The Establishment of British Administration

Urhobo Historical Society


By A. Salubi


Originally published in Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria,  Volume 1, Number 3 (December), 1958, pages 184-209.


THE URHOBO_(1) people form one of the 7 indigenous ethnic groups_(2) of the people in the Delta_(3) Province of Western Nigeria. These groups are in four Administrative divisions, one of which is Urhobo Division. It is therefore the Urhobo division that is referred to broadly in this paper as the Urhobo Country. I say broadly because, in recent years the Isoko people who are also in the Division, have ceased to regard themselves as Urhobo.

According to the 1952 Census figures, there are 244,775 Urhobo out of a population of 590,966 for the whole Province. This represents roughly 41.42 percent. The area of the Division, the second largest in the Province, is 1,684 square miles, the population 323,315 and the density of population is therefore 191.99 to the square mile. The Urhobo are a heterogeneous people whose social organization is based on small units, commonly called Clans. There are some 16 autonomous Clans_(4) each ruled by an Ovie(5) or an Okpako.(6)

For their origin, the people have always maintained that their ancestors who were the founders of their present country hailed from Benin which they call “Aka.”_(7)  In his book,_(8) Rev. Hubbard identified the people with three other sources of origin, namely, Erowha, Ijo, and Ibo._(9)  It is believed that the Urhobo had settled in the Delta Province before – probably long before – the beginning of the 15th century.(10)

The Urhobo country (except that part of it lying to the east and bordering on the Niger and its creeks) constitutes the main dry land of the Delta Province. Generally, all the country is flat and well within the zone of the evergreen tropical forest dominated by the ubiquitous West Coast oil-palm. The division_(11) is bounded on the South by Western Ijo Division, on the West by Warri Division on the East by Aboh Division, and on the North by the River Ethiope_(12) except at the north west where the line embraced a strip of land on the right bank of the River.

The people are given to agriculture and owing to their system of shifting cultivation and the habit of living in small scattered groups in villages, the bulk of the vegetation consists of secondary growth springing up rapidly on temporarily abandoned farmlands. Owing to population pressure on the land, about 97,000 Urhobo people live away from home in Lagos Township and in 20 other Divisions in the Western Region alone.(13)

The Knowledge of Early Europeans About Urhobo

The story of European enterprise and influence in the Bight of Benin is too well-known to deserve recapitulation here. Various writers have given interesting accounts of the Portuguese discovery of Benin in 1472, of the trade and the missionary activities that followed the discovery, and of the keen competition which other European nations like England, Holland and France etc., successfully organized against Portugal in her exploits in the Bight of Benin. For some 420 years, the selling and buying of commodities between Europeans and Africans of the Benin Coast had brought about a civilization, a culture contact, exchange of ideas, and a mingling of peoples about which the Urhobo people in the hinterland knew practically nothing. How much the Europeans on the coast knew about the Urhobo people was clearly very little since there was no direct contact of any kind; the Europeans relied on the different stories which African traders of the coast, mainly Itsekiri, told them.

What seemed to be the earliest reference on record to the Urhobo people was made by Duarte Pacheco Pereira, who, while describing Rio Dos Forcados (Forcados River) said among other things. “Farther in the interior is another country called  Subou, which is densely populated. . . .”(14)

Between 1839 and 1840 Dr. Daniell and Mr. John Beecroft navigated the Benin River and attempted to learn something about the Urhobo country and its people. Dr. Daniell tells us that “The Subo country consists of an extensive series of fertile plains, thirty miles above Reggio,” _(15) “beautifully ornamented with park — like clumps of trees and verdure of the freshest tint. . .”_(16)

Beecroft’s purpose of exploring the Benin River in April, 1840, was to ascertain whether an approach through the river to the main body of the Niger, without having to go through the pestiferous swamps of its delta, was possible. That took him to the highest point navigable on that part of the River leading to the Urhobo country. Beecroft says that the name given to the district by natives lower down the river who represented it as forming part of the Kingdom of Benin was Sooba.(17)

In the narrative of his voyage of the Niger in 1854, Dr. William Balfour Baikie wrote of the Urhobo as a “people speaking a distinct language who bring palm-oil to the trading ships, and who are called Sobo, being tributary to Benin”.(18) Writing in 1863, Sir Richard Francis Burton confirmed what appeared clearly to be an earlier information by Beecroft and added “I believe that the word” (Sooba) “applies to the greatest part of the country between Abo on the Niger, the Warri River, and the southern branch of the Benin which bounds it on the north. . . .” “At Warri we were within one day’s row of the Sobo people.”(19)

Fifty years after Beecroft’s attempt had passed, and still Europeans, on the coast or elsewhere, did not know much about the Urhobo people. Thus in 1890, Sir Alfred Moloney, then Governor of Lagos, told a London audience what at best was hearsay that in addition to “the Benins, Jakrymen, and Ijohs, much was heard in these parts of the Issobos or Sobos, who were described as people tributary (they have been so for generations) to . . . Benin.” He described them as industrious, agricultural and oil manufacturers, and their language as having great affinity with the Benin language in many ways.(20)

About the same period, the Intelligence Division of the War Office in England, recorded the Sobos and the Binis as occupying the country north of the Warri, west of the Niger, and west and east of the Benin River; they were described as seeming to be a shy and timid race, given to agriculture rather than trade and as being more or less under the suzerainty of the King of Benin.(21)

For many years, European traders on the coast wanted to reach the interior people who were the oil producers, but the African middlemen who were natives of the coast, did not permit them. It was a part of the middlemen’s design deliberately to malign or blackmail the interior people to the Europeans, and the Europeans, to the interior people.(22)

The total exclusion of the European traders from any contact with the hinterland people suited the middlemen’s purpose eminently well. As agents between the interior and the coast, many of them had become very wealthy and influential, a position which they very jealously guarded. The jealousy was based on the fears of losing their powerful advantageous position.

Projected Exploration of the Country by Consular Officers.

Beside these few references, the riddle of the Urhobo people and their country remained unsolved until late 1891, when the Government of the Niger Coast Protectorate (formerly Oil Rivers Protectorate) was established on the coast. It was left to Captain H. L. Gallwey(23) as will be seen presently, to solve the riddle.

