URHOBO HISTORICAL SOCIETY RESPONDS TO ITSEKIRI CLAIMS ON WARRI CITY AND WESTERN NIGER DELTA



URHOBO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

P. O. Box 1454

Buffalo, New York 14226, U.S.A.

Web sites: http://waado.org; http://urhobo.kinsfolk.com

E-mail: UrhoboHistory@waado.org Fax: (707) 276-2340

 

 

August 4, 2003

 

 

General T. Y. Danjuma (Rtd.)

Task Force On Warri Crisis
Presidency

AbujaNigeria



 

Dear General Danjuma:

 

WARRI CITY AND THE WESTERN NIGER DELTA CRISIS

Response to Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum and “Warri” National Council

 

By Urhobo Historical Society

 

In March 2002, a member of Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum challenged the publication of “Protection Treaties,” which the British made with Itsekiri Chiefs of Benin River in 1884 and 1894 and with the Agbassa of Warri District in 1893, in Urhobo Historical Society’s web site. Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum complained that:


(i) The Itsekiri were wrongly characterized as people of Benin River, and not of Warri District.

(ii) The Agbassa people were labeled by the British as people of Warri District.

(iii) In further correspondence, the Forum alleged that the Agbassa Treaty was a forgery.


Urhobo Historical Society exchanged correspondence with Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum on these allegations. (Please see Appendix I.) We believe we conclusively proved to the Forum that it was completely mistaken in these allegations.

 

We are therefore disappointed to read from the submissions by the Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum and “Warri” National Council to President Olusegun Obasanjo and to the Danjuma Panel on the Warri Crisis a repetition of these same allegations. The Itsekiri submissions have now been published in www.itsekiri.org. In these circumstances, we think it is only proper for Urhobo Historical Society to let the Danjuma Task Force on the Warri Crisis know what the issues are and to trace their significance for understanding the legitimacy of the claims of the indigenous Agbassa and Okere-Urhobo peoples to the ownership of Warri City.

 

We will also discuss associated problems that were raised in the course of our exchange with Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum in 2002 that touched on the following issues:


(i) "Settlers” in the western Niger Delta.

(ii) Ownership of Warri City and Itsekiri contests for “overlordship” rights in Warri City.

(iii) Itsekiris’ claims to Warri City as their homeland.

(iv) In addition, we seek to present facts that will show the historical conduct of the Itsekiri establishment – not the Itsekiri people – that has created, in large measure, the atmosphere for continued conflict in the Western Niger Delta.

(v) We will finally urge the Danjuma Panel to look to the similar circumstances of Calabar City, which was developed at about the same time as Warri City, for a possible model as it weighs its options for a solution of the Warri crisis.



SIGNIFICANCE OF BRITISH TREATIES OF PROTECTION WITH ITSEKIRI OF BENIN RIVER AND URHOBO OF WARRI DISTRICT

 

The British “Treaties of Protection” were the legal basis for colonial rule in the Western Niger Delta. The British signed “Protection Treaties” with the Chiefs and people in all five nations of the Western Niger Delta, namely, Itsekiri, Isoko, Ukwuani, Ijaw, and Urhobo. These treaties defined two elements of these communities. First, they defined the native authorities with whom the British entered into agreement. Second, they indicated the territories of the authorities with whom the British had treaty obligations.

 

We are happy that the Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum has pleaded and placed before the Danjuma Task Force on the Warri Crisis the importance of the Treaties that the British made with Itsekiri Chiefs in 1884 and 1894 and with Agbassa and other indigenous communities of Warri City in 1893. We urge the Danjuma Task Force to pay particular attention to them because they reveal a great deal about Warri City and its ownership at the time the British signed these treaties in 1884, 1893, and 1894.

 

British Treaties of Protection with the Itsekiri of Benin River (1884 and 1894)

 

The above is the actual title of the British Treaties of 1884 and 1894 that the British made with the Itsekiri. (Please see Appendix II.) Two features of these Treaties are relevant for Itsekiri claims on the ownership of Warri City.

 

First, the King of Itsekiri has no legal standing in these treaties. This is not a matter of a careless omission. On the contrary, in the 1884 Treaty the word “King” was deliberately deleted from the printed form of the Treaty. This was so because in 1884, kingship was dead among the Itsekiri. It was a matter whose discussion was forbidden among the members of the Itsekiri merchant aristocracy who usurped royal powers. The 1894 version of the Treaty was handwritten and it updated the 1884 Treaty. In this latter edition of the Treaty, the King of Itsekiri was totally omitted.

 

Second, the 1884 Treaty specified the territories of the Itsekiri. What was specified originally when the Treaty was signed on July 16, 1884, was “River Benin.” But there was an addendum dated August 6, 1884, that extended the authority of the Treaty to “the people and country of both banks of the Escravos River, the Chiefs of which have . . . acknowledged themselves and their country to be under Jakri jurisdiction and authority.” In other words, the British signatories verified with the Chiefs of Ugborodo and other communities in Escravos River that they accepted the terms of the Treaty as applying to them as part of Itsekiri people and lands. This verification took twenty-one days to accomplish.

 

Nowhere in the two Treaties of 1884 and 1894 was Warri ever mentioned as part of Itsekiri territory. The Itsekiri never asked for Warri territory to be added to the Treaty, as they clearly pressed for Escravos River. This is evidently because in 1884 and 1894, Itsekiri did not lay any claims to Warri. This lack of Itsekiri identity with Warri in the nineteenth century was consistent with their previous history. Itsekiri officials, who ruled Itsekiri affairs after kingship was displaced by the merchant class, following the death of Olu Akengbuwa in 1848, were called Governors of Benin River. Warri did not appear in their titles or jurisdiction. We want to repeat that any Itsekiri claims on Warri City occurred years after the execution of the Treaties of 1884 and 1894 which specified Itsekiri lands and waters as those of Escravos River and Benin River.

 

British Treaties of Protection with Agbassa and other Urhobo Communities in the District of Warri (1893)

 

In March 1893, British imperial agents entered into Protection Treaty obligations with several communities in Warri District. The most prominent of these was the Treaty with Agbassa which was signed on March 14, 1893. (Please see Appendix III.)

