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Mbaise is a regional area located in Owerri Zonal Area of Imo State, southeastern Nigeria. Set in the heart of Igboland, it includes several towns and cities. The name "Mbaise" was derived from five clans: Agbaja, Ahiara, Ekwereazu, Ezi na Ihite and Oke Uvuru. The area of Mbaise (the three Local Government Areas) are about 404 km²; Aboh-Mbaise (185 km²), Ahiazu Mbaise (111 km²), Ezinihitte Mbaise (108 km²).
Mbaise is an amalgam of indigenous, autochthonous clans, connected by intermarriage, and situated in approximate area the heartland of Igboland. It occupies an area of 404 square kilometers. The quiddity of Mbaise is that this homogenous group of more than 1000 persons per square kilometer is the most densely populated area in West Africa. The population of Mbaise as at 2006 was estimated to be 611,204 people (Agulanna, 2008).
Until the advent of European adventurers into Nigeria, the main source of income in Mbaise was subsistent agriculture. In Igboland, no centralized political system existed. The system of government depended largely on kinship relations and shared custom. The village group was the highest level of socio-political organization with the “Amala” exercising all power (Njoku 2003). The weekly gathering of the male family members around the fresh palm wine keg (“awuru-awu” or “manya-orie”) constituted the forum for discussing matters. Recently, the “Aladinma” of the autonomous community exercise judicial, legislative, administrative and executive powers and functions. Typically, life at the pre-colonial time is better understood by reading “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe.
The Aro Expeditionary Force (British) moved through Owerri and Mbaise in 1902. When the British Colonial Administration was introduced in the Southern Protectorate of Nigeria, the government established a native court at Nkwogwu Nguru in 1905 and built a residence for the Whiteman there. Dr. Rogers Stewart who was trespassing Mbaise got killed and in 1906, the “Ahiara Punitive Expedition” led by Captains Brian Douglas and Harold Hastings started the reprisal punitive massacre of people in the area. In 1927, the Colonial Government introduced taxation using warrant chiefs and court messengers to collect the taxes. These colonial agents became corrupt and used taxes as tools of oppression and suppression. When the taxes were increased in 1929, it triggered the Women Uprising which resulted in the destruction of the native court at Nkwogwu and the sacking of the Whiteman's residence. Subsequently, other courts were established at Itu for Ezinihitte; Afor Enyiogugu for Agbaja; Obohia for Ekwerazu; Orie-Ahiara for Ahiara; and Uvuru for Oke-Uvuru.
On June 12, 1941, Mbaise became a federated unit of five clans, namely, Agbaja (Nguru, Okwuato, Enyiogugu, Obiangwu, and Umuohiagu), Ekwerazu, Ahiara, Ezinihitte, and Oke-Uvuru. A common treasury was opened in Enyiogugu in 1942 and it was later transferred to Aboh in 1948. Obiangwu and Umuohiagu which were constituent parts of Agbaja pulled out in 1957 and joined Ngor Okpala. Unfortunately Mbaise was currently reduced to three local governments, namely Ahiazu (result of a merger of Ahiara and Ekwerazu), Aboh-Mbaise (carving out a part of Ezinihitte West and added to Agbaja), and Ezinihitte.
Between 1955 and 1958, Mbaise County Council under the Chairmanship of Honorable N. D. Ukah initiated two landmark development projects namely Mbaise Secondary School and Mbaise Joint Hospital (now General Hospital) both in Aboh. In 1954, Dr. Aaron Ogbonna who studied abroad became the first qualified medical doctor, returned home, and established the first private hospital in Mbaise in 1956. Prior to this time, any sick person who needed western medical attention either went to Holy Rosary Hospital, Emekuku Owerri or Methodist Hospital, Amachara in Umuahia.
Mbaise people have always been very active in Nigerian politics. The sons and daughters have rendered services as Federal Ministers, State Commissioners, a Governor, Governorship candidates, a Federal Vice-Presidential candidate, and even a Presidential candidate. In 1946, long before Independence of Nigeria, Mr. Jamike Iwunna, who was credited for suggesting the name “Mbaise”, led an entourage of the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to Mbaise before the 1947 London Constitutional Conference. Mbaise has produced four Federal Government Ministers in the persons of Dr. Sylvester Ugoh (PhD Harvard Economic), Chief I.D Nwoga (Oxford), Professor Fabian. N. C. Osuji (PhD Ibadan), and Mrs. Chinwe Obaji. Several sons and daughters have served as honorable commissioners in Imo State governments. Dr. Sylvester Ugoh was selected as Vice-Presidential Candidate while Prof F. N. C. Osuji and Dr. Alex Obi vied as the governorship candidates of Imo State, and currently Dr. (Mrs.) Ada Okwuonu is the Deputy Governor. Chief Chinedu Ezebuiro vied for the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the defunct Social Democratic Party. Air Commodore Luke Ochulor (Rtd.) was the first Military Governor of Delta State. Chris Anyanwu is the first female senator in Imo State. Late Gaius Anoka, who initiated the annual Pan-Igbo Ahiajoku Lecture series, was the Nigerian High Commissioner to Sierra Leone.
