In “The Jaja Saga: The West Indian End (1888-1891)” Professor Gabriel Olusanya makes the connection between the exile of King Jaja of Opobo by the British colonial government because the King wanted to have control of his resources and with the present struggle in the Niger Delta again over control of resources. In King Jaja’s day it was palm oil, today it is petroleum oil but the foreign actors are the same.
“The same vicious struggle for the control of the oil resources in the Delta has continued in a post colonial and independent federal Nigeria. The British Buccaneers have been replaced by non-indigenous local predators, that in collusion with the big foreign-owned oil companies have seized control of vast oil resources in the Delta area in a manner that can not be said to serve the economic interest of the people of the Delta. Like Jaja, the people of the Delta want to control their own resources.”
King Jaja finally passed away in 1891 which was also the year in which the region presently known as the Niger Delta was formalised as a British colony. Although the British had colonised Lagos as early as 1862, it wasn’t until 1891 that the Oil Rivers Protectorate was created. European traders had been coming to the Delta region since the 15century, first to trade in slaves, then after abolition to trade in palm oil.
The traders were unable to negotiate the hundreds of creeks and dense forest of the Delta and therefore had to rely on the people from the coastal regions such as the Kalabari and Nembe for the palm oil. My own grandfather and my fathers material grandfather were both relatively rich merchants from trading in palm oil and palm kernels right up until the 1930s though by this time the British had already established their commercial interests in the region. Two things happened to end the Kalabari trade in palm oil and kernels. One was the growth of the palm oil / kernel trade in Malaysia which by 1934 had overtaken Nigeria (the plant was taken to Malaysia from West Africa at the turn of the century). The second event was the exploration for oil which began around the same time. Though it was to be some 40 years later before Shell finally struck oil there was a strong indication that oil would be discovered. Once these two factors occurred there was no longer a foreign interest in palm oil or kernels and effectively trading on a large scale ended. What were once relatively rich city states of Okrika, Nembe and Kalabari became the poverty villages and towns they are today. Unlike palm oil, local people did not have the knowledge or means to extract the oil and were therefore completely at the mercy of the oil multinationals and a non-indigenous neo-colonialist state which held them with disdain.
I don’t know when the oil in the Delta will run out but there are probably only about another 30 years left before it dries up, the multinationals pack up and move elsewhere and the Nigerian government disintegrates into it’s indigenous parts. What this tells me is that we (people of the South south and South East) should be re-thinking an agricultural policy which includes palm oil and kernels with the aim of replacing oil and the multinationals within the next 10 years.
Links: Life with palm oil