 

The Agbassa Treaty, as well as the other Treaties in the Warri neighborhood, clearly specified the lands of the Protection Treaties as those located in Warri District.

 

 

Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum’s False Allegation of Forgery of British Treaties With Urhobo Communities in Warri District

 

We were stunned by the extent to which the Itsekiri establishment would go to oppress the indigenous peoples of Warri City when Mr. J. O. S. Ayomike of the Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum desperately called upon Urhobo Historical Urhobo Society in March 2002 to cease publication of the Agbassa Treaty with the British. The charge that it might be a forgery was made by J. O. S. Ayomike later in our exchange with the Forum. We see that the same desperate accusation has now been raised in the Itsekiri submission to President Olusegun Obasanjo and to the Danjuma Task Force on the Warri crisis.

 

It is important to understand clearly what the Itsekiri establishment is alleging. Mr. Ayomike did not claim, nor does the Itsekiri submission before the President and the Danjuma Panel assert, that Urhobo Historical Society, which published these documents, forged them. They are alleging that the British forged them and that we knowingly published a forgery. It will not be difficult to show that the allegation of forgery is false and baseless.

 

First, we refer to the Itsekiri establishment’s claim that the Agbassa Treaty, as well as the other Treaties with Ogunu and Ejeba, had “no signature of Her Majesty’s Representative on it.” We invite the Panel to inspect page 3 of the Agbassa Treaty (copy attached). In it is the signature of “Arthur E. Harrison” under which is the notation “Acting Vice Consul.” There is a further unreadable signature of a witness to the thumb prints of the officials who signed on behalf of the Agbassa people. These features of a signature of Arthur E. Harrison as Vice-Consul and of a witness to the Urhobo Treaty makers are true of the Ejeba and Ogunu treaties which the Itsekiri submission also wrongly faulted. It is therefore false to claim, as the Itsekiri submission to the President did, that there was “no signature of Her Majesty’s Representative on [the treaty].” Mr. Arthur E. Harrison was in fact a high official of the British Colonial Government.

 

Second, it is insufficient and grossly disingenuous for the Itsekiri submission to say casually that R. A. Alder was an interpreter for the Agbassa people. The authors of the Itsekiri submissions evidently hope that the members of the Panel might not know who R. A. Alder was. Alder Town in Warri City is, of course, named after this famous British colonial official who was well known to the indigenous communities of Warri City. Is the Itsekiri establishment alleging that a man of Mr. R. A. Alder’s reputation was a party to forgery of treaties?

 

Third, there is further complaint in the Itsekiri submission that there was “No Forcados Vice-Consulate stamp” on the Agbassa Treaty. But why is that important? We invite the Panel to inspect the Itsekiri Treaties of 1884 and 1894. The Itsekiri Treaties, like the Agbassa Treaty, do not bear any such stamps. Whether the Treaties were stamped or not was an internal administrative matter for British colonial offices. The British were setting up administrative arrangements and moved offices from place to place; these places included Forcados, Warri, and Sapele. The agreements carry the letterhead of Queen Victoria, as an indication of colonial authority. 

 

Fourth, there is another complaint that the Agbassa Treaty was dispatched to London on 30th November, 1894, coinciding with the trial of Chief Nana Olomu! This appears to be a piece of lame excuse that is intended to garner sympathy for the position of the Itsekiri establishment. The important thing about that dispatch is that it was carried in the diplomatic pouch of Sir Claude MacDonald, Consul-General of Niger Coast Protectorate stationed at “Old Calabar.” That is the final authority needed to show that the Treaty is genuine.

 

Fifth, the Itsekiri submission quoted Professor Obaro Ikime as accepting a citation from Flint to the effect that “Forcados Treaties were forged,” contending that the Urhobo Treaties that bore stamps from Forcados Vice-Consulate were forged. But in fact, Ikime confirms that these Treaties with Urhobo communities in Warri District were indeed made. As Ikime put it himself, “Between December 1892 and August 1893, consular officers based in Warri, entered into treaties of protection with Urhobo towns, all of them near the Warri vice-consulate . . . . The years 1891-3, therefore, constituted the period when the British Government made the first moves to bring Urhoboland under their protection” (Obaro Ikime, Niger Delta Rivalry, p. 133). The Urhobo communities mentioned by Ikime as those that entered into Protection Treaties with the British in the District of Warri are the following: “Asagba, Tori, Ajeba, Agbassa, Ogulu, Obodo, Ogo, and Ogbe-Sobo (Aladja).” These are the treaties whose making the Itsekiri establishment now disputes, falsely citing Ikime as its authority.

 

We urge the Panel to regard the Itsekiri establishment’s complaint on this matter to be utterly frivolous. More than that, we urge the Panel to regard the Itsekiri establishment’s patently desperate and frivolous objection to the Agbassa Treaty as a clear indication that it will do anything to ensure that the indigenous peoples of Warri City are denied any opportunity to prove that Warri City lands are theirs.

 


PREHISTORIC AND HISTORIC PEOPLES OF THE
WESTERN NIGER DELTA AND THE ITSEKIRI ESTABLISHMENT’S ALLEGATION OF SETLLER COMMUNITIES IN WARRI CITY

 

One of the most provocative and vexatious practices mounted by the Itsekiri establishment is the labeling of Urhobo and Ijaw communities in Warri City as settlers. In order to understand why this claim is totally false, we need to go into the prehistory and history of the Western Niger Delta.

 

Four prehistoric peoples, the beginnings of whose existence date to immemorial times, inhabit the Western Niger Delta. These are the Ijaw, Ukwuani, Isoko, and Urhobo. Of these, the Ijaw and Ukwuani are considered to be aborigines of the region. It is unknown, and it is probably unknowable, for how long the Ijaws have been in the swamps of the Western Niger Delta. Their language is estimated by linguists to be thousands of years old. Similarly, the Ukwuani have been in the region for thousands of years, although influences of Urhobo and Benin on their culture are considerable. The Isoko and Urhobo are related and are assumed to have migrated into the region from various places, but principally from neighboring Benin, with whose peoples they share a common Edoid language. But the Urhobo and the Isoko are also prehistoric peoples, whose beginnings cannot be accurately estimated or dated. Neither the Ijaw, Ukwuani, Isoko, nor Urhobo know why they are called these names any more than such other prehistoric peoples as the Gallics and Slavics in Europe or Hausa and Jukun in Africa can tell us why they bear their names.