Two of the six Consular districts under the Niger Coast Protectorate Government were established on the Benin, and the Forcados Rivers, the latter being shortly removed to Warri trading station, now the Warri Township. The two districts formed the bases from which the Consular Officers penetrated into the interior.

In order to be assured of an adequate and effective force readily available, it was necessary to have a constabulary post somewhere in the districts. Calabar, where the main force for the Protectorate was to be stationed, was too far away. Therefore, one of the first assignments to Captain Gallwey was the survey in October, 1891, of the Urhobo oil-markets along the Ethiope River, with a view, among other things, to selecting suitable sites for a Vice-Consulate, barracks and constabulary posts. Sapele,(24) a small Urhobo village, on the left bank of the Ethiope River, about 55 miles from the Benin Vice-Consulate, appealed to Captain Gallwey.

In his report to Major Macdonald,(25) Gallwey said, “The anchorage here is deep and roomy, and the ground high, though one mass of forest. A most suitable spot to establish factories, especially as all the produce from the Sobo markets passes here on the way to the towns near the mouth of the river.” He, therefore, recommended Sapele, which he called the first Sobo market, to be a very good place to establish a Vice-Consulate and constabulary barracks.(26)

Macdonald visited Sapele in the following month and approved it as being eminently suitable for the purpose for which Gallwey recommended it. The Urhobo people there assured him that, if he would come and build there, they would clear as much ground as he wanted.(27)  That was the origin of the present Sapele Township.

The two powerful Africans preventing European penetration of the hinterland of the Benin and the nearby rivers, were, firstly, Chief Nana who lived in a creek near the mouth of the Benin River, and secondly, the Oba of Benin. In fairness to Chief Nana however, it must be recorded that he made no open opposition when, barely two months after the inception of the Protectorate Government, Captain Gallwey penetrated into the Urhobo country. Gallwey recorded that the Chief consented when consulted about the proposal to establish at Sapele.

Proving his support and co-operation for the Protectorate Government at his trial at Calabar in December, 1894, Chief Nana himself said “I assisted the Government when they went up to Sapele first in getting ground.”(28)  The reason for the Chief’s agreeable attitude must be obvious to any one who has studied Benin River affairs up to that time. Chief Nana was already losing popularity and his hold over his own Itsekiri people, and was fully aware of the British Government’s intention to put an end to his power. To that end, his rivals and enemies, all Itsekiri people, were solidly behind the Government.

In view of the important role which Chief Nana played in the trade and related affairs of Benin River, particularly in regard to trade in the Urhobo oil markets, it is necessary to ask for indulgence to digress a bit to be able to say a word here about the Chief. Mr. Neville and Mr. P.C. Lloyd have contributed articles, each giving some personal details about the Chief; (29)  it is unnecessary here, therefore, to touch on the points already covered. Suffice it to say, however, that Chief Nana’s mother was an Urhobo woman married from the Agbamu-Elemodia family, a well-known family in  Evhro (Effuru), 5 miles from Warri Township. The Chief himself was always proud of his maternal connection with Urhobo.(30)

Many European Merchants, Missionaries, Explorers and Consular Officers who visited the Benin River in the second half of the last century, and had occasion to meet Chief Nana, had nothing but great admiration for his outstanding personality, intelligence, wealth and hospitality. His ability to speak the Urhobo language coupled with his liberality won for him the favour of practically all Urhobo traders on the River. He, of course, had enough force to bring to submission any one who was so unreasonably stubborn as to interfere with his trade anywhere. For many years, he concentrated his commercial activities on the Urhobo oil markets until he practically established a perfect monopoly over all the oil markets.

Chief Nana did not establish any form of native government in Urhobo land. All his interest was in trade, and only when his trade was interrupted was there any friction between his canoe-boys and the people. In many cases, settlement of such frictions was peaceful. But most of the immediate causes of the Chief’s trouble, leading to his fall in 1894, were related to his trade dealings with the Urhobo people.

By the end of 1893, the Vice Consuls at Benin River had started to accuse the Chief of gross disloyalty to the Government; but his actions, usually through his trading boys, appeared to reach a climax, when in July 1894, his boys seized fifteen Urhobo people (including a local Chief’s wife), for an alleged debt of 200 puncheons of palm-oil.(31) It was when Chief Nana refused to surrender those captives, blockading the River instead, that the government was obliged to use force to overthrow him towards the end of 1894. With the capture of the Oba of Benin 3 years later, all obstructions to penetration of the interior were removed.

Protection Treaties with Urhobo Chiefs.

About 2 ½ years before Chief Nana’s fall, the Urhobo Chiefs of Abraka, north east of the Benin Consular district had concluded a Treaty of Protection with Her Britannic Majesty’s Government placing themselves and their people under British protection.(32)  In the south and the south-east of the Urhobo country under Warri district not less than 14 such Treaties had also been entered into. The Treaty making activities were however intensified after the fall of Chief Nana.

It is also clear from some of the earlier Treaties that the Protectorate Government did not wait for the enactment of Order in Council of 1893, before penetrating into the hinterland of what was hitherto a virtual, sea-coast Protectorate. Thus in 1892, Sapele became a Vice Consulate when a hulk(33) serving not only as a Vice Consulate, but also as a prison and barracks, was towed there. The Sapele Vice-Consulate soon became important, as in 1895, the Benin River Vice-Consulate was, except as a Customs port,(34) closed and removed to Sapele. The closure of the Benin River Vice-Consulate in favour of Sapele had a considerable historical and economic significance. In the first place, it marked the end, after some 433 years of European enterprise in that part of the historic River, and, in the second place, it broke the barrier almost completely of the Itsekiri middlemen in the matter of trade.

Although a beginning of British administration of the Urhobo country had nearly been completed, yet no further effective practical steps to govern could be taken, ready and anxious as both the Consular Government and the Urhobo people were. The Government ran up against the difficulty of an administrative boundary between itself and the Royal Niger Company.

