Posted by The Port Harcourt Telegraph - By Clinton E. Jaja Esq on
The old mechanism faltered, sagging more heavily under each new King's ascension to power.
The old mechanism faltered, sagging more heavily under each new King's ascension to power. Many had lost faith in the institutions, which had carried the kingdom over the numerous small peoples that had sought to challenge her.
There was meaninglessness about absolute allegiance to the monarchy, a decline of religious ideal, a skepticism whether anything was worthwhile except peace and comfort. And a boom in oil trade had brought an economic scale, which was dissolving the strong political grip Bonny had on her subject. It was this scenario, which gave birth to King Jaja and subsequently, Opobo.
Jaja was a political strategist who succeeded to the headship of Opubo House in 1866. On the other divide was Fubara House. The two Houses were at logger head. The appointment of Alali from Opubo House as the sole Regent of Bonny, King William Dappa Pepple (Opubo's Son) having been exiled in 1854, provoked more aggressiveness on the part of Fubara section.
The tension was such that when Illoli became head of Opubo House, he mooted, for the first time to the Chiefs of Opubo House, the idea of eluding Bonny to establish on the existing site on which Opobo Town now stands the site having been discovered during the Bonny/Andoni War of 1836- 1843.
The site was used as a rendezvous for the war- canoes operating during the war. The idea died temporarily because the Chiefs were not unanimous on that point. When the Bonny Civil war of 1869 broke out Jaja was quick to recall the existence of this site and it was to it he safely moved his Chiefs and people for resettlement.
Jaja was also a military strategist on how he managed the war to see Opubo House victorious. Mr. E. M. T. Epelle in his book Opobo Town in A Century writes in pages 4-5.
"The ping of slugs and pellets sounded every where in the town,... But the harassing fusillade of the detachment of Opubo section symmetrically garrisoned rendered immediate defeat, by the Fubara section, absolutely impossible, though the engagement appeared at the outset in favour of the Fubara section. In the main town the engagement was by sieges, there was no pitched battle; but the influx of ammunitions, to the Fubara was unprecedented. Handicapped by paucity of ammunitions, the Opubo section averted annihilation by their maneuvers in repulsing attacks..."
Artilleries were employed and the atmosphere of the town became charged... Buildings were rived by the incessant booms and recoils of huge ordinances. But the Opubos though homeless and losing largely both in men and in material, were not despondent. Prescient as Jaja was, his first order to the Opubos at the different market was to defend occupied areas, but not to engage in an offensive as military supplies were inadequate for large-scale operations.
At the markets there were skirmishes, looting and expropriations of one another's properties. The Opubos at once, according to Jaja's plan successfully instituted a blockade of the waterways and so trade came to a standstill. The blockade had the effect of paralyzing the military operations of the Fubaras for, deficient in supply of palm oil for the payment of military supplies, the existing supplies diminished without further accretions and, consequently, the objective of annihilation and of extirpation of the Opubo section at Bonny was hampered.
Jaja had a standing effective army of well over 4,000 men. His military might was of great attraction to Britain. He had the knack to save people in distress. In 1874 Britain was engaged in war against the Ashanti. Sir Garnet Wolesely who conducted the operations appealed for African troops who understood native military tactics. Consul Harley appealed to Jaja in this regard for a contingent. Jaja furnished fifty men under Captain Young Jaja who acquitted themselves creditably.
In grateful appreciation of Jaja's contribution to the Ashanti War, Her Majesty Queen Victoria presented to King Jaja a silver sword (looted during the Nigerian Civil War) with the following incorruptions. "Presented by command of her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and lreland as a mark of esteem and friendship to KING JAJAOF OPOBO...." The sword was presented in April 1875, by Consul Harthy in the presence of Mr. Knight and Mr. G. M. Moore both mercantile agents from Bonny who traveled to Opobo to witness the presentation ceremony. Opobo was now in a strong position among her neighbors. She was now used widely to arbitrate among warring neighbours. She took part on the arbitration panel for settlement of disputes between the Okirikas and kalabaris as well as in the Kalabari dispute of 1879.
