Awka, the capital of southeastern Anambra state, is a fast-growing city that is a major administrative and academic centre. It’s emergence as an urban centre dates to its selection during the British colonial era at the capital of what was known as the Awka Province in the then Eastern Region. From the rural town that first developed, Awka continued its expansion, attracting civil servants working in government offices and departments, and traders that set up shops to sell to the new working class.
It’s growth and expansion remained gradual until the 199x creation of a new Anambra state from the old one that had included Enugu and Ebony states. Awka was designated as the capital of the new state, and the process of its transformation from a rural town to a city began apace.
Awka is located in between two major southeastern cities, Onitsha and Enugu, at a point almost equidistant of the two on the highway going north from south. It’s population is currently estimated at about 600,000 people, based on a population of 301,000 recorded in Nigeria’s last census in 2006.
The place is probably as old as the Igbo, one of Nigeria’s three largest ethnic groups and among the oldest of the kwacha language subgroups of Africa. It was a major centre of metallurgy, producing the excellent smith’s that provided the iron-working tools that revolutionised agriculture and propelled the population surge that made Igboland one of the most densely populated areas of Africa even after the 400 years of the ravages of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Awka sits within the geographical area of the Nri civilization, a religious epoch marked by respect for the earth as a source of sustenance, when the biggest sin in a community was to go against nso ala or ruo ala, in other words to offend the earth. The technological prowess of this era in Igboland is best reflected in the 9th century Igbo-Ukwu bronzes, made with the lost-wax method and unlike anything else anywhere in the world. Igbo-Ukwu is located about 30 kilometers south of Awka.
Until today the Awka blacksmiths still enjoy the reputation of being able to forge a wide range of implements and instruments, including rifles and pistols, in addition to traditional farming and musical instruments.
The indigenes of Awka say that it’s oldest people were from the area called Ifite Ana, denoting people who emerged from the earth to underscore their antiquity. Most were farmers, hunters and blacksmiths. They worshipped a deity called Okanube, for which they became known as Umu-Okanube (the children of Okanube), further shortened to Umu-Oka, with the suffix changed to Awka by British colonial administrators, the name the city bears today.
In pre-colonial times, the smiths of Awka plied their trade far beyond the boundaries of Igboland rendering services to the Benin, Urhobo and Itsekiri people to the west, the Igala to the north and the Efik and the Ejegam people to the east.
Today Awka is a cosmopolitan city, which though still dominated by the Igbo, is now inhabited by people from all over Nigeria, west and central Africa.
Topography and Climate
Awka lies between two ridges running from north to south in the plains of the Mamu River. The area was originally part of a tropical rain forest now degraded into a mix of shrubland and wooded savannah by centuries of agriculture and deforestation. Some of the pristine origins can still be found in sacred groves preserved through traditional religion, such as the Ime Oka shrine. With the removal of the former vegetation cover, areas on the slopes of the surrounding ridges have become susceptible to gully erosion.
Like most of southern Nigeria, it experiences two major seasons: the south-northerly winds from the Atlantic Ocean that brings rains from April to October and the north-southerly winds that come with winter, blowing cold, dry and dusty winds from across the Sahara Desert from November to March, causing the dry season. The temperature ranges from 25 degrees celsius at the peak of the rains in June to about 33 degrees celsius in February.
Economic activities in the city of Awka are built essentially around government activities. Following closely in importance is the academia, with key educational institutions such as the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Paul’s University located in the city.
Therefore, commercial activities in the town are geared to meet the needs and demands of the large body of civil servants and the academic community (students and teachers) in the city. There is a main market by Zik’s Avenue, with commerce and trading also using up any available space in other parts of the city.
All the country’s leading banks have branches in the city, including the Central Bank of Nigeria. Anambra state-owned television and radio station as well as newspaper are also located in Awka. The state government also owns the Orient Oil Company, which is building a refinery near Aguleri, in the northwest of the state, where crude oil has been discovered. The Ikenga Mall now under construction in the city is expected, on completion, to host the South African group Shoprite and other shopping outfits.