The Enuani: Who Are They?

Written by Emeka Esogbue

The Enuani people are one of the Anioma subgroups located on the West Niger Bank, Delta State, South-South of Nigeria. The dialect of the people, which is basically Igbo, is indigenously referred to as Enuani. Thus, the people as well as their metamorphic version of language are known as “Enuani.” Interestingly, the Igala language is also spoken by the Ebu people.

Although they are known as “Anioma” Today, together with Ika and Ndokwa/Ukwuani, all of who collectively occupy the Delta North District in Delta State, the people had known and identified themselves as “Enuani” long before the arrival of the European missionaries and the evolution of the Anioma name coinage or etymology given social impetus by Chief Denis Osadebay.

The word “Enu-Anu” exists as two words that denote “High” and “Low.” It is derived from the topographical nature of the people. Hence, the Enuani are people who inhabit the highland compared to their surrounding neighbours. The topography of the people greatly contrasts the Ukwuani (Ukwu- Ani) area, derived from the lowland nature of the area. In this sense, while the Ukwuani are lowlanders, the Enuani are highlanders by geography.

By combination, what is called Aniocha and Oshimili today are components of Enuani. It was the fate of the people that the British colonialists for administrative convenience would continuously move some of the communities in cycle to Aniocha and Oshimili and often returning them. For instance, the people of Ibusa were once known as Aniocha and situated under Ogwashi-Uku before becoming the Oshimili that they are today. There is also a strange or uneven reflection in the present-day local government geographical arrangement of some of the Enuani communities.

Ibusa lies about 6 miles close to Asaba but it shares abnormal local government arrangements with Akwukwu-Igbo. Illah is naturally situated 25 kilometers north of Asaba and has the community as a neighbour but Asaba and Illah are never found in the same local government. Instead, it is the distant Ibusa and Illah that share the local government.

Loosely speaking, and by sentiment, the Onicha Ado (Onitsha), Ogbaru, Ndoni, Obosi, and a few others are considered Enuani settlements by origin. While the River Niger appears to naturally separate Onicha Ado from the rest of the Anioma in Delta State, the community is a close member of the Enuani family by origin as well as migration.

The Enuani challenge started after they lost the Ekumeku battle to the British and Dr. Joseph Egwu, an Anioma historical researcher, captured it accordingly. He wrote in Anioma Essence Magazine: “Anioma Region was divided into four and joined to other groups who were then given political precedence over Anioma. Asaba Division was joined to the Benin Province and Aboh Division (Ndi Olu) was joined with Urhobo, Ijaw, and Itsekiri to make up the Delta Province. Onitsha, Oguta, and environs were joined to the Eastern Provinces. This made political unity nearly impossible. This was the genesis of our woes.”

The Enuani fate of balkanization suffered by Ndoni is more pronounced and recent. After Nigerian independence in 1960, Ndoni fell under the Western Region like the rest of the Anioma settlements. When the Midwest was created in 1963, Ndoni was still part of the Aboh Division. In 1967, the Gowon administration carved out Rivers State as one of the 12 states created by him to block the Biafran secession. Sadly, the Boundary Adjustment and Local Government Reforms, by omission or commission, relocated Anioma’s Ndoni to Rivers State where it remains to date probably due to the politics of oil.

Indeed, the British brought a lasting punishment on the Anioma people because the people never recovered from the punitive balkanization measures meted out to them. The indigenous governments that took over from the imperialists, continued the creation of states along the lines of the disparity set by the British. Much as the people of Onitsha tried, they were never considered part of the proposed Anioma State. Worse still, the proposed Anioma State was never created despite being the oldest agitation in the country being older than the independent Nigerian state, rich, homogenous, and meeting other criteria for state creation in the country.

Today, the Enuani territory seems much apart from their lost territories. While cultures and dialects remain the same, they are scattered in various states.

Although they are often separately called “Aniocha” and “Oshimili,” the people are cohesively known as ENUANI, the same way the Ukwuani are Ukwuani and Ika is Ika. Conscious of this ‘abnormality’ in the name which rather rests on local government, some of the people have started to make the move to return themselves to the adoption of Enuani rather than the divisive singularity of Aniocha and Oshimili. The young men and women of Enuani appear to have found greater love and pride in the identity of the usage of the name, “Enuani.”

The origin of the people of Enuani shows that they have a heterogenous beginning as they migrated from different Nigerian ethnic groups. In other words, the various Enuani communities have a varied history of origin and migration and are not all of the same ethnic stock as often attributed to them. From variegated and diverse ancestries, existential consciousness naturally dawned on them. So, collectively, they became the Enuani.

The Ibusa, Isheagu, and Ewulu are examples of Igbo communities in Anioma. The Ebu, Oko Ogbele, Oko Amakom Oko Anala claim Igala while Ozanogo among others is a Benin settlement. Still, there are the Yoruba settlements of Ugbodu, Ukwunzu (once known as Eko Efun), Ogodor, and others. They migrated from the Ile-Ife axis to settle where they are found today.

