Urhobo Historical Society


By Daniel Obiomah
Warri City

(Culled from The Urhobo Voice, Vol. 7, No 225, Pages 13 & 14, December 1, 2003.)

THE recent flurry of write-ups and rejoinders on the Warri crisis shows that the problem is not even understood by a large number of the members of the public, commentators and otherwise.

I will use this medium to clarify fundamental issues:

Change of Title of Olu of Itsekiri

First, the Warri  crisis is not caused  by the change of title of Olu of Itsekiri to Olu of Warri in 1952. That was only a stage, as protest against that action was by all ethnic groups in Warri ProvinceAboh, Ukwuani, Ijaw, Isoko and  Urhobo.  It is misrepresentation of facts to try to make it an exclusive Urhobo/Itsekiri affair.

There were no deaths, not even one reported by Itsekiri or other protesters.  The name of the province was changed from Warri to Delta.  That assuaged the ire of non-Itsekiri, leaving the uncertain future for the indigenous Warri Urhobo. What has been going on recently shows that the 1952 remedy was only a half measure.  It did not reach down to the core of the problem that is a provoking thought for the authorities.

Supremacy, not Ethnicity

Second, that the Warri crisis is an ethnic affair is false or at best a half truth.  The parties to the problem are the governments both state and federal and the indigenous people who happen to be Itsekiri, Ijaw and Urhobo.  The Ijaw conexion did not intensify until the era of fabulous income from crude oil exploration.  The urban Agbarha Urhobo problem is the genesis of the problem and has always been there.

Who owns Warri?

Third, urban problem is about who owns the land with accruing rights of ownership?  Agbarha owns the land. They were cheated out of it by government using Itsekiri as a front.  The Itsekiri have enjoyed it up until now.  They claim that court judgement has made every Itsekiri man and woman alive as owner of Warri, that Warri is his/her hometown. Are these people native citizens of this country? Under what custom does such  an  inane claim exist? They recite Ometa vs Dore Numa, which was an abysmal fraud.  They quote comments by judges based on Ometa vs Dore Numa, forgetting that as  one Ekpoko says Nemo dat quid non habet, Dore, without owning  a square foot of land leased 800 acres of Agbarha lands to his employers, the government  for the building of a  segregated township for the convenience of  Europeans. Thus, the subsequent cases dealt with transfer of ownership from Dore to Britain of lands which did not exist except as Agbarha property recognized by the Treaty of 1893 between Agbarha and Great Britain. Last year J.O.S. Ayomike claimed that the Agbarha treaty was fake, null and void and was also loud about “non-existent Forcados Vice –Consulate.” His error was pointed to him on both points.  He was mistaken.  Facts are sacred, whether you believe it or not let us avoid wooly factiousness and be of open mind.

Character of Dore Numa

Who was Dore Numa? It was William Moore, an Itsekiri of Olu family who in his book “History of Itsekiri” called Dore “the worst usurper in Itsekiri history; like Prince Otselopun Dore deserved to be hanged. Of him William Moore also says, “the slogan against him is, “fie upon thee,” fie upon thee!” saying “he was instrumental in the success achieved by the British government in Brohimi War of 1894” with Nana.  He also subverted the Bini people.  This is the man that Itsekiri have proudly inherited and go to any length to claim Agbarha lands.  What is the place of the receiver of stolen goods?

The suit filed in 1926 by Agbarha known as Ometa vs Dore Numa (Ometa having been substituted for Ogegede who died) was:

Ogegede on behalf of himself and Agbassa people vs. Dore Numa, to Dore Numa (chief) of Odogene Warri. Dore had no representative capacity.  At no time throughout the proceedings from 1926 at the divisional court to the Privy Council in 1934 did Dore enter himself by motion that he was representing himself and the Itsekiri.  After the full court judgement by Donald Kingdom, the secretary Southern provinces picked out the interpolation in the judgement, the words of Dore “in his representative capacity.” The secretary said in his comment to the Lt. Governor that Dore had no representative capacity. His power was from the government.  Itsekiri distrusted him.  He was regarded as government chief.  This was confirmed by William Moore and Capt. J.C.F. Pender in Itsekiri intelligence report. This means that it suited colonial policy to involve the Itsekiri using them as a front to plug looholes of interpretation.  Itsekiri have no business in Warri.

Inapplicable Quotes

1. They recite the pronouncements of justices of the Supreme  Court which are irrelevant being based on false premise  of colonial  fraud  as justice .  At the justices Nnaemeka Agu and Alhassan Idoko judicial commissions of enquiry, 1993 and 1997, the justices were stunned by the   secret documents tendered to prove the deceit and chicanery involved in Dore vs Olue, Denedo vs Dore  (all Itsekiri) and Ometa vs Dore Numa.  It is folly and foolhardy for self –respecting Itsekiri to keep saying out of context what  Justice Uwaifo said, what Udo-Udoma or Obaseki said and hold back what  Ademola FCJ, Abbot FJ, Mbanefo  FJ said in suit No. FSC 78/1958 Olu of Warri appellant and I. Chief Sam Warri Esi (for himself and on behalf of the Igbudu people.)

