This being a submission made by Itsekiri Deligates during the Washington Peace Congress.
Please be advised that we would like subsections 5(ii), 5(iii) and 5(iv) excised from the agenda of the Washington, DC Peace Congress. We think issues such as the title of the Itsekiri monarchy and the ownership of Warri are both of personal interest to Itsekiri people and irrelevant to the crisis in Warri.
As we indicated when we submitted our proposals for the agenda, we have not been delegated by Itsekiri leadership to speak or enter into any agreement on matters that are of personal interest to Itsekiri people. However, we feel confident that we can and are willing to join our neighbors in discussion of substantive issues of common interest.
We must state our abhorrence of the attack on and disrespect for our tradition and heritage by our neighbors’ unjustified questioning of the title of the Itsekiri monarchy. We would like to note that Itsekiri communities in Ijaw and Urhobo homelands accord traditional rulers in those areas their every due respect. The least we deserve is reciprocity. Nonetheless, for the sake of civility and in our spirit of serious desire for peace in the region, we adduce these final reasons for our position that the title of the Itsekiri monarchy and the ownership of Warri are indisputable. We hope others will reciprocate our good faith if they cannot provide supportive evidence to impeach our claim.
The Title of Olu of Warri
There is extensive evidence that after founding Warri Kingdom in the late fifteenth century, the Itsekiri monarch always bore the title to indicate his rulership over the land occupied by his people. The name “Warri” is a derivative of “Iwere” as Itsekiris know their homeland and this explains their reference to themselves as “Om’Iwere” or “child of Iwere”. According to Professor P.C. Lloyd, a British anthropologist, in a section on Itsekiri co-authored with R.E. Bradbury in the Benin Kingdom ,
The Itsekiri call themselves Itsekiri or Iwere, … In English literature they are known as Warri or Jekri,…. Warri and Itsekiri have been spelt in many different though recognizable ways by European writers e.g. Oere, Ouere, Awerri, Owerri, Jekri and Jakri
Historical accounts show usage of several anglicized versions of the name and references to the Olu of Warri. On pages 66 and 67 of Michael Crowder’s The Story of Nigeria, reference is made to Dapper who wrote in the 17 th century and referred to the “King of Ouwerre.”
Also in 1862, Father Jerome Merolla referred to the “reigning Olu of Warri.” Sir Alan Burns G.C.M.G. gives account of the “King of Warri” who lived in 1644
on page 75 of his History of Nigeria. A.F.C. Ryder on page 14 of his work, Missionary Activity in the Kingdom of Warri to the early 19 th century, in collaboration with a six-man editorial board headed by Dr. Kenneth O. Dike states “… in 1685 the Olu of Warri had again petitioned the King of Portugal to send missionaries ….”
Following the death of Olu Akengbuwa II, who reigned as Olu of Warri, in 1848, there was an eighty-eight-year interregnum during which there were no Olus crowned in Warri. In that period, Warri or Itsekiri country was ruled by governors, who were mostly powerful merchants. Nanna’s defeat by the British Royal Navy in the War of 1894 greatly weakened these merchants and would later pave the way for the resumption of the monarchy in Warri in 1936.
In 1914, Lord Lugard created Nigeria by amalgamating the Northern and Southern protectorates. For administrative purposes, provinces were created throughout the new country. A province was named after “Warri” and this province encompassed Urhobo, Ijaw, Isoko, Ndokwa and Itsekiri lands.
During preparations to resume the Itsekiri monarchy by the coronation of Ginuwa II in 1936, official references were to the “Olu of Warri”. However, the Urhobo Progressive Union, under the leadership of Chief Mukoro Mowoe, prevailed on the colonial administration to change the title to “Olu of Itsekiri”. His argument was that the entire Urhobo Division, being part of Warri Province, could be construed to under the Olu’s domain.
Predictably, the change was denounced by notable Nigerian personalities who were not even Itsekiri.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, then a newspaper publisher, wrote as follows in the West African Pilot of May 14, 1940:
His Highness Ginuwa II is Olu of the Itsekiri-speaking people, who live on Itsekiri land… If the matter is discussed in detail, it will be found that a definite title is necessary, in which case, the Olu of Warri seems to be the most historical and correct. When we speak of the Oba of Lagos we refer to the Paramount Native Ruler of Lagos, although Lagos is peopled mainly by Yoruba-speaking peoples and Lagos is part of Yorubaland. So too, in the case of His Highness Ginuwa II, the Olu of Warri is the Paramount Native Ruler of Warri…
It is noteworthy that, after a riot and an inquiry in 1952, Chief Obafemi Awolowo invited both Itsekiri and Urhobo delegations to present their case for and against the Itsekiri monarch being called the Olu of Warri.
