Warri: Group Debunks Report Over Ownership, Calls for Govt Intervention

Itsekiri Interest Group has debunked reports that the Olu of Warri’s territory is limited to some areas in the city, noting that evidence abound in the 16th and 17th centuries that authenticate Olu’s supremacy.

The group in a statement signed by the Chairman of Itsekiri Interest Group, Gbubemi Awala; and Secretary, Weyinmi Yalaju, faulted the Urhobo and Ijaw petitions and publications disputing Olu’s kingdom contrary to facts.

According to the statement, the instrument that established the Itsekiri Communal Lands Rights in 1959 applied to the entire Warri division, stating that it made Olu the ‘prescribed authority’ over the region.

It reads: “The Agbassa Urhobos on the instigation of other Urhobos have been threatening our peaceful existence in our God-given land without any justification whatsoever and in complete defiance of the laws of this country. In pursuance of this, they have made several publications which clearly were calculated to incite the people, ridicule and intimidate the Judiciary, and force the hand of the Government to take repressive measures against the Itsekiris; but all these have been ignored by the law enforcement agencies.

“By their actions, petitions, and publications, the Urhobos and Ijaws, contrary to established facts, are seeking to embarrass the State Government as to the position of the Olu of Warri vis-a-vis Warri Division. They defy the judgments of the Courts and deny the Overlordship of the Olu of Warri in order to create the impression that the Olu is not the Overlord of all lands in Warri Division.

“As evidenced by the various legal battles over lands in Warri Division herein above discussed, it is already judicially recognized that all the lands in Warri Division belong to the Olu in trust for the Itsekiri people.

“That was why the Instrument establishing the Itsekiri Communal Lands Rights (vesting in Trustees) Law 1959 was made to apply to the entire Division and that was why the Olu was made the only ‘prescribed authority’ for Warri Division. We most humbly call on Your Excellency to help us preserve our Royalty from the treacheries of despicable and ungrateful recipients of his Highness’s benevolence.

“There is abundant evidence that in the 16th and 17th centuries, well before the Agbassa customary tenants came to Warri, the Olu had been known and referred to as the Olu of Warri, ‘Warri’ being the Kingdom over which the Olu ruled.

“The word ‘Warri’ derives from ‘Iwere’ the name by which we the Itsekiris call our homeland. ‘Omiwere’ or ‘Oma-Iwere’ means the son or daughter of ‘Iwere’ land, that is ‘Itsekiri’. This is to say that Iwere is the land and not the people. Through the ages the various Europeans with whom the Itsekiris had contact had employed varying corrupt versions like ‘Ovyere’ and ‘Oere’ by the early Portuguese, ‘Warri’ by Captain John Adams in 1823, ‘Wari’ in 1841 by Beecroft.

“The following historical events are all in support of the case we have made above: In 1607 the King of Portugal made a decree in which reference was made to the ‘King of Warri’ and to ‘Prince Domingo’ son or- the Olu of Warri.

“One John Barbot, a Dutchman writing in the seventeenth century about Warri said: The capital town Ovwere, which gives its name to the whole country, lies in the Forcado River.

“In 1682 Father Jerome Merolla da Sorrento wrote: Two Capuchin Missionaries together with Father Bonaventura da Firanze having just set foot in the Kingdom of Ouuerri (Warri). They were very courteously received by the king.

“P. A. Talbot wrote at page 320 of his The Peoples of Southern Nigeria: In 1651, according to Urbanus Cerri, the King of Warri wrote to Pope Innocent X asking him to send him missionaries for his own good and that of his subjects…

“A Frenchman known as Captain Landolphe writing in the 18th century made references to the “Olu of Warri” and said that in recognition of the trade potentials of both Benin and Warri kingdoms, the King of France Louis XVI by an “Arret du Conseil d’Etat” of the 27th of May 1756 granted a charter to a company known as the “Compagnie d’Owhere et de Benin” (company of Warri and Benin). This was before and similar to the Royal Niger Company which had its charter from the King of Britain.

“It is interesting also to note that records show that when an Olu was about to be installed in 1936 after an interregnum of 88 years, official references were to “Olu of Warri”. At a stage before the coronation, however, the UPU (Urhobo Progress Union), under the leadership of the Chief Mukoro Mowoe, forced the hand of Government to change the title to “Olu of Itsekiri” on the arguments that the entire Urhobo Division may be assumed to be under the Olu of Warri the suzerainty of the Olu since the Urhobo Division was part of the then Warri Province. This change was an exception to the general rule. No ruler anywhere in the world, whether King, Oba, Sheikh, or Emir is known by the name of his tribe; his title always derives from the name of the territory over which he rules.

