The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers

Enclosure: Report by Akinbami Agbebi

Plan of Operation and Acquisition of Land

1. a plan of operation setting forth the various Ports and trade avenues of Nigeria and dividing these, for our own purpose, into districts or branch agencies on the basis of locality, accessibility and importance as commercial centres, would, I am of the opinion, serve as a useful guide to us at the present stage, and for future expansion of our enterprise in this country.
2. To be able to draw up such a plan I have collected some information data upon which this report and the recommendations therein are based.
3. principal ports of nigeria and volume of trade. The following are principal Ports, and the volume of trade in and out, at each Port, during the year 1919, is represented by the official statistics quoted:—
PortsImport valueExport value
Koko Town143,990219,999
Brass (closed)16,663
Port Harcourt600,810868,784
N.B. Above figures include value of parcels by post but exclude Specie and Government Imports and Exports.
4. The volume of the raw African products which form the greater part of the Exports from each Port is shown on the attached table marked “A.” Besides the products shown thereon such products as Rubber, Mahogany, Hides and Skins, Beeswax, Copra etc. were exported in more or less large quantities (a copy of the complete Trade Statistics will be forwarded to you when in circulation).
5. shipping and trade facilities at, and areas served by each port. The Ports of Nigeria are all situated on rivers on the mouth of which are shifting sand bars. These natural obstacles render it necessary for ships trading with these Ports to be of such draught as will enable them to cross the bars and enter the harbours.
6. The following are the maximum draughts for vessels proceeding to the various Ports:—
Lagos20 feet
Calabar21 “
Bonny21 “
Port Harcourt21 “
Forcados19 “
Degema16 “
Koko Town16 “6 inches
Sapele16 “6 “
Burutu16 “
Opobo13 “
Warri13 “
7. lagos, which is the chief port has the best facilities for loading and unloading vessels by the provision of Wharves at the Customs House and at Iddo and Apapa, Iddo serves presently as the terminus for the Western section of the Nigerian Railway.[1] The Harbour has been undergoing improvement for the past few years and there is an elaborate scheme on foot to extend the Wharves at the Customs House, improve the berthing accommodation at Apapa and to erect a more extensive Wharf there which will make it better suitable as the terminus of the Western Railway.
8. The magnitude of the trade passing through Lagos in and out justifies the elaborate scheme mentioned above and judging from a recent speech of the Governor of Nigeria [Sir Hugh Clifford], a still more elaborate plan for the improvement of Lagos is contemplated. If all these proposals of improvement are carried out Lagos will become more important as trade and industrial centre.
9. Lagos is situated on the lagoon which opens to the sea at a very short distance and she serves therefore as a Coast Port for the surrounding districts and the interior stretching from the great and rich Yoruba country to the Northern States.
10. The Western section of the Nigerian Railway has its Coast terminus at Iddo, an island connected with Lagos by a bridge, and stretched through the Yoruba country to Kano, (705 miles) one of the greatest cities of the North.
11. Cocoa, Palm Oil and Palm Kernels are the chief commodities of exports produced by the Yorubas and Ground Nuts, Hides and Shea Butter are the commodities of the North.
12. Chief centres of trade are:—
Lagos for Oil, Kernels, Cocoa and Copra.
Agege for Cocoa (the best produced in Nigeria) and kernels.
Ibadan for Cocoa and Kernels
Zaria for Ground Nuts and Hides
Kano for Ground Nuts, Hides and Shea Nuts.
These places are also the distributing centres of foreign commodities for the interior cities and towns as well as collecting centres for the local commodities enumerated above.
13. Lagos, Ibadan and Kano are the most populous cities in the whole of Nigeria and are capable of consuming very large amount of foreign goods by themselves.
14. Docking facilities are available at Lagos at Victoria Beach (owned by the Nigeria Dry Dock & Engineering Company)[2] and at Apapa (owned by the Government).
15. The adjacent important towns are connected with Lagos by the lagoon and several other creeks and these rivers being in lack of efficient transport service, the towns, in spite of their great contribution to trade, are not easily accessible.