Jaja had great economic potentials His sagacity in terms of business was overwhelming. In December, 1884, a conflict arose between Opobo and Britain, over a new form of treaty presented without discussion for the King and Chiefs of Opobo to sign. It was called a treaty of protection. After much dispute and exchange of correspondence on the issue, Opobo people led by Jaja and his Chiefs accepted the treaty but expunged Article six, which death with " Free trade" and the right of European traders and visitors, not just the consul or the Senior Naval officers alone, to travel to any part of the hinterland, cross the " Whitman's beach" and the limits set up oppossite Hippopotamus River by the Anglo-Opobo Treaty of 1873, use the rivers and waterways in and around Opobo at will and trade anywhere with anyone the British traders would like to deal with (see Opobo Since 1870 by Dr. S. O. Jaja page xxiii and xxiv).
Jaja depended on trade and commerce. On Jaja's general view of trade, E. M. T. Epelle posits that Jaja not only protected trade between the Opobo and the people of the hintherland, but also engaged in its expansion. The peace treaty of 1873 left Jaja and his people in the full coutrol of Ohambele, Azumuni, Nkpirikpo and Essene markets. He expanded into Ibibio land and established markets in areas covered by the existing Abak, Eket and Uyo Local Government Areas of Akwa Ibom State-among the most important markers being Ekpenukpa, Mbiokporo, Ikot Nsong (destroyed during a punitive expedition in 1909,) Nja and Utu Etimekpo".
Besides the aforementioned the Annangs, in their course of terrifying traders passing through their Villages to the several trading establishment of the Opobos attacked traders and killed them.Trade route was closed. Operations against the Annangs were commanded by Chief Bruce Jaja, an outstanding warrior, and continued for nine months January to September 1877. The Annangs surrendered and trade revived as a result.
The Okpuro conflict arose as from the desire of the Ibibios for increase in price of palm produce. The defeat of Okpuro brought the Ibibios in that area under a complete subjugation. The ultimate result was the federation of the Ibibios to swear allegiance to and enter into blood covenant with Jaja.
The Ibuno (Eket Division) Expedition of 1881 had for its objective the intimidation of the Efiks who, according to information received by Jaja, desired to establish along the banks of the Qua Eboe River. The Ibunos killed an Opobo trader and the expedition, which was to avenge the murder, aimed at ransacking and devastation any Efik establishment on the Qua Eboe Rivers. This expedition had a deterrent effect among the towns and villages situated at the banks of the Qua Eboe River so that Jaja not only controlled but even commanded the water ways.
The Nung-Asang expedition of 1884 quieted the Ibibios. Along the Essene Greek Opobo established peacefully and were in friendly terms with the natives. The rage and plunder of Njah in Ibiaku Clan was a sufficient demonstration of Jaja's powers. Chief of Njah subsequently did homage to Jaja and swore allegiance to him.
Jaja was a remarkable enlightened man. He valued education. He sent his son Sunday Jaja, to Glasgow for education. If Christianity could have come without upsetting the fabric of the society, as it seemed to have done in Bonny, he would happily have allowed it. As he often told the missionaries he wanted hid subjects to "Saby book" (African Times I May 1885, S. Griffiths, pp. 97-9) Jaja was able to have a school established in Opobo without any Christian activity attached to it. This he did through one Miss white, an American negress of whom he became enamoured. Although she was poor when she arrived Opobo her remarkable talents and force of character attracted Jaja's attention. She found her way into his good graces and was advanced step by step. She changed her name to Emma Jaja and married an Opobo man by name Johnson.
Emma Jaja's school was made up off sixty boys and girls and according to Bryan Roe, a Wesleyan missionary who visited the school in 1885, so well had the children been instructed that they compared favourably with English children of the same age ( C. R. Johnson: Bryan Roe: A soldier of the cross, London 1896, pp. 63-64).
