Isoko people are an ethnolinguistic group that inhabits the Isoko region of Delta State, Nigeria. They are people of southern Nigeria, near the northwestern Niger delta. The Isokos speak the Isoko language, which is very linguistically similar to the Urhobo language. James W. Welch asserted that Isoko is a dialect of Urhobo. The Isoko culture is related to several cultures in the Niger-Delta – Urhobo are related in language and culture, leading to the missionaries erroneously labelling the Urhobo and Isoko cultural groups as Sobo. This name was strongly rejected by both tribes.
The oral history has it that the first group of Isoko ancestors in about 1600 AD at the same time as the ancestors of Aboh. The ancestors in the first group were Erowa (the senior) Uzere, and Okpe. Isoko oral history told that the second group led by ancestors of Iyede left Benin about 1650- 1700 AD during the reign of Oba Ozolua, the Oba of Benin. After, a short while the ancestors of Ughelli, Ogor and Agbarha- Otor (3 brothers) in Ughelli North Local Government area followed the trail of Iyede ancestors and settled in their present sites. Between 1600-1700 AD there were many migrations from Benin kingdom to many parts of the present Edo and Delta States as a result of incessant internecine wars coupled with the unbridled wickedness of the princes of Benin Kingdom. There were further migrations by some of the first and second groups and in some cases their children moved from their parents settlements to settle in virgin lands. The ancestors of Effurun- Otor in Ughelli local government area, LGA, came from Erowa in Isoko South LGA, whilst Effurun In Uvwie clan migrated from Effurun- Otor. Ekpan and Ugborikoko towns moved from Effurun to settle in their present sites.Irri came from Uzere whilst Oleh and Agbon clan in Ethiope East LGA migrated from Irri, Agbon consists of Kokori, Okpara, (Inland and wasterside ) and Eku towns. The present Okpe clan in Urhoboland, i.e. in Okpe and Sapele LGAs migrated from Okpe in Isoko along with Ozoro. Ozoro settled in their present site whilst Okpe went further to Orerokpe their present settlement. Ofagba clan came from Okpe. Emevor and Owho clans migrated from Iyede and Ibrede and Iyede- Ame in Ndokwa LGA are direct descendants of from Iyede to settle in their present sites. Ellu clan, i.e. Ellu, Aradhe and Ovrode are descendants of Owho. The ancestors of Aviara migrated from Benin and came to its present settlement through the River Niger. The only Isoko community that migrated from Urhoboland is Olomoro clan which descended from Olomu clan in Ughelli South LGA about 1750-1800 AD.
The ancestors of all the clans in Isoko migrated from Benin with the exception of Igbide, Okpolo/ Enhwe and Evwrheni now Ughelli South, which came from East of the river Niger, i.e. the present day Anambra, Bayelsa and Rivers states. They came through the river Niger to Isoko creek (a tributary of river Niger) near Patani, and advanced in land to settle in their present sites. Late Professor Obaro Ikime elucidated on the historical facts of Isoko nation. Umeh ancestors came from Onya on the River Niger opposite river Nun, a tributary of river Nun, a tributary of river Niger and came through Isoko creek near Patani and advanced in land to settle on the banks of Isoko creek where they are at present. There was further movement of Owhawha ancestors from Igbide in Isoko South LGA to settle in Jeremi clan, Ughelli South LGA. The re-migration of people from Isoko to Urhoboland was due to insufficient choice of land for settlement and also due to constant flooding during rainy season and also due to river Niger flowing its banks.
Most Urhobo historians, linguists and cultural anthropologists are of the opinion that Isoko is only a dialect and a cultural unit of Urhobo. In fact, this was upheld by the British that these two ethnic groups were once referred to as the “Sobo” people, a term largely refuted by both groups. Later on, the Isokos were called the Eastern Urhobos. Till now, some people are of the belief that these two ethnic units are one due to similarities in culture, language, food and virtually everything. The Isoko and Urhobo names for most items are mostly the same. They greet the same way ( Urhobos say Meegwo and Isokos say Deegwoo ), marriages are in the same tradition, traditional religion and philosophy is akin and even dressing is the same. However the Isokos are of a different opinion. The Isoko historians are of the opinion that most Urhobo clans migrated from their land. Before the advent of the British to the Niger Delta the communities in Isoko were frequently engaged in conflicts between and amongst themselves owing to disagreements resulting from ownership of land struggle for crude power to have dominion over others.The salutary point, however, was that wisdom prevailed in the long run, and as a result the leaders initiated and entered into covenants between themselves to ensure sustainable peace . Some of the covenants are still in existence today and they are respected by the communities that covenanted as they were respected in those days. For example, the covenant between Erowa and Iyede and Aviara is highly respected and feared. It promotes peace and understanding among the people of these communities; no evil or harm is done to each other under any circumstances. The one between Igbide and Oyede is also highly respected.
In 1951, the Richards constitution came into operation in Nigeria. The Western Region Delimitation Commission created two constituencies from Eastern Urhobo Native Authority (NA), and elections to the Western House of Assembly were conducted by electoral college system on individual or personal basis although political parties were behind the candidates. Late Chief James Otobo from Uzere kingdom for Isoko. Chief Mowarin for the other side of Eastern Urhobo, NA. They both contested and won their elections to the Western House of Assembly, Ibadan. Late Chief James Otobo for NCNC and Chief Mowarin for Action Group. At the 1954 general elections, Chief James Otobo again contested, this time under the platform of NCNC party and won and was returned to the Western house of Assembly. In 1957, Isoko was given a modicum of Independence of Isoko District Council from Eastern Urhobo. Chief James Otobo influenced the creation during his tenure as a member representing Isoko at the Western house of Assembly, Ibadan. This marked the beginning of Isoko as a recognised distinct ethno-linguistic group as opposed to its previous categorisation as an Urhobo dialect.
The Isokoland is one of the most densely populated areas in Nigeria, with about 500 people per square kilometre compared with the average of 198 for Delta State and 130 for Nigeria. The consequence has been a shortage of farmland which is accentuated by oil exploration activities in the region. Many of the (estimated) over 475,000 Isoko people migrated to other parts of the country, living in Ughelli, Warri, Sapele, Benin, Ijebu Ode, Ondo, Lagos and Kano just like every other ethnic group in Nigeria and predominately in the rural agricultural land areas of Benin, Ondo and Ijebu-Ode. Also, some 300,000 Isoko people are permanent indigenes of Ndokwa East of Delta State and Sagbama local government area of Bayelsa state.
Isokoland is essentially rural with no urban and semi-urban centres. Isoko land is within the economic shadow of the vibrant industrial, commercial Warri metropolis and the result has been largely of backlash effects, with most of the young men and women in addition to available capital in Isokoland graduating to Warri suburban area. The residual population is mainly involved in agriculture, small-scale commercial and industrial enterprises. Against this background of the petty economic activities, massive unemployment of youths is very high, the quality of life is low and below the standard of living recommended by the United Nations Development Organization and poverty is rife in Isokoland.
The Isoko people are predominantly Christians. Traditional worship still thrives despite the strong onslaught of Christian principles. Ọghẹnẹ is the word for God. Although it can be generally termed as traditional religion, there are however some practices that are peculiar to some isoko community. For instance in the town of Emevor, some important festivals like “idhu and owhoru” which are celebrated annually and bi-annually.