16. A Coasting trade is also established between Lagos and the Gold Coast, but mention of this and the River transport service has been made in my previous report as requiring special study and more will be said about them later.
17. koko town. This Port is situated about 40 miles from the mouth of the Benin River. It is said to be the natural outlet for the trade from Benin City and capable of considerable development.
18. Timber (mahogany) and Palm produce are the natural commodities. There is no berthing accommodation for ships at present and loading and unloading are done by using small crafts between ships and the shore. Its possibilities are however worthy of attention.
19. sapele. This is situated very near the preceeding Port and also serves as inlet and outlet for Benin City and surrounding country.
20. The largest Rubber plantation in Nigeria, covering an area of 1600 acres and owned by a European Firm is to be found at Sapele.[3] Large increase of Rubber production is reported.
21. warri. Situated up a narrow creek about 30 miles from Forcados, this Port was once used largely by English and German firms as the base of their trade on the Niger River. Its exports consist mainly of Palm produce and African shippers abound here as well as at Sapele.
22. forcados, and burutu. Forcados is the port of entrance and clearance for ships proceeding to Burutu (5 miles up the river), Warri, Sapele and Koko Town. The two ports are situated at the outlet of the Niger River and Burutu is the port of shipment for trading centres on the Niger and also the centre of distribution of foreign goods.
23. The base of the Niger Company’s (Royal chartered)[4] Niger Transport Service is maintained at Burutu. This service and that maintained by this Company on the Benue River are said to be the best of their kind in Nigeria.
24. The Niger service, consisting of shallow draught vessels, connect the various trading centres with ocean-going ships at Burutu.
25. The most important trading centres on the Niger are Onitsha and Lokoja, the latter is situated at the junction of the Niger and Benue Rivers about 250 miles to the sea.
26. Raw products of this area consist of Palm produce, Hides and Skins and Ground Nuts (from the North), Benniseed and Beeswax.
27. Lokoja is important as one of the oldest trading centres and there is a number of African traders and shippers there.
28. degema. This is one of the ports serving the Ibo country on the Eastern parts of Nigeria. The raw products of the area are mainly Palm produce.
29. bonny. This is another port of the Eastern areas. Its previous importance has declined owing to the attention which is being paid to Port Harcourt. It is however situated at the mouth of the river on which Port Harcourt itself is situated.
30. port harcourt. This port which has only recently come into existence is growing rapidly in importance and as the terminus of the Eastern section of Nigerian Railway,[5] is being improved and developed.
31. It is situated about 40 miles up the river coming from Bonny.
32. A valuable Coal mine is being worked by the Government at Udi which is 131 miles from Port Harcourt. The output of the Coal is stated to be about 300 tons a day. Apart from Coal, which is being shipped at this port, the Eastern Railway has tapped the richest field in Palm produce and other products in the interior of Ibo country and it is contemplated to connect this line with the existing Western section within a short time.
With the opening of the Railway line started an inrush of European firms.
33. One of the most important centres of this line is Aba which is only about 13 miles from Port Harcourt.
The trade of this port is however greatly restricted by lack of adequate wharfage, and any improvement in this direction will in turn be limited by the smallness of the harbour.
[34.] opobo. This port is situated on the Opobo River, the shallowness of the water at the bar of which makes approach of large ships of over 13 feet draught impossible.
35. This natural obstacle restricts its trade somehow but as the outlet of the Qua Ibo and other producing districts, it is one of the most important ports on the Eastern parts.
36. Although the rise of Port Harcourt and the advent of the Eastern Railway have affected Opobo still its importance as a trading centre is assured for all time.
37. calabar. The port is about 40 miles up the Calabar River and approachable by ships using Lagos harbour. It serves the Calabar City and the country stretching up to the borders of Cameroons (the former German Colony). The volume of trade is considerable, but as all the ports in Nigeria, other than Lagos and Port Harcourt, it is provided with no shipping facilities. The Harbour is large and accommodative, loading and unloading can only be done however, in the stream by the use of lighters and other crafts.
