INCREASE BRITISH INFLUENCE IN ITSEKIRI-LAND
When Prince OMATEYE was the Governor of the River he organized trade with LAGOS and was able to get much merchandize from that important town.
Ologun AKITOYE the Ruler of Lagos paid a courtesy call to the Benin River before he was ousted from the Throne by KOSOKO in 1845. This was in the interest of British Merchants who wanted to organize a fair. He urged the Governor to give favourable terms to the British.
OMATEYE was so impressed with what he saw at the market that he persuaded his Father, Olu AKENGBUWA, to grant more parcels of land to the British Traders.
#It was when OMOKU was Governor of the River that a piece of land was given to Messrs Horsfall who opened a Factory near BOBI.
The British Traders tended to forget that without a KING there would be no security along the creeks where they traded. They seemed content that there should be no Potentate who could order a stoppage of trade, the only devise open to the indigenous inhabitants to force the Europeans to grant favourable terms.
It was not long before they began to feel the full effects of the collapse of the Central Authority. Each Village, tucked away inside the creeks, although lacking in defences such as palisades, tended to become a Small City-State with its Head, the OLARAJA (generally the Founder), his Family and his slaves forming a political and economic unit.
The OLARAJA who was often the Chief Priest responsible for the sacrifices to the ancestors, provided the capital for building the large Canoes capable of carrying many of the casks used for the Oil Trade. Where such a Merchant was able to buy or make a War Canoe armed with two cannons; he was in a position to pose as a wealthy Trader. The slaves paddled the Canoes and were also employed as Bodyguards and Soldiers.
The Royals lived in the old Capital which remained a comparatively deserted town of about two thousand five hundred people.
We have seen that many of the Princes and their Families and slaves had left. We have also mentioned that IYE had her Mansion here.
When the town was visited by Beecroft in 1851, he passed “two or three large Bulls, an Oxen, as well as Cows,” Beecroft was astonished at their immense weight since they looked as well as any cattle he had seen in England.
The Church and Catholic Chapel which he had seen eleven years before had disappeared and the streets were overrun with grass.
One other Prince who may have remained there was EBUIWA who was later found by Burton whom he described as “a short, stout Man, somewhat light in colour.” Many of the large buildings may have remained, but they were in ruins.
There was no dispute that power had gone out of the Capital and the poverty of the town was reflected in the fact that IYE had difficulty in repaying for the trusts granted her.
There was a complaint that she was given trust equivalent to twenty puncheons, but she was still powerful enough to demand another trust equivalent to another twenty puncheons without paying for the old.
While the Merchants were facing the difficulty in getting back the produce which they have thus ordered in the Warri area, it was more difficult for them to get anything from the slaves led by Ebrimoni in BATERE, who had become a terror to the Merchants.
The agent Messrs Harrison and Co. complained that on October 24, 1850, his beat was waylaid by Akubo who seized six puncheons of oil from it on the grounds that he had an unpaid cheque for which Harrison and Co. ought to have paid with Tobacco.
Not satisfied with this, on November 7, 1850, Akubo leading a raiding party of at least five hundred armed men with twenty War Canoes went to Messrs Harrison’s Factory to demand Customs. They went to the beach, broke open the salt tub. On the 29th of November, they again seized one of Messrs Harrison’s Boats, took away the following: “One bale, Romol three hundred pieces and case glazzed Danes, Two hundred and fifty pieces in all, five hundred and fifty pieces on the ground that I refused to pay for two cheques (or pieces of paper) which are now in my possession they both being five years old”.
Another report by the agent of Mr. Reuben Hemmingway of Liverpool tells the same tale. In this case, Ebrimoni and Akwara had gone to the Factory on March 4, 1851 in four separate Canoes manned by slaves some of whom were armed with swords, cutlasses and knives.
They were there to demand shots, because, as they claimed, they were going to war. While the agent was telling them to buy the shots with Palm Oil, the two hot-heads, Akubo and Okerodisu, taking Ebrimoni’s orders, smashed the locks, broke open the stores and took from them two casks of half pound shots containing 2,200.
The impression which we got from these reports was that law and order had completely broken down. This may not have been the case. These powerful slaves belonging to the Royals, were asserting the rights of the Royals to authority.
The activities of these slaves as far as Commerce had been concerned, had been checked formerly by the presence of IBODO who had succeeded OMOKU. It was he who had collected the money for the lease of ITSEKIRI Land and had distributed this to the important PRINCES and Chiefs.
He had the power of negotiating on behalf of the ITSEKIRI and of granting land with the consent of the National Council. He lived at BOBI which had always been the Headquarters for the collection of the Customs Duties.
When IBODO died in 1850, it seemed he was not replaced and as a result, the European Merchants refused to pay the Customs Duties and traded in ITSEKIRI Land with impunity.
Ebrimoni and his group appalled by this had decided to take action against the Factories to bring them within the ambit of the National Council.
The European Merchants on the other hand, finding that they did not know among the disputing Authorities, the one to which to turn to claim restitution for any of the infringements of the trading regulations, often refused to pay.
END OF PART THREE B