Ebira Vonya International 2008 Scholarship Award 1-14 Segments.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Colonial Conquest and Resistance: The Case of Ebiraland 1886-1917 A.D.

Written by: Adam Ahmed, Okene
History Department
Nigerian Defence Academy,


From 1860, the British government sought to establish and maintain a
colonial state in Nigeria. This ambition, which for material
exploitation as motivational impetus involved some long processes,
was realised through the employment of carefully designed dubious
measures. The measures were characterised by the removal of all
visible indigenous African resistance and opposition to the
imposition, expansion and consolidation of British central authority
over the territory later known as Nigeria. The bid to conquer Ebiraland, like other pre-colonial independent states and principalities in the Northern provinces effectively began in 1860 when the British firm, the National African Company, had
become firmly established in the Niger-Benue Confluence area with
headquarters in Lokoja. As their well-known stock-in-trade, the British conquest was gruesome and brutal. Yet as dramatic as the conquest was pursued, it was typically inconclusive, because the Ebira put up resistance to this alien intervention in their geo-polity for almost one and half decades, marking it out as one of the polities where the British had a difficult task in establishing their political control and socio-economic order.

A study of this kind will identify the diversity in African resistance to
colonial imposition. The efforts of most historians have been
concentrated on the large centralised pre-colonial polities like the
Sokoto Caliphate and the Borno Sultanate. This study in constrast
brings to the fore the experience of polities that had no centralised
chain of command during the pre-colonial era, or had what is
generally referred to as a non-centralised or segmentary political

Human Geography of the Study area

The Ebira, who constitute the focus of this research, are the people of
Okene, Okehi, Adavi and Ajaokuta local government areas of Kogi
State. The world “Ebira” refers to the people themselves, their
language and their geographical location. Using the name of the most
popular town of the land, we may refer to them as Ebira Okene.
Other Ebira groups are Ebira Igu in Kogi and Koton Karfi local
government areas of Kogi state; Ebira Toto and Umaisha of
Nassarawa (Toto) local government area of Nassarawa state; Ebira
Mozum of Bassa local government area of Kogi state; and Ebira Etuno
of Igarra District of Ako-Edo local government area of Edo state.
Other Ebira are to be found in Abaji in the Federal Capital Territory
and Agatu in Benue state.

According to Greenberg’s classification of African languages, Ebira
belongs to the Kwa group of the Niger-Congo family, which also
comprises the Nupe, Gbari and Gade (Greenberg, 1966). But
Hoffman and Bendor-Samuel in their studies of Nigerian languages
set up Ebira as a separate entity (Adive1985:56-57). Recent in depth
research indicates that the Ebira have been part and parcel of what is
now generally known as Central Nigeria since 4000 BC (Ohiare 1988).
Studying the various groups in the Niger-Benue Confluence area
using linguistic tools, historians rely on its branches like genetic
classification, dialectology and glottochronology in which historical
time is a factor. Though Greenberg tried to resolve the problem of
languages of the Niger-Benue Confluence area, recent historical
research by Benneth, Stark, Blench, Williamson and other confirm the
antiquity of the human population in the region. They contend that
by 4000 B.C., the Benue-Congo proto-language from which most of
the languages spoken in this area evolved had already developed.
These studies derive Ebira language from the Nupoid group (also
called Niger-Kaduna), of languges including Nupe, Gwari and Gade.
The Nupoid, according to historical jurists took off from a protolanguage
described as the Benue-Congo from which other language
groups which included the Platoid group also evolved (Benth Stark
1992, Williamson 1967).

In terms of archaeology, stone implements recovered by Soper,
Davies and Shaw from the Ebira zone, extending from Keffi-
Nasarawa-Izom westwards to Jebba and further upstream, have been
associated with the Sangoan assemblage. The reading from this
implements indicates that man may have lived in this area as far back
as some forty-five thousand years ago. The Ebira zone is also
prominent in the prehistoric civilization of the Iron Age generally
characterised by the Central Nigeria as epitomised by Nok Culture.
Even recently the iron-working site of Ife-Ijummu (Kogi State) has
been dated to 260 B.C. Thus, it could be deduced that the Ebira as a
group existed for a long time in locations within Central Nigeria not
far from where they are located presently (Ohiare 1988, Willamson
1967, Beneth 1972). The Ebira Okene occupy the hilly stretch of land
southwest of the Niger-Benue confluence area and share boundaries
with the Yoruba-speaking people of Akoko, Owe and Ijumu to the
west; the various Akoko-Edo people to the south and south west; the
Hausa, Nupe and Ebira groups at Lokoja to the north; and the River
Niger to the east.

A common physical feature of Ebiraland is the conspicuous presence
of blocks of dissected hills and the metaphoric rocks enveloping the
greater part of the land. The hills rise to a peak of 2000ft and
probably represent the remnants of an old post of Gondowana
pediplain (Clayton 1957). The African laterite and plain which
embraces the greater part of Ihima, Okengwe and Ageva are
occupied by extensive undulating plains (1200-1400ft). They are
studded with smooth rounded rocks of inselbergs. The laterite soils
are derived from metaphoric rocks of greyish-buff (18 inches) and
clayed pan which overlay vascular iron stone (Omorua 1959:1). The
depth of the soil is however variable, ranging from two to three feet
to about three inches where the ironstone approaches the surface, as
in the Itakpe hills in Adavi district.

