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The Town Population

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The brick Judge's Bungalow on Consulate Road, Ikot AbasiThe brick Judge's Bungalow on Consulate Road, Ikot AbasiA much more fundamental impact was the agglomeration of population at Ikot Abasi, heterogeneous in nationality and ethnicity, and varied in culture, skills and standards of living. Coopers brought from Accra in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), engineers recruited from Sierra Leone, and Kru boys from Liberia recruited as stevedores and deck hands, met and mingled at Ikot Abasi or its environs, although these migrants tended to live in clusters by nationality. One of the most notable migrants was J. E. Tekeyi-Mensah, a company's shopkeeper from the Gold Coast (Epelle, 1970), who settled close by the European Reservation at the rear of G. L. Gaiser and Company's Factory. A village of other aliens and residents, eventually known as Mensah Town, soon formed round him. Significantly, Tekeyi-Mensah himself applied to the Township Advisory Board in October 1912 for land in the Reservation, but, as would be expected, the Board resolved:

... that this application be not granted, since by granting land to one Native there would then be a case of precedent for others. The ground (would) no longer be a European Reservation (Minutes, 1906-1929)


In the end, in October 1920, Tekeyi-Mensah, now a prominent trader, leased a plot of land at Mensah Town from the chiefs of Ikot Abasi on behalf of A. Mensah Brother and Co. Traders of Mensah Town (Leases, Opobo Division).


To the so-called non-native foreigners like Tekeyi-Mensah, were added native foreigners - the Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba who visited, or settled at Ikot Abasi for trade, or were engaged as artisans or contractors (Cheesman, 1932 A). They too tended to settle in ethnic clusters, close by the Township where, through their elected headmen and ethnic associations, they could better cater for the well-being of their members.

Another important element of the town's population comprised Native Africans from the Division and neighbouring regions. They included the Ibibio, Anaang, Obolo (Andoni), Ogoni and Umani (Opobo Town). They visited for trade at the main Public Market, or at the European beaches, or they came to attend the Government Native Hospital - the only hospital for Africans in the Division up to 1960.


Doctor's launch being loaded at Eket for anti-sleeping sickness campaign in 1913. (Courtesy: Dr. Nicholson)Doctor's launch being loaded at Eket for anti-sleeping sickness campaign in 1913. (Courtesy: Dr. Nicholson)Others attended the Egwanga Native Court (1907-1925) or the Magistrate, High and Supreme Courts at the Divisional headquarters. Many others were labour gang members and prisoners, performing various public works.


These included piling the town's foreshore, filling in cliff slides, re-claiming swamps, clearing the bushes, maintaining roads, or making bricks at the nearby brick fields. (Biddell, 1909 A; Harvey, 1911). In November 1909, for instance, a gang of 46 men were being deployed on the Reservation Road, and 50 men on swamp reclamation. Besides, the Governor directed that as from December 6, a gang of 30 men should be permanently employed on the Reservation Road. The existing gang on the Road was also to be increased to 60 men (Minutes, 1906-1929). It was for these workers that the Township's time-gun boomed at 8.00 a. m. and 12.00 noon.


The indigenous Ibekwe people of Ikot Abasi and Ikot Obong constituted the landlords to Government, the European traders and the non-native population. Their land formed the locale of the Township and of satellite towns like Mensah Town. Excepting their chiefs, who earned some income by leasing land to Government, the European firms and others, the Ibekwe people had no particular privileges setting them apart from the Division's population. Their prominent chiefs included Akpan Udo Ekpo, a member of the Egwanga Native Court, admired by friends for his astuteness and indefatigability, and dreaded by foes and British colonial officials for his penchant for litigation over land; Akpan Nwop, Udo Umo Afia, and Udo Essien Uko, Native Court members; and, as from 1940s, Nda Ebio, Rufus Iwatt, Adam Ikpong, M. A. Inam, Iwatt Uda, Jonah Ekpro and Jonah Ukpe, the Obong Ikpaisong (Clan Head) of Ikpa Ibekwe (Wauton, 1922, 1925; Ukpe et al, 1954), who was honoured in 1957 with an MBE award.


The last, but not the least element of the Township's population comprised the Europeans; colonial officers, traders and missionaries. By March 1908, their number was so large that a Resident Doctor and a European Hospital were considered necessary (Egwanga Book, 1904-1909).


