Sapele Judgment / W37/1941
Lagos 30th April 1943
Cor Kingdom, Petrides, Graham Paul C.J.J.
1 Chief Ayomanor,
2 Chief Asan Edwin Omarin
On behalf of themselves and the Chiefs and people of Okpe clan. … Plaintiffs respondents
Ginuwa II His Highness, The Olu of Itsekiri for himself and as representing the Itsekiri people of Sapele… defendants- appellant.
Representative action – plaintiffs representative capacity not disputed – to whom is relief is to be granted?
The plaintiffs claim a declaration of title to land known as Sapele Township, suing on behalf of themselves and the Chiefs and the people of the Okpe clan. Their evidence that they were entitled to sue on behalf of the land was uncontradicted, unchallenged in cross examination, and accepted by the trial judge. The trial judge granted a declaration of title to ‘the plaintiff and to those members of the Okpe clan who are blood descendants of the founders of the settlements now known as Sapele lands. ‘
The defendants appeal on the grounds , inter alia, the judgement was against the weight of evidence and that the order of the court was abortive in that it granted title to persons who are neither identified nor identifiable and who have not be shown to be the same as the persons on whose behalf the plaintiffs claimed .
Held – there was ample evidence to justify the findings of fact arrived at by the trial judge, but that the declaration made by him was wrong in form and ordered that the declaration should be varied to one in favour of the plaintiffs in the capacity in which they sued.
Per Petrides C.J.J: The defendants, who have been found to have no interest in the land, were not entitled to object to the form of the judgement.
Per Graham paul C.J.J: the question who were the members of the Okpe clan, and what were their rights/ interests, were not in issue.
Appeal dismissed with costs.
Case referred to: Omagbemi & others vs Dore Numa (NLR 17)
The facts are fully set out in the judgement .
E. J Alex Taylor (with him L.N Mbanefo and J. I .C Taylor) for Appellant.
A: Soetan (with him T.E Nelson – Williams: for respondents)
The following judgement were delivered –
Per Petrides C. J J Gold Coast
The plaintiffs by their pleadings claimed a declaration of title to the land known as Sapele Township. They alleged that they were the owners in possession and had exercised rights of ownership from time immemorial.
The defendants in his defence denied the plaintiffs allegation and pleaded that the Olu or his representative have “ever been the rightful owner of the land for the Itsekiri people”.
In paragraphs nine of the defence the defendants pleaded that “as overlord of all Sapele lands , he is entitled to receive rents from tenants placed there by him or his late representative ,Numa and further states that the plaintiffs are subjects of his and owe allegiance to him as their overlord “.
The plaintiffs belong to the Sobo tribe and the defendants to Jekri tribe and are referred to herein as Sobo and Jekris respectively.
The trial judge found there was no dispute that Jekris had been on the land in dispute between 1890 and 1908. He mentions the year 1908, as this was the year the whole of the land in dispute was leased to government for a term of 99 years. There is no doubt that from 1908 up to date Jekris have continued to live on the land
In the course of his judgement the learned trial judge stated “I can find no substance in the defendants claim in their defence either as to ownership or as to overlordship. They might well be described as impudent claims “.
On the other hand he found that for all practical purposes, the whole area now claimed was formally farmed by Sobos. After the ‘Nana war’ which took place in 1894, ‘a large number of Jekris ran for refuge to Sapele and there obtained the permission of the Sobos to settle, giving customary ‘dashes’ for the grant of that privilege. Sometime later the firm of McIver limited arrived and obtained the permission of Ogodo, a Sobo, to settle. Each year that firm paid twenty pounds rent to Ogodo, during his life time, and from his death and until the present time to his son.
In 1890 Mr. Isaac Palmer settled at Sapele and was introduced to Ofotokun, who was then recognized as the head Chief of the plaintiffs. He was given a piece of land by Ofotokun in respect of which he paid the rent of 5pounds per annum to Ofotokun and his successors, including the first plaintiff, until his trial . This witness stated that he assisted the bishop to acquire the site upon which St. Luke church now stands and he introduced the bishop to Ofotokun and to the late Omarin, the father of the present plaintiff, Omarin, as being the persons entitled by custom to deal with the land. It stated that this occurred prior to the lease to Government of the land. In 1907 the plaintiffs gave Ituke, a Jekri, a piece of the land in dispute.
