Why Aba, Abia State Is Called Enyimba City
Have you as a residents or native of Aba asked yourself why the city was named after elephant (Enyimba)?
Well, in our recent interview with the former chairman of Abia State Council of Traditional Rulers who is the oldest and longest serving traditional ruler in Aba, Chief Eze Ikonne, born on January 1, 1929, the monarch of Eziama community, one of the Osusu people that were the first to settle in Aba has told us the reasons Aba is called Enyimba.
Despite what the city is passing through now in terms of infrastructural decay, Aba popularly known as the Enyimba City. Remains undoubtedly a major commercial hub of the South East.
According to Eze Ikonne: “The reason Aba is called Enyimba city”, he started, “was that in the olden days, the days of yore, some Igbo nationalities were migrating to this part of the country from their original abode somewhere within Uli area of present day Anambra State. On getting to the Imo River, having observed that the heavens would soon open up, some of the people hurried up and crossed over the river while others remained to roast yam to eat having became tired and hungry.”
“Immediately after, as if the people that had crossed the river knew, it started to rain heavily and those who stayed behind were unable to cross as the river overflew its banks. The people who stayed behind to roast yam referred to those who crossed over as ndi ome ngwa ngwa (people in a hurry) from where the name Ngwa was derived, on the other hand, those who hurried and crossed over the river called their brothers and sisters on the other side, umu ohuhu (those who roast yam). These people are said to be found in Mbaise in present day Imo State.
“Those whom we left our original abode with are the Mbaise people of Imo State, we are of the same parents, but as they were roasting yam, we left them and crossed the Imo River and they called us Ngwa (ome ngwa ngwa) translated to mean those in a hurry and we called them umu ohuhu translated to mean those that roast yam”.
The Monarch disclosed that when the Ngwa people crossed the Imo River, they journeyed to a place called Okpuala in the present day Isiala Ngwa North Local Government of Abia State, where they cleared the adjourning bushes and settled there.
After a while, the need for expansion of frontier arose. As some of the people settled at Okpuala, others itched to find a new settlement.
Methodology, according to Eze Ikonne, had it that the people’s quest to leave Isiala Ngwa and inhabit another place increased by the day, but they were frustrated by the lack of knowledge of where to go to.
The divine elephant and Enyimba city
His Royal Majesty revealed that the “urge of finding a new settlement among some of the people continued and one day an elephant emerged from nowhere and began an eastward movement.
“The elephant led the people towards the direction of what is today known as Aba and the people followed it as it cleared the bush for them for a journey of over 30 kilometres. On getting to a point, the elephant stopped and disappeared and the people who had marched all through from Isiala Ngwa with it also stopped and decided to settle there. By then there was nothing like Aba, as the people who settled in the area were the Osusus, Eziukwus and Ohazus.
“Osusu is the head of Ngwaland and the most populous, there is no part of Ngwaland you will not get a village called Osusu, all are one and the people do not inter-marry. Osusu people throughout Ngwaland do not eat monkey and we are the custodians of the Harmathan ‘pot’, each time we want harmathan to come, we open it. We are also the custodians of Ngwaland.
“The place where the elephant that led the Ngwa people stopped and disappeared is today known as Ehi (Elephant) Road, one of the most popular in the city. Our people see the elephant as an instrument God used to show His people the way because after getting to Ehi road, nobody can tell what happened to the elephant later.”
The mystic Uha tree
When the people finally settled in the area, an Uha tree grew up in what today is the centre of the city, precisely at Azikiwe Road/Asa Road, exactly the point where the Yoruba have their Mosque in Aba presently.
“The Uha tree was there for so many years until when development started coming to the city and government wanted who would uproot it. One young man volunteered himself to do the job and government officials agreed to pay him British Pounds equivalent of N10, 000. The man did the job, but he did not go home alive as he died instantly. Nobody killed him, it was the work of God, the Uha tree was not planted by anybody in Ngwaland.
That spot is the meeting point of Aba people in the olden days, it was a place they had their deity, when they want to consult with their gods they go there. The day we poured libation in that place, Aba shook. It was the meeting point of the Eze and elders of the community. Each hamlet then had their different deities and the places where they were worshiped, but the one at the present day Azikiwe Road/Asa Road which hosts the Uha tree and where the Yoruba Mosque is presently located, was where the deity of the whole people was and it served as the central place where all the people converge when there was need to consult their deity.”
