King William Koko of Nembe
There exist a plethora of write ups on the subject matter- The Nembe- Bristish war of 1895 (sometimes referred to, by some historians, as the Akassa Raid) A fundamental question is whether the 1895 expedition led by King Koko be classified as a raid or a war? answer(s) to this question would be a discussion for another day.
Every coin, they say, has two sides. Even to this, the proponents, as has always been the case, in their view, may justify the action of the King Koko led 1895 expedition; while the opponents would argue against the action. The beauty in the contemporary free world is that every person is entitled to his or her opinion, irrespective of divergence in views. Expressing a divergent view on any issue by anyone is seen and widely accepted as one’s expression of his/ her inalienable fundamental human rights. However, let turn the page on the morality or otherwise of the King Koko-led expedition and explore its significance to contemporary and extant Niger Delta via-avis Nigerian narratives.
I shall begin with an operational definition of significance which is the key word in the topic of this discourse. The word significance as used here encompasses a number of perspectives that include:
Something that is conveyed as a meaning often obscurely or indirectly.
The explicit and implicit messages, information or meaning derivable from the Nembe- British war.
An understanding of the importance of the Nembe- British war and its subtle effects in creating awareness in the mind of the people.
The extent to which something, in this case the Nembe-British war, matters
The message that the war narrative is intended to express or signify.
As you may be aware, the European adventurers’ and traders’ occupation of Nigeria came in a systematic succession which began in late eighteenth century. Before the advent of the European traders; there were already well established traditional administrative systems in the different colonies and protectorates. In parts of the eastern Niger Delta, there were already state formations and organized village democratic formations. The economic mainstays of the people of the Niger Delta were fishing, salt manufacture, farming and trading within and beyond the region. There were thus established order and protocol in doing business in the region that did not brook unwitting interference or shocks.
CAUSES OF THE BRITISH- NEMBE WAR
The British – Nembe war was said to be the most spectacular occurrence that centred around the Nembe speaking people, sometimes referred to in written records as the Brass people. The historic Brass or Nembe territory spanned the combined area of what are today, Nembe and Brass Local Government Areas of Bayelsa State.
The Royal Niger Company was granted charter by the British Government in 1886. Consequently, trade activities in the Eastern Niger Delta in particular of which Nembe Kingdom was part of came into its jurisdiction or theatre of operation. With time, the Royal Niger Company deviated from the ground norms for mutually beneficial business in the area and launched into monopolizing the entire trade in palm oil and palm kernels. The Nembe people were being systematically and unscrupulously excluded from the businesses that represented a lifeline to them as a people. The trend did not go down well with the Nembe leadership and the needed to do something to turn the tide of imminent strangulation.
In the History of Nembe by Rev D. Ogiriki Ockiya, Prof. E.J. Alagoa (Ed), it pointed out that:
Moreover, the Royal Niger
Company, Chartered and
Limited went so far as to
Molest, and seize all Nembe
People trading canoes they
Chanced to see in the lower
Ijoh markets, firing and killing
Many of the people, even as
Far as to the Akassa creek
Which leads to the Brass Twon
Further, Emeritus Professor E.J Alagoa in his book The uses of hindsight as foresight; reflections on the Niger Delta and Nigerian history has explained tersely in a very clear and concise manner the enormity of the unwholesome trade practices of the Royal Niger Company within the period under review. Thus;
It was a period during which the people of the Niger Delta dealt as sovereign peoples on a basis of partnership, signing treaties and mutually acceptable business and political agreements; and the Niger Delta was a clearing house of Nigerian external trade. The colonial period reversed these promising trends.
It was preceded by progressive steps of unilateral actions, the use of gun-boats, the imposition of consular posts and eventually trade monopoly and political control (p.9).
By the 1890s, there was intense resentment of Royal Niger Company’s treatment of the people of the Niger Delta and of its aggressive actions to exclude its competitors and monopolized trade. Amongst others, the most vexatious grievance of the Royal Niger Company which deeply wounded the Nembe people included: excessive taxation, flagrant disregard of treaties entered into with the Nembe Chiefs, deprivation of the native indigenous traders, forceful penetration into the hinterland hitherto under the control of the Nembe chiefs. These accumulated factors dovetailed into what could best be expressed as Economic Strangulation.
It is germane to note, that a fundamental phenomenon inherent in humans is the ability to put up resistance in disagreeable instances; such as in negotiations, business transactions, oppression, violation of one’s fundamental human rights, suppression with the use of state apparatus, intimidation, victimization, subjection to inhuman treatment and insults on the dignity of human person.
Emeritus Professor E.J Alagoa alluded to the above statement in his book The uses of hindsight as foresight: Reflections on Niger Delta and Nigerian history, P.9 The Ijaw people whether organized into formal State polities or not, demonstrated their abilities for defense of their resources in this period.
It was observed that in the later part of the eighteenth century, the level of civilization and exposure was low and the whites were generally regarded as the overlords, daring the whites was like a taboo. This scenario reflects a true picture of the situation prevalent in the Niger Delta at that time.