Eradication of yaws and sleeping sickness
The eradication of yaws and sleeping sickness, prevalent among very young children in the area early in the century, is owed to the efforts of the Government doctors, Dr. D. G. Fitzeraldy-Moor, who initiated and developed a mass therapy and intensive anti-yaws campaign, combined with school visits; and his successor. Dr. C. W. Hope Gill, who continued the programme, covering all medical services and visiting fortnightly the fourteen dispensaries under his care in Opobo, Eket and part of Uyo Divisions.
(Cheesman. 1932)


The European population set the tone of the colonial society in matters like dress, religion, education and livelihood. They included British colonial officials who manned the Divisional Office, the Medical, Customs, and Police Departments; and visiting Government officials. Posting to any station was usually brief - seldom beyond two years (Cheesman, 1931). Hence over the years, the turn-over of British officials at any one station was quite large. Owing to the rigours of the climate and the debility from malaria, very few officials came to Tropical Africa with their wives.


The Colonials
The colonial government started from a small ad-hoc administration on the coast, relying on the man-on-the-spot experience and judgement. Political officers were recruited initially from among the available on the coast Europeans - commercial agents (A. Armstrong, D. C. Douglass), explorers, even missionaries like Mary Slessor.


The colonial society was therefore largely a European male society. On the whole, these officials lived a very busy life - touring their service areas, writing reports, reviewing court cases, meeting with the people, and, sometimes, leading policemen out to quell a riot or enforce government order. Still, a few of the officials were scholar-administrators, who found time and interest to do serious, academic, anthropological and linguistic researches in particular, leading to significant book or journal publications that still form the basis of modern scholarship in those fields. Not surprisingly, disease, inclement climate and sheer fatigue, took its toll, despite periodic leave of absence in Nigeria or abroad meant to help the officers recuperate or rest.


Colonial life at DCs house, Egwanga. (Source: Irene Brightmer)Colonial life at DCs house, Egwanga. (Source: Irene Brightmer)

Colonial motives

Why did you go out to Nigeria ?, I asked an officer, who had served many years in Nigeria.
Because I wanted to shoot an elephant, he replied.
Did you get your elephant?, I asked. No, he answered, we were too busy.

(From A. N. Cook, 1960: 203)


Be that as it may, the government station at Egwanga seemed to reproduce the atmosphere of Victorian earnestness, dignity and comfort of daily life.

New technological inventions - bicycles and, later, motorcycles and cars, telegraph and telephone, electricity generators and water pumps made for efficient performance and ease. Indeed, the privileged position and the distinctive lifestyle of the European population were epitomised by the European Reservation and other exclusive institutions and facilities.


A UAC trading agent on his motorcycle. By the late 1920's, government and company officials made their visits around the division on motorcycles. (Courtesy: Irene Brightmer) Golf at Opobo - Egwanga (NA I)A UAC trading agent on his motorcycle. By the late 1920's, government and company officials made their visits around the division on motorcycles. (Courtesy: Irene Brightmer) 

The British Officials
The early colonial officers were mostly young, enthusiastic empire builders in their 20's, who, after a special instruction course overseas came on the Elder Dempster ships, equipped with the compulsory tropical equipment, including a medicine box and chop box, collapsible canvas bath, sink and lounging chair; water filter; and the symbolic pith helmet, umbrella and spine heat pads, meant to keep them from the hot sun and draughts. They learnt on the job, which included various supervisory duties - from treasury and prison work to general labour, sanitation and road construction, native court supervision, record-keeping and tax assessment, etc., necessary for the establishment of British presence and the maintenance of law and order.
Dressed in marching kit, they criss-crossed the country from one government station to another on foot or in dug-out canoes or on bicycles, sometimes were carried over obstacles on native shoulders; luggage loads followed behind on the heads of conscripted villagers; the accompaniment of Km boys and Hausa or Yoruba soldiers and servants nervously glancing at the thick unfriendly bush.
The District Commissioner/Resident was the backbone of the administration, whose main duty was to open up the country to trade and British civilising rule under the auspices of the wooing My Good Friend or the regular military patrols. He strove through high standards of integrity, authority and dignity to build a sense of loyalty and confidence with the local chiefs, whose judge, councillor and advisor they claimed to be. The coveted recognition of his efforts was the appointment to the honours list of MBE, OBE, CMG, etc., or promotion to a government post.
Civil service seniority and protocol were strictly observed and proclaimed through the Civil Service List, known irreverently as the Stud Book which listed every official in order of seniority. Senior officials sat at the head of the table, travelled first class on the steamers, were carried in hammocks or driven in cars, and given all privileges and allowances, inaccessible to their junior colleagues. The highly elitist attitude, influenced by ethnicity, breeding and social affiliation, permeated the division between administrators and professionals, government officials and commercial agents, Europeans and Africans, each group having its own social circle, club and territorial boundaries.
The social division passed over to the household staff, where there were a cook's mate, a second house boy, his small boy and a boy's boy - and from there to the native community.
After Callaway. 1987: 67-71. 60; Patridge, 1905: C. Allen. 1980; Talbot. 1923. 1926)


The first thing a German built in a colony was barracks, a Frenchman - a cafe and an Englishman, road.