There is also the Niger literic plain forming a lower terrace below the
higher plains. This is conspicuous in Ajaokuta, Eganyi, Ebiya and part
of Adavi in the north and north-east of Ebiraland. Another very
important feature is the rim from the highland. This enscarpement
which extends to Ihima, Eika and part of Ajaokuta widens into a
broad zone of dissected hills. The soil formation of the rims are
mostly skeletal, consisting of pale brown and orange brown sands
and grits. The enscarpment contains quartz stones interspersed with
pockets of deeper sand wash (Omorua 1959:1-2).

The implications of these features to the past and contemporary
history of the land are many. A few of them are as follows. The
nature of the topography has affected the relief pattern of Ebiraland,
which is marked out of the dissected peaks with knife-edged ridges,
and steep V-shaped valleys. Valleys of this type occur in Okene,
Okengwe and Eika towns. Apart from exerting much influence on the
climate, the features in part provided security and protection for the
ancient Ebira. Thus they resisted external incursions into their geopolity
as in the case of the Ajinomoh jihadist wars in the 1880s
discussed elsewhere (Okene 1990:26-30). Furthermore, the features
influenced the pattern of the people’s technical know-how as it
relates to the production of crafts like pottery, dyeing and
blacksmithing and of the people instruments of production or
destruction such as hoes, cutlasses and spears and bows and
arrows.The Ebira were famous in Central Nigeria for the production
of these crafts (Barth 1990:510-515; Jones 1969:38). In contemporary
times, these features serve as a reservoir of the iron-ore deposit now
discovered in large quantity in some hills of the land. Itakpe hill in
Adavi district alone has an iron-ore deposit estimated between 37 and
47 million tons, and of more than 60 per cent iron content (Okene

This is meant to provide raw material for the Ajaokuta Iron
and Steel Industry set up by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Other minerals to be found in substantial commercial quantities in
Ebira include marble, limestone, copper, chalk and mica.
Economic And Political Organisations on the Eve of the British
Occupation The nature of the physical environment influenced not only the land
tenure system but also agriculture practices which in fact were the
main determinant of the people’s economy. Agricultural production
was geared towards both domestic consumption and exchange.

Almost every household, which was the basic unit of production, was
involved in farming. Over time the people, through production
efficiency, division of labour and specialization, took advantage of
both internal and external economies of scale. By early 19th century,
realising its potentialities, the Okengwe district specialised in the
production of beniseed which it traded and exchanged with the
groundnuts in the production of which Adavi clan-groups and
communities in the immediate north of the land had also become
specialised (Okene 1995:79-84).

Apart from fishing and hunting, which complemented farming, the
Ebira economy also to some extent depended on local industries and
Colonial Conquest and Resistance craft production like palm oil, animal husbandry, iron technology and blacksmithing, textiles dyeing, wood carving and basket, mat and
raffia weaving. Because of its unique nature, the textiles industry
requires a brief discussion. Cotton, the main raw material of the
industry, is a crop of antiquity with the Ebira. The Ebira had migrated
with the crop and with the knowledge of its production to their
present location, the soil of which was fortunately very favourable for
its commercial cultivation. An exclusively female preserve, the distinct
technique employed by the Ebira textiles producers was vertically
mounted single loom system, locally called Oguntoro. According to
Brown, Ralph Willis, Picton and Mack, (Brown 1970:60; Willis
1972:51; Picton & Mack 1979:17,77,80,82)the Ebira cloth weaving had
undergone series of styles, patterning and specailization that made it
excellent and one of the best in the Western Sudan before the advent
of the British rule. In the same vein, Henry Barth noted in 1851 that
Ebira Woven cloth favourably rivaled those of other areas in terms of
pattern, colour, decoration and texture. Barth did observe the
superiority of the Ebira Woven cloth compare to other regions in the
Kurmi International Market, Kano when he visited the City during the
same period (Barth 1990:511).

Generally speaking, the settlement pattern of the Ebira in their
present location was largely determined by the topography of the
area and their migratinal groupings. They settled in highly knitted
related families, kindreds, clans and clan-groups on several hills tops
which include Eikoku Okengwe, Okehi, Ukpai and Okerekere. The
socio-political institutions which became consolidated over time were
primarily geared towards the maintenance of discipline, social
harmony and peace which were essential ingredients for social
relations and economic progress within and without Ebria ecological

The basis of political organisations of the Ebria started from the
family. As the smallest unit, the family consisted of the father, wives,
children and grand children. The unit lives in a specially designed
Ohuoje (compound), while the Ovovu (outer compound), was the
exclusive use of other people under the custody of the family. These
include the family slaves, war or famine refugees on asylum and
family labourers. The oldest surviving male was the head of the
family. He personified the cultural, clannish and economic heritages
as the respresentative of the ancestors in the family.

