Socio-Political Development

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Most of Nigeria had been conquered, and her people, subjugated by Britain, by 1915. Thereafter, any of the conquered people who revolted against British rule were severely repressed by colonial troops in what the British termed, pacification. During this period too (ca. 1915-ca. 1925), any remaining pockets of unconquered people were finally brought under British rule.

 

The colonial conquests and post-conquest repression and the vigour with which the British established communication, transportation and administrative infrastructure, largely with a view to consolidating British authority, convinced the subjected people that British rule had come to stay. In the circumstances, they sought ways and means of coming to terms with the colonial situation. They co-operated as much as they could with the British colonial agents and administrative machinery, but, also, they endeavoured to adapt their age-old beliefs, institutions and practices to the new situation. They also built new institutions and associations capable of meeting the challenges of the new economic, social and political order.

 

In Opobo Division, the Ogoni were the last to be conquered (1913-1914). For several years thereafter, police patrols carried out pacification work among them, as well as in some Anaang and Ibibio areas. In that way, by early 1920's, British rule had been completely established throughout Opobo Division, a system of Indirect Rule had been inaugurated, and Christian Missions and Western education had been introduced into the Division (Cheesman, 1932 B).

 

This category discusses several fundamental issues, events and movements associated with Opobo Division in the course of the political development of Nigeria between 1928. when colonial rule had been firmly established, as well as the Ibibio State Union, and 1987. when Akwa Ibom State was created. The matters discussed are the rise of the new African elite and the development of ethnic improvement unions; anti-colonial resistance, particularly the Women's War of 1929 against the perceived colonial injustices to women: Nigerian politics; independence and state creation movements. In some of these matters, Ikot Abasi indigenes played crucial roles.

Category: Ikot Abasi in the Socio-Political Development

 

Rise of the Educated Elite: The expansion of Western Education

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The Ibibio always ask for school (Cheesman, 1932).

In Ibibioland, the Missions were judged by the quality of their schools (Ann. Rep., 1944).

 

A distinctive characteristic of the colonial period in Nigeria following the imposition of a pax Britannica was the expansion of Christianity and Western education - the first one, by various missionary organisations, and the other one, by these organisations primarily, supplemented by the colonial government and the Native Administration (NA) authorities. Western education brought about profound socio-economic and political changes in Opobo Division, as in other regions of Nigeria.

 

Education, even more than the Native Courts and Warrant Chiefs, has done its share in breaking down the indigenous customs and system of administration. It has been used to foster sects of religion and is a definite bribe to attract church members.
 
(DO, Annual Report, 1932)

 

In Opobo Division, Western education made a very slow initial progress. The initiative came from the British colonial government, which established a Government Elementary School at Opobo Town about January 1905. It was the only Government school in the Division. Although it achieved high academic standards, and was attended by some pupils from the neighbouring Anaang, Ibibio, Andoni and Ogoni areas for Standard V and VI classes, it was closed down in April 1934 as an economic measure and merged with the Niger Delta Pastorate (NDP/Anglican) school, also located in Opobo Town (Shute, 1933). With its closure, Opobo Division had no government school up to Nigeria's Independence in 1960. Moreover, the closure left the NDP school for many years as the only other reputable school in the entire Division (Richards, 1930).

 

Category: Ikot Abasi in the Socio-Political Development

 

Political Awareness: Ethnic Improvement Unions

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In spite of its educational backwardness, Opobo Division did produce its educated elite-persons trained in educational institution in or outside the Division, or who had acquired some aspects of European civilisation while serving the colonial government or the European missionary and trading enterprises. They were the houseboys, clerks, catechists, preachers, teachers, court messengers, interpreters and the like. As from 1940's they included persons who had studied abroad in Europe or America, the first and best known of whom is Sir Udo Udoma.

 

Young men attempted to dominate the Ikpa Nnung Assang and Ikpa Nnung Esetang Councils and the District Officer had to settle disputes several times.
 
(Ann. Rep. 1934)

 

By the 1940, the British held exclusive presence in the top level of the expatriate administration, economic and social hierarchical structure. The Africanisation of the civil service and the trade came through the necessity to cut down expenses on European staff during the 1930's economic slump, and the availability of qualified educated African elite, and the heavy pressure by educated Nigerian elite.

 

It was these educated elite, more or less supported by the traditional leaders - the village and clan heads and elders, who organised self-help and improvement unions for their communities as from 1920's. The unions aimed to effectuate modernisation and development by building schools, promoting education and literacy, improving farming techniques, and organising co-operative societies (Abasiattai, 1994: 33-44). The unions included the Andoni Progressive Union (APU), the Obolo State Union (OSU), the Opobo Improvement Union (OIU), and the Ibibio State Union (ISU).