Jaja was a very religious person. He was traditionalist to the marrow as far as the vital institution of the Delta was concerned. Convinced that indigenous religion was the cement of the African society he stuck to it and was thus in Opobo both the spiritual and secular head of the state, the only monarch in the Niger Delta to combine the two posts.
Jaja's attachment to juju must be seen in the context of the traditional African society. Scholars of African religion and anthropologists are agreed on the fact that religion is central to the life of the Africans.
It hedged the King with divinity and awe, permeated the life of every individual from birth to the grave, subjected the low born to their superiors and, because of the fear it instilled, formed basis off secular authority. Remove its religion from an African society and it was deprived of its very life. Its moral and political system collapsed at once. It is therefore clear following this argument, that the Christian converts that renounced the tribal religion, throw away healthy restraints of the religion.
While the tempo of the new found Christian religion was soaring, the one man who discerned from the beginning the palpable danger of Christian missions to the social and political heritage of Southern Nigeria, and who spared no efforts to destroy the new fanggled faith, was Jaja, the greatest political figure in the Bight of Benin and Biara of his time.
In Bonny, Oko Jumbo was the first to learn reading and writing. Took the Bible to the Qua Eboe River, Bonny's Chief oil market, and indicated that he would not object to Christianity spreading there (C. M. S.CA3/010, W. E. Carew : Journals, 3 June, 1868). Oko Jumbo became an ardent reformer, announced in 1868 an end to twin murder and supervised the slaughtering of the iguanas, the big lizard which was the animal totem of Bonny.
Within two years Ikuba was already neglected by the majority of the people (C. M.S. CA3/010, W. E. Carew: 20th June 1868). But Jaja clung steadfastly to Ikuba of which he was the high priest (C. M.S. CA3/04 (a) Bishop crowther to Venn, 10th May 1883).
He refused to sign the letter of invitation to Bishop Crowther in 1864. ( C. M.CA3/02, D.C. Crowther of Venn, 27th Feb. 1867). At first he toyed with the new learning, but soon gave it up and refused to put any child in school. He was dismayed by the desertion of the temple, which he rebuilt to make it superior to the church and school building.
He replaced the woo`den stands with iron stanchions and covered the sides and roof with corrugated iron sheets in place of bamboo. He collected the scattered bones of war victims, carefully arranged them and erected a new platform for new accretions. (C.M.S CA3/04(a), Bishop Crowther to Venn, 27th Feb., 1867) Not even the serious sickness that prostrated him in June 1868 could make him respond to missionary appeal.
Sleeping under three chickens suspended from the roof with heads down wards, four of his lieutenants propitiated the gods by sacrificing human beings, goats and fowls. He frankly told the missionary (who warned him that it was his adherence to a false faith that brought about the illness) that his Jaja's, theology was not unsound, for he believed in the supreme being who ordained human destiny. (C.M.S. CA3/010, W. E. Carew: journals, 21 June, 1868; quotes Jaja's 'true; He do anything he likes and no fit as Him what thing he do'.)
It was not therefore by accident that chief priest Jaja chose a Sunday, 12 September 1869, to challenge the Manilla Pepples to begin fighting, and invitation which the latter, being "Christian", rejected until the following day. (F. O. 84/1/1398, Livingstone to Stanley, 26 October 1869). It was not an accident either that Jaja's greatest grievance against his enemies was the cold-blooded murder of his women and children by the Manilla Pepples by offering their women and children by the Manilla Pepples in the "Sacred Juju Town" in the Kingdom of Bonny.F. O. 84/1308, Livingstone to Clarendon, 6 June 1870).
