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Etche is a Local Government Area (LGA) in Rivers State, Nigeria, named after the Etche ( Echie) people of Southern Nigeria. The Etche are a sub-group of the Igbo people and they speak a dialect of the Igbo language. They also inhabit Omuma LGA; Etche/Omuma is a National Assembly constituency.
Etche communities include Akwu/Obuor, Chokocho, Chokota, Egwi, Afara, Mba, Ikwerengwo, Okehi, Ulakwo, Umuakonu, Umuebulu, Umuechem, egbeke Igbodo the ancestral home of Etche (Igbodo is made up o the following communities; Umuohiaukwu, Umuusharam, Umuoga, Okonocho, Umuine, Umudi, Umunkwa, Umuohie, Amaku, Obibi, Ezeleaka, Umuisi].
Etche is the first settler or founder of “Etche” land. One oral tradition has it that he is a man called “Echefu”, who was corruptly named “Etche”. Another version says that his name is “Eche”, whose name was anglicized or colonially spelt “Etche”. But one thing is clear; whether the name is “Etche”, “Ochie”, “Eche”, “Echefu”, or “Etche”, it is referring to one and the same person called “ETCHE”, “ECHEFU”, “ECHIE”, “ECHE”, “OCHIE” who is the forebear or ancestor of all Etche people East, West, North, South and ethnic nationality that is spread across three (3) of Nigeria, viz: Rivers, Abia, and Imo States and possibly Delta and Edo, Onyema (2000). It has four (4) know Local Governments (two in Rivers State and two in Imo State) with a heavy presence in Abia State.
The origin of Etche is traced to different areas and also has an oral tradition associated with the history of Etche. The paper discusses two origins, which are the Igbo and Benin Origins.
THE BENIN ORIGIN
In a very ambitious attempt to construct the historical past of Etche, Achonwa (1980) traced the migration of the people from a particular place and point in time. According to him:
The Etche people left the Benin Kingdom about 7th century. They moved up to Agbor, and entered the Orashi River through Ndoni.
Creek-settling for brief while at the present-day Omoku … they moved eastwards up to Abua. They crossed Abua to Ndele on land; stopping finally at Igbo, the first Etche settlement.
There is the speculation that “this horde” was an amalgam of many other tribes, which according to Achonwa included the Ikwerres, Abuans, Ekpeyes, etc. He submits that this was responsible for the settlement known as Ikwerre-Ngwo – a conglomerate of peoples.
However, there some loopholes in this account because “7th century”, the period cited by Achonwa, did not specify whether it was 7th century B.C. or 7th century A.D.
THE IGBO ORIGIN
The accounts of the Benin origin are at variance with some other established views on the history of Etche. One of such views is that Afigbo, an internationally acclaimed historian, who traced the history of the Igbo people essentially to two sources. The first account, according to him, claims that the Igbo tribe came from the east. This claim asserts that:
“in the beginning the Igbo were either one of the tribes of Israel or Egypt, that for unspecified reason they left the east, wandered across the Sudan to come and settle where we now find them.”
In order to elucidate this claim, Afigbo traced the origin of the Igbo to 3,000 B.C. to 1,300 A.D. as suggested by Talboth, hinging his account on legends, oral traditions and other numerous ethnographic and ecological evidences.
Afigbo posits that “scholars have long come to the conclusion that the Nri-Akwa Orlu axis represents the earlier Igbo settlement” from where they spread to different directions.
Among the groups that moved southward, according to him, are “the Uratta, Ikwerre, Etche, Asa and Ndoki Igbo of the present times”.
The second account premised on the linguistic origin of the language spoken by the Igbo people which, like the Edo, Yoruba, Odoma, Igala and Akan languages, belongs to the larger family of African languages know as the Niger-Congo stock. In this regard, linguistic affinity could also be used to determine the origin of a people. This clearly stated by Johnson in Williamson (1987) thus:
There is no tracing the connection of ancientations, but by language. Therefore, I am always sorry when any language is lost, because the languages are the pedigree of nations. If you find the same language in distant countries, you may be sure that the inhabitants of each have been the same people.
If this submission is anything to go by, we can say without equivocation and contradiction that the linguistic relationship between the Igbo language and that of Etche has been established as corroborative evidence of Afigbo’s historical position. For example, in an incisive study of the languages spoken in Rivers State, Williamson classified the major languages according to their linguistic relationship. She characterized all languages that have some linguistic affinity with the Igbo language as “Igboid”. She listed the language groups in this category as follows: Ekpeye, Ikwerre, Ogbah, Egbema and Echie.
