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Who Owns Warri

On the ownership of warri there are three parties to it. 

The Itsekiri 

The Urhobo 

The IJAWS. 

Let’s make it as simple as possible by eliminating the IJAWS from the question of ownership of Warri. 

WARRI Warri High Court dated 9/71964 barred the Ijaw indigenes from Warri, from contesting ownership of lands in Warri Local Government areas of Delta State, as the Supreme Court had since SC/450/65. laid such matter to rest.

Having remove the IJAWS, let’s see a review of Warri A Focus On Itsekiri to Debunk The Claim Of Ownership From Urhobo.  

By Professor I.E. Sagay, SAN

All sources of evidence lead to that single conclusion, namely, historical, cultural, judicial, sociological evidence and valid treaties – all point to one direction, Itsekiri ownership of Warri.

The history of the Warri kingdom including the 88-year period of the interregnum establishes quite clearly that only the Warri kingdom had the might, organization, the geographical and dominated presence to found Warri.

The Warri kingdom was established at about 1480, by a Benin Prince, Ginuwa, who became our first Monarch. Since then, there has been, with the exception of the period of interregnum between 1848 and 1936, an unbroken succession of monarchs over the Warri kingdom. The present Monarch, His majesty, Ogiame Atuwatse II is the 19th Olu of Warri.

Warri was a powerful, sovereign and independent kingdom until 1894, when Governor Nana was defeated in an unjust war levied by the British who were then hell bent on colonizing that very rich part of West Africa, in order to control the trade, commodities and resources. Ironically, British lust for economic control, led to eventual political control.

The power and authority of the Kings and the Kingdom were not diminished by the interregnum, 1848-1936. One of our great Historians, Mr. J.O.S. Ayomike makes the following comments on the relationship between Nana and the British.

From 1851, up to the time of Nana’s appointment as Governor, the British Government had appointed Consuls along the Bights of Benin and Biafra to watch over the interests of the British merchants operating along the coast. Because of the British interests, these Consuls had encouraged the appointment of Itsekiri Governors, in the place of Olu (this was the period of interregnum) so that they could have powerful local authority through whom all affairs would be regulated.

The Itsekiri government was on the ground headed effectively by governors in turns. Consuls acted more or less, as the ambassadors of Her Majesty’s government. They did not, and were not expected to, control the itsekiri government. In all respects the Government in Itsekiri land was sovereign and independent. Then came August, 1891, when the Niger Coast Protectorate was inaugurated and Itsekiri country was part of it. This new arrangement ushered in a change: the British take-over of Itsekiri government. The British Government now came into a position where their imperialist policies could be ruthless enforced by their functionaries”.

The powers of Nana as the Ruler of the Itsekiris and Warri kingdom are legendary. His authority extended not only to the Benin, Warri, Escravos and Forcados Rivers and their adjourning lands, but also all along the Ethiope River and right into Urhobo land.

Governor Nana Olomu
Governor Nana Olomu

Up till the Nana era, the power and authority of the Ruler of the Warri kingdom, whether king or Governor, was direct, in the sense that the Ruler and the Kingdom controlled resources, mainly slaves and palm oil, and had military might for maintaining the kingdoms’s domination of the available resources, the regional economy and general environment. For in the course of trading with Europe over the centuries the Itsekiri Monarchs and the Governors during the interregnum also acquired and accumulated considerable fire arms, including canons and guns and therefore had fire-powers. It is no exaggeration to say that they subdue their own environment and their immediate neighbours. The lingering resentment, their sister ethnic groups have against the Itsekiris, is not unconnected with the dominance.

Quite clearly only the Warri Kingdom was in a position to establish the city of Warri.

Chief Egbe Yowuren Of Warri
Chief Egbe Yowuren Of Warri

 
Everyone familiar with the works of Professor Obaro Ikime, knows the rigour he puts into the examination of historical material. Yet he has had to admit in his book Chief Dogho of Warri that1:

“It was now possible to station [two] vice-consuls in the Itsekiri country… in 1881, one such vice-consuls was stationed at a point now near the UAC premises in Warri. Another was stationed … along the Rivers.”

Mr. Ayomike provides another irrefutable proof of Itsekiri ownership of Warri, at page 4 of this work in the following passage.

It is worth pointing out that alongside this definitive description above by Obaro Ikime, there is another cogent one: encircling this Warri vice-consulate area are the Itsekiri communities of Pessu Town to the east (founded in the early nineteenth century), Gbolokposo to the northeast (founded in the mid-eighteenth century), Okere to the north (founded about 1510), and Agbassa Urhobo to the immediate east (settled on the land as per judgment in suit No. 25 of 1926: Ometa v. Chief Dore Numa, by Olu of Warri on Itsekiri land about 1850). And the head chief of Effurun to the north had confirmed Itsekiri ownership of Agbassa land in court in 1926.