British colonial administration and the name, Aba
When the British colonial masters came to Nigeria, they were said to have posted one Mr Faulks as the first British colonial administrator for Aba.
Mr Faulks settled down and had his office in what today is housing the National Museum of Colonial History and Antiquities located on Ikot Ekpene Road.
Faulks had his residence within the Osusu area that tells why today most of Osusu land is in the Government Reserved Area (GRA) in Aba.
The first colonial administrator was said to have built the first road in Aba, Faulks road, named after him and it is incidentally the road that leads to Ariaria International Market.
He built that road from Aba to connect Ebiri Omuma in Rivers State. And because of his good deeds, Oriental News learnt that despite pressure from some quarters, the people refused that the name of the road should be changed.
Since the original inhabitants (the Osusus, Eziukwus and Ohazus) came in, the place had no general name it was known for, then how did the name Aba come into being?
The traditional ruler provided an answer, “The name, Aba, was given to the then expanding city by Mr Faulks, the first British colonial master who on arriving at the place saw how plain its landscape was and then asked the people what they called the plain area in their native language and the people said, it is ‘baraa’ and the white man coined Aba from the Igbo word ‘baraa’ and said the city should be known as Aba”.
The 85-year-old traditional ruler was not yet born when his people migrated to Aba and this he agreed with when he said, “As a matter of fact, I do not know the exact time my people came to this place that is now called Aba, I was not yet born, but what I am telling you now was handed over to me by my late father when he was alive who also said his father and grandfather told him”.
Coming of warrant chiefs
With the coming of the colonial masters came the introduction of warrant chiefs in the area just in most other parts of Igbo land. The first warrant chief of Aba (as traditional rulers were then known), according to Eze Ikonne, “was Chief Ogbonna Oguikpe Nkwogu. I was not born by then. My own father, Chief Ikonne Nwachukwu, Chief Enwereji Nwogu and Chief Emejiaka were among the chiefs then who worked with the warrant chief.
There were no courts then in Aba, the warrant chief and his other chiefs were the judges and whatever judgment they passed must be carried out to the letter. Then there was no robbery, no bribery, those who committed offences were tried according to the law. Aba people are the most accommodating in the whole Nigeria.
“As people from other areas started to come and live in Aba, expansion began and the first market was built in Aba. The market located on Asa Road, was called Ekeoha (market for all) and the name emanated from the fact that people from far and near including Lagos, Calabar, Port Harcourt and Cameroon came there to buy goods. Due to constant fire outbreaks, the market was in 1977 move to Ariaria although the original market was rebuilt and re-named Ekeoha Shopping Centre. During the slave trade era, the market also played major role. The second market in Aba was the Market Road market popularly known as Ahia Ohuru (New Market).
Talking about other firsts, the first church to be built in Aba, according to the royal father, was the Saint Michaels and All Angels Anglican Church St. Michael’s Road and Christ the King Catholic Church (CKC) on Asa Road.
Outside Ehi Road where the elephant that led the people into Aba stopped and disappeared and Faulks road which was named after the first colonial administrator, other roads in the city with some historic importance are the Howell Crescent equally named after another colonial administrator; Azikiwe Road named after the first President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe; and the popular and densely populated Ngwa Road.
After the people of Osusu and Eziukwu had settled in the places, the remaining people moved towards the area that is known as Ngwa Road today from where some people migrated further to the Ugwunagbo areas. So, when a major road was constructed in the city in the late 60s, it was named Ngwa Road. The royal father said the first primary school to be built in the city is the Constitution Crescent located within the area formerly known as European quarters, followed by that built by the Anglican Church on St. Michael’s Road where Nigeria and Africa’s iconic writer, the late Prof Chinua Achebe attended.
Aba today is a cosmopolitan city inhabited by people with different ethnic backgrounds who greatly out-number the original inhabitants. There are also some Ngwa people who live in Aba today but are said not to be part of those that were brought to the area by what has come to be known as the divine elephant and that is the Ogbor people.
According to Eze Ikonne, Ogbor village though now part of Aba, her people were not among the original Ngwa people that settled in the place through the direction of the elephant.
“The Ogbor people as history made us understand have no relations in any other part of Ngwaland like the Osusus’ and others”, Eze Ikonne said.