The legendary HRH Lord Okoli Ijoma, also known as Okoro Ijoma, was the first son and heir apparent to the throne of Ndikelionwu, having succeeded his father Ijoma Ike. Okoli was an Aro warrior and merchant from the 19th century who ruled the Aro village of Ndikelionwu in modern-day Anambra State.

He was notorious for his recruitment of the militaristic Ada people of the Cross River area for wars against his enemies or for the services of those who paid him to rule over the entire region in the now-known Anambra state from 1856 until the British conquest of the Igbo heartland in 1896.

Many stories have been told about Okoli, mostly oral as many events were rarely documented during those years. One story is that Okoli Ijoma was regarded by people who knew him as immortal, fearless, stubborn, and defiant. Immortal as "No blade or spear can pierce his skin". Others said He could almost predict and was certain about the future; many of his subjects and allies would go into a treaty with him for their protection, and others would disagree that this is one of his exploits of intimidation. He was sought as far away by Awkuzu in 1885, and Achalla in 1889 which were beleaguered then.


Many of the wars that involved Okoli were never documented officially but were told and are always referred to by people who have managed to pass on history as folktales in various soothing versions.

It was documented that Okoli hired the Ada to attack Awka sometime around the 1880s and 1890s. ‘Ada’ was a generic name used mainly by north-central Igbo for Aro mercenaries, notably from Eda, Abam, and Ohafia in present-day Abia State and Ebonyi State. The war between Okoli Ijoma and Awka became known as Agha Ìbenne (Maternal War or the war of relatives). The story of how black monkeys (Enwe Imoka) became sacred to the Awka starts here. As part of their war plans, the Ada went into the bushes around Awka and lay in wait to ambush the Awka. According to tradition, monkeys inhabiting the bush became startled and fled from the Ada. These particular monkeys appear to have been the mona monkeys. It was through the alert of monkeys fleeing into the main Awka settlement that the Awka were able to thwart the plans of the Ada. The Awka assembled the Egbunoji, the Awka militia, and outnumbering them, the Awka overcame and defeated the Ada.

The activities of the ‘Ada’ during and before the time of Okoli Ijoma also forced Nri to compromise its absolutist pacifist position and laws under Nri Enwelana who, as Eze Nri, broke taboo by sanctioning the formation of a war group, the Amakom, against Okoli Ijoma and the Ada raids. The Eze Nri had earlier warned Okoli Ijoma against his aggressiveness to no avail and thus cursed him and formed the Amakom military alliance comprising several settlements around the Nri-Awka area, including Awka.

These turbulent times contributed to the estimated number of over a million Igbo people being sold and taken over the Atlantic by Europeans, and to British colonies like Barbados, Jamaica, and, before the 1770s, Virginia in particular.

But one notable site, Ose Okwudu at Onitsha central market has derived its name from Okwudu Ocha, who was Okoli's flutist. Okwodu Ocha as the story goes spent seven days on that location employing all possible devices with his flute to goad his master to proceed on his self-assigned attempt to lock horns with an allegedly powerful Oba N'Iduu but the river Niger constituted an unanticipated impregnable barrier forcing Okoli Ijoma to return home with his mission unaccomplished.    


Okoli Ijoma lived in a two-story house in Umuochu Village around the 18th century, built with local material, and precided over a local but  very popular Omenuko court. The court is detailed architectural circular building called Ogbagburugburu which was a masterpiece and first during his time, just like what you will see in the present day UN assembly. HRH Nnama of Nibo was the deputy chief judge of the  eastern Omenuko court headed by Okoli Ijoma. Both became friends and in-laws; Nnama sealed a lifelong blood treaty with this warlord in 1876 through the marriage of his sister to Okoli's Second son, Nwene Ijoma, this alliance offered Nibo great protection and safety during turbulent times.

HIS DEATH:       

Okoli Ijoma was at the peak of his power when the British were trying to consolidate their holding on eastern Nigeria. Nibo was one of the first towns to capitulate to British militia. HRH Ezeike Nnama Orjiakor had sent an emissary to Okoli Ijoma briefing him how mighty strength and arsenal the British battalion had, and that the Nibo war council had decided not to wage a futile war but to surrender. Okoli sent a "flag-staff" message to his friend wishing him well but vowed that he rather die than be ruled by any other person; be it white, red, or black, and kept preparing for war. As a divide-and-rule tactic, the British split Ndikelionwu into two; Umuochu and Ndikelionwu, when they could not dismantle Okoli’s leadership after he won them at Ikpa-Umuochu. After the bloody massacre of Agulu town warrior, Okoli Ijoma still fiercely fought the British and its newly gathered alliance, he successfully held out against them, but he could only wage this war for a year. This marked the end of Nnama’s alliance with Okoli as had stubbornly vowed that he would not compromise and be ruled by any other king and continue to wage a military campaign against the British, suffering great losses. 

Having resisted the White invasion into his domain (Umuochu) for a year and having left with zero alliance to fight with, Okoli dressed up in his royal robe sat on his royal throne, and put himself down after drinking from a royal cup. He eventually put an end to his own life rather than succumbing to the enemy hence keeping to his word. Before the British could arrive at Umuochu, Okoli Ijoma was gone. He was buried in Umuochu in an underground castle still sitting on his throne. Okoli Ijoma was documented to have died around 1906. ( NB: I am trying to place a timeline on these dates as they do not make sense )

Umuochu was later united with Ndikelionwu during Ike Mbonu's regime. Meanwhile, Nnama was appointed as a Warrant Chief by the British in 1896 and continued to serve as Nibo’s traditional ruler until he died in 1945

Today Okoli Ijoma may not be remembered as one of the heroes of a lifetime since it has gradually washed away in the minds of many. Indeed, it was often because of the threat of attack from Okoli Ijoma and his mercenaries that towns formed alliances with the British, which resulted in a more insidious form of colonization.

Okoli Ijoma endures as a poignant reminder of the complexities of power, resistance, and ill diplomacy in pre-colonial Africa. His indomitable spirit continues to inspire generations, serving as a testament to the enduring struggle for sovereignty and self-determination amidst formidable challenges.