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Ikot Abasi: From Second Class to Third Class Township, 1917-1950

Author: smith on 20-09-2013, 21:00, views: 5 098

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PWD buildings along Consulate RoadPWD buildings along Consulate RoadThe Township Ordinance of 1917 made more explicit the instruments of township administration. It classified Nigerian towns into First, Second, and Third Class. Lagos was the only First Class Township with an autonomous town council; eight towns were Second, and 42 were Third class (Nwaka, 1976 A: 37; Lugard, 1970: 407). Ikot Abasi, as already indicated, was Second Class, to be administered by a Local Authority (the District or Assistant District Officer), and an appointed Township Advisory Board. This comprised, as in the previous Reservation Board, official members, who were colonial officials, and unofficial members, who were representatives of the European firms (Nwaka, 1976 A: 37), Thus, the new Advisory Board which met on January 28, 1918, comprised R. B. Brooks (District Officer) as Local Authority; E. H. Tipper, the Senior Medical Officer; J. W. Park, Agent of Miller Brothers Ltd; J. B. Bryson, Agent of Mclver Ltd; and T. E. Gooch, Agent of the African Association Ltd (Minutes, 1906-1929). All the members, excepting Brooks, had previously served on the Reservation Board. The Township Ordinance also explicitly stated the various sources of revenue of Second Class Townships. These sources were to be reflected in the town's Annual Budget, drawn up by the Advisory Board. They were vehicle, dog, slaughter house and drumming licences; conservancy charges; market dues; pound fees; and government grant-in-aid (Township, Opobo Division).

 

European firms, accustomed to contribute to European Reservation Funds under previous Ordinances, were to be called upon to contribute under the new Ordinance. Construction and maintenance of roads were taken over by the colonial government's Public Works Department (PWD); while conservancy and sanitary works were to be provided for in the Government Estimates (Minutes, 1906 to 1929).

 

According to the township rules, everybody had to carry a lighted lamp when moving beyond the precincts of his own tenement between 8.00 p.m. and 530 a.m. Letters were read complaining that a certain dog, the property of Mr. Jumbo, is in the habit of attacking Motor Cyclists. The owner has been informed that if this dog is found on the main road, it will be destroyed.(Minutes of the Opobo Township Advisory Board meeting, 19th November, 1920)
 

 

Thus, at least in theory, Ikot Abasi, with its administrative machinery and sources of revenue explicitly articulated, as a Second Class Township, had better prospects of being more buoyant financially, and more capable of development than before.

 

In practice, however, the Township's revenue proved grossly inadequate. A major reason for this was a bitter disagreement which erupted late in 1918 between the European firms and the Medical officer, Dr. Hood, who, for some inexplicable reasons dismantled the European Hospital (Swanston, 1920). The firms also strongly protested that the Government had included in the Township Estimates the £ 18 beach tax as a voluntary subscription without their being consulted in any way (Minutes, 1906-1929). Thus alienated, the firms discontinued their subscriptions to the Township Advisory Board. And, although the Governor, Sir Hugh Clifford, personally intervened in August 1920 to settle the matter during a visit to Ikot Abasi, and the firms promised to resume the subscriptions, they did not do so for several years, till the European Hospital was re-established. As their subscriptions were substantial, their stoppage greatly diminished the Township's revenue.

 

Besides, the European firms practically lost interest in the Township Advisory Board, and, for some time, boycotted its meetings. Nor did the statutory revenue sources bring adequate income to the Township. The income amounted to £ 18 in 1921, £49 in 1923, £54 in 1924, and £124 in 1930 (against an expenditure of £239) (Murphy, 1924). Lacking the funds to spend, the Board lapsed by mid 1922, leaving the Local Authority - the District Officer - almost solely in charge (CALPROF, 5/13/224). Although revived in 1924, the Board remained effete, meeting only thrice in 1926 (Cheesman, 1926).