 

In addition to these four prehistoric peoples, there is one historic nationality in the Western Niger Delta.  The Itsekiri are a historic people in the sense that the beginning of their existence can be dated accurately. Their existence began more than thirty years after the arrival of the Portuguese in the Western Niger Delta in 1485. Unlike the prehistoric peoples, they know how the name Itsekiri was given to them. They are a nationality that is less than five hundred years old. Unlike the prehistoric peoples who have been in the region of the Western Nigeria Delta and its geographical neighborhoods for thousands of years, the Itsekiri evolved from transient Yoruba-speaking fishing communities who were consolidated into a distinct nationality by a fugitive Benin Prince, called Ginuwa, and his descendants in the middle decades of the sixteenth century. Whereas the prehistories of the Ijaw, Isoko, Urhobo, and Ukwuani can be said to be immemorial, events of Itsekiri history are largely memorial.

 

Most prehistoric societies predate royalties that emerge in them. Indeed, such societies provide internal resources that allow royal institutions to develop. What is remarkable about the Itsekiri is that royalty preceded the rise of Itsekiri culture and society. Historians do not like to say that societies and their cultures were created, because they usually rise by their own dynamism. However, in the Itsekiri case, it is fair to say that Itsekiri society and culture were created by Prince Ginuwa and his dynasty.

 

But Ginuwa was helped to survive by the generosity and accommodation of Urhobos and Ijaws. It was an Urhobo community of Oghareki that protected the fugitive Giunuwa when he left Benin and arrived in their land, across the Ologbo River, four to ten years before the appearance of the Portuguese in the Western Niger Delta in 1485. In his difficult existence in the swamps of the Western Niger Delta, it was Ijaw communities that helped him to survive.

 

Thanks to the benevolence of their hosts, that is, Urhobos and Ijaws, Ginuwa and his descendants were eventually enabled to build up Itsekiri nationality from the Mahins and other Yoruba-speaking alien fishing communities who, to use a phrase employed by the premier Itsekiri historian William Moore, “squatted on the sea-shore near the Benin River” (see William Moore, History of Itsekiri, page 13). With the help of the Portuguese and other European traders, Ginuwa’s descendants built an Itsekiri nationality from these communities that were previously alien to the Western Niger Delta. (See Appendix IV.) But it must be noted that though sparsely populated, the areas of the Western Niger Delta occupied by the new comers to the region were not empty. The Itsekiris, the new arrivals, lived with the Ijaw and Urhobo in several of these communities.

 

It is against such prehistory and history of the Western Niger Delta that the wrongful practice of the Itsekiri establishment in labeling Urhobo and Ijaw communities in Warri City as “settlers” should be viewed. Warri is a town that was built by British colonialism, just as Sapele and Port Harcourt were built by the British colonizers at about the same time. Until the 1890s, there was nothing like Warri. We note that recent historians label the Catholic Church in Ode Itsekiri as being in Warri City. But that is only an act of retrospection that was not the case before the British gave the name of Warri. In fact, Ode Itsekiri, where the Catholic Chapel was located, is several miles and some difficult distance from what is now mainland Warri City.

 

Colonel H. L. Gallway, who coined the name Sapele from the Urhobo name of Urhiapele, also coined Warri, at about the same time in the early 1890s. The Ijaw say that Warri was coined from an Ijaw word “wari” (meaning “house”), which was the name of their fishing community in an area of modern Warri before British colonization. The Itsekiri say that it was coined from “Iwere,” which they claim was another name for Itsekiri – although, unlike the term Itsekiri, its etymology and origin are unclear. Iwere is almost certainly not of Itsekiri or local origin. It is meaningless in Itsekiri, Benin, and Yoruba – the three languages with which Itsekiri culture and society are associated. It is more likely that Iwere is of Portuguese origin, a suggestion that has been well developed by the Agbarha-Warri scholar and leader, Chief Daniel Obiomah. Obiomah believes that the word Iwere is corrupted from the name of a Portuguese sailor and explorer “Aveiro” who was active in the waters of the Western Niger Delta in its early exploration by the Portuguese.

 

This is how Daniel Obiomah explains the origin of Iwere and Warri: “The name Warri is foreign, like Escravos, Forcados, and BeninIwere, which Itsekiris adopted as part of the politics of the 1950s and 1960s as designating Itsekiri, is very likely Portuguese, a mispronunciation of Aveiro, Afonso de’ Aveiro, the earliest Portuguese explorer in 1485, in the Escravos area. Alfonso de Aveiro set up trade in Benin River between the Oba of Benin and the Portuguese.  The "v" in Aveiro would be "w" sound in Portuguese.  The "I" as first letter of Iwere is accounted for by the local habit among Urhobo and Itsekiri to start [foreign] words with "I."  Compare Iwarri used by Itsekiri and Urhobo alike for Warri.  Other examples are Idicki for Dick, Ijosini for Johnson, Ivitor for Victor, idolo for money, Iwofu for wharf, Iwaya for wire.  There are several foreign European words common to Urhobo and Itsekiri like esete plate, ekanaka jug, ukujere spoon, oro gold.  On the name WARRI early European visitors and explorers used the name to refer to a locality from the mouths of the Escravos and Forcados Rivers into the creeks.  It is not Itsekiri.” (Obiomah 2002.)

 

In order to build a new colonial Vice-Consulate in the Western Niger Delta in the 1890s and 1900s, the British needed land. The lands in the area were mostly farmlands owned by Urhobo communities of Agbarha and Okere. The Itsekiri and Ijaw were not farmers. There were also Ijaw fishing communities on the shores of Warri River. The Itsekiri area of Warri City is Ugbuwangue, which was settled in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth. All of these have grown together as the Township grew into a city.

 

In other words, the native and indigenous population of Warri City was largely Urhobo but also included Ijaw fishing communities. The Itsekiri presence was a phenomenon of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a consequence of the building of Warri Township. For these reasons, to refer to the Urhobos and Ijaws, who are the indigenous peoples of Warri City, as “settlers” insults the prehistory of the Western Niger Delta and the history of Warri City.

