Opobo: Socio-Economic Dynamics For New Horizons

The book: Opobo Kingdom: 150 years After. Socio-Economic Dynamics for New Horizons, a six chapter book that opened with a prologue and ended with an epilogue, came at a very auspicious time when the great kingdom of Opobo is celebrating her sesquicentinary-a celebration due to start in the next few days. Seen from this perspective, Celestine Ogolo, the author comes across like the Biblical prophet Elijah, or some may say Isaiah, shouting in the wilderness: make straight the path of the Lord which in this case can be rightly modified to read: “make straight the path of Opobo development.”

The author introduced the work by giving a graphic account of how Opobo kingdom emerged from the crisis in old Bonny in the mid 19th century, the rationale for the crisis itself and its trajectory, and the eventual Bonny civil war of 1869 that culminated in King Jaja and his supporting chiefs eluding Bonny that same year to found Opobo Kingdom.

Mixing oral tradition with historiography, the writer narrated how the early Bonny people used to offer human sacrifices to a certain “godfather” (in this case a Crocodile) who they believe was the progenitor of their race and how on a fateful day, a young boy named “Jaja” was offered to the crocodile but was rejected to the surprise the anxious waiting crowd who had come to witness the routine sacrifice. A young girl, named Ama, was said to have immediately jumped into the river to rescue Jaja and bring him to the shore. It is this same Jaja that is believed to be the legendary King Jaja that surmounted all hurdles and rose to the top in Bonny political hierarchy and later founded Opobo Kingdom.

The author went further to connect the Bonny crisis and the eventual Bonny Civil War of 1869 with the struggle for dominance and control of the enormous wealth accruing from palm oil and how this led to the exit of King Jaja and his other chiefs from Bonny through Andoni, Nkoro and eventually landing at the new land called Opobo. This chapter also gave, in alphabetical order, the names of the fourteen (14) sections that make up Opobo Kingdom namely: Adibie, Biriye, Diepiri, Dapu, Ye Amakiri, Epelle, Fubarakworo, Iroanya, Jaja, Kalaomuso, Kiepirima, Owujie, Tolofari and Ukonu. He also mentioned the names of some of the towns and villages that make up the Kingdom. These include; Opobo Town, Kalaibiama, Ekeregborokiri, Epellema, Queens Town, Oloma/Ayaminima, Minima, Kalasunju, Okpukpu, Ozuobulu, Muma Down Below, Inokiri and Abazibie.

In chapter 2, the author narrated all that led to Jaja and his group eluding Bonny for a new place in Andoni territory and how the chiefs and elders of the latter compelled him to swear to the “You-Obolo” deity that he would not join forces with their enemy, the Bonny people, to fight against them (Andonis) in the event of any war.  In an oblique manner, the chapter exposed the cracks in the reasoning of the British colonial officials who in the course of the already stated feud between Jaja and his former contemporaries in Bonny stayed aloof until the war started affecting the flow of palm oil, the main economic interest of which all of British colonial imperialism in the Niger Delta, according to K.O. Dike, the great historian, was built.

The author further showcased the brilliance, dexterity, domineering character and political brinkmanship of King Jaja all of which helped him build an economic empire for his new kingdom in less than no time, consequently forcing the Bonny people to sue for the signing of the 1983 Treaty between them and Jaja. Important to note in t his chapter was the narrative on the Commando style through which the British later arrested, tried and banished Jaja to the Island of St. Vincent without offering him any right to appeal.  Finally, the chapter took us on a brief but concise succession process of the following kings who reigned in the kingdom: Prince Sunday Frederick Jaja, King Arthur MacPepple Jaja, King Douglas Jaja and the reigning King, Dandeson Douglas Jaja.

In chapter three, the author captures pre-independence and post independence Nigeria and how the amalgamation took place between the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914.  An historian that he is, the author used the chapter to expose the reader to the immediate and remote causes of the Aba women riot of 1929 and the colonial administrative structure which Nigeria operated at that time. 

The skewed nature of this administrative structure, according to him, exacerbated the cry of the minorities who, feeling a sense of marginalization requested for a State of their own. The result of this was the creation of the Sir Henry Willinks Commission.  All of these, the author reiterated contributed to the eventual creation of Rivers State on May 27, 1967 – an action, which according to the author, on the other hand spurred the military leader of the former Eastern Nigeria, Coloniel Odumegwu Ojukwu, to want to secede from the country.  All of these brought with it several challenges including huge infrastructural gaps and economic downturn for Opobo.  The Kingdom was to bounce back later and this helped her attain the status of a local government area on 1st October, 1996.

Chapter four saw the author stylishly educating his audience on the different local administration/local government system practiced in Nigeria beginning from 1916 when the British introduced the Native Authority Ordinance.  A detailed function of local governments as spelt out in the Fouth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was also captured in this chapter.  Generally, the chapter gave a breakdown of eth modus operandi of Local Government Councils in Nigeria and the challenges they face.  The second on personal interviews with Chairmen of Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Council (both past and present) is an eye opener on the intrigues of that office and the inertia encumbering chairman when on the saddle in the Council.  The author also did a yeoman’s job providing facts and figures of sampled statutory allocation to Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Council and how she has fared from 1996 till now.  Needless to say report of the current state of affairs in the Council cum kingdom is unbiased and commendable.

