Awka (Igbo: Ọka) is the capital of Anambra State, Nigeria with an estimated population of 301,657 As of 2006 Nigerian census. The city is located 199.1 kilometres (123.7 mi), by road, directly north of Port Harcourt in the centre of the densely populated Igbo heartland in south east Nigeria.
The West-East Federal highway links Lagos, Benin City, Asaba, Onitsha, and Enugu to Awka and several local roads link it to other important towns such as Ekwulobia, Agulu, Enugwu-Ukwu, Abagana and Nnewi.
Strategically, Awka is located midway between two major cities in Northern Igboland, Onitsha and Enugu which has informed its choice as an administrative center for the colonial authorities and today as a base for the Anambra State government.
Awka has a certain kind of aura about it, because it was the place of the blacksmiths that created implements which made agriculture possible. — Chinua Achebe
Awka is one of the oldest settlements in Igboland established at the centre of the Nri civilization which produced the earliest documented bronze works in Sub-Saharan Africa around 800 AD and was the cradle of Igbo civilization.
The earliest settlers of Awka were the Ifiteana people which translates into people who sprouted from the earth. They were farmers, hunters, and skilled iron workers who lived on the banks of the Ogwugwu stream in what is now known as Nkwelle ward of Awka.
The deity of the Ifiteana was known as Okika-na-ube or the god pre-eminent with the spear and the Ifiteana were known as Umu-Okanube or “worshippers of Okanube”, which evenutally became shortened to Umu-Oka and eventually Oka and its angicized version “Awka”.
In ancient times, Awka was populated by elephants with a section of the town named Ama-enyi (haunt of elephants) and a pond Iyi-Enyi where the elephants used to gather to drink. The elephants were hunted for their prized ivory tusks (okike) which was kept as a symbol to the god Okanube in every Awka home with hunting medicine stored in the hollow of the tusk.
Over time, the town become famous for metal working of a high level and its blacksmiths were prized throughout the region for making farming implements, Dane guns and ceremonial items such as Oji (staff of mystical power) and Ngwuagilija (staff of Ozo men).
In pre-colonial days Awka also became famous as the home of the Agbala Oracle a deity that was said to be a daughter of the great Long Juju shrine of Arochukwu. The Agbala Oracle (which Chinua Achebe drew on for inspiration in his book Things Fall Apart) was consulted to resolve disputes far and wide until it was finally destroyed by colonial authorities in the early part of the 20th century.
Before the inception of British rule, Awka was governed by titled men known as Ozo and Ndichie who were accomplished individuals in the community. They held general meetings or Izu Awka either at the residence of the oldest man (Otochal Awka) or at a place designated by him. He was the Nne Uzu or master blacksmith, whether he knew the trade or not, for the only master known to Awka people was the master craftsman, the Nne Uzu.
In modern times Awka has adapted to the republican system and is currently administered by the Awka South Local Government Area. However, it still preserves traditional systems of governance with the respected Ozo titled men often consulted for village and community issues and a paramount cultural representative, the Eze Uzu who is elected by all Ozo titled men by rotation amongst different villages to represent the city at state functions.
The current Eze Uzu of the city selected since 1999 is Gibson Nwosu one of the first recruits for the Nigerian Air force and a former head of Air Traffic Operations for the Biafra Air Force, the Lusaka International Airport and the Zambian Air Service Training Institute (ZASTI).
Awka should not be confused with Awka-Etiti which is a town in Idemili South local government area that is often mistaken for the main capital. Today, Awka is the capital of Anambra state of Nigeria. Slogan: Sires of Smiths
Awka comprises seven Igbo groups sharing common blood lineage divided into two sections. Ifite Section, the senior section, comprises four groups, Ayom-na-Okpala, Nkwelle, Amachalla, and Ifite-Oka followed by Ezinator Section, which consists of three groups, Amikwo, Ezi-Oka and Agulu. Each of these groups has a number of villages. All together, Awka comprises 33 villages.
