History is the available information about the past to guide us in the conduct of the affairs of the present and assist us in restructuring the future. History, however, does not lie but humans lie in giving account of their own history (Khalid Yasin, 2005). In the same vein, Nelson Mandela opined that a man without the sense of history is like a man without eyes and ears.
Migration and Settlement
We urge the readers of this article to digest this with an open mind as students of historical facts.To this ends, putting sentiment aside, both oral tradition and written records collaborated one another that the ancestors of Ebiras around Niger-Benue confluence hailed from the ancient Jukun Kwararafa kingdom.
The Ebira people had their origin from Yemen and settled first at Wukari at the Kwararafa Kingdom of the present day Jukun community in Taraba state, Nigeria. The Ebira community left Jukun around 1700 to Idah part of the present Kogi state. However, When they came first to Idah, they met the Igala kingdom already established with Kinship structure, with the reign of the Atta of Igala (Ogido, 2004).
The Igalas too had earlier before the Ebiras migrated from Jukun to settle in their present axis of Kogi state before the advent of Ebiras.
Atta in Igala language means ‘father’, of which It was the name given to the old Atta king of the Igala kingdom. However, the Ebiras also borrowed the title ‘Atta’ from the Igala people after a century that the Igalas had been using it.
When the Ebiras migrated from the Idah Kingdom of Igala land, after a political conflict between Igalas and the Ebiras in 1750, the Ebiras move to Itobe part of the River Benue, a six kilometre walk to the present day Ajaokuta.
History, according to Salihu Ogido in his book “Leadership and Crisis in Ebiraland”, shows that there have been part of the Igalas that settled around the Ajaokuta/Itobe river rine. These few Igalas who had also settled around this area are fishermen of which they sell fish to the Ebiras and other neighbouring settlers and tribes.
However, the Igalas named the fish market after the nearby as AJAOKUTA. ‘AJA’ in Igala language means market while OKUTA means stone. By the sensible literal interpretation of the derived word, Ajaokuta, it means a market near stone. At this point, the Ebiras were hunters and warriors (Ogido:2004:6-7).
Ogido was however of the opinion that the Ebiras were the first to settle at Itobe/Ajaokuta (ette ube) under the leadership of the then Atta of Igala land. To this ends, contrary to the false claim of Ebiras that Aja-Ekuda was the meaning that the Ebiras had then given to the present Ajaokuta could not hold a stand.
To Ahmadu:1974, when the Ebiras moved from Idah to Itobe, the Ebiras were one people then, but on getting to Itobe (ette ube), Some of the Ebiras drew a dichotomy and disagree to follow the present Ebira Opete to cross the river for settlement in the present day Ebira Opete.
The division occurred that the present Ebira toto of Nasarawa state moved from Itobe for the first time to settle in Nasarawa state. The Ebira Umaisha also disagree to follow Ebira Opete to cross the river for settle and move also to Nasarawa state.The Ebira Abaji also moved from here to FCT, Abuja for the same reason. The Ebira igara (Etuno) agreed to cross the River for settlement with Ebira Opete but later after crossing the river with the present day Ebira Opete, they further moved for settlement in Etuno of the present Edo state. Ebira Mozum, Ebira Igu (Koton Karfe) and Ebira Opete are found in the present Kogi state (Ahmadu cited in Ogido: 2004).
The available fact about Adayi Ebira is that ‘Ebira’ as we know today is the name of our first father Adayi Ebira who first migrated from Jukun as part of the minority group then in the Wukari of the Kwararafa kingdom in the present Jukun of Taraba State. He then moved to the present Ebiraland and got married to Onyi -Ayi- Ebira. Adayi Ebira has five children of which the first was Adavi, followed by Eganyi, followed by Okehi, followed by Okengwe and Ihima as the last child of Ebira.
However, Onyi-Ayi Ebira the wife to Adayi Ebira later lived with her last born and died in Ihima where she was also buried. The husband Adayi-Ebira also died and buried at Eganyi part of Ebiraland. However, before his death, he has also lived and settled in Etuno part of Edo state (Otaru A, 1984).
