Ikot Ekpene, also known as the Raffia City, is a historic town in the south-south state of Akwa Ibom.
It is the political and cultural capital of the Annang ethnic group in Nigeria. The town is located on the highway that parallels the coast between Calabar in Cross River State to the south-east and Aba to the north-west and just 30 kilometres to Uyo, the state capital.
However, very little is known about the origin of this unique town but the population is made up of primarily the Annang people with a small number of Igbo traders and Hausa suya vendors.
Though most inhabitants of Ikot Ekpene did not have direct contact with European traders who they called Mbakara until early in the early 20th century, it is believed that European articles of trade reached the people since the 17th century.
In November 1903, British troops were said to have arrived in the area from Calabar and the following year, established a garrison there in January 1904, installing one Umoren Eyenobong, known as sword -wearer by the Europeans from Ukana to take charge.
From Ikot Ekpene the troops marched to Uyo and from there to Abak and Opobo (now Ikot Abasi). Between 1904 and 1910, Ikot Ekpene became part of the Eyong District. In 1914 Enyong District was broken up into two: Enyong and Ikot Ekpene Districts.
The new Ikot Ekpene District included Uyo and Abak with the headquarters in Ikot Ekpene town.
By 1919, trade with Europeans opened up as the town became an administrative centre. The following companies had posts and stores in the town: John Holt Cooperative Wholesale Society, Paterson Zochonos (PZ), G. B. Olivant and the Compagnie Francaise de L’Afrique Occidentals. The establishment of these companies resulted in an exodus from the surrounding areas and made Ikot Ekpene a vibrant metropolis.
In 1937, the colonial administration built the main market and separated those who sold imported European goods from indigenous articles. A slaughter house was added to allow for the inspection of meat.
Under the British, the town became the seat of the (Annang) Division and (Ikot Ekpene) County Council. Today, it is a municipal centre in the state of Akwa Ibom.
Ikot Ekpene is located between latitudes 5° 10` and 5° 30` North and longitudes 7° 30` and 7° 45` East. The town lies on the north-western flank of Akwa Ibom State.
Companies such as John Holt, Cooperative Wholesale Society, Paterson Zochonis (PZ), G. B. Olivant and the Compagnie Francaise de L’Afrique Occidentals were to later establish post and stores in the town.
The establishment of these companies resulted in economic boom for the people and exodus from the surrounding areas made Ikot Ekpene a vibrant metropolis such that by the early 1937, the colonial administration built the main market and separated those who sold imported European goods from indigenous articles.
Ikot Ekpene it seems, lost its grand flourish and entrepreneur buoyancy of colonial commerce to the civil war that ravaged its entire landscape in 1970 and for over a decade, there was little testimony there of substantive capitalist adventure, mercantilism was reduced to trading majorly in ancestral crafts thus the sleepy city hobbles with sedated sluggishness.
But all these disappeared when former Governor Godswill Akpabio, himself an Annang man, took over the administration of Akwa Ibom in 2007. He brought immense development and well measured transformation linking the town with dual carriage ways from Abak and Uyo axis, thus the city resonated, making it one of the most beautiful local government councils in Akwa Ibom.
Ikot Ekpene, probably more than any other town, was seriously impacted in the Biafrian civil war in 1970. It had strategic military and political importance to both the Biafrians and Nigerians. The town and the area changed hands at least three times in this bitter conflict. Following the war, the new reorganisation and state structure led to policies that did not recognise the historic importance of the town as most of the Annang leaders were massacred during the war.
Ikot Ekpene has a long history of transforming the raffia fibre into cloth used in shoes, hats, handbags, mats and with distinctive cultural carvings made out of wood. These unique arts and craft trades have continued alongside traditional agriculture.
Ikot Ekpene Town Plaza
In the heart of Ikot Ekpene is the town plaza which consists of a long tree lined promenade with two outdoor dining areas either side of an exciting central fountain. A bandstand forms a major architectural feature and is a venue for outdoor entertainment along with a large outdoor viewing screen to show soccer games and films. Complementing facilities include a maintenance building, car park, public toilets and an access footbridge which in actual fact, seems to draw tourists from far and wide.
A major tourist attraction at Ikot Ekpene are the the raffia crafts, esoteric and powerful masquerades.
An old market in the town provides interesting glimpse into city’s culture. It is usually abuzz with middle class shoppers, all swarming around its roadside stalls and showrooms. Tourists, most times, explore these markets for souvenirs.
Shopping is always a personal experience and Ikot Ekpene offers an opportunity to gain this experience. The city’s diverse neighbourhoods offer virtually every type of shopping imaginable, from local foods and products to arts and crafts, also trendy threads. The vibrant atmosphere of the local markets also can make shopping lots of fun. In fact, Ikot Ekpene has some of the best markets in Akwa Ibom, with a lot of art and handicrafts.
Hospitality: A Four Points International Hotel built by the state government and now managed by Sheraton brand has been established and provided everything that matters, including timeless design, uncomplicated comfort and a genuine and friendly approach to hospitality and service.
The Four Points hotel feature146 guest rooms, an all-day dining restaurant, a lobby bar, 814 square metres of meeting and event space, as well as a fitness centre and an outdoor pool also constructed by former Governor of the state Chief Godswill Akpabio administration has added beauty and splendour to the ancient town of Ikot Ekpene.
Built on the demolished site of the old Federal Prison at the crossroad between two major highways with easy airport access, the hotel is the first high-rise tower in Ikot Ekpene as well as the first purpose-built internationally branded hotel in the iconic town.
Reflecting the brand’s promise and insight into the needs of today’s traveller, the hotel also offer all of the brand’s defining elements, including the signature Four Points by Sheraton Four Comfort bed and free bottled water in the room, complimentary Wi-Fi in all public areas, a delicious breakfast with great coffee and refreshing local beer with Best Brews, helping guests to start and end the day right.
Full of culinary secrets, a walk through the boulevards of Ikot ekpene is likely to lead you to countless food joints that are drenched with the aromas of good food and the hum of both hungry and satisfied customers. Thanks to a preponderance of bukkas, street food vendors, fast foods and fancy restaurants, Ikot Ekpene can be a foodie’s paradise; lending a much-needed retail counterpoint to all that earnest craft and art exhibits around the city. Favourite foods to try include: Ekpang Nkukwo, Afang, Atama Soup and Editang Ikong ate with fufu a cassava derivatives.
The people of Ikot Ekpene are known for their unique hospitality rich culture and festivals, a holiday tagged “Ikot Ekpene Day” is set aside to honour the founder of the city,” The celebration which is observed by the town’s inhabitants and original families is celebrated annually.
By Bernard Tolani Dada, Uyo