Category: Ikot Abasi in the Socio-Political Development

 

Obolo (Andoni)

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The first group to develop a strong ethnic identity were the Obolo. Since Jaja settled in Opobo Town on Andoni land in 1869, the Opobo had spread over Andoni territory, dominating Andoni trade, and exploiting Andoni labour (Swanston, 1920). As from 1921, the Andoni moved to change this situation.

 

Drawing on their age-old institutions and symbols, like Yok Obolo, the national deity; Obara-Yok, its High Priest; Alabie, the national capital and abode of Yok Obolo; and the Oru, the Obolo legislative and judicial council comprising the otoko (extended family) heads (Ejituwu, 1991: 57; Richards, 1931), the Andoni built up a vivid ethnic nationalism, expressed in a desire to evict or dominate foreign communities settled on Andoni land, and in much bitter feelings against Andonis, suspected of leanings toward friendship with Opobo or Bonny people (Gibbons, 1934). The new nationalism was used particularly in challenging the Opobo domination. Between 1922 and 1925, the Oru, led by the irrepressible, able, if somewhat ruthless Chief Ereforokuma Arong, instituted a suit against the Opobo in the Supreme Court, which the Andoni won, and thereby obtained the title to most of Andoni land against the Opobo (Organisation of Andoni Native Court; Gibbons. 1934). The Andoni-Opobo land dispute, coupled with the advent of Western education and colonial administrative reforms, inspired a movement of Andoni youths for social reformation. The youths, for example, sought to replace Andoni's matrilineal with the patrilineal marriage system of the neighbouring Anaang and Ibibio, believing their own system to be less enlightened (Gibbons, 1934).

 

In October 1931, following British colonial administrative reforms, which sought to give the people greater say and participation in the colonial administration, the Oru was constituted a Clan Council and Native Authority for the Obolo. It met twice a month at Alabie with Chief Ereforokuma Arong as the elected President (Gibbons, 1934). The Clan Council - the first to be established in Calabar Province - possessed executive and legislative functions, while judiciary functions were performed by Native Courts established for the Obolo at Agafor (1932) and Okoro Ete (1935), and made up of Otoko heads appointed members of the courts by the government.3 A government report in December 1932 noted that only five Obolo young men were admitted to Oru meetings and allowed to speak occasionally.

 

Category: Ikot Abasi in the Socio-Political Development

 

Opobo Town

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Chief Shoo Peterside, an Opobo Town chief, shrewd businessman and politician, signatory to the Protection Treaty of 1884 and a member of Jaja's delegation to Britain in 1887, member of Opobo Town Native Counci until December 1923. His beach at Egwanga housed the Ibibio Trading Corporation Office at Opobo (Source: NAI)Chief Shoo Peterside, an Opobo Town chief, shrewd businessman and politician, signatory to the Protection Treaty of 1884 and a member of Jaja's delegation to Britain in 1887, member of Opobo Town Native Counci until December 1923. His beach at Egwanga housed the Ibibio Trading Corporation Office at Opobo (Source: NAI)The Opobo, as was adumbrated above, had been exposed more intensely to European contacts and Western education, than any other group in Opobo Division. A government report in 1932 noted that the Opobo were well educated for a Nigerian tribe and that:

the educated element dominate the management of their own affairs. Their Paramount Chief (Arthur MacPepple Jaja) was educated in Scotland and England for 18 years; Chief Cookey Gam went to School in Liverpool; Harry Toby, in Sierra Leone; and Jim Shoo Peterside is very literate. They form the majority of the inner Council of the clan heads. Then most of the ordinary people are educated, as Opobo has both the Government and a large Mission assisted school.(Cheesman, 1932 B)

 

The majority of the Opobo went into trade; the remainder, into the Church and teaching. The situation certainly contrasted with Obolo, then reported to have only two educated chiefs; or with Ogoni, where Western education was then a comparatively new thing - the first elementary school in Ogoni having been established at Kono only in 1926 by the Methodist Mission4 (Cheesman, 1932 B).

 

The greater enlightenment among the Opobo had important consequences. First, the Opobo reportedly developed certain municipal ideas and a strong desire for amenities like drainage, bridges, water supply, dispensary, public latrines, and postal and telegraphic facilities, bombarding visiting government dignitaries with requests for them (Purchas. 1921; Hunt, 1937). Occasionally, Government responded with a special grant for drainage or for building a bridge.

 

Category: Ikot Abasi in the Socio-Political Development

 

Ogoni

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Following the NA reforms of the 1930's, the Ogoni were organised into one Superior Native Authority (SNA or Tribal Council) which met at Yeghe, and five Clan Councils (or Subordinate Native Authorities-SUNA) which met at Tai, Gokana, Eleme, Southern and Northern Kana. A Native or Clan Court was also established for each clan, and, in 1936, a Tribal Native Treasury.

