Image: Ogbonnaya Okoro via Twitter
BY OGBONNAYA OKORO
Let me usher this discourse by first clearing the air that the Igbo presently in Kogi are not migrants. The places they are settled had been their ancestral lands and never Ịgala land as erroneously portrayed over the years. The Ịgala are the ones who migrated from Wukari in Taraba State and settled at a place called Amagede before they moved to the Idah area. There are still the Ịgala tribe in Taraba State today.
When they migrated, they met population of Yoruba, Benins and Igbo who already lived in the various places. These Wukari people emerged with them and through their influence produced the language known as Ịgala language.
To cement this historical narrative, let us hear from the Attah of Ịgala himself, His Royal Majesty, Dr. Michael Idakwo Ameh Oboni on his interview with the Punch published on 26 August 2017. Regarding the history of the Ịgala people he said and I quote him verbatim:
“Talking about the origin of the Ịgala people, a sizable group migrated from Wukari in Taraba State from where they came to Benue along the River Benue and continued very close to the confluence at a place called Amagede by River Benue and slightly down from Amagede downwards to Idah and they settled there. And there, they met a sizeable population of the Yorubas and the Benins and to some extent, some Igbo. So the migrant population from Wukari merged with them and produced a language called Ịgala as a people”.
Before the migration of these Wukari people, they were some Igbo indigenous people in Ịda. That’s why we have Ụmụịda in Enugwu Ezike, Igbo Eze North Local Government Area, Enugwu State. I traced the history to Ụmụịda and realised that there is a community called Ụmụshiene. They left Idah and settled in this place in Enugwu Ezike. Some fraction of the community left, leaving their land there.
They didn’t just leave the land, some of them still remained there. When I interviewed a man called Ayọgụ who is 80 and Itodo who is 85, they said that annually, their brothers from Idah which is now in Kogi State bring to them resources from the land they left many years ago and settled in Enugwu-Ezike. Their brothers there take care of the land. Their wives prepare palm oil and other things. During Iri Ji Festival, they bring jars of palm oil to them as produce of the Ụmụshiene land in Ịda. There is Ụmụshiene in Ịda Kogi State and Ụmụshiene in Ụmụịda, Enugwu-Ezike in Enugwu State. They are the same blood. The Ụmụshiene in Enugwu-Ezike are the senior brothers. Any male child from there will first take kola nut before anyone from the Ida side of Kogi.
The question is: who migrated from where to where? What was their original language and culture?
Ụmụshiene in Ụmụịda Enugwu-Ezike migrated from Ịda now in Kogi State. Ịda was their ancestral land. Some left while some remained. Those who remained still bring goodies for their brothers in Enugwu Ezike.Their language spoken from time immemorial had been Igbo and not Ịgala. There are few other communities in Ịda which languages of communication is Igbo. Their pure culture is Igbo. You can also locate some in Ankpa Area but they are in the minority due to the high population of the Ịgala.
Back to the Ịgala influence. When those people who migrated from Wukari touched the place known as Ịgala land today, they made Ịdah their center. That is why till now, Attah Ịgala lives in Ịdah. The Ịgala people scattered all over the state and beyond. Remember, during this period, there was nothing like state, local government etc. We know people by their community name which is basically clan. People can migrate and settle wherever they find themselves.
Ịgala people extended their influence to the northern Igbo, especially the Nsụka area. They intermarried with the Igbo. Just to prove to you that Ịgala language is the combination of different tongues base on different people found in that settlement according to their Attah, there are many things in common linguistically, between the Ịgala language and the Igbo language. Our market days are almost the same. Some lexicons are the same.
Researchers and historians like Professor Afigbo and co had researched on the influence of the Ịgala people on the northern Igbo. There is acculturation amongst them. Intermarriage. Language. Names. Even the Igbo descendants found in those places could understand Ịgala and also Igbo. Some Ịgala people can also understand Igbo.
An Ịgala man in his 70s by name Ọjọbọ told me:
“Some of our mothers are Igbo from Nsụka. I speak both Igbo and Ịgala”.
There are names the Igbo and Ịgala share in common. Such names as: Ọnọja, Itodo, Atama, Ozioko, etc.
But from my finding and from the introductory remarks of the Attah of Ịgala cited in this article, you can believe me that some people the Wukari migrants met at Ịda area were Igbo before they emerged. This means, some we refer to as Ịgala in those axis are actually Igbo. You heard it from the mouth of Attah. Ha bịara abịa wee zute ndị nọ there. This is why it’s so easy to intermarry with the northern Igbo.
