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Origin of Afikpo (Ehugbo)

(Afikpo in Retrospect)

By Gabriel Mbey

April 3, 2009

[Excerpts from a pre-publication copy, presented here with editorial changes]

The geographical entity known as Ehugbo (Afikpo) is situated in the southern part of Ebonyi State, Nigeria. It is bounded to the north by the town of Akpoha in Amoha Local Government Area, to the south by Unwana and Edda in Ubeyi and Afikpo South Local Government Areas respectively, to the East by the Cross River and to the West by Amasiri in Amaoha Local Government Area. Afikpo spans an area approximately 164 square kilometers in size.

It should be noted that prior to this writing, there were no written accounts of the origin of Afikpo. This work is the first attempt by the author to document the origin of Afikpo in black and white. Therefore, the account given in this book is based purely on oral tradition as narrated by successive ancestors and elders. Hence it should not be a surprise to anyone that the origin of this ancient great town Afikpo is shrouded in many legends.


The first settlers in Afikpo, according to oral tradition, were the Egu and Nkalu. Let’s take them one after the other.

The Egu

It is officially known that the first human settlement in Afikpo dated from 5000 – 3000 BC (Later Stone Age) – Official Radio Carbon date of the first human settlement in Afikpo). This date came from the excavation carried out at Ezi Ukwu rock shelter by Professor D.D. Hattle in 1966. Unfortunately, this information did not indicate the race that settled in Afikpo then.

However, oral tradition establishes that Egu were the first settlers in Ehugbo, followed by the Nkalu. So whateve be the case, it is now known that the Egu inhabited Afikpo a very long time ago.

The Egu were very wonderful people. Their mode of life, their skill in handicraft and their creative ingenuity in every human endeavour ranked them the most talented among their contemporaries of the time. In fact, all the intricate artistry seen in the articles they produced (such as pots, masquerade faces and decorations associated with Ogo Cult, including Isiji Cult initiation) which form part of Afikpo Culture today, were fabricated and introduced to Afikpo by the Egu. As a matter of fact, typical Afikpo culture and tradition owe their origin to the Egu.

The people of Egu were hard working. They were also fearless, daring and adventurous. Whatever they made were very durable. Their daring and adventurous nature often induced them to surmount all odds in order to attain their desired goal. This probably accounts for their successful movement towards the northern part of Ehugbo to inhabit Orie Elu, Ogbugbu Ugwuegu up to Akpu-eba, in spite of the barrier posed by natural phenomena like rocky hills and forests infested with wild creatures.

The areas formerly inhabited by the Egu are now part of present day Ugwuegu arable lands.

Traceable Features of the Egu Areas

  1. Ebor Egu (Egu palm tree plantation). It is now Ugwuegu Elu Community Palm Tree Plantation.
  2. Ulo Ubi Orie Elu: (former Obi Ogo or Ulo Ogo Egu). Now modern farm hut which serves as shelters for farmers.
  3. Ogbugbu Umuruma (land where children were massacred). Now a farm land.
  4. Nsusu Ede Egu at Akpu-eba (holes carved on a ground stone along Akpu-eba farm land road used by the Egu for playing native draft, “ede”).

Occupation of the Egu

The main occupation of the Egus was farming. In addition to farming, the Egus were famed artists. Crafts-making was widely undertaken by men while women were engaged in pottery.

The men’s hobbies included:

  1. Carving: They carved masquerade masks of all kinds and sizes, e.g., Ihu lughulu, Okunkpo, Njenje, walking sticks, etc.
  2. Weaving: Egu men also wove bags of assorted kinds and sizes, including masquerade wears such as Ekpa-okpaa, Ekpa Okpaa Oworoworo (i.e. “Oke Ekpa”), Eghoro Uhu Njenje, etc. Some of their works can be found in some Obi Ogos in Afikpo, particularly at Ugwuegu.

As for the Egu women, they were among the best pot makers. Their pots were durable and beautiful. Typical is “Ite Ohe Omume” used by Omume Title taker to store “balls of melon” (ahu akpuru akpu) for distribution. There is a saying that, the Egu make the most beautiful and durable pots, but eat with broken earthen pots hence the saying in Ehugbo (Afikpo), “Egu nakpu ite eri ihe na mgbe ju”.

The Leader of the Egu

The leader of the Egu was a man known as Anuma Ugwu, who settled at the area now occupied by Izi Ukaka Amaha Amaizu. He was a peace loving man who cared much for the unity and progress of his people.

His people, the Egu, inhabited the area now occupied by Ugwu Egu Elu people, hence the whole area is known as “Ugwu Egu” i.e. great concentration of the Egu.