38. division of these areas to district for our shipping and trade purposes. The various p[o]rts and trade centres described above should be divided into five districts viz:—
1. Western District, comprising of Lagos and suburbs and the hinterland as far as to Kano.
2. Benin District, comprising of Koko Town and Sapele, the hinterland embracing Benin City, Jekri land etc.
3. Niger District, comprising of Warri, Forcados and Burutu, towns on the Niger up to Lokoja.
4. Eastern District, comprising of Bonny, Port Harcourt, Opobo and Degema, including the Eastern Railway line, Ibo and Qua Ibo hinterland etc.
5. Calabar District, Calabar and hinterland.
39. Each District with the exception of the Western should be placed under District Agents who will be appointed to organize and conduct the shipping and trading enterprises in their respective areas.
40. Lagos will be the headquarters and enterprises in the Western District and all the other districts will be controlled from Lagos by the General Agent.
41. bases for shipping. Two bases should be maintained at Lagos, one on the Marina and another at Apapa, the Proposed terminus of the Railways. Lands should be acquired early for these bases.
42. Bases should also be maintained at Koko Town (centre for the Benin District), Warri (centre for Niger District), Bonny, Port Harcourt (centre for Eastern District)[,] Degema, Opobo and Calabar (centre for Calabar District). With the exception of Port Harcourt there is no immediate necessity for erection of bases at these places. But arrangements can and should be made to organize them in readiness for future operation. Port Harcourt should receive attention as loading station for our ships.
43. centres for trade. Warehouses and suitable buildings should be erected at Lagos, (including Agege, Ibadan, Zaria and Kano on the Western Railway line) at Koko Town, Warri, Bonny, Port Harcourt (including Aba and other places on the Eastern Railway line)[,] Degema, Opobo and Calabar.
44. As I have already mentioned these various places are marked down purely for our future guidance. All our attention for the present should be concentrated on Lagos and the Western District.
45. I have however already entered into communication with the various centres to induce them to buy shares and to take interest in the Corporation.
46. I shall be glad if you will signify your approval or disapproval of this plan.
47. acquisition of lands at lagos for shipping and trade. It is difficult to exaggerate the unique position of Lagos as the outlet for the products of this country, from the Coast to Lake Chad at the extreme North, and the inlet for foreign goods which find markets almost all over the same area, but sufficient has been said upon this point to impress you and to urge that it is necessary for us to secure a place for ourselves in the town before the scramble which is now going on makes it [m]uch more difficult.
48. I have undertaken, pending definite instruction and authority from you, to investigate the possibility of our securing some sites.
49. Centres for shipping at Lagos are:—Marina and Apapa, and for trade:—Marina, Broad Street, Victoria Road, Bamgboshe and Tinubu Streets and Idumagbo Marina (produce buying markets).
I have been fortunate to get into touch with one of the most prominent and influential men at Lagos, and of the few Africans who still own properties on the Marina, in the person of Dr. John Randle, M.D.[6]
50. He owns a house which is situated at a locality favouring shipping business and trade. In an interview I had with him on the 3rd instant, he said he was willing to lease out the whole premises to our Corporation provided he is satisfied on the point of our integrity.
51. He was quite acquainted with the history of the Black Star Line movement but as a conservative and a shrewd professional and business man, he would not believe the movement is capable of doing any great thing. Many an enterprise, he said, had been started by the blackman but the end was always failure.
52. His conservativeness is shown to advantage in the attached copies of correspondence which passed between us.[7] The evasive tone of his reply to my letter is sufficient a guide to his want of faith even in the assurance I gave him.
53. Anyway the following is the preliminary step he desired me to take before he discusses the conditions on which the lease will be arranged:—“That I should put the matter before you with as little delay as possible and get you to signify your preparedness to take up the place on lease in writing or by cable-gram. On the receipt of such a word of undertaking from you he will then consider it safe to proceed further with the negotiation.”
I would respectfully urge that you send me a cablegram immediately on receipt of this report confirming the step I have already taken, giving me authority to go on with the negotiation and assuring Dr. Randle that you are prepared to take up the place on reasonable terms.
54. You may in due course send me such references as you think will satisfy this gentleman and all others I may have to approach on similar matters. A chance of securing a suitable business place as this is becoming rare and for this reason I trust no time will be lost to bring this deal to a successful close.
