Urhobo Historical Society


PERSPECTIVES ON THE HISTORY OF THE ITSEKIRI AND THE TITLE OF THEIR KING


(An Unpublished Manuscript, Researched and Composed in 1952 Following the Crisis in the Aftermath of Change of Itsekiri King's Title)


By T. E. A. Salubi (1952)


Introduction


By Peter P. Ekeh

Chair, Urhobo Historical Society

 

The majority of those who will be reading the manuscript that is reproduced below, to which these notes serve as an explanatory introduction, were probably born after the events of 1952 which led Chief T. E. A. Salubi to prepare the paper. It is a rare document for a good number of reasons, both for the Urhobo and the Itsekiri, and for our common welfare in the Western Niger Delta. Above all else, Chief Salubi's document tells the truth about the history of our region of Western Niger Delta with an admirable degree of knowledge and forthrightness. These are qualities that are now in short supply in our times. For these reasons, Urhobo Historical Society commends this document for close and serious study.

 

To begin with, some biographical notes on the author of this powerful manuscript will help us to appreciate the great achievement of Chief Salubi’s document. Adogbeji Salubi was from a generation that witnessed at first hand the early stages of British colonialism in Urhoboland. But he alone in his generation of Urhobos, who grew up in the 1910s and 1920s, committed into writing what he saw and witnessed. Furthermore, he carried out his own research into documents concerning the beginnings of British imperialism in the Western Niger Delta.

 

When in 1952 Chief Salubi wrote the manuscript that is reproduced below, he was still in British Colonial Civil Service, working in the Labour Department in which he rose to be one of the first Nigerian Labour Officers. It must be striking to those who acquired academic training in History and related fields, in later years, that a man who acquired his knowledge of history as a witness could be so thorough in his analysis of the events that he observed. The numbered seventy-six paragraphs of the manuscript represent a gem of research and scholarship about which any modern scholar would be proud. Chief T. E. A. Salubi was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters of the University of Ibadan in recognition of his brilliant efforts in recording the history of the Urhobos and their neighbours. This manuscript should serve to indicate to our contemporary academics that the Chief clearly deserved that honour. The calibre of Salubi’s manuscript flows from the fact that it tells the truth and seeks no harm to his own people or to their neighbours, the Itsekiri.

 

Indeed, Chief Salubi’s manuscript is remarkable for the outstanding fact that it bears no ill-will toward the Itsekiri. He did not complain about the advantage that the Itsekiri acquired through their early contact with European traders and colonial officers. He would want the Itsekiri to abide by their history and not change it around at the expense of their neighbours. The title “Olu Itsekiri” is historic and deserves to be retained by the Itsekiri. Changing it to “Olu of Warri” is illegitimate, not only because it violates Itsekiri history, but because it takes and steals from their neighbours who share the name of Warri with the Itsekiri. Chief Salubi ended his manuscript with a capitalized and emphatic refrain: “THE OLU IS THE OLU OF ITSEKIRI, OR OLU OF IWERE, NOT OF WARRI. AND SO MUST HE REMAIN.” Fifty-two years later, that sentiment is still fresh and powerful among Itsekiri’s neighbours. It should be obvious to the Itsekiri, in retrospect, that changing the title from its historic form to an adulterated title, which has offended Itsekiri’s neighbours, was a bad idea. That conclusion is one potent lesson that surges forth from Chief Salubi’s 1952 manuscript.

 

There are other lessons that flow from Chief Salubi’s reflections on Urhobo reactions to the wrongful change of the Itsekiri king’s title from “Olu Itsekiri” to “Olu of Warri.” First, a major lesson flowing from Chief Salubi’s paper is that what happens to any segment of Urhobo, good or ill, must be seen as the common fortune or misfortune of the rest of Urhoboland. We must not see Urhobo’s twenty-two sub-cultures as divisions that entitle each to survive on its own. On the contrary, we must see the twenty-two sub-cultural units of Urhoboland as a league of cultures which will survive or drown together. Chief Salubi became the President-General of Urhobo Progress Union ten years after his reflections on the debacle of change of the Itsekiri king’s title. We believe that he did his best to practice such a doctrine of a common Urhobo destiny during his presidency of the UPU. That doctrine is the ultimate lesson from Chief Salubi’s paper for Urhobo’s public affairs.

 

There is a second lesson of historic value in Chief Salubi’s document. He had written the paper for publication in the West African Pilot, a newspaper owned by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and the political party which he headed, namely, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). But it was refused for publication in that venue. Chief Salubi’s anger was recorded at the tail end of his enormous paper. It is worth quoting in full:

 

The article was sent to the West African Pilot, but it was not published, it being alleged that the Pilot decided to be neutral in the matter. To us - Urhobo - it was a let-down. We got practically nothing for our unreserved support for the N.C.N.C. The Pilot took this attitude, probably, in consideration for Mr. Festus Edah and Mr. J. Sale-Sule, both of whom are Itsekiris and top members of the N.C.N.C.

 

It is instructive that Chief Adogbeji Salubi left the NCNC years later. It seems fair to say that his motivation for doing so was in all probability on the grounds of Urhobo’s welfare rather than of personal considerations.

 

Finally, Urhobo Historical Society would like to thank Dr. Thomas Salubi, Chief T. E. A. Salubi’s heir, for making this document available to Urhobo Historical Society for publication. The full text of the paper now follows.


Peter Ekeh
Buffalo, New York, USA
January 8, 2004


 

THE CHANGE OF THE TITLE “OLU ITSEKIRI” TO “OLU OF WARRI”


By T. E. A SALUBI

 

Quite recently, without consulting their neighbouring tribes, the mixed community of Warri Township, the Itsekiri people, with the approval of the present government of the Western Region have changed the title of their ruling head from the Olu Itsekiri to the Olu of Warri. The announcement of the change was made through the local radio service in Warri Township and since then, the Urhobo people have strongly protested against the change to the government through the Resident of the Province.


