|Urhobo Historical Society
CHIEF J. E. UKUEKU (FPSN)
No. 2 Ukueku Close, Opposite Mandillas
OPEN LETTER TO PROFESSOR ITSE SAGAY
I read your article on the above. You are so highly respected by many of us – Itsekiris, Ijaws and the Urhobos, including me in a special way. I want to leave the younger Urhobos to give you an appropriate reply. Therefore, this is for your private consumption.
By the way, I was born in Warri some 78 years ago. It was in that year that Justice Webber delivered his judgement on the case of Agbassa land by Chief Ometan (for Agbasaa Urhobos) and Chief Dore Numa (for the Itsekiris).
It was an interesting issue – namely, that no court in Nigeria can deprive Agbassa people of the possession of Agbassa land or properties, provided that those properties or land are held under the overlordship of the Olu of Itsekiris, (not Olu of Warri). I make no comment. I leave that to a law professor to interprete.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria delivered another judgment in 1976 on the Warri contentious case of Okere. The Okumagba family acting on behalf of the other Urhobo families of Okere had another judgment in which the ownership of the Urhobos of Okere was ABSOLUTE, no condition.
Now, in your write up, who told you that
I know you as a brilliant lawyer whose father
What people as you and I need to do is to look for a way for a peaceful resolution of the Warri crisis. It started for no reasons. The Itsekiris and Urhobos have lived together over the years and produced children. Why are these undeserved crises between them?
I commend my people the Urhobos. They are very considerate in dealing with the Itsekiris. They have their children as Itsekiris. They do not want to do anything that will mar the relationship between Itsekiris and the Urhobos. Whatever happened, the Urhobo man respects that relationship perhaps to a fault. That is why you kept mentioning the Urhobos in your article. I think the Urhobos need a rethink when it concerns the Urhobos and the Itsekiris.
WHO ARE THESE ITSEKIRIS?
Historically, one of the most well known and respected Itsekiri leaders was Chief Dore Numa. That great Itsekiri man caused the exile of Chief Nana, facts unto history! Chief Dore Numa’s mother was Urhobo from Effurun. He meddled with treaties concerning the Urhobos of Agbassa and the European traders and colonizers, taking advantage of his maternal relationships to the Urhobos. The fact that he was Urhobo misled the Urhobos too. That influenced who believed in him (Chief Dore Numa) to give some of the evidence in court to support Dore Numa’s claim, unfortunately.
You will recall that following after was another Urhobo man. He claimed Itsekiri nationality. He was the late Chief Festus Edah Okotie-Eboh. He was born Urhobo, simple and pure. He married Chief Nana’s daughter. That made him claim Itsekiri as his ethnic group. In fact, however, his father hailed from Ewu, and his mother hailed from Orogun.
Another important Itsekiri family was that of the Rewanes. You also know that their mother was Urhobo from Agbarho. Very briefly, let me try to remind you that the eminent Itsekiris as you know them have close relationship to the Urhobo ethnic group. I want to mention some for you to consider why the Urhobos do not want any problems or war with the Itsekiris.
(a) Late Justice F. O. Atake had his Urhobo father from Orogun.
(b) Late Barrister Webber Egbe had his mother from Aladja – Urhobo.
(c) Late Barrister Omoruwa had his mother from Abraka.
(d) Justice Adjuya had his mother from Abraka.
(e) Dr. Preston Egbe had his mother from Okpe-Urhobo.
(f) Barrister Isaac Jemide had his mother from Okpe-Urhobo.
(g) Chief K. B. Omatsheye had his mother from Otokuto-Urhobo.
(h) Chief Nelson Utioyene had his mother from Okpe-Urhobo.
(i) Deacon S. E. Aganbi had his father from Agbon Clan.
(j) Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor had his mother from Kokori-Agbon, etc., etc.
(k) Chief Gabriel Mabiaku, Itsekiri Prime Minister, maternally belongs to Eku, my home.
You can therefore appreciate why Urhobos are very thoughtful and considerate in dealings with the Itsekiris.
