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JaJa of Opobo

JaJa of Opobo
JaJa of Opobo. Source: worldwideimperialism.weebly.com

JaJa of Opobo, full name; Jugbo Jubogha, was the charismatic king of Opobo in the Niger Delta who opposed inroad of British trade into the hinterland. JaJa, an Nkwerre man, was born c.1821 in Amaigbo village group, which later became part of the Orlu Division. For cutting his top teeth, an abnormal and sinister phenomenon in Igbo belief, he was sold to a titled man, Iganipughuma Allison of the Delta town of Bonny which was at this time peopled greatly by Igbo slaves. In Bonny, JaJa was grouped among the lowest rank of slave society, which included ones born outside the town. Because he was difficult and uncontrollable, JaJa was given by his master to Chief Madi of the House of Anna Pepple.

In the house of Pepple, JaJa’s skill in trade won him the respect of the House’s leading members, and was unanimously elected head of the house. With the aid of King George Pepple of Bonny, JaJa was defeated in a battle provoked by the understandably envious Oko Jumbo who was himself an influential ex-slave in the house of Manilla Pepple. JaJa fled to settle at a brilliantly chosen site next to the Ikomtoro River where he, as a talented trader, blocked up the flow of Palm Oil to Pepple in Bonny. Dissatisfied with a commercial agreement initiated by king George of Bonny, JaJa entered into a treaty with the British crown on 4 January 1873, which recognized him as king of Opobo and gave him the sole monopoly of trading except only in the White Man’s Beach. This treaty will be interpreted otherwise by the newly dispatched Consul to the British Queen, E.H. Hewett, who denied that the treaty granted monopoly of market to JaJa. The decision to bar the white man from proceeding higher up the river of Opobo, Hewett argued, was for sanitary reasons only. The treaty of 1873 appears to have been finally superseded by the treaty of the protectorate of the Berlin Conference in 19 December 1884 which puts the Niger District under “Her Majesty the Queen.”

 

Jaja of Opobo's canoe c.1882
A canoe of King JaJa c.1882 Source: Ukpuru

For intrigues made to preserve his believed trade rights, JaJa was accused of obstructing trade and infringing the agreement made at the Berlin Conference. JaJa, failing to understand the full import of the establishment of a protectorate for the district in which his kingdom was part, sent a deputation to the Foreign Office in London to plead his case to the Earl of Rosebery.
“(The Consul) is pushing Old Bonny people to go to our markets, while we do not interfere with theirs. Your Lordship would therefore see exactly what trouble he is trying to bring upon us.”

 

King JaJa of Opobo and Nana Olomu of Itsekiri-in-Council
King JaJa of Opobo and Nana Olomu of Itsekiri-in-Council: Kwekudee Trip Memory Lane blog

The Consul, decided to get rid of JaJa, persuaded the Bonny king to repudiate him, isolated him politically and asked for permission to remove him “temporarily” to Gold Coast, now Ghana. Eventhough the Foreign Office demanded a third opinion in its conviction of JaJa, the extradition to Accra, Gold Coast was effected on 30th September 1887. An inquiry into JaJa’s activities was held in Accra under a senior naval officer, Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty. JaJa’s actions against free trade, it appeared, had been borne out of his ignorance, misinterpretation, and later, objection to the Treaty of Berlin. The Foreign office had been unaware of this. However the Admiralty found no proven case against JaJa, the accused posed threat to penetration “to that only part of the country which is worth exploitation” was severe. JaJa was sentenced to perpetual banishment in the benefit of free trade. Although JaJa requested in a sober letter to be exiled in Accra, he was refused as he was thought capable of reasserting his authority from a place so ‘near.’ JaJa lived the rest of his life with kingly dignity in St. Vincent island in the West Indies. His death occurred in 1891 on his way back to Opobo when it was finally decided he could. JaJa’s death, two decades later, will be followed by the Aro War which will open up the entire Igbo hinterland to colonial power.