The entrepreneurial skills and capacity of the Opobo people was showcased in chapter five where the author made us understand that ancient Opobo kingdom operated an oil palm driven economy which made her one of the richest city states in the Niger Delta.  Her economy waxed strong until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.  The chapter also captures the trading pattern which existed around 1912 and how the creation of the Port Harcourt seaport and railway negatively affected the palm oil business of the people bringing with it a trade decline for the Kingdom.  The remaining part of the chapter saw the author delineating different development plans and blue prints which, he believes, will re-establish the kingdom generally on a sound footing.  These plans, according to him, revolve around education, culture, trade, environment and tourism.

In chapter six, the author presented the position of two schools of thoughts about the state of things in the kingdom.  According to him, while one group applauded the giant strides the kingdom has made over time in different spheres of life, the other claims more could have been achieved given the historical antecedents and potentials of the Ibani people.  Subtly pitching his tent with the latter group, the author insists that any meaningful development in Opobo Kingdom must be based on a well thought out Master Plan or realistic blueprint which will not only help direct the course of development but will also help the kingdom to bounce back to her elevated position among the Niger Delta people.

In concluding the work, the author harped on the need for a purpose-driven and visionary leadership as that, to him, is the fulcrum on which all other development variable in the kingdom revolves.

The author closed the book with an epilogue in which he recognized and applauded the giant strides made by about fifty (50) prominent sons and daughters of the kingdom whom he described as icons and whose achievements, he believes, can spur others and in that way propel to the kingdom to greater height.

Indeed, every shade of Mr. Celestine Ogolo was shown in the book: his editorship side by his stylistics and semantics, his administrative side by his masterly presentation of details in an orderly manner, his journalistic side by his beyond-the-surface analysis of the major themes covered in the work, and his historical side by his sheer preference for exactness in date.  If the date is not complete, you won’t find Opobo there. The following examples will suffice:  1869, Jaja and his group left Bonny (p.38); May 27, 1967, Rivers State was created as one of the twelve states by the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon; 1st October, 1996, Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area was created out of the former Andoni/Opobo Local Government Area by the administration of late General Sani Abacha.

As is customary with intellectual works, the book has a few issues that are worth being considered during its second edition.  First is the issue of pagination.  One would have expected to see the page numbering starting with the first chapter as is the convention, but in this case the first page number 23.  This is even more bizarre when one observes that the preliminary pages (endorsements, prologue, acknowledgement, foreword and preface) were correctly numbered in Roman numerals. The obvious implication of this lacuna is that the book does not have numbers 1-22.

The in-text referencing style also needs to be improved upon to bring it in tandem with the American Psychological Association (APA) sixth edition or even the seventh edition format. In specific terms, many direct quotes bore only the author’s surname and year of publication contrary to the standard practice where such quotes had page numbers added to them. Again, many citations at the end of sentences (appearing in brackets) had double full stops, one at the end of the sentence, and one after the bracket-instead of just one full stop after the bracket.

A few circumlocutions also abound in the work, like the story about the founding of Opobo which appeared in Chapter One with a rehash in Chapter Two.  The issue of epilogue too is a bit confusing.  While not quarreling with the biographical account of the “icons” listed in that section as its motivational effect on our youths is not only incontrovertible but also unquantifiable, yet it remains a moot point if the title “epilogue” is apt for it.  My thought is that the section could more rightly be captioned “icons of Opobo Kingdom” and added as part of the Appendix.  Indeed, even the data on “Joint Account Allocation” which the author showed as having been pain into the accounts of the twenty-three (23) local government councils in the State could have been moved from pages 140-146 (which is within Chapter Four) and nearly tucked into an Appendix.

Needless to say the absence of an appendix is a low point in the work.  Finally, a few grammatical and typo-errors need to also be corrected in the next edition.

In all, Opobo Kingdom: 150 Years After, Socio-Economic Dynamics For New Horizons, is a very enthralling book, incisive yet captivating, emotive yet not sentimental, invigorating yet humbling, and studded with facts not fiction.  Conventionally, one would expect a book of 355 pages to be filed with sleepy stories and lullabies, but not so with this one. Ogolo, a master historian showed what stuff he was made of by keeping the reader appetitive and longing for the next page.  Indeed, every page has a story a tell, every page made sense itself!

A classic in historiography, Ogolo’s narratives are no impish chant, they are analytic, pungent, factual, blunt, sometimes direct, sometimes witty, but always cascading with the truth, In all of these, the message is very clear: there is need for a timely socio-economic reengineering of Opobo kingdom if the latter is to hit new horizons in development.  With a lot of endorsements by the “masters” of African Economic History, a prologue and foreword item.  Consequently, I have no reservations in recommending it for every Niger Delta who is desirous of knowing how Opobo came to be, and how it can change, and for all others who are lovers of Opobo Kingdom.

Prof. Epelle, is of Dept of Political Science, IAUE, Rumuolumeni.

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