THE STORY OF KING JAJA OF OPOBO (182O-1890)

King Jaja of Opobo was widely know as the wealthiest and most powerful monarch in the Niger Delta and sole founder of Ancient Town of Opobo.

Born in 1821, a native of  Umuduruoha, Amaigbo, present-day Imo State, and named Mbanaso Okwaraozurumbaa.  aT the early age of 12, he was captured by slave traders and sold into captivity in Bonny (a traditional, coastal town and a Local Government Area in present day Rivers State in southern Nigeria) a coastal community know for being a major trading post of the eastern Delta, who’s economy witnessed great boom in the slave trade era. 

Mbanaso earned his way out of slavery having generated outstanding wealth for the community of Bonny and also adopted the Ijaw-Ibani culture. 

When that kingdom’s throne became vacant, he attempted occupying that position but his quest to vie for it was politically checkmated by a fellow wealthy slaver as wealth was a major deciding factor in monarchy.

After his failed attempt in Bonny politics, In 1869 he left with his supporters to establish a new town near Andoni which he named Opobo. 

It took little or no time for the new settlement which Jaja who was popularly called Jubo Jubogha relocated to became prosperous, this was due to its strategic location allowing him to transact first-hand with both national and international merchants, effectively becoming a monopolist in the oil palm trade.

Trade and the resultant wealth in Opobo exploded so much so that his former British trading partners started recording huge losses amounting to about £100,000 in 1870, the Kingdom of Bonny even pleaded with him to return (which he refused as he was now running a prosperous kingdom of his own).

His strategy and dominance in the region got the attention of Queen Victoria who, impressed by his influence, recognised him as King of Opobo in 1873 and  personally presented him with a sword in Buckingham Palace in 1875 after he sent troops to assist Britain in the Ashante War.

When the Scramble between world powers for Africa began 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.

Greed and the fear of Jaja’s influence led the new Consul-General, to invite Jaja for a tempting business meeting out of his kingdom and on board a ship called ”The Goshawk” for discussions, a decision he will soon regret.

Once on board, an order was served for his detention, He was illegally tried and convicted in Gold Coast, present-day Ghana, in 1887, and exiled to Saint Vincent in the distant West Indies to be later relocated to Barbados.

After years of plea for his return to his kingdom, in 1891 at the age of 70 he was allowed to return home.

Unfortunately, he died in Tenerife, en route to Opobo, it was alleged that he was poisoned with a cup of tea. His body arrived Opobo to a kingdom in deep sorrow as his death came not only as a shock but an irreplaceable loss to his people who gave him a full royal burial. 

After his death, the kingdom gradually lost its relevance in trade and its glory days was said to have died with Mbanaso Okwaraozurumbaa (A.K.A Jubo Jubogha) King Jaja of Opobo.

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