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The Origin and development of Isi-Ile-Uku (Issele-Uku) Kingdom

(Isi-Ile-Uku) Issele-Uku an Anioma town is the headquarters of Aniocha-North in Delta State of Nigeria . It lies along the Benin-Agbor-Asaba axis. It is one of the three Issele communities of Anioma with the other two being Issele-Mkpitime and Issele-Azagba. It has a population 376,320 people (2008 estimate)

Isi-Ile-Uku Kingdom later anglicized to Issele-Uku by the British for easy pronunciation historically was an outpost founded by Oba Eweka 1 of Benin in about 1230 AD for the Benin Empire. Oba Eweka 1 intended to achieve three basic objectives with the founding of Issele-Uku being the checkmating of the massive migration of Nri descendants from the modern southeastern region, the foundation of large farmland to cater for the people of Benin and a war camp that would defensively provide security for the Benin Empire against perceived external aggression. There was no doubt that Oba Eweka 1 sensed the wave of migrations among the Nri and Isu and Igala people and was determinedly eager to stop the influx already taking place. The third reason articulated here for the establishment of Issele-Uku well presents a tradition common among the Obas of the Kingdom. Eko ( Lagos ) is typical example of what is meant here. The foundation of Eko ( Lagos ) at the time of Oba Orhogbua of Benin in 1550 AD was followed with the foundation of Issele-Uku for perhaps similar reasons.

Soon after its foundation, Oba Eweka 1 crowned Prince Uwadiaie, his second son as "Ogie" (King) of the newly founded Isi-Ile-Uku outpost in the same year the Kingdom was established. For easy administration and perhaps safety of his son, Oba Eweka 1 sent groups of warriors, royal princes, administrators, chiefs, local geographers and slaves to accompany his son. The Benin royal family group settled in Ehaekpen area of Issele-Uku.

Also worthy of mention is that subsequent monarchs who ruled Isi-Ile-Uku for many centuries traditionally bore the "Ogie" title traceable to Prince Uwadiaie, the Ogie of Isi-Ile-Uku until the era that "Obi" as a title for traditional rulers within the region became very prominent. The influence of groups may have led to the importation of such words as "Idumu" and "Ogbe" in the lexicon of the people even as it defined the socio-traditional organization of the community. Subsequent incursion of migrants from the eastern region is believed to be the reason behind the change in the title of traditional leadership of the community. It is also a system that has endured, making Issele-Uku royal family one of the oldest in the Anioma nation.

The relationship between future Obis and the Oba of Benin continued in later centuries with the Oba of Benin approving and crowning future Obis of the community until Issele-Uku became reasonably independent of the Benin Empire, a situation that ensured that the Oba merely delegated his high chiefs to represent him as against the physical appearance he put up in the past. The Obi of Isi-Ile-Uku Kingdom on receiving his symbol of office such as paraphernalia from any existing Oba of Benin performed such functions in the Issele-Uku community as the Oba would generally have. In fact, the Obi of Isi-Ile-Uku was traditionally seen as a true representative of the Oba of Benin in Isi-Ile-Uku just as Isi-Ile-Uku was considered an extension of Benin to the eastern region.    

Issele-Uku with its corporate existence owed to Benin supports the argument that not all Anioma are Igbo by origin and not all Igbo are Anioma by origin as the Kingdom is traditionally believed to be the head of the Ovbi Ikhime (Ezechima) descendants which includes Onicha-Ado (modern day Onitsha in Anambra State). A well known oral account of the people also believes Oligbo, the first son of Ovbi Ikhime popularly referred to in history as Ezechima to be the founder of the Issele-Uku Kingdom . The people still pride themselves in reference to Oligbo-Issele sons and daughters.

Today, however the influence exercised by Benin over the Issele-Uku Kingdom has become waned but not totally lost on it as most quarters of the community still bear names traceable to Igodomingodo ( Benin ) and typical Anioma while also ensuring steady progress in spiritual, philosophical and administrative development. Some of these names are Isheakpe, Idumu-Isama, Idumu-Edemoka etc. Names that the people bear such as "Ogwuluzeme", "Agwachime" "Okumabua" "Akpodo", Nweje" "Ukpele", "Ebite" etc testify to the people's Benin origin. The typical Obi of Issele-Uku royally appears in regalia and beads and other kingly wears similar to that of the Oba of Benin. Traditional titles of Issele-Uku synonymous with those of Benin have also been preserved. The Iyase of Issele-Uku and Uwolo of Issele-Uku (War Chiefs) are two of such examples.

Amazingly, in the past, the Obi performed certain festivals in Issele-Uku as was done in Benin on annual basis, one of which was the Ugie ro ‘Oba (royal festival). It is a community that has preserved its age-long festivals notably the "Ine festival" celebrated annually by indigenes. The Ine festival has become a platform for educating the people on their history and ensures that the people hold tenaciously to their culture. The Ine festival has gained so much popularity, making indigenes return from far and near to witness it while also providing opportunity for showcasing the indigenous music of the people and other forms of rich cultural heritage of the entire Issele people.

The Ine festival is gestured with the sound of gunshots which in effect ends the 7-day Iba Nzu observation thus opening all roads that lead to the palace of the Obi, an obvious commencement of the Ine festival. Every traditional chief in the town is also expected to fire his own gun which usually follows with hearty shouts of joy charging the air. The atmosphere becomes further charged up with the emergence of the King's mother and wives all coming out in a single file with hairdo styled in Ancient Benin manner. The King begins by doing the royal dance after which his traditional chiefs are expected to dance to the King and also pay their royal homage which is expectedly occurs once every year. The "Ina-Aka" ceremony was lastly performed by titled chiefs in respect to the Obi who appreciates every bit of the homage paid to him.

