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 LAWSUITS & PRONOUNCEMENT OF JUDGES
OGEGEDE v DORE NUMA
Agbarha claim was for rents for Leases B2 and B5 and injunction against Dore not to lease Agbarha lands without their permission. A. O. Rewane draws attention to this statement by T. D. Maxwell J: 6/11/25:
“The local (and legal) position of the defendant (Dore) was on 1st February, 1924 finally laid down by the Full Court in Denedo v Dore Numa. That decision has been acted upon by the Executive with any opposition or criticism until the filing of this case which if successful would strike at its very roots." (Italics mine)
The question arises whether the Judge dismissed the case
because its success would trouble the Executive or on its merits? Secondly,
if the Judge knew what the Executive was doing would he not be reasonably
expected to know of Col Moorehouse’s Settlement? It therefore shows that
the Judge could be deliberately lying to go out of his way to say so sweepingly
that “That decision has been acted upon by the Executive without any apposition?"
More worrying still about the fair-mindedness of the Judge is his next
“I do not consider it necessary to call upon the defendant or witnesses. The onus of proof is on the plaintiffs and they have in my opinion signally failed to discharge it.”
Thus the Judge proceeds to deliver judgement on 6/11/25 in a case that opened the previous day 5/11/25. What follows is even more startling:
“The claim seems to me both idle and preposterous. The fact that they have made it at all (and of that I can take judicial cognisance) had caused no little local excitement and has to a certain degree dislocated trade and might even have led to a breach of the peace.”
Why was there so much local excitement? As has been seen opposition had been mounting locally against Dore with more and more threats of embarrassing litigation. Itu of Agbarha v Dore did not mature for haring before it was dropped in 1922. Denedo v Dore Numa was the only important case that Dore had faced to date, and this was an in-house affair between Itsekiris. When the real opposition came from the Agbarha who were not Itsekiris it blew off the lid from simmering cauldron; the proverbial courage and will of the Agbarha spurred spontaneous jingoism. Could it happen? The Agbarha had done it. Yet T. D. Maxwell J. castigated them as senile and abysmally stupid. No reference was made to the evidence of witnesses except in partisan generalisations. There were 11 witnesses including the Plaintiffs, 5 Agbarha, 4 Effurun (Uvwie) and 2 from Ugberikoko. One and all they stuck to their guns and refused to accept that the Agbarha got permission from any Olu to settle in Warri or that they paid tribute to anyone including Chief Dore. Indeed they said that they did not know of any practice of one community paying tribute to another in the neighbourhood of Warri, Effurun, or Okere. Significantly, when the hearing opened counsel for Agbarha had accepted that it be placed on records.
(1) That Plaintiffs do not question Chief Dore Numa’s right to lease the land named in the Statement of Claim subject to conditions and covenants in the said leases.
(2) In case of a decision in Plaintiffs favour they are prepared to confirm these leases with their conditions and covenants. Asks for case to be put at the end of the list and taking chance of its not being possible to take it on this Assizes. Accordingly signed T. D. Maxwell. 5/11/25.
Issue: By Agreement.
Has this court the right to enquire into the question of distribution of rents arising out of this lands? Or whether the question of distributing rests in the hands of the Executive or elsewhere? Copy of judgement in Denedo v Dore Numa put in by consent.
Ogegede was prodded to accept the above till he exploded
in his evidence in Chief:
“Government said Dore sold it (the land) and refused to pay me rents — I was hurt at this. I deny that Dore has any right to lease any land to Government. I do not care what my counsel said on my behalf this morning. The land does not belong to my counsel: what does he know about it? Since rents have been paid I have never received any rents at all.”
This was taken to mean that Agbarha could embarrass the Government if they won. T .D. Maxwell had to see to it that it did not happen. The issue whether or not the court had jurisdiction to enquire into the distribution of rents was not gone into. The case was dismissed out of hand.
Was there any basis for T. D. Maxwell’s blistering attack on the Plaintiffs and their witnesses? He comments and A. O. Rewane justifies himself by citing it:
“2. The plaintiffs claim is for an account of rents collected by the defendant in respect of portions of Agbassa land leased to the Government since 1908. No explanation has been given me as to why there has been a delay of 17 years in preferring it. They came to this Court in the persons of a series of utterly illiterate peasants witnesses. Of the first three each seemed to me merely sernile: and I accept (not without hesitation) their counsel’s assertion that they are sober — or at lease normal — in the witness box. Each of the others seemed to me to be abysmally stupid as well as ignorant.”
Was the Judge referring to the poor appearance of the Plaintiffs and their witnesses or to their evidence? Ogegede was prodded to admit that the Olu of the Itsekiri gave Agbarha permission to settle on the land and that for this they paid tribute to the Itsekiris. He denied it. Was their counsel correct to say that they were sober? What then did they say? Let us refer to the record of proceedings:
OGEGEDE: “The Agbassa people came from Agbassa Oto. Ona was one of their leaders; Another was Aba: another, Imone; I was born at Agbassa town. My father I know. He was also born there. Since I had any sense I have never hard of the Agbassa except to build neighbouring village. Rents were never paid by the Agbassa people to anyone: neither was any tribute. No one has ever attempted to drive us away from this land.”
“Agbassa people were never given permission by the Olu
of Warri to dwell on the Agbassa land. The Agbassa people owned the whole
of what is now Warri. When the European came here I was frightened to claim
any of the land. I feared the European would kill me and take the land
by force. I mean the government. I still think the government is capable
of killing me by hanging or otherwise and then staling all my land.”OGUDE.
I was born at Agbassa. The first people to settle there were Aba: Ona:Imone.
. . .All the Agbassa people agreed to this case being brought. We never
paid rents or tributes to anyone: We lived died and were buried on Agbassa
Cross-examination: “When the people of Agbassa Oto wanted to set up a new ruler they did not ask the Olu of Jekri for permission. When the three men named came to Agbassa they found no-one in Warri. There was no Olu. There was no one to prevent them seizing the whole of what is now Warri. It is not a fact that Agbassa people have paid tribute to the Olu of Warri for permission to stay on their land.
CROSS-EXAMINED: My folk came from Agbassa Oto. I am a Sobo. I see many Jekris inWarri. Formally there wee none. The whole of Warri and suburbs is ours. It does not include Okere. The Agbassa did not pass the creek. Odion is Agbassa land. The people there are Jekris. They pay no rents to Agbassa people. They came there long after the Agbassa people: so did the Okere people. The Olu of Jekri came afterward too: I know the Agbassa people came before he did. Some of them went to Itele and elsewhere: I don’t know if they got the Olu of Jekri’s permission to immigrate: If they say they did they lie.
AJENELE: I live at Effurun. . . .I was born at Effurun. . . .going by the Sapele Road from Effurun one passes the Agbassa land. I do not know if any one had ever paid anyone any rent in respect of this land at any time. I have never heard of anyone receiving any rent for any land anywhere (sic) No one in Warri has ever paid rent to anyone. Why should they? I have never heard of anyone else by way of paying rent.
CROSS-EXAMINED: If Agbassa people were to go to old Warri and pay tribute to the Olu of Jekri I would Know. The Agbassa’s boundary is with us on the Sapele Road:
RE-EXAMINED: Before the Government came here the Agbassa people paid no rent to anyone.
