History of Cross River State Northern Senatorial District

History of Cross River State Northern Senatorial District

By Clarence Odey


The Northern Senatorial District of Cross River State is a part of the defunct Ogoja Province of Nigeria, and is even referred to as the Ogoja Senatorial Zone. The area currently comprises five local government areas including Ogoja, Yala, Obudu, Bekwarra and Obanliku under which are several tribes and languages. However, there is no significant difference in their origin, arts, culture, religion and world view. Though Cross River North epitomises cultural and linguistic plurality, they have cultural similarity due to geographical contiguity and they all belong to the Niger-Congo group of languages.

The notable ethnic groups in the Northern Senatorial District of Cross River State on the basis of LGA include:

Ogoja: Mbube, Ishibori and Ekajuk
Yala: Yala, Ukelle, Yache and Igede
Obudu: Bette, Utugwang, Alege, Ukpe and Ubang
Bekwarra: Bekwarra, Afrike
Obanliku: Bendi, Obanliku, Utanga and Bechere

The evolution of Northern Cross River State

The present-day Northern Senatorial District of Cross River State is a metamorphosis of the Old Ogoja Province established in 1903 during the colonial era. Ogoja remains one of the oldest Provinces in Nigeria and probably the only one yet to become a state. Under Ogoja were the Obubra District (Abi, Yakurr and Obubra), Ikom District (Boki, Etung and Ikom) as well as Abakaliki and Afikpo Districts, which constitute the present-day Ebonyi State. The political anatomy of Ogoja was altered in the 1950s with the creation of Abakaliki Province. This was at the height of the clamour for creation of Calabar Ogoja Rivers State (the COR State) out of the Eastern Region. However, this never materialise until 1967, when Gen. Yakubu Gowon split Nigeria from four regions to 12 states. Rivers was created while Calabar and Ogoja remained together as South Eastern State. This continued until 1976, when Brig. Murtala Mohammed created more states and changed the name of South Eastern State to Cross River State. In 1987, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida carved Akwa Ibom (a part of Calabar Province) out of Cross River while the remaining part of Calabar province and all of Ogoja remained in Cross River till date. With the local government reform of 1976, the Old Ogoja became a splinter of four LGAs – Obubra, Ikom, Obudu and Ogoja. While the Old Obubra and Ikom constitute the present Central Senatorial Districts of Cross River State, Ogoja and Obudu make up the North. In 1991 and 1996, Yala and Bekwarra were respectively carved out of Ogoja while Obanliku left Obudu in 1991 bringing to the current five local government areas in the North.

History of Cross River State Northern Senatorial District | History of Cross River State Northern Senatorial District | The Paradise

Occupation and major agricultural produce

The people of Northern Cross River are generally hardworking and enterprising. Laziness and idleness are abhorred. They are agrarian in nature. In fact the strength and honour of a man (most especially in Yala) is how large his yam barn is. Major crops and fruits grown in substantial quantity in the area include yam, cassava, rice, maize, guinea corn, potato, okra, oil palm, cashew, beniseed (sesame seed), groundnut, orange, mango and pears.

A good number of northern Cross Riverians are professionals, civil servants and traders.

Social life, culture and religion

The people of Northern Cross River are very sociable, highly accommodating and caring. They have elaborate marriage, child naming and other ceremonies. They have great attachment to family ties thus despise incestuous marriage. Palm wine is the chief traditional drink in the area. The new yam festival is one of the most important celebrations in the North. Every tribe has its own day. It usually celebrated in the months of August and September every year. The people rule themselves as autonomous communities. The throne rotates among families in the community. Justice and fairness govern native adjudication of cases brought to the palace. On the whole, the people are peace-loving as their traditional religion abhors man inhumanity to man. The various ethnic groups diligently served pantheons of god before the advent of Christian religion led by the Roman Catholic Mission in the early 20th century. Pentecostalism came in much later with the emergence of Assemblies of God Church.