According to Onyema (2000), Etche is part of the Benin in Diaspora of the fourteenth century. He moved along with the Ogbas, Ekpeyes and Ikwerres. They crossed the River Niger from one spot and spread themselves southwesterly and southeasterly from the spot they crossed the River Niger.
This myth has some credence. There is similarity of language among the Ogbas, the Ikwerres and the Etches. There is also similarity of language between the “Etches” and Igbodos” of Delta State. “Igbodo” is a town between Asaba and Agbor in Delta State. There is a town called Obite in Ogba land and Obite town in Etche. Also, an address sent to the Ekpeye people in their annual “OGWU EKPEYE” cultural festival by the Oba of Benin confirmed this aspect of the history. The present Oba of Benin was one time Divisional Officer in the then Ahoada Division, which comprised Etche, Ikwerre, Ekpeye, Ogba and Abua. They were then known as clans.
The other school of thought says “that Etche is part of the Igbo stock. The founding fathers were part of the Igbo that moved southwards, via Owerri and through Ngor, to settle in her present location. Amoury Talbort in his book entitled, The Peoples of Southern Nigeria, gave credence to this School of Thought. This account has some credence. For example, is the name of some towns and villages in Igbo-speaking areas, which are identical or similar with those of Etche. For instance, we have Eberi in Etche and we have Mbieri in Owerri. Also we have Ulakwo in Owerri and Etche. Furthermore, we give identical names with the Igbo, and the Echie dialect is said to be a dialect of Igbo language. However, these may not be a conclusive proof to the fact that Etche is part of the Igbo stock, as these may be circumstantial due to long association over the years, and the Igbo have the advantage of their population size. If the roots of Etche stems from Benin as the first school of thought suggests, the historical fact of our settlement with the Igbo and very close proximity with them, having interacted with them in commerce, religion, etc. including marriages and interpolation of cultures, may have influenced and changed our culture over the years.
The first known permanent settlement of Etche is Igbodo in present-day Etche Local Government Area in Rivers State. Before Etche came to Igbo where he settled permanently, accounts have it that he rested in some areas before he got to his permanent place of abode. It is believed that he came through Oratta, crossed Ogu-echie River and permanently settled at Igbodo. It is also believed that Ohaji was part of Etche entourage that detoured at Oratta and flanked southwest and settled immediately after Oratta, bordering Ikwerre and Ogba, while the rest entourage maintained a southeasterly direction until they permanent settled at Igbodo. Igbodo is the undisputed traditional headquarters of Etche people or the place of first permanent settlement of Etche people.
When the Igbodo settlement increased and became uncontrollable, people moved in different locations to find new abodes. The Ngors (which constitute) the present Ngor/Okpala Local Government, Imo State) moved northwards. The Amalas, the Alulus, Elelems, the Ntus, etc. were part of the Etche people that moved northwards from their Igbodo settlement. It is evident to notice identical and similarity of language/dialect with the Ngors. The names of towns and villages in Ngor are identical with the towns and villages in Etche. Before the creation of Rivers State, Amala was known as part of Igbodo and was addressed as Amala-Igbodo. There is Ntu on Ngor while there is Umuogba in present day Omuma Local Government Area, Rivers State. In Umuogba, there is Umuoyere while in Ngor, there is Umuoyere as well. In Etche, there is Obibi, while there is also Obibi in Ngor. In Ngor, there is Ulakwo while there is also Ulakwo in Etche. In Etche, there is Afara while in Ngor, there is also Afara. There are so many instances of this nature which cannot be included in this paper because of time factor.
Accounts also have it that Igbo was a very big hunter. In his hunting expedition, moved southwards from Igbodo. He crossed the Otamirioche River and settled at the northern part of Otamirioche River, hence Igbo Agwuru Asa as presently constituted occupies both sides of Otamirioche River. The Umuselem people also move southwards from Igbodo, and took southeast and southwest direction from Igbodo settlement. The present settlement of Okomoko migrated from Okomoko Akpoku to their present abode. Afara, Nihi, Odufor took southwest direction while Odagwa and Akwa took southeast direction. Ulakwo later joined them and settled in-between them, hence we have Ulakwo/Umuselem clan. The Mbas moved southwestwards and occupied their present location. The first group of Mbas who left Igbodo first settled at Mba. They later expanded. A group left the original Mba settlement and crossed the Ogueche River to settle in the present day Obite, Umuoye and Akpoku.
