'Extraordinary' exclaimed Holmes one late summer evening in 1882. It had been a fallow period for the criminal underclass and my friend had become quite restive. At such times he was given to sustained periods of cocaine abuse. It was a terrible sight to witness him in those periods and despite my best attempts to wean him from the drug, I could offer no substitute for the euphoria that filled him when he was immersed in one of his cases. He would often go days and weeks without so much as uttering a word in my direction, thus it was with no small amount of surprise that his exclamation met my ears.
“As I suspected the mixture of three parts manganese and two parts bisulphate of barysta produces a compound that is quite potent if used as a sedative"
“Remarkable” I responded weakly. Despite my own scientific background I was admittedly a novice in the field of experimentation.
Holmes slumped into his favourite armchair by the fire and I was relieved to see him reach for his pipe and not the leather case that contained his syringe.
“Today’s criminal, Watson, is an incurably lazy fellow” remarked Holmes
“In the past three weeks alone, I have noted no fewer than four state visits from varying royal families across Europe, each parading as many expensive jewels as they are hoarding official documents and treaties. Yet my attention has not been drawn to any significant cases in the past month save, perhaps, the rather trifling affair concerning the Duke of Northumberland’s missing cygnet. Were I a criminal, Watson, I daresay that I would be the craftiest and hardest working in my profession”
“It is perhaps fortunate then, Holmes, that you are not a criminal” said I “You might prove so successful in your alternative profession that you would be forced to revert to your true one in a bid to catch yourself”
Holmes laughed dryly and continued sucking on his pipe. Our exchange was cut short by the sound of the doorbell and the promise of a night-time guest. Holmes eyes lit up as, moments later, Mrs. Hudson ushered in our visitor, King JaJa of Opobo.
Our caller was a tall Negro who stood well above six feet. His features were typical of the Negro, a wide, brutish face accentuated by a flat, squat nose and thick, protruding lips. He was powerfully built and I found my fingers instinctively tightening around my cane as I recalled the last unsociable visit that we had received from a Negro.
“That will not be necessary Watson” said Holmes reading my thoughts. “I daresay that our guest is here on rather more personable business than our last friend from the dark continent. Although he has experienced a childhood of slavery, I note that our guest is of noble stock in his homeland. Pray, King. Jaja won‘t you sit down?”
“Thank you Mr. Holmes for seeing me” responded the Jaja of Opobo in stilted, heavily accented English “There are several of your esteemed peers who have turned me away at the door at the mere sight of my countenance. I must warn you, however, that my business here is of a very sensitive nature and I would much prefer if I had the opportunity to speak with you in private”
“Dr. Watson is my personal physician and long time chronicler. I can assure you that his discretion is of the utmost eminence and that you may speak as freely before him as before myself”
“Very well, then. I know of your reputation Mr. Holmes and that you are a fair and just man. As an Englishman some of the revelations I make may sit uncomfortably with you. Nevertheless, my presence here is not so much to enlist your aid than to bear witness to the questionable actions of some of your fellow kinsmen.”
“I have had occasion to deal with some very poor specimens of the human race irrespective of their nationality. I can assure you that I will be unfazed by anything you may have to say. Pray continue”
“It would be best, perhaps, if I were to start at the very beginning” our guest said, finally sitting down.
“In my experience there is often no better place to start” said Holmes
“I hail from Amaigbo in Igboland. I was sold as a slave at the age of twelve and was given the name, Jubo Jubogha. I was fortunate enough to learn English to a high degree and began using this to my advantage. I soon managed to pay my way out of slavery and gained a reputation noteworthy enough to allow me become the head of the Anna Pepple House in the Bonny Creek after the incumbent passed away. Our people can be a discordant race, Mr Holmes. Almost from the start of my reign, there was conflict particularly from a rival chief, Oko Jumbo, who headed the Manilla Pepple house. It is sad that this internal strife forced me to break away from the House and set up an independent city state by a river formerly called Ekomtoro in Andoni country. I have since renamed the town Opobo”
“You must be aware that oil- palm oil is enjoying a roaring trade in the Bonny hinterland this past decade or so. Many of the rival chiefs have been forced to deal with the Europeans who live in the coast. However, over the years I have built strong contacts with the British to such an extent that I am now the principal exporter of palm oil directly to Liverpool. In fact it is a meeting with Hatton & Cookson, one of my primary contacts, that brings me to England”
“There has been great unrest in recent years, Mr. Holmes. The thirst for power and riches has turned our people against each other. Greed and envy have become rife in my homeland. The Itsekiri will not even dine at the same table as the Urhobos. Association with one makes you the enemy of the other so you can only deal with either of them through the Ijos. The Kalabaris and the Okrikas will sooner kill themselves then to help the other out. The Ikwerre and the Ibani have not even spoken to each other for a lifetime. This is a most sad state of affairs and the British are using this to their full advantage.
Our guest had managed to work himself into quite an animated state but he declined my offer of a glass of brandy and continued.
“They say the Atlantic slave trade is dead yet many pf our finest sons still go missing. Most of the chiefs have become so powerless that they cannot even mobilise enough men to search fro them. In any case, it is easier to just lay the blame of these kidnappings at your neighbour’s feet and start a civil war. Of late, the favourite British pastime has been to wave a piece of paper under the nose of our kings. In exchange for free trade they are forcing them to abdicate their thrones. Of course half of these kings cannot read the documents in front of them and are being wilfully deceived. They call this piece of paper the Protectorate treaty but who or what is being protected? I have refused to sign the document as it is tantamount to a warrant that will make us serfs on our own land. I have been threatened with bombardment and force, Mr Holmes. My crime, it seems, has been to restrict fair trade which takes precedence over free trade. Never mind the fact that I have created jobs all across the Opobo river and beyond. I have paid all my predecessor's debts to the Europeans and have never resorted to violence despite provocation on several occasions. I fear that my days are numbered, my oracle has already warned of this. However our fight for free trade will continue long after I am dead. The British cannot lay claim to a land that our forefathers toiled so long and hard for. I will no sit idly by, Mr Holmes, I cannot"
“Your narrative is most revealing. However I must confess at being at a complete loss as to how I may be of any assistance to you. I am neither a government official nor in the direct employ of Her Majesty” said Holmes after a short pause.
“Quite right Mr Holmes. As I said at the start, I have approached several individuals of repute, including members of Parliament and Commons in an effort to state my case. Until now, not one person has so much as opened the door to me. I have grown tired of writing letters without so much as the grace of an acknowledgement. No Mr. Holmes you cannot help me but you have kindly given me your ear this past half hour. There are good men here in England who I know will continue to fight the cause of an oppressed people. I am confident that you and Dr. Watson have been greater enlightened by some of the events transpiring in Africa"
King Jaja rose to leave and Holmes rose to shake his hand "I am in great profit for your visit this evening. I only wish that there was more that I could do to help "
We both sat in silence for some time after King Jaja had left. "There goes, Watson, as noble a gentleman as any royal I have ever met. On the subject of Empire, you know that I am a most ardent devotee. Yet I fear that the sophistication of those that we call savages on these lands is advancing at such a rate that one begins to question our continued interference. Invasion is only an attractive option where one has a clear and prescribed exit strategy. I fear that there are dark and bloody days ahead and we may yet rue the incessant expansion of the Great British Empire"
"Anyway" said Holmes springing up. “I have skulked indoors for far too long and I am in need of some mental invigoration. There is a rendition of Chopin's second opus at the Lyceum and if we catch a hansom we may yet be in time for the third act"