 

British colonial officials, who lived or worked with the Ogoni invariably described them as a spirited, virile race (Smith, 1937), possessing great vigour and less culture, and the least exposed to European influence of all the peoples in Opobo Division (Dewhurst, 1938). All this portrayed their true spirit of independence and virility, derived from the resilience of their traditional institutions against injustice or external colonial domination.

 

Despite their late start in Western education, some progress was eventually made. As from late the 1930's, several Ogoni youths trained at the T. T. C, Uyo, returned to teach in the NA, Methodist and Roman Catholic schools, in which position they contributed significantly to social change (Gibbons, 1935). In December 1937, of the 24 members of the Executive Committee of the Tribal Council, about one-quarter were literate and the rest were influential chiefs. Thus, in Ogoni, enlightenment on the part of the few educated elite combined with shrewd common sense on the part of the non-literate chiefs to motivate social, economic and political development (Dewhurst, 1938). A government report in 1938 described the Executive Committee as a vigorous, progressive body which has done most useful work.

 

In 1944 the Ogoni were excised from Opobo to Degema Division during an adjustment of divisional boundaries. In the new Division, the Ogoni continued to make steady progress. By the early 1950's, an Ogoni Union had been formed comparable to the improvement unions in Obolo and Opobo Town, and poised to participate in the late colonial and post independence development of Nigeria.

Category: Ikot Abasi in the Socio-Political Development

 

Ibibio and Anaang

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Chief Ntuen Ibok with his MBE medal, 1954. Source: NM, CalabarIn the struggle to uplift the status and preserve the dignity of the African manhood and heritage. (Motto of the Ibibio State Union)

 

As elsewhere in Opobo Division, prior to the NA reforms, the Ibibio and the Anaang were organised into Native Court Areas, with little regard for clan boundaries, and with the Native Courts performing executive, legislative and judicial functions. By the NA reforms of the 1930's, executive and legislative functions were separated from judicial: a Clan Council, serving as Subordinate Native Authority (SUNA) and a Native Court were established for each clan; the first one performed executive and legislative, and the other, judicial functions. Thus, as in Ogoni, a Clan Council and a Native Court were established in 1934 for each of the Ibibio clans of Ibiaku, Ikpa and Ukpum. Additionally, in 1935, an Ibibio Central Council and a Central Ibibio Native Treasury were established, constituting the Ibibio NA of Opobo Division. The Central Council, comprising 100 members elected by the SUNA's, served as Superior Native Authority. It had a strong Executive Committee similar to the Ogoni's, which met monthly at Ikot Akan (Dewhurst, 1938; Smith, 1940). Similar administrative bodies were established for the Anaang in Opobo Division. The Central Ibibio Council at Ikot Akan became the organisational centre for political and educational upliftment of the Ibibio and Anaang areas in Ikot Abasi.

 

The Ibibio Treasury
 
Ikot Akan Council Hall was the seat of the Central Ibibio Council, which, with the support of the Ibibio Union, became the power in the land, the group council simply complying with its decisions. The Ibibio Treasury, which opened with big celebrations on 30th Nov. 1935, had Chiefs Ntuen Ibok of Essene and Umo Idem Umo Eren Akpata of Ikot Ekpo (persons whom we know will be faithful to all), elected as key-holders to the safe room lock keys. They employed an educated young man to accompany them for the monthly receipts and payments, who carefully scrutinised the vouchers and kept records of each spending. (Gibbons, 1934)
 
In August 1944, Chief Umo Idem was made Ohong hong of the two Ukpum clans.
 
(Ann. Rep. 1944)

 

Category: Ikot Abasi in the Socio-Political Development

 

Resistance to Colonial Rule

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Notice of the ISU Deputation Visit. (Source: Prof. M.E. Noah)The Man Leopard Murders

 

In the social sphere, a major achievement by the ISU was the Union's undertaking, when government efforts failed, to suppress man-leopard murders that occurred in the 1940's in some areas of Opobo, Abak and Uyo Divisions among the Ibibio and the Anaang. The man-leopards (Ekpe owo or ekpe ikpa ukod), simulating leopards in their dress and manner of killing, were hired to commit the murders by aggrieved persons seeking vengeance over matrimonial or land disputes, default or misuse of osusu (co-operative) payments, etc. which the Native Courts failed to settle impartially. Partial or non-refund of dowry, desertion or adultery by a wife, or rejection of a suitor could motivate the aggrieved man to revenge through man-leopard murder (Udo-Affia, 1947; Anon, 1946). The practice of child marriage further exacerbated the situation. Additionally, cheap or so-called one-manilla divorce, instituted by the District Officer F. R. Kay in Abak Division, whereby only a very small portion of the dowry (one manilla) was refunded to the husband in some cases of divorce6, motivated many husbands to take the law into their hands. In Opobo Division, murders occurred at Ibesit Okpokrok, Ikot Ukpong Eden, Ibesit Anwa, Ikot Ikpene, Idung Ntuk Uma, Ikot Akama, Eteben, Ikot Idem, Ikot Udoro (Anaang), and Essene, Ikot Akpa Obong, Ibekwe Akpan Nya, and Ikot Obio Okoi (Ibibio), among others. By May 1947, when an ISU delegation toured the Leopard Area with a view to stopping the murders, over 100 persons had been killed by man-leopards, especially in the Anaang areas, where the murders originated (NAE ABAKDIST. 1/2/92).