 

Unlike traditional boundaries, modern Local Government boundaries are an artifact of politics. The Itsekiri were well favoured in these territorial adjustments by British colonial politics and by the Action Group Government that took over from the British. But these local government boundaries do not negate the facts of the prehistory of the region or the history of Warri City. Sadly, the Itsekiri establishment has invented myths of “Warri Kingdom” and Iwere in a naked attempt to dispossess the indigenes and aborigines of these lands of their ancestral heritage.

 


ITSEKIRI ESTABLISHMENT’S CLAIMS OF OVERLORDSHIP AND OWNERSHIP OF
WARRI CITY

 

One of the strangest myths that the Itsekiri establishment has perpetuated in Warri City is the doctrine of overlordship. However, its use of the doctrine of overlordship shows poor understanding of its tenets. Before examining its appearance and application to Warri City, there is a need to identify the elements of the doctrine of overlordship.

 

Overlordship was a Medieval European doctrine of land holdings that rests on two constructs: landlords and an overlord. Landlords exercise their ownership as rights to the properties of the land. They may own the land totally by exercising ownership rights that cover all aspects of the land, including mineral resources and water resources. Or, their ownership rights may be limited to farming or buildings, in which case, rights to minerals and water resources on their lands belong to the sovereign as overlord. Or, the sovereign as overlord may be entitled to collect taxes on the properties of landlords.

 

Two aspects of this doctrine of overlordship need to be further identified, because they have relevance for their application in the case of Warri City. First, the existence of overlordship presumes the prior existence of landlords who own the lands over which the overlord exercises his rights. Overlordship cannot be said to exist in instances where landlords are deprived of their rights of ownership. Second, overlordship is the bundle of rights of the overlord, not of a whole people. When James VI of Scotland became King James I of England, his rights of overlordship were his, not those of all Scots simply because he was a Scotsman.

 

Modernization of Europe entailed the transfer of overlordship rights and sovereignty of monarchs to the state. Thus, the payment of property taxes to the state or local government in modern times is a vestige of the doctrine of overlordship.

 

It was this doctrine that was applied in the judgment of 1926 in the legal suit brought by the Agbassa people of Warri City against Chief Dore Numa, Political Agent of British Colonial Government. The Agbassa people complained that Dore Numa leased their lands to the Colonial Government without their knowledge and consent. In his defense, Numa pleaded that he exercised the overlordship rights of the King of Itsekiri in leasing the lands. In its judgment, a British colonial court upheld the ownership rights of the Agbassa as landlords but subjected those rights to the overlordship of the Olu of Itsekiri. Elsewhere, we have shown why that judgment was flawed and why it has, in any case, been overtaken by history and political development in Nigeria. (Please see Appendix IV.)

 

Several aspects of that colonial judgment of 1926 should be reiterated, because they have been misinterpreted and misused by the Itsekiri establishment. First, that judgment never took away the landlord rights of the Agbassa people. Those rights were subjected to the overlordship rights of the Olu of Itsekiri. But those overlordship rights have since fallen to other court judgments and legislative enactment. Second, the judgment of 1926 at no time conferred on the Olu, King of Itsekiris, or the Itsekiri people, the rights of landlords of the contested lands.

 

That neither the King of Itsekiri nor the Itsekiri people have been conferred with the rights of landlords as a consequence of the 1926 court judgment can be seen in their tenancy circumstances in Warri City since the 1950s. The relocation of Itsekiri royal headquarters from its traditional home on the island of Ode Itsekiri to Warri City in 1952 has imperiled the residential accoutrements of the three occupants of the Itsekiri throne who have lived under these forced changes in Itsekiri tradition. This is because the King of Itsekiri has no landlord’s rights in Warri City, even when he had colonial court-awarded rights of overlordship on the City of Warri.

 

Olu Erejuwa II, the first of the Itsekiri kings to settle in Warri City, was forced to rent land from Urhobo landlords, even at a time when the judgment of 1926 conferring overlordship on the Olu was still assumed to be valid. His palace was built on land leased from an Urhobo landlord. When Erejuwa II was dethroned in 1965, his brief successor, Akengbuwa II, could not use Erejuwa’s palace because it was on private land. He, too, had to live in a rented house in Urhobo Road of Warri City, which he used as his palace until Erejuwa II was restored in December 1966. When Erejuwa II passed away, his successor, the current Olu Atuwase II, was compelled to operate from a temporary palace in a private residence while he sought another site for his “permanent” palace.

                                                                                      

Most of the Itsekiri notables who followed their King to the new royal headquarters in Warri City also rented or leased lands from Urhobo landlords, thus clearly upholding the distinction between overlord and landlords. Since the King of Itsekiri was not a landlord in Warri City, but was only awarded a disputed overlordship, he could not give any lands to himself on which to build his Palace or to his followers. Now that those overlord rights have been swept away by later court judgments and legislative enactment, the royal circumstances of the Kings of Itsekiri in Warri City are quite thin – a sharp contrast to their amplitude in the olden days on the island of Ode Itsekiri.

 

Such vagrancies in Itsekiri royal residences in Warri City, posing a sharp contrast to the traditional splendour of Itsekiri royalty on the island of Ode Itsekiri, do establish the point that Itsekiri royalty is a stranger in Warri City. The Itsekiri King’s presence has been forced on a strange city by the dictatorial act of a government. Obviously, it pleases the Itsekiri establishment to be around in Warri City. But why its members want the dignity of their King to be sullied by the strangeness and hurly-burly of Warri City is a puzzle to many.

 

The section of the Greater Warri metropolis where the Itsekiri have ample and firm rights as landlords is Ugbuwangue. The Itsekiri establishment’s attempt to impose the Olu’s overlord rights on this Itsekiri enclave of Warri City was rebuffed when its leader, Arthur Prest, a distinguished Itsekiri son and a retired judge, won a landmark case against the Itsekiri establishment in 1971. In the ruling in that case, the court made it clear that the King of Itsekiri’s overlord rights did not apply to private and individual lands. To quote directly the words of that famous judgment, For the avoidance of doubt, especially as there are numerous cases pending in the Warri High Court on this overlordship issue, I hereby make it abundantly clear that the defendants [the Itsekiri Communal Lands Trust] have no power whatsoever in law to exercise the Olu of Warri rights of overlordship over lands owned by private individuals and families in Warri Division.”