Arising from an earlier dispute over the Niger Basin by the Forcados River, over which Major Macdonald was appointed a Commissioner in 1889, the Major had recommended in his report(35) some arrangement to fix a boundary between the disputants.(36) When two years later, the Major was commissioned to establish the new Protectorate Government, one of his first duties in London, was to fix that boundary known as the Provisional Boundary Line, between his Government and the Royal Niger Company.

Because of the great part which the boundary delimitation subsequently played in the matter of administration of the Urhobo country, the text of its description is quoted hereunder. “On the west of the Niger River the line starts at the middle of the mouth of  the Forcados River, follows that river midway to the mouth of the Warri Creek, and follows that creek midway up to a point 2½ miles below the mouth of the creek leading to Oagbi and Akiabodo. From that point the line runs to the north-east for 10 miles and thence due north for 50 miles…”(37) The effect of the demarcation was that all the country lying to the west of the Line was within the jurisdiction of the Niger Coast Protectorate Government and similarly, all the country lying to the east of the Line was regarded as being within the territories of the Company.

Dispute Arising from the Provisional Boundary Line.

One of the most significant consequences of the Provisional Boundary Line did not present itself until 1895, 4 years after it had been drawn. Protection Treaties concluded with five Urhobo towns(38) were, in accordance with the understanding between the Foreign Office and the Royal Niger Company, referred to the Governor and Council of the Company for affirmation. The Company wrote back claiming that the 5 Treaties concerned a group of towns considerably to the east of the Provisional Line, and were, therefore, in its area of jurisdiction, and that was more, the Company had already concluded Treaties with each of the five towns. It was pointed out that the only difference was in the spelling of the names of the towns. So strong and clear was the Royal Niger Company’s case that the Foreign Office was obliged to agree eventually that both their own and the Company’s Treaties covered the same towns.

It was however suggested that as Sir John Kirk was shortly going out to the West Coast, for the purpose of investigating the circumstances of the attack at Akassa by the Brass people, he might take the opportunity to look into the matter.(39)

In June 1895, Sir John reported inability to decide the issue one way or the other. To him, the necessity to come to any decision was questionable since the area concerned was occupied by neither the Protectorate Government nor the Royal Niger Company. After describing the upper reaches of the Ethiope river which waters, on the west, the area in dispute, and the Ase creek which waters it on the east, Sir John concluded that actual boundary could not be fixed until more was known of the geography of the country; he recommended that, for the time being, the trade of the towns concerned should be left to take their natural water course.(40)

The Foreign Office therefore, had no alternative but to advise the Niger Coast Protectorate Government to stop its officers visiting any more, those parts of the Urhobo country. Thus, what was apparently the high hopes of the Consular officers, and the expectations of the Urhobo people for a coming administration, were dashed to pieces, at least for the time being.

But the Consular Officers were dogged; instead of abiding by the Foreign Office’s advice, they continued visiting the Urhobo and the Ukwuani countries, entering into more Treaties with the people. Mr. John Mc. Taggart,(41)  the Chief Officer in charge of the Royal Niger Company’s patrol team, was not to be beaten in the race. The fall of Benin was to him an impetus for extensive patrolling activities, not only in the Urhobo and the Ukwuani countries, but also in the Ika (Agbor), Ishan, Afemai (Kukuruku) and the Ora countries. On an earlier occasion, he even marched into Benin.

The whole situation was one of real jealousy and competitive scramble, and, at one stage of it, an open clash between the officers of the two administrations seemed imminent. And so that dis-quieting situation continued for two long years ending in November, 1897, when the foreign Office was again obliged to tell Sir Ralph Moor, then the head of the Niger Coast Protectorate Government, of the importance which Her Majesty’s Government attached to the avoidance of both administrations alike of any action on the frontier likely to provoke friction between them. The despatch ended by saying “Lord Salisbury feels sure that no effort on your part will be wanting to avoid such friction.”(42)

Sir Ralph Moor reluctantly obeyed, instructing his officers to take as little action as possible for the present, in the direction of the left bank of the Ethiope River, and in the interior of the Urhobo country. Sir Ralph opined however, that the decision was a retrograde step and one that would result in the work already done in that direction having to be done again in the future.(43)

The attitude of the Protectorate Government was in a sense quite understandable. The restricted movement of its officers did not permit them to move farther than 15 miles from Sapele on the north, and at Warri on the South the distance was much less. And yet most of the important oil markets, especially those in the north east, formerly monopolized by Chief Nana, were beyond–some much beyond–the boundary line, and well within the Company s territories. The unaccepted argument of the Protectorate Officers was that their conquest of the Chief automatically bestowed upon them the right to all those markets.

The Consequences of the Dispute of Urhobo

The Urhobo had always known and talked of two “Akpo”.(44)  The first and the only one known and recognized by them before the British Government, was “Akpo r’ Oba” (“the Oba’s world”). The second, which was coming to oust the first, was “Akpo r’ Oyinbo” (“the white man’s world”). It was most difficult, if not altogether impossible, at that time, to take governmental affairs to Benin. The momentum against the Oba’s rule and power was then gathering. The Consular government that was to come to replace the time-honoured regime of Benin, was not seen. The Royal Niger Company did nothing more than enter into Treaties. Absolute vacuum and dilemma therefore emerged. In the unhappy circumstances, the state of chaos and disorder that ensued can be better imagined than described.

Writing about the situation a few years later, Mr. Henry Morley of the Royal Niger Company described a confused situation where the officers of the Niger Coast Protectorate, the Governor of Lagos, the officers of the West African Frontier Force, and the Government of his Company each in turn gave orders to native rulers, or exercised authority in the Company’s Territories, without prior consultation with each other. To his mind, the situation was deplorable and probably unprecedented in the history of any government of any modern country not actually suffering from war or revolution.

It is interesting to read what was said to be happening in the Urhobo country, and the feelings of the people during an anarchy which lasted some 5 years. The people developed a deep feeling of disappointment and of neglect by the British government. A very natural feeling after about 7 years of submitting themselves by Treaty to the Government. They could not understand why restrictions had to be placed on the Consular Officers’ movement, thus preventing their visits as formerly. Government however decided well to sustain their confidence by continuing the payment of any subsidies previously paid.(45)

The situation described above could not exist without some acts of atrocity. All the way from Abraka(46) the dead body and decapitated head of Chief Akatamu were brought to the District Commissioner at Sapele. The reason for the outrage by the Orogun people being that the Chief took upon himself to decide a case between two groups of people in the Orogun area instead of referring it to the Consul.(47)

Two other isolated cases of armed fighting with considerable sacrifice of life were reported from around the same area. The disturbing situation led to inevitable stoppage of the local trade; and there was a danger of more of the waterside markets being closed owing to troubles in the interior Urhobo towns.