Added to his aversion to missionary enterprise was the strong support which the missionaries naturally gave to the Manilla Pepples by offering their women and children protection in the Mission House, while Jaja's own people were slaughtered mercilessly for lack of protection. It is nothing therefore to wonder at that once he left Bonny he determined to exclude missionaries from his territory at all cost.
Jaja was a nationalist and a patriot. His discernment from the beginning of the dangers of missionary activity to the sovereignty of the Niger Delta potentates and the laws and customs of Southern Nigerian Peoples is significant in the history of Nigerian Nationalism.
It is essential to emphasize that in his perceptiveness, in the nationalist sense he had no equal among his contemporaries in other parts of Africa. For the Awujale, Yoruba King, ..... while aware of the danger of the missionary, was willing to yield to the importunity of educated African and experimented with an African missionary before expelling him. (See the Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria, 1842 1914 P. 80 par. 2.)
Jaja refused to experiment in Opobo. Neither Moseletatse of Matabeland nor Mutese 1 of Buganda was gifted to see in the ostensibly friendly and altruistic missionary the harbinger of both European exploiter and administrator until it was too late.
Jaja's balanced view of situations was unpralled. Unlike other traditional rulers, He was not a reactionary traditionalist willing to resist all manifestation of foreign culture. He accepted the technological side of European civilization whenever he saw that it could lead to true progress. But, even then, he did this selectively, allowing both the European and the African to jostle together rather than allowing the latter to be entirely discouraged. Hence he disapproved of semi-nakedness of the Delta peoples, he himself adopted some thing like a naval rig but wore it sparingly.
Jaja had great Personality. He attached more importance to the more dignifying regal dress, 'a fathom of cloth, strings of coral beads of his sinewy neck, (and ) a smoking cap on his head' (F. O. 84/1828, Johnstone to Salisbury, 24-8 Sept, 1887) Well informed on European etiquette, he received his European visitors in his well decorated big banqueting hall and entertained them sumptuously on African made plates white providing them with European cutlery which he never used. He preferred his hands in the African manner (undated Times of India reproduced in African Times, I May 1885,S. Griffiths, Trips to the Tropics, London 1878,pp 97-9).
While he placed all kinds of European alcohol at the disposal of his European friends, he allowed his Chiefs to taste palm-wine only, himself remaining teetotaler because he believed that 'Drink make man fool' and was unworthy of any African ruler worth his salt.
Jaja with his Chiefs went in for European style houses and he boasted of his house to Lord Granville, in order "to show you that the West Coast of Africa is not quiet so uncivilized as is generally inferred at home' (F. O. 403/20. Jaja to Granville, 15 May 1883. His cast of mind was illustrated by the fact that he was 'fond of trade matters or the manners and customs of his people' (F. O. 84/1828, Johnston to Salisbury, 24-8Sept, 187).
According to contemporary observers, Jaja's State was the best administered in the whole of west Africa. (African Time 1May 1885, Griffiths pp 97-9).
In place of the social and political upheavals in Calabar and Brass, where missionary enterprise was allowed in, there were perfect peace and order and commercial prosperity in Opobo.
An enlightened autocrat, he saw to it that every able-bodied man was a trained soldier. By the aid of his juju, for which he was mostly dreaded, and the European weapons enough in his possession, including three Gatlings (an early machine gun) of which he was mostly proud, civil strife could not trive in his dominion.
Trade: Jaja was an astute businessman. According to E. M. T. Epelle, in his book Opobo Town In A Century, between 1872 and 1884 six firms had become firmly established on Opobo River, namely, Miller Brothers, Harrison and Company; British and continental; Taylor, Leughland and Company; Stuat and Douglas; Johnstone, Couper and Company. The companies in order to beat the cut throat competition emerging attempted a merger, Jaja protested vehemently such merger. He envisaged that such merger would be detrimental to his interest.
In 1886 when a merchant association, including both European traders and some Chiefs of Bonny, was established at Bonny he claimed the right to represent the interest of Opobo traders.
