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
DEVELOPMENT OF OVERLORDSHIP OF THE OLU
The leases referred to above became the subject matter of several law-suits:
(i) Itu (of Agbarha) v Dore Numa 1921.
(ii) Denedo, Omagbemi & Others v Dore Numa 1924
(ii) Ogegede (of Agbarha) v Dore Numa 1925
(iv) Ometan (of Agbarha) v Dore Numa 1926/34
A Government inspired fore-runner of these suits was Dore Numa v Olue arising from another suit Olue v Edede. The Itsekiri historian William Moore in his History of Itsekiri, first published in 1930, Second Edition 1970 at pages 125 to 129 tells us bout this suit:
“This case arose from a dispute between the Ogidigbe people and Edede, a son of Prince Iyonwuren, son of Olu Akengbuwa, of blessed memory, on account of title to the land of Edede Town and fishing rights on the Yokri sea bank in the Forcados District, in the province of Warri. An action was brought against Edede by Chief Olue and the people of Ogidigbe, in the Provincial Court at Forcados; but on permission by the Resident, at Warri, the issue was transferred to the Warri Native Court of Appeal, of which Chief Dore is the President, for determination.
“In due course, the case was hard, and Chief Dore gave judgement in favour of the Defendant, Edede, declaring that all Itsekiri lands belonged to the Olu-Itsekiri, and in as much as Edede was a grandson of the Olu Akengbuwa, he hand the right to live in and pursue any means of livelihood for himself and his dependants on the land in question. This decision irritated the Ogidigbe so much that they went to the late Mr. Herbert C. Clarke of Ekurede, then Honorary Assistant Warri,a and begged his assistance in the case they had in contemplation, announcing that the Gborodo and Ogidigbe lands belonged to their immortalised ancestor named Olaja-Ori, and that they were not subject to the Olu Itsekiri after much agitation, the Resident, then Frank Hives, Esquire — he is now a pensioner in England — advised Chief Dore to proceed to Forcados and get Chief Olu and his followers to sign a declaration before the District Officer there, acknowledging the Olu’s overlordship, and also that the Olu was the owner of Gborodo and Ogidigbe lands. Chief Dore was indisposed to go, but Chief Skin, alias Atsibutsere, the President of Warri Native Court, and the late Madam Enetsemi Ogbe, volunteered, and went down to Forcados for this purpose.
“Chief Olue and his people, when called before the District Officer, Forcados, still maintaining their vague claim, refused to sign such declaration; thereupon Chief Skin, on behalf of the Olu, took action against Chief Olue, and others of Ogidigbe, in the Provincial Court, claiming the sum of £2,000 in respect of rents due by the Defendants for Ogidigbe land. The case was formally transferred to the Supreme Court, on application by the Defendants’ Counsel, Mr. Sigismond L. H. Bucknor, B. L.; and before it came on for hearing in the Divisional Court, at Warri, Chief Dore’s name was substituted as Plaintiff, instead of Chief Skin’s, and the claim was also amended to that of “the declaration of title.”
“After the holding of three Assize Courts at Warri, the suit was, in all details, matured for hearing, and in the fourth Assize, holden at Warri in the month of November, 1921, it was heard by Mr. Justice Allen Frederick Clarence Webber, Senior Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, whose judgement was based on the terms of settlement arrived at by Counsel, and signed by them on behalf of the parties. The said terms of settlement and the judgement arising therefrom are reproduced herein:
Terms of Settlement
In the Supreme Court of Nigeria at Warri. Between Chief Dore, Plaintiff, versus Chief Olue and others, Defendants.
The Plaintiff in this action, defines his claim as follows:
1. He is the Olu or King of Warri and the Head of the Olu or Royal Family and the Defendants are subject to his jurisdiction.
2. The Plaintiff admits that his position is restricted and that his actions are subject to review in the Supreme Court as the Keeper of the Royal Consciences and Nigerian Court of equity.
3. In particular as regards land in the jurisdiction of the Olu Itsekiri the land in question this Suite such Plaintiff defines himself today to be the following:
(a) He cannot eject any Jekri people from the land they occupy for habitation, cultivation, or otherwise.Such was the famous Consent Judgement, obtained by no idle threat to impose rents of £2,000.00 in 1921 or imminent forfeiture.
(b) Where strangers require land as Tenants or otherwise they cannot have same without the approval of the Plaintiff, which cannot reasonably be refused and only the Plaintiff or someone authorised by him can receive rents or tribute for any land.
(c) Where rent is received by the Plaintiff from such strangers it should be shared equitably with any people who have been deprived of their occupation in whole or in part by reason of the grant to strangers
(d) Plaintiff agrees that neither he nor the Defendant can sell outright any land whatever within the jurisdiction.
(e) Subject to the restrictions and limitation herein before stated the Defendants are the owners of the land in dispute.”
In his one chapter contribution, ‘The Itsekiri’ to R.E. Bradbury’s “The Benin Kingdom and the Edo Speaking People of South-Western Nigeria” P.C. Lloyd says at page 178 (1970 edition).
“The Gborodo people say that they arrived at the same time as Ginuwa migration maintaining that until recently they did not recognized the Olu of Warri as their king.”
If by recently is meant the Consent Judgement then it was accepted grudgingly as events will show when again in 1969 the issue of overlordship over Gborodo/Ogidigben land almost led tot he imprisonment of Godwin Boyo, defence Counsel for Gborodo/Ogidigben.
As to the position of the Agbarha people and others who signed the Niger Treaties of Protection Article II of those Treaties should have warned them of the construction of overlordship placed on Dore Numa’s Paramountcy:
“The Chiefs of Agbassa agree and promise to refrain from entering into any correspondence, Agreement or Treaty with any Foreign Nation on Power except with the knowledge and sanction of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government.”
The achievement of this objective is doubtless easier with or through one Paramount ruler customary or imposed, controlling a reasonably wide territory, and accountable to the new colonizers.