“The Itsekiris, therefore, did not take kindly to this preposterous exception and in due course, in 1952, after a bloody riot and inquiry relating thereto, justice was done and the misnamer of Olu of Itsekiri was rightly corrected to Olu of Warri, in keeping with historical facts. Even so, this was not done without allaying the alleged fears of the Urhobos by changing the name of the erstwhile “Warri Province” to “Delta Province” and confining the name of Warri to Itsekiri Administrative Division. It would appear that whatever concessions were made to appease the Urhobos at the expense of Itsekiris never satisfied them. They would always ask for more like the legendary Oliver Twist. Every time there was a change of government, there was always a demand on issues long ago settled by previous governments; a renewed pressure for extortion from the Itsekiri for the gratification of themselves.

“His Excellency Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Owelle of Onitsha, who later became the national leader of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), first indigenous Governor-General and President of Nigeria, but who was then a newspaper publisher, commented on the subject-matter in his “West African Pilot” newspaper of 14th May 1940 as follows: “His Highness Ginuwa II is Olu of the Itsekiri-speaking people, who live on Itsekiri land in a section of Warri Township. 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 most historical and correct. When we speak of the Oba of Lagos we refer to the Paramount Native Ruler of Lagos Township, although Lagos is populated 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, although Warri Township is populated mainly by the Itsekiri-speaking people and Warri is part of Itsekiriland.

“Pursuant to their deliberate misrepresentations of historical facts in Warri Division, the Urhobo and Ijaw settlers in the Division tend to depict the Itsekiri Land Trust as an Instrument of oppression. Now that it has been clearly shown that neither of these settlers has any legal claims to any lands in the Division, we will try to briefly describe the beginning and the position of Itsekiri Land Trust in Warri Division and show why its existence is seen as a bitter pill to our adversaries.

“Following some internal re-organisation in Warri, an “Olu Fund” was created in 1924. The first Trustees were Chiefs Dore, Ogbobine and Omagbemi. The Olu Fund later became known as “Itsekiri National Fund”, in 1940. Monies collected on behalf of the Olu in respect of land dues were paid into this fund and this arrangement continued until 1958 when the government of the Western Region of Nigeria enacted the Communal Lands Rights (vesting in Trustees) Law, 1958 and the Itsekiri Trust Instrument in 1959. Thus, it is clear that the creation of 1959 of the Warri Division (Itsekiri Communal Land) Trust Instrument was only a statutory recognition of an existing practice then known as Itsekiri National Fund with roots dating 35 years earlier.

“Why must those who enjoy our benevolence want to determine for us the course of our history and the use or organization of our National Fund? The height of impudence! Finally, prior to the illegal creation of kingdoms within Warri Kingdom such as Agbassa and Okere Urhobo Kingdoms there was no Urhobo king in Warri Division after the creation of the Division from the Warri Province. The following are accounts of Olotus of Agbassa over the years in their court affidavits.

“IKPURI swore: l live at Edjeba where l was born .l am Sobo . A native of Agbassa. I succeeded Ogegede …l am the Olotu(head war man ) . Agbassa village is Bomali. We come from Agbassa Otor. Itsekiri came here first . All this is Itsekiri land. We render service to Olu , we cut grass and clear ground when an Itsekiri chief dies. We are servants of the Olu. Ogbe Ijoh does not belong to Agbassa. Alder and Wilkie belong to Itsekiri. Fugbe and Odion belong to Itsekiri. (Ometan vs Dore suit 25/1926).

“Another sobo chief testifying in the Supreme Court suit No. SC 328/1972. Chief Jackson. E.Etsaghara testified ; I was told by my elders , including chief Sam Warri Essi, that in the olden days our ancestors used to pay homage to the Olu of Warri for the permission granted to settle on the land. This was not in my time. If compensation for the land acquired is paid to us , one third of the amount goes to the Olu and two -third of the amount goes to the whole Agbassa community, not one man . The Olu of Warri by tradition is entitled to one -third of the amount of compensation paid . It is not out of mere kindness that we gave him one -third . This is in accordance with the native law and custom of the itsekiri and Urhobo in Warri division.

“Another Agbassa leader , Chief Agaga Agbaisi admitted in the same suit: Olu is the overlord of Agbassa land. When we get compensation for this land acquired , we still share it and the itsekiri communal land trustees one – third. It has been decided that the share should be in the ration of one -third to the Olu or itsekiri communal land trustees, two -third to the Agbassa people.”