2. It would appear from all events that the present Olu, Erejuwa II, is out to break historical records and to create new ones. In spite of the fact that Ode Itsekiri had been the revered seat, and therefore, the headquarters of all the seventeen Olus that reigned before him, Erejuwa II, moved his seat to a small village called Ekurode a few miles from
Warri Township by Okere. There he must build a palace. Now he has thrown overboard the time-honoured title of his fathers. In a way, we are in a great sympathy with the Olu. Left alone, he would no doubt prefer to maintain the hoary
traditions of his royal ancestors, but being what he is in the hands of certain Itsekiri young men, he must dance to
their tune instead of the other way round. All this, of course, is the business of the Itsekiri people, and it must remain so except where any change affects directly or indirectly the interest of other tribal groups in Warri Province. The Urhobo people say and maintain without prevarication that the change of the Olu’s title is inimical to them; they have therefore protested and will ever protest against it.


3. We
own the onus to adduce reasons for our protest but before doing so however, we consider it necessary to say a few words, perhaps in an historical way, about the Olu, Itsekiri people and their original home. In the course of this we shall also touch on their commercial activities with early European traders, and how from that source the British government extended its administration to Urhobo land. Finally, we shall conclude with an attempt to give our readers the true perspective, politically, of the position of the Itsekiris vis-à-vis their Urhobo neighbours. And we hope that by the time we finish, our reasons for the objection will be so clear as not to require further elucidation.


THE TITLE OLU ITSEKIRI


4. According to some historians
and writers, the Itsekiri Kingdom was founded by Iginua, the son of Olua, an Oba of Benin who reigned from about 1473 to 1480. Olua invested Iginua with the title ODIHI-NA-ME (meaning the depth of water) but the Itsekiri cailed him “OLU ITSEKIRI”.


5
. That has in fact been the title from the beginning of the Kingdom up till the time of Olu Akengbuwa who died on the 14th of June, 1848. Akengbuwa’s death was however followed by a great lasting confusion in Itsekiri-land. His son who should succeed him on the throne died suddenly miraculously on the 18th of June, 1848, four days after the father’s, and the next son also died in quick succession thereafter.  A riot ensued and no Olu was installed until February, 1936, when Giriuwa II ascended the Itsekiri throne. Thus there was an interregnum of some 88 years.

 

6. Ginuwa II died on the 8th of January, 1949, and was succeeded in March, 1951, by the present Olu, Erejuwa II.

 

THE ITSEKIRI PEOPLE

 

7. According to William Moore, an Itsekiri man, the Olu called Ijijen drifted to a town the inhabitants of which were called “ITSEKIRI”. The people had been variously referred to by Europeans from the early days of coastal trade as SHAKRI, ZAKRI, ZEKRI, DZEKRI, IZEKRI, ISHEKIRI, TCHEKRE, JAKRY, JAKRI, JEKERI and JEKRI, the last four being the most recently anglicised forms.

 

8. The people’s true origin appears to be uncertain, but according to popular legends, they came from the Yoruba country. Talbot believed that they were Ekiti Yorubas who came there through Benin. Others thought that they were coastal Ijebus or Mahins who travelled the coast farther down south for habitation. In any case, the relevant point here is that a people known as Itsekiri accepted an Oba who found his way to them as their Olu, hence the title OLU ITSEKIRI.

 

ODE ITSEKIRI (WARRI)

 

9. The town in which the Olu found the people had been known as “ODE ITSEKIRI” (capital of Itsekiri) and it had until the reign of the present Olu been the seat of the Olus. This town had long been associated with a name similar to the present anglicised name “WARRI”.  “IWERRE” or “IWERRI” was the name by which the Binins called the Itsekiri people. The name had been spelt and pronounced variously by different early European missionaries, explorers and traders who came in contact with the town from as far back as the 16th century.

 

10. Between 1651 and about 1668, according to URBANUS CERRI, the town was referred to as “ANWERRE” and according to Roth it was “AUWERRE”. Dr. Dapper called it “OWWERRE”, while in about 1682, Father Jerome Merolla da Sorrento writing about two Catholic Priests who went there in 1682 referred to it as the Kingdom of “OUUERRI”.

 

11. David Van Nyendael, a Dutchman, writing from on board the Yacht “JOHANNA MARIA” on 1st September, 1702, called it “AWERRI” while John Barbot called it variously indiscriminately as “DOWERE”, “AWERRI”, “OUWERRI”, OVEIRO” and “FORCADOS”. It has variously been referred to also as OWERE, OWIHERE, AWERRE, WARRE, and QUARRE.

 

12. From about 1789 to 1857, others like Adams, Boteler, John Beecroft, Commander Tudor of H.B.M.St.Vepel “FIREFLY” and Consul Campbell of Lagos, all referred to Ode Itsekiri as “WARRE” or “WARREE” and as comparatively recently as 1934, Mr. Jacob Egharevba of Benin in his book referred to it as “OWHERE”. Apparently the present anglicised form “WARRI” was coined from WARRE or WARREE.

13. Ode Itsekiri was probably a town of some respectable size. In about 1668 according to Roth, the inhabitants were about 3,000 but in about 1789, Dr. Dapper estimated them to be about 5,000. By the standard of those days that population may be regarded as large.

 

14. However with the death of Olu Akengbuwa and the unfortunate incidents that followed, a great exodus ensued and the town started to fall into ruins. The position deteriorated progressively until the town lost whatever greatness it had. The following account of Commander R.G. Craigie, then the Senior Naval Officer of the Admiralty in the Bights of Benin and Biafra, who visited the town in August 1884 with Consul Hewett, Chief Nana and Chief Chanomi confirmed this. Commander Craigie observed “The town of Warri is a mere shadow of its former greatness, the broad streets being overgrown with lime trees and bush, and many of the clay houses in ruins;  formerly five English firms had factories there, but all removed to Benin River in 1873”.

