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
What then is the din about overlordship — but meaningless ‘sound and fury’, without legal validity, repugnant to good breading? By their insolence, lawlessness and sadism they constantly fuel bad blood.
The pain that plagues another, says the adage, is a light burden. Consequently, the Itsekiris have found joy and sport in inflicting no end of pain on the Agbarha, Urhobo indigenous people of Warri Local Government Area, deriding, depriving and repressing them. But it is they notwithstanding who cry wolf.
This discourse meets the dual purpose of bringing into the limelight what Itsekiri protagonists have glorified as respectable court judgements, and buttressing the claim of the Agbarha people of Warri Local Government Area to ownership of their lands that they are nobody’s vassals, and are entitled to full citizenship rights without any derogation whatever for the enjoyment of pretenders.
The Itsekiris have claimed that the indigenous Ijaws and Urhobos of Warri Local Government Areas have no lands that Warri Local Government Area is synonymous with Itsekiri kingdom and go on to prove this by saying that the Agbarha people are by law, their customary tenants. Therefore, these peoples and the lands they occupy within Warri Local Government Area as indigenous ethnic communities are inanimate chattel or coinage for transaction as the Itsekiris desire or decide. The Itsekiris call this overlordship. The Township of Warri is, it is claimed, under the powerful umbrella of this overlordship. It so happens that arch defenders of the ostensible interest of Itsekiris are not natives of Warri, there connection being basically that of imperial dukes as exemplified by the name Warri tagged to their Itsekiri titles; conversely it is completely unacceptable to them to have a member of the indigenous non-Itsekiri communities of Warri becoming a chief appointed by the people, much less use the style of chief so and so of Warri. Overlordship has been developed and expressed by the Itsekiris as a monopoly of economic, social and political opportunity by them, with government’s consent.
For some time now the people have been consistently losing ground in their struggle against the Itsekiris and are threatened by the ever-growing danger of being turned into vagabonds and worthless dregs without recognition in their own home and in their country. There is no doubt in the mind of the average Agbarha person that the Itsekiris have set this as an objective and are working systematically towards it. Instances abound if references are to be made to the utterances and conduct of Itsekiris in authority.
It therefore makes sense to investigate the basis of unjustifiable Itsekiri claims in order to disabuse the minds of the good people of Nigeria. It will be shown that Itsekiri do not own Warri. But the Urhobos do, and this is fundamental to understanding the astonishing character of the Itsekiris. Two law suits, Ogegede v Dore Numa and Ometan v Dore Numa will be examined against the background of British colonial interest against which Nigeria found it necessary to fight and win independence.
In all the circumstances, it is most appropriate at this
time when the Babangida military regime is directing the nation to make
a new beginning based upon harmony, respect for law, human rights and social
justice, to make available, both to the Government and the general public,
the enormities and the facts about land and citizenship rights in Warri
Local Government Area, as a contribution to national endeavour.
In course of this discourse it will be shown:
(a) that all talk of Agbarha indigenous people of Warri Local Government Area being settlers or customary tenants, and a set of Nigerians without citizen rights is false and illegal;
(b) that Ometan v Dore Numa and other suits of the period were hoaxes for the same reasons that the trials of Oba Overamwen and Nana were hoaxes in the interests of the colonial power; and that everything that went wrong during the period because of Dore’s position as Political Agent of the new British colonial Government has been corrected;
(c) that when the lid is taken off Ometan v Dore Numa it will be found not to be a judgement but an event taking its place in a sequence of administrative arrangements aimed at furthering British colonial sovereignty while effecting our subjugation through indirect rule;
(d) that it is a matter for deep regret that at Independence the nation inherited a discredited system without scrutiny, to the agony of our citizens. We should now be rid of all such deliberate errors on the part of the imperialists as Ometan v Dore Numa through immediate law review.
It is normally sufficient to quote briefly and give one’s sources. However, we crave the indulgence of the reader not only to bear our frequent recourse to quotations but to quote at length.
LEGAL STATUS OF AGBARHA URHOBO PEOPLE TODAY
Much has been said about the overlordship of the Olu of Itsekiri, by title from 1952, Olu of Warri, under the Action Group Government where A. O. Rewane and O. N. Rewane were said by J. E. O. Sagay to have been influential. Let us now follow the progress of overlordship as originated by the British to its death by Nigerian law.
(i)1921. By the so-called Consent Judgement in Olue v Edede/Dore Nana v Olue the overlordship of the Olu of Itsekiri over Itsekiri lands was pronounced for the first time. (A case between Itsekiris).