 

To all intents and purposes, the doctrine of overlordship was dead by virtue of that 1971 judgment. Its final rites of burial were performed in 1979 when the Land Use Decree of 1978 was enacted into law as Land Use Law of 1979.

 

Warri City is thus a tri-ethnic metropolis consisting of large Urhobo areas, some section of Ijaw native areas, and some native Itsekiri section. The Warri crisis subsists because the Itsekiri establishment insists that the 1926 judgment is still valid and falsely claims that overlordship means that all Itsekiri are overlords, even if they are not landlords, in Warri City.

 

We believe it is the responsibility of a Federal Government Panel on the Warri crisis to make it clear to the Itsekiri establishment that it is on the wrong side of history. In any case, we suggest that the choice before the Task Force on Warri crisis is between Itsekiri establishment’s claim of Itsekiri overlordship and the Land Use Law of Nigeria which forbids such a claim.

 

 

WARRI CITY AND ITSEKIRI HOMELANDS

 

In their position paper of 7th April, 2003, “Warri” National Council and Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum assert: “The Itsekiri are Nigerians and like others have their ancestral homeland which is Warri.” This statement is carefully constructed to mislead. It snidely conflates Warri City with Itsekiri country. The truth of the matter, which no one can truthfully deny, is that the Itsekiri homeland is in Itsekiri country, a vast area of the Western Niger Delta. However, Warri City is not in Itsekiri country. The Itsekiri establishment wants to seize Warri City because it is now valuable. Because of that it is willing to forsake the name Itsekiri, or else to advance the preposterous proposition that Itsekiri is the same as Warri. We must appeal to the Danjuma Panel to understand that Warri City is different from what the Itsekiri establishment now calls “Warri.”


A Map of Western Niger Delta Showing Location of Warri City

 

Geographically, Warri City is outside Itsekiri country. We enclose an ethnic map of the area (Appendix V). But the Panel may also obtain other maps of the western Niger Delta for its use. It is clear that Warri City physically lies outside the rest of Itsekiri country. In fact, there is a body of water that separates Warri City in the mainland from the island of Ode Itsekiri where Itsekiri country begins from its southeastern region.

 

By way of ancestry, Itsekiri cannot claim Warri City. Just inspect the members of the “Warri” National Council and Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum, who signed their position paper of 7th April, 2003. With the possible exception of Chief F. E. Esisi, about whom we do not know much, the signatories to that position paper have their ancestral homes in Itsekiri country, far away from Warri City. They were not born in Warri City. Their fathers were not born in Warri City. Their grandfathers and other forebears were not born in Warri City. They cannot point to any region of Warri City from where their ancestors hail. Anthropologically, they cannot claim Warri City as their ancestral home. As we said before, Ugbuwangue is the section of the greater Warri City in which Itsekiri claims to ancestry, albeit of rather recent vintage, can be established. However, these Itsekiri do not get on well with the Itsekiri establishment – a problem which resulted in a court case which the Ugbuwangue people won.

 

By way of land ownership, Warri City does not belong to the Itsekiri. The landlords of Warri City are Urhobo families whose ancestors settled and farmed these lands for centuries, possibly up to seven or more centuries ago. And this can easily be proved. Itsekiri royalty and aristocracy have had no option but to turn to these Urhobo families in order to purchase lands for building their homes in Warri. Hussey College, an icon of Itsekiri presence in Warri City, was built on lands that were leased from an Urhobo family. When the Olu of Warri moved from Ode Itsekiri to Warri City in 1952, he leased landed properties from an Urhobo family – a point worth repeating.

 

All of the above glaring facts have not prevented the Itsekiri establishment from claiming Warri City as Itsekiri homeland. In doing so, it calls those whose ancestors are from Warri City “settlers.” The Itsekiri establishment has no proof other than its own assertions that the Itsekiri hail from Warri City. In order to confuse matters, it does not use the term Warri City. Now it claims that Warri City is the same thing as Warri and that Warri is the same as Itsekiri. All of this illogicality and intellectual dishonesty for the sake of obtaining royalties for possessing Warri City!

 

There is another aspect of the Itsekiri establishment’s claim about Itsekiri homelands that should be addressed. They say that they have no other homelands other than Warri City. They point to the numerous cities and towns that Urhobos have, other than Warri: Sapele, Ughelli, Abraka, Eku, Okpara, Effurun, etc. In some versions of this complaint, they also point to Ijaw cities and towns as well as those of the other ethnic nationalities in the Western Niger Delta. In other words, they contend that their circumstances are unique and that Warri City should be awarded to the Itsekiri because they, unlike the Urhobos and other ethnic nationalities of the Western Niger Delta, lack a homeland.

 

Three things need to be said in reply to this frequent complaint from the Itsekiri establishment. First, these towns and cities were built through the hard labour of Urhobo, Ukwuani, Ijaw, and Isoko who value their ancestral villages and towns. The Itsekiri have large territories and beautiful islands that deserve to be well developed. These include Jakpa, Bateri, Ugborodo,  Oberienda, and Koko. But the Itsekiri establishment has abandoned the Itsekiri countryside in its insatiable quest for collecting “overlord” rents in Warri City.

 

Second, Urhobos do not all develop their towns as common properties. There are no common Urhobo towns. Their towns and cities belong to their subcultural units whose indigenes built them. For example, Abraka has been built and developed by the Abraka subcultural unit of Urhoboland. Warri City is the native town of the Agbassa and Okere people. It does not belong to all Urhobos

 

Third, Warri City has been built and developed into its present size and importance through the hard work of Urhobos and the other ethnic groups of the Western Niger Delta. Itsekiri’s contribution to that development is much smaller than Urhobo’s and cannot be said to exceed the contribution of the Ijaw, Ukwuani, or Isoko – the other ethnic nationalities of the Western Niger Delta. We consider it shameful that the Itsekiri establishment now wants to reap where it has not sown.