Awka people today as in traditional times are well travelled. In ancient times demand for their skills as blacksmiths had Awka people travelling throughout Nigeria making farming implements, household tools and guns. Each village had clearly defined trade routes. For example, people from Umuogbu village plied their trade in Benin and in the Urhobo and Itsekiri areas, Umubele were stationed in the Igala areas in modern-day Kogi state, Umuike and Umuonaga in present-day Abia and Rivers State, Umuenechi in the Kwale and Isoko area of Delta state, and Umudiana, Okperi, Ugwuogige stationed in Calabar area of today’s Cross Rivers state.
The people of Umudioka and Ezioka wards specialized in carving of wood, and ivory and arts designs including elegantly carved tools, door shutters and door panels, chairs, vessels for presentation of kola nuts, and idols. The ivory carvers produced elegant designs on “odu okike” (ivory trumpet) for ozo titled men and other items as part of the paraphernalia for titled men.
Today, Awka people can be found all across the globe many working as skilled professionals in a wide range of fields. As a result, there is a large Awka diaspora located primarily in the UK and in the United States. There, they have formed social clubs like Awka Union USA and Canada, Awka Town Social Community UK and Ireland and other community associations. These associations have been a way for people to enjoy their culture as well as to engage in community self-help projects.
|Ayom-na-Okpala||Umuayom, Umunnoke, Umuoramma and Umuokpu.|
|Nkwelle||Achallaoji, Umunamoke, Agbana, Umudiaba|
|Amachalla||Amachalla, Amudo, Umuzocha|
|Ifite-Oka||Enu-Ifite, Ezinato-Ifite, Agbana-Ifite|
|Amikwo||Umudiana, Okperi, Igweogige, Isiagu, Obunagu|
|Ezi-Oka||Omuko, Umueri, Umuogwal, Umuogbunu 1, Umuogbunu 2, Umudioka, Umukwa.|
|Agulu||Umuogbu, Umubele, Umuanaga, Umuike, Umujagwo, Umuenechi, Umuoruka.|
Over the years Awka Town has attracted people from other states in Nigeria and has a significant number of immigrants from northern Nigeria, Delta and Enugu states, Cameroon and Ghana now comprising more than 60% of residents in the town.
It is also a popular name among Nigerians.
Awka lies below 300 metres above sea in a valley on the plains of the Mamu River. Two ridges or cuestas, both lying in a North-South direction, form the major topographical features of the area. The ridges reach the highest point at Agulu just outside the Capital Territory. About six kilometers east of this, the minor cuesta peaks about 150 metres above sea level at Ifite –Awka.
Awka is sited in a fertile tropical valley but most of the original Rain forest has been lost due to clearing for farming and human settlement. A few examples of the original rain forest remains at places like the Ime Oka shrine. Wooded savannah grassland predominates primarily to the north and east of the city. South of the town on the slopes of the Awka-Orlu Uplands are some examples of soil erosion and gullying.
Awka is in the tropical rainforest zone of Nigeria and experiences two distinct seasons brought about by the two predominant winds that rule the area: the southwestern monsoon winds from the Atlantic Ocean and the northeastern dry winds from across the Sahara desert. The monsoon winds from the Atlantic creates seven months of heavy tropical rains, which occur between April and October and are followed by five months of dryness (November – March). The Harmattan, also known as Ugulu in Igbo, is a particularly dry and dusty wind which enters Nigeria in late December or in the early part of January and is characterized by a grey haze limiting visibility and blocking the sun’s rays.
The temperature in Awka is generally 27-30 degrees Celsius between June and December but rises to 32-34 degrees between January and April, with the last few months of the dry season marked by intense heat.
The economy of Awka city revolves primarily around government since many state and federal institutions are located there. Awka hosts the State Governor’s Lodge, State Assembly and State Ministries for Health, Education, Lands, Water.
The Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) a TV and radio station are located in the city centre. A number of federal institutions including the Central Bank of Nigeria (which has a currency centre in Awka), the NTA Awka media station, and branches of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Federal Road Safety Commission, Nigerian Immigration Service, and Corporate Affairs Commission are also present in the city.
