WARRI INFLUENCE AND CONTROL OF THE BENIN RIVER
By the Eighteenth Century, the Benin River rather than the Forcados River was becoming the main centre of trade with the Europeans and it became necessary to settle and administer the whole territory on either banks.
Originally the Chiefs lived in the Capital where they performed their special functions. But the Benin River trade altered the situation. The nearer a man lived to the mouth of this great Commercial Waterway from which all the imports to the Kingdom came, the more profitable it was for him.
*”One of the First Chiefs to take advantage of this fact was the “OLOGBOTSERE” Whose name was “EYINMISANREN”. He was one of the most important of the Traditional Chiefs and the OLU’s Chief Adviser. It was he who had the duty to Crown the King.”
European competition for the trade along the Benin River and increasing Brazilian interests made the position of the small Village of “BOBI” near the mouth of the Benin River very important.
Warri was too far distant from the Sea and unless “OKUN”, as the ITSEKIRI called the Benin River, was settled and administered, the bulk of the trade would continue to go to the Benin Port of UGHOTON.
It was therefore in the financial interest of the State that a loyal Chief should settle at a new Commercial Centre near the River mouth.
So “OLOGBOTSERE EYINMISANREN” went to settle in BOBI but retained his home in the Capital. Another Chief, “OTSODIN” because of the shortage of Fresh Water in Warri, followed the OLOGBOTSERE and founded the settlement of “OLOBE”.
OLOGBOTSERE EYINMISANREN set up a Customs Post at BOBI. At the same time the old Port of EGHORO (New Town), further up the River, was placed under the administration of another Chief so that there were two Customs Posts along the Benin River, each with its Customs Official.
These had the function of boarding any Ship which arrived and assessing how much it was to pay in Customs duty.
The position which EYINMISANREN thus occupied rapidly enriched him and provoked the jealousy of the other Chiefs who remained in the Capital.
Before long the envy of the King himself was aroused. According to Itsekiri Tradition, that caused the anger of the King was the information that the OLOGBOTSERE had made a Tent of Cloth.
What this probably means was that he had purchased a Mosquito Net from the European Traders. Since nobody but the King had the right to make a house of cloth for himself the OLOGBOTSERE was charged with having assumed some of the Royal Prerogative.
When the OLU, prompted by the Princes and Chiefs, had deprived EYINMISANREN of the Governorship of the Benin River, his place was taken by one of the OLU’s Sons, “EYOLUSAN”, who later succeeded his father.
While EYOLUSAN was Governor of the River, he gained useful preliminary training in Statecraft. The Prince did not hold the Office for long. His father was getting old and it was necessary for him to be close at hand to watch over things.
UWAKUN BECOMES THE GOVERNOR OF THE RIVER:
From the number of people who were appointed Governor of the Benin River, we can deduce that the Post was not a permanent nor hereditary one and that the holder of the Post could be a Chief with Special Duties or an influential Citizen.
When EYOLUSAN went back to the Capital, the OLU who had the right to appoint a man to it, appointed “UWAKUN” the Son of OLOGBOTSERE EYINMISANREN.
*UWAKUN thus had the duty of collecting all the commercial tolls, the comey which all European Merchants Ships paid for permission to trade, take wood and water. We are told that he was also “commissioned to look after the ITSEKIRI Lands, held in trust by the OLU, and to collect Land Rents from Alien (Iwodo) occupying and using such Lands for economic purposes”.
*He was thus Port master, Tax Officer and Commissioner of Lands. As a result of the nature of his functions, he became a co-opted member of the NATIONAL COUNCIL.
Whenever any of the European Merchant Captains wanted to visit the Capital to pay his respects to the OLU, UWAKUN not only made the arrangements for him but often went with the visitors on the two days and a night voyage and his father the OLOGBOTSERE made arrangements for accommodation and feeding.
Thus he was in a position to increase his power in International Matters. From all these, UWAKUN derived “his power and consequences”. As Governor of the River, although he acquired personal fortune, he was always able to send revenue for the King’s Coffers ample enough to maintain an elaborate Court.
END OF PART TWO