Urhobo Historical Society

Warri City & British Colonial Rule in Western
              Niger Delta


& British Colonial Rule in Western Niger Delta


Edited by Professor Peter Ekeh

Foreword by Senator David Dafinone


Warri City & British Colonial Rule in Western Niger Delta is a documentation of European contacts with Nigeria’s Niger Delta and its peoples, focusing on British colonization of the indigenous people of Warri City in the 1890s. These contacts began with the Portuguese exploration of the region in the early 1480s and the onset of Portuguese diplomatic and commercial contacts with the King of Benin in 1485. The Portuguese also made early commercial contacts with the Urhobo and Ijaw in the 1480s.


Among the consequences of Portuguese commercial and political activities in the Western Niger Delta was the social formation of Itsekiri ethnic nationality. Following a rupture in Portuguese-Benin relations in the 1530s, the Portuguese assisted the two surviving sons of the fugitive Benin Prince Ginuwa to construct a new ethnic nationality named Itsekiri from among migrant Yoruba fishing communities in the Western Niger Delta. The Itsekiri later supplied middlemen in the trade between Europeans and hinterland agricultural communities in the international trade linking Africa, America, and Europe for several centuries.


Portuguese dominance in the Niger Delta waned with the campaign to abolish the slave trade in the 19th century and was replaced with British ascendancy in the region. The British initially followed the path of Portuguese relations with the Itsekiri who were then concentrated in the creeks of Benin River. Following the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, Royal Niger Company became active in the Niger basin, including Urhoboland, moving beyond the coastal areas of the Niger Delta and signing commercial treaties on behalf of the British Government. In the 1890s, British imperial agents became more directly engaged with Urhobo communities. Their activities included a series of treaties with chiefs and people of Urhobo communities. In 1892-3 alone, the British signed seven treaties with Urhobo communities in what the British designated as the District of Warri. These included the famous treaty of March 14, 1893, with the Agbassa, owners of the lands that became known as Warri City, which the British made the headquarters of its colonial Province of Warri.


The political fortunes of the Western Niger Delta were severely affected in the decolonization decade of the 1950s when Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group government inherited political authority from British colonizers. This transfer of political authority favoured the Itsekiri establishment which then shed the official name of Itsekiri, substituting Warri in its place. Among its claims on this account is the assertion that all Warri labels, including Warri City, belonged to the Itsekiri. Rejection of that claim and resistance to its enforcement are at the core of the so-called Warri crisis that has plagued the region from the 1950s unto our own times.


In Warri City & British Colonial Rule in Western Niger, evidence is presented to demonstrate that the indigenous Agbassa were owners of the lands of Warri City long before Itsekiri nationality was fashioned by Ginuwa’s sons and the Portuguese from the 1530s onwards. Several chapters of the book further demonstrate that the British fully recognized and acknowledged from the British-Itsekiri treaties of 1884 and 1894 that the Itsekiri were a coastal people of the banks and lands of Benin River and River Escravos. On the other hand, the British treaties of 1892 and 1893 with the Agbassa and other Urhobo communities of Warri District confirm that the British recognized and acknowledged that the Agbassa and their Urhobo neighbours were the owners of the lands that constitute modern Warri City.


© Urhobo Historical Society 2004




Book’s Launching at the Fifth Annual Conference of Urhobo Historical Society


Venue:            Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun


Date:               October 29, 2004


Time:              1:00 – 3:00 p.m.


Chairman:       Chief E. K. Clark


Reviewer:       Olorogun Professor F.M.A. Ukoli


Chief Launcher: Olorogun Moses Taiga