King Jaja of Opobo biography
Reign: 25 December 1870–September 1887
Coronation: 25 December 1870
Full name: Jubo Jubogha
Born: 1821, Orlu
Died: 1891, Tenerife, Spain
Place of burial: Opobo
Born in Umuduruoha, Amaigbo, in Igboland, he was taken at about the age of twelve as a slave in Bonny. He was named Jubo Jubogha by his first master.
Jaja of Opobo was later sold to Chief Alali, the powerful head of the Opobu Manila Group of Houses. Called Jaja by the British, this gifted and enterprising individual eventually became one of the most powerful men in the eastern Niger Delta.
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The rise of King Jaja
Astute in business and politics, Jaja of Opobo became the head of the Anna Pepple House, extending its activities and influence by absorbing other houses, increasing operations in the hinterland and augmenting the number of European contacts.
A power struggle ensued among rival factions in the houses at Bonny, leading to the breakaway of the faction led by Jaja.
Jaja of Opobo established a new settlement, which he named Opobo. He became King Jaja of Opobo and declared himself independent of Bonny.
Strategically located between Bonny and the production areas of the hinterland, King Jaja controlled trade and politics in the delta.
In so doing he curtailed trade at Bonny, and at the end of his ascendancy, fourteen of the eighteen Bonny houses had moved to Opobo.
In a few years, Jaja of Opobo had become so wealthy that he was shipping palm oil directly to Liverpool himself.
The British consul could not tolerate this situation. Jaja was offered a treaty of “protection”, in return for which the chiefs usually surrendered their sovereignty.
After Jaja’s initial opposition, he was reassured, in rather vague terms, that neither his authority nor the sovereignty of Opobo would be threatened.
The fall of Jaja and scramble for Africa
Jaja of Opobo continued to regulate trade and levy duties on British traders, to the point where he ordered a cessation of trade on the river until one British firm agreed to pay duties.
Jaja refused to comply with the consul’s order to terminate these activities, despite British threats to bombard Opobo.
Unknown to Jaja, the Scramble for Africa had taken place and Opobo was part of the territories allocated to Great Britain.
This was the era of gunboat diplomacy, where Great Britain used her naval power to negotiate conditions favorable to her people.
Lured into a meeting with the British consul aboard a warship, Jaja was arrested and sent to Accra, where he was summararily tried and found guilty of “treaty breaking” and “blocking the highways of trade”.
Jaja of Opobo was deported to St. Vincent (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), West Indies, and four years later, he died en route to Nigeria after he was permitted to return.
Ironically, Jaja’s dogged insistence on African independence and effective resistance exposed British imperialism and made him the first victim of foreign territorial intrusion in West Africa.
The fate of Jaja reverberated through the entire Niger delta. Amazed at this turn of events, the other delta chiefs quickly capitulated.
In addition, the discovery of quinine as the cure for malaria enabled the British traders to bypass the middlemen and deal directly with the palm oil producers, thus precipitating the decline of the city-states.
King Jaja’s downfall ensured a victory for British supremacy, paving the way for the eventual imposition of the colonial system in this region by the end of the century.