In recent years, several new businesses have erected fascinating new buildings that have largely changed the face of Awka city. The partly state-owned Orient Petroleum Resources Ltd has the headquarters in Awka. The company is poised to set up a refinery at Igbariam to jump-start the exploitation of the huge crude oil deposits in the Anambra River basin. Also Juhel Nigeria has constructed a manufacturing plant for Parenteral drugs in the city.
Major Nigerian Banks such as Access Bank, Bank PHB, Diamond Bank, Ecobank, First Bank, Intercontinental, Oceanic Bank, UBA, Union Bank and Zenith Bank have opened branches in the city.
Prior to the Nigerian Civil War, Awka townspeople maintained the city on their own. Market traders cleaned around their stalls; streets and pathways and compounds were swept. Blocked storm drains would be cleared by residents. Yet now Awka is often seen as the state capital with the worst infrastructure in Nigeria (a country sharing the same state of infrastructure) with less than 10% of its roads paved, inadequate storm drainage, poor public water supply, garbage dumped on the sides of roads and a nonexistent sewage system. This has been because Awka has suffered from decades of neglect and poor urban governance in Anambra State due to corruption and deception from many of state governors.
The first attempt to address the urban decay was made by the Government of Peter Obi who forged a technical cooperation agreement with UN-HABITAT in 2007 to provide technical assistance in the preparation of a structure plan for Awka Capital Territory. The Structural Plan of Awka Capital Territory (2009–2028)  is designed as a Core-Multi-Nuclei urban design with Awka, Amawbia and Umuokpu serving as the core of the city with linkages to the major towns of Adazi-Nnukwu, Agulu, Abba, Abagana, Agukwu-Nri, Amansea, Enugwu-Ukwu, Enugwu-Agidi, Isiagu, Isu-Aniocha, Mgbakwu, Nawfia, Nawgu, Nibo, Nimo, Nise, Okpuno and Umuawulu.
Governor Peter Obi implemented just a few of the UN-HABITAT’s recommendations managing to tar less than 5 kilometers of urban roads, improve waste collection and upgrade schools and the teaching hospital. His government also began installing water pipes along the popular Nnamdi Azikiwe Road and Ifite Road but he left office without providing a credible city-wide public water supply.
His successor Governor Willie Obiano has taken on the charge of transforming the ancient town into something the state can be proud of. To spearhead the transformation, Obiano created the Awka Capital Territory Development Authority (ACTDA) mandated to deliver a capital with modern standards of quality. ACTDA has completed aerial mapping in June 2015 with the government set to appoint a town planning firm to develop a Masterplan for the city.
Obiano has also gone ahead to change the gateway into and out of Awka by expanding the A232 expressway to three lanes and constructing three flyovers at three key junctions between Amobia and Amansea.
Awka hosts a variety of broadcast media organizations including two independent newspaper dailies, an FM radio station for the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, the offices of the state-run Anambra State Broadcasting Corporation and a Zonal office of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
Awka like most Nigerian cities is defined by large rudimentary informal markets where everything from basic food produce to clothes, cosmetics and household items are sold.
The largest market in the town is Eke Awka, named after one of the four market days (see Igbo calendar). Located on a former community burial ground in the center of the city, Eke Awka has grown from a small market serving the needs of residents of the Agulu, Ezi-Oka and Amikwo sections of Awka to functioning as the main retail outlet for the city and neighbouring towns. It houses an estimated 5,000 lock-up shops and stalls all tightly packed into less than 35,000 square meters of space and has become infamous for causing tremendous traffic chaos with a medley of shoppers, buses, wheel barrows all jostling for the limited amount of space available.
The second largest market in Awka is Nkwo Amaenyi located further down on the busy Zik Avenue business district artery. It is far smaller than Eke Awka with less than 100 market stalls in an area estimated at around 3,000 square meters.
In addition to older informal markets there are several supermarkets that have sprung up around the City to cater to customers seeking modern shopping conveniences. Among the most popular include Radopin Supermarket which has two locations in the city, Inter-City Supermarket located in the Amudo section, and opened most recently near the CBN branch office, Roban Stores, a new superstore modeled along the lines of Walmart.
