Idah, Aganebode - Divided By River Niger, United By Commerce and Benin kingdom origin
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Written by Abdul-Rahman Abubakar (Last update August 2, 2022) 

Despite natural and political barriers that appear to hinder co-habitation between the Igala speaking people of Idah in Kogi State and their Weppa-Wanno cousins on the other side of the River Niger in Edo State, both sides forge ahead with age-long peaceful co-existence.

Although Idah is in the North-Central part of the country, few minutes rowing on a canoe is all it takes to arrive in Aganebode, a community in Edo State, South-South of the country. The two kingdoms are separated by the River Niger. They are further separated by politics, which is easy to understand. After all, they owe their allegiance to two separate state governments. Yet, there is a great collaboration between the inhabitants in various facets of life.

By rickety motorized and paddled canoes without safety precautions, thousands of inhabitants from the two towns voyage across the river on daily basis to transact business or visit relations living on either side of the Niger. On daily basis, market women, traders, children and adults are exposed to great risks as they cross the river without protection: no life jackets for passengers in overloaded boats, and in most cases, humans, animals as well as goods get stuck in a single boat.

Indications are that governments of Edo and Kogi states on one hand and those of Idah and Aganebode local government areas on the other hand have failed to provide safe ferries to convey humans and goods across the river. Interaction between the people of Idah and Aganebode is driven mainly by apparent resilience of the ordinary people who readily risk their lives to mingle among people as they live their daily life.

Inhabitants of both towns trace their origin to the Benin Kingdom. According to the Iyase (Prime Chief) of Weppa-Wanno Kingdom, High Chief A.O Ethuakhor, the Igala people that reside in Idah are likely to have moved from Benin across the river long before the settlers at Aganebode arrived at the southern bank of the Niger.

He said: "The origination from Benin is very clear. We migrated from Benin and it is the barrier of the Niger that stopped the movement. It is possible that the Igala people crossed earlier. Aganegbode moved here in the fifteenth century and the people of Idah could have moved earlier. It is because of the barrier that our people settled here and that is how the name itself evolved. A-gane-gbode means Settle down her; we are not passing beyond.

This account was partly corroborated by the Achadu Igala (Second to Attah of Igala), Alhaji Yusuf Ameadaji, who said there are still some Edo-speaking people now indigenous to Idah.

From either of the two banks, the other town is visible. And maybe to sustain the buoyant commercial activities and trade between them, there are two important markets located on either of the shores. In Idah, the historic Ega Market, located close to the river bank, welcomes traders and goods transported from Aganebode across the river, while the Bode Market is the first point of contact on arrival from the Idah side.

In both markets, Igala and Etsako languages are used for commercial transactions. Traders from both towns converge on the markets every five days to buy and sell. Common commodities of exchange at the markets include palm oil, cassava flour, garri, fish, fruits, yams and domestic animals.

Though the two dialects spoken by the people have no common similarities, it is easy for them to understand each other.

Chief Ethuakhor said: "The dialects are not that similar, but we understand each other easily. We find them easy to pick. Our people find it easy to speak Igala and the Igala find it easy to speak with us."

A walk around both Ega and Bode markets reveal mixing of the two dialects as traders yell for attention in either Igala or Etsako. On every market day in the two towns, people come together to interact irrespective of the huge mass of water between them.

In terms of culture and tradition, the people share similar dress modes and ways of life. The traditional rulers of Idah and Aganebode share similar royal regalia. They both put on beads as symbol of authority. The Attah of Igala wears a bronze head believed to have come from Benin, while the Okumagbe of Weppa-Wanno Kingdom also wears beads, all traced to the Benin style of royal dressing.

They use proverbs and parables common to both tribes and masquerades in Aganebode wear semblance of those of Idah and other Igala towns across the Niger, such as Ibaji.

The Iyase explained, "There are some aspects of our tradition which have been copied from the Igala people, especially the masquerade thing. We have some Igala people, not necessarily the Idah people, who on the other side, are very good masquerade dancers and our people often cross to those places to learn. There is the Ibaji and other Igala villages along the river bank, to where our people go to learn and come back here to display the dance steps. Sometimes when we sing during masquerade dances, we sing in Igala. So, the similarities in that aspect are very impressive."

Perhaps, the major binding force between the two communities is inter-marriage. Today, several men and women in the two towns are married to spouses from across the river. The offspring of such inter-marriages further unite the two communities, as they regularly interact with relations from both maternal and paternal sides.

However, just like all communities that share common natural boundaries, the rulers of Idah and Aganebode disagree over ownership and control of some islands on the Niger River that are used as farmlands by people from both sides. There is also dispute over fishing grounds as well as the marine boundaries between the two towns on the river.

Despite the disagreements, however, there has never been any clash between the communities. According to the Achadu of Igala, differences have always been resolved amicably as the people continue to live peacefully.

There is a desire of the people to have a bridge across the Niger between Idah and Aganebode to ease movement between the two communities.

Interestingly, on arrival at Idah from Aganebode, one is welcomed by the magnificent statue of the legendary Princess Inikpi at the tomb in Ega Market, while across the other side; the first point is the Bode market. The market places serve as meeting pointsfor buying, selling and cultural exchange between the two communities. Indeed, the people live harmoniously as cousins on the two banks of the Niger.

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