We are truly at a loss to appreciate the other true parameters outside these that Prof. Ekeh would need to determine the Itsekiri ownership of Warri Township!”

The Name Warri

A 18th Century Map Showing Warri as WAREE, AWERY, OERY
A 18th Century Map Showing Warri as WAREE, AWERY, OERY

As the respected and renowned Warri/Itsekiri historian has ably documented at page 5 to 6 of the book, the name Warri is synonymous with Itsekiri and the Warri kingdom. The Writer cites 13 instances in which established historians used variants of the word Warri to describe the Itsekiris and the Kingdom founded by the Itsekiri Royal Dynasty. Some of this evidence needs repeating:

a)    Obaro Ikime’s article in the Post Express of 25 June 1999 at page 22 claimed that Warri sometimes referred to Ode-Itsekiri (Big Warri) sometimes to the town we know as Warri and sometimes to the Itsekiri Kingdom. Other references include:

b)    “Itsekiri Kingdom of Warri” by E.J. Alagoa, Chapter 9 in the History of West Africa edited by Ade Ajayi and M. Crowder.

c)    “The Itsekiri kingdom called Warri in modern source” in Lamin Sanneh’s West African Christianity.

d)    P.C. Lloyd’s claim in his work, alongside R.E. Bradbury’s, that “Itsekiri are known as Warri …” page 172

e)     “Itsekiri State of Warri” – Crowder ‘s The Story of Nigeria, 1962, page 66.

f)    Obaro Ikime: Merchant Prince of the Niger delta, page 69: “… Consuls-General visited Warri on 19th August 1891. he reported that the chiefs of Warri were Itsekiri who were under Nana”.

g)    Prof. R. Gray in the Cambridge History of Africa, vol. 4. page 228, says: “By 18th century Warri is to be considered as an independent Itsekiri political state, comprising also a few Urhobo and Ijaw.”

h)    Catholic Directory and Liturgical calendar of 2002: “Warri had a flourishing Christian community at the Olu’s Court (not Ovie’s court). Many Warri rulers from the 16th century were confessing Christians. A son of such [a] ruler was even sent to train as a priest in Portugal” [bracket added].

i)    Amoury Talbot, a colonial administrator, in the book, Peoples of Southern Nigeria, 1926, vol. 1, page 317, says:

“The Jekri (Itsekiri) were called Iwerri and from this their town was given its present name Warri”.

Browsing through Obaro Ikime’s Merchant Prince of the Niger Delta, (H.E.B Paperback, 1968) one is immediately struck by the profuse references to the Itsekiri as the people and owners of warri.

In January 1891, Claude Macdonald was appointed Commissioner and Consul-General over what was later to become, Niger Coast Protectorate. At the conclusion of his tour of the entire era, he wrote a report concerning his visit to Warri as follows:

“The Consul-General visited Warri on 19 August 1891. He reported that the chiefs of Warri were Itsekiri who were under Nana – the great middleman chief of Benin’. But, continued MacDonald, the Warri chiefs were eager to be independent of Nana.” (see p. 69 of the Book).

In 1892, Hally Hutton, Acting Vice-Consul to the Benin River, who was fiercely hostile to Nana, wrote to a letter to the latter of which Ikime reports as follows:

“He informed Nana that the Vice-Consul at Warri had written to say that many of the traders there were afraid to trade with the whites because of Nana and some of the other Benin River chiefs had not sent up ‘a proper message’ to Warri allowing trade to go on. Apparently, Nana had promised to send such a message and Hutton now held him to his promise. This letter confirms that Nana was a great power in the area and at the same time emphasizes the difficulty in which his power placed him. It would appear from a letter written by Gallwey in 1893 that Nana did keep his promise, asked the Itsekiri traders to resume trade, and himself sent up a great quantity of goods to buy oil – for which latter act Gallwey charged him with enlightened self-interest”. (see p.91)

The audience should please note how Warri and Itsekiri were being used interchangeably in this passage. 

Finally in 1894, R Moor, the High Commissioner for Southern Nigeria, summoned a meeting of all the chiefs and major trading figures in the Benin River and Warri area. Ikime states that Nana did not attend this meeting for fear of being captured by the British. Of the meeting itself, Ikime reports as follows:

“The meeting was held as planned. Nana did not attend. Virtually all the other important traders in the Benin and Warri districts were present. Moor reported that all the chiefs who attended the meeting appeared to be anxious to carry out the orders of the government. At the end a new treaty was entered into the Itsekiri chiefs”. (See p. 105)

Again, ‘Warri’ and ‘Itsekiri’ are used interchangeably. There is an eerie! silence with regard to the Urhobo. Not once are they mentioned in all these profuse references to Warri and the Itsekiri

.