By that time, it became quite obvious that the officers of the Royal Niger Company, who had hitherto made no attempt to govern, were still not in a position, to do anything. The company was about winding up. And so in January, 1899, after merely informing Mr. John Flint, the Agent General of the Company at Burutu, Sir Ralph Moor instructed his officers to proceed with an escort of 25 men to all the subsidized Urhobo market towns, telegraphing the Colonial Office thereafter that the Urhobo and the other neighboring countries be regarded thenceforth as being under the Niger Coast Protectorate.(48)  Mr. Flint referred the matter to London, the Governor of the Company condemned Sir Ralph’s action as being most reprehensible, but there the matter died.

The scramble for power in Urhobo land then came to an end. The Royal Niger company wound up. The taking over of its assets in the latter part of 1899, by the British government gave a free hand to the Protectorate Government to organize and establish properly, for the first time, the administration of the Urhobo country. In this sense, it can be regarded that British administration in Urhobo land commenced only from 1900.

The Role of Political Agents in Establishing the Administration.

A paper of this nature will be incomplete without reference to the important role which African middlemen played in assisting the government to achieve its objects. This time, the reference is to Political middlemen, known in those days as Political Agents. Three such Political Agents were known to the early history of the British administration in Urhobo. They were George Eyube,(49) Tom Falladoh, and Chief Dore Numa. As was said before, Protectorate Officers’ penetration of the Urhobo country was initially, in two processions, that is to say, from Warri and Benin River (later Sapele). After 1900 however, two other processions from Abraka and Agberi formed, penetrating respectively from the north east, and the south east, of the country. The Warri procession was spear-headed by Chief George Eyube, the Abraka one by Tom Falladoh,(50) the Benin river by Chief Dore Numa, while the Agberi procession appeared to have been conducted by Protectorate Officers themselves.

As an escort to the Government up to 1896, a small Government post was opened for Tom Falladoh with two others assisting at Abraka. His functions consisted in explaining to the people Government’s purposes, encouraging them not only to increase trade but also to plant cash crops, and in keeping Government informed of what was happening in that part of the country. There could be no doubt that Tom Falladoh acquitted himself well for he became a Political Agent in the following year. But there was evidence that this bold man (as might be expected of people left altogether on their own in those conditions away from the range of a close watch) often exceeded his duties.

In March, 1898, Mr. Henry Lyon of Benin District Office replying his opposite number at Sapele about Falladoh said, “I am sending you later a report on Falladoh’s conduct as Political Officer in Abraka and Quale countries–as you may hear at Benin City some rumors of the way he has carried on his work–Falladoh at present is in custody and every day I get more evidence of his doings in these countries such as looting and burning towns–If you hear any palavers about him I hope you will let me know”.(51)

After Chief Nana, the next person among the Itsekiri who came to prominence was Chief Dore(52) Numa, a great friend of the Government. During the Nana and the Benin Expeditions he was solidly behind the Government rendering invaluable services which were later recognized and rewarded. By the beginning of this century, he had risen to a height which made him to be not only the head of the Itsekiri, but also an indispensable person to Government in its dealings with the Urhobo and the Ijoh people. It was in that capacity that he signed in 1908, for and on behalf of the Chiefs and the people of Sapele, the lease to the Government of Sapele land.(53)

As Warri was by 1901 fast becoming the headquarters, Chief Dore, “pushed his way to Warri.(54)  The fact that more than half of the Urhobo country was then under the Warri Division gave the Chief free play in purely Urhobo affairs. As the President of the highest Native Court for many years, no Urhobo, however important or influential, could be made a Warrant Chief without Chief Dore’s recommendation. Although some Urhobo Chiefs sat with him as assessors to take appeals in cases from their areas, Dore often had the last say.

So high was the esteem and power conferred on him by Government that even in 1918 when, in accordance with tradition, two(55) Urhobo Ivie applied to Benin for confirmation of their title, the Resident advised the Oba not to grant the title without Chief Dore’s expressed consent. In rejecting one of the applications, the Resident said he did not think it advisable for the Oba to grant the title as it would involve the Ovie coming regularly to Benin to see the Oba, and that must, inevitably, tend to lessen Chief Dore’s authority.

1900 – The Beginning of Effective Administration

The last decade of the 19th century had passed with the not too insignificant, but disturbed, achievement made in the attempt by the Protectorate Officers to govern the country, and the 20th century had arrived bringing in its wake the practical realities of establishing a firm and effective government. It would be an error of judgment to overlook or under-rate the magnitude and the urgency of the task called for by those realities.

While the towns already familiar with “Kosini,”(56) some of which had been enjoying their subsidies all along, waved their Treaties in a hearty welcome of the long expected government, many other interior towns had perhaps never heard, or only heard dimly, of the curious person called ‘the white man’. It would be too much to expect therefore, that some of those towns would not be indifferent, at least for the start, to the new order. As it was required to establish a foothold in districts where those towns existed, it was necessary to deal with each and every town or village therein, and there were a few hundreds of such towns or villages.

In order, therefore, to establish itself, the Government was obliged to tackle the hard tasks of:

  • (a) (pacification, however small and inexpensive in scale, of the country,
  • (b) establishing a machinery for Indirect Rule through Chiefs and Headmen,
  • (c) clearing and improving the rivers and creeks to facilitate trade, and
  • (d) constructing roads to open up the country.

It must be appreciated that, in the circumstances of the situation, each of the tasks was one of extreme urgency and second to none in the matter of priority.

(a) Pacification of the Country.

