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stories and histories BRIEF HISTORY OF KONTO KARFE PEOPLE BY HIS ROYAL MAJESTY ALH.ABDULRAZAQ ISA-KOTO.

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Adeyemi Olajide » BRIEF HISTORY OF KONTO KARFE PEOPLE By His Royal Majesty Alh.Abdulrazaq Isa-koto.

Konto Karfe is the forgotten cradle of Egbira civilization. It is bassically a fishing and farming community, which also had a rich history of iron smelting. But a
title holder in the Igwu kingdom said “nobody wants to be a blacksmith these days,” so the huge deposits of iron ore beneath the foothills remain largely untapped. Sadly, their iron smelting heritage for which they became popular has almost gone into extinction. No single blacksmith was found in Koton karfe, when our reporter sought to see one.

The Ohimegye of Igwu (Koton Karfe), His Royal Majesty Alhaji Abdulrazak Gambo Isa Koto, said Igwu kingdom is one of the oldest kingdoms in North
Central Nigeria, spanning over 400 years. He proudly said Igwu, which means “enclosure” in Egbira, is the cradle of Egbira civilization, adding that it was the Hausa who called the place Koton Karfe, probably
because of the abundant deposits of iron ore around the area. He said bows and arrows and spear are the isignia of the Egbira culture because of its rich history in iron smelting and gallantry in warfare.