 

In this condition of persistent penury, the Advisory Board could do little by way of development. In a rare achievement, it established a big public market with covered stalls and two big sheds at a new site in 1931, to replace the one at Miller Brothers Beach (Cheesman, 1931). Besides, the PWD carried out some road construction and maintenance works in the Township and environs. Otherwise, in some years, the Township revenue hardly sufficed to pay the salaries of the Market Master and the Clerk - the Township's two employees (Purchas, 1921).

 

To a considerable extent, government policy was to blame. Colonial governments were not meant to develop, but to exploit the colonies. As already noted, the government lacked any systematic policy of urban development. In his Annual Report on Opobo Division for 1927, the Divisional Officer for Opobo Division and Local Authority for the Township, Captain H. Webber, noted that:

The Township Board has functioned monthly, but with rather depressing results. There are not sufficient funds obtained here to give much scope for the necessary works; and government has never looked with a kind eye on this Township though it is one of the largest revenue producing ports in Nigeria(Webber, 1925).

 

Distressed by these circumstances, some of the Local Authorities began to disparage the Township as too small or only existing in name and should die a natural death (Purchas, 1921). Others suggested at various times between 1922 and 1930, as a solution, the reduction of the Ikot Abasi status from a Second to a Third Class Township (Second Class Townships). Still, others like the Governor, Sir Graeme Thompson, suggested a fusion of the Township and the Native Administration (Whitman, 1929).

 

In the end, on March 31, 1931, the status of Ikot Abasi was lowered to that of a Third Class Township by the Townships Ordinance, Rule Three of 1931. The move reportedly eliminated an unjustified amount of clerical work connected with the Township, and at the same time gave effective control other than by the cumbersome method of rules passed by the Local Native Authority (Whitman, 1930).

 

The reduction in Ikot Abasi's status also coincided with the economic downturn caused by the Great Depression that had occurred since 1929. Many product prices drastically fell, while the prices of imported goods rose, lowering the people's purchasing power. Many of the European traders left, reducing their number from 35 in 1929 to only six in 1931. In place of 11 flourishing factories in 1929, only five were run by Europeans in 1931; and only two firms, the United Africa Company (UAC) and G. B. Ollivant, remained out of the old time nine independent firms, as some firms abandoned business or merged (Cheesman, 1931). In January 1932, the Bank of British West Africa, established at Ikot Abasi since the beginning of the century and reopened in 1923, was closed as a result of the decline in business (Cheesman, 1932).

 

However, the 14 years of Second Class Township status of Ikot Abasi, although barren of significant development, did witness important changes. First, the Township's limits were extended about 1928 to include the satellite towns of Mensah Town, Doctor's Farm, Kwa Court, and the Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa settlements. With this development and the establishment of the new Public Market attended by traders from far and near, the Township's population became very mixed and cosmopolitan (Minutes, 1906-1929).

 

Several new recreational facilities were established and important public works effected. They included the Opobo Sports Club for Europeans and the Customs Wharf, completed in May 1929. The all-important Mensah Bridge, damaged when a lighter collided with its centre piers, was replaced late in 1930 by a 100-foot-span bridge.

 

The Opobo Sports Club was formed for European staff in 1928 by Major Webber, District Commissioner for Opobo District, who became its Patron. It used the building of the old Government Mess.

 

 A view from the German Bridge, Ikot AbasiA view from the German Bridge, Ikot Abasi 

The Doctor's Bungalow at EgwangaThe Doctor's Bungalow at Egwanga

Besides, late in 1930, the various public buildings in the Government Station, including the District Officer's and Medical Officer's quarters, the European Hospital and the African Staff quarters, neglected for many years, were repaired, reconstructed or repainted by the PWD, giving these buildings a much-needed facelift (Richards, 1930).

 

Moreover, the Advisory Board, finding the existing survey plans faded and useless, produced a new survey plan, which showed the new additions to the Township. Since permanent buildings in the Government Station had been dotted about in a fortuitous way over the years, it was hoped, that the new survey plan would assist in adjusting the Township's layout (Webber, 1927).

