The Ancient Benins In Diaspora
(Aniocha And Oshimili People)
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Last Update (July 5, 2021)

The name Asaba is a corruption of the word Alzaba which customs says is the name of the wife of Nnebisi the eponymous founder of the people. Although Mr., Jull in his 1939 Intelligence Report on Asaba clan confirmed that Nnebisi (spelt by him as Nevisi) founded Asaba, yet he disagreed with the story of Ahaba being the wife of Nnebisi. According to Jull, Nnebisi married Ujom and their first son was called Aragba. “Hence the name ‘Aragba-Ujom’ which is the correct name of Asaba”. Generally speaking, the Asaba indigenes prefer the name Ahaba to the anglicised form “Asaba”.

The component people of Asaba according to history came from various areas each with separate historical backgrounds. Dr. Talbot in his book, Peoples of Southern Nigeria, said that there were waves of migrations into what appears to be now known as Asaba Division. Perhaps, this wave of migration took place in the last five hundred years which according to records would have been during the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great (1440-1473 A.D). This period falls within the time of the great expansion of the Benin Empire - an epoch-marking period of the warrior Obas of Benin. Pie area s characterised by cultures derived from various ethnic groups which have migrated there to from the people now commonly known as Western Ibo. Although places like, Oko, Ibusa, Ugbodu, Ashaina, Adonta, Ewulu, Isheagu,, Onicha-Ukwu, Ezi and Akwukwu may claim to have inhabitants of the same stock descending from the original founders, yet majority of these places have inhabitants “comprising about three to five different ethnic groups”. This fact is responsible for the different stories of the founding of the various villages and towns in the area. Put in a nutshell, it is said that migrations into the area were as follows:

Linguistic/Ethnic Origin
Clan or area where migrants settled

(¡)  From Benin

Idumuj, Ezechima, Nsukwa, Ashama

(¡¡) From Ishan

Part of Ebu

(iii) From Aboh


(iv) From Ibo-East

Ibusa, Ogwashi-Uku, IlIah

(v)  From Igalla

Asaba, IIlah/Ebu, Oko/Okwe

(vi) From Yoruba


Anioma delta state
Anioma traditional rulers

Mr. Woodhouse’s 1932 Intelligence Report on Nsukwa clan states that “There were three main phases in the ancient history of the villages under report. Firstly, the wave of migration eastwards chiefly into the Awka and Onitsha districts of the Onitsha Province, due to the expeditions sent out by the Oba under various war captains, in these particular instances, Igwebwalani and Izomo. Secondly, the return wave of immigration from the Niger banks and Onitsha Province into the hitherto uninhabited bush country of the are-a under report (this probably) extended much further afield hut cannot be ascertained as yet with any degree of accuracy) and thirdly, further expeditions sent out by the Oba to bring w subjection these newly settled inhabitants, resulting in the conquered territory, e.g. Ashama and creation of Obis in the subjugated villages.”


“This village group is the only one which can claim with some justification to trace its origin to be purely Bini. The story goes that long ago during one of the Bini expeditions sent against the peoples of Ogwashi and Igbuza, one of the Bini warriors, by name Ashama, saw war medicine fall into the bush in front of him. He took this to be a sign that he should settle at the spot and found a village. This was done, and the village, Ashama, named after the warrior was founded.

“Later on, so tradition relates, Ashama, whose other name was Nwokolo journeyed to Benin in company with other Obis of surrounding villages. On entering the Oba’s Palace, Obi Nwokolo first took the food and kola that were passed to them and, having sacrificed to the Oba’s jujus in the compound ate. On the appearance of the Oba, he asked who had broken the food and shared the kola nuts. He was told that the Obi of Ashama, Nwokolo, had done so. Thereupon, the Oba proclaimed him as the Senior Obi of all the Obis present and first in dignity. Unfortunately, tradition does not state which Obis were present, but it would appear that they all were. This is of course doubtful. In the Peoples of Southern Nigeria, Vol. III, page 593, Mr. Talbot bas another version of the story which is quoted as follows:

“In the neighbourhood of Ogwashi-Uku, ‘the Obi of the little town of Ashama (Arama) was “the first in dignity; be is said to have been “appointed such by the Oba of Benin, in consequence “of his willingness to accept as his share of the ‘feast the dirty pot which the food had been cooked “by the Oba”. The Ashamas themselves would neither admit nor wholly deny whether this latter version were correct or not. The point, however, is immaterial, what is correct and what is important is the fact that the Obi of Ashama is today recognized as the senior Obi of all the villages included in this report, and is recognized by having been appointed as such, by the Oba in olden days days.”