Several families who believed they were patrilineally related by blood
formed the next political unit of lineage, abara. The head was the
oldest surviving male of the lineage. Though, his decision was not
final as he had to consult with the heads of the families that made up
the lineage, the chief had perogative power over the economic
activities of the lineage. The lineage land and relics were vested on
him and the sylvan produce of the lineage were gathered in his
palace annually for distribution to the various member families based
on the ancestral law of age grade. Several lineages have survived to
the present. These include Etumi, Avi, Adovosi, Egiri and Ogagu.
The clan was the next political unit of the Ebira of this study. Though
third in the strata, the clan was the main and most sensitive of all the
political units. Each clan had both a prefix in its name of either Ozi-
(i.e. children of) or Ani- (i.e the people of) and a totemic symbol
indicating either a sacred object or an animal attached to their clan
name. For example, Eziehimozoko, a clan in Okengwe district had an
additional eulogy of eziede, “children of crayfish”, attached to their
clan name. In the past, a clan name and a totemic eulogy served as
identification marks for the various migrational groups or parties. The
head of each of the clans, many of which have also survived to the
present, was the oldest surviving male. His power was nominal, as he
administered through consultation. Nevertheless, he was the
representative of the ancestors in the clan. He therefore executed
sanctions and controls over its members. These were thought to
emanate from the ancestors who watched over the affairs of the
people from the world of the ancestral spirits.

The largest socio-political unit among the Ebira was the clan-group
locally called Ekura. About six of such clan-groups survive to the
present. They are Okengwe, Okehi, Adavi, Eika, Ihima, and Eganyi.
Though each was self autonomous, they however related on issues of
common concern. The head of each was priest-chief, Ohinoyi-ete.
Each group was made up of several clans believed they had distant
patrilineal blood tie. For instance, the Okengwe group comprised of
Akuta, Ehimozoko, Avi, Esusu, Ogu, Asuwe, Omoye, Omavi, Eire and
Adobe. The chief-priest consulted the heads of the clans on any
serious matter affecting the group. In addition, he administered justice
in conjunction with his deputy, Ohireba, and the concil of elders of
the group.

Despite the obvious limitation to his authority, the priest-chief was
the highest spiritual and socio-political head of the clan-group. He
was believed to have a daily communication with the anscetors. He
ministered to, and indeed mustered the earth shrine to solicit for
fertility, adequate rainfall and good harvest. He exercised sanctions
and ensure control, discipline, and compliance with the societal
norms and rules. He was vested with the interpretation of the ancient
ancestral laws through divination, sacrifices and indeed long
experience. Through these, the six priest-chiefs in close cooperation,
consultation and communion with one another were able to
administer justice and maintain the society of Ebira in relative social
harmony uptill the eve of the British invasion in 1903.

The British Interest in Northern Nigeria

The British and indeed the European contact with the various groups
in Northern Nigeria dates back to the early exploration across the
Sahara Desert.Through trading and the trans-Saharan trade in
particular, the British became aware of some of the polities of
Northern Nigeria. This was infact a reason for the despatch of the
various expeditions and voyages of exploration. But it was only in the
mid-19th century that the British became more interested in
developing a close commercial relationship with the Niger-Benue
territory where their traders had been operating. By the last quarter of
the 19th century, the British firm, the National African Company
(NAC), had outflanked other European competitors in the Niger-
Benue trade (Blindloss & Co.1968:297).

In fact, so intense was the rivalry, jealousy and suspicions among the
competitive commercial European firms over acquisition of special
territorial concessions in Africa that the Berlin West African
Conference was convened to settle issues, and indeed to design new
rules of the game. The Conference, which took place from November
13th, 1884 to February 20th, 1885, tried to bring some form of
discipline and sanity to a situation that looked as though it might
rapidly get out of hand. With no African present, the rules for the
partition of West Africa into units that were to become the basis of
modern nations were determined. Understandably, the guidelines had
already been set by the activities of European traders, missionaries
and administrators in the eighty-odd years since the official abolition
of slave trade (Crowther 1976:63). With her firms already established
in part of the region, what was later become Northern Nigeria was
assigned to Britain under the terms of the Berlin Conference.
Convinced by the prospect of commercial and material gain in the
Niger-Benue trade and indeed the entire Northern Nigeria, the British
Government began to encourage its trading firm to consolidate its
control over the region. Through dubious treaties with some of the
indigenous chiefs and community leaders, the company, which had
by 1886 metermorphosed into the Royal Niger Company (RNC),
obtained a charter to administer the territories claimed. In an
apparent attempt to consolidate its hold on the trade of the region
and to ward off other European rivals, the company commenced
military conquest of Northern Nigeria, beginning with the states
bordering the Niger-Benue confluence area. This marked the end of
the independence of the indigenous communities of the region. By
1900, when Lugard formally took control of British affairs in Northern
Nigeria, a large number of polities, especially in the Niger-Benue
confluence area, had been incorporated into the British Empire.
These included Ibi, Donga (1885), Bida, Ilorin (1897) and Wase

The British conquest of Ebiraland

The situation which finally culminated in the forceful occupation of
Ebiraland in 1903 by the British imperial power began to unfold
when in 1886 Goldie secured the seal of the British Privy Council for
his company, the National African Company. By this seal, the
company became the Royal Niger Company (Suleiman 1992:86-95).
During the same period, Lokoja, a confluence town bordering Ebira
which had nevertheless been the abode of the various British
officials, became strengthened as the operational base of the
company, and it was here the conquest of other areas of the North
was to be organised and executed.