Mbaise people place a high premium on education. The earliest missionary and educational activities commenced in Mbaise about 1915. Today, there are several Catholic Priests and Clergymen of the Anglican Communion serving worldwide. In 1934, an Irish nun established a convent in Ogbor Nguru that served Orlu, Ikeduru, Okigwe and Obowo. Mbaise daughters received early education at the Regina Caeli College, Ogbor Nguru and attracted suitors from all over the former Eastern Region of Nigeria and beyond. Despite the fact that western education arrived late relative to other parts of the country, Mbaise can boast of countless professors, PhDs, and different specialty graduates. These professionals are contributing to human development and progress all over the world. Some have served exceptionally well as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Governing council of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, as Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, the Madonna University, Okija, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the (Old) Imo State University, as Librarian FUTO, and as Registrar of the University of Nigeria Nsukka.
Mbaise indigenes have contributed in numerous areas of economic, educational, and social development of their country. Dr. Sylvester Ugoh was the first and only Governor of the Central Bank of the defunct Bank of Biafra. Dr. (Mrs.) Agatha Ndugbu (PhD, OON) a lawyer, statistician, and economist served as Imo State Head of Service. Famous legal luminaries Sir Mike Ahamba, Sir Bon Nwakamma, and Lucius Nwosu are among the first Senior Advocates of Nigeria in Imo State. Several others are serving as High Court Judges in Nigeria. The first lawyer from Mbaise Chief B. S. Nzenwa was called to the bar in 1959. From the military to the police forces, you will find at the top echelon, men and women from Mbaise in command positions.
During the 1967-1970 Nigeria – Biafra civil war, Mbaise played very strategic roles. A unit of the “Research and Production” (RAP) that improvised and manufactured various scarce commodities during the blockade was positioned in Mbaise. The Head of State of the breakaway Biafra, General Odumegwu Ojukwu launched the Ahiara Declaration, a blueprint for the political and economic development of the beleaguered Biafra at Ahiara. When Mbaise, where most Igbo people had taken refuge, was overrun by the Federal Armed Forces, the civil war came to an abrupt end.
Some cultural and traditional ceremonies have survived Western influence. The Ahianjoku festival dedicated to the yam deity lasted eight days. The New Yam Festival (Iriji Mbaise) introduced in 1946 is the Christianized modification of the Ahianjoku and it is fixed on 15 August every year. “Oji Ezinihitte” which celebrates the unity of the people of Ezinihitte clan rotates from the oldest community (Oboama na Umunama) to the youngest (Onicha). It is fixed on the first of January every year. Anecdotal evidence shows that the clan revers Oriukwu in Umunama, the market square where they believe the world was created. “Itu Aka” Nguru is also an annual event before the farming season which according to late Ambassador Gaius Anoka takes place to enable the people to better weather the new environment, new times and new challenges.
One unique feature of Mbaise is the high fecundity among their women called “eghu ukwu”. To qualify to be a member of this club, a woman must have a minimum of ten children. There is no maximum and some women were known to have given birth to as many as 15 children (Agulanna 2008). You can tell the gender of a newborn from the song of joy summoning “onye ji ego gba ngaa oo” meaning “whoever has money hurry down here” for a girl. The jubilant chant “onye ji egbe gba ngaa oo” meaning “whoever has gun hurry down here” heralds the birth of a boy.
The local salad called “ugba” prepared in Mbaise has a special appeal when sold in the cities because of its special taste and aroma. Similarly, the local raffia palm wine tapped in Mbaise is sold out before others because of its uniqueness. In a traditional setting, these two go together like bread and butter.