 

The tour of the ISU delegation undertaken with approval by the Government, lasted from May 27 to July 31, 1947. It was a tremendous undertaking. Government provided several lorries and a police escort, proclaimed the affected area a Man-Leopard Area on which it billeted 300 police men, and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew (Udoma, 1987: 117-120). A police force headquarters for the Leopard Area was established at Egwanga under I. E. Hodges, Superintendent of Police. The delegation itself comprised 52 prominent men representing the ISU and the NA's drawn from all the six Ibibio districts (Schofield, April 1947).

 

Category: Ikot Abasi in the Socio-Political Development

 

Anti-Tax Wars: The Women's War of 1929

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Chief Ntuen Ibok and DO Murphy. Source: Otung Ntuen Ibok, Ikot OsukpongBesides the man-leopard menace, other challenges to the colonial government included the resistance against certain colonial policies and practices, particularly taxation. Since the imposition of British colonial rule, the people of Eastern Nigeria had been obliged to provide unpaid labour for public works, but had not been taxed, the Native Courts deriving their revenue mostly from court fines. Indeed, the people had no tradition of regular taxation. In 1927, Government decided to impose a tax on able-bodied adult males as a more systematic source of revenue.

 

Tax assessment of each adult male, carried out in the Division in 1927/28, involved the counting of property like food crops, palm produce, crafts and livestock. In the end, a flat rate tax of seven shillings per adult male was imposed, excepting Ogoni, where the rate was six shillings, as its resources were considered underdeveloped and the people, poorer in consequence (Whitman, 1928). Significantly, District Officer G.E. Murphy, who did the assessment in Opobo Division, noted that among the Ibibio and the Ogoni there was:

... passive opposition of every kind. There was no case of natives pressing forward to give information as to the number of wives, sheep etc. they had and how much land they farmed. In some towns... the people had even removed the livestock; in others they stood apart in suddenly (sic) hostile groups. The chiefs were generally reluctant to give any open assistance even in cases where they were not themselves hostile to the tax; none of them would show me round more than their own compounds and they were obviously afraid of their own people (Murphy, 1927).

 

In spite of the passive resistance to the assessment, the tax itself was paid in 1928 without problems. However, when re-assessment was carried out in some areas in December 1928 to rectify errors in the very rough assessment of 1927/28, opposition to it and actual violence occurred on December 4 at Ikot Obio Itong: the assessing team of officials was assaulted; and at the adjacent village of Ukam, the people destroyed the Native Court buildings, staff quarters and court records, and forcibly released the prisoners in the lock-up, which they also destroyed, along with two miles of telegraph lines and several road bridges. On December 6, however, colonial troops sent from Calabar at lightning speed, some of which got stuck on the muddy road and were also assaulted by the villagers, burnt down Ikot Obio Itong which had started the resistance, and imposed a fine on Ukam, and on neighbouring Minya for obstructing the troops marching to Ukam (Falk, 1929).

 

Category: Ikot Abasi in the Socio-Political Development

 

Politics and Nigeria's Independence

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The period from the 1940's onward witnessed the rise of Nigerian nationalism, constitutional development, the formation of political parties, enfranchisement and mass political participation, in all of which Ikot Abasi and its citizens were actively involved.

 

The Richard's Constitution of 1946, although vehemently criticised by Nigerian nationalists as a colonial imposition and a far cry from democracy, did provide for persons nominated from the Native Authorities to meet as a Provincial Council to select some of the members of the newly created Regional Houses of Assembly. The Houses, in turn, selected several of their members to the Legislative Council in Lagos. Members of the Calabar Provincial Council from Opobo Division, who, participated in the rudimentary elections of 1947 and thus became the Division's pioneer modern politicians, were based on their NA's:

 

Andoni: Rev. John B. Ikuru (Niger Delta Pastorate pastor and petty trader);

Ibibio: W. A. Meyen (Methodist teacher);

Opobo Town: Solomon S. A. Pepple (Produce trader);

Anaang: Thomas Udofia (Qua Iboe teacher, and member, Ibesit Nnung Ikot Council) OPOBODIST, 1/1/63.

 

They were, in a sense, bridgers of gap between colonial autocracy and national democracy.

 

Category: Ikot Abasi in the Socio-Political Development

 
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