Origins of the Idoma People
The history of the Idoma people precedes the history of Benue state (created 1976) and the history of the Republic of Nigeria (created 1960). Idoma people are found in the Southern part of Benue State with a population of about 2.5 million. They held sway in nine local government areas of the state. "It is made up of a territorial unit defined approximately by a parallelogram whose broad limits extended Doma and Keena in the North to Igbo land in the South. It also extends from Idah in the West to as far as Wukari in the East.
The Idoma are a homogenous ethnic group with dialectical differences indicated by some distinct speech form of people in Otukpo, Adoka and Ugboju; Edumoga in contrast to Agila, Otukpa, Orokam, Agatu among others. Linguistic evidence suggests that the Idoma have lived in their present day region for at least five thousand years, and that they probably moved into the area from the north along with the forbearers of Yoruba, Bini, and Igbo peoples sometime before that. All of this people belong to the Kwa group of languages".Ochigbo S Best (2008).
Oral tradition is the primary method of which history has been passed in Idomaland and is considered a central cultural institution. From a young age Idoma children usually learn from their elders stories of old and are brought up around extended families, which make multiple historical resources available. Quite naturally, a number of villages trace origins to single ancestors and further, several Idoma groups trace their heritage to one common ancestor, considered the “father” of the different groups.
According to traditional history, Iduh, the father of the Idoma had several children who each established different areas. Hence the expression: “Iduh the father of Idoma.”
*The Yala are a kindred groups found in modern-day Cross Rivers State.
While there may be some truth to the above, the Idoma cannot be said to have a unitary origin. Many Idoma groups and village subsets have their own histories complete with stories about how their people arrived at their current location.
Okpeh O. Okpeh and Yakubu A. Ochefu opined that It is difficult to ascertain how long the Idoma have been in their present location. Evidence in the oral traditions (of the people)…indicate that the Idoma have lived within the Benue Valley from the earliest period of which we have no inkling on the paper "THE IDOMA ETHNIC GROUP: A HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL SETTING"
This paper has attempted to establish the political, social and cultural background necessary for the understanding of the Idoma ethnic group on the one hand, and the relationship between it and its neighbours on the other. From our analysis of the origins and development of Idoma ethnicity, it is evident that the people have been involved in migrations from the Apa cradleland to their present location. It is not clear when the people actually arrived at their present habitat although from the oral, secondary and ethnographical sources available, it is clear that the people have occupied their present location from the earliest period of which we have any knowledge.
Similarly, our appraisal of the people’s social and political institutions has shown that traditionally, there are many loci of authority in Idoma and not only was kingship institutionalised, but indeed there were other organs of government which acted in tandem with each other to ensure the social and political order necessary for meaningful growth and development. Therefore, if the purpose of government is the promotion of the welfare of the populace, the Idoma, despite their supposed backwardness, had political institutions that had all the attributes of government. Indeed, among the people before the advent of Pax Britannica had emerged a system of social and political organisation in which elders who were the custodians of the norms and values of the rich Idoma civilisation largely
controlled government. The preponderance of institutionalised organs of government such as the Ojila, the Oche, the Ai-Igabo and the Ai-Uta, do not merit R. Horton’s concept of ‘stateless’ societies.
In the traditional Idoma political system there was balance between power and authority on the hand, and service and accountability on the other. Leaders were never given ultimate power for that lay with the people and office holding was predicated, by and large, on proven merit. The problem with this type of social and political structure was that all the organs of government were fused together in a manner that to subtract one of the organs from the total network is to destroy the whole system. The dynamics of this system clearly eluded the colonial authorities who were obviously fascinated by the ‘Emirate System’ in the far North and were not patient enough to critically study and understand it. Therefore, it was in the attempt to impose the indirect rule system of administration on the Idoma, that the people’s social and political system was altered in ways that affected the society and its people on the one hand, and their relations with their neighbours on the other.