IDE: I live at Agbassa. . . .Before the Agbassa people lived there were got no permission from anyone to live there. We never rendered services to anyone for the privilege of living there.
CROSS-EXAMINED: By the Agbassa land I mean the whole of Warri. . . .When Chief Dore’s father died Agbassa people did not go and cut grass to show they were paying tribute. When Chief Fregene died they did not cut grass.Chief Ekene did not recently send to us to come and cut grass.
If my ancestors had cut grass we would have heard.
SAM WARRI: I know the Agbassa land leased to Government. It is real Agbassa land.
AGBEDOLA: I live at Abeo Koko ion Warri. I was born there. I render no service to any one for living born there. I have never heard of anyone in Warri rendering any services to any one for the land on which they live.
CROSS-EXAMINATION: I am not the head man of Abeo Koko. I have never heard of any Sobo people paying tribute to the Olu of Warri for or doing work for him. No one has ever done such a thing in this neighbourhood.
OWONYONG: I live at Abeo Koko. I was born there. I have always lived there. We pay rent to nobody for living on that land. Had any such services been rendered I would have to know.
AKPOJOTO: I live at Effurun…. I was born at Effurun. I have always lived there. We Effuruns pay no rent to anyone: no do we pay tribute to anyone for living there. I know of nobody in Warri or the neighbourhood who rendered services for living on his land. I have never heard of such thing.
CROSS-EXAMINATED: Effurun is not Agbasa land. I am not a chief. There are chiefs at Effurun. I am not a head man.
RE-EXAMINATED: If Effuruns had to go it would be the common people like me and not the chiefs who would have to go and work.
CHEDIAMUREKE: I live at Effurun…. I was born at Effurun. I have always lived there. Effurun people render services to no body for occupying Effurun land. I know no one in this neighbourhood who render any services to anybody for occupying land.
PESSA: I live at Effurun..... I was born at Effurun and have always lived there. There I have my farm and house. I know the Effurun people render services and pay tribute to no one for living in Effurun on one near Warri who render services for their land.
The Agbarha as plaintiffs in Ogegede v Dore Numa were far from stupid. In an action in Warri Native Court Sit No. 788/27 of 1927 Nikoro of Okere v Okumagba of Okere, the defendant was ordered to pay ?5 as rent to Plaintiff. An appeal was lodged with Warri Native Court of Appeal. The President, Chief Dore himself ruled, "The Jekri and Sobos have been living together without question of one paying rents to the other and cannot do so now." This is an all-embracing statement expressing a general situation rather than a specific one and goes to support the evidence of the Agbarha people two years before in Ogegede v Dore Numa. But the same Chief Dore in his evidence in chief on 18/11/29 in Ometan v Dore Numa said inter alia:
"Ogbe Ijoh are Ijaws. Olu gave them permission. Olu gave all Sobos permission. Olu gave Agbassa. Whatever Sobos collected in way of fish, yams, and palm nuts they brought to the Olu. I was told so. I am a successor of Olu. I have received tribute from Effurun, and all the Sobos here including Agbassa."
Under cross-examination by Zizer, counsel for Agbarha Dore said:
"All Sobs in Warri District render me service. They bring to me anything as tribute."
Was Dore speaking for himself or re-echoing the British Administration? The hand is Esau's but the voice is Jacob's. chief Dore was making, on behalf of his masters, his las bid at the concept of a Dore Numa emirate.
PRIDE IN ANOMALIES
With this background and having disabused our minds of the bias created by O.N. Rewane we may now turn to A.O. Rewane's five page advertisement in the Sunday Times of 28th June, 1987 to treat Ometan v Dore Numa in some detail. The Agbarha land cases can quite justifiably be treated as only two, the rest being repeated application of mainly one, Ometan v Dore Numa, a recitation of res judicata. It is a painful comment that while we abhorred colonialism we have retained the British judicial system to glorify palpable subjugation and continue to recite it as re judicata: as it was in the British beginning is now and ever shall be. Yet, although the Supreme Court may not now uphold an Itsekiri claim for a portion of the compensation paid for Agbarha lands, the Bendel State Government upholds the overlordship of the Olu of the Itsekiris over Agbarha Urhobos including Okere Urhobos, whose tenants some Itsekiris are on account of lease hold agreements with us as holders of fee simple title. This is done even as the Governor signs Certificates of Occupancy daily pursuant to Section 1 of the Land Use Act 1978. With such inconsistency is it any surprise that A.O. Rewane and the highly knowledgeable Itsekiri Leaders of Thought can make this furore over customary tenancy without the slightest circumspection, with all bravado and with impunity? Who will call them to order for undermining the laws of the land?
DORE COMPELLED TO LITIGATE
We have seen how T.D. Maxwell abused the Agbarha roundly for suing Dore Numa to court for an account of rents he received from Government on Agbarha lands leased to the Government. T.D. Maxwell J. says, also on 6th November, 1925,
"The local (and legal) position of the defendant was on 1t February 1934, finally laid down by the Full Court in Denedo v Dore Numa."
We have seen how when Ogegede v Dore Numa opened a copy of the Consent Judgment in Dore v Olue was put in as Exhibit 1 by order of Court. Thus ab initio Agbarha lands were being regarded as Itsekiri lands. Who but the Government itself which created the local (and legal) position of the Defendant? This has been explained above. Chief Skinn and Enetsemi went to Forcados in 1921 with orders from Resident Warri to urge the District Officer there to compel Olue to sign a declaration that all lands belonged to the Olu in trust for the Itsekiris.
Official records do not disclose that women were employed unofficially or as public relations experts. What was Eneshemi going along with Chief Skinn for? Was Ogbe from the grave helping the witeman, using his daughter to persuade the whiteman, so that the District Officer did not misunderstand the Resident? If so Ogbe's village of Ugbuwangue had a formidable crop of persuaders as whispering, soothing confidants of European merchants. A sample roll call would be: One at Otori Faka (Faquhar's Place or Miller Brothers) two at African Association of Mr. Bleasby (Otori-Brisibe) one with the General Agent for Royal Niger Company as far afield as Bonny, this man of course paying inspection visits to Warri as did T. D. Maxwell J. on court sessions from his home in Calabar. The latter's reputation was that of a man even more socially aggressive than the Portuguese trader Don Mingo who left behind him a mulato kind of the Itsekiris. Be that as it may, the lands now being converted to Itsekiri lands by the Consent Judgment were thos same lands which the Niger Treaty Protectorate Agreement enjoined the British to protect for the Agbarha in 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 Agbassa hereby undertakes to extend to them, and to the territory under their authority and jurisdiction, Her gracious favour and protection."
Saturino Perigrino Wilkey's land for thirteen years 1894-1904 was part of this territory until the British themselves required that land and used Dore Numa as front to lease it to them under the pretence of legality.
