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Ekumeku War of the Anioma People

The Anioma-British war popularly referred to in history as Ekumeku or Ekwumekwu in some Anioma quarters occurred between 1883-1914 and involved Anioma and the British. The Anioma are mostly Igbo therefore all Anioma speak Igbo beyond the enclaves of non Igbo ancestry of the Anioma region. It is therefore easier to recognize that Ekwumekwu is an Igbo word. However, different sources have interpreted "Ekumeku" differently.


Ekumeku is indigenously known in Anioma historical context as "Aya Ekumeku". Aya in Igbo language denotes "war" while Ekwumekwu in Igbo onomatopoeia connotes "Do not talk about it" or "Not to be spoken about". This is a portrayal od secrecy associated with Ekumeku movement. The terribly fast, devastating and invisible nature or strategy employed to wage the war couples with the initiation requirement necessary for the recruitment of soldiers may have warranted the word "Ekumeku" In the years of the Ekumeku war, it was a taboo to reveal the secrecy behind the activities of the cult regarding initiation, operational bases, movement and sources of the cult group.


This situation posed the British with so much difficulty as they were unable to manage the activities of the Anioma perceived worrisome to their imperialist policies. The mystery surrounding the activities from which the people derived unexplainable strength puzzled the British who perhaps were hasty to abolish what they believe could become established in the socio-cultural society of the Anioma and constitute hindrances towards realizing their economic aims if nothing was speedily done.


Resistance was strong in western Igboland with series of wars waged to resist the British who had strong economic interest in the region and Ekumeku with well organized leaders joined in oath-taking secrecy to forestall the activities of the British in the region. Guerrilla warfare was the effective weapon if this was to be achieved. The Ekumeku became the greatest of the Igbo nationalism that instilled fear and discipline in the minds of the British on how and how not to deal with the Igbo people generally. It was from Ekumeku that other Igbo regions derived boldness to confront the British. Perahps, there existed no region in Southern Nigeria where the people ferociously and collectively rose to resist the British imperial conquest as in the Anioma region where the war lasted for 16 years with heavy casualties on both belligerents.  


Attempts in the 19th and 20th centuries by the British to impose imperialistic and hegemonic measures that would subjugate the Anioma people for their own economic gains triggered-off the Ekwumekwu war. Anioma had viewed socio-economic activities of the British in the Anioma region as an intrusion that must be resisted at all cost and the British decided to employ the use of force to subdue the people. This became a threat in the Anioma society. Scholars of the Anioma History believe that while Britain because of its experiences derived from other parts of the country was well prepared for the outcome, the Anioma were little prepared and only ready to defend its territory from economic violation of the British. This gave the Britisn an upper hand over their Anioma counterparts. It was not until towards the end of the war that the rest of the Anioma towns prepared themselves for the battle the British.


The Anioma nation had before 1898 engaged in violent clashes with the British resulting in the identification of the Anioma region as a difficult terrain and it was the feeling of the British that the area needed to be purged if they would derive economic gains from the region and for the social activities of the British to be impacted on the people.  Interestingly, the British had already noted the leaders of the region as violent because of their unpleasant experiences with the people. In 1830, the Lander Brothers reported their sour experiences in the hands of the Anioma back home as they were captured by the Anioma community who did not understand their reason for crossing through their territory. It was a crisis that put the Anioma in the bad book of Britain only waiting to explode.


By 1870, the crisis between Anioma and Britain had escalated culminating in the invasion of Ndoni, an Anioma community by the British in the same year. The British parliament had ruled that the use of force would be necessary to compel the people of Ndoni to cooperate with their economic terms among several others. Atani another Anioma community would suffer the same fate as it engaged the Royal Niger Company in 1880 in a bid to control the trade of the region. The Royal Niger Company with its charter perpetuated what Joseph Egwu an erudite scholar regarded as the first genocide against the Anioma people. Finally, in November 2, 1897, Onicha-Ado ( Onitsha ) an Anioma community was bombarded in what was to set the Anioma rulers against the British in many years of guerrilla warfare.


Ibusa-Royal Niger Company War (1898)

The real first of the Ekumeku wars was between Ibusa and Royal Niger Company. Dr. Joseph Egwu in an article titled"Ekwumekwu Movement" published in Anioma Essence Vol. 1, No. 4, 2008 edition delivers a beautiful account of the Ibusa-Royal Niger Company War in which the Royal Niger Company forces commandeered by Major Festing decided to attack Ibusa.


Strangely, the Royal Niger Company launched a surprise attack on Ibusa and thus won an initial victory which through was temporary. The Ibusa forces retreated and the feeling of the British was absolute victory.