It is thought that the adoption of Ibo culture by these people who originally came from Benin and elsewhere was due to the fact that after having crossed the Niger and acquired the Ibo language and custom, the Benins were driven backwards to the “West of the Niger from where their forefathers originated”. But this theory is strongly disputed by Partridge in his lka Divisional Report According to him, he said: “A more feasible explanation of the inter-mixing of culture in this area (as elsewhere in the Midwest) is that the first settlers from Benin mixed and inter-married with people already in the area who had crossed the Niger from the east at an earlier date in search of fertile lands to cultivate and settle on. It seems likely that Benin settlers, being in most cases voluntary migrants or refugees, would have found themselves in a minority and hence in course of time they would understandably have absorbed much of the customs of the first Ibo inhabitants and also acquired their language. Some of their own traditions however were retained and the growth of these received re-enforcement over the years by subsequent waves of migrants from Benin. As the fortunes of Benin Empire waxed and waned so did the Benin influence in the area vary and it is true that historical accounts relate how this Empire at its zenith stretched from the Niger to Dahomey it nevertheless seems evident that in areas east of the Ossiomo River the power of Benin was probably never as secure or as constant as in other parts of the Empire”.

There are many reports written by various people about this area a good many appear to be contradictory. Thus, Talbot wrote that Asaba came from N’teje in Onitsha Area, while Mr. Ogbolu’s commentaries on the intelligence report on Asaba town said that “lkikike people were the first settlers on the land now known and called Asaba. They migrated from Benin” Yet, the Asagba of Asaba and his Councilors as reported by Partridge’s Report said: “Nnebisi is the founder of Asaba. His father was a Prince of the Attah of Igala in the Benue State. His mother Diaba was a native of Nteje in Onitsha Division of the East Central State of Nigeria”. Dr. Amaury Talbot in his book, People of Southern Nigeria, appears to have a related story to Chief (Dr.) J.U. Egharevba’s account of the settlement of Obbior. Chief Egharevba narrated that Ovio was a very rich man in Benin City during the Ogiso era. As stated by the story, Ovio was very rich, liberal and respected and a lover of peace and concord. Because of these qualities, the royal court hated him. Although Ovio did all he could to avoid confrontation with the monarchy yet he was falsely accused of impersonating the king. In the face of all these tribulations and to avoid unnecessary civil war, Ovio and his people (including his numerous slaves) migrated to other lands. We were told that Ovio finally settled in the area now known as Obior (Obbior) in Asaba Division from which it is commonly believed many of the towns and villages in the whole area were founded. Talbot on the other hand states that ‘Two families appear to have left Benin at this time, one of which settled at Agbor, while the other went on to Abbior, whence some continued to Onitsha Ugbo and others at later date to Onitsha Olona. Of the same Obbior family came also the ancestor’s of Ezi, Abankpa, Onitsha-Mili (on the east of the Niger) and Onitsha-Oko near Iselle. All these towns except Agbor acknowledge the paramountcy of Obbior”.

In spite of the varied accounts of the origin of the components of this area, their ethnic origins are really not in question. For the many who may now know, here are the stories of the various groups in the area:

(a) Idumuje, Ezechima and Nsukwa
The inhabitants of the group are reputed to have migrated from Benin. Some of them were soldiers who were settled there during the war years of Oba Ewuare the Great (1440-1473), Oba Ozolua (1483-1504), Oba Esigie (1504-1550), Oba Orhogbua (1550-1578). No doubt, the military activities of these Obas indicated that there was considerable migration during their reigns and there is no wonder that migration from various places like Igarra (or Igala), Yoruba area probably Ekiti area) and Onitsha was a matter of course in those turbulent days.

