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King Jaja of Opobo: Igbo or Ijaw man? (The untold story)

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There have been disbelieving and counterclaims regarding whether the wealthiest and most powerful monarch in the Niger Delta and sole founder of Opobo, King Jaja of Opobo is an Igbo or Ijaw man.

The business tycoon, 1821-1891, was born in his native Umuduruoha, Amaigbo, known in present-day as Imo State, and named by his parents, Mbanaso Okwaraozurumbaa at birth.

According to findings, Opobo was captured by slave traders at twelfth age and traded into captivity in Bonny, where he earned his way out of slavery and also accepted the Ijaw-Ibani culture.

Having wealth as the deciding factor back then, Opobo who had generated astounding wealth for Bonny when the kingdom’s throne became vacant, was politically checkmated by a fellow wealthy slave to occupy the office.

Strategically, he moved with his supporters to establish a new town, Opobo, close to Andoni. Bonny and its affiliated British merchants would come to regret that day.

The new development Jaja (aka Jubo Jubogha) relocated to in 1869, was named Opobo, and the location was strategically positioned that he could transact first-hand with both national and international merchants, effectively becoming a monopolist in the oil palm trade.

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Opobo’s allies, former British trading partners lost £100,000 (in 1870), after his trade and the resultant wealth exploded so much so that Bonny pleaded with him to return (which he refused).

Having impressed Queen Victoria regarding his influence, she recognised him – As king of Opobo in 1873 and also personally presented him with a sword in Buckingham Palace in 1875 after he sent troops to assist Britain in the Ashante War.

The new phase of life began as the Scramble for Africa started in the 19th century. Jaja was infamous for resisting foreign political and economic influence and he kept taxing the British merchants much to their indignation.

The Consul-General invited Jaja out of his kingdom and on board a ship, ”The Goshawk”, for trade discussions due to greed and fear of Jaja’s influence.

A deportation order was served on him while on board and hence was illegally tried and convicted in Gold Coast – today’s Ghana, in 1887, and exiled to Saint Vincent in the distant West Indies and to be later relocated to Barbados.

Fortunately, his pleas to return to his kingdom were granted in 1891but, he died in Tenerife, en route to Opobo, after being allegedly poisoned with a cup of tea. After his death, the influence of Opobo died with him.

Jaja’s body was received with much sorrow by his people who gave him a full, honourable royal burial. He was 70.

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