The Agbarha claim for an account of rents merely came to a head in 1925. It had matured in 1921 as Itu v Dore supra Denedo v Dore had to fail because the British could not let Chief Dore or the administration down. To give the devil his due Dore was irked by the growing opposition to his actions prompted by his mentors. Following assurances which Dore gave to S.L. Bucknor, Counsel for Agbarha, to the effect that his overlodship had nothing to do with title to the land the Agbarha case was withdrawn in February, 1922. Denedo and his group of princes of the blood moved in to institute Denedo v Dore Numa, claiming title to area covered by Leases B2 and B5 only as well as an account of rents received by Dore. The Okere people were also smarting to go to law concerning Lease B9. The following letters are revealing:
23 February, 1992.
To His Honour,
Colonel H.C. Moorehouse, C.M.G.
I have the honour to inform you that the Ugborodo land's case had been over and judgment was given in my favour by the Judge with 100 guineas costs. They have not paid the amount up to the present moment.
The people of Agbassa sued me also when the above case was on for ?330 three hundred and thirty pounds being rent of their land paid by the Government for 11 years at ?30 per annum. This case was dropped by them when I succeeded in the former case and for my trouble in the case the Judge ruled that ten guineas should be paid to me. This they have not paid as et. The only land at Agbassa that late Chief Ogbe and I leased to Government 11 years ago is the land now used as the cemetery. I am not aware when the Government took other land at Agbassa.
The Government on his last tour to Warri was petitioned by the people of Agbassa about their land. The then Resident (Mr. Hives) told them that the matter did not worth any while and after some time Mr. Wood the then District Officer told them that I leased the land to Government hence they have the boldness to sue me the other day. The Judge also ruled in the Ugborodo land's case that all lands belong to the Olu and as Head of the Olu family I am therefore in charge of all lands.
I understand it is the intention of the people of Agbassa to issue fresh summons to me but at present I cannot say what nature of summons it is.
I therefore beg to bring these matters up for your information as you are in charge of this province with a view of knowing your opinion and I hop Sir you will not consider that I am troubling you. Moreover I bring up these matters by virtue of my office for all things have gone amiss in this province for the past two years.
I have the honour to be,
Your honour's most obedient Servant,
Odion Town, Warri.
I discussed this with you. Chief Dore was present. No action can be taken until the Agbassa people make a definite move. I understand Dore has already instructed Mr. Graham Paul. I have wired to Lagos to have all deeds &c dealing with the Government acquisition of land at Warri collected to await my return.
(Intd) H.C.M. (Moorehouse)
16th October, 1923.
FROM THE COMMISSIONER OF LANDS, LAGOS
THE SECRETARY, SOUTHERN PROVINCES, LAGOS
I attach memorandum and enclosures from Resident, Warri.
2. This constitutes a new and amazing development in the intricate history of Warri Land. The effect of Dore's admission is contrary to the judgment of Supreme Court in the Forcados case.
4. Moreover, as the whole question is the subject of litigation, the settlement will have to receive the consent of Court.
5. It is difficult to understand why Dore made such a damning admission against himself.
6. Last year Dore tried to go back on certain deeds of conveyance to Government but was unsuccessful and it may be that now he thinks he is placing Government in an awkward situation by his admission.
7. The Resident is not very informative and he does not make any comments in his covering memorandum.
8. For the moment the whole position is too vague to form the subject of a memorandum reviewing the position of Government in the light of the latest development.
9.I propose to write to the Resident for more detailed information on receipt of which I will submit a memorandum dealing with the question.
10. In the meantime I think you ought to know how this matter stands.
JAOP. (Sg) W. J. FitzGerald
21.x.27 Ag: Commr. Of Lands
No. W. 555/1920.
24th August, 1923.
FROM THE RESIDENT, WARRI PROVINCE, WARRI
THE COMMISSIONER OF LANDS, LAGOS
Agbassa Land, Title to
I beg to forward herewith copy of a letter received from Mr. Bucknor having reference to land at Agbassa.
2.A similar letter in reference to land at Okere was forwarded under cover of this office memorandum No. W.330/1921 of 19th March last.
(Sg) E. B. Palmer
the land referred to as the African cemetery is less than an acre. The Ugborodo/Ogidigben land case will re-echoe again in 1970 as a continuing struggle like the Agbarha struggle.
Next are the two letters forwarded by the Resident.
The Resident August 13, 1923
&c. &c. &c
I am instructed by my client Ogunu on behalf of Agbassa people to forward enclosed herewith a copy of a letter addressed to myself and dated February 28 1923 the original of which could be produced if desired. The letter speaks for itself. Please acknowledge receipt.
I beg to remain,
Yours with due respect
(Sgd) S.L.H. Bucknor
From the Chief Dore
Warri February 28th 1923.
To Mr. S. L. Bucknor,
I beg through you to inform your client the people of Agbassa that I claim no title whatever to Agbassa land either in my private capacity or as member and representative of the Jekri Olu people that Agbasah land belong to Agbasah people although the Olu of Jekri has always had sovereign rights over all land in Warri but such rights have nothing to do with ownership of or title to land.
Sgd. E. G. Ajuya
(Ref: SWP 5/1/WPB 90)
The Commissioner for Lands wonders that Dore made "this damning admission against himself," and notes that the Resident is incommunicado. Of course the Resident knew much but his line of secret communicatin was not to a professional but to a political officer such as the Secretary or Lt. Governor Southern Provinces. The Lt. Governor, not even the Resident had to come down from Enugu to carpet Dore Numa. As we shall see Dore had no alternative but continue litigation. On his winning against Denedo and Others the Resident Warri Province commented on 8th April, 1931, that
"Jekri opinion was so opposed to the recognition of Chief Dore as the Olu's representative in land matters that the Lieutenant Governor, Colonel Moorehousoe found it necessary to associate with him in the administration of rents from Olu Lands two so-called trustees under the supervision of the Resident. The Olu Fund Trustees, who at the moment are Chief Dore (of the Ologbotsere faction) the Olotu and Chief Skinn (both of the Olotu faction), provide the means of passing the representation of the Olu from Chief Dore to the Council" (to be newly inaugurated, italics mine)
We will return later to Dore's representative capacity to contest the Agbarha cases. In the mean time we will pursue further Dore's reluctance to pursue Suit W/25 of 1926 Ometan v Dore Numa.
The letter which Dore wrote to S.L. Bucknor has come to be known as Letter 'C'. Letter 'C' in the same terms was written to Okere people. While it was overlooked as exhibit in Ometan v Dore Numa it was valid in negotiations between the Government and Dore on one hand and Okere people on the other to stave off court action. As a result in 1930 the Okere people themselves signed the lease agreement, not Dore, for the same and extension of the Prisons Land. Meanwhile Agbarha had lost to Dore Numa in 1929, in Ometan v Dore Numa despite Letter 'C' which the court decided Dore did not understand what he signed. As correctly noted by A.O. Rewane, Dore but NOT the Itsekiris, won again in 1931 when the Agbarha appealed to the Full Court (Supreme Court).
