By SimonKingz Onuh
Prior to the coming of Europeans, and subsequent partition of West Africa, Igala country stretched far as to share boundaries with Onitsha, Benin and beyond the banks of the River Niger and Benue to the North including the entire Lokoja down to Abaji . They share influences and treaties with the Igbos, Benin's in the Southwest, Yorubas in the far West and the Hausas in the North.
Topographically, the confluence area or point "Oko-eja" ; Oko(farm) Eja(Fish) when the Europeans wanted to settle down around Idah, they went to the palace of then Attah Igala. The then Attah Igala told the interpreter in Igala that ; "Adodo kpai -enefun kawnma kuma Lo toko -Eja" . Meaning we can not live with white here tell them to go to Oko-eja area ( Fish farm) ; Lo toko-eja (Fish farm) which was later corrupted by the white as Lokoja . Lokoja belongs to Igala people as far back as 15 to 16 century . The River is a source of water for domestic use, food (fish), and the only source of easy transport as at that time and a pride to Igala kingdom, as the original commander of the rivers.
Lokoja has been the centre of attraction even for fish farming. When Attah Ameh Ocheje first met with the European explorers in the early1840s, although the contact started with the preceding Attah Onokpa in 1830; as recorded by G.M Clifford in his book, “the Igala Chielfdom” the Attah said; “The rivers belong to me along way up and down on both sides and I am king.
The Queen of white men have sent a friend to see me.
I have also seen, just now a present that is not worthy to be offered to me-it is fit for a servant. God made me after his image; I am all the same as God and he appointed me a king”. According to history ,
There was a treaty signed on behalf of Attah Ameh Ocheje reason because Attah does not sign agreement with human being. The treaty was drawn in 1831.
That was the earliest treaty ever drawn in West Africa but this was not signed until 1841-when the issue of the land around Lokoja and its environs that was requested by the queen of England was resolved.
Attah ameh Ocheje was gracious to give Lokoja to the British at the cost of 700,000 cowries (of which only about 160,000 cowries, then equivalent to forty five pounds) were paid.
The balance had not being paid before the expiration of 99 years. On the 6th September, 1841, the treaty was signed on behalf of the Queen of Great Britain by Bundus Trotter, Commander Williams Allen, Capt.
Henry, Commander Bird allen and Williams Cooks Esquire. “The treaty between the queen of England and Igala country”, evidence available in Attah's palace till date In attempt to enforce abolition of slave trade, freedom of religion, fundamental human rights, respect for indirect rule and fundamental human right of the British citizen in Igala country”.
It also includes list of over 30 gifts items from the Queen of England as presents to Attah Ameh Ocheje.
Lokoja eventually became the first Federal Capital of Nigeria after Lord Lugard briefly sojourned at Itobe and Ajaokuta still in the heart of Igala Kingdom. (Cenopaph in memory of Nigerian soldiers who fought the first and second world wars 1914- 1918 and 1939-1945; weapons used during Nigeria Cameroun war (1914) east Africa (1918) are there at the cenopaph in Lokoja) which was formerly under Itobe under Attah leadership.
The real word Itobe is "Ete’obe" later corrupted as Itobe ; meaning cradle of commerce , was the most vibrant market in the Niger area and beyond.
Ajaokuta; Aja (market), Okuta (stone), meaning; Stonemarket or market where there are stones. This is because Okuta (stone) are not very common on the opposite sides of Ajaokuta.
Aja means market but Yoruba calls it “Oja”. Oja means multitude of people or large group of people in Igala.
The title of Ata Oja of Oshogbo means- the father of multitude of people of Oshogbo. If Oja means market, then it is difficult to explain what Ata- Oja could mean.
I believe that the name of Attah’s tittle was an extension of Igala’s influence over other ethnic group. Attah also means father in Jukun language.
At Lokoja in 1900, Lord Lugard raised the union-jack flag indicating British indirect rule system in Nigerian people at that time. It was the wife, Flora that first describes the area as “Niger area” which became Nigeria.
The first identified Nigerians were Igala, Bassas, Egbira, Kakanda, Oworo, Idoma, Agatu and those under the direct control of Attah Igala (Igala proper). The first Nigeria logo/flag (of palm tree and hippopotamus) depicts Igala environment.