What further proof does Peter Ekeh and his ilk need to accept the patent fact of the Itsekiri ownership of Warri?

If we look at the Warri land cases, all conclusively confirm Itsekiri ownership of Warri some of these cases have been reproduced at the back of the book as Appendices A, B, C and D. they are in that order:

Ogegede v. Dore Numa, (High Court). Ometa v Chief Dore Numa, at the Divisional Court (High Court), Full Court (Supreme Court) and the Privy Council; The Chief Commissioner, Western Provinces v. Ginuwa II, the Olu of Itsekiri and Two Others (High Court).

The dismissive words of some of these judgments are very harsh on the Urhobo claimants indeed. They clearly indicate the irritation felt by the Judges because of the preposterous nature of the Urhobo claims against Itsekiri ownership of Warri. Thus Ogegede v. Dore Numa after reviewing the whole of the witness testimony, Justice T.D. Maxwell concluded thus:

The evidence such as it is of the whole set of them is a tissue of hearsay of rumour of contradictions of absurdities. Where it is not merely fatuous it is obviously fictitious. The local (and legal) position of the defendant was on 1.2.24 finally laid down by the Full Court in Denedo v. Chief Dore Numa. That decision has been acted upon by the Executive without any opposition or criticism until the filing of this case which if successful would strike at its very roots

I do not consider it necessary to call upon the defendant or witnesses: the onus of proof is on the plaintiffs and they have in my opinion signally failed to discharge it. Their claim seems to me both idle and preposterous. The fact that they have made it at all (and of that I can take judicial cognizance) had caused no little local excitement and to a certain degree dislocated trade and might have led to a breach of the peace, I dismiss the plaintiff’s claim and award costs to defendant assessed at one hundred and twenty five guineas.”

In my view, perhaps the most conclusive and definite judgment given in these Warri land cases was that given by Justice Uwaifo, in Chief Augustus Osioh v. Anthony Idesoh (Suit No. W/101/73); a case between two Urhobos, discussed by E.O. Ekpoko at page 25 (chapter 2) of the book. According to Justice Uwaifo.

   

There can be no doubt that the question of who are the owners of Agbassa, that is, all the villages including Igbudu, has been finally pronounced upon. It has always belonged to The Itsekiri People under the overlordship of the Olu of Warri and until recently, his successors-in-title. They (the Itsekiri) have always been overlords and the people of Agbassa have always been tenants. Any other person living in Igbudu or any part of Agbassa except an Itsekiri is a tenant

The celebration of Agbassa juju may be an event cherished by Agbassa people but in my judgment it has no part to play in the ownership of Agbassa. The evidence of the mat from each village being taken to Otovwodo (Otoghodo), as given on behalf of the defendants who added that after the ceremonies and sacrifices at Otovwodo the respective mats are returned to each village on mentioning the founding father of that village, if indeed all these take place, is a complete hoax. It cannot be otherwise in view of the legal status of all Agbassa land to the Itsekiris. The ceremonies must have been contrived, only God knows when to make an assertion contrary to the true ownership of Agbassa land. In my view, centuries from now on those juju ceremonies and the performance of the mat ritual or hocus-pocus can never change their status quo [underlining added]”

But it was the much earlier judgment of Justice Adeyinka Morgan in 1958 in the case of Chief Sam Warri Esi & Ors v. Itsekiri Communal land Trustees & Anor (Suit No. W/112/58) that really emphasized the pathological nature of these challenges of Itsekiri ownership of Warri. As also reported at page 24 (Chapter 2) of the book, the learned Judge remarked that the Agbassa Urhobo people had been carrying a relentless and hopeless struggle for years, repeating their cases in endless cycles under different titles in an endless war of attrition against the Itsekiris.

Now, since they cannot go to court, it is now fashionable for them to sit in their houses and begin to review the case of Ometa vs. Chief Dore Numa, using Urhobo binoculars. Because of the Itsekiri phobia in them, their binoculars can only show them what they intend to see

On the issue of the treaties of 1851, 1884 and 1894 between the Warri kingdom represented by Itsekiri Chieftains and the British Authorities on the one hand and the purported treaties between the Urhobos and the British Authorities on the other hand, Mr. Ayomike has been able, with considerable rigour and analysis to unmask the fraud which Peter Ekeh and the urhobo Historical Society have been parading as valid treaties. None of them was signed by any representative of British Government and the stamps were forgeries.

What is more, Peter Ekeh in publishing only 2 out of the three Itsekiri/British Government treaties which cover all the territory of Warri kingdom in both Benin and Warri Rivers, fraudulently omitted the signatures, in order to cover up the fatal absence of principal signatures in the so called seven Urhobo treaties. This was a feeble and unsuccessful attempt to down grade the Itsekiei treaties, to the level of the fake Urhobo treaties.

