Author: Tom U. Okure. Ph.D
Ikot Ekpene Day is a celebration that takes place shortly after Christmas and is celebrated annually by all the town's inhabitants and original families that make up what is today called Ikot Ekpene or the Raffia City. In the mist of the celebration, and in common with most celebrations, we tend to sometimes forget why we are celebrating and the origins of the celebrations. It is therefore necessary to remind the younger generation of Ikot Ekpenians about the origins of this celebration and to put the record straight regarding this vital annual event. For background, Ikot Ekpene is located between latitudes 5° 10` and 5° 30` North and longitudes 7° 30` and 7° 45` East. The town lies on the North-Western flank of the Nigerian state called Akwa Ibom. It's unique position makes it one of the primary inland economic gateways into Akwa Ibom State. The town Ikot Ekpene bears its name from the village of Ikot Ekpene which originally was made up of ten families with a long and rich history. The village of Ikot Ekpene and the surrounding village of Ikot Obong Edong etc., served as the administrative center of the former British colonial government urban district council in 1914, Ikot Ekpene division in 1951, and Annang province in 1956.
Disharmony among the Village Family Groupings Comprising Ikot Ekpene Proper
In the early 1950’s there was not very much harmony among the various villages and the family groupings which made up what is today called Ikot Ekpene. Such disunity played into the hands of the colonial administrators that favored a method of ruling indigenous tribes called divide and rule. Essentially, British direct rule often used the strategy of "divide and rule" by which colonial administrators implemented governing policies that intentionally weakened indigenous power networks and institutions. One might suppose that this situation may have been at play in the the administration of Annang province of the late 1950’s. It is against this back ground that Ikot Ekpene day celebrations began.
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Late Hon. Udo.Udo Okure OBE[/caption]
Ikot Ekpene day celebrations did not just happen; it started because there was a need to arrest the disharmony among the villages and family groups which may have been purposefully fermented by the then British colonial administration in Ikot Ekpene. Research and interviews by this scholar indicates that the celebrations was started by the deliberate efforts one of our Annang martyrs by the name of Late Hon. Chief Udo Udo Okure who in the 1960’s served as a Public Service Commissioner in the former Eastern Nigerian Government. Chief Udo Udo Okure was executed shortly after the end of the Nigerian civil war while in Nigerian military detention. The mystery surrounding his detention and eventual murder while in military detention in June 1968 has not been resolved. Chief Udo Udo Okure was born about 1914 to Late Obong Okure Umoton and Nne Okure of Nto Abatekpe family all of Ikot Ekpene village, Ikot Ekpene Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State (then part of the former Old Calabar Provice of Eastern Nigeria). He was the third son in a line of more than six children of a traditional Annang polygamous family. Not much historical credit related to Annang socio economic development has been accorded to a number of Annang heroes such as late Chief Udo Udo Okure mainly because of the revisionist writings of self-serving authors and historical commentators. These revisionist writers attempt to undermine or revise the major heroic achievements, contributions and sacrifices of Annang past heroes in their writings, speeches and memorials revealing latent bias in favor of some present day politically favored Annang leaders .
Forging Unity of Purpose and Action
Shortly after returning to his hometown of Ikot Ekpene from the United Kingdom (UK) after completion of his studies in the late 1950’s, late Udo Udo Okure realized that the various families that composed Ikot Ekpene were very divided and even though they shared a common Annang language and heritage tended to compete against each other rather than cooperate to achieve common socio economic goals. The consequence of this competition was that they could not act as a unitary force in seeking a hearing or attention from the then colonial administrators for developmental purposes. Each large family group (called epuk) acted independently in it's governance and administration of its affairs. Each village and family group had its own rituals and celebrations which occurred independent of the others. For example Ata Essien , Ikot Udo Offiong , Ikot Abiekot, Nto Abiekwa and Nto Abatekpe family groupings acted independently in their dealings with the colonial masters and also conducted their celebrations independently.
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Picture shows Minister I. U. Akpabio of Ikot Ekpene (center) and Mrs Okure (right) admiring the O.B.E. medal awarded to her husband Udo Udo Okure by the Queen of England.[/caption]
In order to unite the family groupings so that that they can better represent themselves as a united force to press their socio economic aspirations before the colonial administrative government, Udo Udo Okure decided to organize the disunited families by reaching out to the Chiefs of the various families regarding the need for unity of purpose in action. In order to bring the divided families together in one place, research shows that he bought a cow with his own money which he presented to Nto Abatekpe family group to be shared among the leaders of the other families in a planned gathering yet to be announced. He also bought ten very large bags of salt ( a very valued commodity at the time) and provided five bags to Ata Essien and five bags to Ikot Udo Offiong to be shared among the participants of those attending the unity meetings that was planned. Other gifts were solicited and obtained and brought to the unitary gathering for a unity celebration. Prior to the main celebration event, Okure organized several meetings which were held initially between individual village leaders of the ten families that comprised Ikot Ekpene proper. When an accord was finally concluded it was agreed that the Cow, the ten salt bags and other gifts would be brought to the village square (fair ground) in Ikot Ekpene were a ceremony would be held announcing the unity and commonality of purpose henceforth of the ten families that make up Ikot Ekpene proper. For the historical record, it is that singular action of “community organization” spear headed by Udo Udo Okure that resulted in the first ever recorded celebration of Ikot Ekpene day which occurred towards the end of the late 1950’s. In recognition of his community and outstanding government service to Nigeria and the former British Colonial Government, Queen Elizabeth 11 of England awarded Late Chief Udo Udo Okure the high honor award of OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire). The Order of the British Empire recognizes distinguished service to the arts and sciences, public services outside the Civil Service and work with charitable and welfare organizations of all kinds.
The exact year when the first Ikot Ekpene Day Celebration took place could not be ascertained at the time this research was conducted in January 1983. Nevertheless, the historical significance of this first united celebration may have been lost over the years in the foray of annual celebrations which followed. One thing is clear, the original intent of the celebration was designed to reaffirm the unity of the original ten families that make up Ikot Ekpene proper. Since then, the celebrations called Ikot Ekpene Day has become an annual ritual of the whole Ikot Ekpene town and has now assumed great significance of its own. One might ask why it is necessary to expatiate on this historical annual event. As stated earlier, there is a lot of historical revisionism taking place in the writings about Annang Nation today. This article is written to set the record straight before our Annang revisionists writers distort the historical facts pertaining to this important annual event by putting a political spin on the historical facts.
: Interviews conducted by Dr. Tom Okure in 1983 among family elders in Ikot Ekpene.
All rights reserved by Inter-Continental Mgt. Systems, Inc (ICMS, Inc). The information included in this article may not be used, reproduced, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written permission of ICMS, Inc. The author Dr. Tom Okure is President of ICMS, Inc, a multifaceted business and management consulting firm with its head office in Albany, New York. Dr. Okure is a writer, author, business/management consultant, public policy advisor and commentator and a change advocate.