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Economic Development

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Company trading agents on the Opobo River (NAI). Between 1900 and 1903, the European population on the river increased from 24 to 34 malesCompany trading agents on the Opobo River (NAI). Between 1900 and 1903, the European population on the river increased from 24 to 34 malesBy 1915, a number of European trading firms had established factories in Egwanga. They included Maclver, African Traders and Company, G. L. Gaiser and Company, African Cold Storage and African Association, Egwanga. Along Essene Creek, Whydah and Dayspring established their factories (Lovering, 1915: 14). Factories were also established in other places including Ibagwa. The result was that by 1929, there were a total of 35 European factories in Opobo District (Cheesman, 1931: 53).


Fast progress was also made in the area of transport and communication. To ease the problem of communication by water a land mail service was established in 1901 by Opobo runners, who carried messages within short periods to far and near. Besides, a launch was stationed permanently at Egwanga for use by the District Officer. There were also two gigs in the station for the Customs Departments and one for the Medical Officer, for use in his tours to different parts of the district (Cheesman, 1931: 5).


The Beach Trade
A merchant, establishing in these territories and carrying on trade, is hound to equip himself with the necessities to enable him to transact business. He builds first his house, stores, wharf, etc., and then has to provide himself with lighters, steam craft, boats, etc.. as at many stations there is absolutely no communication except by water: the European factories being established on made ground, surrounded by swamps.
Consul R. Moor (Ofonagoro, 1979: 193)
As soon us it was light, the trader had to be on the beach, superintending the day's business of palm oil. It was a varied business in the cooper's ship to inspect the staves and heads, to check the shooks and note how many casks needed repair or assembly: to watch the oil being brought in, sometimes by calabash being balanced on the heads of women, sometimes by canoes carrying perhaps twelve casks to be brought alongside and heaved on to the beach: to look on while the oil was boiled in large coopers and afterwards to test it by tasting it. smelling it, feeling it between finger and thumb
- until the young trader might well believe that the very blood in his veins was becoming mingled with palm oil. And then at the end of the day came the last duty: to enter in the Reach Report Book all the details of the day's business: the amount of the daily heave: the state of the casks: the amount of goods in his store sold or battered in exchange for oil.
(E. Thorp. 1956: 216)
Kernels continued to be bought by measure at Opobo. long after they were bought by units of weight in other places. The measure was a bucket, which contained a little more than two bags of kernels. Payment was made per bag, a bucket considered equal to two bags and the surplus, accumulated by the company, was carefully calculated towards providing Christmas presents for the local suppliers.
(Pedler, 1974: 207)


Transport Routes: A. Import of merchandise. B. Export of palm oil. (Source: UAC Statistical and Economic Review, March 1949)Transport Routes: A. Import of merchandise. B. Export of palm oil. (Source: UAC Statistical and Economic Review, March 1949)

By 1916 access roads had been constructed to link Egwanga with Essene, Azumini, Ekparakwa, Ibesit, Ibagwa and Eket (Sinclair, 1918: 1). In the following years, more and better roads were constructed throughout the District. Increasing use was made of bicycles by traders especially in Ikot Abasi area in conveying their goods, particularly palm oil and bales of cloths, to markets (Hartley, 1941). Egwanga was also connected by telegraph wires with many places such as Awa, Eket and Azumini and by water cable to Bonny (Gryer, 1911). Postal, telegraph and telephone services were also effectively maintained (Hartley, 1941).


With all these developments in transport and communication, messages could be conveyed easily and quickly. Trade, especially in palm produce and European manufactured goods, was also greatly promoted. Nigeria provided about Vs of the world's export of palm oil in the 1930's, and over Vi

during World War I (Davies, 1973).


The Bicycle
Pedal bicycles came along with the new roads at the beginning of the century. First to use them were the Provincial Commissioners, W. Fosbery and his District Officers on their tours around the district. Governor and Lady Egerton and their staff cycled along Opobo-Eket road and to the Brickfields at Uta Ewa on their visit in 1909. Then missionaries and trading agents joined; court messengers and traders made them a coveted possession, which supplemented by land the canoe transportation along the water ways.
By 1940's, groups of 40 to 50 bicycles, each carrying 3 to 5 four-gallon tins of palm oil. were seen along the roads to the produce buying centres. Others, loaded with well-stacked and secured bags of palm kernel (each of 185 pounds/83 kg weight) or baskets of pots and racks of dry fish, became a common sight all over the division. Most prestigious of the bicycles were the Raleigh brand.
Bicycle town transport in Calabar was of three categories:
1st class - with the passenger sitting on the frame in front of the owner; 2nd class - the passenger dismounting on the slopes, and 3rd class - with the passenger riding and the owner sitting on the frame.
(Source: Inspection Rook. Egwanga1905. 1909; Ann. Rep. Cal Prov. 1946: Nig. Mag.. 1940: 21)