Signed Itsekiri Treaties
Signed Itsekiri Treaties

Peter Ekeh is no doubt a very billing scholar. What must worry all those who wish him well is why he has directed his intellectual power towards hate literature against the Itsekiri involving fraudulent materials, arguments and reasoning. Why has he now devoted the latter part of his life towards a mean petty and small minded perversion of Warri history in his crusade against the Itsekiri? Why has he abandoned the struggle for the Niger Delta? His is a tragedy of great proportions.

The Itsekiri have abandoned all claims to Sapele since the victory of the Okpe Urhobo in that case in 1946. Why can’t the Urhobo do the same with regard to Warri? Why carry on as the Hon. Justice Morgan has correctly stated in the following terms:  

“Urhobo people “have never been idle all these years” since the decision in Ometa vs. Chief Dore Numa. This argument is a bite in another phase of the war of attrition they have been waging against the Itsekiri. Through the ingenuity of successive solicitors, they have brought one kind of action after another against the Olu of Warri or his successor-in-title, unsuccessfully. Now, since they cannot go to court again, it is now fashionable for them to sit in their houses and begin to review the case of Ometavs. Chief Dore Numa, using Urhobo binoculars. Because of the Itsekiri phobia in them, their binoculars can only show then what they intend to see.’

Now Let Us Look At The Kingship Of Warri From Historical Prospective and the Title of The Olu of Warri

The King has Always being Olu Of Warri (Olu is South East Yoruba title) Unveiling Ikime’s, Ekeh’s and Onigu’s fraud on Olu’s title : A Full analysis of the Catholic and Portuguese Documents
Authorities who wrote through the centuries and mentioned Olu of Warri
rather than Olu of Isekiri.

1-6-1655 Giovanni Francesco da Roma to Propaganda Fide: Proposal of a mission Most Eminent Reverend Lords, The king of Warri, a Christian kingdom lying on the African coast next to the kingdom of Benin, .

1682 Girolamo Merolla da Sorrento tr. (updated) in Churchill, Collection of Voyages and Travels (1744-6), vol. 5, p. 459 (in Thomas Hodgkin, Nigerian Perspectives, p. 138-140; cf. John Pinkertais, General Collection of… voyages, vol. 16 (1814), 195-316
The vice-superior, father Agelo Maria d’Aiaccio of the province of Corsica, together with Father Bonaventura da Firenze, having but just set foot in the kingdom of Ouueri [Warri], they were very courteously received by that King. Ths prince was better bred than ordinary, having been brought up among the Portuguese, whose language he was an absolute master of, and could besides write and read a qualification unusual among these Ethiopian princes.

1678 – 1682 John Barbot
A description of the coast of North and South-Guinea; and of Ethiopia Inferior , vulgarly Angola :being a new and accurate account of the Western maritime countries of Africa in six books London 1732
In this chapter I shall speak of the kingdom of Ouwere or Forcado, and of the coast from cape Fermosa, where the Ethiopian gulph or bight of Guinea commences, to the river of new Calabar or Calbary.

SITUATION
The kingdom of Ouwere or Oveiro, lies along Rio Forcado, which falls into the ocean about eighteen leagues south south-east of Rio Fermosa or Benin river; the inhabitants were by the ancients called Derbici AEthiopes
.
THE COAST OF OUWERE DESCRIB’D
It is parted by several rivers which run across it into the ocean, the most considerable of which are those of Lamos(sic Ramos) and Dodo, all of them little frequented by Europeans, Rio Forcado having all the trade of the country: (sic this coast described corresponded to what Jakri Chiefs signed a treaty for in 1884)

1600
1600 Story of Dom Domingos, Prince of Warri

1-6-1604 Petrus Fernandez Barbosa, Dean of São Tomé diocese: Report
11) The diocese of São Tomé consists in the same island of São Tomé, the island of Principe, the island of Anno Bon, and the kingdom of Warri. Written on 31 October 1606.Read Domingos Prince of Warri Read in English Story of Dom Domingos in English

10-3-1608 The Counsel of Portugal to King Philip: Allow Domingos to return home
Lord: The king of Warri, which is one of the kingdoms on the coast of Guinea, Madrid, 10 March 1608.

11-2-1609 King Philip’s reply: Provides for Domingos’ return
I saw a recommendation of the Council of India on the observations that Dom Domingos, son of the king of Warri, gave.

9-3-1609 Mesa da Consciencia e Ordens: admits Domingos to Order of Christ
Dom Domingos, son of the king of Warri, presented in this Council a message of Count Almirante that your Majesty should grant him and his brother and the king, his father, the habit of the Order of our Lord Jesus Christ.