Writing further, Father Zappa in 1898 emphasized that rather than surrender, the Ekwumekwu soldiers continued to resist as the Ibusa forces reinforced. Major Festing's further appeal and indeed reinforcement of troops from Lokoja that joined the forces of the Royal Niger Company helped the Forces to sustain victory over the Anioma community of Ibusa.


"Indeed it was not the possession of more sophisticated firearms that ensured Major Festing's ultimate victory, it was rather wanton and callous destruction of Ibusa farms and villages that forced them to sue for peace.


Ukwunzu/Owa-the British (1904)

On the 11th February 1904, severe fighting increased between Ukwunze and Owa on one side and the British as the other party. W. E. B. Crawford Coupland, the Divisional Commissioner ordered for 4 Connaught Rangers, 2.95 artillery and other weapons with which the people were subdued.


Owa-the British (1906)

The Ika people displaying prowess of the most war-like of the Western Igbo speaking people with the fierce wars fought to end S. O. Crave-Read and his British styled inhuman treatment. In this war, Ekute provided military support to the Ekwumekwu soldiers. The Ika people fought a well prepared battle as Lt H. C. Moorhouse would later put up a brilliant defence of himself on why he appeared prone to sustaining casualties stating that the Ekwumekwu soldiers operated with a well trained soldiers and geographical knowledge was an advantage. Mr. S. O. Crewe lost his life in the battle.


Ogwashi-Uku-the British

The Anglo-Ogwashi-Uku war which began on November 2, 1909 with a mandate to the British Forces to kill everybody proved to be a partial disappointment ion the part of the British and more than anything proved that the British Forces could collapse if matched with sophisticated arms and ammunition. In that war the British sustained 34 casualties with the death of Captain H. C. Chapman.


With the fall of Ogwashi-Uku, the Anioma was doomed for balkanization. Dr. Egwu briefly summarizes what thereafter befell the Anioma as thus:


"Anioma Region was divided into four and joined to other groups neighbours who were then given political precedence over Anioma. Asaba Division was joined to the Benin Province and Aboh Division (Ndi-Olu) were joined with Urhobo, Ijaws and Itsekiris to make up the Delta Province . Onitsha , Oguta and environs were joined to the Eastern Provinces. This made political unity nearly impossible. This was the genesis of our woes!


With the fall of Anioma, the great price for losing a war was paid by the people. The region was balkanized by the British and many Anioma territories such as Onicha-Ado ( Onitsha ) and Oguta were permanently lost to the easterners. That of Onitsha was characterized with a change of the name that disassociated it from Onicha-Olona, Onicha-Ukwu, Onicha-Uku kinsmen but in all Anioma achieved for the Igbo nation a movement more extensive and resisting than what the British had experienced in Africa South of the Sahara .


Igbafe in his work opines "the ability to manipulate their Age Grade system and other associations building an extensive network of communication throughout the whole of Anioma…no matter its cost, honour, bravery and integrity which have been internalized and consolidated in their myths, legends, proverbs and typical behaviour patterns.


The Anioma Ekwumekwu commanders were:


  1. Dunkwu Isusu (Onicha-Olona)
  2. Ochei Nwayazia (Onicha-Olona)
  3. Nwabuzo Olimagwo (Issele-Uku)
  4. Mokobia Odiajo (Ogwashi-Uku)
  5. Nwaiyogolo (Ogwashi-Uku)
  6. Eninwizomo (Ugbodu)
  7. Idegwu Otokpoike (Ubulu-Uku)
  8. Monye Ukpe
  9. Diei Nwobodo
  10. Egbune Uza
  11. Awunor Ugbo (Akumazi)
  12. Abuzu (Idumuje-Unor)
  13. Idabor (Issele-Uku)
  14. Agbambu Oshue (Ibusa)


Some of the Anioma towns that participated were:

  1. Isheagwu
  2. Kwale
  3. Ugbolu
  4. Obiaruku
  5. Aboh
  6. Ebu
  7. Ubulu-Uku
  8. Ogwashi-Uku
  9. Akumazi-Umuocha
  10. Onicha-Ado ( Onitsha )
  11. Obomkpa
  12. Ezi
  13. Issele-Uku
  14. Ilah
  15. Okpanam
  16. Issele-Azagba
  17. Owa
  18. Ibusa
  19. Idumuje-Ugboko
  20. Agbor
  21. Igbodo
  22. Umunede
  23. Asaba
  24. Ute-Okpu
  25. Ashama
  26. Idume-Ugbo


By Emeka Esogbue 


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