HISTORY OF MBAISE
The name “Mbaise” was derived from five cities: Agbaaja, Ahiara, Ekwereazu, Ezinihitte and Oke Uvuru located in the three Local Government Areas, (Aboh Mbaise- Agbaaja and Okeuvuru, Ahiazu Mbaise-Ahiara and Ekwereazu and Ezinihitte Mbaise) in which there are about 81 Autonomous Communities.
Prof. Uzodinma Nwala organised the first modern Conference on Mbaise in 1972. Present at the occasion were some of the pioneers whom he calls the PARTHFINDERS IN MBAISE HISTORY that laid the foundation of what we know today as the MBAISE FEDERATION. Joseph Iwunna who baptised the Federation with the name MBAISE was unfortunately not there. But Chiefs Dennis Abii of Ezinihittee,, Waturuocha of Nguru, Onyekwere of Ahaira, Pius Nwoga of Ekwereazu, etc were there. frontline Mbaise intellectuals at the time delivered papers at the occasion. Among these were Prof Donatus Nwoga, Chief G, N Onukogu, J. E. Nworgu, H. C. O. Mbaegbu, L. E. Njoku, Gibson Njoku, T. C Obani, Mike Ahamba, Ray Alaribe, and Mazi Okwute Okeahialam and Prof. Nwala. The outcome of that history-making event is the book MBAISE IN CONTEMPORARY NIGERIA, edited by Prof. Nwala. it s the first book on the history and social system of modern Mbaise. The present edition contains a lot of historical and social data on Mbaise.
Before the advent of Christianity, early inhabitants of the Mbaise, believed in mini gods and one supreme God, the Almighty and Creator of all things. Their belief were said to stem from the fact that there must be a reason for every creation and thus the belief in higher beings which cannot be fathomed by human mind held sway.
For instance,a while ago, the cultivation and planting of farm crops from January till the end of May resulted in shortage of food. Families fed on little available food and prayed to God for intervention in their hunger predicament. When July came and people entered their farms for harvest and found enough tubers of yam, they celebrated. More mysterious would be the fact that when you cut and leave the head of the yam in the ground, it would bear more tubers in the coming months. This was figured out to be the work of a higher being sent by God to intervene in their hunger situation, Ahiajoku.
When this happens, the fathers in each household in the villages and towns would be very happy and thankful to God for having survived the famine. To them, this wonder of nature calls for celebration hence a day was set aside for the celebration named Iriji-Ohuo – New yam Festival.
Each household also revered Ahiajoku such that they built a shrine in each home stead for offering goat, yam, sheep and drinks to it in gratitude. Ahiajoku is the acclaimed god of farm crops especially yam. During the Iriji Ohuo celebration, prayers and libation would flow in praise and thanksgiving to god of yam and to God Almighty whom the Mbaise people called Chukwu Abiami or Eke kere Uwa.
However, from different accounts, Iriji Mbaise, its origin and evolution was handed to us by oral tradition, and so, there is no living person who can attest to the exact date when this festival started.
From folklore, we gathered that the cradle of creation took place in Ezinihitte Mbaise at Orie-ukwu with the birth of five clans-Ezinihitte, Oke-Ovoro, Agbaja, Ahiara and Ekwereazu. So it is believed that in those days, the celebration of annual Iriji took place in every village and town in Mbaise on an important market day of the week like. The celebrations were said to take place on every important market day of each town such as; Orie-Ukwu, Eke-Ukwu, Afo-Ukwu, or Nkwo-Ukwu.
With time Christians and people realized that the one God that created man also created every other thing in the Universe and to Him alone belongs all Honor, Praise, Worship and Adoration, and the Ahiajoku ceremony faded away and was replaced with Christian Festival of the First Fruit EX 23;16.
With the advent of Christianity and the Bible, Mbaise nation believed to be the home of the most high God, the people believed that this was also a way to fulfill God’s law to his people of Israel to celebrate three Festivals a year to Him. Celebrate the harvest Festival when you begin to harvest your crops. (Exo 23; 16, Deu 16;9, Lev 23,15-21, 2nd Chro 8,12-13. Thus the festival of the new yam is a thanksgiving celebration.
There are farmers in every village and town who grow and harvest more yams than others. These great farmers were given the prestigious title of EZEJI
They are acclaimed as having the largest farms and could feed hundreds of people without running out of supply. Though the Ezeji title holders regard Iriji as their particular ceremony, the event is for every member of the Mbaise. Ezeji cultivates the yams, owns the yams, harvest the yams and gives them to people to eat. It is also the role of the Ezeji to roast and cook yams enough to feed the masses that attend the iriji ceremony. They are also great and powerful landowners, and as title holder they are expected to be outstanding personalities in the Community. Ezeji people play important role in the settlement of land disputes. They pray and bless the new yam, taste it and give it to others to eat.
