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Eyo Honesty II

Eyo Honesty II
Photo: stippe.com

Eyo Honesty II was the king of Creek Town, one of the Southern Nigerian towns of the Efik people who presently constitute the chief population of Calabar. Eyo is remembered in history for his modernizing effort, and for being an instrument by which British rule became enacted in the Niger Delta. His name, Honesty had stuck, in T.J. Hutchinson’s 1858 account, because of his honest and progressive outlook. Born in c.1788 into a middling dynasty, Eyo enjoyed the privilege as a child to learn the English language, good for trade, and to travel across oceans while he served as a cabin boy under some English Captains. He rose by the strength of his commercial acumen and industry to become, before the year 1846, the wealthiest Efik. Following the death of his father, Eyo Nsa, he plunged himself, first in slave trade, and after its illegality was established in his country, turned his energy to the trade in palm oil. With his new economic status, he built a house in the name of his father who had ruled Creek Town that was now subsumed under Great Duke Ephraim’s Calabar kingdom, tactically enlisting members of his clan to a common cause, and ultimately reenacting the Eyo dynasty.

As king, Eyo welcomed Christian missionaries, who, due to his experience with them as a boy, he saw as good influence. He served as translator and extended good gesture towards the Scottish United Presybetern Church mission sent to Calabar as response to a request jointly made with Eyamba V of Duke Town in 1841 to Queen Victoria of England. Even though Eyo cooperated with the missionaries, he never converted to Christianity himself, and endeavored to uphold what he did not consider retrogressive in the custom of the land.

Eyo was said in E.A. Ayandele’s 1965 book on the Missionary Impact on modern Nigeria to be driven in his reformist campaign partly by a bid to extend his sovereignty to Duke Town and Old Town, a dream none of his forbearers ever had. His only formidable rival was the Eyamba V of Duke Town, a wealthy man in whose employ he once served. As a young man, Eyo had enjoyed the privilege of visiting the West India, and Liverpool, becoming therefore, contemptuous of some Efik customs which he called “fool things”. In 1850 he destroyed those fool things with the Egbo law, which consequently made possible the interference of Britain in Efik laws and politics. This in author Ayandele’s estimation was not the length Eyo intended his reformation to go. It was said that he planned an armed attack against the missionaries, but could not pull it through because of the vulnerability of his realm. When his frail heart warned him of a near death he endeared himself more to his reformist ideals, apparently by which he hoped for salvation. He repeated he wouldn’t like any one to be killed, as was custom, at his death. After a having a meal with his brothers one evening in 1858 he slumped.