Posted by The Port Harcourt Telegraph - By Clinton E. Jaja Esq on
By 1891 British political intrigue had resulted in the death of King Jaja in exile.
By 1891 British political intrigue had resulted in the death of King Jaja in exile. The period between 1891-mid 1893 left Opobo and King Jaja dynasty on trial. But the chiefs of Opobo spectacularly managed Opobo Kingdom until a new successor was named. He was Prince Sunday Jaja. (1893 1915).
The Opobo to which Chief Sunday was to rule had not markedly altered in some respects from King Jaja days including the period of his exile. Trade was still transacted in the traditional manner, with the chiefs acting as middlemen between the hinterland suppliers and the European supercargoes.
Chief Sundays reign marked remarkable economic and political stability in Opobo.
Despite the strenuous efforts of Consul Johnston and Consul Hewitt the trade on the Imo River was still dominated by Opobo men. In 1893 when Sunday succeeded to the throne, the African Association, which had threatened the position of the Opobo middlemen by pushing into the hinterland markets, finally realized their inability to compete effectively. They quickly reached an agreement with the Opobo chiefs whereby the later purchased their hinterland trading posts for 500 puncheons of oil (about £7000) and promised to remain on the coast as in the port. It was in this year (1893) that Chief Cookey Gam was appointed as a political agent for opobo (Prince Archibong, Political Agent, for Calabar) and the buying of all the establishments of the African Association (the "Amalgamates") at Akwete, Ohambele, and Essene market by Both Bonny and Opobo.
The administration of Opobo Town politically and judiciary, was by a British Council, Civil and criminal offences were reported to, and investigated by him, town and home matters, including petty squabble between individuals were referred to him. The council exercised the power of imposing fine and or sentencing to terms of imprisonment. An appeal against a judgment of the consul was lodged with the consul general who on review at Calabar either confirmed, amended, or annulled the judgment.
In August, 1894 King Sunday Jaja as king of Opobo together with his chiefs granted the existing site to the Niger delta pastorate church the site on which the St. Paul church and other building now stand. The religious festivals for the ancestors were still performed regularly; the owuogbo cult still retained its hold both as an important acculturative instrument and as a vital arm of government. Although Christianity had gained a foot hold, the adherents remained few and inconsequential.
Rules and regulations for good government of the town, were enacted by the chiefs-in-council; and announced to the public by the Owu-ogbo and no violator of the rules and regulations, no matter his standing in the society escaped unpunished by the Owu-ogbo. The Owu-ogbo (Masquerade club) fixed the time of the year for mask play, and controlled it.
It acted as the market-master enforcing the market rules. It also investigated a case of fighting and other untoward attitudes and imposed fine on offending parties. Owu-ogbo in several cases was the functionary of Native authority, (See attached memo) Penalty for a fight between persons in the town or market was 100 manilas. The culprits are arrested by any member or members of the Owu-ogbo who exact the penalty from both offenders. For civil fight between war-canoe houses the penalty was 8000 manilas.
Payment, in cash varied according to the rate of manila to a shilling. For the maintenance of peace and order laws, to wit, the fire law was enacted. An offence of outbreak of fire was committed, if a ray of fire was observed from a house.
The penalty was £5 and above depending on circumstances. Excepting domestic animal like goat, pig and dog were disallowed in the town for reason of sanitation and health. This situation prevails up to this day. Dogs and pigs are not permitted in Opobo.
Market law included the exclusion of sale of oil in the market overt to avoid its spilling on wares and merchandise, thereby provoking quarrel which might escalate.
Another remarkable development of Prince Sunday was the establishment of Native Council (now customary court).
The council sat weekly. The native council was established in 1901. in the same year 1901 the House Rule Ordinance promulgated by British Government was introduced into Opobo Town.
It conferred on Heads of Houses authority and power over members of their Houses, especially in matter of communal labour. Members were bound to render services to their masters or Heads of Houses. Defaulters were punished while escaping slaves were recovered and retuned to their masters.
Prince Sunday was himself trained in England, so he knew the value of education. In 1905 Opobo Town Government School was opened. It was headed by "Pa Cole", a Sierra Leonian who first established in the town as a trader. Non-Christian parents opposed to Bible reading withdrew their children from the mission school into Government School.
Later "Saint Paul" church was dedicated.
The church school was dedicated on 23rd December, 1894, by Archdeacon Crowther. The building could accommodate 400 worshippers.
In January 1895, the Day School was opened with Mr. Campbell as the catechist-School master.
The baptism in the church was administered by the Honourable Archdeacon Crowther assisted by the Pastor, The Reverend S. Peter's. as there were no communicants then so the Archdeacon and the Pastor were sponsors to all the baptized persons.