Meanwhile, in the recent times, yam which is regarded as the head of farm crops have come to symbolize among other things-accomplishments, jobs, productivity in every field of lives endeavor, overcoming adversity, anniversaries, etc.
On the 15th of August every year, Mbaise people all over the world must celebrate this thanksgiving event individually or collectively with friends and well-wishers. They come together to celebrate their achievements and accomplishments over the year with special thanksgiving to God.
As a ceremony officially marking the eating of new yam, Iriji is sustained and nurtured by Ezeji title holders. Other supporting groups include; Ndi Eze or Mbaise Council of Traditional Rulers, Ezuruezu Mbaise, Mbaise People’s Congress, or the traditional institutions. Iriji annual event attracts people from all over the world. It has attracted Chief executives, top government officials, governors and vice presidents over the years. It has become a symbol of unity and home coming for Mbaise sons and daughters which appreciates economic, social and tourism activities within this period.
However, the Mbaise person cultivates and farm in other Communities outside his town. The real Mbaise man or woman is hospitable and kind. He is strong and can withstand hardship. He plays host to unknown visitors. You will find him in almost and all parts of the world including areas with harsh climatic conditions and difficult terrain. He hates cheating and will always stand out bold to claim his right. There is a famous axiom that the fifth person in any Igbo gathering is an Mbaise person or that person knows an Mbaise person as a friend or in-law.
Mbaise Under Colonial Administration
British Colonial administration in what is today known as Mbaise started in 1901 by Captain H.M. Douglas, the District Commissioner for Owerri. The imposition of this colonial rule marked the end of Mbaise Native Administrative system following the introduction of warrant Chiefs and native courts which carried out the functions of the Amala people. In the absence of a hierarchical traditional leadership institution of the type found in Northern Nigeria, the British Colonial administrators found it difficult to govern the people.
To contend with this problem, it resorted to the introduction of indirect rule system of government by the introduction of native courts and the creation of the office of Warrant Chiefs to serve and operate the newly created native courts (administrative authorities). In 1902 H.M Douglas laid a column of the infamous Aro field force through Owerri into Mbaise and took domain of the land. Mbaise was then under Owerri division and was administered from Owerri. In 1903, the British Colonial Administration set up a court at Owerri for dispensation of justice and settlement of disputes in the area (including Mbaise). In 1904 the British administration began to administer Owerri and Mbaise areas, and consolidated a system of government in Ezinihitte and Ahiara areas. In 1905, Dr. Stewart Rogers, a medical doctor who usually accompanied Mr. Douglas patrol team lost his way in Onicha Ezinihitte and was quickly seized and killed by the natives who were not comfortable with the presence of the white strangers in the land.
In 1906 there was a punitive expedition and massacre of the people by British army led by Captain Brian Douglas and Captain Harold Hastings as punishment for the death of Dr. Stewart. In 1909, the Colonial Administrators established courts at Nkwogwu (Nguru) and Okpala respectively due to long distance of Owerri court from Mbaise. The first to be appointed warrant Chief in Mbaise for the court at Nkwogwu was Onwuegbulem Ekechukwu of Umuanuma Nguru because he proved friendly and associated very early with the Administrators on their arrival at Owerri. The Colonial masters found favour with him because of his fair complexion which resembled the white. He was also humble and meek. He was nick named white lamb. Later on, Onwuegbulem took up the name, Nwaturuocha, and became known as Waturuocha of Nguru Mbaise and by so doing lost his identity and lineage. Waturuocha introduced Onyekwere Njoku of Nnarambia Ahiara, his cousin to the Colonial master and was also made a warrant chief because of his effectiveness during the retaliatory massacre of the people; known as Ogu Douglas the war was to avenge the death of Dr. Stewart in Mbaise. For the court at Okpala, the warrant chiefs were Nwigwe Akanma Nduka (Ogbo Uvuru), Ihekoronye Nwachukwu (Mbutu), Nwachukwu Ogbuokiri and others. Some of these warrant Chiefs acted as judges during the period of colonial administration and became very powerful and influential. Some of these native court judges were W. Waturuocha (Nguru), P. Onyekwere (Ahiara East) Anyanwu Odirichukwu (Ekwerazu-east). In 1911, the Christian Missionary Society (CMS) mission came to Mbaise at Ife and Ubonukam Onicha Ezinihitte. It was the first advent of Christianity in Mbaise. Following the coming of churches was also the schools. In 1915, four years after, the Catholic Mission came to Nguru, through Chief Anyamele who also brought the school at St. Joseph Ogbor Nguru. In 1916, The Catholic Church arrived Ahiara through Chief Onyekwere together with the school at St. Bridges Ahiara, while St. Patrick’s Church and School Ekwerazu were established at Umuokirika in 1917. In 1927 the first Mbaise man obtained a standard six certificate. He was Chief Pius Nwoga from primary school at Egbu.
