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
WHO WAS CHIEF DORE NUMA?
The consent Judgement now makes it proper to ask the question, who was Chief Dore Numa? He bears the stigma as the man who piloted the incoming British in their implementation of the doctrine of penetration of the hinterland and effective occupation, a condition laid down by the Berlin Act of 1885, for a rival European nation to lay valid claim to territory. Dore led his new masters to defeat, try, dethrone and send Oba Ovorawmen Nogbaisi of Benin to die in exile in Calabar. He also guided them to Ebrohimi to assault, try and deport Nana to the Gold Coast (now Ghana) Nana’s mother’s town of Effurun more than 70 miles from Ebrohimi was set on fire by Dore’s British masters in order to keep Effurun quiet. Dore was the kind of man who today would be tired for treason. For his pains he was appointed Political Agent in 1894 for BeninRiver. On the death in 1901 of his counterpart, George Eyube of Ugbogidi (Urhobo) Dore’s area was extended to Warri, Sapele, the Urhobo hinterland and Kwale area. In outline his career runs thus:
1894 Political Agent on Nana’s fall.
1902 Chief Political Agent.
1907 Received King’s Medal.
1914 Member Nigerian Council.
(1915 President of Warri Appeal Native Court.)
1916 Appointed Paramount Chief 2nd Class.
1924 Appointed Native Authority when a legal administration was established. (Gazzette Notice No. 59 of 1924.)
He did not live in Warri. He founded his village of Odegene where he lived, coming to Warri by canoe. At page 194 of History of Itsekiri, William Moore says:
“. . . .Chief Dore Numa self-established himself as Head of Itsekiri people whereas he was never so made by the Itsekiri people, because they only regarded him as a chief created by the government in like manner as other Chiefs.”
Also at page 169 of the same book Moore records that “. . . . he falsely presented himself by word and implication as the Olu Itsekiri by reason of his government given name of Paramount Chief. Thus he used to haul over his canoe on special occasions a flag with the inscription, “Paramount Chief Dore Numa, the Olu of Itsekiris, Sobos and Ijaws; and it was with this glossy pretension that he decided and intimidated the old men who passed on before us, that whoever opposed him would be punished by the government and be made to suffer late Nana Olomu’s fate.”
Dore appointed or recommended the appointment of Warrant
Chiefs as the ‘pacification’ progressed, and also Native Court members
all of whom were under him either as President of the Native Appeal Court
or as native Authority, Warri. Professor Obaro Ikime, says in his Merchant
Prince of the Niger Delta, page 193:
“. . . . in the twenties various court actions were taken out against Dogho by these descendants (of Olu Akengbuwa) Dogho did not lose a single one of the suits taken out against him by the Itsekiri and the Urhobo. The courts upheld the prerogatives conferred by the British on their protégé. Even when the issue of the subsidies came before the Resident, and ultimately to what as clearly an irregularity. Dogho was allowed to go on receiving the subsidies due to other men on the ground that he had been doing so for many years. In 1894 Administrative Officers seemed to have listened avidly to Nana’s misuse of his power and position. In the 1920's and 1930's the British Administration shut their eyes to the glaring instances of abuse of power by Dogho. Well they might. Nana was an African Nationalist who refused to yield to British imperialist ambitions and so had to be broken. Dogho was a British lackey whose position and authority had to be upheld at all cost. Hence, despite mounting attacks against Dogho the British failed to review his position till he was removed by death in 1932.”
In further confirmation of Obaro Ikime’s views a couple of extracts from Lugard’s Political Memoranda will do:
“Policy Laid down for Northern Nigeria”
“(a) Support of Chiefs
The de facto rulers who after the British conquest of Northern Nigeria had been reinstated or appointed to the various Emirates and all other de facto Chiefs who had been recognized by Government were to be supported in every way and their authority upheld. Already it had been laid down that it was the duty of the Resident to rule through the Chiefs, to endeavour to educate them in the duties of rulers, to seek their co-operation and to maintain their prestige.
POINTS OF DIFFERENCE IN THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES
In one important particular, however, the attitude of the Central Government differs in the south than from that in the North, viz, in matter of disposal of lands. The Land and Native Rights Ordinance of the North is replaced in the South by the Native Lands Acquisition Ordinance, under which a native ruler with the consent of the community, may dispose of lands to aliens and receive rents therefore, with the prior consent of the Governor. (Source: The Principles of Native Administration in Nigeria - Selected Documents 1900-1947 edited and introduced by A.H.N. Kirk-Greene.)