 

The new survey plan was also intended to aid the enforcement of the policy of segregation of Europeans from Africans already inherent in the idea of European Reservation. For the Township Ordinance of 1917 institutionalized, and more explicitly and rigidly prescribed, residential segregation of Europeans from Africans. Second and Third Class Townships consisted of a European reservation, surrounded by a non-residential area 440 yards broad, and a Non-European Reservation. According to the Ordinance, Africans working for the Government or the European companies, artisans, native and non-native foreigners engaged in trade, could reside within the Township's precincts, in the Non-European Reservation (or Native Location) - an area of land, laid out systematically in streets and in residential plots, for lease to the people to build on (Lugard, 1970: 418-419). The Native Location itself, as already indicated, was separated from the European Reservation by the Neutral Zone a quarter of a mile wide, that surrounded the European

Reservation as a Building Free Zone.

 

No Native, except the bona fide domestic servants of Europeans, may reside in the European Reservation, and no European may reside in the Non-European Reservation, or in the vicinity of the Township, outside its limits (Lugard, 1970: 416). The Ordinance empowered the Local Authority to:

eject from the Township, on three days' notice, any person, who has taken up residence since the Township was declared, and who belongs to a Native Community, and is not engaged in any bona fide business - he may also eject a prostitute (Lugard, 1970: 418).

 

By implication, therefore, British policy largely excluded the African masses - the peasant producers, petty traders and common labourers - from residence in the Townships. They were, as far as possible, (to) live in their own towns (villages), under their own Chiefs and Native Courts (Lugard, 1970: 417), where, understandably, their labour could best be applied to sustain cash crop production for export, which was the backbone of the colonial economy (Nwaka, 1976B: 28, 33).

 

The proclamation of the Township Ordinance of 1917 necessitated the creation of a Neutral Zone and a Native Location in Ikot Abasi Township, but apparently, this could not be readily done. At the Township Advisory Board meeting of July 31, 1926, the Local Authority, G. E. Murphy, read out the Inspection Notes made two months earlier by the Deputy Director of Medical and Sanitary Services, which suggested that the Native Location should be laid out in plots by a Surveyor with a view to the erection of buildings in future. He (Murphy) also commented on the fact that the Non-Residential Zone has been drawn through a crowded native area (presumably Mensah Town) (Sic) (Minutes, 1906-1929). And at the meeting of September 1, 1919, the Health Officer reportedly protested against Ikot Abasi's planting yams on the Government Beach to within 50 yards of European quarters, pointing out that previous attempts by the people to farm to that extent had been stopped. The Board resolved to allow the villagers to harvest the crops, but never to plant there again (Minutes, 1906-1929). Clearly, residential segregation, rather than lighten the Township's planning process, exacerbated it.

 

As for the menace of prostitution, there is considerable evidence. In January 1920, for instance, the Local Authority, J. M. Pollen, proposed a crusade against brothel keepers at Mensah Town, where prostitution was reportedly rampant (Minutes, 1906-1929). In 1924, as a result of a high incidence of venereal disease among the European Company Assistants, the Local Authority, G. E. Murphy, expelled all prostitutes from the Township (Murphy, 1925). In 1937 about 60 prostitutes were similarly expelled from Mensah Town, Kwa Court and Doctor's Farm areas (Smith, 1937). Commendable as such measures were, the fact was that the Township lacked adequate means or resources for dealing with social evils like prostitution, which were also tied up with economic factors like unemployment.

 

The years of Ikot Abasi as a Third Class Township (1931-1954) were greatly dominated by three factors: the Great Depression, which persisted till 1939 and greatly reduced trade; the Second World War, which lasted thence to 1945 and saw the adoption of

produce marketing strategies that favoured Port Harcourt port against Ikot Abasi port, and the silting up of the Imo River estuary which caused Ikot Abasi port to be closed to oceangoing shipping as from June 1945. Thenceforth, all cargo had to be lifted by small coastal steamers (Harcourt, 1945 B).

Tables 1 and 2 illustrate the severe reduction in the price, volume and value of palm oil and kernel, exported through Ikot Abasi port in the early 1930's, which, more or less, prevailed throughout the decade (Hartley, 1939), as well as the general decline in the volume and value of the trade through the port. Though Ikot Abasi remained a strong entrepot for the palm produce trade, the reduction in trade, correspondingly, reduced government and personal income from trade or customs dues and the ability to invest in public works in the Township.