 

15. To most Itsekiris, the town is a sacred place for the burial of their dead and the offer to ancestral spirits of annual sacrifices. In 1890, Sir Alfred Moloney, one of the earliest Governors of Lagos, made the following observation: “Jakry men have a great veneration for Warre. The corpses of ‘big men’ are taken there for burial after death; while in the case of ‘small men‘ only the hair and toe and finger nails are taken there”.

 

CENTRE OF EUROPEAN ACTIVITIES

 

16. For missionary work, Portuguese missionaries were reported to have settled in  Ode Itsekiri  in the 16th Century, but later in the centuries, however, Benin River (Rio Formosa the Beautiful River – so called by the Portugese) became the centre of European trade and other activities. Ode Istekiri itself became a place of mere historical importance and was regarded as unsuitable for trade puposes. It was said to be unhealthy and too far from the sea.

 

17. Most of the wealthy and influential Itsekiri traders (middlemen actually) resided near the mouth of the Benin River. They were usually referred to as “Chiefs” and their head was known as the “Governor”. In those days, trading was done on board ship and it was through the benign protection of those chiefs that the Europeans were able to trade.


THE GOVERNORS OF
BENIN RIVER


18. We were told that it was during the reign of Olu Akengbuwa that, what was generally known as legitimate trade started in the
Benin River. The system of annual collection of trade tax known as “COMEY” (usually paid in kind) was introduced. As a token of the Olu’s willingness to permit legitimate trade with the British, the Queen of England presented him with a silver mounted staff. Whoever was sent to the merchant vessels with the staff to receive the custom or comey was called the “Governor”. The office was said to be neither hereditary nor permanent and its holder could be chosen from time to time as circumstances warranted.


19. Olu Akengbuwa reigned for many years and deserved well of the reputation to be the longest reigned Olu of the Itsekiri realm. Up to the time of his death, there appeared to be not less than about nine Itsekiri Governors.


20. At the time of the Olu’s death, however, the “Governor” was Jibuffa followed by Diare (called Jerry by Europeans) both of Jakpa. Others after them were Abrimoni of Batere, Olomu of Brohinilo, and Chanomi son of Princess Dollo (Idolu or Udorolusan, popularly known also as lye), who was appointed in August, 1870.

 

21. Owing to alleged maladministration, the staff of office was withdrawn from Chanomi by the British Consular authorities. When eventually it was returned in 1884, Chanomi had become old and had lost much of the influence he formerly had. He refused the office and Chief Nana was consequently selected on the 12th of July, 1884, to be his successor.

 

 


ATTEMPT TO DIVERT TRADE TO ODE ITSEKIRI


22. After the riot and the restoration of peace at Ode Itsekiri, Dollo, the great Princess, took charge of Itsekiri affairs. Reputed to be a most powerful and influential woman, she was a daughter of Olu Erejuwa and half sister to Olu Akengbuwa. However, her attempts to divert European trade from
Benin River to Forcados River, and therefore Ode Itsekiri, had always been neutralized by the Benin River Chiefs, particularly Olomu, who were too influential for her.


23. Probably the first practical attempt to open up trade at Ode Itsekiri was in the later part of 1869. Charles Livingstone, then Consul at
Fernando Po reported a brisk trade in palm oil. He stated that several English schooners went up there but, he continued, it was said to be too far away about 150 miles from the sea by the tortuous channel of Benin River.


24. About the same time, however, John Louche Esq., of
Glasgow, thinking that the Forcados River might be a shorter path to Warre, explored it from Warre to the sea and found abundance of water, a straight channel, and a suitable bar, with a capacious harbour inside it. The river was said to “belong” to “Chanome, son of Queen Dolla, of Warri”, who was willing to have it used and offered to protect any traders who might go to it. James Pinnock told the story of how he himself participated in the trade there.


25. In June, 1883, however, Consul Johnstone reported that the two English factories established there were compelled to withdraw as the Chiefs of Benin River found that the opening of Warri interfered with their trade.


THE FALL OF
BENIN RIVER


26. Chief Nana’s regime as “Governor” lasted for only 10 years, having been captured and exiled in 1894 by the British Government. He was the last Governor of the Itsekiris and with his fall, the glory, wealth, influence and power of
Benin River completely vanished.


CHIEF DORE NUMA


27. Chief Dore Numa started to gain official favour from about 1890 when Mr. (afterwards Sir Henry)
Galway was the Vice-Consul at Benin River. Galway wanted a canoe and pullers to convey him to Lagos through the creeks. He asked for the favour at a meeting from all the chiefs including Nana. Except Chief Dore Numa, all the others refused giving as their reason that their slaves (pullers) would escape on reaching Lagos. Dore volunteered to undertake the risk; he furnished a canoe with 29 men. The voyage was successfully done. That was the first major act that made Consular officers to start to repose confidence in him. He was an honorary interpreter between the officials and the Itsekiris.


28. After Nana’s deportation, the Benin River Chiefs appointed Dore as their Head and “UNU” (spokesman), the appointment being later confirmed by Mr. (afterwards Sir Ralph) Moor, then Acting Consul-General. Later again, he was made a Political Agent and one of the first Warrant Chiefs. He assisted the Government in the fight against Chief Nana, led the course taken by the Benin Punitive Expedition, and played various prominent parts in subsequent military and naval campaigns such as the Kwale Patrol, the Abbi Rising, the Owe and the Ijoh Patrols. He was awarded medals for some of these Patrols, and, in consideration of these and other “faithful and loyal” services, he was held in esteem by the Government. God knows how amply he had been rewarded in diverse ways by the Government.

 

RE-ESTABLISHMENT OF TRADE AT ODE ITSEKIRI

 

29. Arising from the fall of Benin River, and the Government decision to extend protectorate power to the hinterland, the European merchants and the Itsekiri middlemen split themselves up. Some moved farther up the Benin River as far as Sapele, etc., while others established a trading depot called “Warri” at a point on the Forcados River about about four nautical miles to Ode Itsekiri. Chief among the merchants who established at the latter place were the Messrs. Hutton and Osbone, Miller Brothers, J. Pinnock & Co., and the German firm of Messrs. Bay and Zimmer.