Two events now took place. Firstly, it had been known that the exact boundaries of Lease B7 part of the subject matter of Ometan v Dore Numa were not known. Although Dore should be expected to be happy for winning all the way there was concern whether Dore would agree to sign a deed of rectification. In a minute dated 3rd March, 1932 from Mr. Shepard to the Secretary Southern Provinces he says inter alia:
"The Northern and Easter boundaries of this lease were indefinite and it was approved at Page 88 in S.P. 3958 Vol. 11 (attached) that a correct plan of the area should be attached to the original deed under a memorandum of agreement signed by the Governor and Chief Dore the only surviving lessor. That was in 1929. It took two years to complete the negotiations and produce correct deed plans.
"3. It may happen that Chief Dore will now refuse to sign the deed." On 21st April 1932 Mr. Shepheard reported to Secretary Southern Provinces that "Chief Dore has signed the Memorandum of Agreement under which a correct plan of the area of Lease B.7 is attached to the original deed."
Was Dore trying in 1922 when he informed the Lt. Governor that the only land at Agbassa that he and Ogbe leased eleven years before was that used as African cemetery, this parcel of land being only about half an acre, firstly, plan of the leases makes it clear that Dore was telling the truth, Appendix 1. By Agbassa land in this context he meant Lease B.7 containing Agbassa land in this context he meant Lease B.7 containing Agvassa Village. The only known boundaries of this were the common Western boundary with lease B.2 and the common Southern boundary with Lease B.5. the rest then marked A, B, C, D, on the plan was open. By undertaking the survey and negotiations between 1929 and 1932 the area of Lease B.7 came into existence, effectively included among the other leases, after the judgement in the Divisional and full Courts, respectively. Secondly, the evidence of Plaintiffs, the Agbarha people in suit No. 25/1926 agrees with Dore's letter that Dore did not undertake Lease B. 7 and also that he was being prodded by the Administration against his will: OMETA (evidence in Chief on 15/11/29, Divisional Court Warri).
"…When Government came they called Igbe head of Agbassa. They made a paper with Igbe which is burnt. This is a long time ago and Government have been there since. I bring this action because I discovered nine years ago defendant was leasing our land to Government. We started building again and the Resident and District Officer stopped us. We again complained to Dore and he sent the same reply. We were stopped the third time. Chief Dore arranged to meet us at Miller Brothers Wharf. We went with Chief Dore to the Resident. Dore told us that Government said he was not to give up the land and that Government would stand by him. Dore said he would see Governor but when Governor came he never went to see him so we took this action."
Esi (18/11/29, evidence in chief) " live at Egudu village. I am Sobo. I am Agbassa. I farm near my village at Fugbe. My ancestors have farmed there. I was present at an Agbassa meeting. We were stopped three times by Government from building and we went to Chief Dore because we heard he had leased to Government. Chief Dore went to the Resident. He said that Resident told him not to mind what we said. Dore promised to see the Governor but when the Governor came nothing happened so we brought this action."
These witnesses who seemed to be reciting Dore's letter to the Lt. Governor of course did not know that Dore had written such a letter. Was there evidence to suspect interaction between the courts and the Administration? We have seen how on 5th November, 1925, in Ogegede v Chief Dore Numa, Ogegede was required to accept certain conditions. We shall now see how those conditions had been discussed by the Administration in a Memorandum dated 8th March, 1926, by the Acting Commissioner of Lands, Fr. F.E. Knapp. It is for the reader to read between the line:
"11. Meanwhile it had become necessary to consider the position of Agbassa Village and the surrounding land which was one of considerable uncertainty. The village was in existence at the time lease (2) (B.7) referred to in paragraph 1 (2) was drawn up and the people had been allowed to remain there undisturbed and without payment of rent. The limits of the village had never been defined, it had naturally expanded and the time had come to decide how far such extensions should be permitted. His Honour therefore directed that a generous allowance of land should be made, including Agvassa Village and its environs. The boundaries should be demarcated and so long as they were observed the people might live within them rent free…"
"12. The limits of the village wee provisionally fixed accordingly, but in January, 1925, the Agbassa applied for a summons against Dore in respect of the land covered" by Leases B2 and B.5 "claiming that the former lease should be set aside and that Dore should pay over to them rents received in respect of Agbassa lands covered by the latter. They also applied for an injunction restraining Dore from leasing any portion of Agbassa land without their knowledge and consent. Meanwhile the squatters without the defined limits of the village, on being called upon to take out licences, refused to do so.
13. Subsequently the claimants decided to proceed by way of Petition of Right. The claim was filed in March, 1925, the Attorney General and Chief Dore being joined as Defendants. When the case came before the Warri Assizes in November, 1925, the Plaintiffs served notice of discontinuance. Counsel for the plaintiffs asked the Crown Counsel to waive his claim to costs and the latter agreed to recommend this to Government on the Plaintiffs making the following admissions."
which admissions were placed as Exhibit 1 in Ogegede v Dore Numa supra. This feat having been achieved Ogegede v Dore Numa filed in January 1925 went on all the same on the same day 5th November, 1925, the results of which we already know. Notwithstanding, the Government continued to be anxious about its position with the leases. Hence the prospect of the appeal pending with the Privy Council were discussed with the visiting Mr. Bush of Colonial Office. Hence, although Olu Fund members Omagbemi and Skinn were substituted for Dore in 1934, it was Government that paid the expenses of the appeal.
Why was it feared that Dore might refuse to sign the deed o rectification? This was in line with his known reluctance to do Government's bidding regarding land overlordship which was another word for effective occupation or the measurement of the area of authority of British colony epitomised by the "emirates" of Paramount Chiefs. Moreover, Dore would be glad not to sign a deed for the land he did not lease to the Government, but was causing him much worry from the relentless Agbarha people supported by their neighbours who were aware of the truth of their claim.
Was the British Judiciary independent? If not, how then have our Nigerian Courts treated
Dore Numa v Olue
Denedo v Dore Numa
Ometan v Dore Numa
as Holy Scripture, commandments handed to Moses by a jealous and perfect God? What are the courts to do to stop the continued application of falsehood just on grounds of procedure or precedent; hurting the Agbarha people on end? Is not the law made for man?
Secondly, Dore refused to pursue the Agbarha appeal to the Privy Council filed in 1031, on the ground that he had no money. He may have refused also because he knew he had a bad case and was tired of being prodded. In a minute by Secretary Southern Provinces Sir William Hunt to the Lt. Governor on 24th March, 1932 he wrote -
"Leave to appeal to the Privy Council has been granted the Agvassahs who are said to be raising the money. Dore and the Jekris however are tired of the whole business, & say they can afford no more.
"Regarding Dore's professed inability to raise further funds Y.H. I think spoke to Mr. Bush of the Colonial Office in Lagos. Mr. Bush told me that the Privy Council was always sympathetic to anyone genuinely pleading poverty and that he did not think that Dore's case would suffer if he did not appear or even if he sent no representative but simply a letter. Mr. Bush said also that the P.C. seldom turned down a case that had passed from the Divisional Court through the Full Court without any modification. Our experience however in Nigeria in connection with lan cases has not been too happy.
"Personally also I am not so sure that Dore will succeed. On Jan 18th 1923 Dore wrote to the people of Okere (p 74 in fl S.P. 90) and said that he claimed "no title whatever to Okere land, either in my private capacity or as a member and representative of the Jekri Olu family." "That Okere land belong to Okere people, though the OLU of the Jekri has always had sovereign rights over all lands in Warri, but such rights have nothing to do with ownership or title to land."