 

TABLE 1

PALM OIL/KERNEL EXPORT THROUGH IKOT ABASI PORT, 1928-1934

 

Year

Volume (tons)

Palm Oil
Value
(£)

Average price per ton (£)

Volume (tons)

Kernel
Value
(£)

Average price per ton (£)

1929

21,121

567,843

20.5.0

16,815

274,720

12.16.0

1930

19,867

372,954

16.0.11

15,541

164,534

9.3.0

1931 18,209 226,820 10.5.6 14,795 116,340 6.11.7

1932

14,470

192,737

10.2.2

17,748

158,102

7.6.0

1933

19,072

192,619

7.9.0

17,704

118,686

5.3.0

1934

28,848

N. A.

5.9.0

21,420

N. A.

4.8.0

 

N.A. = Not Applicable

Sources: Opobo Division, Annual Reports for the years 1929-1934

 

 

TABLE 2

IKOT ABASI PORT: VOLUME OF TRADE, 1929-1933

 

 

Exports

Imports

Year

Quantity (tons)

Value
(£)

Quantity (tons)

Value
(£)

1929

40,460

846,111

13,958

301,099

1930-1931

35,419 34,337

539,726 351,012

12,274 6,670

223,865 103,304

1932

33,228

351,428

6,291

96,770

1933

37,699

311,945

4,643

83,419

 

Source: Annual Reports for the years 1929-1933

 

Palm Kernel Exports
 
By 1913 Germany consumed 85 % of the Nigerian palm kernel and British manufacturers of margarine imported weekly, 2000 tons of palm kernel from German millers.
 
(Ofonagoro, 1979: 356)
 
Due to World War I, direct shipments to Hamburg, Roterdam and Antwerp were stopped, disorganising the German kernel crushing industry, and kernel was shipped via British ports to Hamburg: 20,000 tons of kernel were shipped in 1921 from Liverpool alone. 
 
(ibid.: 355)

 

More damaging to Ikot Abasi port in the long run were the discriminatory shipping, pricing and marketing practices introduced by the British Government and the Marketing Boards as a result of World War II. First, in 1940, Britain facilitated shipping arrangements and the convoy system by instituting a Port Terminal Scheme, under which the cost of transporting export of produce from shallow to deep water ports (port terminals) was borne by the Ministry of Works and Transport. Ikot Abasi was listed as a shallow water port, not to be served by ocean-going shipping (OPOBODIST, 1/10/112), in contrast to Port Harcourt, which was a deep water port.

 

Secondly, comparatively better prices were then proffered at Port Harcourt in an attempt to attract trade there. But the attempt failed, as Ikot Abasi, being a free port, was cheaper for business than Port Harcourt, which was subject to harbour dues and railway terminal charges (Harcourt, 1944 B). Since water transport remained cheaper than rail or road one, Ikot Abasi port remained one of the most economical trading stations in the country, and, in the 1940's, exported about 24% of all palm oil and 10% of the kernel in Nigeria, using shallow water vessels to Port Harcourt (Col. Rep., 1947). Enormous quantities of palm produce stockpiled at Ikot Abasi beaches in 1941 (Woodhouse, 1941) and in 1942, and were evacuated to Port Harcourt by the two light vessels, the Udi and the Nupe (Harding, 1942).

 

Next, in September 1942, government introduced a system of kernel control, which reportedly worked unfairly against Ikot Abasi traders, by raising the prices of palm kernel at Port Harcourt to the £ 6.2.2 d as against the former £ 5.15.6d (Harding, 1942), thereby reducing the price advantage and commercial attraction that Ikot Abasi had in the produce trade in comparison with Port Harcourt. The annual prices of palm oil and kernel, fixed by government, which proved disadvantageous to Ikot Abasi, prevailed under various Marketing Boards into the late 1940's and 1950's, and served to divert trade from Ikot Abasi to Port Harcourt (Harcourt, 1944 B; Jackson, 1955).