Jaja instituted a boycott of all the firms excepting Miller Brothers. He bought and exported all produce while he also imported the essential commodities the firm of Miller Brothers acting as his agent. When eventually the "amalgamates" established at Ohambelle market, Jaja invoked the provision of the Commercial Treaty of 1873, Article iii and forced them to retreat. But they stopped payment of " Comey" and "Hand shake" to Jaja. "Comey" was introduced first, by the Portuguese and was paid, first, to the King of Benin about the seventeenth century. Payment obligated a native potentate to provide land for a payer for trade and to afford protection against depredations. Jaja, by Comey" netted annually between fifteen thousand pounds and twenty thousand pounds. "Hand shake" was paid by any new agent of a firm prior to his assumption of office.
The stopping of the payments involved Jaja in colossal financial loss so that he appealed to the British Foreign Secretary. Lord Rosebery who at the time was in office contended that Jaja by direct shipment, introduced a custom which did not obtain in West Africa,
Dispute: Thus, the British government concluded a plan to do Jaja in. At the onset of the dispute between Jaja and European Merchants, Consul Hewett presented him a Protection Treaty containing nine Articles one of which (Article vi) required that British merchants would establish trading settlements in any native market. The treaty was a guarantee of protection by Her Majesty's Government without the intention of disturbing native rule or depriving the native potentates of their markets. Jaja refused to sign until Article vi was expunged; and it was expunged before he signed. But other native potentates from Calabar to Warri (including Bonny signed without prescription of any condition ).
Invoking the Commercial Treaty of 1873, Article iii, and referring to Article vi of the Protection Treaty expunged before he signed, Jaja substantiated his case before a commission of inquiry appointed in 1886 by Lord Salisbury, British Foreign Secretary. Consul Hewett the chairman of the commission and Jaja's unrepentant foe, was not impressed with Jaja's submissions, but another English man on the commission upheld Jaja's claims and communicated his impression to the " Times of England".
In June, 1887, Jaja sent a delegation consisting of Chiefs Cookey Gam and Shoo Peterside and Mr. Albert Jaja to make direct representation, on his behalf, to the British Foreign Office. The delegation was enroute when consul Johnston (Afterwards Sir Harry ) arrived Opobo River and, immediately, engaged Jaja on the trade dispute between him and the European Merchants. First ,he demanded Jaja absolving Baba, the King of Ohambele, from "Juju" sworn by him. Secondly, he issued an Order for "Prohibition of Trade" between Opobo and hinterland- Chief Uranta now established at Queen Town being exempted. This Chief with his house eluded Opobo Town on the 14th April, 1887 and placed himself under the direct and immediate protection of the Queen the cause of his eluding being some disagreement between Jaja and himself.
The Ultimate stage in the dispute was when the consul inviting Jaja to a meeting on Monday, 19th September, 1887, carefully concealing from him that he had any design upon his person, offering him a safe conduct, and assuring him of a just hearing of his case at Accra, Kidnapped him.
Jaja left Opobo River in the early morning of the 21st September, 1887 by H.M .S "Goshawk". King George of Bonny, writing the consul on the measure he had adopted, required that: "there should be no half measures" in dealing with Jaja. Jaja had an option to resist the arrest and destroy Opobo. He, out of patriotism chose to save Opobo.
Jaja's fall was deeply rooted in the past, in the unresolved conflict between the missionary factor and himself as the Champion of indigenous religion with commerce inextricably woven in .
The story of Jaja's life and death may take a hundred years to tell and write. His trial and exile evoked enough controversy in the British Parliament. Born in 1821 he died in 1891. He died on his way from exile. Buried in the Spanish island of Tenerife his body was exhumed and re -interred in Opobo. He was buried in the manner and style of an Ibani King. The funeral ceremony lasted 32 days during which the entire Opobo people mourned the loss of their great King.
No assessment of King Jaja's life could be worthier than the following inscription on the marble base of his 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!
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