 

 

THE ITSKIRI ESTABLISHMENT AND THE PERMANENT CRISIS OF THE WESTERN NIGER DELTA

 

In addition to Benin, whose ancient empire and whose modern affairs have been intertwined with the history and public affairs of the region, the Western Niger Delta has five ethnic nationalities that have historical and contemporary relations with one another. These are Ukwuani, Isoko, Ijaw, Urhobo, and Itsekiri. It is revealing to examine the relationships among these ethnic nationalities, both historic and  contemporary.

(i) Isoko is surrounded by the following three ethnic nationalities: Ukwuani, Ijaw, and Urhobo. The Isoko, as a people, have had no problems with any of their neighbours, lacking disputes about ownership of any cities or territory.

(ii) Ukwuani is surrounded by the following five ethnic nationalities: Ika, Western Igbo, Isoko, Urhobo, and Benin. The Ukwuani, as a people, have lived in peace with all these neighbours.

(iii) Western Ijaw is bounded by the following three ethnic nationalities, besides its fellow eastern Ijaw nationality: Urhobo, Isoko, and Itsekiri. The Ijaw, as a people, have had no problems with the Urhobo and Isoko, with whom they have interacted in peace for centuries, possibly for millennia. But they have had perennial problems with the Itsekiri.

(iv) Urhobo is surrounded by the following five ethnic nationalities: Benin, Ukwuani, Isoko, Ijaw, and Itsekiri. The Urhobo, as a people, have also lived in peace with all of these except Itsekiri.

(v) Aside from the Ilaje of Ondo, Itsekiri has the following three ethnic nationalities as neighbours inside the Western Niger Delta: Benin, Urhobo, and Ijaw. The Itsekiri, as a people, have had enormous problems with each of these ethnic neighbours, either historically or in contemporary times. The Itsekiri establishment has led the Itsekiri as a collective into conflicts with every one of its ethnic neighbours.

A hard question to ask is the following: Why do the Itsekiri have problems with their neighbours, both in historic times and in contemporary times? Anyone from the Western Niger Delta will readily come to the conclusion that Itsekiri’s difficulties with its neighbours cannot be because of the ordinary Itsekiri. The ordinary Itsekiri is pleasant and kind. The perennial crisis in the Western Niger Delta has come from the Itsekiri establishment.

 

Since the ascendancy of the Itsekiri establishment to power, following the collapse of the Itsekiri monarchy in mid-nineteenth century over the Itsekiri establishment’s machinations, Itsekiri affairs have been dominated and tormented by the activities of the Itsekiri establishment, with untoward consequences for the ordinary Itsekiri. In important ways, the ordinary Itsekiri has been the main victim of the greed of the Itsekiri establishment. Indeed, the onset of mass poverty of the Itsekiri countryside, which has become chronic, coincides with the rise to power of the Itsekiri establishment in mid-nineteenth century.

 

But the baneful consequences of the overreaching activities of the Itsekiri establishment range well beyond the internal affairs of the Itsekiri into those of Itsekiri’s neighbours. A limited catalogue of the Itsekiri establishment’s interferences in the affairs of its ethnic neighbours, leading to aggravation of tensions in the western Niger Delta, is in order and instructive for understanding the meaning of the current Warri crisis in the larger context of the history of the region.

 

(i) The vehemence and audacity of the Itsekiri establishment burst into the open in the early 1890s when it reacted violently to the expansion of British trading interests beyond Itsekiri into Urhobo lands and also to the Protection Treaties which the British entered into with Urhobo communities. The Itsekiri merchant class resorted to the wanton kidnapping of Urhobos on the River Ethiope and Warri River as punishment for trading with Europeans. Urhobos retaliated with a trade boycott. The chaos that was created disrupted normal activities in the waterways of the Western Niger Delta. This political circumstance resulted in a British proclamation in July 1894 that banned war canoes on account of what the British described as acts of terrorism mounted by the Itsekiri establishment against Urhobos. (See Appendix VI.)

 

(ii) A few years after the resolution of the above problem, the British recruited and received the active support of the Itsekiri establishment in its war against Benin in 1897.

 

(iii) A major icon of the Itsekiri establishment under early British colonialism in the western Niger Delta, Chief Dore Numa, who was a Political Agent of the British Colonial Government for the district, violated the region by leasing Urhobo, Ijaw, and Itsekiri lands to the British without the knowledge of their owners. Taken to court for such outrageous behaviour,  Numa pleaded the overlordship of a non-existing Itsekiri monarchy. British colonial courts corruptly awarded Numa victories in these cases.

 

(iv) Although these disputes were tried as cases between individual Ijaw, Itsekiri and Urhobo landlords, on the one hand, and Dore Numa as a Political Agent of the British Colonial Government on the other hand, the Itsekiri establishment claimed that Numa was representing the Itsekiri and that his victories of overlordship conferred on the Itsekiri the ownership of various lands in the Western Niger Delta. Consequently, it took various communities to British colonial courts in the 1930s, following Numa’s death in 1932. In the first instance, its members sued Okpe-Urhobo for possession of Sapele. They lost. But they also sued for possession of various towns along the River Ethiope, extending up to the Ukwuani town of Obiaroku. Similarly, they sued for possession of the Ijaw towns of Burutu and Forcados.  They lost most of these cases. As late as the 1970s, they sued for the possession of Okere in Warri City, a case that they also lost.

 

(v) In 1952, the Itsekiri establishment maneuvered a new Action Group Government of Western Nigeria to change the title of the King of Itsekiri from Olu of Itsekiri to Olu of Warri, in a blatant attempt to impose the supremacy of the Itsekiri establishment on the other four ethnic nationalities of the Western Niger Delta by an act of governmental fiat. There was uproar throughout the entire region, resulting in loss of lives and properties. It also resulted in the change of the name of Warri Province to Delta Province.

 

(vi) The Itsekiri establishment was alone in the Western Niger Delta in opposing the creation of Midwest Region in the region’s campaign for independence from Western Nigeria. As a concession, it exacted a price for agreeing to the creation of the Midwest Region. In 1963, at the insistence of the Itsekiri establishment, the indigenous people of Warri City were barred from running for elective positions in Warri City, their ancestral home.