 

30. According to William Moore, Mr. Farquah in about 1898, built a trading factory on a piece of land at the entrance of the Okere Creek on the Forcados or Warri River for the Messrs. Alexander Miller Brothers Limited of Liverpool. Shortly after, Mr. Bleasby for the African Association Limited, also established there. Thus this area attracted a comparatively large community of European traders and thenceforth became a permanent trading station. It may be assumed that from that time, the Itsekiris started to call Ode Itsekiri “BIG WARRI” to differentiate it from the new trading station.


31. Here the point must be clearly noted that the trading station was the first place other than Ode Itsekiri to which the name “WARRI” was applied. It had never in history been applied to anywhere else except Ode Itsekiri the seat of the Olus and capital town of the Itsekiri nation.


THE GOVERNMENT OF THE TIME


32. Having said so much about the Olu, the Itsekiri people, their capital town, their early trade relationship with Europeans, the decline of the economic importance of Benin River, the emergence into limelight of Chief Dore Numa and the founding of a new trade depot called WARRInear Ode Itsekiri, we may complete the picture by taking a view of the government of the time.


33. On
the 27th of November, 1849, the first British Consul, Mr. John Beecroft, resident at Fernando Po was appointed. His consular district covered the whole of the Bights of Benin and Biafra. With his appointment, observed Sir Alan Burns, direct British influence in Nigeria might be said to have begun. Subsequent consular appointments were wade till about 1880, and Fernando Po remained the headquarters. Owing however to the extensive area (250 miles of coast line) under their consulate, and transport difficulties, consular visits to the rivers were very few and far between. The consuls could seldom respond, even where their presence was anxiously demanded. In order to provide some remedy for the unsatisfactory situation, the consuls in turn appointed consular agents, usually unpaid, from among the European traders. Being on the spot, an agent was able to deal more expeditiously even if injudiciously with matters that cropped up.


THE MAKING OF COMMERCIAL TREATIES


34. At the early stages of the legitimate trade, the European merchants and supercargoes, as has been said previously, did not come ashore. They usually anchored amid stream and the Itsekiri traders went to them with their raw materials, chiefly palm oil, to barter. The Europeans, though trading virtually on the sufferance and protection of the Chief had the full backing of British Naval Forces which were then still patrolling the rivers to exterminate slave trade completely, to encourage the legitimate trade and to protect British Subjects and property. So great was the reliance placed upon the Chiefs however that the local representatives of the British Admiralty and consular authorities were obliged to obtain written assurances for
protection from, and to enter into commercial treaties with, them.

 

35. The following letter dated 1st March, 1849, written at Benin River by Richard Henry, Agent for Messrs. Thomas Harrison & Co., Liverpool, to Commander Tudor of the Admiralty confirms the position:

 

“Sir

 I now address you on a subject of extensive importance to the safety of British property here, the kingdom of Warree is at present without any person who has the province of conducting the affairs here to the benefit of the European traders. Our trade is at present on a very insecure foundation and If there is not soon some alteration made with regard to European affairs here, I am sure that British property will be sacrificed to a serious amount. I have at present a large quantity of money out on credit, and l am apprehensive I shall never get it returned without your assistance, what we want in this country is a protectorate until such time there is a king selected by the people, to have this accomplished I consider with your assistance it will be very readily arranged. Should you succeed in securing Dolla the Princess, sister to the late King Ayeluwa and get the same satisfactory assurances from her such as were given you yesterday by the Chiefs Jibuffa and Jerry I am confident then that the European affairs here would be on as safe a scale as heretofore if not I protest that neither property nor life is to [be] considered safe. I am sorry to give you so much trouble, but here as a British Subject and Agent I must claim the protection of your Flag for myself and any other Agents who may arrive.  I trust you will be enabled to grant me the assistance within the next month certainly, or as early as possible.”

 

36. On the following day, Commander Tudor obtained the following assurance from Chiefs Jibuffa and Jerry of Jackwa (Jakpa):

 
“The Jibuffa and Jerry Chiefs of Jackwa on the
Benin do hereby assure Commander Tudor of H. B.M. St .Vepel Firefly that until the unsettled state of things consequent upon there being no Sovereign upon the throne of Warree is at an end, we will to the utmost of our ability and power, support the British Traders, and all honest and fair trade of any nation carried on in the Benin River and its connecting branches within the territory of Warree. Dated at Jackwa this second day, of March, 1849.”


37. On the 4th of April, 1851, Consul John Beecroft with certain others representing Her Britannic Majesty’s Government signed a commercial treaty with Chiefs Jerry and Jibuffa of Jackpa. On
the 18th of February, 1858, Mr. Benjamin Campbell, Her Britannic Majesty’s Consul, entered  into another treaty with Abrimoney, Chief of Batere, wherein,  among other things, the chief on his part voluntarily on payment of an agreed comey, undertook:


“to protect, with all his power and influence, the British property deposited in this river onshore or afloat, and all the British Agents and other Subjects of Her Britannic Majesty.”


38. On the 2nd of April, 1863 and the 18th of June, 1866, Governor Freeman of Lagos and William Elmes, Acting Consul, each signed a treaty further regularising trading affairs in the Benin River with Chiefs Jerry and Jarbuffon (Jibuffa) and Princess Dollo.


39. Thus it will be seen that although there was British Naval cover for the European traders, the influence and power of the Chiefs for stable trade was fully realised and recognised.


THE MAKING OF PROTECTION TREATIES


40. By 1884, the position regarding treaties had changed. The Chiefs who had been contracting to protect European traders and their property now offered themselves and their countries for protection by Her Britannic Majesty’s Government. And by that time, the Chiefs of practically all the Rivers, known as
Oil Rivers along the Bights, had concluded treaties to that effect.