There is evidence on the record that that the Sobos granted other sites to the European Mercantile Firms and the trial judge points out that the evidence of the defendants is entirely silent upon the manner and the terms upon which the European Merantile Firms establish themselves. It appears that the trial judge accepted the plaintiffs evidence that before Government established their offices at Sapele , the Sobos gave their firms permission to settle and erect buildings on the shore in exchange for ‘dashes’ of tobacco and cloths .
It is clear that the trial judge was satisfied that the Sobos were the original settlers on the land and had exercised exclusive rights of ownership , Up till the time of Government obtained a lease of the land by deed dated 3rd Dec 1908.
This deed recites that it was made ‘between Chief Dore Numa of Benin river, trader, acting for and on behalf of the Chiefs and people of Sapele (hereinafter called the lessor) of the one part’ and the Acting Governor of the Colony of Southern Nigeria of the other part. By this deed the lessor conveyed to the Governor or his successor the land in dispute ‘in trust for his Majesty his Heir and successor for a term of 99years according to the true intents and meaning of the Public Land Ordinance 1908’ at an annual rental of 100 pounds .
In paragraph five of the defence it is stated that ‘Chief Dore Numa leased the Sapele Township lands in his own authority as the representative of Olu of Itsekiri who has ever been the rightful owner of the Land for the Itsekiri people. In this court the contention of the defendants has been that Chief Dore Numa executed the deed on behalf of the Chiefs and the people of Sapele who were composed of Jekris and Sobos.
It is not disputed that Chief Dore Numa was recognized by Government as the paramount Chief of the Jekris. The trial judge states that the plaintiffs told him that they regarded Chief Dore Numa as their friend until certain events occurred in 1932. He was a trader and political agent who had considerable influence with the officers of the Government of that day, and when government negotiated for a leases of this land, they authorized Chief Dore to complete the negotiation and to sign the deed on their behalf purely as a friend. They were highly satisfied with the result and for his assistance permitted him first to take thirty pounds at first and later forty pounds of the 100 pounds rent given to them by government. The trial judge states that ‘the evidence culled by the plaintiffs showed that until 1932 the relation between them and Dore remained cordial, but since then, when Dore claimed Sapele land to be his, and ordered the Jekris living there and around to pay no more rent to the Sobos, a claim which the defendants accede to this day and which ultimately compelled the plaintiffs to come to the court to rebut. Dore died in the same year, and the evidence before me is quite clear that, short of taking action in the court, the plaintiffs by petition and by complaint to the Local Administrative officers of the Government, protested at the Jekris claim to overlordship, requested that the rent should be paid into the Olu Trust Fund as has been done just prior and subsequently to Dore’s death, and claimed the whole rent.
Later the trial judge stated ‘ 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 who were residing in that area and around it, now known as Sapele . If any further evidence was required to establish the truth of the plaintiffs’ allegation it is found in the evidence of Chief William Moore himself. It tells me that he and others petitioned in 1930 against Dore for keeping this rent himself and that is precisely what the plaintiffs intended Dore should do with the money, as they tell me, and it was exactly what he did with it.
It has been contended that the verdict is against the weight of evidence. I am satisfied that there was ample evidence justifying the conclusion arrived at by the learned trial judge and I see no reason for disturbing any of his findings of facts.
There is in my opinion no substance in any of the other grounds of appeal, except this –
“The order of court is vague and abortive in that it has granted title to persons who are neither identified nor identifiable and who in any case are not shown to be the same persons as the persons on whose behalf the plaintiffs claimed”.
In the last paragraph but one of his judgement the judge stated ‘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 settlements now known as Sapele lands a declaration of title that they are the owner of the land now commonly known as Sapele Township’.
The plaintiffs claim to the declaration of title is made on behalf of themselves and the Chiefs and people of Okpe clan
In my opinion the declaration made by the trial judge was wrong in form he was clearly satisfied that the section of the Okpe clan which created the settlement now known as Sapele Township became the owners thereof. Their descendants, the Chief plaintiffs, now stand in their shoe and they ask for the declaration in the terms claimed in the writ. The defendants, who have been found to have no title or interest in the land, are not entitled to object to the form of the declaration which the plaintiffs asked for as the descendants of the original settlers.
In my opinion the appeal should be dismissed with costs and judgement of the court below maintained except as to the form of the declaration which should be in the terms claimed in the writ.
