BEECROFT BEGAN TO INTERFERE IN ITSEKIRI AFFAIRS
The period of the death of Olu AKENGBUWA and the collapse of the Central Administration in ITSEKIRI Land happened to be the period when the British were getting interested in the trade of the Bights of Benin and Biafra.
Luckily for Britain, there was close at hand at this time, a man with considerable experience in this area. This was John Beecroft who was appointed Her Majesty’s Consul for the Bights of Benin and Biafra on 20th June, 1849.
He had come out to the coast in 1829 when Nicholls, the Governor of Fernando Po put him in charge of the Department of Works. He afterwards undertook various scientific expeditions along the Niger and explored the Niger area to Abe.
He had earned a good reputation for himself among the Delta Chiefs. Beecroft even had the distinction of being appointed the Governor of Fernando Po by the Spanish Government. He was very familiar with the Benin River and Warri, and as we have mentioned earlier, he visited ODE-ITSEKIRI during the reign of Olu AKENGBUWA.
He was well-known to DIARE and IDIBOFUN, a fact which afterward had some bearing on ITSEKIRI History. Britain had tried to obtain Fernando Po as a base for anti-slavery operations but the Spanish Government had refused to sell. Beecroft was however allowed to set his headquarters there.
The various complaints of the Merchants and factors which we have already mentioned were sent to him and he with his forward policy decided to take action.
He left Clarence Island, Fernando Po, and weighed, anchor in the Benin River on January 30, 1851, crossed the bar the next day. He at once sent an invitation to Ebrimoni who he thought was in control of affairs in the ITSEKIRI Kingdom.
Ebrimoni had no independent say in ITSEKIRI Foreign Affairs and so before agreeing to see the Governor, he went to the Capital to consult IYE who was his overlord. The Consul then sent to both IDIARE and IDIBOFUN, the two elder Sons of UWANGWE UWAKUN in JAKPA.
The two Brothers declined to go because they did not want the impression that they nursed the ambition of becoming the Governor of the Benin River by intriguing with the Consul.
Since Beecroft knew the Brothers well, he decided to visit them in JAKPA. A report of what happened will suggest the degree of intimacy between him and IDIBOFUN and IDIARE.
“On our arrival at Jacqua,” Beecroft wrote “we were seen at the mansion of the Chief, an immense mud building. We had to tread our way through a labyrinth of windings to an inner court, where I found my friend Jerry (IDIARE). He evidently appeared surprised; we gazed at each other for a minute. He then opened his mouth and said, Beecroft. I replied, yes Jerry, advance and give me your hand. I once knew you as a good man…… He was soon reconciled.
I enquired of him the reason for not paying his respects. He gave me the same reason that has been given by him already. He set a table and placed on it the best he had both wine and spirits.
Soon his Brother, Jabuffa (IDIBOFUN) came. When he was attacked for not coming, he said he was not afraid of Beecroft, he sabby him long time.”
After he had been entertained by them, he then invited them to his Ship to meet the refugee King of Lagos, AKITOYE, whom he had taken under his protection. Both IDIBOFUN and IDIARE went and had dinner in the Ship. Because the Consul could not wait for two weeks in the Benin River while holding on for Ebrimoni to arrive, he had to return to Fernando Po.
Beecroft returned to the Benin River on March 9, 1851, interviewed the agents of the three Factories: Day for Messrs Harrison and Co., Pendlebury for Messrs Horsfall and Co. and Stowe for Mr. Reuben Hemmingway of Liverpool.
He then sent his ring to IDIBOFUN and IDIARE to come and see him and when they arrived, he appealed to them to accompany him to Warri.
Beecroft was obviously still under the strong impression that the power of Ebrimoni was great and he told the JAKPA Chiefs that he was sending to BATERE to request Ebrimoni to attend a meeting with the Freeborn ITSEKIRI Chiefs in the Ship. To IDIARE, this was an outrage for a slave to sit with the kingmakers to decide on the succession to the Throne. IDIARE’s remarks best illustrate the ITSEKIRI attitude to anybody of slave descent.
IDIARE said, “it would be no use for him to send, he is afraid, if he (Ebrimoni) will not come at your request, he did not care for Black man mouth, he is a slave and was always sent as a messenger by the late King and Prince Tay (OMATEYE) to receive the Customs……. he is not equal to that power now, he has not any right to persist in it, the Freemen do not like it and are very calamitous about it”. There the matter ended.
The Consul then proceeded to ODE-ITSEKIRI, the Capital and as we have mentioned earlier, he saw IYE who was not prepared to cooperate when he had succeeded in getting some of the Royals to nominate ORITSEMONE.
IYE became suspicious of the Beecroft mission and the EMAYE Group which had found the Europeans arrogating to themselves, the powers which they had no claims to within the ITSEKIRI Traditional System had every reason to continue the offensive.
END OF PART FOUR