The Ozuzus,or Mba-Asaa people,namely: Ozuzu, Egbu, Ogida, Isu, Ihie, Elele, and Orwu- had connections with Umuneoha and Aro people, hence they established the Amadioha deity, which had influence over the entire length and breadth of Etche, Ikwerre, Ekpeye, Kalabari, Oratta and beyond.
The migration of Etche people to the eastern part of Etche (now known as Omuma Local Government Areas) was systematic. They migrated to the eastern part of Etche by crossing the Imo River from different parts, at different times and for different reasons and purposes. The Umuogba/Umuajuloke people migrated from Afara, crossed the Imo River and settled in their present Umuogba/Umuajuloke Clan. Ogba and Ajuloke, who were of the same parents left Afara at the same time. Ajuloke settled at Akwa and Ogba crossed the Imo River and settled in the present Umuogba. Ajuloke later crossed the Imo River and joined his brother (Ogba) and settled with him, hence we have the Umuogba/Umuajuloke Clan which is the largest single Clan in Omuma Local Government Area and the 5th largest in the whole of Etche. Eberi is said to have migrated from Mbieri in Imo State and settled together with Ulakwo, Obioha and other Etche people at Igbodo area.
Eberi and Ulakwo were friends and they moved together from their Igbodo settlement. Eberi moved eastwards, crossed the Imo River and settled in the present location, which hosts the headquarters of Omuma Local Government Area. Ulakwo moved southwards and settled in the present Ulakwo. When Ebari crossed the Imo River, Obioha decided to follow suit. Obioha was on a hunting expedition and in his desire to meet Eberi crossed the Imo River. When he got to Eberi’s settlement, Eberi asked him to go further eastwards, hence Obioha occupied the border with Asa people in present day Abia State. Eberi further expanded and occupied up to the boundary with Asa people, hence in Etche we have Eberi/Obioha Clan.
Oyoro or Kwuu migrated from Umuoye in Mba Clan of present day Etche Local Government Area. By the time Oyoro crossed the Imo River to settle in its present location, Onyia had crossed the Imo River and settled. Oyoro joined him, and both of them constitute the present Umuoyoro in Omuma Local Government Area. Ohiomogho emigrated from Igbodo/Akwu/Obuo area in Okehi Clan, crossed the Imo River and settle in the present day Ohiomogho in Omuma Local Government Area. Chiomuo (Ofeh) left Igbodo settlement and temporarily settled at Odagwa. Later, he crossed the Imo River and settled at her present location in Omuma Local Government Area. Umuchere crossed from Aluu while Umumba and Umuru, Amauzu later joined Umuchomuo people to constitute Ofeh in the present day Omuma Local Government Area. These three Etche entities constitute the present Ofeh/Ohim/Oyoro Clan.
So, the people who constitute the present Omuma Local Government Area of Rivers State are Etche people who crossed the Imo River at different times, from different areas of Etche, and settled in the eastern part of Etche. Before the Nigerian civil war, they were referred to as Etche people of Eastern Imo while the rest Etche were known as Western Imo. There is no ancestor in Etche history (man or woman) known as Omuma. Even the Etche people of Omuma Local Government Area refer Etche west of Imo River (i.e. the present Etche Local Government Area) as Omuma people, since they also live on the other side of the Imo River. Generally, in Etche parlance, any Etche man who crossed the river to settle is referred to as Omuma man, i.e. somebody who crossed the water.
The Owazzas of Abia State are said to be Etche people. However they migrated from Igwuruta (between Igwuruta-ali and Omunwei) having land bordering Umuechem and the Port Harcourt International Airport, settled at Odagwa and later crossed the Imo River and Aza stream to settle in their present location, hence they are called Owazza (i.e. those who crossed the Aza stream). The Omuma-Uzor prople of Ukwa West Local Government Area, Abia State, migrated from Obibi (Umuola) and settled in their present Omuma-Uzor (i.e. Etche people who crossed water and settled on the road, since they do not have any contiguity with any Etche village and her neighbours being As people). Omuma in Ogwuruta migrated from Akpoku Etche and settled in the present Omuma-Igwuruta. They are called Omuma-Igwuruta because they are Etche people that crossed the Otamirioche River and settle on other side of the River after Igbo.
Oral evidence of the Etche people strongly indicates the Igbo origin of the Etche. There is no controversy over the first settlement in Etche land being Igbodo, the next is Igboanwhirinwu, according to oral sources.
