Comprehensive History, Culture and Ethnic Groups of Abia State

Nuelson Penuel Monday, February 12, 2024 Basis



Nestled in the southeastern region of Nigeria, Abia State stands as a testament to the rich cultural heritage and historical significance that shaped the area into what it is today. From its formation as an administrative unit to its independence as a state, Abia has witnessed a remarkable journey through time. In this blog post, we will delve deep into the intriguing history of Abia State, exploring its origins, influential events, and prominent figures that have shaped its identity.

The Creation of Abia State:

Abia State was carved out of the former Imo State on August 27, 1991, during the administration of General Ibrahim Babangida. The name "Abia" was derived from the four main ethnic groups that inhabit the region, namely Aba, Bende, Isuikwuato, and Afikpo. Umuahia, the state capital, was chosen due to its central location and historical significance.

Pre-Colonial Era:

Long before the advent of colonialism, the area now known as Abia State was inhabited by various indigenous tribes, each with its unique culture and traditions. These tribes included the Igbo-speaking people such as the Ngwa, Ohuhu, Ikwuano, Bende, and Isuikwuato. These communities thrived through farming, trading, and craftwork, developing a vibrant and self-sustaining society.

Colonial Influence:

The arrival of British colonialists in the late 19th century impacted Abia State significantly. The British established missionary schools, introduced cash crops like palm oil and rubber, and built infrastructure, such as railways and roads. The region became a hub for trade and commerce, propelling economic growth and social transformation.

Post-Independence Struggles:

After Nigeria gained independence in 1960, Abia State, then a part of Eastern Region, encountered its share of political and social upheavals. During the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), the Eastern Region declared itself as the Republic of Biafra, leading to a conflict that was particularly devastating for Abia due to its strategic location. The city of Umuahia, which served as the Biafran capital, witnessed intense battles and bombings.

Post-Civil War Reconstruction:

Following the end of the civil war, Abia State embarked on a path of recovery and reconstruction. The government focused on rebuilding infrastructure, restoring livelihoods, and fostering unity. Major developmental strides were made, with investments in education, healthcare, and agriculture playing a pivotal role in reshaping the state's socio-economic landscape.

Prominent Figures:

Throughout its history, Abia State has produced many influential personalities who have contributed immensely to the growth and development of Nigeria. Notable figures include Dr. Michael Okpara, the first Premier of Eastern Nigeria, who championed agricultural reforms and rural development policies. Other prominent figures from Abia include Okezie Ikpeazu, the current Governor of Abia State, and renowned writer Chinua Achebe, whose literary contributions brought the region's stories to the global stage.

Cultural Heritage and Festivals

Abia State boasts a rich cultural tapestry that showcases the diversity and traditions of its people. From colorful festivals to unique customs, the cultural heritage of Abia State is a source of pride and celebration.

1. Masquerade Festivals:

Masquerade festivals are a quintessential part of the cultural fabric of Abia State. These festivals feature elaborately crafted masks, vibrant costumes, and captivating performances. The masquerades are believed to embody ancestral spirits and serve as intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds. Examples of notable masquerade festivals in Abia State include Omume-Ndume and Ikeji festivals.

2. Nkwu-Osisi Cultural Festival:

The Nkwu-Osisi Cultural Festival, celebrated by the Ngwa people, is a colorful event that showcases the richness of Ngwa culture. It is a time when communities gather to honor their ancestors, display traditional dances and music, and exhibit various arts and crafts. The festival serves as a platform for promoting unity, preserving heritage, and fostering social cohesion among the Ngwa people.

3. New Yam Festival:

The New Yam Festival, also known as Iri Ji or Iwa ji, is a significant cultural event celebrated across Igbo communities, including Abia State. It marks the beginning of the harvest season and showcases the importance of yam in the local agrarian culture. This festival involves offering prayers to ancestral deities, cultural dances, and the presentation of freshly harvested yam tubers to the community leaders.

4. Ekpe Festival:

The Ekpe Festival is a unique cultural festival celebrated by the Efik and neighboring Igbo-speaking communities in Abia. It is a sociopolitical and religious festival that showcases the power and authority of the Ekpe secret society. During the festival, masked performers enact traditional dramas, provide social commentary, and reenact historical events. The Ekpe Festival serves to strengthen community bonds and transmit historical knowledge from one generation to another.

5. Okeani Festival:

The Okeani Festival is a traditional cultural event celebrated by the Igbere people of Abia State. It is a time to honor the community's deity, Okeani, through rituals, dances, and communal feasting. This festival creates a sense of collective identity, strengthens community relationships, and reaffirms spiritual beliefs.