Some left those axis and migrated to other parts. While others joined them. This is like the case of Ovoko who migrated before the war to Ikponkwụ in Okpuje area because their land was fertile. After the war, Ovoko migrated back.
The question is, where is Ikponkwụ today? This question will lead us to the following subtopic:
State Creation as Divide-and-Rule System of Dispersing Brothers.
State creation is a major tool causing identity crisis. When a people are being carved away from their brothers to join others who subject them as the minorities. But then, every sincere human devoid of political selfishness and spirit of self denial knows exactly his or her root no matter how long the truth behind the history has been distorted.
In Kogi State, apart from the Igbo communities mixed with the Ịgala, there are aboriginals and indigenous Igbo communities without mixture. They are fully Igbo. Take for instance, Avurugo.
This community is fully an Igbo community. This place had been their ancestral land before some individuals from other parts of Nsụka joined them. How do one locate Avurugo? If you are going through Nsụka, you will pass through Ịbagwa Anị and connect to Okpuje. You can also access there through Okutu. While interviewing a 75 years old man here, he said:
“All of us here are Igbo but we are now in Kogi State”.
They have a market square called Eke Avurugo. This market makes some people misconstrue the name of the community as Eke Avurugo. No. Eke Avurugo is the market located in a community called Avurugo. The market is open only in Eke market days. The language of transaction is purely Igbo. There is no mixture of Ịgala and Igbo in the market. There is no speaking of English in the market. I understand whatever they speak. Their dialect is Nsụka dialect and some parts also have relationship with a few villages in Ụzọ Ụwanị and Okpuje area.
Sitting amongst three elderly people I heard them interact:
Ị dị agaa?
In Nsụka dialect of Igbo which I am highly conversant with, “ụnụ abọọ?” is a morning greeting just as saying “ụnụ abọọla chi?” if loosely translated into the English language it means— have you waken up? “Ụnụ” is the plural form of “you”.
When one says: “Ị bọọ?”, it’s a singular form, meaning: “have you waken up?”
“Ị dị agaa” means how are you? Other Igbo dialects could have it as: “i mere aṅaa, ị dị aṅaa, ọlịa, kedụ, olee otú, kee ka i mere” etc.
Deeje is the Nsụka’s greeting inform of daalụ, Ndeewo. Salutation. While in Nsụka dialect, “ala nụ” means welcome just as “nnọọ” in standard Igbo.
People of Avurugo speak this way. Undiluted Igbo dialect. Their location as well have no much outside influence. They are neighboring town with Okpuje and Okutu.
There is another market called Ahọ Ekwurugbo. Remember that in Nsụka dialect, Ahọ is Afọ. This market is open only on the Afọ days of the Igbo week. I saw some people going to the market and I decided to follow them. The market is far from Eke Avurugo. When I got to the market, my jaw dropped. Language of communication is purely Igbo without any other linguistic interjection. I went to price yam, cocoyam, pepper in Igbo.
“Ego ole ka ị ga-akwụ?” (How much will you pay) They’d ask.
These are farmers. They produce everything they eat. They look healthy because they eat natural food. In this afọ Ekwurugbo, you will see that food items they sell are coming straight from the farm. Their fresh pepper and tomatoes are not coming from the north. They grow them in abundance themselves and sell to each other. Such perishable goods look very neat and healthy. Sparkling red colour. Everything is original. They do not import food instead they produce food and consume within.
Their ọkpa tastes like that of original Nsụka ọkpa. They cook ọkpa-cup and nylon ọkpa. I must confirm whether it’s the same. I bought some and devoured. I confirmed my curiosity. Remember, everyone in the market communicate in Igbo. I use general Igbo, they still understand me. Yes, every Igbo who can converse in any dialect of Igbo understands the general Igbo known as Igbo izugbe.
The people of Avurugo are happy people. They are peaceful and welcoming. Another interesting Igbo trait characterised in the prism of ile ọbịa. The Igbo welcome strangers and treat them well. Passing through this compound, an old man approaching 80 years smiled and waved at me. I had to stop. I greeted him. He offered me a seat. Conversation had began. He told me a lot. He said they are all Igbo carved to Kogi and put under Ịgala’s leadership. They have their kin in Igbo-Nsụka.
Another interesting finding about the Avurugo is the names of their villages. All are Igbo. The following are the villages in Avurugo:
Please kindly read through these villages again. Check their names. Igbo or not? Before you conclude, let me also tell you that I visited all and confirmed my curiosity and shock that they are all Igbo people pushed into Kogi State. Their worldview, daily communication is purely Igbo. Just as every other Igbo villages, they do their thing. They have large expanse of land as well. Their vegetation is greenish. Their forests are neat. Fresh air and beautiful shed left and right.