2. Messrs Shell BP Petroleum Development of Nigeria Limited (former Shell D’Arcy etc) to wit. “In the present appeal it is enough to say that the issue between the two plaintiffs is not our present concern.  The claim as to the ownership of the land or the possessory right was never tried,” The judgement goes on to say, “It is still open to the appellant to bring the proper action by which the issues involved could be thrashed out”. Consequently, the Olu filed suit No. W.63/58 for a claim of title.  He could not prosecute it and withdraw in 1964.  The Olu with the Itsekiri Communal land Trust tried again in Okumagba land case and failed.  The next case about title is the Ogunu (Agbarha) land case which is still pending. Therefore, when were issues raised by Ademola FCJ ever dealt with except that Udo Udoma et al were referring to Ometa vs Dore Numa? The Itsekiri maintain a straight-face and claim that their loss of claim of title in the Okumagba-land case does not give Okumagba title because Okumagba did not counter-claim.  But this was the exact position in Ometa vs Dore Numa where Agbarha   lost the claim of title   but Dore Numa did not counter-claim still. Itsekiri use the fraudulent verdict as their title to overlordship. Should these honourbable  men and women be told that they are liars in breach of etiquette?

Warri or Itsekiri?

Is it not curious that Itsekiri want to dump the name Itsekiri for warri? Their clubs, societies have Warri tagged to them.  Their chieftaincy titles not associated with Warri by tradition have Warri tagged to them in their strenuous effort to create evidence in support of falsehood or make – believe.  Their Olu is of Warri not of Itsekiri or Ale –Ode Iwere. In the face of all the inconsistencies there are still Itsekiri who turn custom and tradition upside-down to claim Warri as adopted fatherland by court judgement.  The general public should be on the alert and ask Itsekiri propagandists hard questions.  I have declared my paternity hometown and ethnicity. The Itsekiri own the public an explanation how, under native law and custom of Itsekiri a person whose ancestors are Ugborodo or Batere has  Warri  as his hometown. A person who is not a mercenary in the Warri conflict should be both bold and proud not to hide his identity to underscore his interest.  In my call on the public, I include my neighbours, the Itsekiri—we are not at war. They should ask questions. These dialectics are aimed at getting at the truth.

We are discussing events which formed part of the scramble for Africa.  Methods adopted in the scramble were not dictated by the Bible.  We learn from historians A.J. Grant and Harold Temperley: "History of colonial development in Africa does not seem  an edifying one.  England accused the Boers, and the Boers England, of chicanery and deceit.  And England though promising  that her occupation of Egypt was temporary, finally made it permanent.  France deliberately deceived Italy over Tunis, and Germany over South-West Africa and the Cameroons.  Finally, King Leopold by a masterpiece of guile, tricked all Europe into giving him the richest of colonial plums. It does not appear at first sight as if the masters who used such means to acquire dominion were likely to benefit those over whom they ruled.” The end justified the means, as in Warri.

Assuming purely for the purpose of argument that Itsekiri overlordship is valid, what has been going on amounts to plunder.  By law the Itsekiri communal land trust was barred from encroaching upon vacant land of the   Agbarha people without due permission from  Agbarha.  They descended on Agbarha lands and made leases to themselves. Where they made leases to the public they kept every kobo of the proceeds, whereas they applied to be joined in Agbarha cases for compensation and not one third of the amount.  Do angels behave in this manner?   Not Angel Gabriel.

Contrary Evidence in Court

Itsekiri flaunt before the public  the evidence of such boot-lickers, treacherous  to  Agbarha cause, as Ikpuri, Sahara, Agbamu. Though their conduct is to be debrecated, traitors have always been part  of society.  Who was Dore Numa but a supreme traitor backed to his unholy victories against Itsekiri and Agbarha alike by foreign interest?   As between Godwin Boyo and F.O.M. Atake who  was a traitor to the Ugborodo cause? Is it a secret that the Awanis of Ajamogha reject the overlordship of the Olu, when O.N. Rewane Ologboshere/Uwangue of Warri not of Jakpa and E.N.A. Begho made themselves tenants to Okumagba over whom they claimed overlordship, were they not Itsekiri Ikpuri? Did not Professor Oritsejolomi Thomas, chairman of the Itsekiri Communal Land Trust, denounce encouragement these new crop of “freedom fighters” have  been receiving from our traditional opponents” (Warri Division Land Trust Review). Going by the context of the time, who were those grouped among the “new crop of freedom fighters” receiving encouragement and assistance from traditional opponents but Itsekiri? They could include Godwin Boyo, Dick Olue of Ugborodo, and Arthur Prest of Ugbuwangwe who countered overlordship claims like Agbarha Urhobo, like Okere Urhobo, the traditional opponents?

Error of Judgment

One common fault in this country is that judgment is based on the ideal situation against the background of known corruption.  So for protagonists of colonial court judgments, colonialism  was pure and unquestionable. It is flogging a dead horse to argue the points. If colonialism were heavenly piety and bliss, we would not have sent it packing. Secondly, in America, France and Russia, dissent reached unmanageable heights.  In each case it was not removed by court judgment. In Warri, we are undergoing a revolution of sorts. It is a very serious situation indeed. Itsekiri only hopes against hope that it will pass away.  I personally reject violence as a means to an end.  Is it not true however that “there comes a time when forbearance ceases to be a virtue?” (Edmund Burke). In 1974, Justice Atake delivered judgement tainted with bias against Ogunu (Agbarha). The Supreme Court returned the case to be tried de novo by another judge. Twenty-nine years after, hearing has not commenced. Is it not the bane of the shallow-minded, opinionated narcissist to ask Agbarha to go to court? Itsekiri hope, by that, to buy reprieve though the frustration of the Agbarha people.

Interestingly, Agbarha do not as yet feel driven to the wall, and they are ignored in the peace calculus of the day.  It is a time for guarded action and utterances.  Let all beware.  Who owns the land, and the resources in it? Who has the right to them?