Wednesday, 6 November 2019

HOW SAPELE WAS RE-DISCOVERED BY THE COLONIAL MASTERS


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Sapele is a Local Government Area (LGA) in Delta state, its headquarters/capital is also located in Sapele, a city on the Benin River just below the confluence of the Ethiope River and Jamieson River. It was originally a small village of the Urhobo or "Okpe" people.

Senator Dafinoni (son of the soil)


The first Deputy Commissioner and Vice-Consul in charge of the Benin River District was Captain H. L. Gallwey on October 27, 1891, he carried out a survey of the Urhobo Oil markets along the Ethiope River, accompanied by Mr. S. Munro of the African Association, they proceeded on the voyage for the survey in a launch hired from Messrs Bey and Zimmer, a German trading firm at Benin River. They left Consulate at 10 a.m. reached Sapele by 6 p.m. anchored for the night-roughly 55 miles from Consulate and 60 mile from the mouth of the river. This is Captain H. L. Gallwey report, describing Sapele: "The anchorage here is deep and roomy, and the ground high, though one mass of forest. A most suitable spot to establish factories especially as all the produce from the Sobo markets passes here on the way to the towns near the mouth of the river. I consider Sapele to be a very good place to establish a Vice-Consulate, constabulary barracks, A great deal of clearing would be necessary to prepare the site, but this would afford work to the natives, and consequently be beneficial to someone. "By means of a launch all the markets could be reached in a very short time; a launch drawing 6 feet of water could go about 3 miles past Eku. The river water at Sapele is fresh, and one is well clear of the mangrove and fever swamps of the coast. Steamers drawing 14 to 15 feet of water could run up to Sapele. These steamers could tranship cargo to and from the larger steamers in the Forcados River.” 

Sir Ola Rotimi (son of the soil)

Major Claude Maxwell Macdonald, the Commissioner and Consul-General visited Sapele on the 14th November, 1891, and approved the site as being eminently suitable. In his Despatch No. 30 the Foreign Office, dated 12th December, 1891, the Major said "I consider Sapele would be a very good situation for the establishment of a constabulary station; the ground is high, and though covered with forest, could be easily cleared. The people of Sapele informed me that if I would come and build there, they would clear as much ground as I wished." That was the historic decision that made Sapele Village the modern Township it came to be in later years.

one of the old colonial structures with woods, still standing
In 1891, the British government established a vice-consulate at Sapele, without waiting to first established the Constabulary station as proposed, they used a temporary means, a ship named the "Hindustan" bought at Bristol was sailed to Benin River. There it was dismantled, fitted up as a hulk, and towed to the Sapele anchorage. The hulk was said to have provided excellent accommodation for four Europeans, a Customs Office, a Consular Court, a Treasury, a Prison and Barracks for civil police. While the machinery of Government began in the hulk, the excellent site opposite the anchorage was being cleared for the construction of barracks to accommodate sixty men and a detachment of Protectorate troops under an English Officer. That was in 1892. To live and work in a hulk might be an innovation at Sapele, but the idea was certainly not a new one to Europeans, especially European traders in the Oil Rivers. By its strategic location, Sapele, was considered to be an important military and administrative station for the projection of power and authority. As such it became a cosmopolitan city and attracted people from many Nigerian ethnic groups who came and settled; today we have streets named after some of the ethnic groups in Nigeria. 

swimming pool section in the old colonial building 


In 1926 the British colonial government held a census, in which only the men were counted, the result of the census was later used as bases for taxing the men. In April 1927, government took measures to enforce the Native Revenue (Amendment) Ordinance on the citizens. A colonial resident, W. E. Hunt, was commissioned by the Lieutenant Governor of Nigeria to explain the provisions and objects of the new Ordinance to the people throughout the five provinces in the Eastern Region. This was to prepare the ground for the introduction of direct taxation due to take effect in April 1928, for men in south-eastern Nigeria. On September 27, 1927, while the Officer Administrating the government from Sapele visited Sabo in the present Edo State, he announced the introduction of tax to be paid by the men, some of the men who came to welcome him, objected. The Colony Police contingent stationed at Sobo opened fire on what they described as mob reaction to the Administrative Officer. The Acting Inspector General fired first shot into the air and one of his officers followed by firing into the crowd and he killed a Sabo man instantly while others got injured. The other Sobo’s did not take the killing likely and this led to the police arresting some of them, the police beat up another Sobo man to the point of death and the result was a riot that spread through Sapele, Forcados and Burutu. Markets were closed down and the police continued night patrols all of the towns. After the incident in Sabo, Mr C W Duncan, resumed work officially as the Inspector General of the Southern Province Police Force. Major F. H. Ruxton, C.M.G., the Lieutenant-Governor of the Southern Provinces, retired on the 14th March, and was succeeded on May 15th by Mr. C. W, Alexander, and he announced that there will be a fresh census in areas around Warri, Owerri, Onitsha, Calabar and Ogoja Provinces.