Graham Paul C J J Sierra Leone
I have had the advantage of reading the judgement which has just been delivered and I concur in it but this appeal had been argued as such exhaustive length before this court that I feel obliged to express my own view of the argument in more detail.
The respondents as plaintiffs in this case claimed a declaration of title to a piece of land at Sapele comprising approximately 510 acres or thereabouts formerly known as Sapele Township as described and delineated on a plan which was put in evidence at the trial. The claim was made by the respondents on behalf of themselves and the Chiefs and people of Okpe clan.
The capacity in which the defendants-appellants contest the respondents claim in the suit in the appeal is a matter of more difficulty. He was sued for himself and as representing the Itsekiri people of Sapele and in paragraph two of his statement of defence he admitted that he was sued in that capacity. It appeared however that in paragraph five of his statement of defence that his case was that he had in regard to the land in question the same right as the late Chief Dore Numa ‘who leased the Sapele Township Land in his own authority as a representative of the Olu of Itsekiri who has ever been the rightful owner of the lands of the Itsekiri people. The Itsekiri people ‘of Sapele’ are only a comparative few of the Itsekiri people and in paragraph six of his statement of defence the defendants say ‘Chief Dore Numa as the representative of the Olu the owner of the land on behalf of the Itsekiri people received yearly rent as a matter of right due to the lessor from the Nigerian Government for the said Itsekiri people of Sapele. It was therefore left a little in doubt on the pleadings whether the defendants, claiming as he does to stand in shoes of the late Chief Dore Numa ad hoc, was setting up a title on behalf of, and as representing the whole of the Itsekiri people or those of the Itsekiri people who are included in the description ‘Itsekiri people of Sapele’. If the defendants himself had given evidence this doubt would probably have been clearly and authoritatively resolved one way or the other, but the defendants did not give evidence and we must do the best we can with the evidence of the defendants’ witnesses. His first witness William Moore, who the learned trial judge had described in his judgement as a ‘self styled historian’ said ‘I know the Sapele Township. It is Olu’s land. It is ‘part and parcel of the land in the Warri province known as Olu land.’ Further, this witness referring to the share of rent which Dore received from this land , said ‘ the money’ was applied for the upkeep of the Olu’s house at Ode-Itsekiri ‘and for the management of the Jekri country in general ‘. (Here it may be noted that ‘Itsekiri ‘and ‘Jekri’ are synonymous ). The evidence of William Moore therefore seems to suggest that the land in question is claimed by the defendants to belong to the Olu or his representative on behalf of the whole Jekri people and not only on behalf of the Jekri people of Sapele. The other witness for the defendants could not throw very much light on this question.
Upon that state of the pleadings and evidence counsel for the defendants in the court below submitted at the close of the case that Chief Dore Numa’s position in regard to the land in question was as defined in the case of Omagbemi & others v. Dore Numa (5N.L.R.17). A reference to that case shows that Chief Dore Numa’s position in regard to all Jekri land was that he held it as the trustee for the whole Jekri people.
The keystone of the defendants’ case is the lease of this land executed by the late Chief Dore Numa to Nigerian Government in 1908. Looking to that document for assistance as to Chief Dore Numa’s capacity in dealing with this land one would have expected on the defendants’ case to find him described as acting either on behalf of the whole Jekri people or on behalf of the Jekri people of Sapele. But we find neither of these descriptions. He is simply described in that document as ‘Chief Dore Numa, trader, acting for and on behalf of the Chiefs and people of Sapele. From beginning to end of that document there is not a single mention of ‘Jekris’ which is to mind one of the most significant facts in the whole case. Another significant fact is no Jekri chief living at Sapele was called as a witness for the defendants. And there is no evidence whether that any Jekri of Sapele ever got a penny of the rent of this land, paid under this 1908 lease.
In these circumstances I find it somewhat extra-ordinary that the appellants counsel in this case appears to contend, if I understand this argument alright, that Chief Dore in granting the 1908 lease was acting for and on behalf of the mixed community (Jekris and Sobos) of Sapele excluding presumably the Ijaws, Yorubas, Hausas and Europeans established there.
So much for the difficulties and doubt about the capacity in which the appellant is contesting the claim of the respondents. But the ‘respondents’ claim was for a declaration of title to this land on behalf of themselves and the Chiefs and the people of Okpe clan. The court below has given to the respondents a declaration of title to the exact terms of which I shall have occassion later to refer. It was of course for the respondents claiming declaration of title, to prove their case and the main question in this appeal is whether the respondets discharged the onus of proof upon them in this respect.