The White Man through African eyes
The Africa people, who witnessed with curiosity the European newcomers (Mbakara) and their way of life, had their own interpretation of this strange phenomenon in their land:
The very first appearance of the white man in the Ibibio hinterland was interpreted in the traditional way as follows: he had two pairs of eyes (wore glasses), two pairs of hands (wore gloves), no toes (always covered his feet with shoes) and had brass rods riveted through his chest (brass buttons).
The typical Ibibio impression of a white man was that he is a dainty creature - one who does not perform hard physical labour, sleeps at odd times and wakes late, eats eggs and other delicacies, etc.. yet is rich and able to afford luxuries like cars, etc. This gave rise to sayings, such as:
Afo odo Mbakara? (Are you a white man'?), when you cat delicacies like bread and tea or eggs.
Adaiya idap mbakara (sleeping a white man's sleep), if you wake up late or do not want your afternoon nap disturbed.
White collar jobs were called atom mbakara (white man's work) where you do not have to exert yourself, but will be well compensated, and the youth aspired to live like the white man.
(Ekong. 1983: 112)
But the white man was treated as semi-deity only on his won grounds - at the government station or trading factory. Up to 1929, when the hinterland was opened up properly and all resistance was crushed, the hinterland people regarded him as a nuisance, an interloper, best to be avoided.
We were compelled to clear the bush, make roads through the towns and keep them clean. Everybody was employed in this work, men, women and children. The roads were portioned out to the different villages. If a road was bad, or anyone refused to go and work, the chief of the village and that person were arrested and fined or imprisoned. It was very funny sometimes in making the roads. One commissioner would tell us to make the road flat. Another would make us change it and make a hill (camber) in the centre. Another would tell us to make drains by the side of the road and then a new one would come and tell us to fill them up again. Some of these changing ways of the white men used to make us laugh, but we did not let them see us laughing.
All the transport in those days was on the heads of our people. The earning of loads was by compulsion. The carriers were paid according to the distance they travelled.
The cleaning of the court house, prison, offices and houses of the clerks was done every week by women from the villages. No payment was given for this work.
Udo Akpabio. Warrant Chief of Ukana in M. Perham, Ten Africans, 1973


The Golf LinksThe Golf Links

The Expatriate Wife
To ihe DO's expatriate wife, life in Africa meant having to cope with dry heat and months of extreme humidity, cockroaches in the linen and silver fishes eating their way through one's books, sitting in the evenings with legs either inside a pillow case or in hot mosquito boots -and sometimes having to chase baboons, or even elephants, out of the garden. It also meant snakes.
The European housewife got used to being addressed, for all her protestations, as Ma or Missus and she learnt to value her servants' honesty as far as money or valuables were concerned - while turning a blind eye to the customary perks in the way of tea and sugar and a little extra on the cook's shopping bill. She accepted responsibility for the upkeep and welfare of the servants' families in the African tradition, and she learnt not to visit the kitchen at the back or the stall quarters without plenty of warning. But two vital duties she always kept to herself: she supervised the washing of lettuce and other vegetables for salad in potassium permanganate, as well as the boiling and filtering of water. (From C. Allen, 1980: 136-140)

These included the European Hospital; a golf course and a tennis court by 1909; a European Rest House by 1912; a European Cemetery; and a Recreation Ground by September 1911. All the European factories had spacious quarters, and most contained billiard tables for recreation by the European staff. A well sunk in the Government Station provided potable water. For sewage disposal, the Township Advisory Board bought a large sanitary canoe about mid 1913 with which paddlers conveyed refuse in sanitary buckets to the middle of the Imo River, where the contents were dumped (Minutes, 1906-1929).


