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On Tuesday, October 1, Nigeria celebrated its 59th anniversary of being free of British rule. But many of us may not have realized how the actions and moves made by some personalities before the name “Nigeria” was born in 1914 shaped what other acclaimed independence icons such as Dr Nnnamdi Azikwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Sir Anthony Enahoro, Chief Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and others built upon to end colonial British rule.

The struggle for independence prior to October 1, 1960, may have never happened if men such as Jaja  Jubogha, also known as King Jaja of Opobo, did not leave behind a legacy of resisting the powerful British imperialists.

Jaja was born in 1821 in Mbananso Okwaraozurumbaa Orlu, in present-day Imo State. Jaja, however, grew up in the Bonny society, in present-day Rivers state, where he had been sold to as a slave at the age of 12. He rose to the top by sheer force of will and hard work until he earned and bought his freedom while at the Anne Pepple Royal House, the ruling clan in the old Bonny kingdom. 

Jaja was said to have offered to buy off the debt owed by the Anne Pepple Royal House in return for taking over the seat of the king. Jaja paid off the debts within two years through the trade-in palm oil within and beyond the Niger Delta.  

According to a description by the British consul, Richard Burton, Jaja was energetic, healthy, powerful, yet not less ambitious about his vision for his people and of other surrounding kingdoms of Ibibio. Burton further remarked that Jaja was an influential man and the greatest trader in the Niger Delta region with a turnover of 50,000 pounds sterling.

When Jaja refused to cease taxing British traders, Henry Hamilton Johnston, who was the deputy to Richard Burton, moved to negotiate with Jaja in 1887. Unknown to Jaja, it was a trap to lure him away from his community which protected from. 

Jaja got arrested as soon as he sat with the British negotiators. The British administration which had just taken ownership of most parts of Nigeria as provinces and territories as of the 1890s felt threatened by the resistance being pushed by King Jaja to impeding the flow of British goods and commerce as they expected. Jaja got arrested and he was taken to Accra, Ghana, to be tried. Jaja was also taken to London for some time, where he met Queen Victoria and subsequently sent to Saint Vincent in the West Indies. 

Part of the legacy which distinguished Jaja from some other of his ilk included; centering the maintenance of law and order around traditional lines, as well as maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship between communities within his kingdom and the Europeans. The trade relationship which was maintained between the Europeans and Jaja, however, became strained at around the time of the partitioning of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884. 

By 1891, a few years before the consolidation of Nigeria would come to a head, plans were made to return Jaja to his Niger Delta community but he died en route on what was reported to be drinking from a teacup laced with poison. 

A little over 100 years after King Jaja had died, the event of the death of acclaimed winner of the 1993 presidential elections, M.K.O Abiola, while in detention is reminiscent of men of the people such as Jaja of Opobo being unlawfully incarcerated and denied access to their rightful positions of leadership by slave masters.  

Source: Face2face Arica

Featured Image Source: Good Books Africa

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This article was first published on 3rd October 2019 and updated on October 4th, 2019 at 4:22 pm


Macaddy is mostly a farmer in the day who also dabbles into technology at night, in search of other cutting edge intersections. He's on Twitter @i_fix_you

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