Before We Lay to Rest the Corpse of “British Treaties with Urhobo Communities in Warri District” By J. O. S. Ayomike

Urhobo Historical Society

Before We Lay to Rest the Corpse of
“British Treaties with Urhobo Communities in Warri District”

By J. O. S. Ayomike

Vanguard [Lagos]
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Whether there were treaties or not, the ethnic nationalities in Warri can still live in peace

I have read with keen interest the issues raised about these treaties as they affect me at page 9 of The Guardian of  17th September, 2003 and will react as follows: Yes, I never claimed that the Urhobo Historical Society forged the documents. The idea of forgery came from Mr. Flint, a Royal Niger Company functionary, who, as quoted from Obaro Ikime’s Merchant Prince of the Niger Delta advanced the view that “Forcados treaties were forged”. (See page 63) And Mr. Flint, as will be shown later, was one of the two RNC functionaries that master-minded the making of the said treaties.

At this stage, we should put these treaties in their proper historical context for clearer understanding of their nature. Between 1884 and 1894, there were two clear sets of British treaties that were made with various littoral communities over the Bights of Benin and Biafra. Each set has its pattern.

1884 set: Pattern – signature of Her Britannic Majesty’s Representative; signature of Kings and Chiefs, then followed by signatures of witnesses to mark. In this set were the Opobo Treaty of 1884, Asaba Treaty of 1884 and Treaty with Chiefs of Itsekiri land of 1884 (FO 93/6/10).

1893/1894 set: Pattern – signature of Her Britannic Majesty’s Representative; signatures of Kings and Chiefs; signatures of witnesses, and additionally at this time, signatures of interpreters. In this set were the Abeokuta Treaty of 1893 and Treaty with Chiefs of Benin River and Jekeri Country in 1894 (F02/63).

The principal signatures on the treaties are those of (i) Her Britannic Majesty’s Representative for Britain and (ii) the kings and chiefs for their territory. Those of the witnesses and interpreters are subsidiary, and obviously, the absence of one of the two principal signatures makes no treaty. The gravamen of my submission is that all the said treaties of Ejebba, Agbassa, Ugunu and Igbudu dated between 7th March 1893 and 30th March 1893, do not have the signature of Her Britannic Majesty’s Representative. Even if other parties signed, still they are not genuine and valid treaties without H.M.’s Representative’s signature. Claude Mac Donald, the Consul–General and Commissioner for the Niger Coast Protectorate between 1891 and 1894, did not sign these treaties; Ralph Moor, who took over while Mac Donald was on leave in mid 1894, signed the treaty with the chiefs of Benin River and Jekeri Country in August 1894 after the Urhobo treaties were purportedly drawn up.

Also the issue of the Forcados Vice- Consulate stamp embossed on the treaties, except the Agbassa treaty, appeared to be played down by the authors of the press statement. That was unfortunate; Forcados was not within the jurisdiction of the Niger Coast Protectorate; it was within the area of the Royal Niger Company – an area, to all intents and purposes, that was a different territory reporting independently to London. How and why should a genuine treaty for part of WARRI District be embossed with a stamp of a non existing vice-consulate in the territory of the Royal Niger Company? The six Vice-Consulates within the NCP were Benin, Warri, Brass, New Calabar, Bonny and Opobo. Claude Mac Donald in his report: FO 2/63 of August 1894 clearly delineated Forcados as being outside the NCP as follows: “Warri, a trading settlement of considerable importance, is situated some 40 miles up the Forcados River, which for the last ten miles of its course, forms the boundary between the Niger Coast Protectorate and the territories of the Niger Company, the right bank being under the jurisdiction of the former, and the left under the latter”.

So the purported Forcados vice-consulate stamp on purported Warri District document is not tenable and deepens the level of their invalidity and non-genuineness. It is also relevant, while holding your breath on the questionable nature of these treaties, to consider two cablegrams from Ralph Moor about a month before the purported Urhobo treaties were dispatched to London from Calabar on 30th November 1894 – the very day Nanna (who had opposed these treaties) was taken to court – after the purported treaties were in limbo for some 17 months. Moor’s cablegram no. XIIJ8094 of 2nd October 1894 says:

“Niger Company, taking advantage of troubles in Benin have sent armed party under Flint and Mc Taggart representing themselves as Queen’s officers, into Sobo country, at the back of Benin and Warri, making treaties… imperative such treaties be at once declared invalid. Benin and Warri being the natural outlets for trade of Sobo country”.

And on 10th October 1894, he sent another cablegram No. 178 to London: “I must respectfully submit that the Royal Niger Company has adopted a more indecent course in thus attempting the annex territories formerly under the sway of Chief Nanna, and make Treaties in and about a provisional boundary at a time when the adjoining government, in conjunction with the forces of Her Majesty’s Navy was employed in breaking the power of the chief whose territories the companies were trying to annex”.

In the above cablegrams – which give clear insight into the interplay of forces on the ground – Benin should read Benin River sector of Itsekiri-land while Warri, the other sector.

Here, some fallacies in the press statement, I am reacting to, will be noted. There are no Treaties in the British Archive referred to as “Benin River Treaties.” On 4th April, 1851, John Beecroft, Her Britannic Majesty’s Consul on the Bights of Benin and Biafra made a Treaty with Governor Jerry Diare and other Itsekiri chiefs. (Cal. papers 5/7 Vol. 1). On 16th July 1884, Her Majesty’s Consul, E. H. Hewwtt signed a Treaty on Board HBMS Flirt anchored in Benin River with Governor Nanna and other chiefs for Itsekiri land (FO 93/6/10).

And on 2nd August, 1894, Ralph Moor Ag Consul-General (who invalidated the Urhobo Treaties by Cablegrams) signed a treaty designated ‘Treaty with Chiefs of Benin River and Jekeri Country’ with 25 Itsekiri chiefs. (F)2/63) Apart from those chiefs based in Benin River, several others including Ogbe of Ugbowangue, Okorofiangbe, Machola and Okotie of the Warri sector signed this treaty.

And it is interesting that both the treaties of 1884 for Itsekiri land and that of 1894 met the rigid validity conditions of their time. Even that of 1951 had the signature of Her Britannic Majesty’s representative alongside the chiefs’ signatures and those of witnesses.

We may wish to say also that R. A. Alder was not at all a British Colonial official. He was an Egba Yoruba merchant based in Warri. He gave his daughter, Atseyinku, by an Itsekiri mother, to Dauda, another Yoruba merchant from Isale-Eko, Lagos also based in Warri. They were both tenants on the Crown Land (lease B5) of 1908 and by reason of their great influence as big merchants, their names have stuck (as Alders Town or Daudu) to the part of Warri from Mclver to Pessu Road. Both returned to their homes to die. To us, the issues of the Urhobo treaties are clear: The purported Urhobo Treaties are not valid; not genuine, given the weighty fact that Her Majesty’s Representative did not sign any of them, even though the lesser parties (witnesses to mark and interpreters) signed. All that Arthur Harrison vice-consul etc did was to sign the witnesses’ column after the chiefs’ marks. Flint, who with Mac Taggart of RNC, masterminded the making of the unfinished and therefore invalid “treaties”, got accused by Ralph Moor, the British Representative in charge of the NCP and, no doubt Flint subsequently confessed that the ‘Forcados Treaties were forged’.

Finally, I submit that granted the Urhobo treaties were genuine (which I don’t grant), why were they not produced in court between 1925 and 1973 during the series of Agbassa cases of claim of ownership of Warri land against Itsekiri? Inspite of these treaties or no treaties, court judgements or not, I do not see why we can not live together in peace as before. To me, it is all in our attitude.



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