 

(vii) The Itsekiri establishment was alone in the Western Niger Delta in opposing the creation of the Delta State. Since its creation, it has harassed its Chief Executives, any time it does not have its way. The venom with which the Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum and “Warri” National Council have attacked Governor James Ibori in their submission to President Olusegun Obasanjo on the Warri crisis is about the same amount of scorn that they have poured on Governor Felix Ibru and Colonel Dungs, a Military Governor of Delta State, in previous times. It is remarkable that the Itsekiri establishment is now boldly announcing its intention to secede from Delta State, taking with it lands that belong to Urhobos and Ijaws.

 

(viii) Secession is not the stuff that ordinary political leaders boast of before the President of the Federation of Nigeria. In their submission to the President on 7th April 2003, Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum and “Warri” National Council vowed as follows: “We have decided to leave [Delta] State willy-nilly . . . We shall declare our homeland to be outside this state on a given day. On that day of declaration, we shall state where we shall be.”  We suggest to the Itsekiri establishment that it needs to learn to live in peace with its ethnic neighbours and to respect the neighbourhood of the Western Niger Delta. The Itsekiri will remain neighbors to Urhobos and Ijaws who have received them into their region and have co-habited with them in the Western Niger Delta for almost five centuries now. Before embarking on a self-serving and ill-advised experiment in secession, the Itsekiri establishment needs to be reminded that a huge number of ordinary Itsekiris currently live in Urhobo lands and other lands outside Itsekiri territories. We believe that it is in the interest of such ordinary Itsekiri that the Itsekiri establishment should work for peace in the region instead of threatening secession. After all, ordinary Itsekiris have always been prepared to live in peace with other groups in the Western Niger Delta. We suggest that the Itsekiri establishment will do well to follow the goodliness of the ordinary Itsekiri, scale down its greed, and work for peace in the Western Niger Delta. It must learn to live in peace with its neighbors and it must make a commitment to respect the rights and the sensibilities of its neighbors.

 

The above instances have been cited in order to argue two points. First, all regional crises in the Western Niger Delta, from the close of the nineteenth century up to the present time, have been connected with the activities of the Itsekiri establishment. Some would even argue that the Itsekiri establishment has instigated all of them. Second, the present Warri crisis must be seen as part of a long series of crises that the Western Niger Delta has had to deal with as a result of the activities of the Itsekiri establishment.

 

We must add the following statement to this presentation. Urhobos have no problem with the ordinary Itsekiri, the lavish propaganda of the Itsekiri establishment notwithstanding. By some estimates, more Itsekiri now live in Urhobo lands than live in Itsekiri lands. In spite of the misbehaviours of the Itsekiri establishment, we trust that the Urhobo people will continue to help the ordinary Itsekiri who have after all been the helpless victims of the quarrelsomeness of the Itsekiri establishment. The Itsekiri establishment is generally viewed as trouble makers in the Western Niger Delta. Unfortunately, that image has unfairly rubbed off on ordinary Itsekiris whom we consider to be decent people and good neighbours.

 

 

THE HISTORIC EXPERIENCE OF CALABAR CITY AS A MODEL FOR WARRI CITY

 

Modern-day Calabar is a tri-ethnic city, made up of three different ethnic nationalities: Efik, Efut, and Qua. The name Calabar was given by the Portugese in the 15th century, just as Nigeria's other sea-ports and rivers of Lagos, Forcados, Escravos, Port Harcourt, Ethiope, Sapele, and Warri were given their names by Europeans, mostly Portuguese. Calabar is the section of Greater Calabar City which was settled by the Efik. Nearby were the territories of the Qua and Efut. In modern times these distinct territories have grown into one another, resulting in Greater Calabar, just as Warri City territories have also grown into one another. All three ethnic nationalities in Greater Calabar accept their circumstances. Although the name Calabar was first used for the Efik, they have not attempted to claim all of modern Calabar City as the Itsekiri establishment has insisted on doing in the case of Warri City, even though the Itsekiri lack the historical basis and factual legitimacy on which the Efik could arguably make such a claim to Calabar City. Nor have the Efik changed their name from Efik to Calabar, as the Itsekiri establishment has sought to do in the case of Itsekiri and Warri.

 

The Efik came into prominence in a fashion that is similar to the Itsekiri experience, albeit with important differences and in a different historical neighborhood. The following is an account of Efik origins provided by one of its intellectuals: “The Efiks migrated to what is present day Calabar through Adamawa across the Benue to Ututu in Ibo land. They settled there for sometime before migrating down the Cross River to Ibibio land where they settled at Oku Iboku. The Efik stayed here for years and then moved down to Creek Town. From Creek Town they moved down to Old Town at what is now Calabar. Another group set up Duke Town and Henshaw Town.” (Personal communication to Peter Ekeh).

 

The Efik intellectual adds that the Efut and Qua migrated from Cameroun and settled further away from the water ways. Because of their proximity to shipping water ways, the Efik came into early contact with the Portuguese. As with the Itsekiri, the Portuguese provided the wherewithal of an elementary trading state. Unlike the Itsekiri, the Efik had a native king who assumed the title of the Obong of Calabar.

 

The contrast between the Itsekiri and the Efik becomes much more pronounced as we probe further into their histories. The Obong of Calabar has remained relatively strong. Unlike the Itsekiri case where kingship collapsed under the weight of deadly opposition from the merchant class, kingship among the Efik has been continuous. There is no parallel to the Itsekiri establishment in Efik history. The Efik have therefore maintained relative harmony in their dealings with neighboring ethnic nationalities, despite the huge advantages it had as a group that supplied middlemen in the trade between the interior peoples, particularly the Ibibio, and European traders, including a horrendous experience of the slave trade. More remarkably, Efik has shared the resources of the modern city of Calabar with its ethnic neighbors, the Efut and Qua into whose territories Efik’s Calabar has grown. This attitude of the Efik is all the more remarkable because it has had historic and geographical claims to Calabar City, in contrast to the Itsekiri whose ties are to Ode Itsekiri and not Warri City.