In the circumstance above, King Fredrick William Koko, Mingi VIII, Amayanabo of Nembe Kingdom, who was also referred to as the King of the Brass people could not bear the injustice and oppression meted out to his people. He was, however, left with no option in a seemingly hostile and un cooperative Royal Niger Company officials, hence, he mobilized all the Kings, Chiefs and all able bodied men in Nembe Kingdom and devised a plan against the Royal Niger Company.
These brave, courageous and gallant men led by King Koko dared the Royal Niger Company and declared war on them. King Koko and his team; Including Kings, Chiefs and able-bodied men in all the compounds, towns in Nembe Kingdom successfully launched an attack (which in Military parlance could be referred to as Amphibious Campaign) on the Headquarters of the Royal Niger Company at Akassa on January 29th 1895.
The Royal Niger Company on February 22nd 1895 launched a counter attack on Nembe, the seat of the King of the Brass people. The King Koko led brave, courageous and gallant men withstood them at the lagoon on the approaches to Nembe, which made the city state impenetrable to the British frontier force on the first day. Subsequently, they gained access to Nembe. They also attacked Bassambiri, Okpoama and Twon-Brass and dealt ruthlessly with the people and most buildings were burnt down.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BRITISH- NEMBE WAR
Here, we are examining very vital but implied didactic message, information and perhaps lesson(s) (moral and otherwise) derivable from the processes leading to, during and after the war in 1895 and its implication and reflections on modern day practices in related instances or fields of endeavour.
In commemoration of the uncommon bravery, doggedness, courage, high level of patriotism and statesmanship exhibited by King Koko, other kings, chiefs and able-bodied men who planned and prosecuted the historic war of liberation as well as for historical purposes; the Nembe people from economic strangulation of the Royal Niger Company, the Nembe Kingdom had set aside January 29th of every year as Nembe National Day.
Apparently, the subtle message, information or lesson(s) encapsulated in the above narrative could be distilled to mean;
That by way of anachronistic analysis, one could assert without equivocation that King Koko was the first person to initiate the struggle for liberation which today is known as the Niger Delta struggle, irrespective of whatever nomenclature, cognomen or appellation given to it in contemporary time. Today’s Niger Delta struggle could be regarded as off shoot of King Koko’s experience in 1895.
Lending credence to the above statement was Maclean Ayebakuro, who in his article entitled The historic white-man’s graveyard in Twon Brass, Bayelsa State, published in the African Gong on November 22, 2013 stated thus;
“….. King Fredrick William Koko, Mingi VIII, Amanyanabo of Ancient Nembe Kingdom, our illustrious ancestor, a foremost nationalist and purposeful leader who displayed a sense of liberating his people from external domination made the greatest sacrifice for embarking on that historic campaign thereby regarded as the Father of the demand for present day Resource Control.
Further, another scholar Karis Trust buttresses this point in his article entitled The Nembe- British war- A bird’s eye view published in Venus Magazine on Monday, November 23, 2014, …. King Koko became the originator of the struggle for resource control and a victim of external oppression of the white man.
This unique heroic act of King Koko and his team brought early awareness and enlightenment to the Nembe people in particular and the Niger Delta in general on the necessity to assert one’s fundamental human rights in the annals of the Niger Delta.
It broke the myth held by a majority of the people at that time that the white man was untouchable and not to be dared
The Nembe-British war was executed among other reasons, the violation of treaties entered into with the Nembe Chiefs; the violation of the terms or principles upon which King Koko and his team prosecuted the war has today formed a veritable template for treaties and memoranda of understanding (MOU) with multinational firms operating in Nigeria e.g
Local Content Policy: The Local Content Policy initiated by the Nembe chiefs was that only the native traders, as middlemen, were allowed to trade in the hinterland, while the Royal Niger Company would buy from the middle men at designated trading posts on the coast. The violation of the local content policy in the treaties entered into with the Nembe Chiefs by the Royal Niger Company was one of the causes of the war.
As you may be aware, the local content policy set limits, boundaries and jurisdictional prohibitions which the Royal Niger Company violated with impunity and flagrant disregard to the traditional authorities, despite repeated warnings by way of presentations. Rather the British Royal Niger
Company resorted to Machiavellian tactics by using the state apparatus to intimidate and suppress the local traders.
Worthy of note, is the fact that today these principles are being replicated as the upstream and downstream policies in the Nigerian Oil Sector and are regarded as international best practices. Kudos to the ingenious King Koko and his team for the positive impact of their courageous act.
As we prepare for another Nembe National Day, a day set aside for the commemoration of the exploits of King Fredrick William Koko, Mingi VIII, Amayanabo of Ancient Nembe Kingdom and his team on January 29, 2018 we, as a people, should have an introspection and do the needful by bringing relevant aspects and dimensions designed to upgrade the Nembe National Day celebrations.
One of such dimensions should be the introduction of King Koko lecture series to kick-start the ceremonials.
Further, we should take a holistic approach to the King Koko day or Nembe National Day celebrations through the participation and involvement of representatives of the towns, chiefs and group of war canoes chieftaincy houses that participated in the 1895 war.
This, I think, will imbue in the minds of the people a high sense of responsibility and remind them of their ancestors’ heroic acts. It will further cement our bond of relationship.
The last-line, “in the economic world today, the highest and most valuable currency is ideas”
God bless the Nembe Kingdom!