While the Egu inhabited the northern part of Ehugbo, another formidable group called Nkalu settled at the south. As there are not available records to determine the time of their settlement, it is not possible to say much about their origin and their way of life. However, it is believed that the Nkalu migrated from Akoi, including probably Ekuri, Erei, Agwugwuna (Akunakuna), etc. on the eastern part of Cross River State. They wandered around for some time until they crossed the Cross River and settled at the basin of the Cross River around present day Ehoma Lake (near Otu Eke) hundreds of years ago. From here they spread northwards and occupied the geographical areas of the present Enohia Nkalu, Nkpoghoro and Amaozara.

Numerically, Nkalu was greater than Egu but not as ingenious. The Nkalus were skilled farmers and Spartan warriors. It is said that Nkalu brought yam to Ehugbo. It is because of the notion that Nkalu brought yam to Ehugbo and the fact that their population was greater than that of Ehugbo (Igbo people) that there is a saying in Afikpo dialect: “Ji diri Igbo diri Nkalu ma nke Nkalu karia.”

Apart from farming, the Nkalus also undertook fishing and canoe building. Although they were great warriors, the Nkalu people were hospitable and easy going. Their mode of life included merry-making, particularly at New Yam Festivals. Their boisterous celebrations often attracted the attention and excitement of their neighbours (the Egu) who settled north-wards at the present Ugwuegu. There appeared to be mutual interaction between the two peoples that made it possible for the Nkalu to imbibe the Ogo Culture of “Isubu” initiation of Egu people. This was the state of affairs before the emergence of what we know geographically as Afikpo.

Igbo Ukwu and His Exploits

The origin of Ehugbo is wrapped in myth and mystery. No one is certain of the time the geographical entity called Afikpo came into existence. The most reliable account of the origin of Afikpo states that the founder was a man of Hebrew race who migrated from the east. It is believed that a great warrior called Igbo Ukwu and his followers set out from the east (Israel) in search of conquest and settlement. He got to North Africa from where he crossed to Nigeria and settled at Ikoyi, Lagos.

Later, Igbo Ukwu proceeded to Calabar from where he attacked and defeated the Ibibios but met with stiff opposition from a tribe known as the Akpa. Angered by the obstinacy of Akpa people, Igbo Ukwu waged war of attrition against them. He exterminated almost the entire tribe and rendered the land desolate. A few remnants of the Akpa people surrendered to Igbo, while others scattered to other places. Among those who surrendered was a man called Egwu Urochi.

Egwu Urochi was a powerful warrior and the greatest of the Akpa people. He and a few other captives were taken to Arochukwu by Igbo Ukwu. Because Egwu Urochi was a powerful warrior and had other sterling qualities, Igbo Ukwu adopted him as his son and made him the leader and commander of his army.

Aro Expedition

Aro, now known as Arochukwu is a community in Abia State of Nigeria. Unlike the Akpa people, Aro people are cool headed, humble, hospitable and peaceful. However, they are highly reserved and shrewd. They are so reserved and shrewd that it is difficult to extract information of vital importance from them except such which they consider will be beneficial to them. In fact, they are known to be the most cunning of the Igbo race. It is therefore not surprising that when Igbo Ukwu made an in-road into their territory, the Aros, conscious of the fate of the Ibibio and the Akpas at the hands of Igbo Ukwu, calmly surrendered and quickly ingratiated themselves with Igbo and accepted him as their leader and father. Present day Arochukwu people still address themselves as “Aro Oke Igbo” in recognition of their special relationship with Igbo dating centuries ago.

Igbo Ukwu settled at Aro and made it his base from where he made further expeditions to other places, including Afikpo. His sons were Ogbonnia Igbo Ukwu, Eseni Igbo and Okoro Igbo. The last two founded Ufu Eseni at Edda and Unwana communities respectively. Igbo Ukwu then set out for the Ehugbo expedition with Egwu Urochi as the leader of his forces.

Prior to Igbo Ukwu’s arrival, the geographical area known as Ehugbo was inhabited by three different tribes: the Egu, the Nkalu and the Ebri. The most dominant and prominent were the Egu and the Nkalu. The Ebri were very powerful warriors but were small in number and so insignificant that the other two overshadowed them, hence little is said about them, except that they were powerful warriors who were usually hired as mercenaries to help the people flush out their enemies.

Finally Igbo Ukwu and his people entered Ehugbo territory. In the expedition, Egwu Urochi subdued the Ebri at the place known as Uhu Ebri and then settled at Eke Mgbom. Later, they moved on in search of a better settlement. Soon, the boisterous merriment of the Nkalu attracted their attention and they moved towards the direction of the noise.