"Now on 9th Sept 1915 in consideration of ?20 Dore executed a deed of surrender of a piece of land near Okere for warders quarters. A5 (1(4) of p. 41 in fl S.P. 90), but in view of Dore's disclaimer in 1923 a new deed was made between the Okere people and the Government on 27/8/30 for this same land and a piece on the opposite side of the road. The deed is B9 and a copy is at the back of S.P. 8263.
"On 28 February 1923 Dore wrote a letter to the Agbassah people in terms similar to those used in his letter of the previous month, to the Okere people saying that he as representative of the Jekris had sovereign but not possessory rights over Agbassah land (p.69 in fl S.P. 90). no judicial or official notice seems ever to have been taken of it, the land on which Agbassah Village is built and the farming land round it, more especially in view of Government's action in connection with the Okeres concerning the land for warders quarters. I suppose it is rather rash of me to write like this after learned judges have thrashed the matter out in Court, but when the Full Court talks of Dore's overlordship I wonder whether he had any more claim to lease the land actually in beneficial occupation by the Agbassah Sobos then the OBA of Benin could have to lease the land beneficially occupied by the Jesse Sobos.
"Further I am impressed by the sacrifices, made over so long a period and in the face of all the weight of several judgments of Court, by this tiny village, and their determination to make further sacrifice in defence of what they deem would be as resigned to spending no money if they felt the same as the Agbassahs regarding the ownership.
"However, I am perhaps talking academically, when there is Y.H.'s concrete question to answer. Personally I would be inclined to follow Mr. Bush's hint and let Dore sue in forma pauperis, sending a detailed statement of his case. I should not be disposed to spend Government funds in an action of this nature. Government to my mind should be entirely impartial in the matter. If Dore has been led by Government support in whatever way it may have been lent, to take the case from court to court and to spend large sums in fees, and if before the P.C. he should fail eventually, then to my mind the Government should recoup him for his past expenses, and generously. But unless and until judgment goes against Dore, I do not think that it is right for the Government to help him with financial or other support. It can of course retain counsel to hold a watching brief for the Crown, but in view of my S.3 p.54 I do not think that is necessary."
On 25th March, 1932 the Lt. Governor minuted inter alia "I agree with you that Dore's success is not at all assured. I think he should be advised to appear in forma pauperis if he cannot or does not wish to proceed further owing to financial difficulties."
On 3rd of March, 1932 Mr. Shepheard had in a minute to Secretary Southern Provinces said:
9. "It would be as well if all squatters outside the area given to the Agbassa people rent free are compelled to pay rent for the land they occupy and the simplest manner in which rent can be collected is under temporary occupation licence but His Excellency has ordered that no more of these licences are to issue for plots in zones.
10. The whole question should be referred to the C.S.G. (Chief Secretary to the Government) with such recommendation as His Honour desires to make with regard to the suggestion of Government contributing towards the expenses of the appeal."
Thus if the central issue of overlordship in Olue v Edede was the control of the hinterland in the formative days of the penetration of the hinterland, to that issue was now added the 'lawful' control of Warri lands and the G.R.A. without powder and shot.
Dore died on 24th September, 1932. Notwithstanding the fact that OLU FUND had been set up in November 1924 approved ?300 for the cost of the appeal. On 12th April, 1934 the Secretary Southern Provinces recommended an increased amount of ?400 to the Lt. Governor who at any rate approved ?300.
DORE'S REPRESENTATIVE CAPACITY
So, should Ometan v Dore Numa not be Ometan v the Crown? Was Dore indeed Olu Representative and did he have the Representative capacity to defend Ometan v Dore Numa? The Resident, Warri Province, wrote to His Honour, The Secretary Southern Province Enugu reference W.426/1930/15 data 8th April, 1931. "I have the honour to attach a copy of the judgment of the full court on 13/3/1931 in Suit 25/1926 (Ometa on behalf of himself and the Agbassa people versus Chief Dore Numa) in connection with the point of official representation of the Olu.
"2. The important words of the judgment in this connection occur in the third sentence "The defendant in his representative capacity is at present the officially recognized owner of the land in dispute and the Government has leased a considerable area of land in Warri from him in that capacity.
"4. Since January 1928 the possibility of reviving the Oluship, which lapsed about 1830, has been continuously explored, and Jekri opinion now agrees that at present is impracticable. As steps on the way indicated by the same opinion there have been brought into being, first the post of Olotu, and then Jekri Council. In the absence of an Olu his representative by custom is the Olotu and his power vests in the Council.
"5. Chief Dore has derived his past influences from two sources. First and mainly from his creation by Government in 1893 as Political Agent. Secondly from his representation of the Ologbotsere or anti-Olu faction. Since the judgement of the Supreme Court in Omagbemi versus Dore Numa (1st February 1924) Dore has represented himself as the Olu's representative which in fact he has never been by Jekri custom. His claim is bound to be opposed by the Olu, or anti-Ologbostere Faction."
The point cannot be overflogged that Dore was a creation of Government and contracted wrongly with Government to take our lands. The much paraded overlordship was no more than the irony which is the career of Chief Dore rejected by the same Itsekiris, who now want to die defending its accidental windfall.
If a word of reprieve can be said for Chief Dore it is our of sympathy that like Dr. Faustus he got caught in the web of colonilization entangled in the hub of power. It probably crushed him in the end. His heirs of Benin River ignore the facts. To repeat the quotation from minutes of the Secretary Southern Provinces:
"Further I am impressed by the sacrifices, made over so long a period and in the face of all the weight of several judgments of court, by this tiny village, and their determination to make further sacrifice in defence of what they deem to be their heritage. Nor do I think that Dore and the Jekris would be as resigned to spending no more money if they felt the same as the Agbassahs regarding the ownership."
Under Chief Dore Itsekiris enjoyed prestige and privileges and economic prominence. But they do not know it. Like the Jews who look back on past glories, the relish prophesies they refuse to acknowledge that the return of the Messiah presages change.
OPPOSITION TO DORE
The important clauses of the Consent Judgment which was applied in Denedo v Dore Numa and in 1925 to Ogegede v Dore Numa were
(a) "Where strangers require land, as Tenants or otherwise, they can only have same with the approval of the Plaintiffs (Dore) which cannot unreasonably be refused, and only the Plaintiff or someone authorised by him can receive rents or tribute for any land."
(b) Where rent is received by the Plaintiff from such strangers, it must be shared equitably with any people who have been deprived of their occupation in whole or in part by reason of the grant to the strangers."
Denedo and Others rejected the imposition of Dore Numa on them as Olu, and castigated the judgment in a petition which cased Col. Moorehouse's Settlement. Paragraphs 13 and 14 taken from P.170 of William Moore's History of Itsekiri says it all:-
"13. That we respectfully beg leave to reiterate the question of the Okere land of which we crave you indulgence. This land was given to the Government ten years ago by him (Dore); but now when the Okere people sued him, he wrote a letter to them saying the land belonged to them, and that he is willing and prepared to pay over to them the sum of ?20 presented to him by the Government in respect of Okere land. What does this mean? His letter referred to was put in evidence by us at the hearing of our case.