The original settlers of the Ogwashi-Uku are the Ikelike (Benin) while the original settlers of Issele-Uku are the Nri (Igbo). Asaba is connected to the Igala in Kogi State by origin and Illah is a settlement with Igbo, Igala, and Benin migrants. The three Nigerian ethnic descent formed the Illah settlement natively called “Alaah.” According to the information posted on Wikipedia, Igbo descendants in Illah prominently includes Umuagwu and Ogbe-Orji. The Igala descendants are Ukpologwu and Ogbe-Olu while the Benin descendants are Ukwemege.

The Igbo are of Nri ethnic stock. The Igala foundation in Illah was led by Ogwu, an Igala Crown Prince who was not allowed to succeed his father as the Attah of Igala. Angered by the ugly situation, he went on exile, West of the Niger, and arriving at Omorka, he founded Ukpologwu in Illah. The Benin population in Illah was according to the oral tradition of the settlement, led by Edaiken, the Prince of Benin throne.

Edem, Utei, Nwabukwu, and Agwu sent appeals to Edaiken to help them conquer their enemies from across the River Niger, in their eastern boundary, who constantly terrorized them. Once he achieved the feat, he was given land to settle in Illah.

Asaba is one of the Enuani settlements with a well-preserved history of origin, giving details of the root of Nnebisi, one of the founders of the settlement. Diaba from Agbakoba Village of Nteje in Anambra State was impregnated by Onojobo, a Prince and trader from Igala from Kogi State. Diaba and Onojobo’s child became known as Nnebisi. Nnebisi the founder of Asaba is therefore an Igala descent with an Igbo mother. Once Nnebisi realized that he was facing maltreatment, he returned to the present Asaba site, carrying a pot of charm that dropped at today’s site of Cable Point.

Nnebisi christened all his children’s Igala names to retain his roots. His children bore Ujom, Onne, Umune, Ojife, and Iyagba. Some of his grandsons also bore Ugbomanta, Ajaji, and Onaji. These names are preserved in Asaba quarters and clans and still exist in that name today.

There was Ezeanyawu, a descendant of Ezechime, the migrant from Benin. His place in the foundation of Ahaba (Asaba) is also retained in the history of the settlement.

After a thorough study, based on oral traditions, collected and documented from the area over time, supplemented by archival sources and local histories written by the people of the area, E. N. Mordi & P. O. Opone, in their paper titled “Origins and Migrations of the Enuani People South Central Nigeria Reconsidered” concluded that the given the various strands of primary, secondary and tertiary movements which settled the Enuani area, wholesale attribution of their origin to one source or area is at variance with the reality on ground and with the evidence.

From their findings, “the evidence and reality on the ground point to mixed origins from Igboland east of the Niger, from already established settlements within or neighbouring Enuani area, from Benin, Igala and Yorubaland.”

Accordingly, “there is also evidence of population movements from the area to people in other areas, including Benin and Igboland east of the Niger.”

True to Mordi and Opone’s historical conclusion in their research work, the Enuani communities do not share the same ethnic origin and never laid claim to it in their legends. What has happened is that over time, having stayed together, the Enuani people built syncretic cultures that unified them, making them appear unique. This homogeneity of cultures became evident in their customs, beliefs, mode of interaction, naming ceremonies (ipaputa nwa), funeral ceremonies, and other rituals. The people went ahead to evolve the civilizations of Omuship, Multiple Eze system, and Akwa-Ocha cultural fabric, all unique to them. There are also delicacies such as Ujuju, ose–ani, uno-uku, and others, unique to them.

Asaba and Illah became ancestrally tied by their Igala populations the same way, Akwukwu-Igbo, and Ogwashi-Uku are ancestrally tied by Nri kinship. During the Ilo Ine Festival of Illah, it was customary for the Asagba of Asaba to be invited and on one occasion, the Late Col Joe ‘Hannibal’ Achuzia was among the delegates of attendees. Ajiji is well retained in the history and legend of Asaba and Illah. Ibusa and Ogwashi-Uku, on the one hand, are joined by Nri migratory factor. Ibusa and Issele-Uku, on the other hand, are linked by the Ogboli factor.

Asaba at a point shared closeness with Okpanam with whom she also shares the Igala population. Over time, Asaba, Ibusa, and Okpanam became more sisterly and culturally united, moving from political to economic and also social rebirth of life as they have remained today. Asaba, Ibusa, and Okpanam would evolve a similar political system of administration in Asagbaship, Obuzoship, and Ugoaniship respectively. Ibusa followed Asaba and Okpanam followed Ibusa.

In these three communities, the ‘ike elili ukwu’ ritual was also required for Omuship, elevating the occupier of the female traditional institution above her folks.

Ibusa is an Igbo community but her culture and dialect are today Enuani and there seems no difference among the three communities other than the names that the communities bear. In fact, Asaba, Ibusa, Okpanam, and Akwukwu-Igbo communities speak the same dialectic Enuani with unnoticeable tonal and homophonous differences.

Today, the people despite scattered origins, see themselves as Enuani, having sealed their sociocultural fate together.

Illustrate picture:
OFAAC online platform.

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