At the onset of this recent Warri crisis, a
number of us
showed great concern and we met. They included some eminent Itsekiris
Barrister Edodo, Barrister Isaac Jemide, and Brother Johnson Ayomike. We also had eminent Urhobos too. We could not
reach eminent Ijaws at that meeting. We discussed very frankly. One of
eminent lawyers stated amongst other points raised that Warri is the
I made it absolutely clear that the Itsekiris
Warri as their home land more than Chief Benjamin Okumagba on behalf of
family can lay claim to Warri as a home land. I said very frankly that
ethnic groups now lay claim to Warri as a home land. None of the three
absolute claim. Warri as it is today, has had more land cases than any
town that I know in
The Itsekiris’ claim lies on the judgment
delivered in 1925
by Justice Webber. That judgement cannot justify that every Itsekiri
man has a
claim to the ownership of Warri. I also stated that another Urhobo
group led by
Okumagba family laid claim to a portion of Warri and the Olu of Warri
challenged that. That matter went to court. It was resolved in 1976 by
Supreme Court of Nigeria in favour of the defendants led by Chief
Okumagba. That portion of Warri is more than 1/3 (one-third) of the
of Warri today. It has a population of about 86,000 (1991 census), more
North local Government area. What is very interesting is that whereas
judgment of 1925 was given on conditions, that of Okere Urhobo led by
Okumagba family was unconditional. They are immigrants from the Urhobo
Again, you referred to the Minority Bill of
1964 making the
Itsekiris a minority in the
I was a member of the Federal Parliament of Nigeria from the Urhobo West Constituency. I rose to oppose it vehemently with applause from many. I was NPC in the Parliament having won my election with the Hoe. That was a long story. After the heated debate on the floor of the House, Alhaji Ribadu, former Minister of Defence, called both Chief Okotie-Eboh and me to order. It caused my last fate in politics, but that was it. As a law professor, if you re-appraise that bill, you know it was bogus. Any reference to it denies our intelligence to democratic practices. Itse – let’s be frank to ourselves. Let’s look back unto history.
The Itsekiris came into this area of
On our side, many of us want this unfortunate injustice buried and we live together as usual. But if learned people, as you are, whose relationship to the Itsekiri is definable, then Urhobos should start thinking twice. I hope not. It is for the benefit of us all to forget the past and crusade a new path of happy togetherness.
The other touching side of your write up on claims to Warri lands seemed to imply that the Urhobo claim is frivolous and oppressive. That is unfortunate.
You know that the Itsekiri were so very close to the early white men. They became middlemen between the interior industrious Urhobo men and women. They made the best use of that opportunity. The early white explorers, traders, etc., -- the Portuguese and other Europeans – made use of these middle men. The men for fear of mosquitoes did not bring their wives along. The Itsekiri women took advantage of that. Some became their wives and had children with them, to their advantage in exploiting the Urhobo interior hard workers.
One result of that was that the average Itsekiri man found it distasteful to marry their ladies. That led them to marry industrious Urhobo women who were more docile and more dependable. That accounted for the close relationship between the Urhobos and Itsekiris that I mentioned earlier.
THE LAND EXPANSIONIST MOTIVES OF THE ITSEKIRIS
Yet another observation you ignored. The
come from the Ijebus and
Cleverly, they entered into the Urhobo lands to acquire properties. Consequently, this became resented by some of the Urhobos. Others wanted to get close to the Itsekiris to take them to the whites. That gave room to some Itsekiris acquiring Urhobo lands. In fact, you remember Itsekiris laid claims to Sapele and Oghara as their home and litigated over them after the success of the Warri case. You recall that starting from Sapele to Obiaruku [in Ukwuani], they began to claim lands and name them after themselves – Ajagolo, Ajanomi, Aja-Igun, and the others as Enume, Ajatito, Adagbrassa, Obotie, etc. Itsekiris were so clever and so proud. In that meeting, I recounted some of this as unto history. I saluted the Itsekiris.
Be that as it were, I reminded everyone of
I told that meeting that claims by Itsekiris to Warri neglecting the Ijaws and Urhobos of Warri was a vexatious claim. The Ijaws and Urhobos of Warri will resist that. There is no justification for the claim. But since the claims are predicated on court judgments, we all agreed that all three concerned should respect court judgments. You also remember that the Ijaws claimed IKPESSU and the present Reservation areas. Chief Okotie-Eboh withdrew that case for settlement. That was forcibly resisted by the late Barrister Boyo. Anyway, the Judge then wrote allowing Okotie-Eboh to withdraw the case, but should never come back to the court again – what about that?
You also remember that Justice Arthur Prest resisted any attempt to place Ugbuwangue under the overlordship of the Olu of Warri. They went to court and of course Chief Arthur Prest and his Ugbuwangue people won the case. Yet another part of Okere did the same. You see, only in Agbassa case you found the overlordship matter an ongoing affair.
Dear Itse, let us come together to further a
settlement. It is not in
I love you and respect you. This is for private consumption only.
CHIEF J. E. UKUEKU, FPSN