The Niger Delta States:
The Niger Delta is a complex system of rivers and creeks through which the Niger River flows to the sea. The interior of the Delta was inhabited by 160 stateless societies.
For over 2 000 years, the Ibo had supplied slaves and other goods in small quantities to European traders who entered their ships off the coast. The area became the European controlled world trading system. At the coast a number of small but fairly powerful commercial city states mushroomed. These city states created trading houses where peasant producers from the interior brought their goods and the slave traders brought their captives. The most important of these were Bonny, Calabar, Itsekireland and Opobo.
The city states grew up out of small lineage groups similar to the Ibo villages. A dominant village ruled a number of other lineages. In the Delta States they formed a strong complex and close unit of communities which didn’t extend over a very large area.
The Coastal States:
They did not try and administer these areas. All what they did was to ensure that producers in the interior did not trade directly with European traders. Consequently, each delta state had a complex monopoly of trade within its spheres of influence. Most important of these were the middle men, thus they were not really producers themselves. Their control of trade on the river was maintained by fleets of well-armed war canoes.
The majority of these rulers were not only progressive but equally modernized. They introduced European education, building and even technological innovation. Another outstanding feature was that even slaves could rise to high positions if they displayed initiative with skill, and ability, for example, Jaja of Opobo was formerly a slave from the state of Bonny and was able to set up his own state in the 1860s.
The geography of the Niger Delta with its small hidden rivers made it an ideal place to continue slave trading long after the British had invaded other states of West Africa. Delta states made profit from illegal slave trade. The area and its hinterland were in the main palm producing area of West Africa. Peasant producers in the interior and Delta middle men were equally to respond to the demand of palm oil.
After the 1840s the Delta led in the production of palm oil in West Africa. As such the region attracted the interest of European countries. The whole political structure of the states was characterized by the House System which facilitated social mobility, adaptability and these houses were organized as co-operatives.
Jaja of Opobo:
The rise of Jaja of Opobo was a result of political conflict within Bonny. He advocated modernization and technical innovation without any European intervention or interference, thus he banned both missionaries and traders from his state.
However, Johnson was hell. He aimed at breaking the political independence of Jaja of Opobo. Consequently, he invited Jaja on a boat and deported him to Ghana where he was charged of blocking the highways of traders. With his absence, the British took over the administration of the state.
There was nothing that most African communities could do to resist encroachment in their territories. Things were different within Brass. She resisted British trade regulations which were imposed on her.
Consequently, she landed a pronounced attack on the company’s coastal stations. The British Naval expedition was used to destroy some of Brass’ settlements using the company’s forces. The Company had the most powerful and effective fighting contingent. It was this force which was used to enforce punitive expeditions against societies north of the Delta States, especially those who physically resisted from obeying the company’s regulations. All in all, the overall effect of the Company’s attitude towards the Delta States was totally negative.