41. On
the 16th July, 1884, on board Her Britannic Majesty’s Ship “FLIRT” anchored in Benin River, and 4 days after his appointment as the Itsekiri Governor, Chief Nana with some eleven other Itsekiri (Benin River) Chiefs signed such a treaty with Her Britannic Majesty represented by Consul E. H. Hewett. In the words of the opening paragraph of the treaty,


“Her Majesty the Queen of the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, etc., and the Chiefs of Jakri” were “desirous of maintaining and strengthening the relations of peace and friendship which have for so long existed between them”


The treaty came into operation, as far as was practicable, from the above date, except as regards Articles VI and VII which were objected to by Chief Nana and were left for negotiation on a future occasion.


42. On
the 6th of August, 1884, Consul Hewett made the following certification:-


“I hereby certify that, according to the terms of a Treaty concluded between Her Majesty, the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland etc., and the head and the other Chiefs of the Jakri country, the gracious favour and protection of Her Britannic Majesty have been extended to the people and the country of both banks of the Escardos River, the Chiefs of which have, in the presence of myself and others, acknowledged themselves and their country to be under Jakri jurisdiction and authority.


Given on board the British Steam-Ship Dodo, anchored in the River Escarcdos, this 6th day of August, 1884.”


“EDWARD HYDE HEWETT, HER BRITANNIC MAJESTY’S CONSUL FOR THE BIGHTS OF
BENIN AND BIAFRA, ETC.”


43 After Chief Nana had fallen into disfavour with the British Authorities, Mr. Ralph Moor, got some 25 other Itsekiri Chiefs headed by Chief Dudu to sign the following Treaty. Except Articles VI and VII to which Chief Nana took exception, the treaty is practically the same as the one signed by him 10 years earlier.

 

ARTICLE I

 

Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and, Ireland, Empress of India, in compliance with the request of the Chiefs and people of Benin River and Jekeri country, hereby undertakes to extend to them, and to the territory under their authority and jurisdiction, Her gracious favour and protection.

 

ARTICLE II

 

The Chiefs of Benin River and Jekeri country agree and promise to refrain from entering into any Correspondence, Agreement, or Treaty with any foreign Nation or Power, except with the knowledge and sanction of Her Britannic Majesty’ s Government.


ARTICLE III

 

It is agreed that full and exclusive jurisdiction civil or criminal, over British Subjects and their property in territory of Benin River and Jekeri country is reserved to Her Majesty, to be exercised by such Consular or other officers as Her Majesty shall appoint for that purpose. The same jurisdiction is likewise reserved to Her Majesty in the said territory of Benin River and Jekeri country over foreign subjects enjoying British protection, who shall be deemed to be included in the expression “British Subject” throughout this Treaty.

 

ARTICLE IV

All disputes between the Chiefs of Benin River and Jekeri country, or between them and British or foreign traders, or between the aforesaid Chiefs and neighbour-tribes, which can not be settled amicably between two parties, shall be submitted to the British Consular or other officers appointed by Her Britannic Majesty to exercise jurisdiction in Benin River and Jekeri territories for arbitration and decision, or for arrangement.

ARTICLE V

 

The Chiefs of Benin River and Jekeri country hereby engage to assist the British Consular or other officers in the execution of such duties as may be assigned to them; and, further, to act upon their advice in matters relating to the administration of justice, the development of the resources of the country, the interest of commerce, or in any other matter in relation to peace, order, and good government, and the general progress of civilization.

 

 

 

ARTICLE VI

 

The subjects and citizens of all countries may freely carry on trade in every part of the territories of the Chiefs parties hereto, and may have houses and factories the rein.

 

ARTICLE VII

 

All ministers of the Christian religion shall be permitted to reside and exercise their calling within the territories of the aforesaid Chiefs, who hereby guarantee to give them full protection. All forms of religious worship and religious ordinances may be exercised within the territories of the aforesaid Chiefs, and no hindrance shall be offered thereto.

 

ARTICLE VIII

 

If any vessel should be wrecked within the Benin River and the Jekeri territories, the Chiefs will give them all the assistance within their power, will secure them from plunder, and also recover and deliver to the owners or agents all the property which can be saved. If there are no such owners or agents on the spot, then the said property shall be delivered to the British Consular or other officer. The Chiefs further engage to do all in their power to protect the persons and property of the officers, crew, and others on board such wrecked vessels. All claims for salvage dues in such cases shall if disputed, be referred to the British Consular or other officer for arbitration and decision.


ARTICLE IX

 

This Treaty shall come into operation, so far as may be practicable, from the date of its signature.


ARTICLE X

 

This Treaty is regarded merely as a ratification of existing Treaties between the parties thereto, and it is understood that if reasonable and consistent effort be shown by signatory chiefs to adhere to and carry out the terns of it, there will be immunity from punishment for any and all offences which may have been committed and against the laws and orders of the Government prior to the signing of it, but all disputes and troubles existing between natives must be determined by native custom.

 

Done at Benin Vice Consulate this 2nd day of August, 1894.

 
Consul Hewett noted in 1884 that that form, with the necessary alterations, was also used for the Rivers Forcados, Ramos and Dodo, and the town of
Warri.

 

OIL RIVERS PROTECTORATE


44. In June, 1885, the Oil Rivers Protectorate was established and consular government through important Chiefs started. Such a chief was Nana who as Itsekiri “Governor” was declared to be the “executive power through which the decree of Her Majesty’s Government and of the Consular court are to be exercised and enforced”.

 


45. In 1887, Mr. Johnston, the acting Consul introduced “Governing Councils” and developed Courts of Equity. In 1891, however, a more organised system of government was introduced. The 16 rivers covering the coast line of 250 miles were organised into six river districts each under a Vice-Consul, a Consular Agent, an officer qualified judicially to hold a
Consular Court and all under a Commissioner and Consul-General resident at Calabar. One of the river districts was established at Benin River.