(b) Ogwashi-Uku, Ibusa, (Ubulu, Asaba and Okpanam
It is said that three of these places namely, Ogwashi-Uku, Ibusa and part of Asaba claim kinship with Nshi (Nri) and Isu in Awka province.  Obulu has its origin in Afor while Okpanam comes from Utchi both of which  are in the  Aboh area Atuma village ascribes its origin to migrants from Ibusa,  lseIIe-Uku, Odogiri on east of the Niger, Ute and Aboh.

(c) Idiani
This village, like the Ebu, speak in addition to Ibo dialect, a different dialect called Onukumi which is really the old Benin name Olukumi by which name, the Yorubas were known. This Idiani group traces its origin to the Yoruba. The people probably migrated from Idoani in Ekiti area. The River Niger provided an excellent transportation system which assisted in the early migration of people it is not known by many people that a considerable portion of the Yoruba area, such as Ado Ekiti, Ondo, Owo, Ijebu and Lagos were under the suzerainty of Benin during the l4th, l5th, l6th and even up to the 18th centuries. Within the limited knowledge so far, one can only say that the imperial Benin forces of the past must have fostered these migrations.

Finally, the story of this area is like that of so many people brought together under the super-imposing powers of the Benin Empire in the like manner the peoples of Nigeria were brought together under Imperial Britain. Thus, these off-shoots of Benin chieftaincy system which are found in all these areas form their ancestral heritage which they continue to cherish till the present day.

Anioma People
Anioma People

This area which was formerly known as Aboh Division is made up of many clans. For purpose of administration, the area was divided into two District Council areas namely:

(a) Ndosimili District Council Area - Consisting the following clans:

(1) Abarra
(12) Ndoni

(2) Aboh

(13) Obikwele

(3) Adiai

(14) Okpai

(4) Afor

(15) Onogbokor

(5) Akarai Eti

(16) Omiabo

(6) Isiyi

(17) Onya

(7) Ase

(18) Ossissa

(8) Ashaka

(19) Umuolu

(9) Ibedeni

(20) Uthi

(10) Ivede

(21) Ushie

(11) Ighiku

(22) Utuoku

(b) Ukuani District Council Area Consists of the following clans:

(1) Abedei

(09) Onicha

(2) Abbi

(10) Ogume

(3) Akoku

(11) Umuebu

(4) Amai

(12) Umukwata

(5) Emu

(13) Umutu

(6) Eziokpor

(14) Utagba-Ogbe

(7) Ezionum

(15) Utagba-Una

(8) Obiaruku


The origin of the names Ndosimi and Ukuani are said to be:

(¡) Ndosimili (Headquarters Ashaka) is derived from the word Ndi-Osimili meaning “people who live near the river (“Ndi” means people and Osimili means “river”).

(¡¡) Ukuani (Headquarters - Amai) derived its name from Uku -Ani meaning “people who walk on land”; (Uku means. foot and Ani means land).

The various clans constituting the area have their historical origins dating far into the l4th, and l5th centuries. The Aboh people came from Benin during the great military escapades of the warrior Obas. Although some of these clans have their historical origins with the eastern Ibo, yet others are closely associated with Isoko and Urhobo who in themselves trace their historical origins to Benin. To understand the historical antecedents of the people, it is better to draw attention to both written and oral accounts of the various clans of the area. Where there are similarities in historical origins, it may be easy to draw any conclusions as to how the common customs came to be what they are now! The most documented place in the area is Aboh and because of its strategic position in the area, one is tempted to focus attention on its historical origin, hoping at best, that by so doing other historical facts of the entire area might be revealed.

