A BRIEF HISTORY OF OKPANAM
The town called Okpanam is bordered by Asaba and Ugbolu (a vassal of Okpanam) to the East, Igbuzo (Ibusa) and Ogwashi-Uku to the South, Issele Azagba and Azagba Ogwashi to the West and Akwukwu Igbo, Atuma and the River Niger to the North. With a population of nearly 70,000 made up mainly of civil servants and farmers, Okpanam is indisputably the oldest human habitation in the Delta State Capital Territory. This is evidenced by the huge land mass available to her compared with that of her more prosperous neighours such as Asaba and Ibusa. In deed there are still records showing that the Zappa Primary School and Catholic Church by the Water works in Asaba are located on Okpanam ancestral lands. The coming of the State capital to this area has unfortunately given the government an instrument with which to grab more land freely from Okpanam and transfer to others under the guise of development. The other members of the triumvirate making up the State Capital Territory are Ibusa and Asaba. It is my hope that this will not become a source of friction in future.
Although she is the oldest of the the three, modern development is least here than in the others making her the weaker of the three politically. Not withstanding, Okpanam has a very proud history of accomplishments in war, building of political institutions and in their democratic credentials.
The town has a history of having attracted dwellers from various and diverse cultures such as: Anam in Anambra State; Oba also in Anambra; Benin in Edo State and Uchi in the Riverine are of Delta State. Indeed, the Uchi connection is so strong the town proudly identifies herself as Okpanam-Uchi. To buttress this link, Okpanam has a sobriquet: Okpalani, meaning: The first son of Uchi. Should you, per adventure, find yourself in Uchi, every one in Uchi would most delightedly welcome you as a son on a homecoming. But so is it with the Ogbeowele, where a large chunk of the population claim strong affinity to Oba in Anambra.
The diversity of historical origin has also been a source of fissions. But so has it been one of her greatest strenghts. Politically, Okpanam has four quarters namely: Obodoogba, Ogbeozoma, Amachai and Obodo-Ogwugwu. Of the four, the last is the largest, in size and population accounting for nearly 40% of the towns population. Each Quarter is further didvided into Villages. They are as follows:
1. Obodogba: Umuomahe, Umu-Obodo and Umu-Osume,
2. Ogbeozoma: Umu-Laguti, Ogbe-Obi and Ogbe-Ojiea
3. Amachai: Umu-Mgbala, Umuezegbe and Umuolie
4. Obodogwugwu: Umumale, Idigbe Ocha, Idigbe Oji, Umuchime, Ogbeowele, Ogbeosadi and Umuomakei
It is not possible to clearly class every quarter as having come from one place or the other. However there are discernible waves of migration from parts of Igala land, Anambra, Benin and Ukwuani at different times. The different names borne by the natives bear testimony to our diversity. Check your name today if it sounds like names found predominantly from people from the Bini speaking area, then your ancestors probably came from there. Apart from names, some deities are more like those from one predominant area than others. And each Quarters have deities associated with them. If you take Ogwugwu for instance, you would notice that a whole quarter is named after this deity in Okpanam. This means that the deity has a deep attachment to the root of the area. The question is was Ogwugwu invented in Okpanam or did it come with some migrants from the East (where Ogwugwu worship is rampant? Remember the shrine where Governor Ngige of Anambra State was infamously administered an oath? It was an Ogwuwgu shrine).
I have also suspected that those areas with a similar greeting such as “Ajie” found in Umuomahe, Ogbeojie, and Ogbeowele have more than a cursory relationship. Ajie is also a greeting common with all Ukwuani speaking people making the Uchi connection a strong source of linkage. Though this is speculative, a study of the deities common to these Ajie greeting-communities in Okpanam and the riverine area of Aboh kingdom may throw greater light. This is open to investigation, though. Umu-Chime, a village in Obodoogwugwu seems to mean descendants of Chime. The military campaign of Eze (King) Chime are well documented. Could these have been fugitives fleeing the crises of the Ekukumeku wars? What of Ogba? Obodo (town or dwelling place of) Ogba is symbolic. Why did Obodo-Ogba become a quarter with that name? Who is Ogba? Answers to questions like these can reveal who we are very well.
Okpanam has had a history of one man rulership or monarchy as we have in many places today. However, the rule is already consigned to history. Why? The theories are many and varied. What is not in doubt is that there is a village today, Ogbe-Obi, where the king lived and which continues to hold the deity associated with the ruling family from Benin, whose over-lordship was overturned because one problem or the other. Proof of this link is the fact that till date no Oba of Benin could claim to have completed the process of coronation without coming to Okpanam to get the blessing of this Village or the deities associated with the ruling dynasty in Benin.
Today, there are no restrictions to being a king or Eze but your qualifications are that you must be a free born or adopted child of the town; have become a titled Alo holder; and be married with proof that you’re not aspiring to this position in the life time of your father.
The Spiritual leader of Okpanam however is the Diokpa, the oldest man in the town but there are agitations that this should be changed to reflect the modern realities as seen in neighouring communities.
MODERN INSTITUTIONS IN OKPANAM
No where else than here is it obvious that Okpanam has always been cheated. Apart from a poorly staffed secondary school and 2 public primary schools, others institutions of learning here are privately owned. The Government schools are: Okpalani Secondary School and the primary schools are the La School and Umegbali Primary schools. There is a host of other private schools which would constitute the subject of another write up.
Other government presence in Okpanam or Okpam for short include: the half completed road from Asaba to the Express, the Olie Market along the Onitsha-Benin Expressway and no other thing of note. The Catholic Church in Okpanam is however a project to be proud of.