|CLICK HERE FOR REPLIES TO THIS
J. O. S. AYOMIKE'S CRITIQUE OF BRITISH COLONIAL TREATIES OF PROTECTION WITH URHOBO COMMUNITIES IN THE DISTRICT OF WARRI
BRITISH IMPERIALISM IN URHOBO LAND
Colonial “Treaties of Protection”
With Urhobo Communities in
By Peter Ekeh
The State University of
Urhobo Historical Society &
A CRITIQUE: By J.O.S. Ayomike
Member, Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum,
I will repeat what I said earlier in Part 1 that the object of this critique is only to keep the records straight for posterity. It does not matter to me who really owns Warri, Urhobo or Itsekiri, provided I am satisfied that all the available facts of history say so. Today, I hold that Sapele is Okpe–Urhobo land. The facts are there. Despite that, however, my title to my property in Sapele, an Urhobo town, is not inferior to my title to my Warri property, just because the latter is in Warri that I claim is Itsekiri town.
The fact is that all over the world people have homelands. During the Soviet era, Vivaldis Brinkmanis, a leader in Latvia, one of the Baltic Republics said:
“We demand the right of our small nation to live on the territory of its ancestors without interference.”
In our situation, no matter how much one desires to avoid it, ethnic homeland remains a sensitive issue in governance: delineation of wards, local government system, parliamentary representations, etc., are based on the homeland concept. I have gone into these details because the idea of belonging to a homeland symbolizes a human instinct as ancient as the hills and is equally mystically powerful because of the sense of identity associated with it. It makes people believe that they have roots, traditions, myths and cultures. People know who they are, what they are and where they are. Today, Urhobo may have more property in Warri than the Itsekiri; it does not matter. Non–Lagosians probably own more property today in Lagos than Omo-Eko. The more cosmopolitan a city becomes the less this tag of ownership; but still we know that Bini are owners of Benin City; Kano people own Kano as the Cockneys are said to be the owners of London.
The Urhobo Treaties
So far I have refrained from commenting on the nature and form of these seven treaties, the subject of Professor Ekeh’s piece. It is now time to do so. I am surprised that Professor Ekeh, for a very serious work as this, chooses to exhibit unsigned Urhobo treaties. This is important because he has based his argument of Urhobo ownership of Warri on these treaties supposedly made “in Warri District”. Furthermore, some of the treaties bear a Stamp of a British Vice Consulate that never existed.
To strengthen my argument, I will discuss first the two Itsekiri treaties that he, thank God, referred to in his paper and a few other relevant ones:
(i) Treaty with Chiefs of Jakri (Itsekiri; Prof Obaro Ikime calls it Itsekiriland while Prof Ekeh misleadingly uses Benin River) of 16 July 1884.
This treaty, which predated the Niger Coast Protectorate (NCP) created in 1891, was first signed by Edward Hyde Hewitt, the British Consul on the Oil Rivers, on behalf of Her Britannic Majesty, and then by the Chiefs of Itsekiriland. On pages 215–217 of Merchant Prince of the Niger Delta by Obaro Ikime, where the full treaty is published, the witness to the Chiefs’ marks is shown. Another pre-N.C.P treaty entered into between Britain and the King and Chiefs of Opobo on 19th December 1884 was also signed first by Edward Hyde Hewett as Consul before King Jaja and his Chiefs did. Then the signatures of those who witnessed the marks of the Chiefs are shown (See PP 333-335 of Southern Nigeria in Transition 1885–1906 by J. C. Anene, Cambridge University Press 1966).
(ii) Treaty with Chiefs of Benin River and Jekeri Country 2nd August 1894 (“and Jekeri country” inexplicably doctored off by Professor Ekeh).
