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Ekumeku Resistance Movement During Nigeria British Rule

Invasion of British troops was a catastrophe for Igbo Nigeria African life but the Ekumeku movement fought against British rule 1901 to 1916.

The name Ekumeku is derived from the Igbo phrase ekume eku, meaning the death is good or death rather than slavery. This reflects the fierce determination of the movement's members to fight against the British. 

Nigeria became an official British administrative land in 1901, the colonialism and invasion of British troops was a catastrophe for the ingenious Igbo African way of life, but the Ekumeku underground resistance movement attempted to right the wrong. Ekumeku War between the British and the people in Asaba hinterland lasted until 1911.

British first carried out indirect rule through native authorities, who collected taxes and performed other local administrative tasks. Access to colonial resources was determined by the cooperation of tribes in relation to British power and the Ekumeku committed an act of treason by killing a popular British officer.

The murder of O. S. Crewe-Read by the Ekumeku ignited the Asaba massacre. The murder served as a catalyst for the violent reprisal, resulting in a devastating loss of life and deep scars in the history of Asaba.

O.S. Crewe-Read was an Assistant District Commissioner serving during the British colonial rule in Nigeria. The Ekumeku resistance movement, which emerged as an anti-colonial force, was engaged in armed resistance against British colonial authorities. In the course of their resistance efforts, members of the Ekumeku movement assassinated O.S. Crewe-Read.

The murder of O.S. Crewe-Read had severe consequences, particularly in relation to the Asaba massacre. Asaba, a town in present-day Delta State, Nigeria, was caught in the midst of the conflict between the British colonial authorities and the Ekumeku movement. Following the assassination of O.S. Crewe-Read, the British colonial forces retaliated against the town of Asaba.

The Asaba massacre took place in October 1967 during the Nigerian Civil War. British and Nigerian soldiers conducted a brutal operation in Asaba, targeting and killing numerous civilians. It is estimated that hundreds of men, women, and children were massacred in the tragic event.


Ekumeku Resistance Movement During Nigeria British Rule

The British were arrogant and domineering and from this the foundations of a resistance movement which became known as the Ekumeku was born. The Ekumeku was an underground movement of resistance to the British Royal Niger Company, British-trader, missionary and bureaucrats whose uprisings are legendary in Nigerian history.

British rule of the Western Igbos' of Nigeria led to unfair rules against ingenious religious and political practices, the establishment of courts, and legal security to missionaries. Firstly, British rule introduced policies and laws that were unfavorable to indigenous religious practices. Traditional religious beliefs and rituals were often marginalized or suppressed as the British colonial administration favored Christianity and sought to spread its influence. Indigenous religious practices were considered inferior or even pagan, leading to discrimination and restrictions on their observance.

Secondly, the establishment of courts under British rule brought about a new legal system that differed from traditional Igbo systems of justice. The British introduced their legal framework, based on English common law, which often disregarded or undermined traditional Igbo customary laws. This led to a clash between the two systems and resulted in a loss of autonomy and self-governance for the Igbo people.

Lastly, British rule provided legal protection and security to Christian missionaries operating in the region. Missionaries, mostly affiliated with Christian denominations, were granted the freedom to propagate their faith and convert the local population. The British colonial authorities often supported and even enforced the presence and activities of missionaries, providing them with legal backing and protection.

These changes brought by British rule had a profound impact on the Western Igbo society. The imposition of unfair rules against indigenous practices, the introduction of a foreign legal system, and the preferential treatment given to Christian missionaries contributed to the erosion of traditional customs and authority structures. The influence of Christianity grew, while indigenous religious and political practices faced increasing marginalization and challenges to their existence.

Igbos considered all these as unwelcoming to their traditional way of life especially since they had no legal authority or input into the life-altering changes. The state of affairs catapulted the Ekumeku forces by galvanizing the resistance movement into action in the Asaba hinterland.

The Asaba Hinterland represents the rural heartland that surrounds the city of Asaba, with its distinct agricultural practices, cultural traditions, and rural communities. It contributes to the overall identity and dynamics of the region, providing a glimpse into the rural life and the interplay between urban and rural areas in Nigeria.

Murder and Massacre

"Onye onye ocha chulu oso na-abu o fu onye anyali o gbafuo." translated from Igbo to English means, “He who has been harassed by the white man takes to his heels on sighting an albino.”

The murder of O. S. Crewe-Read, the then District Commissioner for Agbor on June 9, 1906, supposedly by the Ekumeku touched off the Asaba massacre. The British between 1906 and 1909 raised forces that randomly attacked anywhere and anybody suspected to be connected with Ekumeku soldiers. Many people were killed or put in prison by British judges at Onitsha.

Between 1902 and 1910, the Ekumeku offered a courageous and prolonged resistance to British encroachment in the Asaba hinterland.

The Ekumeku Resistance Movement was a significant anti-colonial resistance movement that emerged in Nigeria during the British colonial rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement was primarily active in the Igbo-speaking areas of present-day Nigeria, particularly in the southeastern region.

The Ekumeku Resistance Movement was formed as a response to the imposition of British colonial rule, which brought significant changes to the social, economic, and political dynamics of the affected regions. The movement aimed to resist British control and preserve the autonomy and traditional systems of governance that existed prior to colonialism.

The Ekumeku movement employed various strategies in their resistance efforts. They engaged in guerrilla warfare tactics, using hit-and-run attacks, ambushes, and surprise raids on British colonial outposts, administrative centers, and military installations. They were known for their mobility and ability to strike swiftly and disappear into the dense forests and rugged terrain of the region.

The movement drew its strength from a wide network of support among the local population. Many Igbo communities provided shelter, supplies, and recruits to the resistance fighters. The movement's leaders, known as "war chiefs," commanded the loyalty and respect of their followers and played a crucial role in organizing and coordinating the resistance efforts.

The Ekumeku Resistance Movement posed a significant challenge to British colonial authorities, who struggled to suppress the insurgency. The British responded with military force, deploying troops, and employing scorched-earth tactics to destroy villages and crops associated with the movement. Despite the efforts to crush the resistance, the Ekumeku movement persisted for several years, continuing to resist British control and influence.

Over time, however, the British colonial forces gained the upper hand. They employed a combination of military might, divide-and-rule strategies, and promises of economic development to undermine the support base of the Ekumeku movement. By the early 20th century, the resistance movement had been largely subdued, and British colonial rule firmly established in the region.

The legacy of the Ekumeku Resistance Movement endures as a symbol of the unwavering spirit and determination of the Nigerian people to resist foreign domination and preserve their cultural heritage. The movement serves as a reminder of the complex and tumultuous history of Nigeria during the era of British colonial rule, and the struggles faced by its people in the pursuit of independence and self-determination.

"E kwekwele i gho Nwakpuda choro ibaa ndi ocha ogu gbuo onwe ya" translate to “Don't be like Nwakpuda who killed himself in the process of wanting to wrestle with the white people.”

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