However, this was not to be the first time an organised invasion was
plotted against the Ebira. Between 1865 and 1880, the Ebira had
successfully engaged the Sokoto Jihadists who sought to make them
vassals of the Caliphate conglomerate. For several reasons which are
beyond the scope of this research, the worriors Ajinomoh, Jihad as
the Sokoto Jihad organised from Ilorin and Bida against Ebiraland
was called by the people, were engaged and severally forced to

Despite the considerable obstruction caused by the Jihadist activities
in the land, the Ebira of Okene, Eganyi and Eika Ohizenyi, principal
towns of Ebiraland which were not so much devastated by the
Ajinomoh Jihadists, carried on their trade and commercial transactions
with the Royal Niger Company in Lokoja and Ajaokuta. Trading in
articles like palm oil and kernels, cotton and beniseed, which were
much needed by British firms, and enjoying favourable terms of
trade, the Royal Niger Company soon carved out Ebiraland in 1890 as
falling within the company’s territorial jurisdiction (NAK. Lokoprof.
213). But the presence of the Ilorin and Bida Jihadists in the
territories immediately bordering Lokoja to the south and north
persistently jeopardised and offset the free flow of trade and the
commercial system. This could not be accepted by the Royal Niger
Company, which quickly set up a fort in Kabba adjacent to Ebiraland
to the west, under Captain Turner, an officer of the Royal Niger
Constabulary (Willis 1972:51). The fort served as a military base and
raw material collection centre. Hiding under the pretext of ensuring
free movement of trade in the region, the Royal Niger Company
annexed Bida and Ilorin in 1898. The conquest of these two areas
obviously should be seen within the general context of British
imperialism in Northern provinces (Abubakar 1980:449).

The collapse of Bida and Ilorin in the face of the Royal Niger
Company’s superior strategy and mercenaries was greeted with
marked apprehension and consternation in Ebiraland. Like their
encounter with the Ajinomoh Jihadists, the Ebira thought they would
be able to fight and protect their territorial integrity from the
company’s onslaught.

The opening up of the interior from Lokoja was a fundamental factor
in the economic interest of the British. Opening up the interior, the
British felt, was the only way they could guarantee constant and
cheap supply of raw materials and other products. Eventually when
Frederick Lugard took over from the Royal Niger Company in 1900 as
a commissioned agent of the British administration in Northern
Nigeria, the question of physical occupation of the interior areas and
linking them up directly with the maritime business was uppermost in
his programmes. It is thus not surprising, and indeed it was due to
deliberate design, that in the same year Lugard sent two of his
assistants, Captain Beddoes and Lieutenant Grant with eight rank and
file, to Ebiraland to negotiate the ceding of the land to the British
(Willis 1972:47).

However, the mission of Captain Beddoes and Company was not
successful as the Ohindase Avogude Okomanyi refused to grant the
British their request. As the most powerful clan-group chief of the
land at the time, Avogude of the Okengwe clan-group insisted on
equal terms of relationship with the British. He nevertheless promised
them, on behalf of the Ebira nation, free access to trade and
reciprocal social relations. (Aviniwa, Ihima, Eku 1994).
In addition, Avogude, a patriarch, introduced Beddoes and his team
to some of the leading men of Ebira. They included Agidi Ukako,
Owudah Adidi, Atta Omadivi, Achegido Okino, Agbo, Echimakere
Ihima and Adai Oricha. The leading men of Ebira were divided as to
what should be the Ebira relationship with the British. While
Achegido Okino, Agbo, Oricha and the delegates from Ihima and
Eika advocated frontal confrontation and therefore took up an
uncompromising stand against the British, Atta Omadivi, Owudah
Adidi, Akpata Ihima and company, realizing what could be achieved
in terms of material and social influence from the new order, decided
to compromise, and invariably made a deal with the British
(Badamasuiy, Onipe, Atta).

While the anti-British elements saw the stand of Omadivi and
company stand as a sell out, some informants claim that Atta Omadivi
through his eva, divination and Ako raiding business discovered early
enough the military strength of the British and therefore the futility of
resistance (Eku, Atta, Onipe). The anti-British elements won the day.
In their abhorrence of, and disdain for the alien negotiators they
attacked Captain Beddoes’ team and forced them to retreat to their
fort sin Kabba. In the same vein, the group also chased Omadivi from
Okene (Okengwe clan-group) to Obangade (Eika group), where he
took asylum with Owudah Adidi, another pro-British Ebira leader
(Atta, Onotu, Okikiri).