The late Chief M.E.R. Okorodudu presented the Itsekiri case based on historical facts and common sense. Chief P.K. Tobiowo spoke for the Urhobos but did not dispute the historicity of the Itsekiri claim. He merely repeated Chief Mowoe’s assertion of 1936 that since Warri Province included other homelands, the title “Olu of Warri” would suggest that the Olu was titular head not only of Warri Division but also to other divisions within the province.
Chief Okorodudu then suggested that the name of the province be changed to Delta, confining “Warri” to Itsekiri homeland which had been the Olu’s domain for centuries.
Both the Urhobo delegate and the Government accepted this compromise
. This was then presented to the Western House of Assembly in Ibadan where it was debated and adopted.
The name of the province was therefore changed to Delta and title of the Olu of Warri reverted to its original form.
Ijaws never protested against the title and Urhobos accepted the confinement of the power of the Olu to Warri – the Itsekiri homeland.
Ownership of Warri
Warri Kingdom, a 1520 sq. miles of land area, comprising the three Warri Local Government Areas or Warri South, Warri North and Warri Southwest, was an independent and sovereign state prior to the British-Benin River Expedition (Nanna War) of 1894.
The area is also known as Itsekiri country. The various Itsekiri communities such as Omadino, Irigbo, Ureju, Inorin, Ugborodo, etc., had occupied this area from time immemorial before a Bini Prince named Ginuwa and his chiefs set out to establish a kingdom here towards the end of the fifteenth century. The Warri metropolis, a comparatively recent development, is usually referred to as New Warri in deference to Big Warri, the other name for Ode-Itsekiri, the capital of the kingdom.
History is replete with accounts and documentation of Warri as Itsekiri homeland or country. Notable historians from Professor Kenneth O. Dike, first Nigerian Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan and Professor of History at Harvard University, to Professor J.F. Ade Ajayi and Professor Obaro Ikime have contributed to works on Itsekiri history. The latter in his “Merchant Prince of Niger Delta” published in 1968 features a map of the Itsekiri Country, which he described as follows:
“… The Itsekiri inhabit the North-Western extremity of the Niger-Delta in an area bounded approximately by lat. 5°. 20′ and 6°.N and long. 5°5′ and 5° 40′ East. Their neighbors are Binis to the North, the Ijo to the South; the Urhobos, to the East and the Yorubas of Ondo province to the Northwest”.
With the advent of British rule, provinces were created. Warri Province was administered from Warri as one judicial, administrative and political unit. Quite understandably, the other ethnic groups protested being part of a singular administrative unit. Following researches into ethnic and clan system by administrative officers –
Intelligence Reports and Court decisions– the unified structure was dismantled and separate Native Administrations were established based on homeland concept. A Warri Division (later Warri Local Government Area) was established in the Itsekiri homeland which, for historical reasons, also contained some settler enclaves inhabited mostly by Ijaws and Urhobos. The homeland concept led to the emergence of Divisional Councils in 1952. (1) The presence of Ijaw and Urhobo in Warri Division has been clearly described as that of settlers. Professor Lloyd states as follows:
“The Itsekiri live in the westernmost part of the Niger Delta, bounded by the Bight of Benin on the West and ….. The Administrative Unit know as the Warri Division of the Delta Province, … includes groups of Ijaw settlements in the extreme North and South and of Urhobo settlements in the Southeast; the latter, however, are subordinate to the Itsekiri rulers. Neighbors of the Itsekiri are ….”
Capt. E.A. Miller’s Intelligence Report of 1929 on the Ughara Clan states on page 7:
“8. There is little doubt that Agbassa-Oto, …. was the original home of the people who now occupy Warifi-Warigi lands. Probably of a peaceful disposition, as there are no traces of any war-like tendencies, there was a general exodus from the parent town, owing to oppression and enslavement by neighboring Agbadu and Ukpe, Sobos. Three distinct parties set out – one settled near Warri and called their town Agbassa- a second settled in the neighborhood of Jesse, and the third at Warigi Waterside, which place they named Iro.
“9. The time was probably somewhere between 1800 and 1850, though there are no striking events by which the exact date can be fixed. One of the settlers in the first few years- Emitan- brought with him his son Akojewe, then a small boy. The latter’s son, Oghoyone, born at Warifi died, an old man, some seventeen or eighteen years ago.”