The Ownership of Ajaokuta and Lokoja Land; Available Evidence
There is an established fact that the issue of Ajaokuta land ownership has never been properly addressed and allocated in count before the last case of June 2020 between the Atta Igala land and the Federal Government over the land ownership. Part of the major evidence presented in the court by the Atta of Igala land was that;
“The Igalas were the oldest people first found in the present kogi map, they have been in the territory before Ebiras migrated from Jukun to their present location. However, in 1841, the Atta of Igala lease the Ajaokuta land to the British Colonialists for their administration and the British paid to them the prize of cowries and promised to renew after a contractual term. Unfortunately in 1931 i.e after 90years, the British need to renew the land but they didn’t and left. For so long, they had allowed Ebiras to also expand in the land and now they have come to take what etymologically belong to them” (Atta of Igala in FHC, June 2020).
From the above, the Federal Government couldn’t produce a sufficient document to counter or contradict this claim by the Atta of Igala and the court however had to judge over such claim.
What Evidence Does Ebiras Hold in Regard to This?
It is imperative to know that the controversy perhaps over the ownership of Ajaokuta land today was grieved by the colonial masters and the recent re-establishment by the FG for the commencement of the Steel Company.
The British officials while leaving and evacuating the land after 1931 handed the land documents and the contractual documents to the Atta of Ebiraland, Alhaji Ibrahim Onoru-Oiza as perhaps the owner of the land.
This was done by the British colonialist perhaps as a result of the fact that the Ebiras dominated the land as at then and that the Ebiras have been able to establish the Unification King which was the Ohinoyi Ibrahim Onoru-oiza.
These documents however were handed over and over from one generation of Ohinoyi to the present Alhaji Ado Ibrahim (The Ohinoyi of Ebiraland).
From the tradition of the British colonialists, then, whoever they allocated land to or gave land document automatically inherits the land (Salami S, 2008).
In 1946, when Arthur Richard became the Governor General of Nigeria, he split Nigeria into three regions of North, East and West. At this period, Okene Local government and Ajaokuta were part of the North, while the present Kogi East which is the Igala axis belong to the Eastern Nigeria (Eluwa and etal, 1987).
From the analogy of Eluwa and etal, if the Igalas are claiming the Ajaokuta from historical perspectives, then the Fulanis can as well claim the whole Nigeria as they were the first set of people who migrated to this part of the world.
Although, the claim of the Atta of Igala may be very correct to have leased the land to the British colonialists in 1841 from historical record and perspective but the fact is that, that historical records of Igala community can’t cancel the Richard constitution of 1946 that allocated Ajaokuta and Okene axis then to the Northern part of Nigeria neither can the Igala historical records of land ownership cancel the 1976 Local Government Reform by General Olusegun Obasanjo that created Okene/Ajaokuta Local government as one in 1976.
Conversely, there is a notion which states that the first people to have settled in a land or an area owns the land or the area but this should not negate the government rules and land policy which also states that all land belongs to the government and it is the same government that has made Ajaokuta/Okene as part of kogi Central and not Kogi East in 1976.
Does it mean the government was wrong during this declaration? If the government now admit that they were wrong to have considered Ajaokuta as part of Kogi Central, then government of Nigeria are the most confused government in the World as they will need to go back to reform and restructure the 1976 local government reform again but certainly the government won’t do such because it will generate more land disputes in the country.
Still from the legal perspective, it may be opined that the controversy over the ownership of the land of Ajaokuta arose as a result of the natural resources found there which is the Iron and steel company which is about to commence functioning properly.
The Legal Maxim “Quic quid Plantatur Solo Solo Cedit” which means; “what ever is affixed to the land belongs to the people of that land”. As in natural resources and others, hence the claim of the/a land arose (Malcolm B,1970).