R. Moor, acting Consul-General, signed first for the Niger Coast Protectorate before the twenty-five Itsekiri Chiefs did. On the treaty, in Inclosure No. 129 among the Nanna Papers in the Public Record Office, London, the signature of Herbert Clarke on the jurat and two naval officers as witnesses to the signatories are shown. Another pre-NCP treaty relevant here is the one with Asaba on 1st November 1884. Edward Hyde Hewett signed first for Great Britain before the Kings and Chiefs of Asaba, followed by two other signatures of witnesses. Also, a treaty with Abeokuta on 18th January 1893, outside the Niger Coast Protectorate, was signed by G. T. Carter, Governor and Commander–In–Chief of Lagos Colony for Britain, alongside the Alake and his Chiefs’ signature marks, followed by a host of witnesses to marks and then the interpreter’s signature.
I will now provide an examination of the seven Urhobo treaties, one after the other, to elicit their strange differences:
1. Asagba Treaty of 6th December 1892: There is no signature of Her Majesty’s representative on the document. One R. A. Alder apparently interpreted to the six Chiefs whose marks appear on the treaty along with a Stamp on it bearing “BRITISH VICE–CONSULATE, Forcados.” The document was purportedly done in Warri.
2. Toree (Ekpan) Treaty 26th February 1893: No signature of Her Majesty’s representative on the document purportedly done in Toree with 7 Chiefs who put marks. The British Vice–Consulate, Forcados, Stamp appears on it, and there is the signature of a witness to the Chiefs’ marks.
3. Ajebha (Ejeba) Treaty of 7th March 1893: No signature of Her Majesty’s representative before the marks of the three Chiefs. There is the usual Forcados Stamp, and signatures of a witness to the marks and of an apparent interpreter. Treaty purportedly made in Warri.
4. Agbassa Treaty of 14th March 1893: Purportedly made in Warri with no signature of Her Majesty’s representative. The only signatures are those of the witness to the marks and R. A. Alder, who signed the jurat. There is no “Forcados” Stamp.
5. Oboodoo Treaty of 30th March 1893. There is no signature of Her Majesty’s representative. Apparently made in Warri but bears the Forcados Stamp. There are two witnesses to marks and a mark of an apparent interpreter.
6. Ogoolu (Ogunu) Treaty of 30th March 1893: Apparently made in Warri by 5 Chiefs and bearing the usual Forcados Vice–Consulate Stamp but with no signature of Her Majesty’s representative. There are witnesses to marks and R. A. Alder signs the jurat.
7. Oagbi (Ogbe) Sobo Treaty of 16th August 1893: Apparently made in Warri by 8 Chiefs and bearing the Forcados Stamp, but significantly not having Her Majesty’s representative’s signature. There is signature of a witness to the Chiefs’ marks.
I wonder whether Professor Ekeh properly examined those treaties before trumpeting them, as he has done, from the “rooftop”. How could he on earth accept as valid or genuine these treaties purportedly entered into between Urhobo Chiefs of various communities and Her Britannic Majesty’s Government on different occasions when one party to the said treaties consistently did not sign? Why did the British who were scrambling for territories and markets and even wooing and enticing Chiefs to sign treaties with them consistently but significantly fail to sign these treaties? Can you talk of a treaty between two parties when one of the parties has not signed? I think Professor Ekeh owes unborn generations of both Urhobo and Itsekiri an answer. Granted there are signed ones even existing, why did he have to distribute these “fake” ones to all and sundry to embarrass himself? Has he not let down his people who had put him on the exalted chair of their Historical Society and made him the Editor of Waado?
Also important is the appearance of the British Vice–Consulate, Forcados, Stamp on these documents! Forcados was not one of the official six vice–consulates in the Niger Coast Protectorate between 1891 and 1899. There were Opobo, Bonny, New Calabar, Brass, Warri and Benin Vice–Consulates with old Calabar as the main Consulate. The latter two Vice–Consulates were to the West of the Niger Delta and separated by over 130 miles of the Royal Niger Company (RNC) territory from the other four to the East.
The provisional boundary drawn up by Claude MacDonald between the Western sector of his Niger Coast Protectorate and the Royal Niger Company put Forcados outside his sphere and well within the territory of the chartered Royal Niger Company. Although on the ground this artificial boundary produced trade disputes and conflicts, subsequently characterized as the “Forcados Question”, it is however not on record that a British Vice–Consulate ever was in Forcados between 1891 and 1894 when the Urhobo treaties of Warri District, stamped at the British Vice–Consulate, Forcados, were purportedly made between December 1892 and August 1893. Taking Flint’s argument on the surface that “Forcados Treaties were forged” (Obaro Ikime: Merchant Prince of the Niger Delta, p63), I would advise Professor Ekeh to return to re-read Moor’s Cablegram No. XIJ8094 already discussed in Part 1 of this paper.