A considerable mass of evidence was given at this trial, some of it not very relevant to the issue involved. The learned judge with the evidence in an exhaustive judgement and we have had argument at great length in this court from both sides. As usual in this land cases much of the evidence is traditional ; handed down orally from generation to generation , no dougbt gaining or losing details in that process and in the process of the witness actually giving witness in the case .
The respondents have given evidence that they are the proper persons duly authorized to bring this claim on behalf of the Okpe clan. If the Okpe clan has any right over this land there must be some person or persons who can bring a claim in regard to it. There is no suggestioin by the appellant in evidence or cross examination that there is anyone other than the respondents who is the proper persons to bring such an action as this on behalf of the Okpe clan. What the individual rights of the members of the Okpe clan in regard to this land is not in issue in this case. This is a matter for the clan to settle among themselves, if the land is Okpe clan land. It is my opinion established for the purpose of this case the respondents are the proper people to bring this claim on behalf of the Okpe clan.
As regards the traditional history the learned judge has accepted as ‘entirely reliable’ the account given by the respondents’ witness Amuna Aparo, an old man of about eighty. I have found nothing in the record or in the argument of appellant counsel to justify a decision that the learned judge was wrong in accepting the evidence of this witess as he did. It is clear from his recorded remarks as to other witnesses that the learned judge was throughout maintaining a critical watch on the way in which the respondents’ witnesses gave their evidence. The evidence of this witness is supported strongly by the evidence of a completely neutral witness, the late Mr I.T. Palmer, a Yoruba, who distinguished career in Nigeria, is well known.
The evidence of these two witnesses confirms the respondents’ traditional history and provides hard facts consistent only with the respondents’ traditional story that the original occupiers and owners of this land were the Okpe clan and not the Jekris.
On the other hand the evidence for the appellants is not impressive to read nor does it appear to have impressed favourably the learned judge who heard it. The traditional history emanating from the ‘fertile brain ‘ of the appellant ‘self syled’ historian is indeed fantastic and unconvincing , and the attempt to produce actual hard facts to back up their fantastic story is not at all impressive to read. I am not surprised that the so called ‘history’ was not accepted by the court below. The acticvities of Chief Dore Numa was veery strenuously founded upon by appellant counsel as supporting the appellants’ case. But on careful consideration I find nothing in the activity of this Chief, fundamentally inconsistent with the respondents’ case. The key to the whole of Chief Dore’s activities is to be found in his own personal history . He was by the government appointed their political agent, a position of great prestige and influence which he occupied for many years. He was undoubtedly a personal power in the land. He was by Government appointed paramount Chief of the Jekris and president of the native court. He enjoyed the conficdence of the local administrative officers. He was the head of the Jekri people vis a vis this powerful personality the Okpe Chiefs were comparatively non entities. All that is true but I find no solid evidence that Chief Dore Numa or any of his predecessors as Olu or representative of Olu ever became by any native process the overlord of the Okpe people or that he or his predececessors ever acquired any propriety right over lands at Sapele where neither he nor his predecessors ever lived. None of his government appointments would give him such propriety rights.
Counsel for the appellants have stressed very vehemently the execution by Chief Dore of the 1908 lease as supporting Chief Dore’s propriety rights in this land but I was not at all impressed by this argument. A regularly paid substantial annual rent with the credit of the Government to secure it for 99years, would naturally seem to the Okpe people in their not very sophisticated state a tremendous boon to acquire which they might well be willing to let Chief Dore have a share of the rent as a reward for his agency and assistance in obtaining the lease. So far as the evidence shows even sixty pounds a year was considerable revenue for this unsophisticated people. I see no reason to differ from the learned judge when he said ‘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 who were residing in that area and around it now known as Sapele Township’
Appellants’ counsel made such argument that the District Commissioner would never accept a deed of lease by a mere agent without a Power of Attorney under “seal” authorizing the agent to execute the Deed. All I can say in regard to that conveyancing argument is that after a considerable judicial experience of these land transactions in the “bush” I would be amased to find an experienced administrative officer like Douglas accepting for the Government a deed by Chief Dore as head Chief of the Jekris without any mention in the Deed either of Jekris or the head chietaincy, on the other hand a mere technical conveyance flaw in regard to the Deed executed in the “bush” does not surprise me at all .