EXTENSION OF PROTECTORATE TO THE HINTERLAND

46. By an Order-in-Council of 1893 the Protectorate was extended to the hinterland and re-named the Niger Coast Protectorate.


47. With this extension two important steps both of which affected Urhoboland probably for the first time, politically, were taken. The first was the appointment of Chief Dore Numa of
Benin River, George Eyube and Tom Falladoh (Falodun - more generally known in the Urhobo country as Fenedo of Erho Abraka) as Political Agents. Their main functions included assisting Government to contact the inhabitants of the hinterland, collecting and supplying intelligence and advising Government generally on political and other matters affecting the hinterland people.


48. Tom Falladoh, stationed at Abraka, centred his activities there and in the Kwale country. George Eyube, a native of Gbogidi in the Urhobo country, directed his activities to the midland and western Urhobo, and the areas immediately adjoining, while Chief Dore Numa’s sphere covered
Benin River and the Ethiope River as far as Eku, Sanubi, etc. But after the lamentable accidental death in May, 1901, of Chief George Eyube in the course of the Odokpo (Orhokpo) Patrol, “Dore” to quote Mr. William Moore, “pushed his way to Warri, and became head of affairs for all Itsekiri”.

 

49. The second step was the removal of the seat of consular government from Benin River to Sapele and Warri trading stations. This was necessary in order to be in
closer touch with the hinterland. The coming of the Government to Warri naturally strengthened the position of the European traders, who, as would have been noted above, had already established there. The name “W A R R I“ was then officially confirmed for the station.


50. According to the lease by which Government acquired the station, the area was 360 acres at £100 per annum for 99 years from
30th July, 1906. It was signed for and on behalf of the Chiefs and people of Warri by Chief Dore Numa of Benin River and one other Itsekiri Chief.


51. Two years later, the station was extended to include Ogbe-Ijoh (Ijoh quarter), an additional area of 90 acres at £60 for 99 years from
18th July, 1908. The lease covering this was again signed for and on behalf of the Chiefs and people of Warri by the same Chiefs. As the name implies, this area was inhabited by Ijoh people who moved to OKROTOMU or OGBE-IJOH near Aladja (Ogbe-Urhobo) after the acquisition. In fact, the Ijoh people were known to be the owners and original inhabitants of the whole of that area.


52. In 1911, a further extension comprising 350 acres was made. The lease, signed again by the same Chiefs, for and on behalf of the same people, conveyed the land to Government at £30 per annum, for 99 years from
the 25th of February, 1911.

 


53. These three acquisitions therefore constitute the math area now known as
Warri Township. Here, it must again be clearly noted that the application of the name “WARRI” to any place other than Ode Itsekiri did not extend beyond the area covered by the three acquisitions.


RE-NAMING THE PROTECTORATE AND DIVISION INTO THREE AREAS


54. In January, 1900, the Protectorate was re-named Southern - Nigeria Protectorate; in May, 1906, it was amalgamated with the Colony of Lagos and both placed under one administration. The whole was divided into three provinces, namely, Western, Central and Eastern, each under a Provincial Commissioner and Warri then became the headquarters of the
Central Province.

 

FURTHER DIVISION


55. On
the 1st of January, 1914, the whole country was again divided politically into three, namely, the Colony of Nigeria, the Southern Provinces and the Northern Provinces, the last two together being the Protectorate of Nigeria. These were again sub-divided into smaller units, each of which was known as a Province under a Provincial Commissioner, later changed to Resident. One of such Provinces in the South was called “WARRI” Province.


COMING INTO BEING OF THE PROVINCE KNOWN AS WARRI


56. That period marked the coming into existence of the
Warri Province the area of which extends far into the hinterland and the inhabitants of which beside the Itsekiris comprise four different tribal groups, namely, Urhobo, Ijoh, Kwale and Aboh. Here it must be clearly noted again that that was the second instance in which the name “WARRI” was applied to places other than the original Warri (Ode Itsekiri). First it was adopted for the trading and Government station, and second, it had been tagged on to an administrative province. It. must be further noted as well that the application on the two occasions had far reaching effects; it gave new and richer meanings and substantially greater importance and cognizance to the name.


DIVISIONAL ARRANGEMENTS WITHIN THE
WARRI PROVINCE


57. We will not concern ourselves here with the various detailed Divisional arrangements made from time to time by Government for the administration of the
Warri Province.  Suffice it to say however that in June, 1950, the Division known as Jekri-Sobo comprising Itsekiris and parts of Urhobo and Ijoh was split up. The Urhobo part of it was added to the Urhobo Division, while the Itsekiri and the Ijoh counterparts, according to Public Notice No. 83 of 19th June 1950, formed the Itsekiri Division.


58. Suddenly during the elections of last year, we heard of Warri Division and not of Itsekiri Division. What prompted the Itsekiris and the Government to effect that change overnight we did not and still do not know. Perhaps those concerned the Government in particular, will be good enough to state the Public Notice announcing the change from Itsekiri Division to Warri Division.


59. It must be noted here again that for the third time the name “WARRI” had been applied to another area, that is ‘to say,
Warri Township, Warri Province and now Warri Division.

 

URHOBO PEOPLE IN THE HINTERLAND


60. For generations most of the Urhobo people who inhabit the hinterland of the Province heard or knew very little about the Itsekiri people, although some of them whose territories abut on Itsekiri land in the creeks traded in palm produce with them. Leaving
Benin in about 1370 A.D. the Urhobo people had been inhabiting the hinterland parts of which abut on the creeks and the rivers of the Niger for about 103 years ever before the Itsekiri Kingdom was founded. Talbot tells us that


“The earliest inhabitants of the Province appear to have been the Ijaw, who, however, before - probably long before - the beginning of the fifteenth century had been divided into two by the Sobo “(Urhobo)” branch of the Edo, which pressed down from the North.”


