History class taught us that Nana Olumu was a great man. He may have made the slave trade difficult for the Whiteman but maybe he wasn’t a saint either, maybe at some point in his life, he was selfish or perhaps, he had flaws that were never spoken of and maybe he wasn’t all we were made to believe.
The reign of Nana
Nana Olumu, born in 1852 was a very rich merchant. He was the fourth Itsekiri chief to hold the position of Governor of Benin River. He fought against British rule in his community. Nana was during his revolutionary phase of the Benin River area, the head of the Itsekiri people, performing all functions of the Olu, or king, except the spiritual, which remained the exclusive preserve of the Olotu, or regent of the suspended Olu title.
Nana lived in a creek near the mouth of the Benin River, closely with the Oba Ovonramwen of Benin; a powerful leadership figure.
He traded palm oil to the white men and environs in the Niger-Delta region. He assumed the position of the Comey collector which was as equal as a chief tax officer. His trade extended primarily into the hinterlands of the Benin and Ethiopia Rivers.
There is a historical fact that Nana wielded enough force to bring to submission; anyone who was so unreasonably stubborn as to interfere with his trade anywhere, even the colonial masters. For many years, he concentrated his commercial activities on the Urhobo oil markets until he practically established a perfect monopoly over all the oil markets. His monopolistic control of trade in the Benin River stifled Urhobo traders and Europeans who had their share of the trade significantly reduced.
Nana was reported to have stopped all trade in 1886 and 1892 to force English merchants to pay higher prices. Opposition to Nana grew not only from the merchants but also from those Itsekiri traders; including Dore Numa, who suffered from Nana’s monopoly.
The fall of Nana
In 1884 Nana signed a treaty on behalf of his people, which gave the British rights over the Itsekiri people. By this treaty, Itsekiri became the first protectorate in the Western Niger Delta; this happened a few years before the successive fall of Benin under the rule of Oba Ovonramwen. He inherited most of his (Oba Ovonramwen) wealth and was able to expand his businesses because of his monopolized trade. Nana, delighted by the land acquisition parts, which added to his trading advantages, ignored the grey areas and the part of the agreement that could put an end to the sovereignty of Itsekiri.
In the beginning, the relationship between the parties was smooth; until to his oblivion, a change was made to the treaty which he supposed was in his favour. A Brits monopoly to the Urhobo community. When Nana realized this, he resulted in confrontational acts which conflicted with the terms of the 1884 treaty.
By the end of 1893, the Vice Consuls at Benin River had started to accuse the chief of gross disloyalty to the government. These accusations started gathering momentum amongst the Urhobo traders.
In July 1894, Nana attacked Urhobo villages that had boycotted the norm to trade directly with the British. His boys seized fifteen Urhobo people with the inclusion of a local Chief’s wife, over an alleged debt of 200 puncheons of palm oil.
Nana Olumu was finally overthrown by the British at the end of 1894. He was also thrown into exile to Gold Coast (now known as Ghana).
He returned to his homeland in 1906 and died 10 years later in 1916.