"14. That we wish to point out, when there is an important dispute between two sections of a nation or community, and the judgment of him who was to settle it unjust, imperfect and partial, the dispute is never permanently settle, and there is bound to be unrest for an indefinite period." (italics mine)
This of course answers why the Agbarha people have continued to reject the infamy perpetrated against them by a newly arrived colonising power enunciating policy through court judgements. Letter 'C' was ignored in Ometan v Dore Numa and its justice denied to Agbarha. The handling of the all-important Letter 'C; capable of decisively turning the table against the Administration and their ward and Agent Chief Dore, in favour of Agbarha, points irresistibly to a cover-up; S.L. Bucknor erstwhile counsel for Agbarha, became defence witness for Chief Dore. He said in the witness box that he did not think that the original draft of Letter 'C' referred to sovereign rights, and did not define the extent of Agbarha lands. The original was not produced in court neither was any reason given. It enable A.F.C. Webber J. to find as 'fact' the arrangement whereby Agbarha land constituted Agbassa, Igbudu, Odion, Fugbe - excluding Lease B.2 the Government (white) Reservation Area and Leas B.5 the African Township, ie. Wilkey Townetc - an to place Agbarha lands formally, both de facto and de jure, under the overlordship of Chief Dore. Yet up to 1978 when the Itsekiri claim to overlordship in land matters was abolished by the Land Use Act nobody was ever found to claim the Agbarha lands as personal owner who was deprived by reason of grant to the Agbarha people. Thus no individual Itsekiri ever shared in the rents which Dore received from Government. Similarly, no individual Itsekiri man ever shared in the compensation paid to Agbarha people whenever their lands were acquired by Government since Independence. We were always dragged to court in the name of ALL Itsekiris represented by the Itsekiri Communal Lands Trust whereby 1/3 the amount was paid to it. Even Col. Moorehouse's Settlement did not give any share of rents to any individual Itsekiri. The reason is clear. None of them owned our lands. Ogbe who signed the leases with Dore did own land at John Holt now Nigerian Ports Authority. He laid claim to it. His grandson Arthur Prest successfully resisted the Itsekiri Communal Lands Trust in Suit No. W/14/70 resulting in compensation of N1m awarded to him to the utmost chagrin of the Benin River self-appointed successors and heirs to Chief Dore. Why did Ogbe not claim Agbarha lands, considering he signed the Agbarha Lease B7 in 1911 as his lease to John Holt of Liverpool Limited also in 1911?
Apart from the Warri leases of Agbarha lands there is nowhere else in Itsekiri land owned jointly by ALL Itsekiris with the exception of Ijala because Ginuwa I died and was buried there while still on his drifting odyssey, and Ode-Itsekiri where his sons Ijijen and Irame finally drifted and settled as their ancestral capital. Today Ijala remains the burial ground of Itsekiri Olus while Ode-Isekiri is the burial palace and home of Itsekiris, but not Warri. There is no historical explanation for Itsekiri claim to Warri beyond Chief Dore and colonialism.
OMETAN v DORE NUMA - FALSE 'FACTS'
"The case before me teams with laches and acts of acquiescence on the part of the Plaintiff and the Agbassa people."
This is a most unfair comment in the age of powder and shot, arson and condign punishment. Ogegede did explain that protest was dangerous and could have incurred death 'It is on record that the Agbarha people were the first to take Dore to court. Their daring caused great commotion so that the market was closed for fear of a breach of the peace by people who were relieved to vent pent up feelings. The judge goes further with his findings:
"The particular features in this case are all in support of the contention that the Itsekiris are owners of the land vis:-
(a)There are no Agbassa people in Ogbehoh (SIC Ogbe-Ijaw)WilkeyTown, Alder's Town and Pessu Town."
S. Perigrino Wilkey has been discussed extensively. The Agbarha deed of lease and evidence relating to him were discountenanced by the learned Judge. Between 1913 and 1915 Wilkey resisted Government's attempt to compel him to surrender his land. One of such letters only need be quoted here. Ref. C/L 311/13/
15 Catholic Mission Street,
Lagos 28th April, 1914.
I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter No. 354/311/1913 dated 26th February 1914, which was delivered to me whilst on the sick-list in the hospital. I regret from the above fact my inability to reply to such letter until now.
2.I beg to not that His Excellency the Governor-General has been pleased to give directions for the granting of "a new lease for the site for 50 years to date from 1894, that is 30 years from now. The rent will be a nominal one of 10/=".
3. In the above regard I would submit reference to the following facts, viz:
(a) the Government took the land in question from me on the 22nd of December 1908, up to which time I was and had been in undisturbed possession of the portion referred to in the Indenture bearing the above date, which Indenture has been duly executed and stamped, and a copy of which is in the possession of the Government.
(b) by clause 2 of the said Indenture the rent payable by me in advance is fixed at ?5 per annum, which rent has been paid for the years 1909, 1910, and 1911.
(c) the remaining portion of the land purchased by me from Chief Igbae of Agbasa was taken by the Government from me and allotted by them to other persons without my consent, or without any compensation being awarded me for such portion at that time or up to date.
THE COMMISSIONER OF LANDS,
L A G O S.
4. In the above circumstances it is not clear to me why I am now required to accept a lease from the year 1894, for the term 50 years, for the portion of land referred to in paragraph 3 (a) as intimated in your letter under reply.
5. From the fact contained in paragraph 3 (a) relative to a copy of the lease therein referred to being already in the possession of the Government, it would appear unnecessary for me to forward the original for the purpose of amendment as proposed. Furthermore I would respectfully submit that I have no intention of willingly surrendering the land referred to in the Indenture mentioned in paragraph 3 (a) or the other portion or portions referred to in (c) of the same paragraph.
6. Upon the face of the foregoing facts, and also others which are contained in my petition of the 17th November 1913, I feel it my duty to submit that, although I am bound to carry out the instructions with regard to the acceptance of a new lease upon the terms of your letter under reply, and which I shall do in obedience to His Excellency's commands, at the same time I must submit my strong protest to the course adopted, and which appears to me to offer me no alternative.
7. In conclusion, I would submit reference to letter No, B,1313/1912/479 date 21st May 1912, from the Hon. Colonial Secretary, and paragraph 3 of same. The question involved in this matter is summed up in the above paragraph and I submit, it remains to be established and proved that the transaction carried out by me in the original purchase of the entire land under dispute, was a transaction "which violates the rules of native tenure"; bearing in mind the fact that this transaction was executed in the presence and bears the signature of H.B.M's Vice Consul, under date Warri 16th April 1894.
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient Servant,
Signed: S. Peregrino Wilkey"
PESSU: The reference of Pessu seems to imply that Pessu was an Itsekiri stalwart and cherished. Indeed he was as much a victim of Dore and Government's chicanery as the Agbarha, only on a much small scale. Webber J. in his judgment in Denedo v Dore Numa on 2nd May, 1923, says inter alia: -
"Dore has dealt with the peoples' land for over 30 years and there has not been a dissenting voice amongst them. Chief Pessu, a witness for the Plaintiff is a Jekri man but not descended from Olu Itsekiri. His land is in the land in dispute. If he wishes to grant a lease of his land he goes to Dore and when asked why he replied because he is the man to go to."
