The igbos: History of settlement, migration, and agony – Ritchie Ejiofor

Ritchie Ejiofor

Origin, Tradition, Migration and Settlement Outside of Igbo Heartland.

Let me begin by saying and sharing  my excitement and enthusiasm about the rich Igbo historiography and intellectual discourse on the Igbo dispersal and settlement location across Nigeria and Its environs. I have written several piece on the Igbo Question as well as the tradition of Igbo migration, settlements and origin. In the past notable Igbo historical scholars such as  Prof Elizabeth Isichei, Prof Afigbo, Prof Emenyonu, Emeritus Professor  Ken Dike, Prof Onwumbiko and others have contributed to the Igbo identify question, origins, settlement  and customer of the Igbos  and why there exist Igbos across the entire South Eastern Nigeria through the Mid – West and Middle belt region. The question that emerges rhetorically from that discourse is ” who are the Igbos and where do they come from? Even the legendary Ahaijoku lecture series couldn’t provide all the answers to the yearning questions.

I am not going to bore you with lengthy diatribe or discourse that has  already been propounded. However, there has been no agreement as to the origin of the Igbos or where they came from.(Prof  Isichei; who are the Ibos).

The Igbo can be described as an acephalous group of people who speak a somewhat related dialect, share similar customs, cultural affinities and similar political and cosmopolitan world view. Although earliest European anthropologist erroneously described them in pre-colonial history as a lawless group, research  and evident shows the Igbos to be an egalitarian group with distinct ways of life who never organized themselves into a unified administrative unit like their neighbors desirous of conquest. But the Igbos were content and Republican in their nature honoring fairness and equity. Some writers classify the igbos as belonging  to the Kwa linquistic group of family along he lower Chad basin that perhaps migrated from the Egyptian valley.

The issues of Igbos scattered around the lower Niger basin area  predominantly in the South Eastern area and also found in in areas such as Rivers state, some in Akwa Ibom, Cross River state, Edo state, Delta State, Benue and Kogi as well as in latter dispensation to Malabo and Gabon can be explained from a variety of factors. One of the identifiers of Igbo nationality or identity besides the similarity of the distinct  linquistic or language, is the Igbo peculiar beliefs and customs. But for this treatise we shall concentrate on the Igbos or Igbo speaking people found in Nigeria and in doing so, we have to exercise caution optimism in drawing the links with South Eastern Igbos.

I am going to start with the Igbos southern most  neighbors, which is Akwa Ibom State. The history of the Annang people in particularly those around the Ikot Ekpene axis in Akwa Ibom State traces their origin to Ibo hunters from the Aros, Itu mbuzu axis( Hon Patty Inemeh Etete; History of the Annang People ). Over the years with adaptation and arrival of other immigrants groups  their language witness several dialectical variations  but their way of life  and some of their names still bear striking resemblance to their Igbo origin. Today those from Itu mbuzo  in Ini local government area in Alwa Ibom State, bear names like Udoka, Otu etc that underlines  their Igbo linquistic origin. Their language is so different that in Akwa Ibom state today, they are not considered indigenous to the area because of their igbo ancestry. But it is in Ikot Udo Ika in IKA local government area is undoubtedly the Igbo stock is evident , even though there have witnessed years of  deliberate and concerted effort to make them denounce their Igbo origin and assimilate into the dominant Ibibio linquistc ethnic nationality. Following the Itu Mbuzo history of origin as an integral identifier for the migration and settlement pattern or trait for other Igbo groups outside of core Igboland, we may look closer to the leopard secret society in Calabar and the Ekpo masquerade of the Annang and Ibibio traditions. It is not surprising that  they all share same tradition of origin traced to Arochukwu. For this reason, Obong of Calabar must visit their ancestry home in Aro aa Parr of their coronation process , they have always maintained this umbelica cord of having the same history of origin, migration and settlement with their Igbo background. In an article published in, Ozoigbondu1, asserts that Isobo in Abi Local government area of Cross River State is another Igbo ethnicity  group and that former governor Liyl Imoke and wife both from Abi LGA are allegedly of Igbo ethnicity from Abi.

Next we draw out attention to Ikot Abasi, Ndoni and Opobo. One cannot mistake their igbo heritage from their names and custom, even their totemistic beliefs as well as their variation of the Ngwa dialect Igbo language.

