The hidden history about Egbira that Bassa Kwomu Youths are never told.

The Lion

The hidden history about Egbira that Bassa Kwomu Youths are never told.


The popularity of any human settlement is determined by its historical antecedent and socio-economic status.

This is true of Umaisha town in Toto Local Government area of Nasarawa State. Its fame and fortune rests squarely on its history as the capital of the ancient Opanda Kingdom and its environmental endowments which make it the home of tourism and agriculture. Situated at the western part of the state by the River Benue, the kingdom dates way back in time. According to the accounts of a British explorer, McGregor Laird, in the diary of his trip up the Benue River, “the Egbira (ethnic group) founded the Kingdom of Opanda in 1750.”

The kingdom was equally blessed with visionary leaders who ensured its survival through the rough socio-political climate of the pre-colonial time when might was the determinant of political and economic power.

That dynamic leadership has been upheld by the present Ohimegye Opanda, Alhaji Usman Abdullahi, who is the 28th Ohimegye. It is in view of this that the 20th Anniversary of his ascension to the throne is being planned to hold in grand style at Umaisha on the 31st October, 2015.

It is indeed a celebration of a long, rich history for, according to some other historical sources, written and oral, the existence of the entity known as Opanda stretches far beyond the 265 years recorded by McGregor Laird.

The Ohimegye dynasty is said to be as far back as the 11th century. Some historians noted that an account by Dr. Baikie, another British explorer, who visited Umaisha in 1854 during the reign of Ohimegye Ogara, gave the suggested year of the establishment of the kingdom to be 1750 without taking note of its existence prior to the movement to Idah and back to Opanda before the commencement of the line of kings whose list he met. Similarly, a book titled Notes on Nassarawa Province, Nigeria, written by Sciortino, J. C and printed by Waterlow & Sons Limited, London, 1920, gives insightful perspectives on the ancient kingdom in this regard.


According to evidences gleaned from these and other sources, the Egbira people were part of the ethnic groups that migrated from the Middle East through Nubia (Lower Old Egypt) into what is today known as Nigeria. Notable members of the group included the Jukun, Igala, Idoma and Alago who formed the Kwararafa Empire. By virtue of its multi-ethnic nature, the empire was more like a confederation of ethnic nationalities. Hence, in the quest for self-determination the major ethnic groups later founded their respective kingdoms.

In the case of the Egbira ethnic group, even before Kwararafa assumed its status as one of the most powerful empires in West Africa before the 16th century, Opanda was a well defined political entity back in the 11th century.

It actively participated in Kwararafa wars before gaining greater autonomy by 1750 when the rush for political independence by the various groups became the order of the day.

The revolution was said to have been partly triggered by a dispute over the kingship of Idah Kingdom (in the present Kogi State), which led to the migration of several groups. Consequently, some Egbiras, led by Ohemi Ozi Egye, left Idah and settled intermittently in various places in the present Kogi State. First they stayed at Onyoka, then a few months later they moved to Okangbo and then to Igu-gbaka where Ohemi died.

Soon after his death there was a disagreement over the successor of Ohemi among the children, and Ohentenye and his followers decided to move west-ward and settled at Ogirinya. A few years later his brother, Owutu, founded Koton-Karfe or Igu Kingdom. The other group, led by Ohemi-negedu, the grandson of Ohemi, moved east-ward and re-occupied the city of Opanda (which was earlier occupied in the 11th century).

According to an account by British explorers, Magregor Laird and Lander, who visited Opanda in 1833, Opanda Kingdom was at the peak of its power at the time of their visit; it had boundaries with Zaria, Nupe, Igala and Koton-Karfe kingdoms.

It is worthy of note that for a long time the kingdoms of Opanda and Koton-Karfe flourished side by side, maintaining bilateral cooperation in a manner that ensured their mutual protection against external aggression.

This affinity between the two is confirmed by a memorandum written by Alhaji Isa Ahmed Bukar (Turaki of Opanda), et al, requesting for the merger of the two groups in one state, during a recent clamour for the creation of more states. According to the memorandum, “The people of Toto and Umaisha districts (Opanda Kingdom) in Nassarawa State and those of Koton-Karfe district (Igu Kingdom) in Kogi State are the same and one ethnic group and tribe.

They have been together as the same people from time immemorial… We have the same culture, speak the same language and have the same occupation. There is no socio-economic or geographical barrier between us.”

Their mutual cooperation, bravery and military tactics stood them in good stead as they conquered and expanded their respective kingdoms. However, like every other kingdom of that era the two could not stand the turbulent and hostile military atmosphere for too long, especially the constant attacks by the Nupe/Fulani from the west and the Fulani from the north.

As at the time, the people considered the development as a temporary setback from which they would plan retaliatory military action – an optimistic belief based on the dynamic nature of Opanda Kingdom and the resilience of its leadership. But that was not to be as the ambitious British Empire soon came and conquered all the kingdoms.

Still, the people did not consider this seeming political cul-de-sac as the ultimate end of their cherished kingdom. Of course, they had to accept the reality that the era of military might was over as far as the new political order was concerned. But what the pride for their fatherland would never allow them to accept was watching the labour of their forefathers consigned to the dustbin of history. So they decided to embark on a crusade to recover their glory by all means consonant with the prevailing political milieu.

The strategy included working towards restoring or recovering the staff of office which the 15th Ohimegye, Omura, once got from a colonial Resident in Lokoja. The staff, which was in recognition of the exemplary leadership of the Ohimegye and the attendant accomplishments of the kingdom, was burnt by enemies in a raid during the 16th Ohimegye, Kutepa’s reign. This happened shortly before the kingdom was brought under the administration of Nasarawa Native Authority by the colonial administration.
The struggle to regain the Staff began from the colonial era and continued relentlessly through the post-colonial era. And by the 1980s the effort started yielding result.

Precisely in 1980 the then governor of Plateau State, Mr. Solomon Daushep Lar, reinstalled Ohimegye Usman Ohyaba Adokorohu (the 26th Ohimegye) as a Third Class Chief.

Three years later the stool was upgraded to Second Class status. And when Ohimegye Usman Idrisu (the 27th Ohimegye) succeeded Adokorohu, the Staff was presented to him in May 1986 by the then military governor of Plateau State, Late Muhammed Chris Alli.

On his ascension to the throne, the present Ohimegye, Alhaji Usman Abdullahi, inherited the Second Class Staff of Office; it was presented to him by the then Plateau State military governor, Col. Muhammad Mana, on 21st October, 1995. Still bent on getting the highest possible status, the people continued the struggle. And in 2003 First Class Staff of Office was presented to Ohimegye Abdullahi by the then Nasarawa State governor, Abdullahi Adamu, on 15th April.

Today, as the Chairman of Toto Local Government Traditional Council, Ohimegye is on a par with his contemporaries and his domain is no less important in the eyes of the world. In historical parlance, the expression ‘the rise and fall’ is synonymous with the fate of African kingdoms. But in this particular case, ‘the rise and rise of Opanda Kingdom’ is more appropriate in describing Opanda’s journey so far. And as the sons and daughters of the kingdom get set to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Ohimegye Alhaji Usman Abdullahi for keeping the ancient flag flying, one cannot but humbly bow in homage to the great man: AGAABA-IDU!

Umaisha is the Editor, *Nigerian Newsday, Lafia.

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