Atta Omadivi was not the type to accept defeat and communal
disgrace in such manner. Fraternizing and ultimate collaboration with
the British, he reasoned, would restore his image in his Okengwe
district. The raiding activities which he and other prominent Ebira
personalities had perfected after the Ajinomoh Jihadist war in 1880
and his dealing in the slave trade had brought him in close contact
with the British officials in the riverine areas. By early 1903, a close
collaboration between the likes of Omadivi and Owudah and the
British officials had made the latter acquainted with the topography of
the land. The result of this expert geographical knowledge was the
British plot to violently sack Ebiraland.

Thus, in May 1903, a punitive invasion under the British army officer
Major Marsh invaded Ebiraland. The team consisted of two companies
under Lieutenants Sparrenburg, Morram Calloway, Byng-Hall, Smith,
Oldman and Captain Lewis. Heavily equipped with maxim-guns, the
two combat companies sacked Ihima, Obangade and finally Okene
which harboured notable Ebira opposition elements (Willis 1972:47).
The Ebira Ajinomoh Jihadist veterans resisted the British mercenaries
with their utmost might without success. The people could not match
the alien maxim-guns. They realised the feebleness and inefficiency
of weak weapons made of bows and arrows, matchets and cutlasses,
even if poisoned, in the face of the colonialists’ superior arsenal and
effective organisation.

Generally speaking, this episode could be compared to the British
incursion into neighbouring Igalaland. In the conquest of Ankpa, for
example, the British organised a punitive expedition on 2nd January
1904 following the abortive first attempt in December 1903. The first
had led to the death of Capt. O’Riodan and Mr. Amyatt Burney, the
invaders’ two leaders, at the hands of the patriotic local people. As in
Ebiraland, the British organised a heavy retaliatory onslaught
consisting of eleven officials and 262 African rank-and-file with two
guns and two maxims, under the command of Major R.A. Merrick.
The British invasion of Igalaland as in Ebiraland, led to pandamonia,
brigandage and general disaffection. Yet while the resistance lasted
for almost one and half decades in Ebiraland, resistance to British
invasion in Ankpa, according to Abdulkadir, lasted for only three
months (Abdulkadir 1987:16-21).

With the conquest of Ebiraland, the British quickly consigned it into a
district of Kabba Division under the supervision of O. Howard and
Malcolm. The two British officers immediately “recognised” all the
Ebira notables that had conspired with them in the occupation of
Ebiraland. They included, understandably, Atta Omadivi, as the
“District Head” of Ebiraland, and Akpata Ihima, Owudah Adidi and in
1910 Ozigizigi Opoh as “Headmen” of Ihima, Eika and Obehira

Resistance to the Establishment of British Administration and
Economic Regime

Though the British had conquered Ebiraland in 1903 through a naked
show of power characterised by brutality and coercion, by 1916 it
was yet to evolve a colonially envisaged centralised political economy
in the area. This was due to several reasons. The fundamental factor
should be located in the determination of the Ebira not to recognise
the alien system. The naked show of power of May 1903 had only
engendered social disorderliness and political disequilibrium in
which, according to Mr. Greaves, the then Division Officer, (D.O.)
each segment of the social system became suspicious of other
segments and of the British invaders. Mr. Greaves captured the mood
of this period when he noted that “not each community, not each
district, or town but each family was a law to itself” (NAK Lokoprof.

When Frederick Lugard took charge of colonial affairs in the Northern
Provinces in 1900, he formed the West African Frontier Forces
(WAFF) out of the existing constabularies. Various detachments of
WAFF were ultimately engaged in suppressing revolts of the Ebira
people. Thus one detachment of the WAFF was made to patrol
Ebiraland up to the Afanmai area of the present Edo State. In
addition, the British constantly sent military and police escorts either
to secure free traffic for its touring officers or to suppress uprisings
(NAK, Lokoprof 14). The presence of such security personnels was
abhorred to say the least, and consequently resisted by the people
for some time. This became significant when the British imposed their
alien taxation in 1904 and insisted that such taxes be paid in British
sterling from 1909 (NAK, SN P4636). From then onward, the question
of taxation hardened the people the more to resist British rule. In
other words, the issue of taxation became knitted with resentment
necessitating riots and uprisings against alien usurpation.

A good example of Ebira resistance to British hegemony was the
Okene riot of 1903. The town had just been made the second
headquarters (after Kabba town) of Kabba Division under Mr. Groom
as officer in charge. The people drove him away from their land. The
British in Lokoja had to send an escort of thirty soldiers under M.A.
Blackwood “in order to “reopen” Okene (Willis 1972:47). In fact, the
Ebiras also attacked Blackwood’s escort, which resulted in a bloody
encounter between the two parties. It was only when Lt. Shott
reinforced the first group with additional fifty soldiers that Okene
people were defeated. At the same period, Mr. Lang with armed
policemen organised a military campaign against Adavi-Odu for what
the British subjectively called their “truculence”. In Eika where the
village head, Owudah Adidi, lost control, the people in 1910 attacked
five police constables with poisoned arrows and seized their handcuffs.
The police retaliation was brutal and decisive. They raided the
village in the middle of the night burning several homes and
homesteads to recover their lost items (NAK Lokoprof 16).