I now come to the terms of declaration of title which was granted by the court below. This to mind is the only difficulty in the case. It seems to me that the evidence on the learned judges finding of fact, there is no reason why he should not have granted the declarationasked for in the writ, to the people who asked for it namely Chief Ayomanor and Chief Edwin Omarin on behalf of themselves and the Chiefs and people of Okpe clan. There may or may not at some time arise questions as to who is or who is not a member of the Okpe clan which authorized the bringing of this action but this questions do not seem to me to arise in this case. The respondents have on the evidence sufficiently identified the people whom they represent under the name of Okpe clan with the original owners of the land in question. Their evidence that they were authorized this action on behalf of Okpe clan was uncontradicted, unchallenged in cross examination , and accepted by the court below. In my opinion the appeal should be dismissed but the judgement of the court below should be varied so as to make the declaration given a declaration in favour of the plaintiff in the capacity in which they sued. In order words that the judgment should be for the plaintiffs in terms of the writ of summons. I consider the respomdents are entitled to the cost of this appeal.
Kingdom C J J Nigeria
I concur with judgement which had been delivered. To my mind the strongest indication of the weakness of the defendants-appelants’ case is the fact that he has found it necessary to alter completely , upon appeal to this court, his contention in regard to the all important lease to the Government in 1908. His case in the court below was set out in paragraph five of the statement of defence. ‘The defendants say that the late Chief Dore Numa leased the Sapele Township land in his own authority as the representative of the Olu of Itsekiri who has ever been the rightful owner of the land for the Itsekiris
That is the case he tried and failed to prove.
But in this court his case was put by his counsel in these words :“We contend Chief Dore conveyed not as agents of plaintiffs but as one holding the legal estate on behalf of the mixed community of Sapele “
The two cases are not merely inconsistent, they are entirely contedictory. The first was rejected by the court below and I can see no reason why it should be accepted in this court. The second is disposed off by the finding of facts in the following passage from the judgment of the court below, with which I see no reason to differ –
‘Who are 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 were not Jekris. The plaintiffs tell me that Dore conveyed to government in his private capacity as their agent for this purpose. The Deed set 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 who were residing in that area and around it, and kown as Sapele Township”.
On the findings I agree that the terms of the declaration granted in the court below should be amended to a declaration in the terms prayed by the writ.
The appeal is dismissed with costs assessed at 200 guineas.
It is further ordered that in lieu of the declaration of the title granted in the court below, there be granted to the plaintiffs as they are described in the writ, a declaration to title to all that piece or parcel of land situate at Sapele comprising approximately five hundred and ten acres or thereabouts commonly known as Sapele Township to the westeren bank of the Ethiope river on the east by the southern bank of the Benin river and more particularly described and delineated on the plan marked as Ex. 1 in this case , which plan shall be attached to and form part of the grant.
Sapele Land Case Analysed
Further Analysis of the case
1) Title of the plaintiffs – the plaintiff respondents in the case was the “Chiefs and people of Okpe clan”. A clan is not a kingdom, so it could not have Chiefs. Since the judgment refers to Okpe clan, no Chiefs could have been there. There was no mention of a kingdom, or a ruling house, throughout the judgment. Nobody sued in person of the Orodje (who had not been established then) neither did any person claim to be in his representative capacity. For the Olu was well represented in all cases (Ometan versus Chief Dore Numa; Olue versus Chief Dore Numa; Olu versus Ogbe-Ijoh etc). Orodjeship came into existence in 1945 (as Mr Mebitaghan) and only became his royal highness in 1947(Osume2006; Onigu2005; Honsbira &St.Ifa 2011). No Okpe Chief was mentioned in the judgment (because no one was a Chief).
2) Isekiri people of Sapele – although the Okpe as a whole was mentioned in the case, there was a peculiar mention of the ‘Isekiri of Sapele’. Nothing was mentioned about Sapele Okpe community. Thus, for anybody to come and claim to be ‘Sapele Okpe community’ is an anomaly. This means there was Isekiri of Sapele, but nothing was and is ‘Sapele Okpe’ by law, flowing from this judgment. On the other hand, Ayomanor, and Omarin sued on behalf of Okpe clan, so for anybody to operate as ‘Sapele Okpe community’ is illegal as far as this case is concerned.