The monopolistic merger of firms, 1879-1929 (after Isichei, 1977: 239)The monopolistic merger of firms, 1879-1929 (after Isichei, 1977: 239)

In spite of all this, it can not be said that all was well with the Division. The establishment of Port Harcourt in 1913 following the discovery of coal near Enugu in 1912, and the construction of railway line from Port Harcourt to Enugu by 1916 greatly undermined the economic development of Ikot Abasi. Enterprising traders in the upper Imo River and Western Ogoni areas who hitherto traded with Ikot Abasi, started to take their palm produce to Port Harcourt. The result was that more and more produce started to go that way, leaving less and less for the Bonny and Ikot Abasi traders. Gradually, the later were put out of business. There was also retrenchment of workers by European trading firms, which directed their attention to Port Harcourt, and to the administration. All the benefits gained from the presence of these institutions began to disappear (Isichei, 1976: 200-202).


The First World War (1914-1918) also affected the area. Among other things, the enlistment in the war by European officers in the political service of the Eastern Provinces who had military training caused the depletion of European staff and this greatly hindered the supervision of local administration in the districts.


The Pioneer palm oil mill at EteThe Pioneer palm oil mill at EteFrom 1929 to 1933 the World Economic Depression affected Opobo District very badly. In 1931, for example, the prices of palm produce paid by firms went down to less than half of what they were before. The volume of import in the same year decreased alarmingly. So, in reforming the political and administrative aspects of local government, attention was also directed to the economic improvement.


In this regard Native Authorities and the Divisional administration made determined efforts to encourage the production of cash crops, especially palm produce. Thus, new oil palm plantations were established in Ekparakwa in 1931, Ete in 1934 and, later, in other places. By 1942, a total of 192 palm plots had been established in Opobo District nine of which belonged to the Native Administration (James, 1944: 20).


Testing palm oil at a UAC store house. Source: NM, CalabarTesting palm oil at a UAC store house. Source: NM, Calabar

Produce Inspection
Palm oil is a chemical combination of fatty acid and glycerol. The free fatly acid (f. f. a.) content in the oil determines its quality - the lower the percentage of f. f. a. - the higher the quality. Palm oil with a low f. f. a. content may be used for edible purposes, one with a high f. f. a. content is put to industrial use (usually in the manufacture of soap).
(UAC Statistical and Economic Review, March 1949)
The first Inspector of Produce came to Egwanga station in May 1928 and was in charge of produce inspection in Opobo and the Qua Iboe Districts. He was assisted by 6 native examiners in Egwanga, who were soon increased to 11; and 6 in the Qua Iboe District, who were supplemented by 4
The Opobo District oil was always well cleaned and free from water a soft oil with average f. f. a. content of about 9%,
which commanded high price overseas. Deliberate adulteration of produce was rare.
(Ann. Reps., 1928. 1929)


Efforts were also made to replace the commodity currencies with British currency.

 West African banknotes. (Source: Eyo, 1990:104)West African banknotes. (Source: Eyo, 1990:104)


By 1912, overseas currency used in the West African markets, included the British gold sovereign, British silver, bronze and nickel-bronze (1825), French franc pieces, Napoleon and Spanish doubloons, American gold double-eagle, eagle and half-eagle and the Mexican dollar, Austrian Maria Theresa dollar. They usually had changing value in local currency, dictated by local circumstances.

Currency Counterfeiting

An outbreak of counterfeiting shilling coins through the use of cement moulds swept through the Province, paralysing trade and shattering the confidence. Counterfeiting became a village industry and was held in check only by the use of most vigorous police measures and exemplary prison sentences.

(Ann. Reps., 1936, 1939)


Colonial currency: CoinsColonial currency: Coins

The Palm Tree Shilling

When the new shilling was introduced around 1913, people believed that the impression of a palm tree indicated that the government was going to take over the palm trees. The new shilling, taken as a token, exchanged for 2 British shillings. Market prices of foodstuff were upset, the manilla value became uncertain and popular discontent was so high that there was fear that the company premises would be attacked.