Whether the more interior Urhobo would have resisted the government, if ever they could, is a question which admits of no consideration here at present; but it seems correct to say that the four punitive expeditions, two of them major, undertaken towards to close of the 19th century facilitated Government’s passage to the interior. The two major expeditions, namely, the Nana and the Benin Expeditions, though not directly connected with Urhobo land, had a very far reaching effect on the Urhobo people as a whole. Nana was respected and feared for his wealth and power, and the Oba(57) of Benin for his suzerainty and juju power. Most Urhobo people did not believe that the Oba could be, and was in fact captured by the white-man(58) because of their belief in his juju power to transform himself into a spirit. With the capture, therefore, of those two acknowledged powers, the Urhobo people had no choice but to submit to the conqueror.

The two other punishments, in the form of setting fire to each of two Urhobo towns, clearly brought home to the people the practical evidence of the white-man’s superior power. Effuru was set on fire just a little over two months after concluding a Protection Treaty with the Government. A dispute leading to stoppage of trade and the refusal of the head Chief to answer charges connected therewith were given as the cause for the action. The head Chief (Arigbe) who was said to have caused the dispute was believed to be a staunch adherent of Chief Nana, and his actions were regarded as a demonstration in favour of the Chief.(59)

Accompanied by two other officers and 12 armed men from the Warri Consulate, Major Copland-Crawford set fire to a town(60) in the east, destroying only a part of it. The local inhabitants known to be seizing traders and produce passing through a creek nearby had shot a man. The refusal of the local Chief to surrender the offender, and the beating up of the Consulate Messenger sent to them necessitated the action.

Between 1901 and 1909, the Government was involved in a number of patrols. Beginning with Orhokpor in 1901, the Kwale Patrol followed in the first quarter of 1904. In order to be able to bring under effective control that part of the country however, it became necessary in 1905 to barrack,(61) the Patrol unit permanently at Abraka, where, as stated earlier in the paper, a Government post had been established since 1896. The appointment of a District Commissioner(62) to the station shortly after basing the unit strengthened the operation of the scheme for the administration of that part of the Urhobo country.

In April, 1907 it became necessary for a patrol from the Warri district to visit Agbassa and Iyede. The people of the former place had refused to receive the Government and were said to be a likely menace to the people of the surrounding country. Captain Beamish, with Mr. S. D. Simpson-Gray as Political Officer, visited and quieted the towns until early in 1908, when, owing to a further distributed state of Agbassa, a small force under Captain Wayling, with Major H. O. Swainston as a Political Officer, entered the town on 4th February. After a few days, the people expressed willingness to submit to Government. The two head chiefs(63) captured were not allowed to return until the town became quiet again.

As the whole area had been effectively controlled, the Kwale patrol unit was withdrawn in April, 1909, and replaced by a Civil Police. One of the remarkable consequences of those patrols and Police movements reported, was the large number of cases of personation as Government Police or messengers in the inland towns. The personators took payment for settling cases, inflicting fines, seizing and flogging people, and causing trouble in different ways.(64)

(b) Establishing a Machinery for Indirect Rule through Chiefs and Headmen.

With 1900 came a spate of enactments one of which is relevant here. It was The Native Courts Proclamation, No. 9 of 1900, amended in the following year by The Native Courts Proclamation No. 25. The Proclamations legalized the status and regularized the function of native Councils and Native Courts, a few of which had been in existence as far back as 1895. Two such Native Courts, serving the Urhobo country, were at Sapele and Warri. In 1900 however, more courts were established in the more inland areas of the country.

The Native Councils and Native Courts system was a most important integral part in the machinery of indirect rule. Whatever the critic may have to say against the system, it is doubtful whether he can deny the hard fact that the Native Councils and Native Courts were the only means which the Government had then of reaching and governing the people.

The need for the Councils and Courts were such that between 1900 and 1904, Government established in the Urhobo country not less than 9 Native Courts, appointed 174 Warrant Chiefs with jurisdiction over 329 towns and villages. Two of the Courts (Sapele and Abraka, later Okpara Waterside) were in the west and the remaining seven in the east of the country.

The Native Councils, later known as Native Authorities, did not only function as executive bodies, but also as Appellate Courts to the Native Courts within their areas. Not only did these bodies take orders from the Government to the people but they had to ensure also that such orders were carried out. For the purpose of local administration, the Urhobo country was constituted into three Native Councils. The Sapele Native Council for the Sapele District area including Benin River, was split up in 1907 when the Abraka-Okpara Native Council was constituted. The remaining 7 Native Courts in the east, covering by far the greater part of the Urhobo country, were sub-ordinated to the Warri native Council of which Chief Dore Numa was the President. Following a further re-organization in 1914, by the passage of the Native Courts Ordinance No. VIII, Chief Dore Numa was made the Paramount Chief(65) of the Judicial Council, and in 1916, when the first Native Authority Ordinance was enacted, the Urhobo Native Authorities in the east and all others in the Warri Division, were again made subordinate to Chief Dore Numa.

Scarcity of court clerks was one of the difficulties that faced the working of the native court system in the early stages. In some cases, the District Officers themselves sat in the Courts occasionally as clerks and Presidents, and in other cases, one court clerk was made to run two or more courts in rotation.

The Annual Report for 1899 to 1900 recorded the views of Mr. Menedez, Acting Chief Justice, “. . . .that native administration under the supervision of the District Commissioners has worked exceedingly well”; he was reported to have particularly referred to the outstations of Warri and Sapele, where the gradual extension of the system had brought within the control of the Government numerous outlying villages whose previous attitude had been far from friendly.(66)

(c) Clearing and Improving Rivers and Creeks.

Another enactment of some considerable importance was the Roads and Creeks Proclamation, No. 15 of 1903. On sufferance of a penalty of £50 or 6 months imprisonment in default, the Proclamation imposed it as a duty on the Chiefs and their people to clear and repair any roads, creeks or rivers within their districts, towns, villages, or places through which, or by which, such roads, creeks or rivers, or parts of such roads, creeks or rivers run.