Within the Imo state and Rivers state, the Igbo speaking areas of Isiokpo, Elele , Omademe, mgbierichi, Egbema, Omuma,Ekpeye, Ogbia,  were core Igbo speaking until  they  were politically excised and carved out of Imo state and they opted to join Rivers state for economic benefit and politically to punish and minimize Igbo influence during the Biafran war. Once severed , several members of these new Igbo speaking people carved out,delighted  to rewrite their history as a combination of Benin origin, this included the Ogbias, Degema, Ahoada and Etches.  In 2014 one of the fiercest opposition to their Igbo identity came from Writer Elechi Amadi during the Justice Oputa panel. He, Elechi  Amadi  attempted to repudiate history by saying the Ikwerre Etche group do not have Igbo origin that it was from Benin immigrants who joined the local natives that produced the present day Ikwerre people and that later conquest and influx imposed Igbo culture on them. His argument was mooted when he was asked  and he could not proffer an explanation of what his names meant? It is well know that linguistics plays an important role in identifying the origins of people. Today they have attempted to rewrite history and made  efforts to distance themselves from being Igbo and  to draw a parallel in determining who arrived at their current location first and how  the pattern of migration or settlement set them apart. I will address this Benin connection axis. It does appear that acculturation took place and going by the size it will be impossible to accord any historical advantage to the Bini’s because they were surrounded by Igbo nations  from Ika to the Anioma, Ndokwa or even Sagbama people from Bayelsa.

The only reason why this is even a discussion is because the Binis had the priviledge of historical narratives presented by  Emeritus historian Peter  Eghareva, who documented their written history and portrayed them far more than what it was. More so, there was no one dominant Igbo nation States. Infact oral tradition and  linquistic pattern coupled with archeological interpretation by anthropologists and  other historical antecedents support the theory that the Igbos were infact more indigenous than the Benin and that they may have conquered Benin Kingdom at some point because of the overwhelming influence of Some Igbo groups Benin. From Onitsha with their hierarchical monarchy and use of titles like “onowu” their red beads attire, complimented by some Ika Igbo groups such as Asaba with their secret society, traditon titles like ” Orikeze” which is popular with  Agbor and  Igbanke, the Owan kingdom, up to the Ndokwas. One thing is very striking, they all spoke a semblance of Igbo language dialect, shared similar customs, but had a mixture of Bini influence or they may have influenced Bini kingdom. The question that needs further research without fear of unearthing the truth is, perhaps Benin was a subject of or at some point vassal of Igbo nations or to the Ika Igbo  neighbors . The Ika Ibos occupy a large land mass from Igbanke up to Asaba, their refusal to accept their Igboness is borne out of the ” perceived fear of Marginalization ” and ethnic identity crisis that has been  subtly propagated by the Britsh through their fulani partners and successfully ingrained through out the country of Igbo quest to dominate.

Let me revisit once again the Igbos ethnic nationalities  found in Edo state and emphasize largest one which is the Igbanke( known until 1967) as Igbo-Akiri. They are found in Uhunmode LGA formerly Orhionwom LGA. They are of IKA igbo descent and they have been agitating to join their kinsmen in Agbor. The only reason they were carved out like in all the instances, was to punish and reduce the population of the Igbos and reduce their political sphere. The Igbankes are slowly losing their Igbo linquistic and cultural identity as a result of been forced to adopt Benin culture and language.  

Attributing political quarterbacking maneuver as the reason for joining Igbanke with Edo state under Bini kingdom subjugation,Chris Oji of  The Nigerian Sun newspaper in its article of April 12, 2014, stated that besides Igbanke, other Igbo ethnic groups in Edo include Ekpon in Igueben, Oghada in Uhunmwode, and Iru, Ohezenaka, Otobaye, and Ugbeka. He further states that today, Igbanke as constituted is made up of Omoluah, Obiogba, Idumuiru, Idumodin,Igbontor, Ake, Oligie and Ottah. Their traditional hierarchy is made up of Eze, Dei(Dim), Odiowere( Ndichie) Dicken(Dike) Okhilors( Okenye ulo) Okhialis ( Okenye ala) which is usually the oldest member of the family or village just as its peculiar with igbo society. In Edo state the Igbankes have such a unique Ika-Igbo names such as Nduka Irabor, Omorogie Nwawanne, Collins Edumaruse, Jim Ovia according to Emma Okocha( Blood on Niger, 2012). It was Former Governor of Mid western State Sam Osaigbovo Ogbemudia  who as governor in 1967 changed the name  to Igbanke for fear that the uproar of an Ika-Ibo man made governor of Midwestern State at a time there was high Anti-Igbo sentiment  so he  aligned with the federal government while his fellow Igbanke native Captain Fred Anuku fought on the side of Biafra. It is also known Late Arch Idahosa and wife were all from Igbanke and of Igbo stock but chose to identify not with the Igbos for social, economic and political consideration.

