Who is Jaja of Opobo, the first millionaire

Jaja of Opobo, the man who rose against the odds of poverty and
colonial rule to become Nigeria’s first international trader and
millionaire in the 19th century was born as Mbananso
Okwaraozurumbaa in a small village in Orlu in what is now Imo
State in present-day Nigeria.
The founder and king of a prosperous city, he is popularly known
as Jaja Opogo, a name given to him by the British which later
became his household name. To the Igbos, he is known as Jaja
Jubogba or Jo Jo Ubam. He is regarded as a hero who left a mark
of great significance in the history of Nigeria and West Africa. At
the age of 12, Jaja was captured by his father’s enemies and sold
into slavery ending up in the Kingdom of Bonny. It was his first
owner who gave him the name Jubo Jubogha. Jaja worked very
hard for his master and was very humble until he was sold again to
Chief Alali who was the ruler of the Opubo Anne Pepple Royal
In those days, the Bonny Empire was a flourishing kingdom in
ancient Nigeria that gained its wealth through trade and business
in the slave trade. Slaves were granted their freedom if they had
successful businesses and could rise in the social classes to
become prominent people in society as well as rule. Jaja worked
for the chief and run businesses on the side until he was able to
buy his freedom and become a man of is own.
With his new found freedom and already flourishing businesses,
Jaja concentrated on running his businesses well and learnt the
tricks and wits of working as a trader especially with the British. At
a very young age, he had earned for himself high social status and
an enviable name in the trading business in West Africa.
At the death of his former enslaver, the ruler of the Opuba Anne
Pepple Royal House, there was no one interested in taking up the
throne because of the debts the royal house had incurred over the
years. Seeing it as both a business opportunity and a way of
honouring the late chief, Jaja boldly took up the role and paid off
the debts in a matter of two years.King Jaja of Opoba(left) and
Governor Nana Olomu (right)
By the rule of Jaja, the Anne Pepple Royal House became the
richest and strongest trading house under the Bonny Empire. But
in 1859, Jaja was forced to leave the royal house after a fire
outbreak allowing the envious Manilla Pepple House to take over
the Anne Pepple House. In the same year of 1859, Jaja established
the Opobo city-state.
Through his intelligent administration and expansion of trade links,
Opobo city-state became powerful and had control over the
traditional sources of palm oil in the region and took over fourteen
of the eighteen trade houses under the Bonny Empire.
Jaja was very opened to western social development and learnt to
speak very fluent English, building schools in Opobo, as well as
other social amenities which quickly developed the city. Jaja
employed many African Americans to teach in his schools
providing quality education to students. Despite being open to
western trade and social development, Jaja was greatly against
the political ambitions of the British Empire and protected his city
for as long as he could.
It only took a while for Jaja to be labelled as a tyrant by the British
who tried to get rid of the powerful King and businessman who was
in charge of several of West Africa’s biggest trading businesses.
To prove to the British that an African was capable of being great
without their help, Jaja started exporting palm oil directly to the UK
through his own ships pioneering Nigerian export trade and
becoming the first Nigerian and West African to directly export to
the West.
Jaja became a millionaire and caused the western trade to fall in
West Africa. Through his monopoly over importation and
exportation of oil, foreign traders especially the Britsih were forced
to pay taxes.
Through his wealth, King Jaja also became a powerful politician
and owned a strong military which was sent out to help the British
during the Anglo-Ashanti wars in 1875 to which the Queen
honoured him. Jaja had many wives and children who he took
pride in and was a very responsible father sending all of his
children to the best school in West Africa and the West.
In 1884, King Jaja of Opobo was made to sign a peace treaty with
the Britsih under the orders of Consul Hewet. The treaty made
Opobo city a protectorate under the British. King Jaja only agreed
to the treaty after it was agreed that the clause under the treaty
that allowed free trade and unlimited access to the city be
A year later, the British empire declared the Gulf of Guinea a British
protectorate allowing free trade and Jaja opposed this ruling
declaring that his city will not be affected by such rules. At the
Berlin conference of 1884, he was labelled a terrorist and accused
of illegal trade and plans to rid his city of the British.Statue of King
Jaja in the city of Opoba, River State
In 1887, King Jaja of Opobo was trapped by the British through the
then Vice Consul Harry Johnston who invited Jaja for a peace talk
conference which he accepted after several appeals. While
onboard the warship Goshawk, King Jaja of Opobo was served
with deportation or to see the complete destruction of his city. King
Jaja was deported to Accra, Gold Coast, now modern-day Ghana,
where he was immediately arrested, tried and found guilty on all
charges and exiled to St Vincents Island in the West Indies.
His absence caused a halt in trade between the British and the City
of Opobo. After several appeals to the British Empire against his
unfair treatment, King Opobo was granted permission to return to
his city-state in 1891 but died on his journey home. It is widely
speculated that he was poisoned to death after being served a cup
of tea with strict orders to be given to him.
The city of Opobo still exists in modern-day River State, Nigeria
and a huge statue of the great king whose rule has been described
as the fairest, close to perfect and a just practice of democracy
Africa has ever seen can be found in the centre of the city.

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  1. Good news

  2. Great man

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