Pessu was brother-in-law to Dore. We will not go into how Pessu came there. Suffice it to say that his land had been leased to Government by Chief Dore without Pessu's knowledge. Like S.P. Wilkey he had to take a new lease from Government. This lease was registered as No. 13/1911 at page 9 in Volume 3 of the Lands Registry in the Office at Warri. Nevertheless Pessu continued to fight for his land even after he gave evidence referred to above. What are the facts?
Extract from "Supplement to the Nigeria Gazette"
No. 102 of 5th November, 1925
The Hon. Member for Calabar:
1. "Whether it is not an improper use of the public Lands Acquisition Ordinance for the government to acquire Lands from the natives of Nigeria merely for the purpose of issuing leases to merchants and to the very natives from whom the lands have been acquired?"
The Honourable the Acting Attorney-General: "The Pulbic Lands Acquisition Ordinance (Chapter 88) empowers the Governor to acquire any lands for any "public purpose", as defined in section 2 of the Ordinance. The object suggested in the above question would not be a "public purpose", and no lands have been acquired for any such purpose."
2. "Whether it is not a fact that the children of late Chief Ogbe of Warri and also Chief Dore at one time a member of the Nigerian Council are paying rent for lands acquired from the said Chief Dore and Chief Ogbe by the Government?
The Hon. The Secretary, Southern Provinces: - "It is quite true that children of Chiefs Dore and Ogbe pay Government rent for land at Warri. Chief Dore himself also pays rent of ?2 for a site. The land was originally leased to Government by Chiefs Dore and Ogbe and was not compulsorily acquired as is inferred by the Honourable Member."
3. "Whether is is not a fact that "Pessu Town Lands" are included in what is known as Alders Town Land which is being leased to people by the Government: and whether it was not in connection with the said Pessue Town Lands that Mr. Bedwell at one time Provincial Commissioner Warri, wrote to Chief Pessu to the effect that it was not the intention of the Government to deprive him of his land?"
(b) "Was not Mr. Bedwell's letter written after Chiefs Dore, Ogbe and Mr. Bedwell had seen Chief Pessu with a view to acquiring the said land to form part of Warri Twonship?"
(c) "Why was the negotiation with Chief Pessu broken off and a lease taken from Chiefs Dore and Ogbe?"
the Hon. The Secretary, Southern Provinces: - "The term Pessu Town Lands is not understood. Pessu's town is a small hamlet inhabited by Chief Pessue - a Jekri - and his family. The town is outside Alder's Town. Mr. Bedwell in 1910, promised Pessu that his town as then existing should not be interfered with, and, as the use by the Government of the land known as Alder's Town would restrict an extension of Pessur's Town in that direction, Chief Pessu was allowed twelve plots in Alder's Town at a rent for the whole of ?1 per annum. The usual rent is ?2.5s for each plot per annum. Chief Pessu, it is considered received very generous treatment. (b) and (c): The exact meaning of these questions is not clear. Chief Pessu was given the promise by Mr. Bedwell in 1910. The lease by Chiefs Dore and Ogbe on behalf of the Jekri people was dated 18th July, 1908. There is no doubt that, as the land in question was and is claimed to be Olu land, Chiefs Dore and Ogbe were rightly regarded as the proper persons to represent the Jekris, Chief Pessu has no claim so to represent them."
The Hon. Member for Calabar:
4. "Seeing that it was not the intention of the legislature that Government should acquire lands merely for the purpose of granting leases, whether Government will take steps to hand over lands acquired under such conditions to rightful owners or in the alternative see that the rent is paid to the Chiefs and the community they represent?"
The Hon. Secretary, Southern Provinces: - "The land is leased by Government from Chiefs Dore and Ogbe, and it is for persons who allege that they are rightful owners to prove their claim if they consider that the persons who have leased it to Government were not entitled so to dispose of it. The Government obviously did not obtain a lease of the area solely with the object of granting leases."
We now know that Pessu's position was eventually corrected when a Lease dated 14th day of January 1927 and registered as No, 56 at page 56 Volume 200 of the Land Registry in the Office at Lagos, gave him a good deal more land than the 16,800 superficial square yards of the 1911 lease. Instead of mandatory annual ground rent of ?1 per annum payable if demanded." It is not the law that if the 1/- was not demanded and not paid for 20 years the lease becomes a free-hold? Thus Chief Pessu was fully restored to grace. Clause 2 of the 1927 lease says it all:
"2. In consideration of the quiet enjoyment of the said land for the aforesaid term the Lessee hereby covenants with the Lessor to accept the said lease as full and complete discharge by the Governor of every claim against the Governor by the said Lessee in respect of, in connection with, or arising out of, the lands claimed by the said Lessee at Pessu Town."
The Agbarha claim and continued struggle for redress stems from the falsity of Dore and the Government.
There is this interesting "Agreement Made by Gallway to Chief Dore". Gallway was Her Britannic Majesty's Vice Consul who brought Dore into prominence. The short agreement made on the 18th May, 1895 reads:
"Chief Dore and the people of Batere are permitted to cut the salt bush at about Fish Town formerly cut by Chief Nana."
This agreement is registered as No. 6 of 1911 at page 55 of Private Deeds Vol. 1, now at Benin. Here was Chief Dore, Political Agent, pretended Olu Representative being granted permission to use land when in Olowe v Edede Dore's verdict was that Edede was free to fish in Yorki Creek because all lands belonged to the Olu not the people of Ogidigben represented by Olue. After the Privy Council judgement in 1934 in Ometan v Dore Numa the Secretary Southern Provinces Office while contemplating the implications of the final legal position of the leases commented;
"11. The exact significant of H. H's (Lt. Governor) reference to that hallowed phrase in this place is not difficult to assess. The "fluidity", the "elasticity", and the "variability" of "native law and custom" have engaged and are engaging, particularly at the present time."
More from Webber J.
"Not a single chief of the surrounding lands supports the Agbassa claim. The head chief of Effurun, a Sobo man says that the only land Agbassa possesses is a place called Bomali and that the Olu of the Jekris gave it to Agbassa."
We have made reference to Professor Ikime who records that Chief Dore never lost a single land case. This head chief of Effurun whose evidence is gloated upon was Dore's own appointed warrant chief whose daughter was married to Egbe, brother to Ogbe, co-signatory to the leases with Dore. Still, the head chief did not testify willingly. He used his alias instead of his well known name. Also the Effurun people according to oral tradition were so disturbed that in order to prevent their man from further appearance in court the chief consented to his being wrapped in oily poultice which made him seem so very ill as to excuse his absence. But two other Effurun men - Ikpesa and Ejelele - did testify that Agbarha people owned heir lands. They were not Dore's chiefs so, their evidence was not believed. Two other witnesses from Ugberikoko were also disbelieved.
AGBARHA - Owners or Tenants?
