The Bassange Nupe People – by Ndagi Abdullahi

The Bassa Nge people are a Nupe people through and through. Any discussion on the origin or history of the Bassa Nge people must start on this premise, namely, that they left Central KinNupe as a Nupe people relatively not long ago. So many people have migrated out of KinNupe on exoduses and the Bassa Nge are most probably one of the last people to do so since they actually left Central KinNupe in recent historical times.

The Bassa Nge people begun to leave Central KinNupe in the days of the bitter rivalry between Etsu Jimada and Etsu Majiya when the Nupe kingdom broke into two rival kingdoms at the end of the 18th century. Etsu Jimada was the Etsu Nupe of the Eastern Nupe Kingdom with his palaces at Gbara and Zhima while Etsu Majiya was the Etsu Nupe of the Western Nupe Kingdom with his palace at Zugurma.

The rivalry between the two contending Etsu Nupes led to incessant and continued internecine wars between the two Nupe kingdoms. These internecine civil wars led to population displacements within and outside KinNupe one of which was the migration of the people who we today refer to as the Bassa Nge.

The Bassa Nge didn’t migrate out of KinNupe in one fell swoop or in a single exodus. It was simply a continuous stream of refugees fleeing the wars within KinNupe. Though there were documented instances of large collection of families leaving Gbara, the capital city of the Eastern Nupe kingdom under Etsu Jimada, en masse in those days. These movements of Nupe people out of KinNupe and towards the southeast eventually led to concentration camps of refugees who eventually coalesce to form the people that eventually came to be known as the Bassa Nge.

Interestingly Bassa Nge was not their name when they left KinNupe. In the days that these people left KinNupe at the end of the 18th century they were known specifically as the Ibara or generally as the Nupe. Captain F. Byng-Hall, who was among the first Colonial authorities to meticulously study the Bassa Nge, wrote that the original name of the Bassa Nge was Ibara. And Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther wrote that they actually continued to be known and referred to as the ‘Nupe’ even long after they have left KinNupe and have settled among the Bassa people of today’s Kogi State.

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That the Bassa Nge were originally known as the Ibara is not surprising at all for the simple fact that at the end of the 18th century when they were migrating out of Central KinNupe the Nupe people were still generally known as the Ibara. The Nupe people were generally known as the Ibara, also on the authority of Professor Roger Blench, and it was only in the first half of the nineteenth century that the national name ‘Nupe’ became popular as it was used by the Hausa-Fulani Jihadists in their official documents of communication and their city chronicles.

Ibara was a national name of the entire Nupe Nation in prehistoric times when there, once upon a time, flourished an ancient Nupe kingdom of Ibara or Bara here in Central KinNupe. This Bara kingdom was also known as Gu-Ibara or Gu-Bara and was the same that was identified as Gubar by Ibn Battuta as a superpower empire that dominated the Central Nigeria of ancient times. The Nupe people continued to be referred to as the Gubara, Bara, or Ibara right unto historical times as documented by Professor Roger Blench.

In any case the Nupe people known as Bassa Nge today left Central KinNupe at the end of the 18th century due to civil war going on between the two Nupe kingdoms in those days. In the beginning they were only settled along the banks of the River Niger mostly in today’s Kabbaland not far away from Central KinNupe. But then the rise of the various Nupe-Fulani emirates throughout KinNupe and the consequent internecine wars further drove the Ibara people out of KinNupe proper.

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In the 1840 to 1850 period a serious Civil War broke out in KinNupe between the sons of Etsu Tsado the Terrible. This Civil War threw the entire Nupe Nation into a convulsive tumult and forced the Ibara Nupe people to cross the River Niger to sought for asylum under the Attah of Igala. The Attah of Igala gave these Nupe people stretches of land in the Bassa country. That was how these original Nupe people from Central KinNupe first came across the Bassa people and the Bassaland of today’s Kogi State.

To differentiate the new arrivals from the old Bassa Komo people these Ibara Nupe people began to be referred to as the Bassa Nge.

Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther reported seeing these communities of Nupe people accommodated in Bassa country by the Attah of Igala.

The population of the Bassa Nge people began to expand geometrically as they settled down into a life of farming and peasantry in Bassa land under the Attah of Igala. At a time their expanding population became a threat to the Igalas and there ensued a war between the Bassa Nges and the Igalas. But the Bassa Nge defeated the Igalas and, consequently, asserted their independence from the Attah of Igala.

While the Attah of Igala was trying to reassert his sovereignty over the Bassa Nge the Colonial White man arrived on the scene and, with his divide and rule stratagem, supported the Bassa Nge against the Attah of Igala. The Colonial White man claimed that the Attah of Igala was too harsh and tyrannous over the Bassa Nge.

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Colonial authorities consequently granted the Bassa Nges some measure of autonomy from the Attah of Igala and this became the norm when the Colonial Government became firmly established. Anyway, the Bassa Nge became very close, and even acculturated, with the Igalas.

Due to their minority status in Kogi State the Bassa Nge people are facing all manners of humiliation and oppression in the political setup of Kogi State. A former civilian Governor of Kogi State was alleged to have declared in the public that he can do without the political clout of the Bassa Nge at the electoral polls because the entire population of the Bassa Nge “cannot even fill a pick-up van.”

The marginalization and neglect of the Bassa Nge people is aptly illustrated by the fact that the Bassa Nge have for decades yearned for a bridge to be built across the River Niger from Lokoja to Shintakun, a major Bassa Nge town, but successive Kogi State administrations have flatly refused to construct this lowcost bridge for the simple reason that the Bassa Nge have not the political or economic clout to persuade these administrations to build the bridge.

A bridge from Lokoja to Shintakun across the Niger will bring instant economic and sociocultural development to the Bassa Nges.

The Bassa Nge today are a very progressive and highly determined people who want to be reconnected with the main body of Nupe people back here in Central KinNupe. One major way to achieve this will be the creation of Edu State of course. The proposed map of Edu State actually included today’s Bassa Nge land in Kogi State. In other words the Bassa Nge part of Kogi State has been incorporated into the map of Edu State.

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