19-5-1609 King Philip, on sending priests to Warri
On the same day I saw a recommendation of the Bishop Chaplain Major on the priests that I commanded him to propose to be sent to the kingdom of Warri. Read Mission to Warri

28-6-1610 King Philip to Vice-King Marquez: Domingos’ marriage and an attack on him
Honorable Marquis Vice-King etc.: Dom Domingos, Prince of Warri, wrote me a letter, enclosed with this one, in which he tells me of his marriage with a daughter of Dom Christouaõ Pereira, … Written in Madrid, 28 June 1610.

11-8-1610 King Philip to Vice-King Marquez: Domingos should leave as soon as possible
Honorable Marquis etc.: I saw your letter of the 10th of this month in reply to what I wrote to you about the complaint of Dom Domingos, Prince of Warri, against Francisco Carualho, criminal justice of this city. Written in Aranda, 11 August 1610.
22-9-1610 King Philip to Vice-King Marquez: Domingos delays
Honorable Marquis etc.: In the enclosed letter of Dom Domingos, Prince of Warri, you can see the reasons he gave for not yet having departed, as I had ordered him to do as quickly as possible. Written in Agilafuête, 22 October 1610.

The Kingdom of Ouwerre or Forkado
Some twenty four miles east of the Benin River another river comes to the sea, which is called Rio Forkado by the Portuguese and around that area the Kingdom of Ouwere [Warri], also Forkado, is situated

11-1786
Captain Landolphe Extracts from the work
Read Captain Landolphe Visit

When the king of Warri learned that I could not cross the bar, he sent his general, named Okro, who came on board to tell me that his master would supply me with all the provisions I needed during my stay. The sovereign also had the kindness to send me a cow and six sheep. He told me, through the captain who received another gift from me, that I could count on 100,000 yams, besides as many figs, bananas, coconut, chicken, sheep as I wanted, and that if it was a problem for me to pay he would even advance a thousand pieces of different merchandise.
Before leaving my ship, the captain told me: “To prove to you how much the king of Warri loves the French, he has told me to ask from you a flag, … The second canoe, carrying a white flag, armed with twenty swivel-guns and carrying 106 men, was sent by orders of the king of Warri. Since the phidors were on my ship, I had them go into a room, to avoid having them meet Captain Okro, since I knew of the jealousy that existed between these two peoples, and it was in my interest to keep the protection of the two kings.
Okro had heard what I said; so he told me: “I am going to the king of Warri and will put before him your embarrassing position. Be calm; I will watch and ensure the security of your person, your crew and your ship. I knew that a large canoe, sent by a so-called King Bernard, came on board your ship. Be careful of this rogue king; he is a rebel to my sovereign; we will capture him soon: before a month his head will fall. Finally, after navigating two hours towards the southeast, we were brought into a channel before the dwelling of the king of Warri.
At the beginning of September the inhabitants of the villages told me that a certain number of them were appointed to lead me all the way to the mouth of the Benin river. I went to the king, who told me to get ready to take back all my blacks. Okro came on board and delivered to me from his master six thousand yams and one hundred stalks of bananas.

Global fight against racial discrimination begun by olu, hear Landolphe
When the blacks were put on board, I went to see the king again to express my great gratitude, asking him to set the sum that I owed him for feeding so many individuals, as well as for the other provisions that I had from his goodness. I proposed giving him a statement with the assurance that I would pay on my next voyage. But this was the reply of this worthy monarch: “I am black and you are white; when you arrive in France, tell your owners that men gather all over the world in spite of their colour, and that blacks and whites have no difference in their sentiments of humanity, but that mutual help is a law of nature. You will also tell them that in inviting you to my country I did not have the intention of ruining your people. So keep you statement. Sustaining your men cost me nothing. Their hosts received them with great pleasure and wanted to show their zeal in showing hospitality to strangers who needed their help. The number of your blacks could have been four times as much without having to charge anything for their needs; I must confess to you that the inhabitants have not asked me anything for lodging them, and some asked to lodge some and expressed their great disappointment at not being given any.”

I left this generous sovereign with tears in my eyes and full of admiration for his wonderful qualities….

“The supplies which I am bringing belong to you; the king gives them to you. He asks you to take on board your ship as a passenger the prince Budakan, the only black who wanted to go to France to learn the language and customs of the French. He is a young man full of sweetness and humanity, who one day may be called to rule over the Warrians. Be careful not to instil in him a taste of luxury; only two servants will accompany him.”