In Ometan on behalf of himself and the Agbassa people versus Chief Dore Numa in Suit #25/1926, the plaintiffs in their statement of claim deposed as follows (2) :
“It is claimed that as far back as over a hundred years ago the plaintiff’s ancestors settled on the land in dispute…”
In The Sobo of the Niger Delta, 1948, John Hubbard states on page 7:
“A migration occurred probably late in the 18 th century from a Sobo town called Agbarha about twenty three miles East of Warri in the middle of Sobo country… (they) crossed the Warri River and by negotiation with the Jekri obtained land from them… built a village of their own which they named after their hometown Agbarha (Agbassa). This is now one of the quarters in Warri.”
In the famous case mentioned above, it was decided that:
“… when the Agbassa came to Warri they were given permission by the Olu to settle on land which is now known as Bomali or Abgassa village…. That from the earliest times and during recent years the Agbassa rendered service to the defendant as overlord….”
On appeal, the Full Court of the Supreme Court (now the Supreme Court) of Nigeria, consisting of Kingdom, C., J., Berkeley and Butler Lloyd, JJ, in Lagos on March 13, 1931, confirmed the foregoing decision (3) :
“In this appeal, the appellants belong to the Sobo tribe known as Agbassa. They are claiming the overlordship of the greater part of Warri as against the defendant who represents the Jekri tribe. The defendant in his representative capacity is at present the officially recognized owner of the land in dispute and Government has leased a considerable area of land in Warri from him in that capacity.
“The plaintiffs, (i.e. appellants) do not seek in any way to disturb the existing leases, but they claim as of right to be substituted for the defendant in the overlordship of the territory in dispute.
“.. the Agbassa were given permission by the Olu … to settle on land in Warri. That they have since increased in numbers, wealth and importance until now they feel themselves strong enough to impugn the title of the overlord….
“In my opinion they have failed to establish their claims. I consider that this appeal should be dismissed.”
Dissatisfied, the Agbassa appealed to the Privy Council in London. The appeal was listed as #65 of 1932. Lord Atkin delivered judgement of the Lords of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council – present were Lord Atkin, Lord Aliness and Sir Sidney Rowlatt. The judgement delivered in 1933 was as follows (4) :
“This is an appeal from the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Nigeria who dismissed the present appellant’s appeal from the judgement of Mr. Justice Webber in an action in which the appellant was plaintiff and the respondents were defendants. It was an action brought by the plaintiffs on behalf of a tribe or sub-tribe in that district of the Agbassa people claiming territorial rights over land known as the Agbassa land in the Warri district to the Southern Province of Nigeria.
The dispute was between the plaintiff representing the Agbassa people and the defendants representing another tribe or sub-tribe of the Jekri people claiming to be overlords of this territory.
“In the circumstances, there being concurrent findings of fact and there being in addition ample evidence to support them, it is quite impossible for their Lordships to interfere with the decisions which have been arrived at by both courts and their Lordships will therefore humbly advise His Majesty that this appeal should be dismissed. The respondents must have the cost of the appeal.”
Following repeated litigation and non-compliance with the law, the Supreme Court, presided over by Udo-Udoma, Sowemimo and Ibekwe, S.C.J.J., in suits #SC 67/1971 and #SC 327/1972, reviewed previous judgements and rendered as follows (5) :
“In view of these unimpeachable recurring findings by Courts of competent jurisdiction, there can be no question that the Agbassa, including the Igbudu are customary tenants of the first claimants (that is, the Itsekiri Land Trustees). Their tenure of the land occupied by them is therefore subject to the incident of customary tenancy. It is fool-hardy on the part of the part of the second claimants…. in the face of overwhelming evidence and findings of successive courts throughout the years to seek from time to time as soon as there is notice of acquisition and the prospects of a windfall like manna from heaven to re-litigate issues which have been clearly determined and laid to rest against them by persisting in the groundless assertion that the people of Agbassa are the absolute owners of the land in dispute which has been conclusively established as forming the land and subject matter of suit #25 of 1926.”
In a further judgement (6) , the Supreme Court in suit #SC 328/1972, stated:
“We have already observed that the first claimants (Itsekiri Land Trust) are not mere revisioners. They are in fact and in law the legal owners of the land in the occupation of the Agbassa Community, who occupy the same subject to the usual incidents of customary tenancy, such as being of good behavior and not attempting to alienate any interest therein to strangers without the knowledge and authority of their overlord. Any infraction of such incidents would immediately expose the offender to the full rigors of forfeiture which may be granted in a proper case. Instances are not wanting in the law reports of forfeiture having been decreed in certain circumstances…. We are satisfied that the approach of the learned trial judge to the issue under consideration was correct and that his decision is unimpeachable. It is right.”
Several similar judgements against Ijaws abound (7) .