Waterways were of course the first means of communication, and while the Chiefs and their people were required by law to keep them open, there was clearly a limit to what they could do having regard to the means at their disposal. Upon the newly established Marine Department fell therefore the duty of starting where community labour left off. Thus the first major marine clearing operations of the Ethiope River at a cost of some £388 started in 1905. With the second operations at a cost of about £609 three years later, the whole River became safely navigable from Sapele to Kwale; and in 1911 when clearing reached the farthest point, or the River head at Umutu, timber traffic on the River became easy.(67)

Other rivers in the Benin and Agberi areas received similar attention from the Marine Department, and it was the policy of Government to encourage traders, mainly, Itsekiri and Yoruba to establish waterside markets along the banks of the rivers cleared.(68)

(d) Constructing Roads to Open up the Country

One of the early steps taken by the British Consular and other political Officers to open the country was in regard to roads. It was part of their duty during their visits to map out the more important towns with a view to opening them up by means of roads which in the white man’s sense did not exist. Between towns and villages only footpaths, most of which were difficult, and in some cases unsafe to negotiate, existed.

Accompanied by 5 orderlies, 28 carriers and a guide, Major Copland-Crawford, then Acting Consul, Warri Division, passed in January 1896, through a number of these paths from the Warri Consulate to Sapele, that being the first time ever any European had undertaken a journey by land between the two towns. The primary purpose was to endeavour to open up land communication with Sapele by a direct route. The journey took 2 days but Copland-Crawford thought it could be half a day less in a straight through march with troops.(69)

But the real period of road-making did not begin in earnest until 1903 when the provisions of the Roads and Creeks Proclamation were applied.(70)  One of the officers whose activities accelerated the construction of roads, but whose work was taken over in 1907 by the Superintendent of Roads, Roads Department, was the Traveling Commissioner for the Division.

While it was reported that some of the Chiefs cheerfully got their people to cut straight roads, others were said to be indifferent, and stringent measures had to be taken to enforce the required communal labour.(71)  Most of the roads with planted shade trees in the Urhobo country were constructed between 1903 and 1910. In 1911 it was possible to motor in a light car on the triangular route of Warri-Sapele-Kwale, the oldest roads in Urhobo.

By 1906, the survey for a light railway or tramway to connect Sapele to Benin City was completed at a proposed estimate of £79,000 for a 2 ft. 6 in. Line and £105,000 for line wider by a foot. As the scheme was not however started before the amalgamation. Sir Walter Egerton rejected it as unballasted. He recommended instead the construction of a good metalled road.(72)  But this same road was, in fact, not completely metalled until 1952 — 46 years later!

With roads connecting the larger and the more important towns, and the greater development of mutual confidence between the Political Officers and the people, the former began to undertake long tours, sleeping in the towns. That created the necessity for building Rest Houses, again by communal labour, for the convenience of the District Commissioners. The first of such Rest Houses built at Abraka in 1904 was followed, up to 1907, by not less than 17 others in various parts of the Urhobo country.(73)

With the arrival in January 1905 of Capt. J.P. Moir of the Telegraph Battalion, as Superintendent, Telegraph Construction, it was possible to complete the laying of telegraph lines between Warri and Sapele in that year.(74) An inland weekly mail service between Sapele and Kwale by runners started in 1906. In 1908, a telephone system was opened at Warri and other places like Abeokuta, Afikpo and Obubra Hill.(75)  However, the telecommunication position as at that period remained unexceeded until only a few years ago when telegraph facilities were extended to Abraka and Ughelli and a Telephone service to Aja-Igbodudu, Ughelli and Abraka.

Observations and Conclusions

It may perhaps be appropriate here to say a few words about the period (1891-1913) covered by this paper. As will be remembered, Captain Gallwey, the Vice-Consul, Benin River District, made his first contact with the Urhobo of Sapele in late 1891. In 1900, the Niger Coast Protectorate Government started administration in earnest with a series of Proclamations with Rules and bye-laws, etc. Those laws continued until 1906 when the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria was amalgamated with the Colony of Lagos under one administration known as the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.

Although such arrangement appeared not to have any appreciable difference to the Urhobo country, yet it led to certain administrative adjustments and changes in the structure of governmental set-up. The situation again continued until the great amalgamation of Lord Lugard in 1914. As students of Nigerian Constitutions of that period know too well, a spate of new legislation accompanied that amalgamation. I am, therefore, of the opinion that by 1913 the foundation of British administration in Urhobo and in fact elsewhere in Nigeria, had been firmly established. Whatever followed after 1913 were in my view, subsequent developments and improvements on the already established administration.

While it has not been the purpose of this paper to prove certain specific points, it has however endeavoured in a humble way to show briefly how very little was known by early Europeans of any walks of life about the Urhobo country and its people, for well over four centuries ending in 1891. And yet the country or a part of it is contiguous on the Benin River, the scene of a great historic European enterprise with the sea-coast Africans.

The paper has told the story of an unfortunate dispute arising from a boundary line drawn and agreed on paper in London which delayed for some 5 years the commencement of direct trading with the white man, and therefore of contact with the civilizing influence that accompanied it.

The paper has also endeavoured to show that contrary to what many people in Nigeria or elsewhere have been told, the Urhobo had before the British Administration always been a separate and distinct people under the suzerainty of Benin, not under any other ruler as Dr. Talbot conjectured.(76) The paper has shown further that the Ivie and the Chiefs of the Urhobo country were sufficiently separate and distinct to be recognized as authorities in their various little domains to enter into Treaties of Protection with the British Government.

Earlier in the paper, a reference was made to the role successfully played for many years by the wealthy middlemen of the Coast in their two-way tactics of misrepresenting the white-man, even including the Consul in some cases, to the Urhobo people on the one hand, and the Urhobo people to the white-man on the other. The Urhobo people were called all sorts of vicious names and described in a most humiliating and discreditable way to the white-man and the outside world.

But the Protectorate Officers soon discovered the trick as will be appreciated from what Sir Ralph Moor himself said on the point. He said, the Consul had been so grossly misrepresented in the past by native traders and others, to serve their own ends, that his coming was greatly feared by the natives of the interior. The Consul’s name had been used indiscriminately by the Coast traders as a sort of “bogey” with which to frighten the natives into compliance with their wishes which wee often of a nefarious character.(77)

While it is true that the two major punitive expeditions against, Chief Nana and the Oba and the minor sporadic punitive patrols undertaken in he Urhobo country augured well for the Government it is equally true to say that the Urhobo people meant well and that by and large they had intended from the start to be friendly with the Government.

