Nana Olomu (also spelled Olumu)(1852–1916) was an Itsekiri chief and merchant from the Niger Delta region of southern Nigeria. He was the fourth Itsekiri chief to hold the position of Governor of Benin River.
Background to conflict with the British
In 1851 the British Consul for the Bights of Benin and Biafra, John Beecroft, established the post of Governor of Benin River and gave it to an Itsekiri chief, Idiare. The governorship was intended to pass back and forth between two prominent Itsekiri families, the Emaye and the Ologbotsere. However, 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 Olomu, the fourth Governor of Benin River, signed a treaty on behalf of the Itsekiri, granting the British further rights in Itsekiriland. The relations between the two 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 so as to trade directly with the Urhobo people. A further complication was that because of technical improvements in shipping European traders could travel further into the interior than previously, ending their former reliance on the coastal chieftains as middlemen.
Attacks on the Urhobo
Following this development the relations between the Itsekiri, led by Olomu, and the British began to decline. In 1892 and 1893 direct treaties between the British and the Urhobo further angered Olomu. In retaliation for the perceived bypassing of the Itsekiri, Olomu's men attacked some of the nearby Urhobo villages which had been exchanging goods with the British. This led to the Urhobo halting their trading, and the British responded by cracking down on the Itsekiri. In 1894 several other Itsekiri chiefs signed a new treaty with the British, and soon after Olomu surrendered in Lagos. Following his arrest he was deported to the Gold Coast (Ghana.)
In Britain in 1899 the Aborigines' Protection Society complained to the Foreign Office about "the arbitrary treatment" to which the chief had been subjected, the government's failure to carry out "the searching investigation of his case which he had always sought", and appealed for him to be given liberty to conduct his commercial affairs freely even if, for political reasons, he could not be restored to his old position. A letter from Olomu was also enclosed complaining his maintenance was inadequate for him to support himself and five other persons. In his reply the then Prime Minister the Marquis of Salisbury promised to look into the conditions of the chief's maintenance, but ruled out the possibility of a return to his homeland. A month later the question of his treatment was raised in parliament and the government again stated it would be unsafe to allow his return.
The National Maritime Museum, part of the Royal Museums of Greenwhich, UK, owns four distinct West African flags, three of which (see here) displaying the name of Nana in them, indicating they belonged either to Nana Olomu himself, his son or to forces loyal to Nana Olomu.
The fourth West African flag (see here) held by the Greenwich Royal Museums is described by the museum as being, it too, of probably Itsikiri origins; the flag in question is often referred to as the putative Flag of the Benin Empire, and in the early digital era has attracted curiosity because of its unusual imagery, depicting a decapitation. There is, however, some uncertainty as to whether the flag is indeed at all related to the Benin Empire, or if it, like the other three, belonged to an Itsekiri ship loyal to Nana Olomu.
- Ekeh, Peter Palmer. "Editor's Introduction to British Colonial Treaties of 1884 and 1894 With the Itsekiri of Nigeria's Western Niger Delta". Urhobo Waado. Urhobo Historical Society. Retrieved 2007-05-28.
- Edevbie, Onoawarie. "Who Owns Warri?". Urhobo Kinsfolk. Urhobo Historical Society. Retrieved 2007-05-28.
- The Times, Saturday, February 16, 1895;p.15 “The permanent cause of war is in almost all cases along this coast the same. ..As the small shop system in European towns has been ruined by the larger form given to the retail trade, so the native trading system on the West African coast is being displaced by European enterprise. The steamers and exploration parties of European companies pass far up the river courses and tap the markets behind the coast belt, buying for themselves produce which must otherwise have reached the coast through the medium of the native chiefs. That the chieftains of the coast should feel this to be a serious grievance is not remarkable...These were the causes which led to the rising and subjection of Jaja of Opoba...and to the late war against Nana of Benin...”
- Ekeh, Peter Palmer (2005). Studies in Urhobo Culture. Nigeria: Urhobo Historical Society.
- The Times, Tuesday, December 1, 1896; pg.7 “A Reuter despatch from Liverpool says that the Royal mail ship Batanga...left Old Calabar on October 21, having on board Nana, the Benin chief. Nana, his wife and son, were placed in the Batanga for conveyance to Accra. It was reported at Old Calabar that for some time a number of natives from Benin had surreptitiously been gathering at the back of the river, and it was feared that Nana might with their aid escape...He was landed at Accra on November 2. He is to be kept at Christiansborg, on the Gold Coast, where he will have a house provided for his use and will be allowed full liberty to move about the town, reporting himself to the authorities once a week. Nana was in excellent health and conversed freely about the late war, for which he blamed certain traders.”
- The Times, Wednesday, January 25, 1899;pg.6
- The Times, Friday, Feb 17, 1899; pg. 6; Issue 35755; col B “In reply to Mr. ATHERLEY-JONES(Durham, N.W.), Mr. BRODRICK said, - Nana’s case has been carefully considered and it has been decided that it would be unsafe to allow him to reside in the Niger Coast Protectorate. Although under police supervision he is not imprisoned at Accra.”
- Ojo-Lanre, Wale. "2006 Tourism issues, events and personalities". Nigerian Tribune. African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-05-28.