Finally, we report this Supreme Court judgement delivered by Nnameka Agu, J.S.C., in 1993 (8) :
“No doubt a tribunal of inquiry is an inferior tribunal to both the High Court and the Supreme Court which are in the Constitution vested with unlimited powers to adjudicate on right of parties who appear before them and see to the execution and enforcement of their decisions. Once a party gets a final judgement in his favor before a Court of competent jurisdiction, such a judgement is effective, conclusive and binding on the parties and their privies and can only be upset on appeal. A tribunal of Inquiry is not a court of appeal, competent to review, set aside, or override such judgement…”
Okere, which the Agbassa Urhobo excluded when in 1926 they claimed to rest of the present day Warri township, has six idimis or quarters, of which Idimi Sobo is the smallest and newest. By 1955 when most of Idimi Sobo were still farmlands, there was nothing known as Okere-Sobo. On August 19, 1891, when the Consul General and Commissioner Claude MacDonald visited Warri and found that Warri Chiefs were Itsekiri under Nanna (9) , Popo and Awani were the Okere Chiefs there amongst the others such as Pessu, Ogbe, Omatsola, Tonwe Ejele and Okorofiangbe. All Okere have one head Chief each time, and according to Okere tradition he must descend paternally from Ogitsi, the founder of the Community. No head Chief of Okere has ever come from the Okumagba family. In fact the following heads of Okere since 1922 have been so descended: Nikoro, Omatsone, Edema Okoroleju, Iman, Otonghoku, Atseboma, Bede Uku and Walker Omatsone.
It is true that the Okumagba family won a possessory title to 281.1 acres of their farmlands in Idimi Sobo in the Supreme Court suit #SC 309/74. This neither translates into ownership of all of Idimi Sobo, Okere nor the existence of an “Okere Sobo Kingdom” of which there is no historical record. We rely on the judgement (10) of the Court of Appeal delivered on Monday, December 14, 1998, in which Okay Achike, J., found as follows:
“Reference is made to the Survey plan (Exh. B) tendered by the plaintiff where it is shown that land litigated upon in suit #W/48/68 does not include the land now in dispute. Similarly it is submitted that the plaintiff failed to prove that any of the other suits relied upon related to the land now in dispute…..
“On the plaintiff’s claim to title based on traditional evidence and long possession, it is submitted that since the plaintiff failed to prove that his ancestors founded and owned the whole land in Okere, Warri, the onus was on him to establish that the land in dispute was part and parcels of land founded and owned by his ancestors. .. the plaintiff failed to identify anyone of the parcels of land founded by his ancestors…”
Additionally, the following entry on page 70 of the Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs Memo #CH 545 of September 12, 1977, suggests Urhobos in Okere, Warri, are not indigenes.
“There is no record whatsoever in this office about a Clan Head of Okere Urhobo and no petition is available in which there is demand for recognition of such a Clan Head… The Patridge Report makes no mention of any Urhobo Clan Head in Warri Division….”
We note that no one disputes the fact that the Ibru family is from Agbarho. However, the family owns extensive acreage of land in Okirigwe, near Sapele, that is well in excess of the 281.1 possessed by the Okumagba family in Okere. Should the Ibrus now claim Okirigwe origin and/or found a kingdom in Okpe Local Government Area?
In our view, the immediate crisis in Warri is one of disregard for the rule of law. The underlying problem is the abject neglect of and poverty in the region. These are the issues we thought the Congress should spend its time on. The title of the Olu of Warri has been established by long tradition and it is of personal concern to Itsekiris who must be left to determine what to call their monarchy. Itsekiri ownership of Warri is indisputable. The stance on local government creation also derives from the ownership of Warri (11) . These facts must either be accepted or aggrieved party/parties must seek redress from lawful institutions.
We reiterate the agenda for the Washington, DC Peace Congress should consist of the following:
I. Law and Order
Acknowledgement and condemnation of heinous acts of atrocity committed in Warri metropolis and the riverine areas
Cessation of all hostilities
Enforcement of law and order in Warri metropolis and the riverine areas
Encouragement of aggrieved party/parties to seek lawful redress through established institutions
II. Good Neighborliness
Maintenance of mutual respect for the territorial integrity, culture, custom and heritage of ethnic nationalities in the region
III. Formation of Multi-ethnic Coalition
To reverse trend of deleterious ecological effect of oil exploration and exploitation in the Niger Delta
To seek to retain a greater portion of the revenue from oil exploitation activities in the region
To identify short and long term development projects that the Federal and/or State governments should embark on immediately
We re-state our willingness to participate in discussions on these issues of mutual interest to Itsekiris and others in the region