Urhobo Historical Society

J. O. S. Ayomike’s Doctored Writings on the History of Warri and the Western Niger Delta

By Oke Sikere

[From Urhobo Voice, Vol. 7, No.  224, November 24, 2003]

I WISH to respond to J.O.S. Ayomike's article titled "Before We Lay to Rest the Corpse of 'British Treaties with Urhobo Communities in Warri District'" and published in the Vanguard Newspaper of Tuesday, October 21, 2003 . I am a member of a group that has been studying Itsekiri publications. We have a collection of Ayomike’s writings and we are very familiar with his methods. To do justice to the issue at hand, one would have to digress a little to present Ayomike’s style in order that the reader could easily understand.

As a writer, Ayomike has been less than honest. He has deliberately misinterpreted quotations, purposely withholding relevant information from his readers, in order to achieve a self-serving goal. He belongs to the category of writers who take for granted that readers from the gullible public have no time to verify sources. He often makes a flamboyant reference, and goes ahead to claim that the author says abc, whereas what the author actually says is xyz.

Samples of Distortion of Original Sources in the Writings of J. O. S. Ayomike

Ayomike has written many books. Running through all of them is a continuous flow of deliberate misinformation, tailored towards the achievement of his self-imposed goals. In his first book, he states the goal: “Thus the purpose of this work is to portray Warri local government area as the homeland of Itsekiri people.” (A History of Warri, page ix). In chapter one he quotes Professor P.C. Lloyd. This is what Professor Lloyd says: “The administrative unit known as the Warri Division of Delta Province whose area is 1,520 square miles, is approximately conterminous with the territory of the Itsekiri…” (The Benin Kingdom, Bradbury and Lloyd, page 172). Every honest scholar knows that what is approximately conterminous is not totally conterminous. Even when Professor Lloyd himself indicates in his map the Ijaw and Urhobo territories in Warri Division, Ayomike has turned a blind eye. He has gone to town since then, drumming it into the heads of the public that eminent historians of the calibre of Professor Lloyd have written in support of the claim that the whole of Warri Division is Itsekiri homeland.

In chapter eight Ayomike makes a case for the “Olu of Warri” title. Here he had a very credible source at his disposal: William Moore’s book, History of Itsekiri. He quoted eloquently from it in other chapters of his book. William Moore was the earliest Itsekiri historian. He wrote during the period of interregnum of 88 years when the Itsekiri had no king, so, he could not have been under pressure to use the wrong title. In addition, he was the spokesman of the Itsekiri royal family and could not have been ignorant of the correct title. William Moore used the title “Olu of Itsekiri” more than twenty times. No where in his book did he use “Olu of Warri”. Perhaps, a sample would do. “After Ijijen’s (the Ogbowuru) demise, Irame became the Olu of Itsekiri.” (History of Itsekiri, page 25).

The evidence from William Moore was counter to Ayomike’s goal and he discarded it. He decided to glean bits and pieces of uninformed statements, as well as sponsored materials deposited in European archives, to make his case. Meanwhile, Chief Alfred Rewane himself had earlier confessed that the archival materials were sponsored. (He who pays the piper dictates the tune). In the words of Rewane: “In the 1970’s some of us Itsekiri leaders of thought, at considerable personal expense, commissioned research into Itsekiri history by the Brazilian-Portuguese academician and specialist in African and European history, Professor Orlinto, from archives in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Vatican and Brazil.” (The Title “Olu of Warri”. The Historic Awolowo Compromise in The Guardian, May 20, 1993, page 31).

In another of his books, Ayomike quotes Jacob Egharevba, a Benin historian. This is what Egharevba says: “Akengbuwa, the Olu of Jekri or Itsekiri, quarrelled with the Uwangue of Itsekiri, and expelled him from Ode-Itsekiri.” (A short History of Benin, page 45). All historians who wrote before 1952 used the title “Olu of Itsekiri”. Ordinarily, Ayomike would not have ventured into quoting such a glaring passage, except that the circumstances of the moment forced him to do so, and this is how he quotes Egharevba: “Akengbuwa, the Olu… quarrelled with the Uwangue… and expelled him from Ode-Itsekiri”. (Benin and Warri, Meeting Points in History, page 46).

He would not want his readers, especially Itsekiri youths, to have the relevant information that the title from ancient times was “Olu of Itsekiri.”

J. O. S. Ayomike's Falsification of Evidence of Forgery of British Treaties in the Western Niger Delta

Now, to come to the issue at hand, it is a classical example of Ayomike’s methods. He merely dropped the name of Professor Obaro Ikime, and the title of his book, Merchant Prince of the Niger Delta. Then he went ahead, as usual, to assert that at page 63 of the book, one Mr. Flint advanced the view that Agbassa treaties were forged. He began to build a powerful case on this assertion, citing a lot of irrelevant references to confuse the public. The gullible public, having read this, would go home with the conclusion that Professor Obaro Ikime, an eminent scholar, has proved that Agbassa treaties were forged. Haba! It becomes necessary to present the scenario discussed by Professor Ikime. In doing so, the relevant words of Ikime, himself, shall be quoted.

First, it should be clearly stated that the Agbassa treaties were not in dispute at all, since Agbassa was not one of the communities on the Forcados River. Professor Ikime did not even mention the Agbassa treaties at all! The treaties in dispute were those of the Ijaw of Burutu and Ogulaha communities on the Forcados River. The dispute involved two parties authorized by the British Government to enter into treaties, namely, the Royal Niger Company (RNC) and the Niger Coast Protectorate (NCP). From here, one should let Ikime himself tell the rest of the story by quoting his relevant words.

“Hewett advanced the argument that the Royal Niger Company’s treaties could not be valid because ‘the native signatories thereto had no power to enter into them they being subjects of Nana and included in the Jekri Protection treaty of 1884” (Professor Obaro Ikime, Merchant Prince of the Niger Delta, page 61).

“In 1889, Major Claude Macdonald was appointed Special Commissioner to examine and report on various complaints made against the Royal Niger Company and its administration” (Ibid, page 62).

“According to Macdonald, the Ijo people told him that they had never been subjects of Nana, but that the latter was a good friend” (Ibid, page 62).

“In fairness to Macdonald, it should be recorded that he also held interviews with Nana himself … Nana failed entirely to show him that he ever had any right or power over the Ijo” (ibid, page 63).

“John Flint has advanced the view that the Forcados treaties were forged, his argument being that the ‘marks’ of the signatory elders were too neat and unsmudged to have been made by illiterates. While Flint’s opinion might be true, it must be said that his argument is no conclusive evidence of forgery, for the elders might have declared their willingness to enter into, and their understanding of the terms of, the treaty and thereupon empowered the company’s officials to put down their names and marks” (Ibid, page 63).

Meanwhile, the official position of the British government concerning the treaties is also stated by Professor Ikime: “The British government did not, however, consider the matter one of great importance. As Lord Salisbury, the foreign secretary, noted in a minute, whichever British authority signed the treaties, the area accrued to the crown” (Ibid, page 61).

It is clear from the foregoing, that the treaties, as discussed by Professor Ikime, and the conclusions drawn therefrom, are the direct opposite of what Ayomike claims. Ayomike should be ignored by all people of goodwill. He is a man completely consumed by an overwhelming passion and he has thrown all writing etiquette to the dust in his desire to make the whole of Warri Division Itsekiri homeland.