Mbaise culture is rich in music and dance appropriate for each social occasion. According to Professor Nwoga (1978), the peak of Mbaise cultural achievements is in its music and dance, in its song and literary skills. Every form of native Igbo dance ensemble is to be found in Mbaise; whether it has its base in the wood xylophone, hand piano, long drum, short drum, slit drum, pot, gong, bamboo horn or calabash horn. There are dances for childbirth, marriage, funerals of old men, funerals of old women, age group celebrations, communal labor, and other forms of group or social occasion (Nwoga 1978). “Agbacha ekurunwa” dance is performed at childbirth functions, while “Alija” and “Ogbongelenge” feature during marriage. “Eseike”, “Esse”, Ekwerikwe mgba” and “Nkwa Ike” are for death of old men. On the other hand, “Uko” and “Ekereavu” are exclusive for death of old women. The “Ekpe” and “Nkwa udu” feature during the “Iriji” Mbaise and “Itu Aka” Nguru. A special mention must be made about “Abigbo”. According to Professor Nwoga who took one of the “Abigbo” groups to the US in the 1980s, the music and dancers philosophize, criticize, admonish or praise in language expression which not only makes its point but also pleases while it hurts (Nwoga 1978). “Abigbo”, “Agborogwu” and “Ogbongelenge” are performed at the reception of dignitaries. Mbaise has produced many music legends but only few can be mentioned. Joseph Onyenegecha Iwuchukwu (popularly known as JONEZ) and Chief Chrisogonus Ezebuiro Obinna, aka (Dr. Sir Warrior) of Oriental Brothers International Band brought style and zeal into highlife music.
Many Mbaise sons and daughters are among the celebrities in drama, theatre and sports. Before the advent of Nollywood, Jegede, the husband of Akpeno in the popular play “Zebrudaya” made his mark. Today, there are brand names such as Kanayo O. Kanayo, Genevieve Nnaji, and Rita Dominic Nwaturuocha. Others are Okey Bakassi, Eucharia Anunobi, Ben Nwosu (aka Papa Andy), Chidi Chikere and Ms. Phina Peters and many more celebrity actors and actresses of Nigerian movies. In sports, the first ever female Olympic gold medalist in Nigeria is Chioma Ajunwa. Several sons and daughters have played in the national football team – the Green Eagles and the female football team – The Falcons.
Chief Damian Anyanwu is a prominent son of Mbaise and a renowned inventor in Nigeria. He is the founder of Damian Anyanwu Research Center inc (DARCI) in the United States. In 1979, he built the first private operated Radio station in Nigeria, known as Radio Mbaise Fame. His Radio transmitters were made from herbal granules stuffed in empty tins, wires and improvised local material. In 1983, he was invited by former Nigerian President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari who decorated Damien with a National award, for his outstanding contributions to Mankind. He has also been honored internationally – U.S. president, George W. Bush invited Damien to Washington D.C for a presidential dinner where he was honored by the President and his cabinet.
Culture and demographics
The people are Igbo. About 90% Catholics, while Protestants and other religions comprise the remaining amount.
The Nkwotile dance (rump dance) is common in Mbaise. This is the dance used for celebrating the annual yam festival and for propitiating the yam god Ajoku (Ahanjoku). This dance has been modified over the years to ekpe, mmanwu (masquerade), Ikoro, ekereavu, abigbo to mgba (wrestling). Other music and dances include: "A gbachaa E kuru Nwa", Nkwa omuru nwa, Alija, Edere, Egwu Onu Nwa, Ekwirikwe Mgba, Ese, Nkelenke, Nkwa Ike, Nkwa Udu, Ogbongelenge, Uko etc.
There are also numerous socio-political titles which feature prominently in Mbaise just like in other parts of Igboland. The titles include: Eze (king), Nze, Okenze, Ozo, Duru, Durunze, Ezeji (yam lord) and more.