61. In those unsafe and raiding days, the Itsekiris whose powers were entirely maritime dared not penetrate into the hinterland. They could come only through the friendly relationship of some other Urhobo people. This, in addition to the fact that the Urhobo woman was a hard worker, was one, of the reasons why most Itsekiri married a great deal from Urhobo. Such relationship enabled them to secure more palm produce as Urhobos were and still are the producers.


62. The sections of Urhobo people who had the earliest contact with the Itsekiris were a section of Urhobo clans of Okpe, Effurun, Agbarha, Udu and Ughievben whose settlements abut on the rivers. Their relations were purely commercial and marital.


63. It was after the removal of the consular government from
Benin River and the establishment of same at Warri and Sapele, and at the early stages of penetration of the hinterland by government that Urhobo political relationship with the Itsekiris began. Through the political agency of Chief Dore Numa most Urhobo people came into somewhat indirect contact with the British Government of the day. After a little over 30 years, and with the advent of the system of Native Administration, the relationship was broken, and the Urhobo started to stand, politically, by themselves with themselves for themselves, insofar as Warri Province domestic administration affairs were concerned.

 

64. And having tried to bring so much to light regarding the Government of Benin River, treaties, derivation and extension of Protectorate powers, removal of the seat of the government and its establishment at Warri, and, the position of the early relationship of the Urhobo with the Itsekiri, we shall now refresh our readers’ minds by making a general summary of all that had been said.


65. It will no doubt be admitted that we have clearly substantiated that Olu Itsekiri had always been the title of the head of the
Itsekiri Kingdom, and historically, a name which had been variously spelt and pronounced, probably IWẸRẸ originally, but the present anglicised form of which is “Warri” had long been associated with Ode Itsekiri. We have shown that later, the name ceased to have a restricted application to Ode Itsekiri, and was extended to apply to the trading and Government station, now known as Warri Township, to a larger area politically known as Warri Province, and until quite recently to a Division known as Warri Division. Here we request the Itsekiris and the Government to tell us of which Warri is Erejuwa II the Olu? Is he the Olu of Warri the Ode Itsekiri where he has forsaken and does not reside?, or of Warri the Township where again he does not reside?, or of Warri the Province? or of Warri the Division? If of ‘Warri Division, may we ask whether that Division is comprised of Itsekiri people and land only?

 

66. From all facts, the so-called Itsekiri country or kingdom comprised only Ode Itsekiri, Benin River and certain of the adjoining creeks. Indeed, Mr. Hewett’s certification under paragraph 42 indicated the extent of not only the Itsekiri country, the people within it, but also its jurisdiction and authority.

 
67. It has been established that it was Government’s decision in 1893 to extend the Protectorate to the hinterland, the removal of the seat of consular government from Benin River, and the establishment of consulates at Sapele and Warri that made the hinterland tribes, among which was Urhobo, to come in contact with the white man commercially through trade, and politically through the agency of Political Agents, Chief Dore Numa in particular.


68. We have further established that Itsekiri relationship with sections of certain Urhobo clan units was entirely on commercial and marital basis. That it was the system of Native Courts by Warrant Chiefs which judicially brought the Itsekiri and the Urhobo together at first;  by reason of earlier contact and friendship with the white man, the former held  and higher and superior posts in the Native Courts. Since the abrogation of that system and the introduction of native Administration according to tribal laws and customs, the Urhobos were separated entirely from the Itsekiris.

 
69. Our reasons for objecting to the change of the title of Olu of Itsekiri to Olu of Warri are:-

 

(i)                  The title from the origin of the kingdom has been Olu Itsekiri;

 

(ii)                The Olu no longer resides at Ode Itsekiri,  the town originally associated with a name  similar to the name “Warri”;

 

(iii)               The Olu should style himself Olu of Iwere since that was admitted to be the original name;

 

(iv)                Since the Itsekiris prefer to be called “Itsekiri” and not “Jekri” the corrupted form, they should be called “Iwere” and not Warri” which is the corrupted form as the Urhobo accepted the true name “Urhobo” Instead of the corrupted one “Sobo” ;

 

(v)                By the change, the Itsekiris desire to  arrogate to themselves exclusively the importance and prestige which derive from the application to other places of the name “Warri”;

 

(vi)              The change is intended to raise the prestige of the Olu over the other tribes in the Province;

 

(vii)             At first sight, the title Olu of Warri suggests that the Olu’s jurisdiction and authority cover all the places (in this case the Township, the Province and the Division) to which the name Warri has been applied. Since the Urhobo have never been under his jurisdiction and authority, they can never, condone his assumption of a title which is so suggestive;

 

(viii)           Since its application to places other than Ode Itsekiri, the name “Warri” ceased to have a meaning restricted to Ode Itsekiri only, and since a major proportion of the other areas to which it has been applied belongs to different tribal groups and is comprised of different tribal peoples, the Itsekiris can not claim the name as of right exclusively;

 

(ix)              There appears to be another sinister motive and that is to absorb the cosmopolitan Township of Warn into the Itsekiri Native Administration.


70. Shortly before the installation of Ginuwa II in 1936 some Itsekiris tried to change this old established title to Olu of Warri. The Urhobo people, foreseeing a sinister motive behind the proposal stoutly protested to the Government. In a letter dated
the 7th of February, 1936, Capt. E. A. Miller, then Acting Resident, Warri, informed the Odogun Council and the Urhobo Clans Council that the designation accepted by the Itsekiri Council and agreed to by the Olu-elect was that of Olu Itsekiri. He further added that that was the designation recognised by the Resident and approved by His Honour the Chief Commissioner.


71. Thus the matter rested until about 1944 when the Itsekiris again raised it. Government refused then to consider the title “OLU OF WARRI” and suggested instead “OLU OF IWERE” which of course should, historically speaking, be the correct title if any change is to be made at all.