A school of thought suggests that the bone of contention does not lie in the first settled, rather the elders of the two, Igbodo and Igboanwhurinwhu. This school, further, claims that the name “Igbodo” simple is a corruption of the original name of one of the sons of Echie. The actual name, they said, is “Mgbeudo” – a time of peace. For “Igbo-Anwhurinwhu”, they maintained that the real name was “Mgbe-Anwhurinwhu” meaning “a time of restlessness”. They argue that one cannot talk of peace if one had not experienced some form of discomfort, restiveness or crisis.
COLONIZATION OF ETCHE
Etche ethnic nationality with numerous towns and villages spread over three States – Rivers, Abia and Imo. It has a vast land mass and naturally subdivided by Imo, Otamirioche and Ogueche Rivers. The people have had their own system of government before the advent of colonialism in Nigeria. Though, the subdivision by the three rivers made communication difficult, Etche people had their own system of government, Nwafor (2000).
At the advent of colonialism in Nigeria, Etche found herself colonized by the British authorities. The British balkanized Etche politically and administered it from three axis, Aba, Oweeri and Degeme/Ahoada. Omuma from Aba Division while the rest of Etche, i.e. Etche West from Degeme Division. The balkanization of Etche was substantially redressed between 1951 and 1954, when the Etche Rural District Council with headquarters at Eberi was created. Under the leadership of Chief (the Hon) J.H.E Nwuke, Ogbuzuo II, the founding and first Secretary-General of Ogbako Etche, who was assisted by Chief S.O Achonwa and others, Etche people from Ozuzu, Mba-Asaa and eastern Etche people (present Omuma) were merged with Etche West to form Etche Rural District Council under Ahoada Division. Chief (the Hon) J.H.E Nwuke was inaugurated in 1958 as Onye-isi-Etche. Etche people from Ngor and Etche people from Ohaji were cut out of the merger by their selfish chiefs and leaders at that time. But Etche people are distinct wherever they may be. Be they Etche Ohajis, Etche Ngors, Etche Umumbas, Etche Owazzas, Etche Omuma-Uzors, Etche Igwurutas, etc. the headquarters of Etche Rural District Council, which became known as ETCHE COUNTY COUNCIL, was transferred from Eberi to Umuola and from Umuola to Okehi. So, the political headquarters of Etche people is Okehi, while the traditional headquarters of Etche people is Igbodo. The balkanization of Etche people by the colonial masters badly affected the political and cultural solidarity of Etche people. It also affected the cultural identity of Etche people, including Etche language. The Etches in Imo State speak more of Owerri than the original Echie and the Etche culture and personality in them have been eroded.
The same applies to Etche people in Abia State. They now speak more of Ngwa and Asa dialects than Echie. If Etches in Imo and Abia States could be retrieved, Etche could have been hosting four (4) local governments now since there are presently two (2) local governments in Imo (Ngor and Ohaji) while the remnant of Etche in Abia State may constitute a local government, if properly organized. The present Etche in Rivers State was in Ahoada Division at Independence in 1960. It was possible to achieve this during the struggle for the creation of Rivers State. This paper suggests and recommends that the Federal Government should readjust State boundaries in order to ensure that Etche people in other States are brought back to their kith and kin in Rivers State where they rightly belong.
In 1999 there were about 600,000 Etche people, forming the fourth largest ethnic group in Rivers State, mostly engaged in agriculture. Cassava and yam are important crops. The use of tractors for farming these crops has dropped slightly in the 1986–2004 period. The Shell Petroleum Development Company has funded a cassava processing mill at Umuebulu, and in 2000 provided training to local women in operation and management of the mill. Palm oil production by smallholders is a significant part of the economy.
In October 1990, a demonstration was held in Umuechem, Etche to demand social amenities and compensation for oil pollution. State security agents reacted with teargas and gunfire. 50 people died and about 550 houses were destroyed. The April 2003 national elections were marked by serious violence and intimidation in the Etche LGA, seriously compromising the free voters process. In a 2007 report, Human Rights Watch said that "in recent years Etche has earned a degree of unwelcome notoriety due to allegations of corruption, thuggery and murder leveled against its current chairman." The report stated that health and education facilities were in an advanced state of physical decay, with funds allocated for staffing and renovation being diverted for other purposes. In January 2009 the Etche legislative council impeached three of their members for "irrational and unconscionable behaviour, gross misconduct, misappropriation of legislative fund and abuse of office."
A training camp for ex-militants was established in Okehi in Etch LGA, teaching skills such as welding and fabrication, fitting, seafaring/marine, business and commerce and so on. In October 2009, 200 of the students demanded their allowances, threatening to return to the creeks to cause havoc if unpaid.
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