Major Ethnic Group

The major ethnic group in Abia State is the Igbo people. The Igbo ethnic group is one of the largest and most populous ethnic groups in Nigeria, with a significant presence in Abia State. The Igbo people have a distinct culture, language, and traditional customs that contribute to the rich diversity of Abia State. Within the Igbo ethnic group in Abia State, there are various subgroups or clans that contribute to the cultural tapestry of the state. Some of the prominent Igbo subgroups in Abia include:

1. Ngwa:

The Ngwa people are one of the largest subgroups in Abia State. They are predominantly found in the southern part of the state, particularly in Aba, Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa, and Ugwunagbo local government areas. The Ngwa people have a proud history, unique traditions, and cultural practices that differentiate them from other Igbo subgroups.

2. Abiriba:

The Abiriba people are a subgroup of the Igbo ethnic group and are primarily located in Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State. They are known for their rich cultural heritage, including the Ekeleke masquerade festival, which attracts people from far and wide. The Abiriba people are known for their entrepreneurial spirit, as exemplified by their involvement in various trades and businesses.

3. Ohuhu:

The Ohuhu people are predominantly found in Umuahia North and Ikwuano Local Government Areas of Abia State. They have a distinct language, customs, and festivals. The Ohuhu people are known for their agricultural prowess, particularly in yam cultivation, which is often celebrated during the New Yam Festival.

4. Isuikwuato:

The Isuikwuato people are mainly located in the Isuikwuato Local Government Area of Abia State. They have their unique cultural practices, including the Osuba and Ajali masquerade festivals. The Isuikwuato people are known for their rich history, craftsmanship, and contributions to the development of Abia State.

Local Government Areas in Abia State

Abia State in Nigeria is divided into seventeen Local Government Areas (LGAs). These LGAs are administrative divisions and help facilitate governance and development at the local level. Here is a list of the LGAs in Abia State: 1. Aba North LGA 2. Aba South LGA 3. Arochukwu LGA 4. Bende LGA 5. Ikwuano LGA 6. Isiala Ngwa North LGA 7. Isiala Ngwa South LGA 8. Isuikwuato LGA 9. Obi Ngwa LGA 10. Ohafia LGA 11. Osisioma Ngwa LGA 12. Ugwunagbo LGA 13. Ukwa East LGA 14. Ukwa West LGA 15. Umuahia North LGA 16. Umuahia South LGA 17. Umu-Nneochi LGA Each of these LGAs has its unique characteristics, cultural heritage, and development projects. They play a vital role in grassroots governance, the provision of basic amenities, and promoting local development initiatives.

Economic Development

Abia State has been working towards economic development by implementing various strategies and initiatives. Here are some key aspects of economic development in Abia State:

1. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Development:

Abia State has focused on promoting the growth and development of Small and Medium Enterprises. The state government has established the Abia State Investment Promotion Agency (ASIPA) to attract investments, provide business support services, and facilitate the ease of doing business.

2. Industrialization:

Abia State is known for its industrialization efforts. The state government has established industrial clusters and parks, such as the Ariaria International Market in Aba, which is one of the largest markets in West Africa. The government provides infrastructure, access to finance, and business development services to encourage industrial growth and attract investors.

3. Agriculture:

Abia State recognizes the importance of agriculture in economic development. The government has implemented policies and initiatives to promote agricultural productivity, provide farmers with access to credit and market information, and encourage agribusiness. Special focus has been given to crops like palm oil, cocoa, yam, cassava, and rice production.

4. Infrastructure Development:

The state government has prioritized infrastructure development to support economic growth. This includes the construction and rehabilitation of roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure to improve connectivity within and outside the state. Efforts have also been made to enhance power supply and provide access to clean water.

5. Investment Promotion:

The Abia State government actively promotes investment opportunities in the state. They organize forums, conferences, and exhibitions to showcase the investment potential of the state and attract local and foreign investors. The state government also encourages public-private partnerships for infrastructure development and service delivery.

6. Tourism Development:

Abia State has recognized the tourism potential within the state and has embarked on developing tourist sites and attractions. These include the Arochukwu Long Juju Slave Route, the National War Museum in Umuahia, and the Ogbunike Caves in Ukwa West LGA. Efforts are being made to enhance infrastructure, promote cultural festivals, and create awareness of the state's unique cultural heritage.


Abia State's history is a captivating tale of resilience, adaptation, and growth. From its roots as a land rich in cultural diversity to its emergence as a vibrant state, Abia has overcome various challenges and transformed into a thriving hub of commerce, industry, and education. As we reflect on this history, we must celebrate the achievements of the past while striving to build a brighter future for generations to come.1960, Abia State

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