The Issele-Uku people today speak Enuani which ethnographers say is a mixture of mainly Igbo with Ika and Edo . Factually, Enuani of today is mainly Igbo but it has hugely retains its Edoid and Ika culture in words and names which can still be heard today.

Like many other Anioma towns and communities, Issele-Uku is a self-developing town wit near absence of government presence in the community. Its neglect and proneness to erosion is well known. With erosion scourging the town, indigenes have been left to their fate battling the natural disaster to no end. Internal acrimony and internal feuds have also combined to wreck the havoc underdevelopment on the town even as foreign based association of the town's origin makes impervious efforts and contributions towards the development of the town.  

In 2007, the Government of Delta State proposed the Issele Uku - Onicha Uku - Ukwu Nzu - Obamkpa – Idumu road in the list of roads to be constructed in the state. However, in a dramatic twist, a the Vanguard newspaper of Thursday, May 29, 2008 on its page 12, gave a report claiming that the Governor of the State was taking steps to complete the Issele-Uku – Obamkpa road. The report was welcomed with protest among prominent indigenes of the town as the people wondered what had happened to N200 million earmarked for the project. In another statement signed by Hon Solomon Arenyeke, the state chief of staff, a message was published congratulating the Governor of the state, Dr Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan for commissioning stree-lights in Asaba and Warri and Issele-Uku - Onicha-Uku- Ugbodu – Obamkpa – Idumu – Ogo road.

The vanguard of June 23, 2008 would also report the setting aside of N1 billion By the State Government for the completion of the Issele-Uku Ring Road and the towns already mentioned here. The people like their other Anioma towns and community has really never had it good with developments coming from the State Government not even as the headquarters of Aniocha-South Local Government thus prompting the indigenes to further calls on illustrious sons and daughters of the community to come to the rescue of the town. Although giant strides have been made by such indigenes in almost every facet of endeavour in the life of the town but developments remain to be seen in the town once in the fore-front of development of nearby small Anioma towns and communities in the colonial era.  

In 2007, Ex-Governor James Ibori announced his intention to relocate the National Youth Service Corp Orientation Office located in Issele-Uku to his hometown, Oghara. This was welcomed with criticisms by the well-meaning sons and daughters of Anioma terming it an act of marginalization of the people who has contributed very much to the development of Delta State with little to show for it in terms of infrastructural developments. This was however not to be as Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan who succeeded James Ibori announced that Orientation office would remain in Issele-Uku, its real home. Such has been the fate of the town with its history of several relocations of structures of developmental values from the town.

The history of Issele-Uku cannot be complete without the mention of Rev Olisemeke, Samuel Martin Wadei. He was one man that prominently contributed to the growth and development of Issele-Uku and put the town in the heart of colonial Britain . Olisemeke was born in Ogboli village of Issele-Iku in 1875 and contributed immensely to the development of modern Issele-Uku. He worked tirelessly towards bringing Issele-Uku to limelight and achieved results enormously. He built his first school which was officially opened in 1922. Olisemeke also founded primary schools in Owa-Oyibo, Ekpon, Illah, Ewohimi, Issele-Azagba, Alisiemi, etc. He was also the founder among other institutions, Teachers' Training College , Grammar School, Technical College , Baptist cathedral in 1948, Baptist Mission and hospitals in Issele-Uku.

After the civil war, he was said to have handed over all the schools without asking for compensation from the Government. Olisemeke, an illustrious son of Issele-Uku stands as one of the greatest Anioma indigenes with his contributions towards the development of the Anioma region.

Dr. Victor Chukwudi Ukponu (1927-2001) born in Ogbeidibo village was another distinguished personality of Issele-Uku extraction. He was a dogged-fighter, idealist and above all a peacemaker that vigorously pursued the development of Issele-Uku through the setting up of community projects in the town and beyond. He attended St. Thomas College , Ibusa, sat for Higher Elementary, GCE ordinary and advanced level. He graduated from University College , Ibadan with B.A (Honours) in Geography in 1958. By this great feat, he became the first Issele-Uku descent to graduate from an indigenous institution. In 1968, he obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Education from the University of London . He also obtained several Degrees from the University of Benin ; Masters in Education in Curriculum Studies; Postgraduate Diploma in Public Administration and finally a Doctorate Degree in Public Administration. As lecturer, he authored so many works. He was also taught in Ika and became a headmaster and was popularly referred to as "Onyeukuzi" (teacher)

He contributed to the setting up of the Nigerian Police Station in Issele-Uku (1968); The New Nigeria Bank (1978) Bendel state Library; Issele-Uku Branch; The magistrate's Court (1987) The High Court of Justice (1987) among several others. He also contributed to the making of Issele-Uku as the headquarters of Aniocha-North and became its chairman 1982-1993. Dr Ukponu headed the Issele-Uku Development Committee for twelve years. He brokered peace between individuals and villages within the Issele-Uku society and drew the pleasant attention of other ethnic-groups to the Anioma nation. Dr Ukponu, in fact is regarded as one of the Issele-Uku society builders in modern times

The Roman Catholic Diocese known in Latin as isseleukuanus is a diocese located in the town Issele-Uku in Benin Ecclesiastical Province . It was established in 1973 one only hopes that the Delta State Government will bring many development to Issele-Uku.  

By Emeka Esogbue 


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