 

As the Danjuma Panel on the Warri crisis weighs its options, it is important to explore the Calabar experience as a model for Warri City. The Ijaw and Urhobo accept the Itsekiri as owning their own portion of Warri City. The Urhobos, who settled in these lands centuries before Itsekiri ethnic nationality was ever conceived, are willing to accept the Ijaw and the Itsekiri as neighbors in Warri City. It is our understanding that the Ijaws who are aborigines of these swamps and water districts are ready and willing to share Warri City with Urhobos and Itsekiri. Strangely, the new comers to these lands and creeks insist on taking everything -- bait, hook, line, and all. The Itsekiri establishment’s absolutist and obdurate approach to Warri City is ultimately the essence of the Warri crisis.

 

Urhobo Historical Society urges the Panel to study the wisdom of the history of the Calabar experience, craft a model from it, and then strongly advise the Itsekiri establishment to accept a live-and-let-live attitude towards the affairs of Warri City, because it has no viable alternative.
 

 

OUR APPEAL

 

The current Danjuma Task Force, set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo, is not the first commission organized by the Federal Government or a State Government to find answers to the Warri crisis. Both the Nnaemeka Agu Commission of 1993 and the Idoko Commission of 1997 recommended the creation of separate councils, one for each of the three ethnic groups in Warri City, to enable them to exercise their rights of self-determination. These earlier commissions presented recommendations that were apparently unacceptable to the Itsekiri establishment. It is the view in the indigenous communities of Warri City that the Itsekiri establishment used its proverbial leverage with the Federal Government of Nigeria to scuttle the implementation of those recommendations. It is our hope in the Western Niger Delta that fairness will prevail this time around.

 

First, we appeal to the Danjuma Panel to determine the reasons why earlier recommendations on the Warri crisis were not carried out. We think those recommendations are important and fair and should be accepted by the Danjuma Panel. If they are not accepted, then those of us from the Western Niger Delta would want to know why they were not accepted and implemented.

 

Second, we appeal for a clear understanding of the constitutional rights of all Nigerians to have a say in how they are governed. All that the indigenous peoples of Warri City are asking for is to have their own local governments that will enable them to administer their own affairs, as it is in every other Nigerian community. It is insane to tie the administration of Warri City to the rural mandate of the Itsekiri interior for no reason other than to enable the Itsekiri establishment to exercise its power over Warri City.

 

Third, we appeal to the Danjuma Task Force to understand the request of the Itsekiri establishment for what it is. It is an attempt to recruit the power of the Federal Government of Nigeria in the oppression of the indigenous peoples of Warri City. These indigenous peoples of Warri City are asking for an opportunity to run their own local affairs without interference from the self-appointed aristocrats of the Itsekiri establishment.

 

Fourth, we appeal to the Danjuma Task Force to hear directly from the indigenous peoples of Warri City. It would be unfair to expect that their views will be completely and fully represented by spokespersons from the Urhobo hinterland. No one else can fully narrate the indignities that the indigenous Urhobos of Warri have been subjected to by the Itsekiri establishment over the years. No one has a firmer hold on the history of Warri City than their leaders, such as Chief Daniel Obiomah.

 

Fifth, and finally, we ask and pray that the Danjuma Task Force will be able to probe the depth of the Itsekiri establishment. It has encamped in Warri City. But only a small fraction of the Itsekiri people lives in Warri City. That is to say, the larger interest of the Itsekiri cannot be assumed to be identical with the interests of the Itsekiri establishment. There are Itsekiri in various areas of the Western Niger Delta outside Itsekiri lands. The Danjuma Task Force should understand that what is good for the Warri City-based Itsekiri establishment may be poison for the generality of Itsekiri. However, we cannot speak for the Itsekiri – even though Urhobos share a burden arising from the current plight of ordinary suffering Itsekiri.

 

 

Sincerely

 

 

Members of Editorial and Management Committee

Urhobo Historical Society:

Ovie Felix Ayigbe,  B. Pharm., R. Ph.; Onoawarie Edevbie, M.A., M.Sc.; Peter P. Ekeh, Ph.D.; Edirin Erhiaganoma, M.Sc.; O. Victor Ikoba, M.S.N.E., MBA, P.E.;  Joseph E. Inikori, Ph.D.; Isaac James Mowoe, Ph.D., J.D.; O. Igho Natufe, Ph.D.;  Emmanuel Ojameruaye, Ph. D.; Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, Ed.D.;   Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor, M.D., Ph.D.; Elehor O. Urhiafe-Bobson, B.A. (Fine Arts). 

   

 

 

APPENDIXES

I.  Issues in the Interpretation of British "Treaties of Protection" in the Western Niger Delta. http://www.waado.org/UrhoboHistory/NigerDelta/ColonialTreaties/Treaties-Interpretation/InterpretationPage.html

II. British Treaties of Protection with Itsekiri Of Benin River (3 documents).

 

III. British Treaties of Protection with Urhobo Warri District (4 documents)

 

IV. Urhobo-Itsekiri Relations. Response to Itse Sagay by Peter Ekeh

 

V. An Ethnic Map of Western Niger Delta Showing the Geographical Location of Warri City

 

VI. British Colonial Proclamation (1894) Banning War Canoes in Rivers of Western Niger Delta.

 

 

 

REFERENCES

 

Ikime, Obaro. 1969. Niger Delta Rivalry; Itsekiri-Urhobo Relations and the European Presence 1884-1936. London: Longman.

Moore, William A. 1936. History of Itsekiri. London: Frank Cass, 1969. Second Edition.

Obiomah, D. A. 2002.  “Chief J. O. S. Ayomike: Saint Or Sinner? A Critique Of J. O. S. Ayomike's Critique.”   http://www.waado.org/UrhoboHistory/NigerDelta/ColonialTreaties/Treaties-Interpretation/DanielObiomah/ObiomahAnalysisofWarri.html 

Urhobo Historical Society. 2000. British Colonial Rule In The Niger Delta: "Treaties of Protection." (Available at http://www.waado.org/UrhoboHistory/NigerDelta/ColonialTreaties/ColonialTreaties_NigerDelta.html

 

 

 
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