3) The form of the judgment – the judgment is wrong in form. “ the order of the court is vague and abortive in that it granted title to persons who are neither identified, nor identifiable and who in any case are not shown to be the same as the persons on whose behalf the plaintiffs claimed’
In the last paragraph but one the judge states
“I do grant to the plaintiffs Ayomanor and Omarin and those members of the Okpe clan who are blood descendants of the founders of the settlement, known as Sapele lands, a declaration of title that they are the owners of the land now known as Sapele Township”.
“Persons who are neither identified or identifiable “this is a very vague statement. It does not point to any body in particular. Ayomanor and Omarin are the plaintiffs respondents. Title cannot be given to them, but to their ancestors. In Idundun versus Okumagba (1976), possessory title was granted to Oki, Olodi and Ighogbadu families of Okere Urhobo, before it was awarded to Daniel Okumagba. In Olughor versus Otuedon, Udefi, Sansan, Okposo etc were mentioned before title was given to the ancestors of the Gbolokposos, who have radical title to almost the whole of Uvwie and a large chunk of Okpe local government, under the overlordship of the Olu of Warri, before title was granted to Otuedon.
“The trial judge granted a declaration of title to the plaintiff ‘Ayomanor and Omarin and to those members of the Okpe clan who are blood descendants of the founders of the settlement now known as Sapele land”.
If you juxtapose this judgment with the fact that the plaintiffs are standing for the Chiefs and people of Okpe clan “you see a lot of discrepancies –
a) Chief and people of Okpe clan went to sue
b) Title was granted to members of Okpe clan (because the judges knew there were no Chiefs)
c) The court granted title to only 510 acres, not the whole of Sapele land.
d) The term blood descendants of the founders. The name of founders is not mentioned. How could people with neither names, nor identities found a town? An unidentified man cannot and will never be a legal entity.
e) ‘Blood descendants of the founders’, this is a very vague and abortive term. No founders were named as in Idundun versus Okumagba; or Olughor versus Otuedon (1997).
f) From the above it showed that an entirely different people sued and an entirely different class of people was granted judgment to. This definitely is a killing of justice. This means one group (Okpe Chiefs – who never existed then, for Okpe was a clan not a kingdom – sued) and an entirely different group of people: ‘blood descendants of the founders’, who are not mentioned as plaintiffs were awarded judgment.
g) This judgment is therefore, fraudulent and inconclusive.
Hear ‘In my opinion the appeal should be dismissed, with costs, as to the form of the declaration, which should be in the terms claimed in the writ”
The word should is futuristic, no other judgment has been carried out. This means the judgment has not been varied in the capacity of the plaintiff. The people are yet unidentified. A group of Okpe Chiefs (which never existed) could not sue and a different people entirely – ‘blood descendants of original founders’ awarded judgment to.
8) The respondents are not the proper people to bring the case to court. Omarin is a native of Aghalokpe through his mother (Descended from Ishans who settled there. Honsbira&St.Ifa 2011) who met the descendants of Ogunni(an Isekiri there) and Ijighare was granted a plot by them. Edwin Omarin was maternally related to Aghalokpe, not Sapele. Ayomanor was a native of Amukpe not of Sapele. He was one time the Otota (Chief spokesman) of Amukpe community). Thus, the court erred when it says ‘it is in my opinion established for the purpose of this case the respondents are the proper people to bring this case on behalf of Okpe clan.
Analyzing Dore’s land lease
Dore’s lease did not mention the Chiefs and people of Okpe clan – there were no Chiefs. It also did not mention the Chiefs of Warri kingdom, or Isekiri kingdom. Dore need not mention it. It is clear the Okpe at that time had no Chiefs, but the Isekiri with a kingdom, had Chiefs. The court says ‘side by side with Dore, the Chiefs are non entities’. A ‘non entity’ is a person who is not in existence. How could Dore include the names of nonexistent Chiefs in his land conveyance?
HEAD OF THE Jekri tribe, representative of the Olu, agent of the government, and one of the five paramount Chiefs to be elected into government service cannot be an agent to ‘unsophisticated people’, nor to Chiefs that were not there. The judges noticed this difficulty and says :
“If the defendant himself had given evidence, this doubt would probably have been clearly and authoritatively resolved one way or the other. But the defendant did not give evidence, and we must do the best we can with evidence of the defendant’s witness”.