Gallwey, the first European ever to be seen in the remote interior of the country tells us in connection with his first visit that although he was warned, he did not take an escort (armed or unarmed) with him; that when he anchored at Eko, several Chiefs visited him in the launch. That he was conducted to the head Chief’s house where he held his meeting by thousands of a cheerful crowd. The people’s reply to all Gallwey had to say was that they were very pleased that the white man had come into their country. In a welcome appreciation of the visit, the people invited Gallwey and his party to watch a dance which he said he could not wait to see as it was already getting dark.(78)

What was perhaps a singularly warm demonstration of friendliness by the people of the Urhobo and the Ukwuani countries, was shown to Mr. Hugh Lecky, Assistant district Commissioner, Sapele and his party on their first visit to Equaiku in 1896. The people did not only bring him presents but also organized all the children in the town to entertain him with a dance. At the meeting that followed, the people willingly signed a Treaty, as they were very pleased to see the white man. Handing over to them a copy of the Treaty with an accompanying present, the people said they were ashamed to take the present as to see the white man was enough for them; and when going away, they gave a big cheer for which for which in return Mr. Lecky and his party gave a general salute.

But this alone was not enough. In the afternoon, all the head women gave a goat as a present and staged a big dance of all the women in the town in honor of the visit. One very old woman believed to be the widow of a big Chief invited Lecky and his party to her house and said how pleased every one was that the Consul had come to see them at last. The Chiefs asked Lecky and party to come often and said that they would do anything they were told.(79)  Is it not surprising that a people vilified for years as savages should act like that!

The picture was not all rosy. Some-perhaps many-Urhobo people did run away at the first sight of the white man, probably due to the strangeness of the sight, if not to anything else. But that was soon over. Mr. F.S. James bore out the point when in 1905 he said “Only a few years ago the Sobos especially, would all run away at the appearance of a white man, now it is just he opposite; ride into an inland Sobo town on a bicycle and you will have the greatest difficulty in getting out again without either damaging one of the inhabitants, yourself or the bicycle, in the crush of seething friendly and excited mob.”(80)

It must be noted here that beginning from the first contact up till now, not a single European whether a Consul, a trader or a missionary who had any duty or business in the Urhobo country has been in any way molested or killed.

As may perhaps be expected, the Urhobo people have some grievances against the British administration. The chief of these is what they consider an error of judgment by which for nearly 30 years Government sub-ordinated the eastern part of the Urhobo country to Chief Dore Numa, the head of the Itsekiri, whom they regarded as being only a stranger from a neighboring tribe. They feel strongly that the strong backing of the Government gave the late Chief too free a hand in Urhobo affairs without clear and adequate safeguards. They alleged that that administrative arrangement had later led them to serious land disputes with the Itsekiri people and that it had also given rise to unfounded claims that the Itsekiri were once rulers of the Urhobo people.

Finally it seems to me a fair assessment to say that the first 22 years of British contact with the Urhobo country during which British administration was established had been a remarkable success. And having regard only to the few points of the people’s dissatisfaction stated above, neither side, I am sure, regrets the bargain.

Mr. A. Salubi is Assistant Commissioner of Labour, Ibadan.


1.  The people have in the past been indiscriminately called “Subou”, “Subo”, “Sooba”, “Uzobo”, “Issobo”, “Usobo” and “Sobo.”  Each of these is a corruption of “Urhobo.” Urhobo is the name and except “Uhobo” which is the Benin rendering, the people resent being called otherwise. Government recognised officially the term “Urhobo” in place of “Sobo” as from 1.10.38. See government Notice No. 1228, p. 652 of Nigeria Gazette, No. 49 Vol. 25 of 8.9.38.

2. The other ethnic groups are Isoko, Ijo, Ukwuani, Abon, Ndoni and Itsekiri.

3.  The name of the Province was changed from “Warri” to “Delta” with effect from 26.9.52. See Public Notice No. 64 in Supplement to Nigeria Gazette No. 52, Vol. 39 of 2.10. The change was a direct result of the strong protest of the Urhobo people against the change of the traditional title of the head of the Itsekiri people from “Olu Itsekiri” to “Olu of Warri.”

4.  The term “clan” has been used here in the sense in which Administrative Officers used it. Bradbury used the term “tribe.” R. E. Bradbury.  The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-Speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria (1957) p. 128.

5. “Ovie” (plural Ivie) is the Urhobo rendering of Ogie (Benin) and Onogie (Ishan), each meaning a Head Chief over a clan. Only the Oba of Benin could confer the title before the days of British Government.

6.  “Okpako” is the acknowledged oldest man of the clan or group.

7. The name “Aka” is said to have been derived from “Egbeaka” the name of one of the former Obas of Benin believed to have reigned about 1370. The name “Edo” is sometimes not often used.

8. The Sobo of the Niger Delta (1948).

9. With all respects to the learned Reverend gentleman, it is very doubtful whether the assimilation of Ijo and Ibo by the Urhobo people is on as large a scale as he portrays.

10. P. A. Talbot – The Peoples of Southern Nigeria, Vol. I, p. 318.

11.  At the beginning of the British Administration, the Urhobo people were for administrative purposes, grouped in about four different divisions. Some were under Benin, some under the same Division with either Ukwuani, or Itsekiri people; however, changes occurred from time to time until 1951, when all the Urhobo people were included in the Urhobo Division. For the description of the administrative boundary of the Division, see Public Notice No. 28, p. 116, Supplement to Nigeria Gazette, No. 9, Vol. 38 of 13. 2, 51.

12. At a point about 60 miles from the sea (Sapele), the Benin River divides itself into two branches. In 1840, during the exploration of the River John Beecroft named the southern branch, leading to the Urhobo country, “Ethiope”, after “Ethiope”, the 30 horsepower craft which he used for the voyage. The craft belonged to his employer, Mr. Robert Jamieson, a West African merchant of Glasgow, who had then considerable trading interests in the Oil Rivers.