Despite the persistence of Ebira revolts against the British and their
alien system, and the belief of the latter that the former were “timid”
and “suspicious of changes”, the British could not abandon Ebiraland.
This was because, according to M.A. Blackwood, the A.D.O., “the
people are good agriculturalists and traders”. When the First World
War broke out in 1914 the various districts and villages of the land
used the opportunity to throw off the yoke of British imperialism by
refusing to pay taxes. The understanding of the Ebira of Ohizenyi,
Ipaku, Eganyi and Ikuehi villages was that with the outbreak of the
war the British would pack their loads and leave. Local town criers
quickly rallied round, mustering enough will and courage to
announce to the people to disregard British taxes. Meetings, mostly
nocturnal, were held and open revolts were ordered by local
champions and disgruntled clan heads. The British acted quickly by
arresting those they considered leaders of the uprisings (NAK,
Lokoprof 23). In 1919, Mr. Greaves, the Resident of Kabba province,
was worried about the constant complaints of the Ebira of these areas
as to why “should they pay taxes here when they don’t pay in
Southern protectorates” (NAK Lokoprof 17).

Meanwhile, throughout 1914, there were riots, protests, or what the
official reports termed “general unrest” in Adavi district (NAK,
Lokoprof 24). At Nagazi, a prominent village of the district, the
people sang in the market places to the effect that there were to be
no more taxes for the British. But more worrying and disturbing to
the British was the mobility of powerful Okengwe notables dubbed
by the British as “trouble makers”, “truculent elements”, which
enabled them to move from their district to other to mobilize the
people against British highhandedness. The British soon reasoned
that the only way to deter the Ebira from uprisings was to station the
armed police forces on the land permanently. This move started in
August 1915 when the Kabba Divisional police headquarters was
transferred from Kabba to Okene. It was finally achieved in mid 1916
when the last batch of policemen were moved to Okene. What seems
to be the last main uprising of the people against the annexation of
their land by aliens came in November 1916. This month, about
thirteen years after the British had physically occupied Ebiraland,
Major Ellias, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, had to use force
against the people of Eganyi when they declared their district
independent of British rule (NAK Lokoprof 23, 24).

Colonial Conquest and Resistance

The British believed that these people were under the influence of
the Okengwe group whose leaders included Okino, Omaku, Adai
Eire and Onipe. It is not surprising that the British accused the
Okengwe group of leading the Ebira against the colonial order. For
by 1900 the Okengwe group had emerged as the torchbearer of the
entire Ebira people. Its principal town, Okene, had also developed as
the leading town of the land. Several factors account for this
development. The first was that one of the most powerful clan-group
chiefs of the Okengwe, Ohindase Avogude Okomanyi, resided and
died in Okene. Unlike to his predecessors, Avogude moved the seat
of the throne at coronation from the main Okengwe town to Okene.
As a powerful chief believed to have magical powers, his relocation
to Okene attracted people not only from the Okengwe group but also
from the other groups to Okene. So famous and influential was
Ohindase Obanyi, as he was generally called to distinguish him from
his predecessors and contemporaries, that all the Ebira groups had
rallied round him during the Jihadist incursion. Secondly, during the
Jihadist war in Ebiraland, the Okengwe war Generals led by
Ohindase not only prevented the Jihadists from entring into the
district, but they also led the various military groups that drove the
Jihadists away from other parts of Ebiraland. As the war raged on, the
enterprising Okengwe farmers and traders like their counterparts in
Eganyi carried on their economic activities with minimum
interruption. Two advantages could be noticed here. As a “safe
heaven”, the Ebira of other clan-groups and Ebira neigbours like the
Owe, Imorga, Ogori and Igbede migrated to Okene. This led to
increased population necessary for both the growth of ideas and
economic system.

Furthermore, as the Okene people were able to carry on their trade
with other Ebiras and the other peoples and the Royal Niger
Company (RNC) at Lokoja and Ajaokuta, they became more wealthy
than other Ebira groups. Even today, most non-Okengwe groups and
individuals who have become either politically or financially
important have done so through Okene. Thus the Okengwe group
had become socially and economically sophisticated enough to know
the evil of alien occupation. The British charge of their spearheading
the Ebira resistance and revolts should be viewed from this

Meanwhile, the concentration of the police in Okene and the
constant harassment of the people helped to secure submission of the
Ebira to the British. Since the policemen were mandated to pursue
offenders down into the villages and the hinterland, the Ebira soon
came to appreciate the power and strength of the new order. Put
simply, the overwhelming presence of security personnel traumatised
the people and ultimately coerced them into submission. The report
of the A.D.O. on this matter is valid. It states that, “the stationing of
police at Okene has had a very salutary effect on Ebira” (NAK

Apart from the people’s refusal to recognise the British order in
Ebira, two other factors are important in explaining the inability of
the British to establish an organised political economy between 1903
and 1916. The early British administrative policy was predicated on
the false assumption that every polity in the Northern region was
either centralised or at least had tasted the hierarchical suzerainty of
the Sokoto Caliphate. The consequence of this assumption was that
almost all ordinances and decrees of governance were formulated to
suit the emirate system (NAK Lokoprof 18). Thus until early 1916 the
British did not have any organised policy of administration for the
non-centralised states of Northern provinces.

