Obolo (Andoni)

Author: smith on 17-09-2013, 20:00, views: 3 112

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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.

 

Thus shut out from participation, the educated Andoni youths began to agitate for adequate representation in the Oru. In March 1934, they formally petitioned G. G. Shute, the Resident for Calabar Province, and the following December they were granted a concession:

that the Oru must consider proposals of young men of which notice had previously been given, failing which the young men should obtain discussion in the presence of the District Officer (Gibbons, 1934; also Andoni Tribal Court).

 

The dispute between the youths - the so-called democratic party - and the Council - the aristocratic party - persisted as the Oru held on tightly to power, in spite of Government subsequently enlarging its membership by three representatives actually selected by the people of each otoko. Consequently, the initiative for reform moved from Obolo land to Andoni elite resident in urban centres like Calabar, Aba, Port Harcourt and Lagos. And so, in 1949, under the auspices of Ralph Ikuru, the Obolo in Calabar formed... Ntitin Unwon Obolo (Andoni Progressive Union). Through the Union, the Obolo were able to mobilise the youths for politics and national development (Ejituwu, 1991: 213).

 

A sister union, with roots in the turbulent years of 1920's, but whose definitive formation occurred in Obolo in 1949, was the Obolo State Union (OSU). It comprised representatives of Oron, Ibeno and Obolo, said to be kindred peoples. Led by its general president, Chief Harry M. Ekong, OSU successfully raised political awareness, and promoted education, among the Obolo (Ejituwu, 1991: 214). In the 1950's, when Britain introduced administrative reforms to replace the NA with a county system, the Union spearheaded - albeit in vain - a movement for the creation of an Obolo-Ibeno District, declaring in its petition to Government in April 1950:

 

We feel that if we had joined together as a District with an administrative Officer in charge, that much more could have been achieved in the development of our area. Our aims and aspirations are submerged partly in Opobo Division and partly in Eket Division. Our efforts to serve as one united clan are depressed with the result that little or nothing is achieved (Ekong et al, 1950).

 

Although Government did not grant the district asked for, the move by the Obolo to form a wider association was a commendable step in self-actualisation.

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