Some distance from the place of the noise, they settled at a place known as Oroghoro. From the survey he undertook, Igbo Ukwu discovered that the Nkalus live closer to him than the Egu who settled farther away. He was convinced that the two peoples settled in their respective places long before his arrival. In their arrant quest for conquest and acquisition of land, Igbo Ukwu and the commander of his forces, Egwu Urochi, decided to wage war against the Nkalu. Their plan was to take Nkalu first and thereafter, combine Nkalu forces with theirs to pursue Ego. Egwu Urochi therefore got his army ready for an attack on Nkalu.

Nkalu Encounter

It appeared as if providence provided an opportunity for Igbo and Egwu Urochi’s incursion, for it was during one of Nkalu’s merrymaking occasions that they struck. As must be expected, there was much hues and cries as the surprised Nkalus reacted with commotion. In the stampede that followed, many children and old people were crushed. The charged atmosphere made it difficult to detect in time what was happening because Nkalu was hit unawares. As the Nkalu people recovered from the initial shock of the attack, the men quickly organized themselves and joined other Nkalu forces to battle the invaders. A fierce battle ensued. With their numerical strength, Nkalu pushed Igbo forces out. This taught Nkalu the lesson of staying alert at all times, including festival occasions, was imperative.

In spite of the repelling of his forces, which sounded as a signal warning, Egwu Urochi still determined to accomplish his ambition of taking Nkalu. This time he sent a team to reconnoiter Nkalus military positions with a view to finding out their strengths and strategies. The report showed that Nkalu was so populous that to engage them in a face-to-face battle would be suicidal. In their inordinate ambition to take Nkalu by all means, Igbo’s forces resorted to gorilla warfare, which of course yielded no divided. Aware of the fact that he could not take Nkalu all by forces alone, Egwu Urochi left Nkalu and turned his attention to Egu.

Adventure into Egu Territory

With Egwu Urochi in command, Igbo forces re-organized the army and introduced new battle strategies. Egwu Uroch was determined not to repeat the mistakes made in the battle with Nkalu. His first plan was to study the Egu closely. He secretly posted intelligent officers to the bushes around the border of Egu. He instructed them to penetrate into the heart of Egu at a convenient time for spying without detection. They should find out everything about the Egu and report back to him. This was done with alacrity.

The following were the findings:

  1. The population was smaller than that of the Nkalu.
  2. The people were cool-headed and peaceful.
  3. They were neither aggressive nor war-mongering but very intelligent.
  4. The army was virile but not as numerous as the Nkalus.
  5. The people were very good in handicraft, arts and produce articles of great value.

The above findings ignited Igbo Ukwu’s curiosity and desire to take Egu in order to inherit their goodies.

The commander of Igbo Ukwu’s forces, Egwu Urochi, sent spies to Egu. One of such spies was a man called Esobi who attached himself to a family of an Egu man at Ugwuegu named Aja Ogbeyi, claiming to be the son of a lost member of that family. His story appeared so real that no one doubted him. With open arms Esobi was received into Aja Ogbeyi’s family ipso facto. He was given access to everything in the family; the type of freedom accorded a biological son.

Esobi was a highly talented fellow. His intelligence surpassed his chronological age. He always found solutions to intricate matters. Because of these attributes, he became a member of the ruling class in Egu. The power he wielded on account of his ingenuity and membership of the ruling class placed him on a pedestal where he exerted much influence over Egu people. His position enabled him to know the “ins and outs” of Egu, including the military. He revealed Egu’s strategies to his people, the Igbo. He disclosed Egu’s military strength, weaponry, tactics and strategies
strategies which would help Igbo forces gain advantage over Egu forces. He finally assured Igbo that he had devised a strategy that would undermine the efforts of the Egu during the invasion by Igbo Ukwu.

Roused by the foregoing disclosure, Egwu Urochi gathered momentum for attack on Egu. He intensified the training of his army in all military tactics. Like the Spartans, all male children of reasonable age received military training. When all military preparations were completed, Igbo Ukwu under Egwu Urochi sent a message across to Esobi informing him of the readiness of his troops for attack.

After getting the message, Esobi summoned the leaders of Egu and told them of the attack. Naturally, the whole land panicked. There was great tension every where. Efforts were made at once to avert the danger. Vigilante groups were mounted at strategic points to keep surveillance. New weapons were introduced and the soldiers received serious military training. With these preparations, Egu felt confident of success in the war. Its soldiers were determined to confront the invading forces and fight with unprecedented valour.

To be continued . . .

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