 
72. In commenting on the Itsekiri people’s petition for the change to His Honour, the Chief Commissioner Western Provinces, in November, 1944, Capt. R. L. Bowen, then Senior Resident, Warri Province, had the following, among other things, to say:-

 

 “Shortly after the Installation the matter was brought by way of petition that the title should be OLU OF WARRI, but the Resident refused to agree since this was a petition by Edema Arubi and there was no evidence that it has the backing of the Council. A reply to that effect was returned by Government. But in July, 1936 Sir William Hunt, then Chief Commissioner, Southern Provinces, visited Warri and the Council requested him to make the alteration. Sir William said that he could see no objection but the Urhobos petitioned against it. Nothing was settled and the matter was again raised before Mr. Shute. On this occasion after asking the Urhobos for their views the alteration was refused. However the request was still persisted in and brought up again at Mr. White’s visit In July when again the petition was to the effect that “our home city is Iwere (Warri) and that the Olu’s title should be the anglicized version of Iwere, i.e., Warri”.

 

The Olu really bases the claim on the reports made by the old explorers that in 1644 they met the King of Warre or Warri and that if so far back as that the Olu was so named there is no reason why he should not now be so entitled. The evidential value of this can be found in Talbot’s People of Southern Nigeria Vol.1 Chapter XII. But there is not the slightest evidence whatsoever that these explorers ever attempted to find out what was the African title of the Olu and they certainly have not recorded it. At that time the city of the Itsekiri people was probably still known as Iwere and there seems little doubt that the explorers called the King after his town without making any further enquiry.


Moore’s history of the Itsekiris refers all through to the Olu Itsekiri and never makes any mention of the Olu of Warri, except when quoting the explorers. The third Olu is specifically mentioned as being installed Olu Itsekiri and so is the fifth, who incidentally is the same man to whom reference has been made in 1644. The last Olu Akengbuwa is called Olu Itsekiri. I do not know how much reliance can be placed on Moore. Another piece of evidence can be found in the famous land cases Circa 1922-1924. Although in the first case Mr. Justice Webber in his judgment referred to the Olu of Warri, this would appear to have been a title introduced in the pleadings by the Counsel engaged. But in the second case of the Akengbuwa family versus Chief Dore Numa, Chief Denedo who led the evidence for the plaintiffs clearly calls Akengbuwa the Olu of Itsekiri.


The Urhobos and Western Ijaws are protesting against the use of the title Olu of Warri on the grounds that he was appointed Olu of Itsekiri and that the attempt to obtain the title Olu of Warri is intended to raise the prestige of the Olu over the other tribes in the Province and later to call him Olu of Warri Province. I have informed these Councils that Government have no intentions of permitting such to be even considered. The arguments in regard to the Alake, Alafin and Oba are just met with the answer that they have always been so called. I was surprised at a recent meeting of the Western Ijaw Council to see the depth of feeling on this matter; the Itsekiris were called sly and cunning and nothing could make them believe that it was not the Olu’s intention to attempt to become their overlord. For this I think the Itsekiris are much to be blamed themselves. Frequent attempts by the Olu to interfere in the Ijaw lands of Forcados and Burutu, the Sapele Land case, the unfortunate references by Edema Arubi to the Urhobos as slaves, which were not immediately repudiated by the Itsekiri Council, and the general idea of many of the Itsekiris that they are a superior people and were civilized by contact with the Europeans long before the backward tribes of the hinterland, have led to a cumulative feeling of suspicion and distrust, which it appears quite impossible to eradicate from the minds of the other tribes. I have not asked the Obi of Aboh for his view but have learnt privately that it would probably be unfavourable to a change”


73. Captain Bowen therefore advised the Government to inform the Olu that there would be no objection to the title of the Olu of Iwere if he would assume that. He concluded that if he did, he would have to be content with it and not ask for further consideration later. That if he refused he would have to continue to be called Olu of Itsekiri. Government agreed and replied the Itsekiri’s petition accordingly. Apparently the Olu did not agree and so the title remained unchanged until about three months ago, when with the present set-up of the Government of the Western Region and their great friendship, with the Party in power, the Itsekiris got the Government of the Western Region to approve the change of the title.


74. It is understood that in response to the protestations of the Urhobo people against the change, the present Government has been arguing that there is nothing in a name. This of course is nonsense. If there is nothing in a name why did the Itsekiris agitate for the change? Why did they not accept the former Government’s suggestion of “Olu of Iwere”? The Urhobo and I believe the other tribal groups will not object to this.

 
75. Without mincing words, we call upon the Government to restrain the Olu from the use of the title of Olu of Warri. If the purpose of this man’s abandonment of his ancient ancestral home for his present hiding is to blow from there his trumpet to the outside world that he is the Olu of Warri, then it is time he is hushed up.


76. We issue no threats but if the Government or the Olu takes no heed of this warning, then we must react. We await with all coolness the result of our protest.


THE OLU IS THE OLU OF ITSEKIRI, OR OLU OF IWERE, NOT OF WARRI.

 

AND SO MUST HE REMAIN.

(Signed) T. E. A. SALUBI     
5th September 1952

 

Addendum (from notes that were attached to the original article by the author)

 

“… 14. A point arising from paragraphs 56 to 59: Since writing the article, further research has revealed that the term “Warri Division” is not a new one. When the Province was constituted in 1914, a “Warri Division” which existed until the re-organisations of the early 1930’s was also constituted. The present use of the term, dating from 1951, is therefore a reversion to the older term. The areas of the former and present “Warri Division” are, however quite different.

 

15. The article was sent to the West African Pilot, but it was not published, it being alleged that the Pilot decided to be neutral in the matter. To us - Urhobo - it was a let-down. We got practically nothing for our unreserved support for the N.C.N.C. The Pilot took this attitude, probably, in consideration for Mr. Festus Edah and Mr. J. Sale-Sule, both of whom are Itsekiris and top members of the N.C.N.C.”

 


RETURN TO CONTENTS | RETURN TO WARRI CITY PAGE