing generation that was aware but I am afraid that this could be a grave mistake.
Of course, it may not be possible for everyone to publish a book, but a good effort at documentation also include properly written accounts, which can be deposited at any such public domains as the libraries, council of arts and culture, academic departmental libraries and the media of mass communication.
The other challenge of the Wawa struggle is what I describe as the Enugu Dream. The Enugu Dream, which I say is alive – with emphasis – is the desired commitment in the direction of empowering our people to be bold and seasonal partakers in the enterprise of the emerging nation state, Nigeria. It is a challenge to erect such profound infrastructural base for the people to gain access to such values, which hone the modem man to assume a proper role in the trend of globalisation exercises already triggered across the globe. To me, this means good access roads, availability of health facilities and provision of pipe borne water for all. It also means building and consolidation of old and new classroom blocks for the young, expansion of the higher education facilities, execution of sound housing programmes for the citizen among the many other demands of modern societies desirous of joining in the race to the complete fulfillment of man.
In my view, if we do these, providing the average Wawa man the level playing field to be the best he can achieve in time and space, the founding fathers and the rest of us will chorus as we say at the present:
To God Be The Glory.
A.E. Afigbo COON, FSHN (2000); The Case for A Pan-Igbo Centre for Igbo Studies by Abia State University Press Uturu Nig.
A.E. Afigbo (200); Igbo Genesis; Abia State University Press Uturu Nig.
A.E. Afigbo (2000), The Idea of Igbo History, Abia State University Press Uturu Nig.
U.D. Anyanwu, J.C.U. Aguwa (1993); The Igbo and the Tradition of Politics. Fourth Dimension Publishing Co. Ltd., 16 Fifth Avenue City Layout, P .M.B. 01164, Enugu, Nigeria.
Ahiajoku Lecture Colloquium (1989); Igbo Economics the Ministry of Information and Culture, Owerri.
Ahiajoku Lecture Colloquium (1985); The Igbo Socio-Political System, Ministry of Information Culture, Youth and Sports, Owerri.
Ahiajoku Lecture (Onugaotu) Colloquium (1986); Igbo Jurisprudence Law and Order in Traditional Igbo Society, Ministry of Information and Culture, Owerri.
Ahiajoku Lecture (1984), Nka na Nzere, The Focus of Igbo World View by Ministry of Information and Culture, Owerri.
Ahiajoku Lecture (1985); The Igbos in the Context of Modem Government and Politics in Nigeria. A call for self-examination and self-correction by Ministry of Information and Culture, Owerri.
Ahiajoku Lecture (1986); Towards a Reconstruction of the Political Economy of Igbo Civilization, by Ministry of Information and Culture, Owerri.
Ahiajoku Lecture (1987); Evolutionary Trends in the History of the Development of the Igbo Civilization in the Culture Theatre of Igboland in Southern Nigeria, by Ministry of Infornlation and Culture, Owerri.
Ahiajoku Lecture (1989); Ugwumba the Greatness of a People by Ministry of Infornlation and Culture, Owerri.
Ben Obumselu (1966); Massacre of Ndi-Igbo by Tollbrook Ltd., Ikeja, Lagos.
Dons Eze, Sam Mbah & Okey Ezea (1999); The Wawa Struggle, Delta Publications 8B Byron Onyeama Close, New Haven, Enugu State.
D.C. Nwafo (1988); Born to Serve. Macmillan, Nigeria Publishers Ilupeju Industrial Estate, Lagos.
Christopher Ebighgbo (2002); 19uaro Igbo Heritage Lecture, Ezu J Books, 9 Lumumba St., New Heaven, Enugu.
Ellen Thorp (1956 -2000); Lecture of Bones Jonathan Cape Ltd., Ibadan Nig.
James O. Ojiako (1981); Nigeria Yesterday, Today and ….? Africana Educational, 79 Awka Road, Onitsha, Nigeria.
H:K. Offo (f983); Portrait of a Leader, New Africa Publishing’ CO. (Nig.) Ltd., 30 Sam Mbakwe Avenue, Owem, Imo State, Nigeria.
Lambert U. Ejiofor (1982); Igbo Kingdoms, Power and Control. African Publishers Ltd. 79 Awka Road, Onitsha, Nigeria.
Otigbuanyinya O.C. Onyesoh (2000); Nri: The Cradle of Igbo Culture and Civilization, Tabansi Press Ltd., 34 Limca Road, P.O. Box 234, Onitsha, Nigeria.