The African through colonial eyes
In character and temperament the typical African is a happy, thriftless, excitable person, lacking in self-control, discipline and foresight, naturally courageous and polite, full of personal vanity, with little sense of veracity, fond of music and loving weapons ...
He lacks the power of organisation, and is conspicuously deficient in the management and control alike of men or of business. He loves the display of power, but fails to realise its responsibility.
(Lord Lugard, 1926: 70)


The European Cemetery Ikot Abasi (NAI)The European Cemetery Ikot Abasi (NAI)The European traders were the largest group in Ikot Abasi Township and its environs at any given time prior to Nigeria's independence in 1960. They were also the most diverse by nationality - mostly British, but also including the French of SCOA located at Strong Face Creek below Opobo Town as from 1934; the Swiss, Vollenweider, who entered the trade in 1933 at Opobo Town Beach; and the Germans of G. L. Gaiser and Co., which had commenced business at Ikot Abasi in 1909, and was liquidated during World War I. These traders consisted mostly of the Head Agents and Trading Assistants at the factories and beaches. Their stay at Ikot Abasi was usually much longer than that of the British colonial officials.


German Companies Trading in Nigeria 1899-1939
1.Deutsch West Africanische Gesellsehaft
3.G. L. Gaiser & Co.
4.Holman & Co.
5.Jackel & Co.
6.Oscar Kaiser & Co.
7.A. Sachse & Co.
9.Witt & Busch
(from Ofonagoro, 1979: 217) 
During World War II, some of the German companies arranged to hand over their operation to British traders on credit terms to avoid confiscation of assets, but these were eventually confiscated and liquidated. Some of them re-established after the war.
(Ofonagoro, 1979: 103)

German ship from the German African Service unloading in Nigeria (1899-1939)German ship from the German African Service unloading in Nigeria (1899-1939)Prominent among them were Frank Hooper and Fenton of Miller Brothers Ltd, after whom the company's beaches - Hooper's Beach and Fenton's Beach were named (Minutes, 1906-1929); Arthur Matzen of G. L. Gaiser and Co., S. M. Bleasby and A. C. Butler of the UAC and GBO respectively, described by District Officer, H. N. Harcourt as legendary figures in the Ikot Abasi trade when both retired in May 1943 after trading for about 30 years at Ikot Abasi (Harcourt, 1943). These traders, as already adumbrated, served at one time or the other on the European Reservation Board.


The third major European group were the Christian missionaries. Although they lived in the rural areas, and were therefore the Europeans closest to the African masses, they were too few to make far-reaching personal impact on the Africans except through the Christian religion and the ideals of Western civilisation, such as monogamy, which they propagated.


Prominent European missionaries in Ikot Abasi area included Rev. A. W. Hodgetts and Rev. J. A. Sollitt of the Methodist Church, Ikot Abasi; and Rev. Frs. Walsh, D. Creedon, T. Reynolds, Mallaly and MacDonald of the Roman Catholic Mission at Essene (Hartley, 1939).

Several Africans served for many years with distinction at the Ikot Abasi Divisional Office. As they were indispensable to the colonial administration, and were as much part of the colonial society as they were of the African, they may be noted here.


John King Usoro of Eket served for 34 years as Interpreter, mostly at Ikot Abasi, before his retirement in March 1944. Besides being honoured by the British government, he was constantly recognised by the Ikot Abasi community as a trusted adviser and mentor in the colonial circumstances, and as a staunch Ibibio patriot (Harding, 1942; Harcourt, 1944 B).


Chief John King Usoro

The Coronation Celebrations
The coronation celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II were attended by a large concourse of chiefs and school children. In the morning 30 canoes from Opobo Town entered for the canoe race, a magnificent spectacle, and the afternoon was dedicated to the school sports. Competitors cheated in every event. One canoe started halfway up the course: not one of the entrants for the Boys' Under-12 Hundred Yards could have been less than 20. and in the girls' Egg and Spoon Race every girl clutched her mango with her free hand. The judges carried out their duties with discretion.
(DO's Annual Report, 1937)


Bob Manuel, the Collector of Customs, who similarly served for many years before retiring in 1942, was awarded an Imperial Service Order in that year for meritorious service to the British Empire (Harding, 1942).


Thus, to a great extent, Ikot Abasi township by 1917, was a European creation - a typical colonial town built on the exigencies of British colonialism and European trade. It was a small town, confined to the European factories, that is, the European Reservation, and the Government Station. It had one main road, viz., the Reservation Road running from the Government Beach to Whydah Waterside. In a reference, about August 1917, to the new Township Ordinance of 1917. the Resident for Calabar Province, H. Bedwell, described the Township as Opobo Egwanga the present (Government) Station Limits and the Reservation Area. Thus, the Township did not include satellite towns like Mensah Town. Indeed, it was against government policy to include native villages in a Township provided they can be included later as Urban Districts (Second Class Townships).


