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
OKERE & AGBARHA URHOBOS:
JOINT PETITION (TO WHICH THERE WAS NO REPLY)
|C/o 15 Upper Erejuwa Road,
Bendel State of Nigeria.
|The Commissioner for Local & Government Chieftaincy
Ministry of Local Government & Chieftaincy Affairs,
Protest Re Membership of The Warri Local Government Committee etc.
We refer to our petition dated 1st July, 1986, from Okere-Urhobo Clan and another petition dated 8th July, 1986, from Warri Indigenes Agbarha (Urhobo) Clan, all in protest to you and the Military Governor of the state in connection with the composition of Warri Local Government Committee to which no Urhobo man was appointed as member.
Apart from the chairman who is a civil servant, the government appointed three Itsekiris and one Ijaw.
We notice, on receipt of your letters No. SGA.13/12/2/T3/60 and SGA/13/12/R3/63 dated 15th July, and 12th August, 1986, respectively that our petitions were not considered on the facts of the matte.
In your letters under reference, the Governor gave assurance of Government's continued protection of "Our interests at all times". Subsequent events now show that measures now being adopted by the Council are apparently made to cause hardship to a section of the community in Warri Local Government Area.
We refer you to the following examples:
(1) The committee of the Council continues to work without any representation of the Urhobos in the Local Government Area who constitute a vast majority of the population in the Local Government Area. If we are liable to pay taxes which we do pay, we are entitled to representation.
(2) We notice that the Council is sending out to Landlords and Landladies demand notes for arbitrary and exorbitant tenement rates not based on the adoptive bye-law approved by the state government for the purpose and adopted by the Council. Consequently, our properties are under threat of seizure.
(3) The Council is embarrassing visitors to Warri from the riverine area by prohibiting canoes and boats from the riverine area from berthing any where along Warri river in Warri city. This is a case of wanton disruption of economic and social life of the people.
(4) The Council continues to impose purported authority of the Warri Traditional Council which is exclusively an Itsekiri body on the entire people of Warri Local Government Area. We may sum up by saying that the false impression is given that Warri Local Government Council's affair is an exclusive business of the Itsekiri tribe in Warri Local Government Area. In this regard, permit us to remind you that in your letter under reference, the governor had said on 12/8/86 that, "I am however to reiterate that government, whether at the Federal, State or Local Government level, exists to protect the rights of all the citizens, irrespective of their tribe, creed or other consideration". We are still saying that our rights are not being protected.
Warri Local Government Area is an area inhabited by three ethnic indigenous communities namely the Ijaws, Itsekiris and Urhobos. Apart from the Itsekiris, there are three Ijaw Clans of Ogbe-Ijoh, Egbema and Gbaramatu and two Urhobo clans of Agbarah and Okere-Urhobo.
Okere-Urhobo clan for example once had serious land disputes with the Olu of Warri and Itsekiri people. The disputes resulted in the famous land case between the Olu and Itsekiris as plaintiffs on the one hand and Okere-Urhobo community on the other as defendants in suit No. W/48/68 of the Warri High Court and SC.309/74 (1976) and 10Sc of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on appeal.
In this case the Olu of Warri was trying to extend his right of ownership and overlordship over lands owned and occupied by the Okere-Urhobos. The Olu failed in his bid to establish these rights in the High Court of Justice, Warri and in the Supreme Court, Lagos, where he lost on appeal.
The claim of the Olu of Warri of overlordship to all the lands in Warri Division (now Warri Local Government Area) was dismissed in the judgement referred to above and affirmed by the Supreme Court of Nigeria when the court held:
"A point which plaintiffs and their counsel have tried to urge on this court is that because the land in dispute is in Warri and so in Warri division, the Olu of Warri, has rights of overlordship over it because, as Olu of Warri, he has rights of overlordship over all lands in Warri division. The whole argument or view is erroneous. The Olu by title is Olu of Itserkiri people but his rights of overlordship relate only to lands of Itsekiri people and even then there is ground for saying that it does not relate to the lands of all Itsekiri people."
What then is the basis for the appointment of the Olu of Warri as the Prescribed Authority over all Urhobo areas in the Warri Local Government Area?
It is publicly known that this community (Okere-Urhobo Clan) exercised maximum rights of possession, ownership and dominion over their landed property. Evidence of their exercise of these rights by leasing several of their parcels of land in Warri Local Government Area to tenants can be ascertained by the government in the Lands Registry, Benin City.
Similarly, the Agbarha Urhobos own their lands in fee simple and have disposed of them to persons of various ethnic groups including Itsekiris. Notwithstanding, the Olu continues to be retained as Prescribed Authority over all Urhobo areas in the Local Government Area.
Because Government has given the impression that only Itsekiris are in Warri Local Government Area by excluding the majority Urhobos from the Council, the Council behaves and thinks only in terms of Itsekiri interests. For example:
(a) only Itsekiris are considered as qualifying for contracts or appointments;
(b) for treatment as V.I.Ps'
(c) only Itsekiri medical doctors and maternity homes owned by Itsekiris qualify for EPI centres;
(d) It is therefore not surprising that an association has been formed by Itsekiri doctors called Association of Indigenous Medical Doctors to handle programmes referred to the Local Government Area wither by the State or Federal Government.
We are again appealing to the Commissioner and through him to the State Military Governor to re-examine the affairs of Warri Local Government with a view to making necessary arrangements in the interest of justice, peace and harmony in the Local Government Area/
Specifically, we draw your attention to the issue of representation of Urhobos at the Council's committee, the arbitrary tenement rates being enforced by the Council and the rebuilding of the Ogbe-Ijoh market for the Local Government Area.
(1) D.A. OBIOMAH
(2) DR. EMMANUEL URHOBO
(3) M.O. OMASANUWA
(for and on behalf of Warri Indigenes Agbarha (Urhobo) Clan)
(4)RICHARD O. OBIRE
(5) OGDEN E. OKI
(6) CHIEF B.O. OKUMAGBA
(For and on behalf of Okere-Urhobo Clan)
c.c The Military Governor,
BendelState of Nigeria,
c.c The Chairman,
Warri Local Government Committee,
c.c. The Secretary to the Military Government,
Bendel State of Nigeria