An Abridged Version of Mbaise History in Contemporary Nigeria.
(Up to the immediate Civil-War period)
I do not hope to review the history of Mbaise and its development to date (for this has been treated in other chapters); but a brief summary of our immediate past is not only illuminating but desirable at this point, our main emphasis here is the origin of Mbaise as a political and administrative unit.
As our name implies, Mbaise means five town-groups that may otherwise are otherwise called five clans. These five groups of towns or clans are ( listed alphabetically): Agbaja (Enyiogugu, Nguru, and Okwuato), Ahiara, Ekwereazu, Ezinihite, and Okeovoro.
The coming together of all our people under a common political and administrative unit took place in 1941.
British colonial administration in Nigeria did not take firm root until the very beginning of the 20th century. And this was after several British military expeditions and patrols had taken place. The aim of such military expeditions and patrols was to suppress pockets of opposition, be it ideological systems such as those built around oracles like Ibini Ukpabi of Arochukwu, Agbala of Awka, Igwe-ka-Ala of Umunneoha: or those built around cults such as the Nri priestly and ritual cult and hegemony or the Ifanim at Amumara Ezinihitte. Some expeditions were specifically aimed at suppressing the revolts of the people-such as the memorable but brutal massacre of the Ahiara and Onicha people in 1906 because of the death of one British man, Dr. Stewart (The Famous Ogu Danglash). The expedition sent out in 1901 to suppress the oracle Ibini Ukpabi at Arochukwu passed through Owerri in 1902.
`Two years following this expedition, British colonial authorities established an administrative system in which several districts or divisions were created and grouped under larger administrative units called Provinces. “Mbaise (which was) the western boundary of the Owerri Division” (as existed at that time) became part of that division. In 1909 two native courts were established at Nguru and Okpala. The Okpala Court had jurisdiction over part of what is now Mbaise. Warrant Chiefs were appointed to these courts-all these being part of a colonial attempt to control the people and administer the territory.
From that time on, our people became colonial subjects of the British whose main interest was in our palm oil, palm kernel, and other resources which they needed in Britain. From that time, too, we became as it were part of the so-called World history or part of the world-wide colonial and imperialist movement.
Following the women riots in 1929, which were a revolt against British colonial exploitation, the British Government undertook a drastic revision of its native or local administrative policy. And following a preliminary report by anthropological officers, the colonial government decided to set up new native authority areas supposedly based on clan areas. On the advice of an assistant divisional officer, Ekwereazu, the Ezinnihitte, and the Agbaja areas ( which were part of the Nguru court area) were constituted into there local or native authority areas. The Ahiara and Oke Clans were also created from previously existing court areas.
The new native authority areas never became effective or efficient units of local government. The colonial Administration attributed this to their small size. Four years after a general re-organization of Owerri Division, the colonial administration began to encourage formation of Federations by the local authority areas. And after several meetings sponsored for this purpose, one group of five clans agreed to form a Federation in 1941 under single native administration with a treasury; and they took the name Mbaise, meaning five town-groups or five clans. A treasury was opened at Enyiogugu. It was later shifted in 1942 to Aboh which had become the new administrative center for Mbaise.
These groups have always remained part and parcel of Mbaise, except for the secession of two small villages, Isu Obiangwu and Umuohiagu, which joined Ngor-Okpala from the Agbaja area in Mbaise. In a major transformation in 1952, the government replaced the native administration (both the clan and federal units) by the system of local government councils patterned after those existing in Britain. An Mbaise County Council was inaugurated in 1956, while nine Local Councils were established at Ahiara, Ekwereazu, Enyiogugu, Ezinihitte East, Ezinihitte Central, Ezinihitte West, Nguru, Oke-ovoro, and Okwuato. Before the military intervention in 1966, various groups of Mbaise people vigorously campaigned for the elevation of the area to a separate division. But this dream was realized only after the civil war, when the East Central State administration set up a new divisional administration system and Mbaise became one of 35 such divisions in the State. The heartland theory of the Igbo culture area places Mbaise at the center of Igboland. Mbaise occupies what anthologists have designated as the core of the Igbo culture area and civilization. Consequently, we occupy a strategic point in the context of Nigerian culture as much as we have occupied a strategic point in her politics. But strategically, we occupy the lowliest point in terms of our economy and development. In terms of size, the world recognizes our importance and plight because of the concentration of human beings in our territory. As said elsewhere, the Mbaise population is one of the densest in Africa, comparable only with the population of the areas together with the areas along the fertile valleys of the Nile in Egypt and the rich minerals areas in South Africa gold region. Unfortunately and ironically, we do not have fertile soil nor has any strategic mineral deposits been found in our area. In terms of size, too, we are bigger than most nation-states that vote, along with America and Russia and our country Nigeria, in the U.N.O. Mbaise occupies an area of 185 square miles and has in the estimated populations of 374,7932. In 1953 Mbaise had a population of 175,794.. Since its inception as an administrative unit, Mbaise has had a chequered history. Politically, the people of Mbasie (up to the pre-war regime) had solid and effective voices in the politics and government of both Eastern Nigeria and the Nigerian Federation. It had two Ministers of Cabinet rank in the then Eastern Nigeria (Dr. A.O. Ogbonna and Chief P.O. Nwoga). At one time, had four seats in the then Eastern House of Assembly and two representatives in the Federal House of Representatives (in fact it was three, since Mr. D.D.U. Okay represented Port Harcourt Federal Constituency). Prominent leaders who served in the legislatures were Chief D.N. Abii, the late Barrister A.T. Mbegbu, and the late N.D. Ukah, for the Federal House, while Mr. E.O. Osuagwu, and Mr. S.M. Ahamba were elected for the Eastern House of Assembly. The late Chief William W. Obasi and Chief H. I. Akwitti served in the Regional House of Chiefs. Incidentally, the most effective units of government before the war were the Regional Government and the County Council. Mr N. D. Ukah, Chief D. N. Abii, and Chief D.Onu led Mbaise County Council in turns before the civil war.. The Regional Government helped to maintain the two main establishments in Mbaise:- The Mbaise Joint Hospital and Mbaise Secondary School- and helped in providing some pipe-borne water and a few other amenities and a tarred-road
3 Abridged from Chapter Two of Mbaise In Contemporary Nigeria; 1978. Edited By Dr. T. Uzodinma Nwala. The 2nd Edition is virtually ready