According to him, the people migrated from Yemen
and came through Kanem-Borno empire, then down
to Kwararafa kingdom. The Ohimegye said they later
left Kwararafa for Idah. “At Idah our leader contested
for the throne but lost out. Our leader, Ohemi Ozi
Egye, from whom we derive the tittle Ohemigye,
meaning Ohemi the son of Egye, became
uncomfortable with the selection process and then
he left with his people. Colonialists put this time at
1740 but I think it was earlier than that. We crossed
the River Benue to Onyoka, but there was an
outbreak of disease and we proceeded.”
He said succession tussle arised later that led to the
split of Egbira, with one group going to Opanda,
Nassarawa Toto, and the other group then left
Ugbaka for Girinya, where they found a new
settlement. The eloquent chief said it was at Girinya
that two brothers, Ohemi Oduniya and Ohetenye,
went on a hunting expedition and discovered their
present location, which he said was very strategic in
those days of tribal wars. During such wars, he said,
the people who lived around the Igwu mountains
burrowed holes into it, forming caves and veritable
hiding places at the time of aggression from external
forces.
He explained that the Egbira at Opanda in Nassarawa
Toto, Nassarawa State, the ones in Okene and in
some parts of Edo State share the same linguistic and
cultural affinity, even as there are some dialectal
differences. He gave an example of how the Koton
Karfe Egbira is spelled differently from the Okene
Igbira, insisting that Egbira history and culture still
remains one monolithic core, especially linguistically.
The royal father said it is unfortunate that iron
smelting is going into extinction because it has been
part of the lives of his people for the past 300 years,
adding that warfare instruments like spears, arrows
and cutlasses were smelted at Koton Karfe in large
quantities and it was a source of economic power for
the people.
The Ohimegye promised that he would do everything
possible to revive iron smelting, which he said is the
heritage of the people. “The amount of iron ore
deposit here is far more than what is at Ajaokuta.
Even the content of our water here is reddish
because of iron ore,” the chief said.
He lamented that despite the town being an ancient
one, and having played its part in the establishment
of Nigeria, the hilly, sleepy town still lacks social
amenities.
“There is complete absence of social amenities here.
The roads are bad,there is no pipe borne water and
yet we are surrounded by water. There is also lack of
federal government presence, apart from the Nigeria
Prison Service, which is a colonial heritage. We don’t
even have a commercil bank here, despite our
strategic location,” he decried.
Another thing that is of great concern to the royal
father is the fact that his people’s fishing and farming
occupation is being endangered by the dredging of
the River Niger. “We are blessed with fishing ponds
and fertile land but the dredging of the River Niger is
destroying our fish ponds and farmlands, thereby
taking away the livelihood of most of my people,” he
said, urging the government to find ways of
revitilising the ponds and compensating the people
for their lost farmlands.
Our reporter observed that the ancient town, with
sprawling rusted zinc houses, is divided into two by
the Abuja-Abaji-Koton Karfe-Lokoja highway. The hilly
side, with rising and falling landscape forming the
centre of the town while the swampy side is an
evergreen grove of bananas and sugarcane.
The Ohimegye said while the mountain side provides
a good reserve for wildlife, the swampy area,
stretching down to the two rivers, provides fertile soil
for cultivation of crops and abundant ponds for
fishing.
Koton Karfe is a historical museum of sorts, steep in
historical monuments like the grave of the founder of
the Igwu kingdom Ohemi Ozi Egye, and the Esi-Koko
caves as old as 400 years. The ancient town exudes
an awesome ambience.
There are other fascinating sites in and around the
town like the Murtala Mohammed bridge, the Igbade
cool water spring, which cascades from a height of
over 30 metres and flows gracefully down the River
Niger.
The Ohimegye’s palace is an edifice that outsizes the
entire town but at the same time depicts the imensity
and significance of the old kingdom. Inside it too,
there are artefacts that will not fail to thrill a visitor. A
set of big drums, called tambari, lurks in the corner
of the watchtower of the palace and Alhaji Dauda
Makaido Madaki, Ondaki Ogbani of Koton Karfe, said
the Igwu kingdom type of tambari is unique, adding
that in those days when the drums were beaten at
night then war was on the verge of breaking out. He
however said that nowadays, when the tambari is
beaten, it is either on the eve of sallah or to
announce the return of the Ohimegye from a
journey.
The Ohimegye also said the Igwu kingdom has a
cultural festival that is celebrated in December to
commemorate the kingdom’s resistance of Fulani
invasion. He said the Akuki festival is celebrated
every year to show the fighting prowess of the
people. “Nobody conquered us. As blacksmiths, it
was easy for us to repel their attacks,” he added.
He, however, said that in modern times, Igwu people
have co-existed peacefully with Fulani, Hausa,
Yoruba, Bassa, Gwari, among others, for the past 300
years.
According to him, the Igwu kingdom extended
beyond Abaji, which was run like a vessel by the Igwu
chiefs but with recent boundary adjustments, the
Koton Karfe area has been reduced.
“Initially Koton Karfe was to be part of the Federal
Capital Territory (FCT) when it was created in 1975
but we opted out because we don’t want to lose our
heritage,” insisting that even now that the old
kingdom is still grappling with development
challenges, the Igwu people do not regret that
decision because they still have their land intact.
The ruler aid by the time colonialists came, the Igwu
kingdom was an already established system that was
similar to that of the emirate system in the
Hausaland. He said it has been a relatively peaceful
kingdom because of the rotational principle operated
by their forebears.
“Our forefathers included the principle of rotation in
the kingdom. The stool of Ohimegye is rotated within
two wards and we have eight ruling houses in Koton
Karfe,” adding that there are over 200 communities
under the kingdom, being ruled by Ohinoyis (village
heads).
He said the place is not only the cradle of Egbira
civilization, it also produced pioneer teachers in
Northern Nigeria and has produced other prominent
sons in different disciplines and careers. He said the
late Isa Koto was one of the pioneer teachers in
Northern Nigeria who later became an ambassador
in the First Republic. He mentioned other illustrous
sons of Koton Karfe, who included General Tunde
Ogbeha, General Chris Ali, former Chief of Army
Staff, former Comptroller Gen. of Prisons, Musa A.
Egu, the late Alhaji Usman Angulu Ahmed, who was
Minister of Police Affairs in the First Republic, Alhaji
Liman Umar, former SSG in the old Kwara State,
among so many others. He, however, regretted that
since the late Ahmed was made a minister in the First
Republic, no Igwu son or daughter has been
appointed a minister.
For Muhammadu Shuaibu Tatu, the Ozeremi Ogbani
of Igu land, it is regrettable that nobody wants to go
into blackmitting again and the age long trade is
going into extinction. He said the young consider
iron smelting old- fashioned and not a lucrative
business to undertake. He however said that the
traditional institution is doing all it can to encourage
the practice of the age-long profession of the people
inorder to preserve the heritage of the Igwu
kingdom.
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