LAND, OVERLORDS & LAND RIGHTS
By D. A. Obiomah
| Originally published in Warri by GKS Printers. Published
in URHOBO WAADO by permission of Mr. D. A. Obiomah.
© D. A. Obiomah 1987, 2002
THE SECOND COMING OF DORE NUMA
History has many incredible coincidences. Nevertheless, in dismissing events as coincidences the fact remains that men form the link between the ages and history therefore thinks through men.
There was the Dore era in Warri History. This Chief Dore was from BeninRiver as well as the Ologbotsere Family or anti-Olu faction in Itsekiri politics. Arising from the ascendancy with which he was invested by the colonial Administration, Dore did not see himself merely as having captured the Itsekiri throne and swallowed the rival Olu Faction he was ambitious, and encourage to see himself in reality the king of "Sobos, Jekris and Johns" thus merging in his person, as it were, the Itsekiri throne and expansionism. It was the height of the glory of Ologbotsere.
Therefore, when a new Oly was appointed in 1936 as Ginuwa II, it was a set-back for BeninRiver. In the selection of Ginuwa II the descendants of Erejuwa I to which Dore claimed maternal descent had been excluded. The choice was not even open to all the descendants of Akengbuwa, the last Olu before the interregnum. It was limited to the descendants of Ejo, the man to have succeeded Akengbuwa.
Erejuwa II succeeded Ginuwa II on 24th March, 1951. Sagay says "The Olu remained in Ode-Itsekiri for two and half months before going to his palace at Ekurede." "Before going to his palace at Ekurede' is aconspicuously misleading statement. That 'place' was the private douse of an Effurun (Urhobo) man, maternally Itsekiri. The new Olu was making a move as important as when Ginuwa I left Benin in 1480. Now, 400 years after founding Ode-Itsekiri he had moved away to another land, the land of Dore Numa. This move marked the resurgence of BeninRiver.
"Soon after the coronatin of Olu Erejuwa II, campaigns for elections under the Macpherson Constitution began. A new Political Party had evolved from the Yoruba cultural group, Egbe Omo Oduduwa. This party led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo was called the Action Group. As Okotie-Eboh became a prominent member of the N.C.N.C. so also an Itsekiri lawyer Mr. And later Chief Arthur Prest, Mr. Ogbemi N. Rewane, Mr. Alfred Rewane, Mr. Reece Adukugho and Mr. Ekwejune-Etchie became prominent members of Action Groupů."
"The Itsekiri people thrived under the Action Group admiinistration in Western Nigeria, enjoying party patronages."
One of such patronages, perhaps by far the most controversial; greatest single one, was the changing of the title of Olu of Itsekirito Olu of Warri.
Sagay further says that "the Urhobos in the Western House of Assembly brought in a motion to change the title of Olu of Warri." In the course of the debate Chief Arthur Prest "quoted an extracct from the West Aftican Pilot, written by Dr. Azikiwe on 14th May, 1940 which read as follows:
"His Highness Ginuwa II is Olu of the Itsekiri speaking people, who live on Itsekiri land, on a section of WarriTownship. If the matter is dicussed in detail, it will be found that a definite title is necessary, in which case, the Olu of Warri seems to be more historical and correct. When we speak of the Oba of Lagos we refer to the Paramount Native ruler of LagosTownship, although Lagos is peopled mainly by the Itsekiri speadking people and Warri is part of Itsekiri land."
The top of this quotation refering to "Itsekiri speaking people, who live on Itsekiri land, on a section of WarriTownship" contradicts the end which says that "Warri is part of Itsekiri land." "WarriTownship is peopled mainly by the Itsekiri speaking people," is palpably untrue, untrue then, untrue when the British came, and untrue now. Warri not being the capital of Itsekiri land is not analogous with Lagos. The historical reference therefore has no basis except in Ometan v Dore Numa, an event of six years before.
In 1936 one Edema Arubi purporting to be acting for the Olu of Itsekiri, Ginuwa II addressed two petitions to His Excellency the Governor, Sir Bernard Bourdillon and to the Honourable, the Chief Secretary to the Government requesting that the Olu be made a first class chief and that his title be changer to Olu of Warri. The Acting Secretary, Southern Provices, Enugu, commented inter alia to the Chief Secretary to the Government reference S.P.11328/213 of 14th May, 1936.
"During a recent visit to Warri His Honour was told by the Honourable Mr. A. Egbe that he and other Itsekiri leaders of the progressive element were seriously perturbed at the influence which Mr. Edema Arubi held or was attempting to hold over the Olu and elder members ofo the Itsekiri Council, and with the reactionary advice which Mr. Arubi was giving themů..He is, they say, advising the Olu to persit in claims to zerainty over Sobos and Ijohs, which as Mr. Egbe points out, is a claim which the Itsekiri people themselves realise they cannot sustain. The more of the Olu claims in this respect the more determined are the Sobos to free themselves from all possiblity of domination by the Olu as they were dominated in the past by Chief Dore."
The Acting Secretary, Southern Provices, considered that Mr. Edema Arubi had no authority to make his requests and continued:
"In any event, were the request to come from the Olu and Council His Honour would not recommend themůAs regards the second request, Wari is the largest town in Itsekiri land, but it is comparatively recent. There is no historical claim to the title Olu of Warri and Warri is a township over which the Olu has no administrative control. The Wari lands have been for many years a bone of contention between Itsekiris and Sobos. The recent Privy Council decision adjudged the land not to be Sobo - and the claim to be "Olu of Warri" is made to flaunt this before the Sobos." - CSO File No. 54176.
The question may be asked, had His Honour faith in the Privy Council decision? Government in 1936 accordingly rejected the request. The reactionary atmosphere conjured up in the above excerpt is similar to that created today by the Itsekiri Leaders of Thought. They want to persist in the unjust domination of the Agbarha and Okere Urhobos and the Ijaws while claiming that they fear domination.
From the arugument adduced so far, the thinking that Warri si Itsekiri land and the change of the title of Olu of Itsekiri to Olu of Warri, are predicated on a false premise. Therefore the year 1951 marks a significant milestone in the progress of Warri crisis. Is it a coincidence that the resurgence of Benin River in the politics of Warri Township seemed to have in the reign of Erejuwa II through the political influence of Benin River expressed itself in the recapture or control of the throne, (while Warri is said by Itsekiri to be Itsekiri land) but de facto the property of Benin River, more espcially the property of those who are the votaries of Chief Dore? If power is anchored on the Itsekiri throne and that throne is enveloped by the de facto heirs of Chief Dore, and these are the ones who have maintained and strenuously propagated the illusion of the overlordship of the Olu over the whole of Warri Division now Warri Loacal Government Area, it is to ask, who, being defactor, Oly, is the de facto overlord? How were the plums from this struggle for control of the throne distributed, and in whose power had it been to bestow patronages - titles, appointments to govermental office, employment, benefits accruing from land, the favourable interpretation and regulation of Itsekiri law and custom, etc?