It is to be noted that Delta state has more Igbo speaking descent outside of the South Eastern states.  In the old Bendel State, the local news was read in Bini, Urhobo, Ibo,Akoko -Edo & Itsekiri languages. Today the Ika Ibo group of the Delta south Senatorial district is the second largest group after the Urhobos. The Ika-Igbos  stretches from Ukwani – Obiriaroko axis to Agbor ( Anioma) down to Owan people, Ndokwa and down to Asaba. All the major participants of the first military coup such as Kaduna Nzeogwu, Fred Anuka,Nwawo, Alabi Isama, Iweze, Chiazor, Buzegbe were all Igbo stocks from Ika Ibo linquistic dialect group hence the Fulani/ Hausa group till date named it an ” Igbo coup” look at the names and notice that they all bear semblance to Igbo identity.

There are Igbo stock in Bayelsa State such as Osekwenike,Abuetor,Eke,Okpokri village ( Sagbama) they speak distinct Ika Ukwani dialect of Anioma Ika-Igbo stock.

There are pockets of Igbos found in Kogi inIbaji, Igalamela in Odulu LGA. In Eke Avurugo communities in Kogi, you would notice Igbo named villages such as Nwajala, Umuoye, Ubule-Umuez, Ozara and Umuoye( No other Igbo group has been more neglected than the Igbos in

Benue State. They too like the Igbankes were severed off from their kin and kith in Ebonyi State by the deliberate plan of the Federal Government to reduce the population of the Igbos and cripple their influence following the civil war. The Igbos from the Benue are from the northern most axis of Igbo heartland they speak the Ozara, Umuezeohaka and Mgbolizhia dialects which represents some of  slight variation of the linquistic characteristics of Igbo ethnic nationalists (Ifeoma Okereke; Daily Time TV, 2018).

There are approximately over 600 Igbo ethnic villages that was scrupulously excised and carved into Benue from Ebony and Enugu States such as Ado, Oju, and Okpoku( they were in existence as Igbo unit before the introduction of.christnity into the region. Besides there are also Umueziokoha, umuezooeka, Oriuzor, Umuogharra, Amaekka, & Amaezekwe in Ezza community.  The three biggest market today in Benue State is said to be located in Igbo speaking parts Inikiri Ichari, Iddah and Iduokpe.

One of the characteristics of all these Igbo speaking villages and towns located outside the Igbo heartland, is the level of marginalization and mistreatment melted against them. It’s over half a century since most of them were carved out due mainly for political expediency rather than logical reason, so many generation have come to see themselves not as Igbos anymore from years of conditioning and also as means of survival.

It may not be immediate to bring them back to Igboland but I think that continuous effort should be made to encourage and preserve their and, our collective Igbo rich history so as to remove the stigma and ” shaming” identifying with being Igbo has made then feel. I think the salient  issue here is the feeling of superiority and inferiority. There is the unwritten code that the real Igbos are those residents inside the heartland. The other unaddressed issue is, where actually is the ” sacred” home of the Igbos. Our role  is to make every Igbo person regardless of their indigenous abode to feel proud and identify with the ethnicity just as the fulani has done. The difference between the Igbos and the Fulanis is, while they the Igbos are Indigenous to Nigeria, the latter are not. To attract other Igbo speaking people to unite is not  to present a posture of dominance but an embracing lost but found sibling posture..


Ritchie Ejiofor

Is a Doctoral candidate at Walden University

Criminal Justice Department and an independent Licensed Insurance Agent



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