(ii) 1924. Olu Fund was created by Lt. Governor, Col.
H. C. Moorehouse, removing the exercise of overlordship vested in Dore
Numa in Denede v Dore Numa to a triumvirate of Dore, Omagbemi and Skinn
under the supervision of the Resident. This was to appease Itsekiri opposition
to Dore Numa as an impostor, without representative capacity by Itsekiri
(iii) 1929. Suit No. 25/26 Ometan v Dore Numa, Agbarha claim of title to part of its lands leased to the British colonial Government by Dore their Political Agent failed and Agbarha declared customary tenants in Agbarha or Agbassa (the centre of Warri), Odion, Fugbe and Igbudu, all Agbarha settlements excluding all other Agbarha towns such as Oteghele, Ukpokiti, Ogunu, Edjeba and Okorode (Ekurede Urhobo).
(iv) 1930. The Itsekiri Native Council replaced the triumvirate, with judicial power (Native Courts) vested in Dore and executive power in Omagbemi,
(v) 1936. The new Olu, Ginuwa II with the Council and its Chairman, was vested with overordship.
(vi) 1959. Under the Action Group government the overlordship power of the Olu was by statute removed and vested in the Itsekiri Communal Land Trust. Leases of Agbarha Lands which the British Colonial Government used Dore to lease to itself were transferred to the Trust by the Action Group government.
(vii) 1971. Ovie-Whiskey J. in Suit No. MW/15/70 Chief Arthur Prest v Itsekiri Communal Lands Trust declared that the Trust had no authority whatsoever over any Family Lands in Warri Division, whereas the unit of land holding is the family. (c.f. Elias in Nigerian Land Law pp 91-94) 1972. In effect overlordship as it related to land was dead otherwise confined to the so-called communally owned leases to Government which reverted to the Trust in 1959. These leases were lands stolen from Agbarha people.
(viii) 1978. The Land Use Decree entrenched in the 1979 Constitution as Section 274(d) removed the radical title of the Itsekiri Communal Lands Trust over only a part of Agbarha lands, by vesting all lands in the State in the Governor. The effect of this is the subject of declaration in:
(a) Suite No. W/71/78 in which Justice B. A. Omosun ruled at the Warri High Court on 31/10/85, “Section 1 of the Land Use Decree 1978 vests all land in the State in the Military Governor of the State.”
(b) With the enactment of the Land Use Act the Itsekiri Communal Lands Trust was abolished and its functions including collection of revenue passed tot he State Ministry of Lands.
(c) Dzungwe v Gbishe & Anor (1985) 2 NWLR.528 at page 535: 540-543. It was held that a right of occupancy “represented the nearest equivalent to rights of ownership as obtained in the Southern part of Nigeria. Subject to the radical Title (the section) being vested in the governor by operation of law, all other incidents of ownership belong to the customary holder.”
The Itsekiris cannot recite Ometan v Dore Numa and turn away from the Constitution. There has been no doubt that the Agbarha people are an identifiable social and anthropological entity within the lands they occupy, and have so occupied, in continuous unbroken possession in Warri Local Government Area time out of memory. There were no Itsekiris in Warri. They were attracted to Warri largely after 1910 into the new African Township of Daudu or Alder’s Town laid out and leased by the British Colonial Government. As between the Itsekiris and the Agbarha they have lived distinctly, separate and apart. The Itsekiris do not know and do not participate in what the Agbarha do as a people — clan meetings, festivals, joys and travails and vice-versa. The Itsekiris appoint their own chiefs and the Agbarha theirs each according to his custom. The only difference is that Government has refused to give recognition to the Agbarha appointments under the Chiefs Edit, No. 16 of 1979 meaning that an Agbarha man cannot be called a chief although title holders function in every way as traditional chiefs among the people in community administration, even in the service of Government. In litigation, mostly land matters, the Agbarha and the Itsekiris have, since the coming of the British, been on opposite sides. The Olu of Warri, therefore cannot claim administrative overlordship over Agbarha people. In particular there is no line of communication from the Olu to us nor from us to the Olu.
What then is the din about overlordship — but meaningless ‘sound and fury’, without legal validity, repugnant to good breading? By their insolence, lawlessness and sadism they constantly fuel bad blood. The Itsekiris, not the Urhobos, threaten their own extinction. By implication they have disowned their mothers, so they stand like a one-legged stool with had their roots broken off. This, by letting raucous bullies speak for them while they stay reticent, silent as the grave. Pick up courage, Oh! Itsekiris, repeat after our Wole Soyinka, “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.”