In spite of its small size, however, Ikot Abasi Township had made some remarkable progress by 1917. Indeed, this early phase, from 1902 to 1917, was probably its golden age. Building infrastructure, communication and transportation links, trade and shipping, and the foundations of a sound political economy within the colonial context had been laid.


This is not to imply that this development was smooth. Educational facilities had not advanced markedly. The only two Schools of any real importance in the Division were both located at Opobo Island and not in the Township, viz.: a Government Primary School and a Niger Delta (Anglican Mission) Primary School (Richards, 1930; Brooks, 1917). The Township funds had not been adequate, comprising the beach tax paid by the European firms and occasional government grants.


The policy of residential segregation, more or less rigidly applied in the Township, permitted mostly African employees of the European companies and the colonial government (such as clerks, interpreters, dispensary and hospital workers, and policemen) to live within the Township's precincts. Africans engaged in trade or other forms of self-employment lived outside its limits (Nwaka, 1976B: 28, 33). The aim was to minimise the inconvenience which their habit of drumming, the smoke from their kitchens, and malarial transmission through mosquito bites might cause the Europeans. The rise of satellite towns like Mensah Town in consequence of this policy compounded the problem of urban planning and prevented smooth social intercourse between the races and classes. Thus at a meeting of the Reservation Board of April 25, 1912, several members reportedly protested against the presence of beach boys quarters near the dwellings of Mclver and Lever Brothers, and proposed that permanent quarters be built for them on a more suitable site, the present site being within the European Reservation, and much annoyance being caused to Europeans and Maclver and Levers by noise and smoke (Minutes, 1906-1929). And, generally, the Board kept a watchful eye ready to expel any African individuals or groups who might encroach on the Reservation area.


Equally regrettably, Ikot Abasi Township - like other Nigerian towns - did not develop through systematic urban planning, but ad hoc. For until 1945, at least in Tropical Africa, systematic urban planning was not a characteristic of British colonial policy, and before 1946, there was no planning legislation in Nigeria. As Professor G. I. Nwaka has noted, the laisser-faire orientation of British officialdom left planning initiative to private and humanitarian enterprise. It was not until 1945 that the United Kingdom Town and Country Planning Act of 1932 was introduced to the Gold Coast and then to Nigeria in 1946 (Nwaka, 1976 A: 57). Indeed, actual attempt at systematic urban planning in British West Africa first occurred in 1944/45 when the British Government commissioned E. Maxwell Fry of the Colonial Office among other things to provide draft or sketch plans for a selected number of the principal towns, and to advise on the setting up of town planning legislation and on the machinery for implementing it. Significantly, Fry found that even Lagos, which already had a Town Planning Officer, had hardly any meaningful town planning. The situation in the Eastern towns like Enugu, Port Harcourt and Owerri, and in Northern towns like Kano, was not much different. The towns had developed largely haphazardly and piece meal. Hence, using existing plans, sketches and other data, Fry drew up some plans for these towns, which he termed first-aid-planning (Fry, 1946: 197-204). Thus, in the final analysis, Britain saw urban centres in its Tropical African colonies merely as the commercial clearing centres of the Native Administration - where a limited, usually non-permanent African population was envisaged. In the circumstances, what planning there was, was confined mainly to the European Reservation and the Native Location, where company employees were supposed to reside (Nwaka, 1976 B: 33). In the light of all this, it is not surprising that matters of Ikot Abasi expansion or survey were left mostly to the Reservation Board, whose interest lay primarily in the European Reservation. And although the Board resolved in April 1912 that the Reservation be surveyed to determine its precise limits, it is not clear how soon a survey was subsequently carried out.


And, lastly, the Reservation Board could not be an effective instrument of the Township's administration. Its official members - the District and Assistant District Officers and Medical Officers - were frequently changed through administrative posting. Participation by the unofficial members was entirely voluntary. Often, these members travelled home on leave or on business. Hence, the Board lacked the resilience and continuity, needed for long term planning of the Township's development. Indeed, the Board was an ambivalence: it was neither strictly a municipal government nor a government department.


Nevertheless, the year 1917 raised fresh hopes of a better future when a new Township Ordinance designated Ikot Abasi a Second Class Township, along with towns like Calabar, Itu, Port Harcourt, Warri, Forcados and Enugu.

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Category: Urbanisation of Ikot Abasi

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