55. We may succeed to get land at one or the other of the various centres I have mentioned. I am doing my best to investigate this but your authority is first and foremost needful.
56. If it is your desire that we engage in trade we shall require a site at either one or two of these places vi[z]: Victoria, Broad, Bengboshe or Tinubu Streets[.] But if our attention will be devoted entirely to shipping we require sites at the Marina and Apapa only. In any case we must of necessity secure a place at Idumagbo Marina for purpose of buying produce or as a base for River Transport Service which I would like to see we undertake.
57. Apapa will also be very useful for building Stores for produce coming from up country by the Western Railway.
I earnestly trust this report will receive your prompt attention. Yours faithfully
A. Agbebi General Agent
NN-Sc, JEB, MS 267. TD.
[1] Construction of the western section of the Nigerian railroad began in 1896 at Ebute Metta on the mainland across from Lagos. The rail connected with Ibadan by 1900, reached the Niger River at Jebba by 1909, and pushed through the cocoa and kola belt to Minna by 1912. Between 1910 and 1912, a second line extended the railway from Baro to Kano. In 1913 a smaller-gauge line was connected from the tin mines of the Bauchi plateau to the main line at Zaria (A. C. Burns, History of Nigeria [London: George Allen and Unwin, 1929], pp. 289–291; HDN).
[2] The Nigerian Dry Dock and Engineering Company, Ltd., was established in 1905 and had its head office in Liverpool. The most elaborate dry dock in West Africa, it had been constructed in England and moved to Forcados in 1905, and then to Lagos in 1917. The company had extensive facilities, including an engineering plant on the premises, and was suitable for the repair of vessels up to 2,700 tons (Allister Macmillan, ed., The Red Book of West Africa [1920; reprint, London: Frank Cass, 1968], p. 93).
[3] Sapele is a river port and railway town in the Delta Province of western Nigeria. Known primarily for its plywood, Sapele also produces rubber. Rubber and timber firms operating there included Pamol Ltd., Jathomas Rubber Estate, J. Asaboro Ltd., British West African Timber Company Ltd., F. G. Spiropoulos, S. Thomopoulos Rubber Factory, and the Afro-Nigerian Export and Import Company (Sapele [Ibadan: Information Division Ministry of Home Affairs, n.d.]).
[4] In 1879 Sir George Goldie consolidated European trading interests along the Niger River to form the United Africa Company, precursor to the Niger Company. Three years later it was renamed the National Africa Company. In 1881 it applied for a royal charter, which was refused because of the firm’s limited financial resources and the French presence along the river. However, in 1886 the firm was awarded a charter from Britain. It then changed its name to the Royal Niger Company and assumed responsibilities for trade and commerce as well as the administration of the British Protectorate in the Niger River region. In 1899 the company’s royal charter was revoked when the British government decided to establish more formal jurisdiction over the protectorate, but the company was allowed to retain its trading posts. Reorganized under the name of the Niger Company, the firm focused solely upon river trade. In 1920 the company was purchased by Lever Brothers, Ltd., and thereafter based its operations in Burutu on the Benue River (A. F. Mockler-Ferryman, British Nigeria [London: Cassell, 1902], pp. 71–92; Burns, History of Nigeria, pp. 163–176).
[5] The railroad’s eastern section started along the coast at Port Harcourt in 1915. It reached Enugu’s coal fields by 1916, traversed the Benue River at Makurudi, joined the western section in 1926 at Kaduna, and finally culminated in the Jos tin mines in 1927 (Burns, History of Nigeria, pp. 289–291; HDN).
[6] John Randle (1855–1928), grandfather of popular political satirist J. K. Randle, was a wealthy medical doctor in Lagos and chairman of the People’s Union and the Reform Club. Dr. Randle played a key role in the formation of the NCBWA, and served as chairman of the committee formed in 1915 to approach Africans in other colonies for purposes of political organization (Fred I. A. Omu, Press and Politics in Nigeria, 1880–1937 [London: Longman, 1978], pp. 229–231).
[7] This correspondence has not been found.