When the colonial government was fully established, they recruited and used mainly Igala people to move from one place to the other to convince and capture other Chiefdoms to Nigeria. Sometimes they experienced stiff resistance, which resulted into fighting.
It’s amazing when late Onuh (Igwe) Agbedo of Ete, the Igala speaking area of Enugu State was narrating his experiences on how they captured Ugbokolo in the present Benue state. They were not strong in the north because, the chiefs control the people and on capturing those chiefs, the subjects would not have problem of followership.
Anywhere they capture, they put their district officer. When the whole north was conquered they moved Nigeria Federal Capital to “Asaba” which was still part of Igala kingdom so that they can have access to the eastern region.
The battle was so difficult in the east because the Ibos did not value or regard traditional authorities.
When they finished capturing the whole of east using Igala and others from the north and middle belt, they once again moved the Federal Capital from Asaba to Calabar to reach out to the south-south region and finally to Lagos.
For security reason, General Murtala Mohammed moved the Federal Capital of Nigeria to Abuja. If you are following the story carefully, it is crystal clear that before colonial rule in Igala kingdom, described above by G.M Clifford, (the core or proper Igala people) controlled the major parts of Nigeria then.
There are some landmark features at Lokojo that suggested it to be an Igala controlled town apart from the name Lokoja whose meaning we have earlier explained. Another point to note is “Ega Anaja meaning Garden of Anaja or Anaja's garden which was later corrupted as Ganaja today is still an Igala entity . Anaja is a name of an Igala chief assigned to the area sometimes 1831 -1834
By Attah Ame Ocheje .
Likewise, the place called Adankolo was a name of an Igala chief in that area before he passed away. His name was Adah Okolo. Which was shortened, Adankolo.
Some early explorers could not hide their feelings an excerpt from their diary:
The Igala people have had mutually reinforcing relationship with major world ethnic groups. Their craft (technology) was so advanced that at close of 16th Century, Igala country produces iron and metals; cultivate cotton, tobacco and beniseed; they also manufacture coarse grass, mats and bags, cloths, clay and brass pipes, hoes and leather.The latter is dyed black, red or yellow, and is made with anos or charms for the neck and waist, as well as being used for covering baskets, and the handles of swords and knives.
In early seventies (70s), there was a seminar held in order to fashion out a Lingua franca for Nigeria; a Yoruba professor of Linguistics defended the Igalas position that it should be Igala language to be adopted as lingua Franca for Nigeria.
The reason is that most Igala words are found in other languages in Nigeria and beyond.
Between 16th and 17th Century, Igala had one of the best indigenous colonization in Africa; Idah became the people’s Rome, the center of civilization and learning. The most important resources in Nigeria during the pre-colonial era were the two Rivers. The most cherished and strategic point to behold and even occupy was the confluence area.
the prosperity of the old Igala nation left behind a society that is endowed with abundant historical relics which tells the stages of civilization, architecture, culture, settlement, pattern etc.
Anybody viewing the map of Africa and zooming into Nigeria will see one of the greatest features; the two great Rivers that met at a point and together journeying down Southwards into the Atlantic without the waters mixing.
Each one maintaining their .white and dark colours separate identities until they flow into the Delta region and emptied into the Atlantic.
WHERE OUR PROBLEMS STARTED AND WHY WE ARE WHERE WE ARE.
There was strong resistance to the European passage on the river from Igala leaders, who ke pt an eagle eye on the river. As a result, the colonial master (Administrators) became hostile in their policies against the Igala Kingdom.
First, they strangulated the Igala homogeneity and planted seed of discord amongst us, who had hither to enjoyed strong affinity of their leader Atta Igala.
Igala was divided into bits. According to Late Prof Ibrahim Omale, On 31st December, 1899, the British established a protectorate of Southern Nigeria with Idah, the Headquarters of Igala Kingdom under Nsukka Division of Onitsha Province.
On 1st January, 1900, Lokoja which was part of Igala Kingdom was declared the Capital of the protectorate of Northern Nigeria. Idah which is the Headquarters of Igala Kingdom was in Southern Nigeria and Lokoja, part of Igala Kingdom was in the Northern Nigeria. Watch out for part