I told them the troublesome circumstances to which I had been exposed, and told them that the king of Warri had place Prince Budakan under my charge. The execution of our plan began with the creation of a society under the name of the Company of Warri and Benin. Monsieur Marion Brillantais … I spent 48 hours at the Whydah shore. Monsieur Senat, son-in-law of Monsieur Olivier, governor of the French fort, came on board my ship; he gave me the information I reported here. As soon as he left, I set sail for Benin, where I arrived on 21 November 1786. On land I went straight to Bobi to see the Chief of this village, Animazan (Eyinmisan), to whom I announced the return of Prince Budakan. I told him that fifty men would come ashore the next day with some canons, and asked him to send right away a canoe to the king of Warri, to let him know of my arrival and that of the prince.
I cannot express all Animazan’s joy at this news; he mounted a white flag on his house, which was greeted by musket shots, both at Bobi and at Salt Town, thus named because a great deal of salt is produced there. …Formerly Warri and Benin formed one kingdom. A division broke out between two brothers, one who reigned at Benin while the other declared himself independent, took up arms and established himself at Warri. Twenty years ago the last king was the 61st of Warri; the kings of Benin are lost in the night of time, and their number is not known. The language and customs of the two states are the same. There is only this difference that the king of Warri does not make human sacrifices and that there are three classes of nobles in Benin, but only two in Warri.