The evidence of Dore not seen is here
Dore and Sapele Land
Dore was one of the greatest personalities of Nigeria of his day.
Hear a description of Dore by Ikime: “That was the beginning of over thirty five years of faithful and very profitable service to the British by this man who became one of the most powerful figures in Southern Nigeria between 1896 and 1932 when he died. Chief Dore in terms of status and power could be favourably compared to Chief Onyeama of the former Eastern Nigeria and Alafin Ladigbolu of Oyo” (Ikime in Onigu 2005:52). Ikime continued: “Under the Lugardian dispensation, Dore was appointed a recognized Chief, the only one so appointed in Warri Province, made up of Urhobo, Isoko, Ijo, Ukwani, Aboh and Itsekiri. This conferred in Dore the status of a paramount Chief. That done, Dore was appointed the native authority for Warri Division – a division which included the Urhobo, the Isoko and the Ijo”. To cap it all, the gazette declared:
“The native authorities of the Warri division other than Dore Numa are made subordinate to Chief Dore Numa (Prof Otite 2005:52 -53). The gazette notice no 104 Nigerian gazette vol 4 No 45, 13 Sept 1917.
What Dore said of himself: “We gave Sapele land to Government on behalf of Olu. I signed the deed. I distribute the rent from Sapele among the Olu people there… The Sobo did not occupy the particular portion I gave to government. The land which Sobos occupy is their land, and I will not give their land to strangers. Sobos receive share of the rent sometimes as a dash from Olu… There has never been any protest from Koko and Warri about. I told the government I was head of Olu family verbally.”
If Dore or any person had presented this speech during the litigation, the judgment would have been different. The gazette also granted the people to make chiefs among the Sobo. This means following the tenet of indirect rule, chief Dore as leader of Isekiri, could and did make chiefs for the Urhobo since, they had no capacity to make chiefs, they being stateless societies (Obayemi 1977; Horton 1976 Ikime1980; Honsbira&St.ifa2011; Roth 1903; Leonard 1906; Talbot 1926, etc) . A group of unsophisticated people cannot send Dore on an errand. If so, it means Nana, Oba Overami, Kosoko etc sent the British on errands to capture and colonize them. Dore being an agent to unsophisticated people is not feasible.
4) “Isekiri came to Sapele after the Nana war”
This was one of the false of assumptions made in the case. Olomu of Ebrohimi waged war with Ogiegba of Elume and brought him to Amukpe (near Sapele). Olomu defeated Ogiegba. Olomu was Nana’s father and was governor of Isekiri between 1879 and 1883. This was before Nana’s war. Olomu established Sibogu and Sagay as general – regents in the Sapele area. (Honsbira&St.Ifa2011; Ikime 1995; Sagay, undated).
Fregene was the cousin of Ogiegba, and he was born before the Nana war. He pleaded with Olomu to be lenient with his brother (Ogiegba), Olomu obliged and spared his life. Teye, the father of Fregene traded extensively with the Okpe, beyond the present Sapele Township. Ogiegba himself was half Isekiri, to prove the veracity of this statement, the name of his younger brother was Oritsedere. It was when he took the wife of a resident doctor from Ishan who resided in OrereOkpe that the Isekiri gave him the nickname of “togho toma minimo (biti), now translated as tikoko tigho minimo (Honsbira & St.Ifa 2011)
The Isekiri settled and founded Aghalokpe. The Isekiri (people of Isekiri descent) are still In charge of the settlement. When Ijighare (whose origin is from Edo state) (Honsbira & St.Ifa 2011) got to Aghalokpe, he was given a plot of land and wife from the aboriginal Isekiri of Ogunni. As a mere doctor , he was the one that was sent on an errand to the Olu to send emissaries to fight the Ijaws pirating in Aghalokpe , the old site of Sapele(Sagay undated, Honsbira and St.Ifa2011; Salubi 1960) it is from this Ijighare(a non Okpe, Okpe) that Edwin Omarin became Okpe . There were also the people of AjaOgunoyibo who are of the same spermatozoan origin with the AgahalOkpes. The OgunOyibos are still Isekiri; the Aghalokpes still jealously guarding their Isekirian heritage. For this reason they have been on many occasions short changed by modern Okpe leadership – for example in the election of the Orodje of Okpe, leader of the Okpe people. Some Itsekiri in Sapele before the Arrival of Okpewere: The Irigbos, Okoyitemi Okogbemi (Alias Ugongon), Ukutemi Omijen (Ukute), Kalejaye, Agbakpadodo, call just three. Other Itsekiri of this time were some Olukwumi; some Ebu, both of these came as Itsekiri via Warri. There were the Ugborodos, the Ojombas, some Ogunmaja Adherents of Inorin, some Urejus, and some descendants of who are in Sapele to this day.
