THE SURPRISE LAGOS ATTACK
What was the attitude of Benin to the establishment of a Fort and Factory at UGBORODO?
As we have mentioned before, Landolphe had promised to build a Factory at Ughoton, the Benin Port; this had not been done and so this diversion of the trade in favour of the ITSEKIRI was an affront. But Benin was not a Naval Power and so she could not on her own attack UGBORODO directly.
She could however encourage LAGOS which was becoming a Naval Power to undertake the attack. Lagos was under Benin. ‘”OLOGUN KUTERE” the Ruler of Lagos (1780-1807) had every reason to be grateful to the Oba of Benin. “His descent from the Royal House of Lagos was from his Mother, not from his Father and this had caused a controversy. The Island of IDDO had refused to pay the Traditional Tribute to the Lagos Ruler. OLOGUN KUTERE was not prepared to tolerate this since this action would make it impossible for him to pay the National Tribute to Benin”. He therefore sent for reinforcement and was able to put down the revolt. Benin influence was thus great during the reign of OLOGUN KUTERE’.
The Director of the French Fort of Whydah, reporting on a survey of the Bight of Benin in June 1786 had emphasized this strong Benin presence.
He wrote: “Aunis at the mouth of the Curamos marks the Western Point of the Bay embracing the Benin or (Formoso) River and the Forcados River extending to the Cape Formoso.
The King of Aunis is subject of the King of Benin and cannot exercise his Office without paying tribute to him. The greater part of the trade of the Chief of Aunis comes from Benin, the boundaries of which end at that place.”
There was nothing to stop OBA AKENGBUDA (1750-1803) from giving directions to OLOGUN KUTERE to get his war Canoes ready for a surprise attack on the Fort and Factory at UGBORODO in order to stop the French Trade with Warri.
At the same time, Landolphe himself was not having things working smoothly with the Company. Political problems arising from the French Revolution might have affected relations with the parent body at home so that after the initial profits made, the Company wound up and Landolphe was forced to concentrate on Local Trade along the Coast.
Even this was against the interest of the English that were becoming worried about the position of their trade along the West African Coast. They added their pressure to that of the Oba of Benin in order to make OLOGUN KUTERE take instant action.
IYATSERE OKORODUDU was a forthright Naval Leader and was not to be taken by surprise. As soon as the Lagos War Canoes appeared in the Benin River, he obtained ammunitions from Landolphe and with his Fleet of Canoes heavily provided with shot, he battled against the Invaders whom he beat off and captured four (4) of their Leaders.
About two hundred (200) of the Lagos Soldiers who were captured were sent for sale in Calabar and only the four (4) Leaders were handed over to Landolphe who sent them to Lagos only to obtain confirmation of the British involvement in the plot to destroy the Factory.
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FRENCH FORT AND FACTORY
Both Benin and British attempts at destroying the French Factory at UGBORODO had been foiled. There was however no doubt that British activities were on the increase in the Benin River during the end of the Eighteenth Century.
Apart from the activities of Captain John Adams which we have already mentioned, there were those of of Captain Hugh Crow of Liverpool who visited the Benin River in 1790-1, and traded between Benin and Lagos for several months.
The British Captains and Merchants could not have failed to notice the presence of the French Fort and Factory at the mouth of the Escravos River.
Landolphe was creating a Provisioning Station for Ships and thus inviting them to come to his Port. What arrangement he had with the ITSEKIRI Authorities for Charging Customs Dues, we do not know.
He planted Vegetables and reared Livestock which he sold to the Ships that came to UGBORODO. The sickness rate of the Sailors who were taken by Merchants to the Benin River seemed to be on the increase and so some of the Liverpool Captains and Merchants took the easy way out to sell their wares to Landolphe.
The Frenchman was thus in a favourable position to decide what Cargoes to buy and which to reject. There were angry scenes when in 1791, he refused to buy the Cargo of a particular Liverpool Merchant-Captain.
Whether this particular episode had any direct bearing on the decision of certain British Merchants and Captains to take action against the French Fort and Factory, we do not know. There might indeed have been the fear that the whole area might fall under the French Sphere of influence and that action should be taken at once to stop it.
All other European Merchants were well aware that in order to reach the Kingdom of Benin, it was necessary to navigate through the waters of the Olu of Warri and that any European Power which gained monopoly there was in a position to hold the balance of the Benin River Trade.
In April 1792, the Captains of two Liverpool Ships struck and burnt down the French Fort and Factory at UGBORODO, thus eliminating French interest in the Benin and Escravos Rivers.
ITSEKIRI response at this outrage was quick and immediate; two (2) English Ships found at UREJU BAY were burnt down as reprisals for an unprovoked action in ITSEKIRI Territorial waters and for some time, an embargo was laid on trade with British Merchants.
Pls, kindly tell us how u are related to the Itsekiris in anyway (both paternally or maternally) and from which community or communities in particular.