The story of Araiaria International Market, Aba, is like the story of the proverbial little bird that couldn’t fly and was left to die but grew wings and began to soar like an eagle.
In 1894, precisely, before the advent of the colonial masters in Aba, in present day Abia State, there was a rich man whose name was Aba. He lived in a small community and had eight sons: Oha, Abukwu, Obuda, Umuogboji, Eziukwu, Eziama, among others.
When Aba’s sons grew up, they settled in different locations, setting up their own families. The eight sons founded a village each, which put together make up present day cosmopolitan Aba.
As time went on, these children and their families renamed the community after him and that was how the present day Aba got its name.
Oha, one of the sons of Aba, gave out a small portion of his share of the land to the community to serve as a market place, with the condition that buying and selling should only take place in the evening of every other fourth day. In appreciation, the community named the market after him, Ekeoha.
When the colonial masters arrived in Aba in 1896, they relocated the Ekeoha Market to Aba but still retained its name.
In 1903, being desirous to plan, expand and consolidate on its trade in the hinterland, the British Colonial Administration decided to relocate from its Sub-District Office, which it had established in Akwete community in present day Ukwa East Local Government Area of Abia State in February 1896, to Aba.
In choosing Aba as a site for the Sub-District Office, the British Colonial Authorities had taken into cognizance the centrality of Aba to places like Port Harcourt, Ikot Ekpene, Owerrinta in Imo State and Bende.
It seemed Aba was naturally destined to blossom into a cosmopolitan configuration. Certain factors were to combine to give Aba a district of its own. The Aba River that meanders to join the Blue River at Azumiri provided a natural flow of human traffic in and out of Aba, thereby boosting palm produce.
The Ekeoha Market became so magnetic that traders and buyers came from different places in Igbo land to settle in Aba.
The Enugu-Port Harcourt rail line that the colonial government constructed around 1916 was an extra-ordinary advantage for the rapid growth of Aba into a commercial nerve centre of the defunct Eastern Region. The friendly disposition of the indigenous people of Aba spontaneously made Aba the home for all, even to the extent of some people misunderstanding this natural disposition to claim that ‘Aba is no man’s land’.
A former Chairman of Abia State Council of Traditional Rulers, who is the oldest and longest serving traditional ruler in Aba, had earlier in the year, having been born on January 1, 1929, celebrated his 86th birthday and 42 years on the throne as the monarch of Eziama community. He is one of the Osusu people that were the first to settle in Aba. He spoke to Daily Trust and narrated how the present day Ariaria began.
The monarch said when the colonial masters came, they were said to have posted one Mr. Faulks as the first British Colonial Administrator for Aba.
Mr. Faulks settled down and had his office in what today is housing the National Museum of Colonial History and Antiquities located on Ikot Ekpene Road.
Mr. Faulks had his residence in the Osusu area. That tells why today most of Osusu land is Government Reserved Area (GRA) in Aba.
He was said to have built the first road in Aba: Faulks Road, named after him, and it is incidentally the road that leads to the Ariaria International Market.
Since the original inhabitants (the Osusu, Eziukwu and Ohazu) came in, the place had no general name it was known with. The question then is; how did the name Aba come into being?
The traditional ruler provided another version thus: “The name, Aba, was given to the then expanding city by Mr. Faulks, the first British Colonial Master, who on arriving at the place saw how plain its landscape was.”
The 85-year-old traditional ruler was not yet born when his people migrated to Aba, and this he agreed with when he said, “As a matter of fact, I do not know the exact time my people came to this place that is now called Aba. I was not yet born, but what I am telling you now was handed over to me by my late father, who also said his father and grandfather told him.
“As people from other areas started to come and live in Aba, expansion began and the first market was built in Aba. The market located on Asa Road was called Ekeoha (market for all): people from far and near, including Lagos, Calabar, Port Harcourt and Cameroon came there to buy goods.”
However, as Aba began to expand, township came, because the market was originally designed as a village market. Therefore, there was need to relocate the Ekeoha Market to Ohuru, a nearby community. There the market was named Ahia Ohuru, which means the ‘New Market’. As years went by, the market began to experience constant fire outbreaks which led to destruction of goods. Many attributed these fires to the presence of the timber market, and besides, the shops in the market were made with wood and zinc which made them vulnerable to fire.
Due to the constant fire outbreaks in Ahia Ohuru, a section of the market housing timber and other building materials was, in 1977, moved to a community called Ariaria.
The second market in Aba was the Market Road Market, popularly known as Ahia Ohuru (New Market).
Today Aba is a cosmopolitan city inhabited by people with different ethnic backgrounds who greatly out-number the original inhabitants. There are also some Ngwa people who live in Aba today but are said not to be part of those that were brought to the area by what has come to be known as the ‘Divine Elephant’, and that is the Ogbor people.
According to Eze Ikonne, the people of Ogbor village, though now part of Aba, were not among the original Ngwa people that settled in the place through the direction of the elephant.
“The Ogbor people, according to history, have no relations in any other part of Ngwaland like the Osusu and others,” Eze Ikonne said.
The Ariaria International Market is arguably the largest market east of the Niger, established in the 1970’s after a great fire incident devastated the Ekeoha Market in Aba. Though nobody gave it a chance of survival at the new location because it was sited in a swampy location on the outskirts of Aba, but like magic, it soon grew in leaps and bounds to become a one-stop market where one could buy virtually all that one needs in bulk or retail and at good prices.
At its peak, this seamless market, which cuts across three local government areas: Aba North, Aba South and Osisioma, serves the West African Sub-Region; including Cameroon, Gabon and Central Africa. Aba came to limelight because it was a railway terminal where oil produce were exported. Aside that, Aba was also of equal distance with its neighbours: from Aba to Port Harcourt is 40 miles, Aba to Owerri is 40 miles, Aba to Uyo is also 40 miles. Therefore, the market became a trade confluence for the neighbouring cities.
Also, after the Nigerian Civil War ended in 1970; when people came back from exile, they were all struggling to establish one thing or the other. At that point they influenced the relocation of the market to Ariaria. They got shops and owned cluster of shops.
Also, the music of James Brown of 1973 titled: “Knock on wood” also gave a boost to ingenuity of the people where slippers were made with wood. Knock on wood became fashionable and people were coming to buy them. From there the shoe department became very vast, up to international standard.
Source: Daily Trust