In the immediate days eveing the coming of the Okpes, the following Itsekiri personages had holds in Sapele: Iye, Idiare, Fregene, Teye, Oyan, Etuwewe, Egbe, Olomu, Nana, Oporokun, Chanomi, Dibofun, Abikpere e.t.c). See Nana prosecution report, 1896. Others were Harrison, Ikomi, Gagar, Oke i, Dasagbaghan e.t.c. The coming of all these predate the Okpes whose coming is only in the 17th century (Osume, Ph.D 2007).
Presence of Sapele Isekiri in the case
The Isekiri of Sapele – the Ikomi, Aja-Ogun-Oyibo, the Sagays, the Olomu descendants, the people of Aja-Ojigwo, the Fregene, Efejukus (of Ugbeyiyi), Ajimeles, etc were not consulted before or during the case. Oral tradition says the Okpe (and all Urhobo) threatened on pain of death with black magic for they were so diabolic and ‘unsophisticated’ then that the rightful people, the Sapele Isekiri feared for their lives and Isekiri like William Moore from distant location who could escape the Okpe onslaught, came to court.
Technicality of conveyance of deed
There was a technical fault in the conveyance of deed. The court admits here – ‘on the other hand, a mere technical conveyance flaw in the ‘bush’ does not surprise me at all (pg93)’. Since the deed is the major instrument of the case, if the deed showed some conveyance flaw because it is carried out in the ‘bush’ or not, shows the whole judgment is faulty and should be revisited. Therefore, the judgment is ‘wrong in form’.
Delineation of the judgment
The area as per the survey is a paltry 510acres, less than 1 square mile. This is a very little plot of land. The present Sapele metropolis is more than 2000 acres of land. Since nothing is mentioned about the Sapele Okpe community, it is taken that the remaining plot of land belongs to the ‘Isekiri of Sapele’ categorically mentioned in the case.
Summary of analysis
1) Title of plaintiffs and defendants are faulty. ‘Chiefs and people of Okpe clan were not defined, ‘Isekiri of Sapele’ were not represented.
2) The form of the judgment is wrong. It granted title to people who are ‘neither identified nor identifiable’.
3) Judgment is inconclusive for two reasons –
a) It has not been varied in the capacity of the plaintiff
b) It did not reach the Privy Council (the then equivalent of the Supreme Court)
4) Paramount Chief Dore Numa could not have been agent of an ‘unsophisticated’ people in the ‘bush’, nor could he have signed for ‘non entity Chiefs’ without names.
5) There were there ample Isekiri in the Sapele area, before the Nana war of 1894.
6) There are clear evidences of Isekiri overlordship and occupation.
7) The court did not allow Isekiri to know who they were litigating against. This shows there was insincerity
Reliefs to seek
1) Varying of the judgment in the capacity of the plaintiff.
2) A clear delineation of the 510 acres of land within the Sapele metropolis, because it is clear the remaining part belongs to ‘Isekiri of Sapele’ mentioned in the judgment, as against Sapele Okpe, not mentioned.
3) Separating Chiefs and people of a nonexistent Okpe kingdom from the ‘descendants of blood founders and from the socio-cultural cooperation, called “Sapele Okpe Community” as now constituted.
4) Returning to the technicality flaw in the deed of conveyance – the backbone instrument of the case. Sapele Okpe community is not mentioned in the deed. The Chiefs and people of Sapele are mentioned. Since Dore signed on and on behalf of himself and the Chiefs and people of Sapele, it should be taken that he is the only known person in the deed.
5) The people with locus standi to represent the Isekiri are the Isekiri people of Sapele, not people like William Moore
6) Lastly , we wish to say that the case as it is presented is wrong in form and judgment, because these conditions have not been met
Annalises done by
OGHANRANDUKUN OLOMU (ST.IFA) AND
AGHAROWU EE (HONSBIRA)