It will be seen how on the one hand, in Warri the conflict
between the policy of support for Chiefs, the upholding of their prestige
and of avoiding their humiliation as well as that of the government, and
on the other the requirement of the Native Lands Acquisition Ordinance
for a native ruler to seek the consent of the community before disposing
of land to aliens, had to throw the courts into dismal tinkering of judgments,
the most pathetic instance with the most far-reaching, disastrous consequences
being Ogegede v Dore Numa and Ometan v Dore Numa which we are here mostly
As opposition to Chief Dore mounted even among Itsekiris, J.O.E. Sagay, Itsekiri historian in The Warri Kingdom (a misnomer) says at Page 166:
“The Government was in a serious dilemma. So much had Chief Dore been propped up by the Residents and the District Officers that they could not afford to let the Chief down. The easy way to wriggle out of the difficulty could have been to get the Itsekiri people to appoint an Olu.”
“Even the Resident after all the enquiries made soon realised the difficulties when in his 1928 report he stated:
“The net result of the year’s inquiries would indicate that an Olu cannot be appointed in Dore’s lifetime because Dore’s position has been too long established for the revival of Oluship to be regarded in any other light than that of reverse to the Ologbotsere faction which for half a century dominated Itsekiri’s politics.”
We have heard the view held by various persons about Chief Dore Numa. We are yet to know what Chief Dore thought of himself in relation to the Agbarha people, the Urhobos and their lands through his evidence in Ometan v Dore Numa. In the interim Dore’s picture will be further developed if we heard him say who he was in the very first of the law suits Olu v Edede turned Dore v Olue a challenge to his authority over lands; Dore’s claim was for title to all Itsekiri lands as Olu, including the lands of Ogidigben people:
8th November 1921.
Paul for Plaintiff.
Bucknor for Defence.
“Plea: Chief Dore is not the Olu or King of Warri. There is no Olu or King of Warri. No Olu or King has ever exercised authority over lands in Warri District. We plead exclusive ownership of the land as described on the plan.
Not entitled to any injunction. We are entitled to the
full enjoyment of the land in question. Chief Dore is not entitled to be
Olu. If he was appointed it was not according to Native Law and Custom.
“Chief Dore: Sworn: My name is Dore Numa. I am Plaintiff in this case. I am head of Olu Family. I know the history of Olu. . .After Ekegua Idolu a woman succeeded. . . .After Idolu, Shanoma and then Numa my father and I succeeded him. . . .All these Olus have controlled the land described in the plan A and includes Ogidigbe. I remember a meeting held to find out who was to be the Olu. It was a big meeting of all the Olu Family and I was appointed Olu. This was about 16 to 20 years ago. . . .The land described in the plan is only a small portion of Olu’s land. This action was brought by Chief Skin in my name. . . .I was asked to sign this document on behalf of the Olu people. I got annoyed and took out this action. Marked “B” for identification. "B"” refers to an action in the Provincial Court. Skin went with the Resident to Ogidigben and reported something to me. I then brought an action in the Provincial Court. Skin first took an action at Forcados. . . .Today when Europeans come, I the Olu give the land and we make a lease. I heard defendant’s pleas. I never heard before that I was not Olu. . . .”
10/11/21 CROSS-EXAMINATION BY BUCKNOR:
When we came here we had fishing rights in all creeks and waters. When the Benin King sent his son to Warri District he told him to control all Jekri land.
We called ourselves Jekri. It was after we came we exercised control over what we called Jekri land. . . . Sobos came from their country and we gave them permission. I don’t know when. The defendant’s ancestors came from Benin. When they came we intermarried and we call their issues Jekris. . . . Jekri was the name given to those who accompanied their King’s son. The first batch which came from Benin became the owners of the land. I know Irigbo compound in Big Warri. They are Jekris. They came after the first batch. My father was Olu but not crowned. . . .The Olu alone is entitled to give lands to strangers. Olu can take all the rents. I know of now case in which a stranger has paid rent and the Olu has not shared it. Koko and Sapele are included in Olu’s land. I get all the rents from there. Of European factories Olu is the lessor . . . . Chief Egbe died a few years ago. He leased lands to Warri Stores. He had my permission . . . . He is the son of an Olu my permission was given verbally. Ogbe leased land to John Holts but I signed on top . . . . Ogbe, Egbe and I signed the lease to A. T. C. I gave Eric and Co permission to lease land at Fukama. Johnson has no right to lease land to the Delta Pastorate. Nana was never Olu. Many Olus have not lived in the King’s Palace. . . .I admit case marked “"D". I gave the judgement. It is only now they bring their Olu’s right over creeks and rivers. Judgement N. C. 76/18 admitted marked “E". Judgement N. C. 20/12 F. I told the Ogidigben they could give out land and take rents.”
