Owerri is the capital city of Imo State, often referred to as the town located in the heart of Igboland. Owerri is situated in the southern part of Nigeria. Owerri, which is made up of three local governments—Owerri Municipal, Owerri North, and Owerri West—had an estimated population of 1,401,873 as of 2016.
Owerri’s slogan, tagged “Heartland,” is said to be the entertainment hub of the southern part of Nigeria. Research reveals that the city is Imo State’s largest city among towns like Orlu, Okigwe and Ohaji/Egbema. Additionally, Owerri serves as an intersection road from Aba, Onitsha, Port Harcourt, and Umuahia.
Owerri is mostly inhabited mainly by the Igbo people, with the Igbo language serving as a lingua franca, with its state at an estimated population of 1,401,873 as recorded by the 2006 population census. Owerri is bordered by the Otamiri River to the east and the Nworie River to the south, which consists of three main local government areas; Owerri Municipal, Owerri North, and Owerri West.
In this piece, Naijabiography narrates the history of the Owerri people, including the culture, social and economic structure, and political structure of the city.
According to oral history, Ekwem Oha, a man recognized as the founding father of Owerri, is credited with establishing the city in the 14th century. Arugo was the name of his mother. His younger brother Ndum threatened to kill him, so he escaped from Umuori Village, Uratta in Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State.
The conflict over who would get to keep the funeral cow that had been killed when their aristocratic (and representative of royalty) father Oha passed away became a threat to his life. According to tradition, the funeral cow had to be provided by the first son (Opara in Igbo), Ekwem.
He lacked the resources to do so. He urged his younger brother Ndum, also known as Ndumoha, to purchase the cow, and he agreed. According to tradition, Ndum requested the cow’s head, heart, and other parts that are typically given to the first son.
However, his justification was that he had Ndum purchase the funeral cow. His plea was denied by Ekwem, and an argument followed. To resolve the conflict, the elders (Oha Uratta) were consulted. They achieved this by letting custom rule. Being the first son, Ekwem was entitled to the aforementioned parts of the cow.
This infuriated Ndum, who then plotted to have Ekwem killed in order to get his way. After word of the scheme spread, Ekwem and his family escaped in the middle of the night to Egbu, a nearby community, bringing with them some supplies and domestic helpers.
According to history, his sister got married in Egbu. His sister begged him to continue his trek to an uncharted and desolate place for protection and to make a permanent home there out of concern that Ndum could search for him. With the use of an owa, or indigenous torch, they set off during the night and eventually found and settled on a hilltop now known as Ugwu Ekwema.
They exhaled a breath of relief and said, “Owerela Ihe Maraya,” which means, “He’s taken what’s rightfully his.” He signalled his location by sounding the drum, as instructed by his sister. The next morning, when his sister found him and his family, she was overjoyed. She then went back to Egbu.
The morning came, and they shared their first meal, a roast yam (not served), in the traditional communion style, giving thanks to the Almighty and Merciful Father, our Lord God, for ensuring their safety in the dense forest, which was home to dangerous animals like lions, tigers, and snakes like pythons, vipers, and cobras.
Owere was anglicized to Owerri with the arrival of the British. However, it was still pronounced as Owere. Before Owerri was created and existed for many years or centuries, all of its nearby cities (communities) were founded. The Owerri Divisional Headquarters were first established by the British Colonial Government as Provincial Headquarters.
Meanwhile, in 1969, Owerri served as the third and final capital of the Republic of Biafra. The breakaway state’s capital was constantly being relocated as the Nigerian military took control of the previous capitals. Before Owerri, the other capitals were Enugu and Umuahia.
While several statues commemorating the war may still be found in Owerri today, especially in areas that were heavily bombed, the museum in Umuahia, Abia State, has the majority of the conflict’s artefacts and history.
People and Culture
Owerri is mostly inhabited mainly by the Igbo people, with the Igbo language serving as a lingua franca, with its state has an estimated population of 1,401,873 as recorded by the 2016 population census.
Furthermore, one of the significant ancient cultural festivals in Owerri is the “Oru-Owerri festival.” It is a carnival celebrated annually by the Igbo people (ndi-igbo) of five traditional Owerri villages in Owerri municipality. It is said to be in memory of the founding of Owere (Owerri) in the 14th century by Ekwem Oha Arugo.
However, history has it that the major aim of the cultural festival is to ensure the celebration of life, love and oneness amongst the people of the Owere nchi ise community.
Owerri, as the capital city, serves as the main trading hub for yams, cassava (manioc), corn, and palm products for a modified rainforest region that also produces rubber for export. It is renowned for its centres for handicrafts. There hasn’t been much industrial growth yet, although one firm makes galvanized sheet iron.
Ofe owerri is a staple cuisine that is unique to the Owerri people (ofe means soup, while Owerri is the capital of Imo state). Beautiful ladies are sometimes compared to Ofe Owerri in various Igbo cultures, and it is sometimes referred to as the “king of soup.”
Furthermore, snails, ponmo (cow skin), goat meat, dried fish, oporo (smoked prawns), ground dried crayfish, wraps of ogili (fermented soya beans), cocoyam, palm oil, sliced ugu leaves (pumpkin leaves), sliced oha leaves, sliced uziza leaves, stock cubes, achi powder, and salt are among the ingredients for the soup.
In Owerri, Christianity predominates over other religions. The two religions with the largest followings are Catholicism and Anglicanism, and Owerri is the location of Assumpta Cathedral, the administrative centre for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri (Latin: Archidioecesis Overriensis), as well as the Seat of Wisdom Seminary. 2,996 square kilometres make up the archdiocese.
However, of the 1.7 million residents in the region, 670,986 are Catholics. The first and largest Anglican church in Owerri, All Saints Cathedral, Egbu, is also the location of the first Igbo-translated Bible.
Imo State University, Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Federal University of Technology Owerri, and a number of secondary schools are located in the town. Additionally, a general hospital serves the area.
In the sports sector, the Heartland F.C., a significant Nigerian football team, is located in Owerri. The Naze Millionaires, once known as Iwuanyawu Nationale, still go by that moniker. People like Emmanuel Emenike and Kelechi Iheanacho, who played for prestigious English clubs like Manchester City F.C. and Leicester City F.C., are popular Super Eagle players from Owerri.
Some of the tourist centres in Owerri include Freedom Square, Statues in Heroes Square, Freedom Park, Akachi Monument, Assumpta Cathedral, and Otamiri River in Egbu, among others.