take a look at the foundation of the wood building 

While driving around in Sapele my host showed me the burial site of the world Guinness book accountant David Dafinone. Sapele has produced many other great personalities including David Defiagbon - Olympic boxing silver medallist; Peter Dedevbo - Nigerian U20- Women's National team Head Coach; Olusoji Fasuba – sprinter; Ola Rotimi – playwright; Blessing Okagbare – athlete; Kefee - gospel singer and composer; Endurance Ojokolo – athlete; Kenneth Eyemi - US military officer; Anthony Oghenedoro Akoria – preacher; Austin Opubor – politician; Chief J.Y Odebala esq. -Oviolo of Okpe kingdom and Gwen  - Nigerian King of Queens.

Sapele Atheletic club 1913


I visited the oldest golf club in Nigeria in the corner of Chichester Road, now known as Sapele Athletic Golf Club which was once known as Sapelo and later Sapilo Golf Club. It was established 7 years after the first settlement of the colonial masters in Sapele and that was in in 1898, it was to while away boredom by the men staying inside the Hindustan -hulk in Sapele. In preparation of the amalgamation of the Protectorates of Nigeria and the Colony, the Chairman of Elder Dempster - Sir Owen Philip (KGMG)  and Directors of the company in 1913 donated a trophy to the “Sapelo Golf Club” and urged them to plan a tournament to celebrate the unification of Nigeria. 



standing at the Golf club

The club embarked on planning its first major tournament which was rounded up in June 1914 and won by H.M. Mansfield. The second tournament was held in 1916 and won by S.D. Fraser, 1919 edition was won by J.W. Maskew. The 1922 and 1923 editions were won by D.J. Martins, 1931 was won by R.C Little. 1933 was won by Dr T.B. Mcalear, 1934 was won by C.D. Avy and so many other tournaments and wins

the golf club


The River Ethiope, I was told that the river originates from a community called Umuaja and flows through several others before joining the sea at Sapele. The River is shared by four local government councils namely Ukwuani, Ethiope East, Okpe and Sapele, it is about 50km long. I was also told that this river should be among the Wonders of the World, for it originated from the foot of a giant silk-cotton tree at Umuaja in Ukwuani Local Government Area, Delta State. It is said to be the deepest inland waterway in Africa. By the time it gets to Sapele through Abraka from Umuaja, it has become so deep to harbor ocean-going vessels. At most of the points where the river runs across, one could see the bottom of the water from the bank. This had given some people a false sense of shallowness of the river to their peril. Fishes are seen swimming enthusiastically in the water, but rapidly spin out of reach on noticing human presence. River Ethiope is home to a great biodiversity of plants and animals. The river provides ecosystem services such as flood control, climate change regulation, recreation, spiritual homage, water supply, food, research and education, medicine, building materials to many communities through which it passes. Though all these being seriously hampered as result of development pressure and consequences of climate change driven by poverty, ignorance. I was told that the source of the river, the giant silk-cotton tree at Umuaja is said to be wrapped with yards of white and red clothes while different sacrificial objects brought by suppliants are seen around the tree by worshipers at the Onoku shrine and the chief priest - Chief Esinobi David, who is always garbed in red, seats at the entrance, to help worshipers for the spiritual affiliation attached, some areas of the groove surrounding the river source are restricted to visitors with a footpath leading to the grove.



an sold building still standing and abandoned 

This building in the heart of Sapele main market, is said to have been built in the 1800s by a man whose wife had about six miscarriages before she eventually had a baby and he named the baby "Olumaro" and named the house after the baby meaning' how many can I think of?



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