Local government by local government analysis

1. Ogoja

The headquarters of Ogoja is Ogoja Town, which is basically Igoli. It occupies a total land area of 972 km². Based on the 2016 population projection by the National Population Commission, the population of Ogaja is 229,300. It is located between latitude 6°30’N of the equator and longitude 8°40’E of the Greenwich Meridian and bounded by Yala in the West, Bekwarra in the Southwest, Obudu in the East and Boki in the Southeast. The origin of the name Ogoja is traced to Yala people. It was a farm settlement for the earliest settlers of Yala people. Yala, being agrarian, found the land very fertile and then named it Ogboja meaning “fertile soil.’’ It was the colonialists who renamed it “Ogoja” for their pronunciation convenience. The Mbube, Ishibori, Ekajuk and Nkim/Nkum settled in the local government area at different times mainly within the 19th century. Major Mbube communities include Ekumtak, Egbe, Odajie, Idum, Nkim, Bansan, Benkpe and Aragban. The Mbube people are part of the sons of Agba. Ishibori (Ishiborr), which is the municipal tribe are the owners of Igoli, Abakpa, Umuriyah, Ikaptang and Ikariku while Ekajuk speaking people live in Bansara, Nwang, Ekpugrinya, Egbong and Ewinimba.

2. Yala

With headquarters in Okpoma, Yala is the biggest LGA in the North with two constituencies in the State House of Assembly. With a population of 282,700 people in 2016, Yala is the 2nd most populated LGA in Cross River State after Akpabuyo. Having a landmass of 1,739 km², it is the 3rd largest LGA after Akamkpa and Boki. Yala is located on Latitude 6°42’ north of the Equator and Longitude 8°36’ east of the Greenwich Meridian. Yala is bounded in the north by Benue State, in the south by Obubra and Ikom Local Government Areas, in the East by Ogoja and Bekwarra Local Government Areas and in the west by Ebonyi State. The local government area is named after its largest ethnic group, Yala, whose ancestry is traced to the Idoma nation of Benue State. The founder of Yala nation is Ochumode, who migrated in search of ‘greener pasture.’ Ochumode’s team wandered southward until they got to a place where a stream of salt was discovered. They decided to settle there and named the place ‘okpa oma’ meaning ‘salt stream’, which is now called Okpoma. It was from Okpoma that they spread to other parts such as Okuku, Ugaga, Imaje, Echumoga, Ijegu, Yahe, Ebo among other places. The traditional ruler of Yala is called Ogamode. It is worthy of note that some extract of Yala people migrated further south to Ikom and Obubra called Yala Nkum and Yala Obubra respectively. Other migrants from Idoma who settled within Yala are the Yache people now occupying Aliforkpa, Ijiegu, Uchu among other communities.

The second largest tribe in Yala is Ukelle, which speak Kukelle language. They and Igede constitute Yala 2 constituency. Major towns in Ukelle land are Wanikom, Wanikade, Wanihem, Ezekwe and Mfuma. A greater number of Igede people live in Oju and Obi local government areas of Benue State.

Yala is home to the famous Mary Knoll College, Okuku; Odaji Agbo Polytechnic, Okuku; Cross River State University of Technology, Okuku; Pope John Paul II Junior Seminary, Okpoma; Model College (now Government Secondary School), Okpoma and School of Health Technology, Okpoma among others.

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3. Obudu

Being one of the oldest Local Government Areas and with high rate of educational advancement, Obudu prides itself as a frontline LGA in Cross River State. Its headquarters is the town of Obudu. It has a landmass of 453km² and a population of 215,800. It is located on Latitude 6°40’ and Longitude 9°10’ and bounded in the north by Benue State, south by Boki Local Government Area, east by Obanliku, south by Boki and west by Ogoja and Bekwarra. Obudu is home to the clans of Bette, Obanlikwu, Bendi, Utugwang, Ukpe-Alege, Utanga-Becheve, Bekwarra and Mbube, who all lived as autonomous communities sharing kinship being the sons of Agba. The Obudu people speak five languages based on the number of tribes as listed earlier. In Ubang, men speak a different language from women though they understand each other. It is also assumed that God stepped His mighty feet on Ubang land as a gigantic footprint that no man could step is left indelible in the community till date. The Obudu people have an age long respect for traditional institution. The paramount of the LGA, Uti JD Agba is one of the longest serving traditional rulers in Nigeria. The people of Obudu are lovers of education. The number of professionals and teachers/lecturers and professors of Obudu extraction is a testament to this assertion. Obudu is home to the Federal College of Education among other educational institutions. Other major towns in the LGA are Ohong, Bebuagbong, Ipong.

