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The Decline of Opobo

Author: smith on 16-09-2013, 18:00, views: 2 838


Esen onyong, ikpa
When the stranger leaves, we die.
(Ibibio saying)


In the 1940's a number of problems and crises had developed. The destabilising developments included the Second World War, the Leopard Society murders and the unpopular Richards Constitution. During the Second World War, Opobo District witnessed inflation and general rise in the prices of local food stuffs. This bore badly on the poor with no land and the wage earning classes (James, 1943). There was also scarcity of salt which led to the rationing of the commodity to the public (Hartley, 1941). In 1945, murders by the Leopard society (Ekpe Ikpa Ukod), believed to have started in 1941, were uncovered in Opobo and Abak Districts, and, to some extent, in Uyo District. By 1946, a total of 159 deaths had been perpetrated by the society (Mayne, 1947).


In almost all cases, after a murder, marks were made on the ground near the corpse to represent the pads of a leopard (Smith, 1945). But the investigation conducted, revealed that the crime was committed by people who had some scores to settle with others, usually after a revelation by Idiong diviners (Ibid.).

A number of measures were adopted to end the murders. These included the tour of the affected areas by the colonial authorities and officials of the Ibibio State Union, the search for and killing of real leopards, which were also causing some deaths, effective policing of the Leopard Society areas, and the proscription of Idiong society. These measures, backed up by the support of some elders and people in the affected areas, such as Chief Ntuen Ibok of Essene (Ina, 1989) and Dr. E. Udo Udoma (Udo-Inyang 1985) led to the stoppage of the Leopard Society murders in Opobo and other affected areas in 1948 (Mayne, 1948).


Decline of the Port


In January 1950, the Opobo port located at Egwanga was closed down. This brought about economic collapse of the area. For, with the closure of the port, much of its trade in palm produce was diverted to Port Harcourt, and business generally came to a stand-still (Udo-Inyang, 1985: 14-15).


By 1945, the Imo River bar was found to have silted up to 111/2 feet/3.45 metres deep (14 feet/4.2 metres in 1944) and in June that year the river was closed to ocean-going shipping. The cargo was lifted, instead, by the small coastal steamers - Nupe and Empire Ruby and branch boats, which carried produce from Opobo Port to Port Harcourt for trans-shipment overseas.
(Ann. Rep., 1945)


But the doors to development were not permanently closed. In 1951, a year after the closure of the port, Nigeria's premier Boat Building Yard was established in Egwanga by the Department of Commerce and Industry on a site formerly occupied by the United African Company. Within a few years the industry manufactured a number of power driven river crafts including launches, freight carrying barges, and fishing boats. It also offered employment to many Nigerians. And at the first National Exhibition of locally manufactured goods in Nigeria held in Lagos in 1958, its exhibited products commended admiration

(Nigeria Trade Journal, 1958).

The Opobo Boatyards before...The Opobo Boatyards before... ... and now... and now

Progress was also made in the development of fishing industry. The industry was run by the Master Fisherman using three fishing crafts, Yorkshire Cobbles (Westmarcott, 1951).


Hope for significant economic development in Ikot Abasi was registered in November, 1953. At that time oil of good quality was discovered by the Shell D'Arcy Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria at Ikot Akpa Ekup in Ukam Court area. Though no oil was drilled before the end of our period, the discovery signalled prospect for eventual economic recovery.


In 1953 Shell D'Arcy company, which had been prospecting for oil in Southern Nigeria since 1937, drilled Akata I oil well at Ikot Akata, Opobo Division, where the first oil was found, but it was not in commercial quantity.




From the above analysis, the history of Ikot Abasi in the period 1900-1960 can be compared to an ocean tide - it flowed, and ebbed, and flowed. A good start had been made in 1900 and progress had been recorded thereafter. The importance of Ikot Abasi, especially, in terms of trade, however, began to dwindle after the establishment of Port Harcourt in 1913. The situation got worse from 1929 to 1933 as a result of the strains of the Women's War of 1929, and the Economic Depression from 1929 to 1939. By 1931 business in the area had, in fact, become so bad that only 11 out of the 35 firms that existed there in 1929 were functioning.


The introduction of the Native Administration system in the area in 1931 not only reformed the political and administrative systems but the economic and social systems as well. By 1933, the economic depression had eased, and recovery began in 1934. Native Administration, under the traditional rulers and the educated elite, worked fairly well.


In 1940's Ikot Abasi again suffered a drawback. A number of factors, notably, the Second World War (1939-1945) and the leopard society murders tended to destroy what had been achieved before. Fortunately, the colonial government did much to compensate the area for its War effort and the menace of the leopard murders was stamped out by the government through the co-operation of the leading citizens of the area and the Ibibio State Union.


With the closure of the trading port of Egwanga and the Customs Post in 1950, Ikot Abasi collapsed economically. But through the efforts of some government departments, the Ibibio State Union and well-meaning indigenes of the area, like Dr. Udo Udoma, attempts were made to revive the hope in the future of the area economically, politically and socially.


In Opobo the Ibibio Native Authority continues to develop as a vigorous, progressive and sensible body. Much of the credit appears to be due to the Divisional branch of the Ibibio State Union which is exceedingly active and makes its writ run. In its dealings with the Administration it is flexibly independent, and does not hesitate to criticise; but its criticism, is constructive and its energy tempered with reason. It preaches self-government, but self-government through self-discipline and hard work.
(A. B. Wcstmacott, 1951)




1 Opobo Division boundary adjustments:

At its creation in 1892, the Opobo Vice Consulate/District extended over both sides of the Imo River to include the Obolo and parts of the Ijaw, Ogoni, Ibibio, Anaang and Igbo ethnic groups. The administrative reorganisation that commenced as from the early 193()'s followed the failure of the Native Court/Warrant Chief system of local administration exemplified in the Women's War of 1929. The reorganisation involved grouping related peoples together, sometimes across district, divisional or provincial boundaries, and this necessitated boundary adjustments.

As far as Opobo was concerned, first in 1932, four villages from Ikpa Ikono group, viz., Ikot Umiang. Iton. Ikot Eyiene and Ikot Afanga, and the village of Asong in Eastern Ukpum were transferred from Eket to Opobo Division.

Then in 1938, Eleme Clan formerly in Ahoada District, Owerri Province, was similarly transferred to Opobo Division as part of the Ogoni ethnic group.

On the other hand, sections of Anaang people were transferred to Abak District as follows: Afaha Clan, in 1937; Ikot Mbong Akan, Ediene Atai and Ikot Esiet in 1939; and Abak Midim and Ibesit Nnung Ikot clans much later.

In 1940, Obete village in Ogoni was transferred from Opobo Division to the Ndoki Clan in Aba Division: while in 1944, the Ogoni themselves were excised from Opobo to Degema Division.

When in 1977, Opobo Town and Western Obolo were transferred to Rivers State, the new Ikot Abasi LGA comprised only two ethnic groups, viz., the Ibibio and the Eastern Andoni.

Even so, in 1986, Mkpat Enin Local Government Area (Ibibio) was created out of Ikot Abasi LGA.

In 1996, Eastern Obolo was constituted into a new LGA, leaving Ikot Abasi LGA a much smaller and made up entirely of the Ibibio entity.

(Archival and Field Research, M. B. Abasiattai)

Map of Opobo Port, showing the location of trading companies. (Source: O. D. Etukaffia, 1969)Map of Opobo Port, showing the location of trading companies. (Source: O. D. Etukaffia, 1969)

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