According to early Intelligence Reports by Mr. Williams (District Officer) in 1930, the following accounts of Aboh speak for themselves:

"The story of the founding of the five clans is that owing to the crowded state of Benin five sons of the Oba Ozenwe with their followers left Benin under the leadership of Essuma. They travelled East and when they reached the present site of Ossissa, now in the Asaba Division of the Benin Province Ossumirri stopped and founded the village of Ossissa. The remainder then proceeded south as far as the hamlet of Obodigbo where they met a former emigrant from Benin named Ezzekpitchi and they settled close to Obodigbo and founded the village which is today the Effoh clan. The Test of the contingent continued south and at Ashaka Essuma and his followers stopped while Oputa turned west and founded Usoro from which Urhie was founded later. Usoro and Urhie are now in the Ase sub-district of Warri District and speak the Isoko language and have adopted many of Isoko customs. In consequence they now have no relations with the other Aboh clans and are far more akin to their neighbours with whom they have intermarried. From Ashaka Essuma continued his journey with the remainder of his followers until he reached the Niger up which he processed until he met the people of Akrai who then occupied the present site of Aboh. He settled down beside the people of Akrai but after a time differences arose between them and it was agreed to hold a meeting to which Essuma’s people and the Akrai people should come unarmed. The people of Akrai adhered to the agreement but the Abohs came with matchets concealed in their clothing. Speeches were made by the spokesmen of the two sides and then, at a given signal, the Abohs drew their matchets and attacked-the Akrais. There was very heavy slaughter and the Akrais fled. Two quarters went up to the Niger and founded the present Akrai Ogiddi and Akrai Attani in the Onitsha Division. The Obago and Ogboso quarters fled to Ogume and Abeddi respectively. The Igbwetti and Etti quarters fled to the bush and later returned and humbled themselves before the Obi who then allowed them to settle on the present sites of Akrai Aboh and Akrai Ettí. In return for being allowed to settle there they were made to serve as hunters to the Obi and supply him with meat when he required it. This is the story as told by the people of Aboh and the people of Akrai Aboh agree with it up to the point of their return and settlement at their present site. They alleged that they returned there without consulting the Obi, that they were never under the Obi and that to this day they own all the land. They have recently made this claim in the Kwale Native Appeal Court through their village head, the Oggene”.

On the other hand, Partridge further referred to Hubbard’s accounts (pp. 198-201) as follows:

"For a long period of time there was living near Benin a people whom we may call Onitsha. They regarded themselves as Bini and spoke the Benin language, though they are believed by some to have been descendants of people who came to Benin from Aro-Chuku as agents of the “Long Ju-ju” and who never returned. During the reign of the Oba Esigie, 1504-1550, who was one of the great Obas of Benin, it happened that the Onitsha found a woman gathering sticks in one of their plantations. As they had previously forbidden this to be done, they seized the woman and flogged her. Unfortunately for them this woman proved to be no less a person than the Oba’s mother. Esigie was greatly incensed when he learnt of the way his mother had been treated, and summoned the Iyasere of Benin, who happened to be his half-brother, a man called Gbunwara, and ordered him to raise an army and avenge the insult. Gbunwara did so, invaded the land of Onitsha and after two days fighting conquered them. Rather than be enslaved, the Onitsha fled from Benin. They escaped eastwards into the land of aborigines, the Ibo, and intermarried with them and acquired the Ibo language. They founded various villages, Onitsha-Olona, Onitsha-Mili, or Onitsha-Ezechima now known merely as Onitsha, situated on the east bank of the river. At this time the non-river Ijaw were in full command of the Niger, it was therefore a great feat on Ezechima’s part to cross the river at all, but having crossed it he dared not found his town on the river bank, but did so a mile or two inland. His town with the waterside town attached to it has now become one of the most important towns on the Niger.

Anioma traditional rulers

"Another section of the Onitsha, instead of crossing the Niger with Ezechima, struck southwards following more or less the course of the ASE River and its tributaries; they were led by a man called Ogwezi who had the title “Obi”. The Obi Ogwezi led his people through the jungle not knowing exactly where they were going; they pushed on southwards however, and eventually reached Aboh, where Ogwezi founded his kingdom; he had a son who succeeded him called Ezonuwe who is the ancestor of the present Obi.