4. Bekwarra

This is the northernmost LGA in Cross River State, located along the Ogoja-Katsina-Ala road. Its headquarters is Abuochiche. Bekwarra has a landmass of 306km² and a population of 141,000 in 2016 making it the smallest LGA in the North. Its coordinates are 6°41’N and 8°58’E. Its boundaries include Benue State in the north, Ogoja in the south, Obudu in the east and Yala in the west. The founder of Bekwarra is Odama Ofide. He surreptitiously left his Bette brother due to the impending conflict between two major factions in Obudu. The manner in which Odama and his kinsmen (Adie Ofide, an uncle, his younger brother, Atimina Bendi and Ugbong Oka) left their homeland is what attracted them to the name they have now. They were said to have “ebe kworro” meaning to “hurry away.” They found their present location and have been settled there since the 18th century. Bekwarra has a remarkable place in the political history of Nigeria. The first gunshot heralding the Nigeria civil war on 6th June, 1967 was shot at Gakem, the border between Southern and Northern Nigeria. The major towns in Bekwarra apart from Abuochiche and Gakem are Ukpah, Afrike, Ugboro. It is worthy of note that one of the oldest Assemblies of God Bible Colleges that has produced many ministers including a General Superintendent is located in Bekwarra.

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5. Obanliku

Obanliku is the last but not the least LGA in Northern Cross River State. Its headquarters is Sankwala. The population of Obanliku at the last count is 146,500 while its land area covers 1,057km². Obanliku is both an interstate and international boundary Local Government Area as it shares bother with Benue State in the north and Cameroon Republic in the West. It is bounded in the north by Kwande Local Government Area of Benue State, in the east by Cameroon Republic, south by Boki and west by Obudu. The founders of the LGA were part of the sons of Agba who fled Obudu in the heat of the crisis. It has four basic linguistic groups as listed earlier. Major towns in the area are Utanga, Bebi, Becheve and Bishiri. It is home to the famous Obudu Cattle Ranch Resort. It has a temperate climate because of the plateau surrounding it. It equally has forest reserves and several waterfalls. Obanliku is reputed for producing the highest number of Speakers of the Cross River State House of Assembly. It is also interesting to note that Dr Joseph Wayas, the first person to become Senate President the Federal Republic of Nigeria back to back hails from Obanliku Local Government Area of Cross River State.

Common names in Northern Cross River State

One of the defining features of the people of Northern Cross River is the name they bear. Almost all LGAs in the area bear Odey, Ogar and Oko, though these are commonest names in Yala such that virtually every household has an Odey. Other major names among Yala and Bekwarra people are Ogbeche, Adoga, Okwoche, Okache, Onah, Ogbaji, Ipuole, Omari, Agbo, Ogeyi, Ochuole, Aja, Aduma, Ulakom, Usibe, Ikade, Agabi, Akobi, Agbor, Odama, Akwaji, Iyaji. Very common among the people of Obudu, Bekwarra and Obanliku are Adie, Ushie, Olayi and Agba, Unimke, Unimna, Undie, Beshel, Ashiwel, Amanke, Akpanke and Ugbe. Popular names in Ogoja are Abua, Abuo, Obi, Bessong, Eworo, Egbeji and Opue.

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In the final analysis, while it would be agreed that several ethnic and linguistic entities make up the Northern Senatorial District of Cross River State, what unites the people far outnumbers that which distinguishes them. Furthermore, the people are traceable to two or three ancestors. Therefore, it is very convenient to refer to the people from this area as Ogoja people – as Ogoja remains the political, economic, educational and religious headquarters of the area.

About the author

Odey, Clarence Odey,
Social Science Education Department,
University of Calabar,
Calabar – Nigeria.
Phone: +2347060721477
Email: [email protected]

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