Kingdom of Justice

I have seen in the town of Warri one of the sons of the monarch mounted on the front of a canoe; he had a kind of two-pronged hook in his hands. Another canoe came up to him. To stop being boarded, the young prince swung the hook towards a black who, trying to avoid it, was struck in the stomach and died.
The prince went ashore, was arrested by the people, judged and condemned. I ran to the king and explained that the terrible accident was not intentional. He shed many tears and said to me sobbing: “Since the man who was struck is no more, the law must be accomplished.” The unfortunate prince was put to death by the blow of a club on his stomach.
I also saw at Benin one of the cruellest punishments that barbarism could invent. I black was hung on the top of one of the high trees planted in the centre of the town and exposed alive to the voracity of the vultures who came to pluck out his eyes and tear off other parts of his body. Revolted at this horrible spectacle, I could not contain myself; the blacks answered back laughing at my questions, saying that he was a traitor to his country, having revealed state secrets, the greatest of crimes.
As I separating from Danikan I offered him a very beautiful present. I then got on Okro’s canoe; he took us all back to the establishment. I gave this captain a mantle of blue cloth, several pieces of fine cloth, two strings of coral, a superb cane with a silver knob on which the following words were engraved: “Given by the Company of Warri and Benin to Captain Okro, in testimony of his good services.” Each of his blacks received also a hat and six Flemish knives with a sabre. I brought their satisfaction to a climax by the distribution of two barrels of brandy, containing all together forty bottles.
Building the fort
Having finished with my visits and now able to use my time freely, I dreamt of the construction of solid houses and a fort. For that I set my eyes on a site about 640 feet away from where my artillery was already placed. I had the land cleared all around it for a great distance. The king of Warri sent me 800 men to help execute my plans. They cut trees, uprooted tall grass, and destroyed by fire all the reptiles that had so terribly frightened the sailors by crawling into their hammocks. Those that the flames did not reach were beaten to death; after fifteen days they were no longer seen. Moats were dug; wide trenches were made to fill them and give quick drainage.
A building 120 feet long and 30 wide, of one story, was build on the site. An exterior circular veranda was added, 8 feet wide and covered, so that one could walk there out of the rain and the heat of the sun. At the centre was a double staircase. A very wide porch gave entrance to a beautiful 30 feet square hall. From the middle of the hall one could enter four 14 feet square rooms. There were many windows to let air into all the rooms. This building was sited northeast to southwest.
Then I ordered the construction of 8 houses 32 feet long and 16 feet wide, each standing 16 feet apart from one another. In the middle was a 200 feet square, where I set up a pigeon house 24 foot square and just as high, raised 16 feet above ground by 12 wooden pillars, to keep the pigeons away from rats and mice. Under the pigeon house stayed the sheep and goats. The chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, ducks and geese were housed in cages. The cows and horses slept under the platform of the battery.
The fort was constructed with four bastions and armed with 32 pieces of 8 and 6 shot canon. It was surrounded by a moat 20 feet wide and 7 feet deep; it was filled at high tide by a river flowing 1280 feet away in the forest, towards the south of the large building. This work cost infinite trouble. Trees that covered the land had to be cut between the fort and the river. A causeway was made, fortified with felled trees. On both sides the blacks dug a moat 20 feet wide and 10 deep; they were sunk in the mud from the knees to the waist. The earth taken from the two moats gave the causeway its hight. I had two rows of trees planted which within two years gave a delightful shade.
I owe the speed of this work principally to the blacks sent by the king of Warri. Prince Budakan came with Okro and encouraged them by his presence. I would never have seen so many obstacles overcome by the help of Europeans alone, since the extraordinarily fetid vapours exhaled by these swamps would have killed them all.
The abundantly flowing water helped to transport merchandise that arrived at the port of the fort or came out; they were not exposed any more while loading to the dangers of the river that are felt three quarters of the year.
The natives of the country, admiring the fruit of so much effort, expressed their satisfaction at our being able to bring in supplies without fearing the loss of their canoes, a misfortune which often befell them.
I had the interior of the fort, near the moats, surrounded with palisades of 18 inch round stakes fixed two feet into the earth. They were about 10 feet high; the stakes touched each other and were sustained and strengthened by crosses of Saint Andrew. Iron bands fitted with lances and fitted underneath crowned the top. These lances, 4 inches high, were only 3 inches apart.
On the side of the sea, before the large battery of 16 canons, is a beach which is covered with only 6 to 7 feed of water when the sea is full; otherwise it is almost always dry. Since waves come to break on it 8 months of the year, ships dare not risk coming there to land. This natural defence reassured me completely, and was even the motive why I decided to divert the course of the forest river behind the fort.
On this beach a Portuguese captain, Nicolas Olivera, lost his ship, thinking he was entering the Benin river, since the mouth of the Borodo, south of this, looks almost exactly alike. Having failed, his ship broke open. Olivera and 12 men were saved with the help of the blacks of the king. I welcomed the unfortunate men in my fort, where we gave them every sort of care. I proposed that they should enter the service of the company; two accepted this offer, the captain and a coloured sailor named Sainte-Anne.
I came out to see the captain of the boat la Petite-Charlotte die; my disappointment was softened by replacing this officer with an excellent seaman, full of experience and instruction who had voyaged often to India and China. I kept the other sailors, waiting for an occasion to send them to Brazil, to the Bay of All Saints. I had supplies distributed to them. After a month a ship came from the island of Principe commanded by Captain Gregory, a learned black, who had studied at Lisbon and spoke French well. Seeing him, the Portuguese leapt with joy.
I pressed him to spend the night in the fort. That evening we discussed questions of commerce. He desired to by 3 or 4 thousand cotton cloths, as well as ivory. I told him that I would gladly help supply him this merchandise, but we could not agree on the price. After taking on Olivera’s men, he went up the river to Gatto.
As I walked along the Borodo river, Captain Olivera who accompanied me said: “See a large and beautiful beach; if you permit I will make here a labyrinth where the fish will come and lose their way. Every day at low tide you will find fish of all sizes and qualities. They will be fished without cost and all you will have to do is let them out of their prison.”
I like this project very much. Olivera wanted to execute it right away. He ordered nets to be set up 8 feet high over a space of 960 feet. Animazan was in charge of making and placing these nets with the help of his most clever blacks. Forty men cut mangrove trees from 4 to 5 inches wide, cut in a way that the smallest fish could not penetrate it. Each net was 6 feet wide and strongly attached by both ends from top to bottom.
When it was all ready, the nets were placed straight up on the beach; the piles that held them were driven in, and were well tied with fibre rope. Long poles on top, likewise fixed by stakes, made this enclosure so solid that it could resist the violence of the waves.
At the end of this dike another construction was made which Olivera called a labyrinth; it was 40 feet in circumference. The fish entered from both sides by an opening of two feet and did not come out again. The Portuguese captain made me observe that these animals always swim in a straight line, even when they meet an obstacle. Effectively, during the flow of water up and back against the dike, they were forced to swim forwards and into the labyrinth.
