THE ISOKO PEOPLE OF THE LOWER NIGER
By Hon. Chief Clement O. Akugha
The Isokos are a unique and delightful people, a distinct ethnic group made of seventeen (17) clans with a total of about 500,000 people. Isoko occupies a space of land south east of Delta State of Nigeria; bounded by Kwale to the North, Urhobos to the West, Ndosimili/Aboh to the East; and the Ijaws to the South. The Isokos are a peaceful people as there are no records or history of conflicts or wars between them and their neighbors in the past.
Their occupation is farming, trading fishing and teaching. They thirst for education and they are progressing in this area. It is a happy note that today Isokos can be found in most of the professions in Nigeria, e.g. Law, Medicine, Engineering, Accounting, Education, Architecture, Survey, Estate Management, Journalism, Teaching, Business Administration, and general business, to name a few. No doubt, if the trend continues it will have a salutary effect on the development of Isoko in no distant future.
The seventeen clans in Isoko are:
1. AVIARA 2. ELLU 3. EMEDE 4. EMEVOR 5. ENWE/OKPOLO 6. EROWHA/UMEH 7. IGBIDE 8. IRRI 9. IYEDE 10. OFAGBE 11. OLEH 12. OLOMORO 13. OKPE 14. OWHE 15. OYEDE 16. OZORO
MIGRATION FROM BENIN KINGDOM
Oral history has it that the first group of Isoko ancestors migrated from Benin kingdom in about 1600 AD at the same time as the ancestors of Aboh. The ancestors in this first group were EROWHA (The Senior), UZERE, and OKPE. Isoko oral history also told that the second group led by ancestors of IYEDE left Benin about 1650-1700 AD during the reign of Oba Ozolua, the Oba of Benin. After, a short while the ancestors of Ughelli, Ogor and Agbarha-Otor (3 brothers) in Ughelli North local government area followed the trail of IYEDE ancestors and settled in their present sites.
Between 1600-1700 AD there were many migrations from Benin Kingdom to many parts of the present Edo and Delta states as a result of incessant internecine wars coupled with the unbridled wickedness of the princes of Benin Kingdom.
There were further migrations by some of the first and second groups of migrants to other areas and in some cases their children moved from their parents’ settlements to settle in virgin lands.
The ancestors of Effurun-Otor in Ughelli local government area, LGA, came from ERHOWA in Isoko South LGA whilst Effurun in Uvwie clan migrated from Effurun-Otor. Ekpan and Ugborikoko towns moved from Effurun to settle in their present sites.
Irri came from UZERE whilst Oleh and Agbon clan in Ethiope East LGA migrated from Irri. Agbon consists of Kokori, Okpara, (Inland & Waterside), and Eku towns.
The present Okpe Clan in Urhoboland i.e. in Okpe and Sapele LGAs migrated from OKPE in Isoko along with Ozoro. Ozoro settled in their present site whilst Okpe went further to Orerokpe their present settlement. Ofagbe clan came fro Okpe.
Emevor and Owhe clans migrated from IYEDE; and also Ibrede and Iyede-Ame in Ndokwa LGA are direct descendants of from IYEDE to settle in their present sites. Ellu clan, i.e. Ellu, Aradhe and Ovrode are descendants of Owhe. The ancestors of Aviara migrated from Benin and came to its present settlement through the river Niger. The only Isoko community that migrated from Urhoboland is Olomoro clan which descended from Olomu clan in Ughelli South LGA about 1750-1800 AD.
The ancestors of all the clans in Isoko migrated from Benin with the exception of Igbide, Okpolo/Enwe and Umeh in Isoko South LGA and Evwrheni, now in Ughelli South, which came from east of the river Niger, i.e. the present day Anambra, Bayelsa and Rivers States. They came through the river Niger to Isoko creek (a tributary of river Niger) near Patani, and advanced inland to settle in their present sites. Umeh ancestors came from Onya on the river Niger (opposite river Nun, a tributary of river Niger) and came through Isoko creek near Patani and advanced inward to settle on the banks of Isoko creek where they are at present. There was further movement of Owhawha ancestors from Igbide in Isoko South LGA to settle in Jeremi clan, Ughelli South LGA.
The re-migration of people from Isoko to Urhoboland was due to insufficient choice of land for settlement and also due to constant flooding during rainy season and also due to river Niger overflowing its banks.
Before the advent of the British to the Niger Delta the communities in Isoko were frequently engaged in conflicts between and amongst themselves owing to disagreements resulting from ownership of land and struggle for crude power to have dominion over others. The salutary point however, was that wisdom prevailed in the long run, and as a result the leaders initiated and entered into covenants between themselves to ensure sustainable peace. Some of the covenants are still in existence today and they are respected by the communities that covenanted as they were respected in those days. For example, the covenant between Erhowa, Iyede and Aviara is highly respected and feared. It promotes peace and understanding among the people of these communities; no evil or harm is done to each other under any circumstances. The one between Igbide and Oyede is also highly respected.
THE CREATION OF ISOKO DISTRICT COUNCIL
In 1951, the Richards Constitution came into operation in Nigeria. The Western Region Delimitation Commission created two constituencies from Eastern Urhobo Native Authority, NA, and elections to the Western House of Assembly were conducted by Electoral College system on individual or personal basis, although political parties were behind the candidates. Chief James Ekpre Otobo from Uzere for Isoko; Chief Mowarin for the other side of Eastern Urhobo NA. They both contested and won their elections to the Western House of Assembly, Ibadan. Chief James Otobo for NCNC and Chief Mowarin for Action Group.
At the 1954 general elections, Chief James Otobo again contested, this time under the platform of NCNC party and won and was returned to the Western House of Assembly. In 1957 Isoko was given a modicum of independence by the creation of Isoko District Council from Eastern Urhobo NA. Chief James Otobo influenced the creation during his tenure as a member representing Isoko at the Western House of Assembly, Ibadan.