Chief Senator David Dafinone
accountant, Chief David Dafinone, at the weekend reviewed the
history of Sapele, saying the Sapele Okpe Community Land Trust
Association owes no duty to any person or group of persons who
dispute Okpe claims to the ownership of lands in Sapele.
In an address delivered at a meeting of Okpe leaders in Sapele, the second republic senator who described the Itsekiri people as tenants in Okpe land said a deed of lease made on the 3rd day of December, 1908 between Chief Dore Numa of Benin River, a trader, acting for and on behalf of the Chiefs and people of Sapele (hereinafter called the Lessor) of the one part and James Jamieson Thorburn, Companion of the Most Distinguished Order Of Saint Michael and Saint George, Acting Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Colony of Southern Nigeria (hereinafter called the Governor) of the other part declared Okpe people the owners of that land now commonly known as the Sapele Township.
Dafinone, who spoke at length about the ownership of Sapele and the manner of historical distortions by some persons, said by a deed of assignment dated the 15th of March, 1960 and registered as No. 60 at page 60 in Volume 313 of the Lands Registry, Ibadan but now kept at the Lands Registry office at Asaba, Delta State, the land in the lease was assigned by the Governor of Western Region of Nigeria to Sapele Okpe Communal Lands Trustees.
Pondering over the various Itsekiri land claims in Sapele and the Jackson judgement, Dafinone said on May 05, 1942, Judge J. Jackson (In the High Court of the Warri Judicial Division) ruled in favour of the Okpe in a case brought before him by “Chief Ayomanor and Edwin Omarin on behalf of themselves and the Chiefs and people of Sapele against Ginuwa II, His Highness, the Olu of Itsekiri for himself and as representative of the Itsekiri people of Sapele.
“After reviewing the testimonies of the contending parties, and reviewing all available evidence, Judge Jackson, according to Dafinone, dismissed the evidence of the Itsekiri people.
“The evidence shows that after the overthrow of Nana at his town EBROHIMI, a large number of Jekris ran for refuge to Sapele, thereby obtaining the permission of the Sobos to settle and give customary “dashes” for the grant of that privilege. That was in 1894. On December 3, 1908, the Governor of the Colony of Southern Nigeria acquired a lease of this land for a term of 99 years at an annual rental of 100 pounds from a Trader – Chief Dore Numa of Benin Rival, acting for and on behalf of the chiefs and people of Sapele.”
Judge Jackson described the evidence of the Itsekiri “which emanated largely from the fertile brain of that self-styled historian, Chief William Moore,” as containing a considerable amount of amusement to the Sobos in Court. As a background, or a frame to the picture of events within living memory, it appears to have no relation whatsoever.
The evidence called by the plaintiffs’ shows that until 1932, the relationship between them and Dore remained cordial, but ceased, when Dore claimed Sapele land to be his and ordered the Jekris living there and around not to pay rent any more to Sobos, a claim which the defendants erroneously assert to this day. In dismissing the evidence of the Itsekiri that a deed was signed confirming the claim of Dore Numa, Judge Jackson opined: “…. If the deed was in fact signed at Sapele, why the oath of proof did not say so?” Who were the ‘Chiefs and people of Sapele’ at that time? I have already found as a fact, that the only persons, who exercised any authority upon the land, as Chiefs prior to 1908, were Sobos and Not Jekris. The plaintiffs told me that Dore conveyed to the Government in his private capacity as their agent for this purpose. The deed sets out ‘Chief Dore Numa of Benin River, Trader, acting for and on behalf of the Chiefs and people of Sapele.
“The evidence before me satisfies me that when Chief Dore Numa did convey this land to Government for a term of years, he did so upon the authority of the Chiefs and people of Sapele, who were members of the Okpe Clan and residing in that area and around it, now known as the Sapele Township. In regard to the first agreement, the Okpe Clan, indisputable, occupied the land in dispute as farmland known as Sapele or Uruapele. The greater contains the less and the plaintiffs Omarin and Ayomanor are undoubtedly blood descendants of the founders of the original village known as Sapele. I do grant to the plaintiffs Ayomanor and Omarin, and to those members of the Okpe Clan who are the blood descendants of the founders of the settlement now known as Sapele lands, a declaration of title that they are the owners of that land now commonly known as the Sapele Township. The plaintiffs are entitled to the full costs of this action which I assess at 150 pounds,” Dafinone said quoting the judge.