The King of Benin told the first Olu he gave him the land which starts from Benin River to the water and includes all Warri Province. . . .We gave Sapele land to Government on behalf of Olu. I signed the deed. . . . I distribute the rents from Sapele among the Olu people there. The Sobos are more in number at Sapele than the Olus. The Sobos did not occupy the particular portion I gave to Government. The land which Sobos occupy is their land and I would (not) give their land to strangers. Sobos receive share of the rents sometimes as a dash from Olu. The dash is always the same. There has never been any protest from Koko and Warri about. I told the Government I was head of the Olu family verbally. Sir Ralph Moore I told. No one had ever questioned my rights to the rents of the land. Okere asked me if I gave portion of their land to Prison. I saw two chiefs Okere and then I gave the land . . . . I told these chiefs because they are warranted Chiefs and the later is of Olu Family. No one from Okere protested until now . . . .The said Government wanted to take all their lands. They asked me if I gave the land. I told them I told the Government I had nothing to do with Okere town. I signed a paper for the land. I received £20.”What have we now gathered from the horse’s mouth? Chief Dore called himself Olu which he was not. He traced a false line of succession including a woman among previous Olus. The Resident had been to Ogidigben at the mouth of the Escravos where it opens to the sea and seen the danger to British colonization of Ogidigben granting trading or territorial concessions to non-British Europeans. So the case Dore v Olu arose after failure to brow-beat the Ogidigben people to sign an undertaking that all lands belonged to the Olu. But earlier Dore had given judgement in the Native Court that Ogidigben people could lease lands and receive rents. As to Okere, Sapele and Warri Dore’s method seems to have been to lease to Government vacant lands required by the Government, while avoiding as a much as possible built up areas. On the other hand while Dore claimed that he alone could give out land to strangers there was evidence that other individuals could do the same meaning that the overlordship and ownership of all lands by the Olu was new and not customary. He wrapped it up when he said, “I told the Ogidigben they could give out land and take rents." Nor does the evidence of Chief Skin, Dore’s right hand man, improve the morrass of contradictions that Dore has built up in his evidence.
CHIEF SKIN. Sworn: I know the tradition and history of the Olu. . . .I was present 20 years ago at the meeting at Big Warri. A native Doctor was sent for and Chief Dore was appointed and he has since acted. Before Dore Iye known as Dolu (female) was Olu. Then Shanoma and then Numa father of Dore.”
14/11/21 CHIEF SKIN under examination: I brought this action on behalf of Chief Dore. I went with Dore to Forcados and saw defendant He told the Resident and me that Ogidigben did not belong to Olu but to Olagua Ori. I never heard that before, or about Olagua Ori who was never an Olu. . . .Chief Ogbemini is the eldest descendant from Shegua in the male line and was present when Dore was made Olu.
CROSS-EXAMINED: At this meeting the Olu family were present. We admit public on coronation days. Dore has not yet been crowned. . . .There was no Olu just before Government came. I don’t know how long without Olu. I remember Chief Nana, He did not rule. . . .The Ogidigbes said the land belonged to Ologu Ori that is why I said they did not belong to Olu.
(BUCKNOR says that Ogidigbes defendants, belong to Olu — under sovereign powers of Olu but claim to be the owners of land and Olu cannot interfere) I cannot give a single instance in which the Olu has exercised power over Ogidigbes.”
(Sgd) A. Webber
In today’s circumstances of bad blood it is a happy thought that one thing can still be said of the Ijaws, Itsekiris and Urhobos together without dispute, that is, they love the masquerade (juju dance). It is the practice that when the mask of a masquerade is about to drop so as to expose the face of the wearer from the mystical to the mundane and human, it is saved from the dilemma by being whisked off to the shrine to be fitted out again to return full of zest and commanding performance.
Chief Dore was in such predicament. Webber J. called adjournment of the proceedings. When Dore the masquerade returned he was armed with the Consent Judgement. In sum Chief Dore or the Resident had shifted ground from the Olu claiming title to all land to that of Olu holding land in trust while ensuring at the same time that only Chief Dore as central authority approved by the Resident and with his consent, could grant leases to aliens.
From his conduct and views about Sapele, Okere and Agbarha lands, his Native Court ruling that Ogidigben people could grant land and collect rents, his purported ownership of all lands in Warri Province, it is obvious that Dore’s actions were arbitrary, governed by as much as he could get away with it he manner of a swash-buckler, or in compliance with Government requirement backed by Government support. Dore was not Olu of Warri Province whose boundaries were arranged by British administration rather than by Itsekiri tradition and history.
The nagging issue of grant of land to aliens was an enforcement of Clause II of the Protectorate Treaties translated into the Native Lands Acquisition Ordinance 1903 section 3(a) of which reads:
“No alien shall acquire any interest or right in or over any lands within the Protectorate from a native except under an instrument which has received the approval in writing of the Governor.”
Under rules of procedure the alien is required to apply to the district Commissioner giving specific details of locations, grantors, purpose of the proposed acquisition etc. The district Commissioner shall then make enquiries in order to determine among other “whether the grantee is a person of good character and desirable as a resident or trader in the district.