Some famous Eze and chiefs in Mbaise include, late Ezeji and Eze Cletus Ogbonna Oparaoji- Eze Oha 1 of Amuzi Autonomous Community, Late Hon.Dr (Nze) J . E. Eburuche,Nze Udo 1 of Nguru Nweke, former house of rep member, Aboh Mbaise/Ngor Okpala Federal Constituency, Late Eze Barr. B.S.C. Nzenwa, Obizie lll of Obizi and "Opara Mbaise". Eze Ambrose Waturuocha Eze Udo IV of Nguru Nwekeoha, Late Eze Pius Oguledo Nwoga of Umuokirika, Ekwereazu, Late Eze Alphonsus A Ezeh (Nkwo of Onicha NweNkwo), Late Nze Desmond.I.O Iwuagwu (Avid Businessman, Politician, one-time Hon. Member, Federal House of Respresentative,Founder of Barnax Engineering Nig. Ltd.) Late Eze F. U. Anyanwu (Igwe Akajiaku of Ekwerazu and Odozi Obodo I of Mpam, founder FUASON Industries Ltd), Late Eze L.U Anyanwu (Obo 1 of Obohia Ancient Kingdom) Late Eze R. O. Ekenna (Obizie of Obizi), Late Eze Onyeahialam (Eze of Obodo Ujichi autonomous community in Ihenweorie),late chief sir Geoffrey Onukogu(former president general Ezinihitte Development Association EDA), Chief P. E Madu of Amuzi, late Professor (Chief) COE Onwuliri- former vice chancellor. Federal University of Technology Owerri, Chief Professor Emma Zaber Chigbu (Duru Mmuta na Amamihe di ire I of Ikwuato).Eze Donatus O. Eke (Eze of Akabor in Ihenweorie), Eze Cyril Akagbulem Unamka (Ntuala 1 of Amuzi), Eze Pius Chukwuemeka Unamka (Ntuala II of Amuzi), Eze Stephen Nwabueze Ugorji of Lorji Nwekeukwu, Late Eze Alex Nwokeodikwa Onugotu 1 of Okrika Nweke Remembering the notable warrant chiefs that governed the land during the colonial rule are Chief Waturuocha of Nguruchief Koko Njoku Ariaha of Obodo Ujichi, Eze Cyril Akagbulem Unamka of Amuzi, MBE, OBE (The first Paramount Ruler of Mbaise and Life President of Mbaise County Court), and others.
Nigeria is today a democratic nation, thanks to the untiring and courageous fight of our Mbaise son, Professor Edward Oparaoji, who as a US-based National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) chieftain and Chairman Nigerian Democratic Awareness Committee (NDAC) facilitated the transfer of power from the Nigerian military to elected civilians. Professor Oparaoji faced down Nigeria's worst dictator General Sani Abacha, at the height of his oppressive regime.
Mbaise also boasts of her sons and daughters who have attained enviable political heights and accomplishments during this new democratic dispensation; namely Hon Emeka Ihedioha -Deputy Speaker National Assembly, Prof. (Mrs) Viola Onwuliri - former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hon Prince David Mattson Nwaogwugwu (Ofo Imo n Asia) Nigerian Politician, Senator (Mrs) Chris Anyanwu, Engineer John Chukwu- Permanent secretary Federal Capital Territory, sentor Anoruo Chisom Emmanuel (CMMSF).
Other prominent individuals from Mbaise include Prof. Val Ekechukwu, Prof. Chinwe Obaji, Dr. Mrs. Ada Okwuonu, Sir Mike Ahamba, Sir Bon Nwakamma, Lucius Nwosu. Prominent ctors and actresses include Kanayo Kanayo, Eucharia Anunobi, Rita Dominic, Genevieve Nnaji, Okey Bakassi, Chidi Chikere, and Chioma Ajunwa.
The Mbaise people have festivals which attract both locals and foreign tourists - the Iwa Akwa, "Oji-Mbaise" (kolanut festival) and the wildly politicized "Iri-Ji-Mbaise" (the New Yam Festival). The "Iri Ji" ceremony is celebrated on August 15 every year.
Eyiri eyi Obohia which is celebrated at the second nkwo obohia market day in August every has remained a foremost cultural festival for Obohia people of Ahiazu Mbaise. It mark the beginning of a new calendar when Ezeala Ogugo eats new yam. Today Obohia is made up four autonomous communities and they still come together to celebrate this great cultural festival. The highlight is the special ugu mmanu soup only prepared for the ceremony and the ekpe dance at the nkwo obohia market square. Nguru has a rich cultural festival known as ITU AKA NGURU UBOMA AHIA ISE.
Notable Educational Institutions
- Mbaise Secondary School (MSS), Aboh Mbaise
- Ahiara Technical College (ATC), Mbaise
- Mbaise Girls High School, Onicha Mbaise.
- Mater Ecclesiae Junior Seminary Nguru, Aboh Mbaise
- Pater-noster Secondary School, Ekwerazu
- Oke Ovoro Secondary School, Uvuru-Oke Ovoro
- Nguru Secondary School, Aboh Mbaise
- Amuzi Community Secondary School, Amuzi, Ahiazu
- African Institute of Science and Technology
- Ogbor Girls Secondary School (Former Regina Caeli)
- Obizi High School (OHISCO), Obizi Mbaise.
- St. Augustine's Commercial School, Obizi Mbaise (founded 1958).
- AIST Polytechnic, Mbaise
- Hi-Technology University, Mbaise
- Ekwerazu Girls Secondary School, Ekwerazu
- Obohia Secondary Technical School Obohia Ahiazu Mbaise
- Christ The Savior Secondary School (CSSS)
- Comprehensive Secondary School Okrika Nweke
- Ahiazu Secondary School Ahiazu Mbaise ( ASSAM).