Colonial Conquest and Resistance

The calibre of the British agent in Okene also prevented the British
from acting spontaneously on the serious matter of governance.
Though he had been well-known to the people as courageous before
1903, Atta Omadivi being a British loyal ally was considered a
nominal District Head of Ebira Division who was not recognised
beyond his immediate locality, Okene. Other village heads,
particularly those of Eika, Ihima, Adidi and Akpata respectively,
considered themselves of equal status in British service with Omadivi,
and therefore refused to recognise his central role. They dealt with
the British political officer directly. The British appointed Omadivi,
because, according to them, “he had always been most loyal to the
government” (NAK Lokoprof 25). But to the people, Omadivi was a
collaborator whom they remember today as the man who “invited”
the British in 1903 to take over their land. Meanwhile by 1916
Omadivi, who was about 120 years old, had become increasingly
“unsuitable to take active control of the Ebiras” (NAK Lokoprof 25).
In January 1917 Atta Omadivi died and the British was set to
reorganise its administration in Ebiraland. Ohindase Adano was
appointed as the D.H. of Ebira not because he was trusted by the
colonial administration but simply because, according to J.C. Walker,
the A.D.O. “he had always been promised since 1902 that he shall be
made the D.H” (NAK Lokoprof 15). Apart from the credibility
question placed over his head by the British, Adano was not accepted
by the chiefs of the remaining clan-group, especially Obobanyi,
Adeika and Asema of Ihima, Eika and Adavi respectively, who felt
that one of the clan-group chiefs was being imposed on them. It was
therefore easy for the colonial government to find excuses to dismiss
him in November of the same year for what they termed
administrative and judicial corruption.

In November 1917 the British imposed Ibrahim Onoruoiza, later
known as Atta Ibrahim, as the D.H. of Ebira Native Authority. A
number of factors that go beyond the scope of this paper were
responsible for the appointment (Okene 1990:130/133). One point
worth mentioning is that with this appointment, the British were
beginning to put Ebiraland on an organised polity which as discussed
above had been very much lacking. The colonial authority began to
fashion what they considered a sound economy in which the Native
Treasury (N.T) was central as an organ of colonial exploitation.
Atta Ibrahim was youthful (about thirty years old), energetic,
intelligent, and a loyal ally of the British occupation force. He had
been tested and trusted in the various services as an interpreter and
tax collector to the British before this appointment (Eku, Atta, Onipe;
NAK Lokoprof 25). Relying on the coercive apparatus of the British,
which included the police, prison and N.A. courts, Atta Ibrahim was
powerful, influential and somewhat overzealous. Atta’s N.A was the
kind in which the chief was the focal point through which the orders
and wishes of the British were seen to have emanated. His central
power was accentuated in the very early period of his reign when in
the same year of his imposition the British started to implement all
the judicial and fiscal ordinances which gave the chief a sweeping
dictatorial status. So autocratic was the position conferred on him that
the Atta could publicly flog or arbitrarily imprison any person whose
activities he considered a threat to the N.A. without recourse to even
the highly criticised established colonial judiciary processes (Okene
1998:131/123). It should also be stated here that with the coming of
Atta Ibrahim, sustained opposition to British occupation of the land
ended and a new method of resistance was initiated. This however
goes beyond the scope of this study.


Colonial Conquest and Resistance

The general pattern used by the British to dominate Northern Nigeria
was military conquest. In some areas, conquests were preceded by
fictitious signing of agreements and treaties. But within the general
pattern of piecemeal conquest were other noticeable styles
necessitated by the local peculiarities of the concerned polity. While
in the centralised states, especially the former emirates of the Sokoto
Caliphate like Kontagora, Zaria, Bauchi and Kano, a devastating
singular military onslaught was enough to coerce the polities into
qualified submission, in Ebiraland the British had to contend with
incessant and persistent opposition which lasted nearly a decade and
half. While the established centralised and hierarchical administrative
structures of, for instance, Zaria and Kano enabled the British to
instantly extend their political control, the lack of a centralised order
of command in Ebiraland before the advent of the British
compounded colonial conquest and occupation for the alien invaders.
Despite these observations, it is interesting to note that some Ebira
notables collaborated with the invading British forces. The first
generation of British agents, viz. Atta Omadivi, Owudah Adidi, Akpata
Ihima and Ozigizigi Opoh, were in this category. Whether they were
traitors or not depends on the analysis. Thus it is a truism that in the
occupation or threat to occupation of land by individuals or a group
of foreigners, there are always internal-cum-domestic collaborators.
In the final analysis, that Ebiraland succumbed to British occupational
force could be explained from many angles. The British had superior
fire power. Their maxim-guns were the type the Ebira never
comprehended. Ebira bows, arrows, matchets and clubs were not
comparable to the British firearms. The bombardment, for example,
of Okeneba in Okene from the valley of the present Ireba instantly
put a whole house on fire. The Ebira opposition efforts were also
uncoordinated; though concerted, each group was a law unto itself.