"These people who we may call Aboh had remarkable adventures on their journey southward. Their numbers dwindled as they travelled, as families decided to settle at various points on their journey. Thus were founded Obetim by Etim-Uku, Usisa by Osumili-Uku, Asiaka (Ashaka) by Ozoma-Uku.
“In the course of their journey, Ogwezi and his people came to a certain river but had no canoe to cross over it. Seeing that some of the people who lived there, the Ewelie, had canoes, Ogwezi asked them to ferry himself and his people to the other side. To this, the Ewelie agreed. As it was apparently impossible to land immediately on the opposite side, the Ewelie said they would have to take them further down the river, round a bend, in order to reach a good landing place. Suspecting nothing Ogwezi agreed to this, and the first canoe-full was taken away. When round the bend of the river and out of sight, the Ewelie upset the canoe and the Aboh drowned as they could not swim, and the current took their bodies away.

"The Ewelie then returned and took the next canoe-load, who suffered the same fate. This happened three or four times; then Ogwezi perceiving that there were no signs of life from the other bank, began to suspect foul play. He therefore, unnoticed by the Ewelie, gave a horn to a man in the next canoe-load and told him to blow it when landed. However as they were drowned also, Ogwezi heard no sound and began to be alarmed. He therefore told three of his lieutenants, warriors called Izomo, lyesele and Odogu to travel in the next canoe load, as they were armed with swords, the Ewelie landed them safely. They found no-one there, and so ordered the Ewelie to take them back again. Upon their arrival they reported the matter to Ogwezi; whilst they were doing so, all the Ewelie entered their canoes and fled down the river.

"Ogwezi realised that they were quite helpless; however one man took a pole, and walking into the river tested to see whether it was deep or shallow. He carefully felt his way across, and from the other bank signaled to the rest to follow. Thus all of them were able to get safely across. Ogwezi then cried out “The manatees have been kinder to us than fellow-men, from henceforth let none of us ever kill or hurt a manatee”. This has remained a law with the Abo ever since.

"Izome, who was also called Igabo, asked Ogwezi if he might avenge the death of their comrades. Upon obtaining permission he went ahead to the carne to the nearest Ewelie village, called Ugbene. Arrived there, the Ewelie suddenly attacked him; he was almost captured, but managed to hold them off till the rest of Aboh arrived. When they reached Ugbene, they saw Igabo holding the Ewelie at bay single-handed. They at once went to his rescue, fought a furious battle, and conquered all the Ewelie except those who escaped into the jungle and the Aboh destroyed their town. After a few days travel, Ogwezi left some of his people behind to found a town called Amai, in order to act as a rear-guard and to see that the Ewelie gave no further troubles.

“Thence the Aboh came to their final destination on the west bank of the Niger, and formed the town and later the kingdom of Aboh. We would suggest early in the 17th century as the date of the founding of Aboh. On arrival they found another clan there called Akra, with whom they made an agreement and lived together peaceably for a long time. With their help Ogwezi and his successors established their rule over neighbouring tribes and laid the foundations of the kingdom.

"After many years, perhaps late in the l8th century the Obi began to feel jealous of the Akra, who had been his and his forefathers’ efficient helpers for so long. He therefore thought out a plan to rid himself of them. With this end in view, he summoned a conference of his own people to which he invited the Akra. When they were assembled, the Aboh acting on secret orders from the Obi attacked the Akra; they being quite unprepared for this were seized with panic and fled for their lives. Eventually they migrated to different parts, some going to Akra-Atani and Akra-Ogidi, others were allowed by the Obi to settle nearby, and so formed the villages of Akra-ki and Akra-Utere. This, however, was only agreed to, provided they would recognise the Obi and his successors as their overlords; they had therefore as a sign of his over-lordship, every time they killed an elephant, water-buffalo, hippopotamus or other large animal, to send him the best part.”

Partridge’s remarks on these two accounts stated that the main difference is that while Hubbard says it was Obi Ogwezi who led the expedition, Williams says it was Essumei-Uku. On the other hand, Partridge noted that it was Hubbard’s account which made reference to the Ewelie episode.

According to traditional accepted account, Ogwezi had four sons who founded the four quarters (ebo) in Aboh. They were Ojigbali, Ogwezi, Ossai and Ozegbe. It is said that their descendants are the Umudei who were joined by later emigrants principally comprised of liberated slaves now absorbed and known as Ndichie. However, it is said that on the demise of Ogwezi, the “Obiship did not pass on to his eldest son but became open to competition to his descendant, the Umudeis.

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