Ikponkwụ was once a community within Okpuje area in Nsụka but now a community in Kogi State. Because of their beautiful land for agricultural activities, Ovoko moved there and would finally return after the war. Ovoko is located in Igbo-Eze South L.G.A of Enugwu State. Some who could not return stayed back, some even extend to Avurugo and settled amongst them.
This community is fully an Igbo community. If you want to access Akpanya you can easily do so through Enugwu-Ezike. Assuming you are coming from Obolo-Afọ, you will pass Ụda, Amụfie before getting to Ogrute. From Ogrute, take the roundabout as if you are going to Ịbagwa-Aka, then take the first right turn leading to Ụmụịda. These places are located under Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of Enugwu State. Immediately you pass through these places, you will get to Ụnadụ in Igbo-Eze South L.G.A which has the same topography with Akpanya which is now under Kogi State.
The first village by the boundary is called Agbedo Akpanya. I remembered the name of my professor in Nsụka, Professor C.U Agbedo immediately I got to this village and found out its name. He is from Enugwu-Ezike. The proximity between Enugwu-Ezike and Agbedo Akpanya as well as sharing the same dialectal similarities got me thinking. But then, that’s not the bone of contention here.
I targeted the market day. It’s called Orie Akpanya. The market is always full in Orie market day of Igbo week. People from different parts of Nsụka do visit the market. The language of communication in the market is Igbo. Not just the market, the entire village. They converse in Igbo. They think in Igbo.
When I interviewed some group of young men, about 6 of them, they told me plainly that all their parents are Igbo. Some for political reasons told me they are Kogi. As we continued discussion and it was getting interesting, one of them said:
“Forget that we are in the north central, our mothers are from Nsụka. All of them. Some married to Ịgala men that is why some speak both Igbo and Ịgala”.
One going by the name Amos Ọnụ said: “my ancestor was from Ngwuru Nsụka. He lived here”.
From the valuables and the elders I interviewed, I found out that while some Igbo were aboriginals, some Igbo also visited from other parts, migrate and joined them. As discussed from the outset, there was nothing like state or local government in the past but clans. The people of Akpanya are Igbo. If going deeper, entering into the heart of Kogi, you will see pure Ịgala communities and some having mixtures of Ịgala and Igbo.
The reason for such mixture is as a result of proximity and intermarriage. Most people in those places are bilinguals. They speak both Ịgala and Igbo accurately and respectively.
The pure Igbo villages within Akpanya include:
* Oji Akpanya
* Ojiela Akpanya
* Akpabirikpo (Igbo/Ịgala)
* Oju Ogboligbo
* Ajekele Ogboligbo
* Ọdụmọgwụ, etc.
These are Igbo speaking villages that can be found under Akpanya. Akpanya share boundary with Ụnadụ, Agụ Ịbagwa, Ichi under old Nsụka region. They have the same traits.
A man in his 40s whom I interviewed said:
“My grandfather’s mother was from Ịbagwa Aka; my direct father is from Ngwuru Nsụka. All the women in this place are married from Igbo land. All our fathers are born from Igbo women from Igbo land. But as you can see, we are in Kogi. North Central”.
Oji Akpanya was the first place the missionaries visited in the olden days while Ogboligbo is in the center. Agbedo is the getaway of the community.
If you leave Akpanya and go further, you will get to another community called: Amaka.
Just as the name implies, you already know the language it belongs to. Amaka is an indigenous Igbo people whose language and culture is Igbo. But as a result of state creation, they have been carved into Kogi State. Church services are conducted in Igbo language just as every other communities I have previously mentioned. Their land had been their ancestral land and never Ịgala land as erroneously portrayed. They are just victims of state creation due to their location. They are pushed into Kogi State.
4. Ọnịcha Igo
This is another Igbo speaking community which can be found in Ofu L.G.A of Kogi State. There are different villages here. They mix with Ịgala too and intermarry. Some individuals here are bilingual speakers—Igbo and Ịgala.
There are concentrated Igbo communities in Ịbaji. They don’t deny their Igboness especially those who never allowed state creation to demarcate them from their bloodline. The headquarters of Ịbaji is located at Odeke. Odeke has an ancestral connection with Agụleri now in Anambra State. They live close and share common boundary.
How do we confirm this?
During festivals, just as some would shout: “Igbo kwenụ!”, the Odeke people will say:
“Odeke-Agụlụ Kwenụ! Odeke-Agụlụ Kwenụ!”