This was in contrast to the Ebira defence strategy used during the
Ajinomoh Jihadist war. There were also serious divisions among the
leaders, causing serious cleavages which the British favourably
exploited. Divide-and-rule was to be a stock-in-trade of British
administration in the Northern provinces and indeed in Nigeria.
Finally, the British had a goal to pursue and were determined to
execute their imperialistic agenda. They had made up their minds to
establish a colonial state of Northern Nigeria. Ebiraland was a small
though an important segment of the larger region.


A. Unpublished Sources

(i) Archival Materials
National Archives, Kaduna (NAK) Lokoprof 213/1919 Ilorin prov. Kabba Div., Igbira
Districts, Amalgamation of.
NAK Lokoprof 16 Kabba Div. Annual Report 1910.
NAK Lokoprof 14 Kabba Prov. Annual Report 1909.
NAK SNP 4636/1906 Kabba Prov. Sept. 1906.
NAK Lokoprof 17 Kabba Prov. Annual Report 1911.
NAK Lokoprof 23 Kabba Reports 1915.
NAK Lokoprof 24 Kabba Prov. Reports, 1916.
NAK Lokoprof 18/1922, Indirect Adm, Method of (2) pagan Adm.
NAK Lokoprof 25, Kabba Div Half Yearly And Annually Reports
NAK Lokoprof 28 1922 Gen. Adm.(ii).
Oral Sources
Yakubu Eku (Okene, Oct. 1989, Jan. 1994).
Suberu Onipe (Okene, Jan. 1995, Dec. 1998, Jan. 2000).
Abdulmumin I. Atta, (Kaduna, Oct., 1995, Feb. 1997).
Usman Aviniwa (Ajaokuta, Sept. 1998).
Sule Onotu (Okene, Dec. 1997).
Ismaila Ihima (Ihima, Jan. 1999).
Mamman Okikiri (Lokoja, Aug. 1999, March 2000).
Ahmad Badamasuiy (Ogaminana, Aug. 1999).
Unpubished theses and Articles

Colonial Conquest and Resistance

Abdulkadir, M.S. “Colonial Conquest and African Resistance: The case of Idah and
Ankpa in Igalaland (1864-1904).” History Department Seminar, B.U.K.,
January 27, 1987 pp 16-21.
Ibrahim, Y.A. (1968) The Search for Leadership in A Nigerian Community: Igbirra
Tao 1865- 1954. M.A. A.B.U, (Chapter Three).
Ohiare, J.A. (1988) The Kingdom of Igu and Opanda c.1700- 1939: A study of intergroup
relation Ph.D. A.B.U
Okene, Ahmed A. (1995) The Transformation of Ebiraland 1880-1960. Ph.D. B.U.K.
______(1990) History of the Native Administrative system in Ebiraland with
particular references to political & fiscal policies 1900-1966, M.A, B.U.K.
Suleiman, M.D. (1992) Politics and Economy in a Plural Society: Lokoja Since the
Colonial Era. Ph.D., B.U.K.
Williamson, K. (1967) “Languages of the Niger-Benue Confluence Region, their
classification & its implication for pre-History” National Conference on the
confluence Nigeria, Lokoja.
B Published Sources
Abubakar S. (1980) “The Northern Province Under Colonial Rule 1900-1959” in O.
Ikimi (ed) Groundwork of Nigerian History. Ibadan, Heinemann
Adive J.A. (1985) “Ebira Orthography” in Y.O Aliu (ed) In preservation of an
identity Kaduna, Nagazi Press.
Beneth, P.R. & Stark, J.P. (1972) “South Central Niger-Congo : A Re- classification”
in Studies in African Linguistics Vol. 8 No.3
Blindloss, H. and Pinnok, J. (1968) In the Niger Company (London, Frank Cass and
Co. Ltd.
Brown, P. (1970) Peoples of the Niger-Benue Confluence area: The Igbirra. (London;
Clayton, W.D. (1957) A Reconnaisance Ecological Survey of Western Kabba
Priovince. Survey Reports. Dept. of Agric-Northern Region.
Crowther, M. (1976) West Africa Under Colonial Rule. (London; Hutchinson & Co.
Greenberg, J. (1966) The Language of Africa Indiana; Indiana University Press.
Omorua, A.N. (1959) Agricultural Note book for Okene area. (Okene)
Willis, J.R. (1972) Gazetteers of Northern Provinces of Nigeria Vol. III - The Central
Kingdom London, Frank Cass
Kano Studies New Series 2000 Vol. No. 1
© Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria

Posted by: Dr. Joseph Akomodi
New York, USA

1 comment:

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