(Pedler, 1974: 204)


A trading establishment at Egwanga. (Source: NAI)A trading establishment at Egwanga. (Source: NAI)

Trading Life at Opobo (Ikot Abasi) in the late 19th - early 20th Century
In the decade of 1870 to 1880, a change came over the Oil Rivers. Up till then, the supercargoes had lived on hulks moored on the rivers, old East Indiamen or Atlantic liners as the Adriatic which was at Bonny. Now they began to build factories on the shore as the country became quieter. The factory was on the edge of the river and usually consisted of a pier, a wharf, a large house with veranda, containing quarters for the agent and clerks on the first floor, and stores, otherwise, sheds for produce and sleeping places for Krooboys, the whole enclosed by a substantial fence and a big gate. The communication was by water, because, outside the factory, itself constructed on made ground, extended the trackless mangrove swamp (Greary. 1965). Trading stations, mainly British, were scattered all along the coast and up the rivers and creeks.
The European staff in a trading post lived usually as a family at the top floor of the establishment, the ground floor being occupied by the stores and workshops; cask houses were built around in the compound.
European trade agents and workmen (holding their tools) of the African Association Company, Egwanga. (Source: NAI)European trade agents and workmen (holding their tools) of the African Association Company, Egwanga. (Source: NAI)
At mealtimes, the trading agent sat at the head of the table, his European staff and visiting leading Africans, who handled the produce trading, completing the company. The breakfast table was an institution, and an entertainment, where cultures and traditions met and mixed.
(Pedler, 1974: 203)
Initially, no local labour was procured, apart from interpreters. The Kru servants - cooks and washermen - were brought from Liberia, as a form of protection, and they shared their masters' compound, each group looking after the other. Nearly all African bookkeepers were Gold Coast men, as were the carpenters and the coopers.
(ibid. 206)
Relations with the chiefs were very friendly. Most of the produce trading was done through them and they would invariably lunch with the agents when they came to sell. In return, the agent would be invited to the chief's house for a meal, probably a palm oil chop, on a Sunday.
(ibid. 207)
Transporting palm oil from the interior. (Source: QIM archives)Transporting palm oil from the interior. (Source: QIM archives)
Each head of house of Opobo traded with one company only, his headman overseeing the delivery of palm oil and palm kernel and the canoes and canoe-men. The chief and agents met once in six months to square the books, i.e., settle accounts and arrange terms for further trade. The Opobo chiefs arrived, sumptuously dressed in huge canoes with as many as 60 paddlers. house flags and musicians.
(after Pedler, 1974: 209) 
Through the palm oil trade the Ibibio man bought his clothes, his bicycle, educated his children and paid his tax.
People, generally, went about on foot, but on trek, the white trader, missionary or administrator was carried in a hammock.
Merchandise was head-loaded, a porter carrying up to 60 or even 80 pound (27 to 36 kg.) weight on his head.


Each fortnight the agent and the chief clerk decided on the order of goods by mail or by cable: stockfish, hogsheads of tobacco, lead sheets, fish nets, fish cord, salmon, corned beef, sardines, matchets, paving stones - for sharpening matchets; axe heads, Scotch whiskey, Geneva gin and matches.
The main textiles were India Madras, imitation Madras, Low Madras, shirting, khaki and white drill and dhooties (mosquito nets). Printed cotton designs were important and sometimes the agent would send his design pattern to Lancashire to be printed.
(Pedler, 1974: 207)
Some small West African firms in the Oil Rivers, like Irvine and Woodward and Thomas Welsh, refused to engage in the trade of spirits on moral grounds and favoured teetotaller agents like Cotterell. who was known as the singing white man and was invited to sing even at African feasts along the coast.
(Pedler, 1974: 140)
Agents and assistants often looked gaunt and sickly from fever, overwork and the periodical drinking sprees at the arrival of new consignments of company spirits. Some companies, however, forbade their staff the drinking of spirits...
A mailboat brought once a month imported meat and ice blocks, kept in a barrel, covered with sawdust.
Chicken came from Lagos in huge baskets and the junior assistants had to look after the
100-200 bought, and counted them daily to ensure that none were stolen.
(ibid. 204)
The first compain to import block prints and wax block prints from Holland in Nigeria was Miller Brothers. It soon got competitors
- 6 British and one German companies.
(Davies, 1911)


Manilla (okpoho) were counted in bundle of 20 (ebek okpoho) and were worth 3 pence each in 1856; they were redeemed in 1948 at 4 a shilling. (UAC Statistical and Economic Review, March 1919)

Trade Credit
In 1912, credit was given out to a limit of about £5,000. About £25,000 worth of goods was entrusted to middlemen on credit, and all knew of this, although it was not officially recognised. The only security for such advances was the manilla storage, kept on principal customers' behalf during the slack season. A firm could accumulate over 4 million manillas, which were counted in bags containing a thousand. As remuneration, manilla, which were received at the rate of 7 for one shilling, were issued at the rate of 5 for a shilling.
(Pedler, 1974: 207-8)

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