My eye-opening road trip to Ikot Abasi
By Inemesit Solomon
Sometime in May, I joined a small group on a day trip to Ikot Abasi, one of the historically rich towns in Akwa Ibom State. It was a most rewarding journey; I learned a lot about Nigeria’s colonial past and slavery history. I recommend the experience to every Nigerian; but in the meantime, these are my takeaways from it.
The Amalgamation House
Picture a pre-fabricated building with walls made of centuries-old bricks. Then imagine a roofing of corrugated iron sheets, rails and pillars done with wood with large doors and windows built in for ventilation; then add to that a forest of trees and bushes, birds chirping and cold gentle breeze blowing in from the Imo River, just few meters away.
This building, although in ruins is said to have served as an office for Sir Frederick Lugard, Governor-General of Nigeria (1914-19). Though the claim is still being contested, it’s believed that this was where he signed the 1914 Amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates that birthed Nigeria.
Practically all the furniture from that period is missing, save for an office table and a chair, an old telephone, document stamp, a typewriter and a safe. In an inner office sits enlarged portraits Lugard and wife Lady Flora Shaw, both produced as part of activities marking the centenary of the amalgamation in 2014.
A few blocks away from the Amalgamation House is a charming two-storey building, also built with bricks – Lugard’s official residence. There are other brick bungalows to the left, which must have housed other staff of the colonial administration. All of them are now occupied by locals.
A tale of bravery and the quest for justice
Abuzz with activity and a lot of green vegetation, Ikot Abasi is home to key events that shaped Nigeria’s history, one of which is the 1929 Aba Women’s Protest, which is memorialized with a museum built by Senator Helen Esuene. It is to the memory of the valiant women who fought against the imposition of levies by the colonial administration and lost their lives doing so. Inside the museum are various artworks, sculptures, pictures and mosaics re-creating this momentous time in Nigeria’s history. The museum also has a list of all the 100+ women who died during the crisis and the community they came from — Ibibio, Bonny, Igbo, Andoni, ogoni and Opobo, to mention a few.
It’s pertinent to note that these women all fought almost completely naked, only covering their lower bodies with loin clothes; to date, this is a sign of power and not shame and clearly shows that the women will put everything — including their bodies — on the line in the quest for justice.
Walking further into the town, I came across a memorial grave erected in memory of the women who lost their lives in the fight. Just across the road from it is another brick building, said to have been the office of a Captain Hunter, the colonial officer who gave the command that the women should be shot at. The building is still in great shape and is being used today as Ikot Abasi’s Urban and Regional Planning Office.
The Bridge Of No Return
Built in 1795 and located at the bank of the Imo River, the bridge is made of corrugated iron sheets and metals, which are now heavily rusted. Slaves bound in chains were forced to walk down this bridge, before being loaded into ships anchored far off in the ocean. The slaves were not allowed to look back once they stepped on the bridge, and they also never returned.
The bridge has three underground concrete bunkers, which served as storage for supposedly stubborn slaves. The bunkers each have a capacity for 30 persons but would occasionally hold about 150.
I had the opportunity of going into a bunker. It was hot and empty. The slaves were expected to sit or lie on the concrete floor in that small space with 2-3 tiny openings, the size of table-tennis ball, for air to flow in through. The ventilation is terrible, I wonder how 30 adults could have survived in there for any length of time, let alone 150.
NB. Due to the level of deterioration of the bridge, visitors are not allowed to go further than the first bunker.
The Slave Warehouse
Ikot Abasi, a local Government Area in Akwa Ibom state, plays host to a lot of relics of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. One of these is the slave warehouse, almost like an automobile garage. Here, slaves were weighed individually and were housed here before being sold to slave traders. We were shown a measurement scale which was used to weigh the slaves.
The weight of each slave was the determining factor of what will be given to his owner. Our tour guide explained that after weighing the slaves, the slave traders either handed a mirror, a wrapper, chicken or palm oil, as payment.
We were also shown a spear, which was used in inscribing marks on the bodies of the sold slaves; this helped each slave traders to identify their slaves. In the building lay beds made of metal. These beds were used by the slave masters. A section of the structure is used for offices by the Nigeria Police (Marine Division).
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