The women riot of 1929 and reorganization of native courts:
Following the introduction of first direct tax in Igboland in 1927 and the inclusion of women in 1928, a women riot ensued in 1929. The riot saw the two courts at Nkwogwu (Nguru) and Okpala burnt and completed destroyed by women protesting their inclusion in taxation. After the 1929 women riot (in Eastern region) the British government undertook a fundamental reform and restructuring of the native court administrative system. THE CHARDWICK CONFERENCE OF 1941 AND EMERGENCE OF FIVE CLAN COURTS: In 1941 a conference was convened by the District Officer, Mr. L.E Chardwick for Mbaise leaders. Five sectional clan/native courts were established at Itu for Ezinihitte, Uzuaku-Obohia for Ekwerazu, Orie Ahiara for Ahiara, Uvuru for Oke-Uvuru and at Enyiogugu for Agbaja people. The five native court areas became clan units of native authority with effect from 1934, and served as a milestone towards carving out Mbaise from Owerri division. FEDERATION OF FIVE CLAN COURTS AND EMERGENCE OF MBA-ISE: Four years after the reorganization of Owerri division, the colonial administration encouraged the federation of small courts created in 1934. Following this development, the colonial administrators and the Mbaise Paramount Chiefs who were members of the Owerri Divisional Union deliberated and considered federating the five court areas to form one political unit. The Chiefs included Dennis Nwachukwu Abii, Japhet Jamike Iwunna, Pius Ogu Nwoga etc. The name Mba-Ise meaning five court areas was suggested and adopted as the political unit. In 1941 Mr. L.E. Chardwick, the District Officer approved the name with one administrative headquarter and treasury. Enyiogugu served as the administrative headquarter and treasury between 1941 and 1948. In 1948, the treasury was transferred to Aboh in Oboama na Umunama. This arrangement created two sets of warrant Chiefs, those accountable to the District Officer (Nwa D.O), and those accountable to the District Commissioner (Nwa D.C). This resulted in court sessions being held in two shifts. One shift attended court sessions for three months before another shift would takeover. This system was found to be cumbersome and called for change.
Judiciary Reform of 1952: The Local County Council In 1952
Another judiciary reform was made, called native appellant jurisdiction. This initiation by the District Officer recommended the attendance at the court of at least one clan head from each of the five clan court areas to deliberate on ways and means of improving the native court jurisdiction. The result was the replacement of the native court jurisdiction administration with Local County Council System. Local County Councils were thus established at Ahiara, Ekwerazu, Enyiogugu, Okwuato, Nguru, Ezinihitte East, Ezinihitte West, Ezinihitte center and Oke. The Mbaise county councils were inaugurated in 1955, while N.D Uka of Umuokirika was elected by the councilors as the first council Chairman. He was succeeded in 1958 by Dennis Nwachukwu Abii from Eziudo Ezinihitte who served for two tenures. His second term of office spanned beyond 1960 when colonial rule ended in Nigeria. He was succeeded by Donatus Onu from Umuokirika who served between 1964 to 1969. Mbaise remained as one county council until the end or the Nigeria civil war in 1970 when Local Government Council Administration was adopted throughout Nigeria.
Post War Local Government Council Administration (1970-1976)
Following the post war military rule of 1970 to 1976, Mbaise was split into two local government areas of Aboh Mbaise and Ahiazu-Mbaise. In 1976, Chief Donatus Onu became the first chairman of Ahaizu Local Government Area (LGA) from 1976 to 1979, while Barr. B.S.C Nzenwa was the first chairman of Aboh Mbaise LGA from 1976 to 1979. In 1989, Ezinihitte LGA was carved out of Aboh Mbaise LGA with headquarters at Itu, while Dr. Timothy Eze was appointed the first chairman and later replaced by Mr. Ugboaja. These three Local Government Areas of Aboh, Ahaizu and Ezinihitte have remained the only Local Government Areas in Mbaise since 1989.
Local Government Development Areas Of 2005
In August 2005, four Local Government Development Areas (LGDA) were created in Mbaise. They included Enyiato, carved out from Aboh Mbaise LGA, with headquarters at Enyiogugu and Mr. Alan B. Onyemaechi as the coordinator and Oke-Uvuru LGDA also from Aboh Mbaise LGA with headquarter located at Orie Uvuru and Silas Nwamadi as coordinator. Ekwuerazu LGDA was created out of Ahiazu-Mbaise LGA with headquarter at Eziama Oparanadim and Goddy Okoronkwo as coordinator. Ezinihitte East Local Government Development Area was created out of Ezinihitte LGA and has it’s headquarters at Umueleagwa Onicha with J.I.C. Osundu as coordinator.