1.1 Background of the Study Slave trade and slavery have been major subjects for historical studies by scholars, especially those in the West, for over a century and still continue to fascinate our historical imagination.1 The magnitude of the human tragedy they represented as well as the continuing relevance of their aftermath in contemporary times account for this interest. For much of that period, however, attention was focused on the external slave trade, more especially the trans-Atlantic slave trade to Europe, the Americans and the Caribbean and less so on the equally important and much older trans-Saharan and trans-Indian ocean trades. One result has been that, until very recently, little attention was paid to the indigenous internal slave trade and slavery in many ways like ‘launching pad’ for the external trade. It has been examined, using primary oral evidences supplemented by extant written records, the development, nature and character of indigenous use of people of subordinate status or unfree labour as well as the impact of the external slave trade, both trans-Saharan and trans-Atlantic and their abolition in Nigeria. From the analysis of various sub-regions of Nigeria, it is clear that slavery and slave trade played important roles varying in intensity in the history of the peoples of the region internally and externally especially between the sixteenth and late nineteenth centuries. They were not only major institutions of social subordination and control but also important labour source throughout the sub-regions. For much of the period under consideration, they influenced in substantial ways. The relations between the organized and centralizing policies and their non-centralized ones, and with the maturation of the external slave trade, dominated and shaped virtually all major social, economic and political relations between these policies. They were indeed major factors in the growth, development, decline and collapse of the centralized states in the Sahal, Savannah and forest zones.
At the maturation of the trans-Atlantic trade and slavery in Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean slave trade and slavery shaped economic, political and even cultural relations between the coastal policies of Nigeria and their hinterland neighbours as well as those between them and the Europeans. Black slavery played a very significant role in “the emergence, consolidation and ideological validation of Euro-American racism, a powerful force in world history since the eighteenth century of which the Black has remained perhaps the greatest victim”2. The campaign to eradicate slavery and slave trade from the late eighteenth century also significantly influenced the rationalization and consolidation of European imperialism and colonialism in the Niger-Benue region, the Nigeria of our present day.3 As in the case of Niger Delta city states, slavery and slave trade were dominant institutions in the Cross River region of Akwa Ibom, Cross River, lower Benue, parts of Ebonyi and Abia states and the Southern Cameroons, areas which historically made up the Cross River region. Okon Uya’s analysis confirms that although there were varying forms of use of unfree or subordinated labour in the small scale trade, artisinal and farming activities in the area, the coming of the slave trade was to transform relations between the Efik City states of Old Calabar and the Ibibio, Annang, Ogoja, Ekoi and Igbo hinterland communities from whence the slave were extracted. The analysis shows clearly that the Cross River region communities involved in the slave trade can substantially be classified into three, namely; the slave trading communities which principally were the Efik city states; the slave raiding communities, principally the Aro and their Abam collaborators, and the slave raided communities of present day Akwa Ibom. The Ogoja communities of the Cross Rivers and the Igbo hinterland fear and near. The impact of the trade differed substantially in the three groups, with the first two qualifying to be regarded as gainers while those in the third group were losers in the trade.