But these people are now in Kogi State because state creation say: “Okeke you are Anambra, Okafọ you are now in Kogi”. But they still say till date: “Odeke-Agụlụ Kwenụ!”
Other Igbo settlements in Ịbaji include:
* Uchuchu Anaọcha
* Uchuchu Anapịtị
* Echọwa which they now corrupted as Echeño
* Omabo, etc.
These places are said to be originally farmlands of the Odeke people.
The Ịbaji live and connected to the Ogurugu and Ụzọ Ụwanị in Enugwu State and even share common boundaries with them.
There are three major clans of the Echọwa now called Echeño. These clans are:
* Olugo and
The village called Ụmụọnụra in Echeño Ịbaji originated from Ezeawụrụ. Some clan migrated from Ifite Ọka (Awka) and settled there in Echọwa which was one of the farm settlements of the Odeke people who have root and bloodline with the Agụleri. Their oral tradition and citation during festivals say it all.
These Igbo communities in Ịbaji also connect to the Anam people of Anambra, then extend to Ịga, Ugbela, Ahịa of Ụzọ Ụwanị Enugwu State and Ojo Ogurugu in Enugwu State as well.
These communities lived together because there was nothing like state or territory. They interacted. They are bloodlines until statism happened and they are carved to the north central.
Till date, their culture is Igbo. They still have four Igbo market days, but then, the mixture with the Ịgala changed afọ to ede especially in the Echeño side but others as Eke, Orie, Nkwọ are in tact.
Their masquerades are Igbo masquerades: They have Ijele. They have Akpaakụ. Ofe nsala is their native soup and they still maintain the name—ofe nsala. They speak Igbo.
But then, there is Ịbaji dialect. It is a creolized language as a result of mixture of Igbo and the Ịgala. Not everyone in Ịbaji is Igbo. Some are Ịgala. They mixed with Igbo and created Ịbaji language. That’s why Echọwa changed to Echeño.
Some other unaffected Igbo villages in Ịbaji which are strictly Igbo and now regard as Kogi people include:
* Ubulie-Ụmụeze, etc.
Echeño people of Ịbaji bear Igbo name as Ujumma, Egwuatụ, Ifemere etc. Many I interviewed did not deny their origin.
The full name of the community is Akolo Ukwueze— indigenous Igbo people community in Kogi State. You can easily access here through Okutu, Nsụka Local Government Area of Enugwu State. They are predominantly Igbo. No migration. Their location had been their ancestral land before they were said to be Kogi. These people are farmers.
Note: I have mentioned Amaka before. The full name of the community is Amaka Okpodu. They are pure Igbo.
Other Igbo communities in Kogi State include:
* Amankpo etc.
In conclusion, we have seen the effect of state creation as well as the migration of the Wukari people from Taraba state who came down to the lower Benue through Amagede and mixed with others then became what we know today as the Ịgala. They met some Igbo in the land especially those in Ịdah area. The blend and intermarriage has affected both languages to have similarities. State creation has moved some Igbo land to join Kogi. We have pointed out those people who still maintain their language and culture.
But the question is, why is it that the indigenous Igbo carved to Kogi are not even recognised as an ethnic group just as others? There is a ploy to hide this identity and push some narratives. Tales of lies have been told for some to believe that those Igbo living in Kogi are the Ịgala who learnt Igbo language because of their interactions, intermarriage and proximity with the Igbo people. BIG LIE. They know their identity. They have kinsmen in different part of Nsụka. They breathe Igbo. They live Igbo. They eat Igbo. They dream Igbo. They had been in their ancestral land before they were told to be Kogi immediately Kogi State was created.
Even Kogi government knows that these Igbo communities are purely Igbo; could it be the reason for absence of government intervention and development? The Igbo spirit in them help them to create their own world without being totally dependent on government. Nigerian factor has made them to neither feel the presence of Enugwu and Anambra government nor Kogi State government. These territories are like displaced people. But they have decided to make life out of everything. They created their own world and happily living in it. Only Ịbaji area where oil was discovered that government of Kogi State began to drag the territory with Anambra; Enugwu also joined hand. This shows that treasure is priority for recognition of people’s identity. That settlement is Igbo speaking part and Igbo land.
Finally, these are indigenous Igbo people who have been in their ancestral land before Kogi was created and they were pushed into it under the Ịgala leadership. They are not Ịgala people who speak Igbo because they are on the boundary side but Igbo people who through Nigerian definition of things carved out of their land to join others for the purpose of divide-and-rule system hidden under state creation..
This history should be preserved for posterity.
© Maazị Ogbonnaya Okoro
Linguist, Writer, Researcher and Historian.