This fish catcher became very useful for me. The tide brought in an immense quantity of angel-fish, sol, carp, mullets, large shell fish etc.; at low tide all these fish remained trapped. Every day we went to pick them up in wheelbarrows. I fed 400 persons with them and had the rest distributed among the inhabitants of Bobi. We rang the bell and the blacks ran with their baskets; they carried the fish to Animazan, who shared in among the families. Never did the slightest debate arise over this distribution.
Among the blacks that the phidor of Bobi gave me one was much like an albino. Born in this village, he was black, but his skin was patched all over with spots of every colour about the size of a lentil. His hair, eyebrows and eyelashes were blond. His eyes were round and saw everything perfectly at night, but could not distinguish them during the day. I employed him as a rower; he was twice as strong as his comrades.
When all the work was completely finished, the land seemed cleared to an extent of three leagues in circumference, which made it look like a vast prairie. Every morning, when the gates were opened, the donkeys, bulls, cows, sheep and pigs left the fort. The went to the prairie to graze and spend the day without a guard. When sun set a box was beaten and they all came back, some neighing, others bellowing, the sheep bleating, the pigs snorting. Nothing was more amusing that to see their pleasure at eating 7 to 8 boxes of maze poured in the courtyard; in a twinkle of an eye all the grain disappeared.
The pigeon house was furnished with pigeons that multiplied prodigiously. Birds were also extremely abundant. All we lacked for a happy life in this climate was the first of all blessings, without which the others are nothing, I mean health.
They spent two days in the fort. I presented each of them a beautiful Cholet handkerChief, together with a paper containing my name, that of my nation, and the words: “French fort and establishment built at the mouth of the Benin or Formosa river, on the coast of Africa”..
To have a wide territory around me, I bought from the king of Warri, who got the consent of the national assembly, thirty leagues of territory for the profit of the company. The contract of this acquisition is deposited in the offices of the Ministry of the Navy.
Isekiri Defeat of Anglo-Bini-Lagos alliance
These miserable people cooked up a plot with the king of Aunis, a tributary of the king of Benin, to destroy my storehouses. They organized an army of a large number of canoes who would come through interior rivers to my establishment, which was 60 leagues from their capital. This was easy because these rivers communicate with those of Benin. I slept in complete ignorance of such a wicked project. Okro, very early in the morning, came on a very beautiful and well armed canoe asking me for powder and bullets. “Why?” I asked him. “It is a secret; you only need to know that I will punish as people who dares to fight the king of Warri.” I insisted on knowing the name of this bold people; he continued to keep silence on this objective. I gave him 20 barrels of powder, each one weighing 10 pounds, 1,000 rifle bullets, 100 pounds of lead in rods with a mould to make bullets. He left with the canoe and disappeared. Animazan, by his order, commanded the night patrols in the bush; they were to arrest all blacks who fled there. The secret was so well guarded that we had no suspicion of what was going on behind our habitation. Eight days after the departure of Okro, at dawn we saw several canoes arrive with flags. One carried a red flame and flag, which I had never seen in this place. On landing, Okro brought down 4 old blacks whose heads were covered with white hair and their hands died behind their backs; then he said to me: “See the enemies of the king of Warri and of your men; I make you the judge of their fate; you can have their heads cut off; that is the right of war in our country.” Ordering these old men to be untied, I wanted to know the reasons why they wanted to fight the sovereign of Warri and the whites. They confessed without hesitation that the English had given large presents to the king of Aunis to make him decide to help them in their enterprise, that they were to come in the night to burn down the French establishment, and after this destruction all the blacks in the canoes were ordered to take over the surrounding land; they would be supported by the English, who would take over the establishment themselves by right of conquest. I could not listen to this confession without emotion; nevertheless I contained myself. “Never,” I said, “make war against the whites, since they come to your country only to let you enjoy the same advantages that they find there. You see that I am master of your persons and that your life is in my power, since the captain disarmed you and delivered you to my discretion. Listen to the vengeance that I will exact for your crime: Tomorrow you will leave in my boat which will take you directly to your country. You will go there and find your sovereign and try to convince him that his interests would be gravely compromised if he continues to allow himself to be seduced by the English, who are known among civilized states as enemies of the human race.” -his speech was accompanied by a Cholet handkerChief for each of the old men and a barrel of brandy equal to 20 bottles. They fell at my knees; large tears flowed from their eyes. I recommended to the captain of the boat to show very great care throughout the voyage for these unfortunate victims of such deep cruelty. Okro and his people watched me with an astonishment that immobilized them. When the boat came back from Aunis, the captain told me how he handed the four war Chiefs over to the king. He was very graciously welcomed. This monarch, begging him to accept an elephant tusk weighing 45 pounds, swore from that moment to be a friend of the French nation and well as to have eternal hatred for the English, since these had led him, by their wicked counsel, into a war whose result cost him the lost of more than 200 men; and what was worse, when the prisoners were enslaved by Captain Okro, they were for some moments under the yoke of the king of Warri who, in his turn, sold them to the European slave-traders in Calabar. When the king of Warri learned of my disaster, he sent to me 30 armed canoes, one of them commanded by Prince Budakan. This good young man, broken-hearted as well as irritated at such a great misfortune, told me: “I have come to take you to Warri with the whites and the blacks who have remained faithful. Be patient; you will soon be revenged. The English who are on the shore of Regio will pay dearly for the double insult they made to the king as well as to your person.” When I arrived at Warri, the monarch welcomed me with touching affability. “I have taken,” he told me, “the only two English ships that are in my states. You can choose the better, the most beautiful, the richest; it is yours.” I thankfully refused, begging him to observe that two very essential things commanded this refusal; the first was that I lacked the seamen to sail it; secondly, because not having the ownership papers, I might one day be accused of stealing it. “You are right,” he answered, “for in accepting it you would be deprived of the legitimate right of bringing your complaints for compensation to the English government. (14) As for me, I will order the two ships to burn to ashes. I consider the people of Great Britain at war with me, since the English, far from respecting the protection that I accorded them, have infamously ruined your hopes. I promise you that they will not tread on my territory any more as long as I live. Let them go, if they want, and trade up the Benin river, but I will not let them sell a single handkerChief to my subjects.”

Interesting story from Captain Landolphe. But from all his account and the use of Warri, he like all the other source quoted above did not attribute Urhobo or Ijaw to Warri.

Any open minded person that read this article including the foreign references will have no element of doubt in him that ITSEKIRI OWNS WARRI.