Taking a hard look at these treaties in their proper context one finds that certain critical factors arise and interplay. They include (i) the non–signing of these treaties by Her Britannic Majesty’s representatives, which possibly resulted in (ii) the inexplicable delay of about 2 years before the documents were apparently dispatched to London on the very day Nanna, who reportedly had frowned on some of them, was put on trial in Calabar. (iii) Flint, a well–known functionary of the Royal Niger Company, had himself told about the forgeries of the “Forcados Treaties,” and (iv) one is bound therefore to suspect the possibility of forgeries of treaties purportedly made in Warri within Warri Vice–Consulate and purportedly stamped in a non–existent British Vice–Consulate in Forcados then under the sphere of the Royal Niger Company. It was not until 1900 that the Company’s charter was cancelled and both territories became known as Southern Nigeria protectorate.
In Moor’s Cablegram already referred to, he mentioned Flint and McTaggart specifically as “representing themselves as Queen’s Officers into Sobo country, at the back of Benin and Warri making treaties.” He directed, “Imperative such treaties be at once declared invalid…”
Certainly, Flint of the Royal Niger Company, who advanced the view of forged “Forcados Treaties,” knew what he was talking about and Ralph Moor, the boss of NCP, was not joking with the Cablegram.
With the greatest respect, I would urge Professor Ekeh to examine these lacunae and decide to either (i) explain the reason for the absence of Her Majesty’s representatives’ signatures on these “vital” documents and tell more about the non–existent seventh Vice–Consulate (in Forcados) as against the official six reported on by Sir Claude MacDonald, Commissioner and Consul–General, in FO2/63; Inclosure I covering August 1891–August 1894, and forwarded to the Earl of Kimberly, Foreign Secretary 1894–1895 or (ii) keep silent on Warri issue and not raise dust anymore because a majority of us, Urhobo and Itsekiri, want to live in peace.
How can one so highly qualified allow oneself to be so blinded, and yet goaded, by subjective ethnic irredentism to rely on such irregular papers to want to promote divisive ideas that could incite people to worthless ends? To me that is not the object of higher learning.
In one calculation, it is good and proper that we have got to this point on the Warri question. A University Professor and an Urhobo, Chairman of Urhobo Historical Society (world–wide) and Editor of Waado is now in a cul de sac, a blind alley! Let us watch how he un–winds himself from this bind. I believe it will help those of us, Urhobo and Itsekiri, who believe that enough heat and gas have been generated over Warri. It will help the silent majority who think that it is time Urhobo and Itsekiri worked together. We visualize a situation where an Urhobo President of Nigeria, projected by Urhobo and Itsekiri together, would treat both groups as one. I know a lot is happening to close the gap. An Urhobo Chief gave out his daughter in marriage in Eku and I was the Chairman at the marriage reception. It pleased the crowd in Eku. Again a top retired Urboho judge extended same gesture to me a few years back and it pleased everybody in the hall. Two prominent Urhobo Chiefs resident in Warri attended a Thanksgiving Service held in my honor in Benin City. Many Urhobo top lawyers are my very good friends. In the case of one in particular, I would always go to his house for sugarcane and drinks each time I came to Warri, when I still lived in Benin City. Recently, a large Itsekiri contingent (including me) accompanied a prominent Urhobo Chief to Benin to perform the funeral rites of his late father–in–law. And there are several such instances that Professor Ekeh in far away Buffalo, New York, is not experiencing. He is advised to withdraw “his” treaties and issue apology to all concerned. When the Professor Ekehs of this world allow the Urhobo nation to see the Itsekiri cause (and that of other minorities in Delta) as their own, the skies will be the limit for the Urhobo.
To a long–lasting health of Urhobo–Itsekiri relation! Amen.
Wednesday 20th March 2002.