Between 1905 and 1907 the European firms had established firmly at Down Below only to later move to the present site at Egwanga (presently called Ikot Abasi). Having given a guarantee to the chiefs of Opobo that the new station would be called "Opobo", the Chiefs reacted when afterwards they discovered that imported commodities were marked "Egwanga" and insisted a return to the name "Opobo". The European complied.
At this time Government headquarters was at Norah Beach diametrically opposite Down Below but by 1907 removed the consulate to Egwanga (Opobo). The place where we presently have the seat of the local government called Local Government Offices, Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State.
It was during Prince Sunday's reign that the Niger Coast Protectorate was reconstituted as the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria in 1906 and resolved into Western, Central, and Eastern Provinces Opobo Town in the Eastern Province with Calabar as Headquarters.
The governor of the Protectorate, Sir Walter Egerton was so much concerned with road development that he enacted the Roads and Rivers Ordinance; Opobo chiefs obtained grant, under the Ordinance, for opening the creek from Azumini to Aba the Opening, which immensely conduced to Opobo trade.
Two years during Prince Sunday's reign are momentous, the years 1907 1908 in the history of Opobo Town. In recognition of King Jaja's selfless service Opobo chiefs headed by chief Sunday resolved erecting a monument to his memory.
Early in 1903 subscriptions began to flow in. The chiefs assessed themselves and the amount to be subscribed by each European friend on Opobo Rivers. The cost of £3000 was remitted to a firm of sculptors in England with several portraits of King Jaja and the one represented on the monument was selected. The materials arrived in April 1907 and one Mr. Small, a European civil engineer, was employed for the erection.
No assessment of King Jaja's life could be worthier than the following inscriptions on the marble base of this statue.
A King in title and in deed
Always just and ever generous
Respected and revered in life
Lamented and mourned by all when dead!
The unveiling of King Jaja's monument was marked by war canoe excursion, which took place on November 1907. The District Commissioner, Mr. Pinder deputed for the Governor of the Protectorate, Sir Walter Egerton who was absent. There were distinguished personalities representing several towns and the number of Opobo people present is estimated at 6000.
OPOBO TOWN MARKET
The market was erected in 1910. Sir Walter Egerton with his wife Lady Egerton visited Opobo Town in 1910. The wife found Opobo women trading under the sun no shelter of any sort. Moved with sympathy Lady Egerton made representations to the Protectorate Government which resulted in the erection of a large market hall constructed with brick and corrugated iron sheets with a raised cemented floor.
Egwanga is recognized as a village within Ikot Abasi Local Government Area. It is gazetted by Akwa Ibom State Government. Egwanga covers all the land on which Egwanga Market, the premises of Miller Brothers (New Berries and Lyndhurst), and the bank, all of which are presently non - functional, excepting the market.
The land was acquired by King Jaja through purchase. It was sold to King Jaja by the Chiefs of Ibekwe. Chief Sunday Jaja was the Head of King Jaja House since 1893. Miller Brothers Factory was transferred from Norah Beach to the present site in Egwanga (Opobo) in 1906. He appropriated the rent paid by the firm following an agreement, which it concluded with Chief Sunday Jaja and Chief Cookey Gam (Secretary to King Jaja). Several chiefs witnessed the agreement. The Ibekwe chiefs acquiesced.
In 1911 chief Akpan Owo of Ikot Obong (Ibekwe) sued Chiefs Sunday Jaja and Cookey-Gam claiming ownership of all the land referred to above. Mr. E. V. Clerk, a West Indian, as Solicitor, represented the defendants.
One of the principal Opobo witnesses was chief Doctor Dappa who led the court to the spot where, on digging the spot, was discovered a bottle containing a parchment showing Jaja's title to ownership. Judgment was entered for Opobo. It must be remembered that chief Sunday Jaja married a daughter of Chief Ibritam of Ibekwe.
Chief Sunday Jaja died during the 1st World War (1914-1918). He died on October 12, 1915. He was King Jaja's son and his first successor.
While a boy of 14 years and schooling in England, his father was arrested in September 1887. Sunday arrived Accra to meet his father standing trial. Sunday joined his father who was on exile on May 8, 1888, from Accra to the Island of St. Vincent. He was, however, repatriated some months later.
He was on his father's stool for some 22 years (1893-1915). It does appear that besides King Jaja, no other King during his reign has had his period marked by the sort of tremendous Political, economic and social developments as King Sunday Jaja (King Jaja 11) had. It is on this note that King Sunday Jaja, the Amanyanabo of Opobo, (1893-1915) is resting.
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This is a great piece of history, which is dear to our hearts as people and very much appreciated.
Many thanks to the people who worked hard in the past and those who are still making efforts to keep the institution.
The labour is obviouly worth it. We are proud of you all.
A lot still to be done, with the motivation of the champions of this course, others will follow as well to maintain the institution
May God continue to keep the edifice for development of future generations to the glory of God and the benefits of our fatherland.