He also recalled the West African Court of Appeal Judgement on Itsekiri Appeal against the Jackson Judgement on Sapele Lands (holden at Lagos, Nigeria, Friday the 30th day of April, 1943, before their honours: Sir Donald kingdom, Chief Justice, Nigeria – President; Sir Philip Bertis Petrides, Chief Justice Gold Coast; and George Graham Paul, Chief Justice Sierra Leone, saying after listening to the contending issues in the appeal lodged by the Itsekiri, the Chief Justices noted that the evidence of the Okpe “is supported strongly by the evidence of a completely neutral witness, the late Mr. I. T. Palmer, a Yoruba, whose distinguished career in Nigeria is well known.
“The evidence of Ibuke, Etotoma who was a Jekri and who occupied the land opposite Renner’s compound as shown in the plan of Sapele submitted during the Sapele land case averred in evidence that the Jekris have no proprietary interest in Sapele Lands. On the other hand, the evidence for the appellant is not impressive to read… The traditional history emanating from the ‘fertile brain’ of the Appellant’s self-styled’ historian is indeed fantastic and unconvincing, and the attempt to produce facts to back up this fantastic story is not at all impressive to read. “The Court of Appeal, Dafinone said, dismissed the appeal with costs at 200 guineas.
On the African Timber and Plywood Limited (now United African Company PLC) leases, Dafinone said by a deed of Lease dated the 29th of March, 1951 and registered as No. 6 at page 6 in Volume 22 of the Land Registry at Ibadan but now at Asaba, a parcel of land measuring 341.9 Acres was leased to African Timber and Plywood Limited for a term of 60 years by the representatives of Oton, Ajamogha, Eghorode and Ogodo Quarters of Sapele, being members of Sapele-Okpe origin on behalf of the Sapele Okpe community;
“By virtue of the Communal Land Rights (Vesting in Trustees) Law (Cap 42) Laws of Western Region of Nigeria, 1959, the premises, the subject matters of law became vested in the Okpe Community Land Trust Association (hereinafter called the Trustees); By a Deed of Surrender dated the 11th of October, 1974 and Registered as 34/34/230 in the Land Registry, Benin City, the Company (African Timbers and Plywood Limited) Surrendered the said parcel of land to the Sapele – Okpe Community Land Trustees). This was before the Land Use Act of 1978 came into existence;
“The Sapele Okpe Community as represented by the Okpe Communal Land Trustee were in possession and deemed to be the holders of the Statutory Right of Occupancy by virtue of Section 34 of the Land Use Act, 1978. That the various sub-lessors had no property in the land and could therefore not pass any valid title. That the Land Use Act, 1978 was never intended to convert a Lessee into a Landlord and as a result the Lessee cannot in the first place acquire the character of a Landlord nor seek to defend its status from that position,” he stated.
Dafinone who brought back memories of the past to his audience also spoke on the land within the forestry reserve in Sapele Local Government, which he said a notice of the proposed Ukpe Sobo Native Administration Forest Reserve was approved and signed by the Acting Resident of Warri Province and the District Officer, Sapele and witnessed by his father, Tom Omueya who was the interpreter on the 7th day of May, 1932.
“Order made under the forestry Ordinance (No. 33 of 1933). The Forestry Ordinance No. 33 of 1933 shows clearly that there was an authority that gave all the parcel of land to the Forestry Department IN TRUST with particular reference to Section 17 of the Interpretation Ordinance of 1939; The order made under the Forestry Ordinance Authority (Ukpe Sobo Native Administration Forest Reserve) order 1933 can be better understood and explained in the Second Schedule, where the order pin-points the facts that the Ukpes/Sobos are the communal owners of the Land and the rights of which is recognised emphatically in items 1 – 3 of the Second Schedule (Rights Within the Reserve), as the Communal Owners of the Land; It is clear that a group of people in Sapele owned Sapele including the areas carved out for the Forestry Reserve; The natives of Sapele, represented by late Chiefs Ayomanor and A.E. Omarin then, own Sapele including the areas in question and hence they signed the authority and gave it to the Forestry Department in 1933 vide Order No 33 of 1933 signed on 16th June 1933.
Sapele before 1954 was under the Western Urhobo Native Administration and was administered by the Udogun Okpe until 1955 when Sapele was carved out from the former Western Urhobo Native Authority and became Sapele Urban District Council with Headquarter in Sapele.