It is expected that with the completion of the Ikenga Mall presently under construction, the Shoprite Group of South Africa will also open in the city.
Awka has a large university community which at times comprises around 15% of the population of the town. It hosts two primary universities of higher/tertiary education – Nnamdi Azikiwe University and Paul University.
Nnamdi Azikiwe University is owned and run by the federal government of Nigeria providing undergraduate and postgraduate education to an estimated student population of 36,000 at its over 100 acre main campus located at Ifite, Awka. Nnamdi Azikiwe University ranks among the top 10 universities in Nigeria in research output.
Paul University was founded in 2009 by Bishops of the five ecclesiastical provinces of the Anglican Church East of the Niger as a private university to provide quality undergraduate training in Theology, Natural and Applied Sciences, Social Sciences and Management. The university which is fully residential has an estimated enrollment of around 400 students (expected to reach 3,500) and has replaced St Pauls university College which was founded in 1904 by the Church Missionary Society of the Church of England to train church workers and teachers.
Christianity is the main religion of Awka people although many also retain belief in their traditional religion which encompases many similar traditions and values as noted by G.T. Basden. The Church Missionary Society (CMS) of the Anglican Church was instrumental in bringing Christianity into Eastern Nigeria through Reverend Samuel Ajayi Crowther who founded the Niger branch in 1857. A teacher’s training college in Awka was created in 1904. Its oldest church in the town is believed to be the Church of the Holy Spirit which was completed in 1930. Its largest church today is the Cathedral Church of St. Faiths with a typical Sunday attendance of 1,200.
The Roman Catholic Church lagged behind the Anglican Church in entering Awka but it has built a larger presence ever since. The Catholic faith has two large cathedrals – St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Awka as well as four smaller churches such as SS John and Paul’s, St. Anthony’s, St. Peter’s and St. John’s spread around the town. Administratively, since 1977 Awka has served as a diocese for the Roman Catholic Church serving 107 parishes and five chaplaincies.
As a people well known for travelling, Awka developed an enlightened tolerance and kindness towards guests and strangers which led the British missionaries and colonial authorities to choose the town as a key administrative centre.
Today, Awka has become the centre of hospitality in Anambra state adapting to the needs of hosting a wide range of visitors. It has become the place for holding political meetings, where conferences are organized by the state government and Nnamdi Azikiwe University and where other events such as workshops and trainings are hosted by federal institutions such as the CBN, Immigration, Federal Road Safety Commission, and NGOs such as FHI, the World Bank and the UN.
Awka has also become a home-away-from-home for members of the large Igbo diaspora when they visit their relatives in Awka and nearby towns providing a measure of western-style comfort and services within a hotel and resort setting. Indeed, within half an hour of Awka, it is estimated that there is a diaspora population numbering well over 100,000.
The town currently has over 15 3-star hotels among which the most popular include:
The Imo-Oka festival is a two weeks-long festival of masquerades and dances held in May at the beginning of the farming season in honour of a female deity who it is hoped would make the land fertile and yield bountiful crops. The festival starts with Awka people visiting the community of Umuokpu with masquerades and it ends with a visit to the Imo-Oka stream on the final day which is heralded by a heavy rain that falls in the late afternoon.
There are four major events performed during the festival, the ede-mmuo, ogwu oghugha, egwu Opu-Eke and Egwu Imo-Oka. Egwu Opu Eke is a rich cultural dance performed by female worshipers of Imo-Oka shrine which includes priestesses and ordinary women alike decorated in colourful costume dancing in the market square in honour of the deity controlling the shrine.
The Imo-Oka festival showcases a variety of masquerades (mmanwu) from sinister ones which flog spectators to friendly ones which sing or dance. The masquerades are believed to represent the spirits of Awka ancestors coming from the land of the dead for the festival.
In 2001 Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy MBE, a daughter of Awka, exhibited her oil on canvas paintings series of Awka Igbo Masquerades, to great acclaim in the Cork Street Gallery in London, various galleries in New York and Washington and at the Didi Museum in Lagos.
Awka town has produced many professors, Doctors, Lawyers, Administrators etc.