For those that believe as an evidence that the River has separated or divided the Igalas and the Ebiras is unscientific. The water cannot be used by the Ebiras at all as an evidence that the Ajaokuta land belongs to the Ebiras. The reason why this cannot hold a stand is that it is unconstitutional and illogical. It is not clearly stated from historical perspective that a community cannot cross over a water to own a land.
For instance, the Ebira Toto of Nasarawa state has in history cross over to Nasarawa from Ebira Opete and Itobe to own a land in the present Nasarawa state. The Ebira Toto are now indigenous people of Nasarawa and do enjoy all the rights as citizen over there (Isiaq A, 2008).
For those that also believe that the Igalas were under the Benue before the creation of Kogi state, While Ajaokuta and Okene were under Kwara state and why then would they claim the ownership of the land. This also is not a substantial evidence because the Igalas were still based and lived in their present location of Idah, Itobe, Anyigba and part of Ajaokuta even when the Igalas were in Benue. It is not that they were pushed away from Benue state and then migrated to their present location of Kogi state. They have been in their present location since around 1650.
The Terrain of Lokoja
The people of Ebira has little to say about the true ownership of Lokoja. The reason is that there is hardly an available document that explain the rightful ownership. However, the oral narration according to the Ebiras is that the Ebira land ends at the present Army Barracks in Lokoja and many Ebira statesmen and educationists agreed to this notion. That is, Adavi and Okehi land end at the Barracks except there would be a document to substantiate a contrary opinion.
The Ebira Opete has no land in Koton Karfe axis of kogi state but only part of Lokoja. Therefore, the Igalas claim over the Koton Karfe land and large portion of Lokoja may be less substantiated by the Ebira Opete if the Ebira Opete too wants to claim the rightful ownership except as the case may be.
History has shown that the Igalas and the Ebiras have maintained a cordial and peaceful relationship and coexistence since from the Jukun in the present Taraba state before they both migrated to their present location.
This peaceful coexistence for a long time made the Ebiras specifically Ozumi of the Ogu clan to borrow the masquerade called “Ibagi” from the Igala kingdom. In fact, all masquerades today in Ebiraland were copied from the Igala kingdom. The Atta as rightly used today in Ebiraland was also copied from the Igala Kingdom. The Ebiras occupation then were mainly hunting, warriors and weaving while the Igalas were fishermen and business men.
The Ebiras first name Itobe area as ‘ette ube’ which means land of hunters while the Igalas name Ajaokuta from their words ‘Aja’ which means market and ‘okuta’ which also means stone. The Igalas have the Itobe named by the Ebiras and the Ebiras have the Ajaokuta named by the Igalas, what a natural irony or irony of adventure.
Even the Atta Omadivi as claimed by the Ogu clan of Ebira people was also copied as history has shown us that Atta has no meaning in Ebira but has meaning in Igala which means “Father”.
The fact that the Igalas have perhaps first lived and settled in this part of the country is not enough as a substantial evidence to claim the ownership of Ajaokuta but rather the evidence above from the government of Richard constitution of 1946, the Local Government Reform of 1976 and Legal perspective as well as the British reasons for probably handing over the contractual documents to the Ebiras after 1931 would stand the test of time.
– Momoh Yakubu
President, Kogi Transformation Ambassadors, writer, author, editor and public speaker.
-Ahmadu D., (1974).The Origin and History of Ebira people, ABU Zaria press
-Ogido S., (2004). Leadership and Crisis: A Case Study of Modern Problems in Ebira Opete, Prime publishers Abuja.
– Salami S., (2008). Irazi Eyi Zoza, Dima printers, Okene, Kogi state.
-Otaru A., (1985). In preservation of An Identity: EPA Lecture Series, Nagazi Printing Press, Lokoja Road Kaduna.
-Elewu and etal., (2011). A history of Nigeria, Africa first publishers, Onitsha, Nigeria.
-Isiaq A., (2008). Nigerian Government and Politics, Spectrum-Royal Gate publishers.
-Malcolm B., (1970). Law and the Environment, Walker Publishing Press, USA.
Well researched and informative article.