 

Finally, as a result of serious silting of its estuary, the Imo River was closed to oceangoing shipping in June 1945. Thenceforth, all cargo had to be lifted by small, shallow draft coastal steamers, like the Nupe, Empire Ruby and the Angelus, which plied between Ikot Abasi and Port Harcourt (Allen, 1945); and several shallow draft tankers, which lifted oil from the Bulk Oil Plant (BOP) at Ikot Abasi to the BOP at Port Harcourt.

 

The UAC Bulk Oil Plant at Opobo-Egwanga. (Courtesy: O. D. Etukafia) 

The UAC Bulk Oil Plant at Opobo-Egwanga. (Courtesy: O. D. Etukafia)

 

The consequence of the various adverse shipping policies, applied since 1940, was a drastic decline in shipping, as from 1942, particularly of ocean-going ships, entering Ikot Abasi port. In 1943, only two ocean-going ships and nine branch boats entered the port. The corresponding figures for 1944 were two ocean-going ships and 57 branch boats; for 1945 - one ship and 34 branch boats. No ocean-going ship entered the port as from 1946 (see figure below). The branch boats, however, continued to ply: 26 entered the port in 1948.

 

Ikot Abasi Port. Volume of Shipping, 1934-1946

 

Number of ocean-going ships entering the portNumber of ocean-going ships entering the port

 

Although, Ikot Abasi still remained a very large buying centre for (palm) produce, and long-time companies, like the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) and the longstanding UAC, were actually expanding facilities at their beaches and factories for the produce trade at the port (Harcourt, 1944B; Minutes, 1948), the decline in shipping led to calls in government circles as from early 1948 for the closure of the port and the customs post there. The Comptroller of Customs and Excise, for example, argued that revenue from imports amounted to only about £2,500 a month, all but some £8 per annum of which, was derived from merchandise transhipped from Port Harcourt by shallow draft craft, and which could equally well, from a Customs point of view, have been cleared at Port Harcourt. In the circumstance, he considered that the Customs staff at Ikot Abasi port had been rendered redundant by the absence of direct shipment there since 1946, and that their retention at a cost of about £ 1,400 per annum was unjustifiable (Secretary, 1948).

 

Just as proposals for the port's closure were being mooted, a team of Consulting Engineers, Messrs. Coode, Vaughan Lee, Frank and Gwyther, submitted a report to the government, in the view of which dredging of the port was considered to be so technologically involved, financially expensive and out of all proportion to the benefits to be obtained from freer navigation, that it was not a practical proposition (Cox, 1948). The Port Engineer also estimated that dredging would cost about £ 10 million, construction of necessary works would take 25 years, and the annual maintenance cost would be between £ 15,000 and £ 20,000 (Cox, 1948).

 

SS Bahama on the Ikot Abasi River. (Courtesy: O. D. Etukafia)SS Bahama on the Ikot Abasi River. (Courtesy: O. D. Etukafia)Not surprisingly, therefore, a despondent Divisional Officer, I. F. W. Schofield, described Ikot Abasi at this time as a dying place, not a growing one, for which the expense of even a town layout was of doubtful justification (Schofield, 1948). Thus, despite vehement appeals by the Ibibio State Union, the Egwanga-Opobo Community League, and the Opobo Town Council of Chiefs that Ikot Abasi port should be dredged and re-opened to oceangoing ships, as well as protests against closing the port or the customs post (Umosen et al. 1949), government closed both the port and the customs post on January 1, 1950.

 

 
NIGERIA GAZETTE number 57 of 10th November, 1949
Govt. Notice No. 1540 The Ports Ordinance (Chap. 100)
In exercise of the powers conferred upon the Governor by section 3 (1) of the Ports Ordinance, His Excellency has been pleased to cancel the appointment of Opobo as a port, as from the lsl of January, 1950.
The Schedule to Notice No. 137 of 1917, as amended by Notice No. 66 of 1925, is amended accordingly.
Lagos, 2th November, 1949 By His Excellency's Command H. M. FOOT Chief Secretary to the Government

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Category: Urbanisation of Ikot Abasi

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