William Moore, an Itsekiri man, in his authoritative History of Itsekiri from which the Rewanes and the Itsekiri Leaders of Thought always quote profusely says, that when he left Benin in 1480 Ginuwa drifted in his big box to Amatu "where he squatted for about three decades" Page 18, Second Edition 1970. Ginuwa moved next to Oruselemo. After several years stay Ginuwa moved on to Ijala (page 11). Here Ginuwa died. However he had lived at Ijala three decades (page 20). His sons Ijijen and Irame moved to Ode Itsekiri. That is to say the Itsekiris arrived at least sixty years after 1480 when they left Benin. They therefore arrived after 1540. The Portuguese who gave Ijijen cassava which they allegedly passed to the Agbarha people who were farmers must have done so after 1540. Thus by Itsekiri account the Agbarha were in their settlement on the land as farmers away from Ode-Itsekiri when cassava was received by the Itsekiris, and have remained there ever since, a period on the Itsekiri own showing of over 400 years. If the Itsekiris arrived, travelling light from place to place, as a handful of people, how could they have acquired and extended their control to Warri lands so soon after their arrival to be the ones who gave Agbarha permission to settle on land as farmers while they themselves were in the creeks and swamps?
The Agbarha claim a much longer period than 400 years. According to William More, when Ijijen arrived Ode-Itsekiri he met the Mahins or Ilaye people there. These same people were called Huela (pronounce Jela) by a Portuguese traveller, Duarte Pacheco Perira. By Percira's account written between 1502-1505 after his exploration of the West African Coast, in 2502;
Item: "Five leagues beyond Rio dos Escravos is another river called Rio dos Forcados; its name is due to the fact that when it was discovered many large birds were found here with tails forked like those of swallow. This river has a large mouth, and to the NW it has a sand shallow with about two fat horns of water, and on the SE it has a shoal of rock on which the sea breaks; in between these is the channel, which has a mud bottom, with three and half fat homs, and at high tide four fathoms. He who has to enter here should keep closer to the shallows on the SE than to those on the NW in order to enter in safety. The tide of this river flows NW. by W and SE by E; its latitude is 50 10' N4. To the WE there is a large wood, its landmark being two trees taller than the rest. Whoever enters this river will find that it branches to the right and to the left; five leagues up the left branch is a place of barter, which consists chiefly of slaves and cotton cloths, with some pant her skins, palm-oil and some blue shells with red stripes which they call "coris". These and other things we buy there for brass and copper bracelets; they are all valuable at the castle of S. Jorze da Mina, where the King's factor sells them to the negro merchants for gold. The inhabitants along this river are call Huela. Farther in the interior is another country call Subou, which is densely populated; here is a fair amount of pepper of the kind we describe almost at the end of the fifth paragraph of the seventh chapter. Beyond these dwell other called Jos,…"
Extracts from Duarte Pacheco Pereira:
Esme'aldo de Situorbis
Quoted from: Nigerian Perspectives: A Historical Anthology By Thomas Hodgkin (page 92), Published 1960
The Agbarha Urhobo and Ijaws were there in 1502-1505. Ginuwa had not arrived. The unassailable conclusion is that he was still wandering. Even much later in the 18th century when Adams found the Itsekiris it was not in Warri that we know today it was at Ode-Itsekiri which he called a beautiful Island. Mr. Pretheroe, Administrative Officer in his Assessment Report on Warri Township, that is New Warri as the European area covered by Lease B2 was called, refers to an original Ijaw settlement within the Township after which that portion of today's Warri retains its name. It goes on outside the Township boundary to discuss the "Old Established Sobo hamlet of Agbassa and the more recent Jekri village of Okere. "CSO.26/3, File 20653.
Since Pancheco Perira there have been several movements out from Agbarha to found other settlements. This partly accounts for the varying references to Agbarha as populous, tiny, old, etc. which may be compared to similar references to the population of Ode-Itsekiri, the Itsekiri capital. P.C. Lloyd says at page 178 of Ryder's The Benin Kingdom etc. "Estimates of the population of Ode-Itsekiri in the past vary. Landolphe (1770-90) suggested 12,000-15,000 but Adams (1790) gives only 5,000 and King (1820) 3,000; the present (1955-56) population is less than 500".
In his judgement in Suit No. W/48/1968 between Okere Urhobos and the Itsekiris popularly known as Okumagba land case, Ekeruche J. remarked:
"I find as a fact on the evidence before me that Okere was never a part of the Kingdom founded by Ginuwa. I am also satisfied that Ginuwa, never exercised overlordship rights over Okere and the overlordship rights of the subsequent Olus did not extend to Okere."
Further on payment of tribute the learned Judge accepted a previous judgement between Itsekiri Okere and Urhobo Okere:
"As regards payment of tribute by defendants' ancestors and peoples I do not believe that they paid any tribute to anyone in Okere….."
"The judgement shows that an appeal was lodged to the Warri Native Court of Appeal and the President (Chief Dore himself) stated that "the Jekri and Sobos have been living together without question of paying rents to the other and cannot do so now." We may pause a while. This verdict was in 1927, Ometan v. Dore Numa was pending and the same Dore was to maintain on oath in 1929 that the Agbarha paid tribute to the Olu, to him. The Supreme Court upheld Ekeruche J's views on appeal by the Itsekiris against Ekeruche J's judgement. But Ometan lost to Dore Numa on the same point.
By courtesy of the Delta communities vide Advertisement Announcement appearing at pages 6 and 8 of The Guardian of 2nd July, 1987,
"…..one is inclined to ask the question: who then are the settlers: Who then are the drifters? Who then are the squatters? Surely the Agbarha people arrived in Warri before all others.
Indeed the rigmarole of British Colonial politics having brought into being the "fluidity" the "elasticity" and the "variability" of "native law and custom" the courts of justice over which T.D. Maxwell J and A.G.C. Webber .J presided could not butmake Ometan v Dore Numa a celebrated imposture, like carrying on with adjudication in a land dispute over land whose boundaries were not definite.
LAND HOLDING IN WARRI
The Agbarha, the supposed customary tenants of the Itsekiris own freehold land in Warri and Warri LGA wherever they are to be found. These lands have been inherited from our ancestors to the present day from generation to generation. By contrast the generality of Itsekiris who claim to be natives of Warri Town and tag Warri to their chieftaincy titles have no land in Warri except what they bought from us Urhobos or what was leased to them by Government out of our lands unjustly taken over by the Colonial Government and inherited by post Independence governments.
On 15th June, 1985, E.N.A. Begho, one of the "Itsekiri
Leaders of Thought," told Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo to his face, "you and your
people do not exist." The Clan Head of Agbarha had been invited by the
Sole Administrator along with other traditional rulers to the Warri Stadium
for the launching of the Warri Local Government Area chapter of the Bendel
State Development Fund. Begho ordered the Agbarha seat removed and it was
removed by a timorous civil servant. Dr. Urhobo protested. Begho then made
his memorable statement. This writer took Begho up on his affront. The
Sole Administrator did not return the chair. It does not require a crystal
ball to see that Oluship, especially one ever embroiled in controversy,
can never last till the end of time. But the Agbarha people have no tradition
by which they can recognize the Olu of the Itsekiri people as their Olu.
Why cannot the Itsekiris therefore watch the handwriting on the wall and
come out of their delusion? The Agbarha people exist.