Western igbo land was divided into three cultural districts, Anioma or Asaba, IKA or agbor and ukwuani or kwale and the residents of each of these district's resisted British rule separately, confirming the assertion that one of the weaknesses of Africa resistance movement's derived from their inability to forge a wider coalition against the European invaders. Although this write up is concerned primarily with the Ekumeku movement, it is necessary to devote some discussion to the resistance of the IKA and Ukwuani in order to create a larger context for certain feat3of British colonialism and the Western igbo (Anioma) responses to them.
Two such features were British administrative irresponsibility and insensitivity, and the excessive use of force labor, which sparked off violent armed uprisings.
Clearly, the owa war was not an extension of the Ekumeku wars the former was neither planned nor joined by members of the Ekumeku. All available evidence points to the fact that the owa uprising was precipitated by the desire of the ika people to curb the excesses of the British colonial agent, expecially those of S.O. Crewe-read, who Compelled them to give free labor on road works, and flogged chiefs, elders, and youths, asked for free food, and allowed Benin chiefs to override owa decisions.
Another characteristic common to the Ika and Ukwuani risings was the fact that neither the Christian missionaries nor British traders played any part in provoking the armed conflicts. British administrative high-handedness, together with excessive demand for forced labor, were clearly overwhelming causes of discontent. It is important to note that unlike the people of Asaba, the ika and the ukwuani were not into early contract with the British, since their homelands were further removed from the Niger River. They were therefore spared the agitation British imperial policies has caused elsewhere, but by early twentieth century colonial government officials began to enforce the crown's authority with some earnestness.
As in other district's that had felt Britain's Iron hand, unrest led to rebellion: the iks resisted once (1906) and the kwale twice (1905 and 1914), and like the Ekumeku uprisings, these clashes, while not inspired by religious beliefs or charismatic figures, were. Nevertheless strong and widespread.
THE OWA WAR: IKA RESISTANCE TO BRITISH RULE
The ika uprising could be better described as a protest against fairly specific grievances : the great demands for compulsory labor to which ika people were subjected, the indiscriminate flogging of traditional chief's by District officers, and the abuse of the authority given by the government to certain Benin City chief resident in the ika District.
The ika were the most warlike of the Western igbo speaking people, and for centuries they had acted as a bulwark against the expansion of Benin rule into Western igbo land (Anioma) from the fifteen century to the last decade of the nineteenth century, ika land had been the scene of conflicts between Benin and the wester igbo people as a result of the ambition of the rulers (or obas) of Benin to expand their empire eastward.
While many Western igbo groups. Like the Ezechima clan, grew weary of the intimidation, packed their belongings, and fled East. The ika remained behind, sometimes revolting against Benin and at other times living uneasily under domination.
With the defeat of Benin empire by the British in 1897 the ika people might have hoped finally to consolidate their independence, but its was futile hope. British colonial officials, partly through an inflated conception of the extent of the Benin kingdom committed a political blunder. They imposed the representatives or nominees of the oba of Benin as the authority over the ika people of agbor, umunede, owa and ute okpu. Worse yet, sir Ralph Moor, the High commissioner, fixed a small tribute tax which the ika villages were supposed to pay to those chiefs for their services. To the ika people the decision by Britain to allow Benin chiefs to overrule their decision rendered nugatory their age-long struggle against Benin. It is therefore not surprising that from the days when Moor became the principal colonial agent in the area. The ika people registered their protest against the imposition of both British officials and Benin chiefs.
In 1902 the district commissioner of Benin was fired at while passing through agbor, in same year, chief aguobasimi son of ovonramwen, the exiled King of Benin resigned his appointment as the paramount chief of agbor being frightened to go near the place,, following this resignation another Benin chief was appointed and a military presence was established thereto enforce his appointment.
While the ika chafed under the yoke of Benin chiefs they were also made to suffer a number of humiliations at the hands of several British colonial administrators. Most of the labor used for road construction in the agbor District was forced on some of the occasion a village had to send as many as 200 men, women, children at a time to work on the road. J. Watt District commissioner of agbor in 1906, reported that it was uncommon to find two thousand peasants at work for considerable periods. He also noted also that pressure was put upon the chiefs to supply labor and as a young man of owa told him the youths often said (this is a bad work) that our father's make us do.. It is little wonder then that by 1904 owa and a number of towns in the agbor district had begun to protest British rule. First they refused to provide the British agents with the usual free food and in due course they fled to avoid conscription.
Of all the officials who served in the agbor District S.O Crewe-Read the district commissioner of agbor during 1904-10 1906 was the most dreaded.
Will be posting part two of this article on my next post.