Nana Olomu: Legendary Itsekiri Chief Who Was ‘Governor of Benin River’ In Biafra (1884-1894)

Nana Olomu Legendary Itsekiri Chief Who Was Governor of Benin River In Biafra (1884-1894)
Nana Olomu Legendary Itsekiri Chief Who Was Governor of Benin River In Biafra (1884-1894)

Nana Olomu (also spelled Olumu), born 1852 in the town of Jakpa, was an Itsekiri chief and palm oil merchant from the Niger Delta region in southern Nigeria.

He was the fourth Itsekiri chief to hold the position of ‘Governor of Benin River’ between 1884 and 1894 (the first being Idiare), and exerted huge political power through a network of armed traders in palm oil working along the upper reaches of the river Niger, in was known then as the Bights of Benin and Biafra.

Biography

Nana Olomu was the son of Olomu, the maternal nephew of Olu Akengbuwa, the last Olu (chief) before the interim of 88 years that saw to the rise in importance of the governor’s office.

He was given the title of “Governor of the Benin Rivers” by the British when his predecessor, Chanomi―an old foe of his father―refused to take back the staff of office returned to him after it had been taken away by the British due to reports of his misrule.

The conflict between his father and Governor Chanomi inspired Chanomi’s family to promote the most promising of their own into becoming a formidable opponent to Olomu’s family.

As chief, Nana built the town Ebrohimi in the mangrove swamps. This was defended by brass cannon and flintlock guns.

Conflict With The British

After the establishment of the post of Governor of Benin River, in 1851―by John Beecroft, then British Consul for the Bights of Benin and Biafra, the office was proposed to pass back and forth between the Emaye and the Ologbotsere, two prominent Itsekiri families.

However, it is reported that upon the death of his father, an Ologbotsere, the governorship was passed directly to Nana Olomu, instead of one of the Emaye.

In 1884, Nana signed a pact with the British, on behalf of his people. This granted Britain further rights in Itsekiriland. Relations between both parties were peaceful until the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 and the ensuing Scramble for Africa, which led the British to try to bypass the Itsekiri middlemen in order to trade directly with the Urhobo people, whose chief Dogho had also set up a series of machinations which were pivotal in the deteriorating relationship between Nana and then acting Consul-General Ralph Moor in 1894.

Angered by the perceived bypassing of the Itsekiri (the British had the pact to Urhobo communities within the sphere of Nana’s commercial influence), Nana, in 1894, ordered his men to attack nearby Urhobo villages which had traded directly with the British.

This resulted in a trade boycott by the Urhobo, prompting the British to respond by storming Nana’a fortress at Ebrohimi. Nana escaped to Lagos Colony where he was later arrested, tried, and exiled to Accra, in the Gold Coast (today’s Ghana) from 1894-1906.

Later Years

Following what the Aborigines Protection Society termed “the arbitrary treatment” to which Nana Olomu was subjected to while in Ghana, the society, on his behalf, pleaded with the British government to restore his business, even if for political reasons, he could not be restored to his old position as chief. This was, nonetheless, unsuccessful.

However, Nana Olomu was allowed to return to home, after which he lived at the town of Koko in present day Delta State. He died in 1916, ten years after his return from exile. His palace, located in Koko, has since been converted into a museum (the Nana Living History Museum) which records his relationship with the British. A monument is also erected for him in Koko.

(By: Ejiofor Ekene Maduabuchi)


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