- Enyiogugu Secondary School Enyiogugu Mbaise
- Mbutu Secondary School Mbutu Mbaise
- Community Secondary School Lagwa, Previously Community Boys Secondary School, Lagwa
- Pope John Paul model secondary school ihitte
- Ezeagbogu secondary school
Before 1902, when the Aro expedition was carried out by the British Colonial powers to subdue the Aro slave trading oligarchy, Mbaise had not come under British rule. But by 1906, at the conclusion of the operation, the present day Mbaise consisting of the three Local Government Areas (Aboh, Ahiazu & Ezinihitte) was effectively brought together under British control while leaving in place a semblance of local authority.
To keep the whole clan under effective supervision, a native court was established at Obohia in 1907 but pressure from the likes of Eze Cyril Akagbulem Unamka of Amuzi and Chief Nwaturuocha of Nguru caused the transfer of the court to Nguru in 1909. In 1929, the Nguru court was destroyed as a result of the Igbo Women's War. Sectional courts were subsequently opened in Obohia, Itu, Ife and Enyiogogu in response to the increasingly popular "Home Rule" movement of the 1930s. The coming together of the people under a common political and administrative unit was secured in 1941. By 1945 councils had been formed based loosely on blocs of autonomous communities. The group councils and their number of autonomous communities recognized in Mbaise were: Ezinihitte - 16; Agbaja - 7; Oke-Ovoro - 4; Ekwerazu - 6 and Ahiara -6 (source: Ekechi 1989:179) A few more autonomous communities have been created in the past few years. It was from councils that the three local Governments were created. Ahiazu LGA was a merger of Ahiara and Ekwerazu councils and Aboh LGA was a merger of Oke-Ovoro and Agbaja councils. Ezinihitte remained by itself except for the secession of two small villages - Isu Obiangwu and Umuohiagu which joined Ngor-Okpala from the Agbaja area in Mbaise.
Mbaise's population today is in excess of 1 million people. Subsistence farming still accounts for a major part of the occupation. Yams, cassava, palm fruits, vegetables and fruits are the main agricultural products. However, since the end of the Biafra/ Nigerian civil war, the quest for improved standard of living, academic excellence and the crave for enterprise have helped an unprecedented boost in the fortunes of Ndi Mbaise. Mbaise boasts of legions of doctors, lawyers, public administrators, educators, artists, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs. Mbaise also has one of the highest concentrations of Catholic priest in the world. In addition, some famous ex-priests hail from the area, among the well-known ones include Eze Enyeribe Onuoha, the current traditional ruler of Umuchieze autonomous community in Ihitteaforukwu and Sylvester Eze Ebisike, a former management consultant and prolific writer and author of numerous books and publications. Ndi-Mbaise are avid travellers and adventurers. There is in progress a large flux to the Americas, Europe and Asia in search of new ideas to bring home. Mbaise is divided into three Local Government Areas, namely: Aboh-Mbaise, Ezinhitte Mbaise, and Ahiazu Mbaise. Aboh-Mbaise is home to Nkwogu, one of the first and prominent markets in Mbaise. Aboh-Mbaise is also the home of Nguru, a very prominent town in Mbaise. Ahiazu Mbaise is home to three prominent markets- Afor-Ogbe in Ahiara- harbouring the biggest albattoir in Mbaise land, Afor-Oru also in Ahiara Mbaise and Nkwoala Umuokrika which is the biggest Market and known point in Ekwerazu. While the most popular market, Nkwo Mbaise is located in Ezinihitte Mbaise.
Mbiase United Australia: http://www.mbaiseunitedaustria.com/short-history-of-mbaise/ 1. Agulanna, E. C. (2008). “The Mbaiseness of Mbaise” (2nd ed), Owerri: Career Publishers. 2. Njoku, C. A. C (2003). History and Culture of Mbaise from Earliest Times to AD 2001. Owerri: Celaju Nig. Publishers. 3. Nwoga, D. I. “Culture and Religion in Contemporary Mbaise”. In: T. U. Nwala (Ed) Mbaise in Contemporary Nigeria. New York: Gold & Maestro.
Recommended for further reading Njoku,G. (1978). “Mbais in Pre-colonial and Colonial Nigeria”. In: T. U. Nwala (Ed) Mbaise in Contemporary Nigeria. New York: Gold & Maestro.
Chinua Achebe. Things Fall Apart