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The Advent of Colonial Rule

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British Protectorates in Nigeria (Source: Nig. Historical Atlas)British Protectorates in Nigeria (Source: Nig. Historical Atlas)The Jaja episode marked the beginning of the gradual dismantling of the sovereignty of the people and rulers of Southern Nigeria. The field, says Ikime, was now left for British economic and political manoeuvres (Ikime, 1981: 158).

 

Before Jaja's exile, the Niger Company had, in 1886, received a Royal Charter and become the Royal Niger Company. The Company took over from the Niger District Protectorate the corridor from the mouth of the Niger to the confluence as well as the territories on both banks of the Benue (Ejituwu, 1991: 158). In 1889, the remaining area under the protectorate, after the excision was renamed the Oil Rivers Protectorate with headquarters located at Calabar (Afigbo, 1972: 320).

 

Acquisition of territories in Africa was now regarded in official circles as indispensable to British prosperity, employment and prestige as a world power (Uzoigwe, 1975: 25). In 1891, Sir Claude Maxwell MacDonald was appointed Commissioner and Consul-General for the Oil Rivers Protectorate. He was instructed to develop trade, promote civilisation and pave the way for placing the territories over which Her Majesty's Protectorate is and may be extended directly under British rule (MacDonald, 1895).

 

In 1893, the Oil Rivers Protectorate was renamed the Niger Coast Protectorate with additional territory excised from the area controlled by the Royal Niger Company and given further instructions to open the country, push the trade and hoist the flag (Anene and Brown, 1966: 313).

 

MacDonald wasted no time in carrying out the instructions. In 1892, he created administrative units called Vice-Consulate Districts around important rivers, such as Calabar, Bonny, Opobo, and Brass, and appointed vice-consuls to administer them. To assist the vice-consuls in their work, he also set up a constabulary and introduced indirect taxation in the form of customs duties in the protectorate.

 

The vice-consuls were given the duties of cultivating and maintaining friendly relations with the native people, opening up roads and markets and generally preserving peace and order in their respective areas. They were also responsible for the proper working of the Customs, Postal and Treasury Departments in their areas of jurisdiction (MacDonald, 1895).

 

1890 Trade Regulations on the Opobo River On September 1st, 1890, the Acting British Consul, George Annesley, issued Regulations for the maintenance of Peace and Order in the District of Opobo, reconstituting the Governing Council on the Opobo River, and making the trading agents responsible for the peace and discipline on their factory beaches, and the native chiefs - for the behaviour of their 'boys'.
 
The importation of modern weapons and the export of slaves were prohibited.
 
The river was open to trade by all nationals and export duty, paid by both foreign and native traders alike, was to be collected by the President of the Governing Council. He was Johannes Gierl, a German leading trading agent on the river and Chairman of the African Association traders, who was highly respected by all for his long experience, kind-heartedness and fairness. Other members were:
 
European Members / Trading Agents Native Members / Opobo Chiefs
F. D. Mitchell
Robert Foster
A. B. Hallowell
W. Bruce
R. N. Williams
Arthur C. Hewitt
Chief Cookey Gam
Chief John Africa
Chief Fine Bone
Chief Ogolo Annie Pepple
Chief John Black Foobra
Chief Oko Jaja
Chief Samuel Toby
  FO 84/2020 (Source: Jaja, 1991: 65-68

1890 Trade Regulations on the Opobo River On September 1st, 1890, the Acting British Consul, George Annesley, issued Regulations for the maintenance of Peace and Order in the District of Opobo, reconstituting the Governing Council on the Opobo River, and making the trading agents responsible for the peace and discipline on their factory beaches, and the native chiefs - for the behaviour of their 'boys'.

 

The importation of modern weapons and the export of slaves were prohibited.

 

The river was open to trade by all nationals and export duty, paid by both foreign and native traders alike, was to be collected by the President of the Governing Council. He was Johannes Gierl, a German leading trading agent on the river and Chairman of the African Association traders, who was highly respected by all for his long experience, kind-heartedness and fairness. Other members were:

 

European Members / Trading Agents Native Members / Opobo Chiefs

F. D. Mitchell
Robert Foster
A. B. Hallowell
W. Bruce
R. N. Williams
Arthur C. Hewitt

Chief Cookey Gam
Chief John Africa
Chief Fine Bone
Chief Ogolo Annie Pepple
Chief John Black Foobra
Chief Oko Jaja
Chief Samuel Toby
 
FO 84/2020 (Source: Jaja, 1991: 65-68)

 

In Opobo River, a Vice-Consulate or Administrative District Headquarters was established at Norah Beach at the mouth of Ikot Abasi River with William Cairn Armstrong as vice-consul. The area of jurisdiction of the district covered not only Opobo Town and Ikot Abasi area up to Essene market, but also extended to Akwete in the Upper Imo River (Cheesman, 1932 A: 13). Norah Beach remained the administrative centre of the district till 1902, when it was replaced by Egwanga on the Ikot Abasi bank of the river (Ibid.: 14).

 

The Vice-Consul, W. C. Armstrong, is said to have done much to advance the political and economic interest of the Niger Coast Protectorate in Opobo District. Under his administration, law and order was maintained. The administration of government worked well. Trade and consequent revenue increased to a very considerable amount. Sanitation was well maintained and the Church Missionary Society was established in Opobo Town. In fact, Armstrong is reported to have worked so well that before his death on January 3, 1895, much had been done to create good feelings among the Opobo chiefs towards the Protectorate Government. The amount of trade done in the Opobo River (District) very nearly approached that done in the whole of the much larger District of Old Calabar and the grateful Opobo chiefs contributed money towards erecting a monument on his grave there (MacDonald, 1895).

 

Exploration of the hinterland of the new Opobo District was undertaken by Roger Casement, an official of the Niger Coast Protectorate, in 1894. His attempt to explore the area through Itu having failed, he returned to Calabar from where he trekked through Opobo (Egwanga) to Essene, Ibekwe Akpan Nya, Efa, Mbioto and Ikot Osong, before returning to Opobo (Ibid.).

 

The following year, 1895, the Vice-Consulates in the Niger Coast Protectorate were grouped into three large divisions, namely, Eastern, Central and Western, with headquarters at Calabar, Bonny and Warri, respectively. Opobo District came under Calabar Division (Afigbo, 1972: 414; Ikime, 1980: 414). The Niger Coast Protectorate Force was also employed during the period 1894-95 in several expeditions in the hinterland of Ikot Abasi and Qua Iboe Rivers (Casement, 1895: 233). The net result of all these developments was that by 1895 effective British influence - commercial and political - had been firmly established in Opobo District.

 

MacDonald was succeeded as Consul General by Sir Ralph Moor in 1896. Under Moor, a series of military expeditions were conducted in the Niger Coast Protectorate, almost continuously, from 1896 to 1900. With the revocation of the Charter of the Royal Niger Company at the end of 1899, the company ceased to possess administrative rights. Territories formerly belonging to the company, together with the territories of the Niger Coast Protectorate were in 1900 organised as the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria with headquarters at Calabar and with Sir Ralph Moor as High Commissioner (Ikime, 1972: 65-66). Opobo District then became part of the new Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.

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