A Year before, Mr. Jamieson has named the northern branch “Jamieson” after himself. See A. F. Mockler-Ferryman–British West Africa (1898) p. 288 and also “Journeys in the Benin Country, West Africa” by Capt. H. L. Gallwey, Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. I, 1893, pp. 122-130.

13. Figures obtained from Bulletins Nos. 2 to 9 of the Population Census of the Western Region of Nigeria, 1952.

14.  Duarte Pacheco Pereira – Esmeraldo De Situ Orbis, p. 129. Translated and edited by George H. T. Kimble (1937). The exact period of Pereira’s voyage would appear to be unknown but it is believed that his book was written between 1505 and 1508.

15.  “Reggio” – “Reggio” or “Rego”, according to Sir Richard burton, the town was named after Elusa’s father. See “My wanderings in West Africa” by “An F.R.G.S.” Fraser’s Magazine, Vol. LXVII, March 1863 pp. 273-289. The town was situated on the point between Ughoton (Gwato) Creek and Benin River. It was shown on an 1829 map. C. O. Maps 700. “Reggio” or “Rego” was probably a corruption of Erejuwa.

16. Dr. William F. Daniell – Sketches of the Medical Topography and Native diseases of the Gulf of Guinea West Africa (1849) p. 47.

17. John Beecroft – “On Benin and the Upper Course of the River Quorra on Niger“. Communicated to the Royal Geographical Society by Robert Jamieson. See Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. II, 1841, from p. 184.

18. Dr. William Balfour Baikie – The Narrative of an Exploring Voyage Up the Rivers Kwora and Binue (1854) p. 339.

19.  “An F.R.G.S.” – (Sir Richard Burton) “My Wanderings in West Africa” by Fraser’s magazine, Vol. LXVII February, 1863, p. 145. The Warri visited by Burton was Ode-Itsekiri, not the present Warri Township.

20.  Sir Alfred Moloney – “Notes on Yoruba and the Colony and protectorate of Lagos, West Africa”. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. XII, pp. 596-614.

21.  Major L. Darwin. R.E.– Precis of Information concerning the Niger Territories with Maps, prepared at the Intelligence Division of the War Office. (1890).

22. When I was a boy, there was a story that the white men who made the clothes we wore were fairies with tails living in tree-holes in a far away bush where a kind of dumb barter or silent trade with them took place.

23. Capt. (later Sir) Henry Lionel Gallwey of East Lancashire Regiment was the first Vice-Consul at Benin river. From there he did a valuable piece of pioneer work in the north-eastern part of the Urhobo country. Gallwey claimed to be not only the first European to get as far inland as he did, but also to hold meetings with the people.

As the founder of the present Sapele Township, the Sapele Urban District Council will do well one of these days to honour his memory by naming at least a street after him.

24.  “Sapele”–This is the European rendering of “Urhiapele” which is the Urhobo name for the village. It is a combination of two words “Urhie” and “Apele“. “Urhie” means river or stream, and “Apele” was the name of the Juju of the Urhobo owners of the village. “Urhiapele”, therefore, means the “River or Stream of the juju, Apele”.

25. Major (later Sir) Claude Maxwell Macdonald an Officer of the Highland Light Infantry. Formerly Acting British Agent and Consul-General at Zanzibar. F.O. 84/1941. Appointed later Her Britannic Majesty’s Special Commissioner to the Niger and Oil Rivers, December, 1888, to inquire, among other things, into the dispute between the Royal Niger Company and the European merchants at Benin River concerning the Warri Oil Markets. F. O. 84/1881. Macdonald became the Commissioner and Consul-General of the Oil Rivers Protectorate with headquarters at Calabar from 1891 to 1896.

26. Capt. H. L. Gallwey–Report on Visit to the Sobo and Abrakar Markets, dated 3.11.91. F. O. 84/2111. pp. 473-482.

27. Major Macdonald’s Dispatch No. 30 of 12.12.91 to the Foreign Office.

28. Chief Nana’s evidence given on 6th December, 1894 at his trial at the Consular Court, Calabar. Further Correspondence Respecting the Niger Territories, January-June, 1895. Inclosure in No. 71, p. 46a.

29. Geo. W. Neville–“Nana Olomu of Benin” Journal of the African Society, Vol. XIV, No. LIV, January 1915, pp. 162-167. and P.C. Lloyd–“Nana Olomu–Governor of the River”, West Africa, No. 2098 of 29.6.57, pp. 609 and 610.

30.  Chief Nana told Mr. Coxon, who gave him friendly advice just before his trouble, that he would remove from Brohemie to his mother’s country (Effuru), if the trouble at Benin River was too much for him. Mr. Coxon was a trader at Benin River for 18 years. F.O. 2/63 pp. 266-268.

31. Mr. Ralph F. Locke, Consular Agent, Benin Vice-Consulate’s letter dated 10 July 1894 to Chief Nana. This was among documents found in Chief …………….. (missing information to be supplied later).

32. That was 8 years after Chief Nana signed a similar treaty placing himself and the Itsekiri people under British Protection.

33. The hulk cost £1,800; a further £1,800 was spent in adapting it for the purposes of the Government. F.O. 84/2194, pp. 330-331. It was called the “Hindustan“. F.O. 2/186.

34. The Customs port was eventually closed in 1905 when Koko became a port Koko was also known as “Koka” or “Capp’s Town“. R. E. Dennett, Report on Forestry Work In The Western Division, January 1906; also C. O. 591/2, p. 653. It is a small village shown on all maps before 1900 (seen so far) as Capp’s Town. It is believed to be the personal name of a local Chief. Sir Alan Burns (personal communication). Messrs McNeil and Scott, and Bey and Zimmer established a port there in 1905. Other large traders of Benin River soon followed. It was constituted a European Reservation with a Sanitary Board in 1907.

35. Report by Major Macdonald of his visit as Her Majesty’s Commissioner to the Niger and Oil Rivers. Chapter VII. B.S. 14/37 (British Museum).

36. Parties to the dispute were the Government of Lagos which then depended on the Forcados as a port, the European merchants of Benin River, and the Royal Niger Company. The first two accused the Company of encroaching on the Forcados River by making Treaties with the local Chiefs, thereby capturing what were then known as the Wari Oil Markets. The markets were claimed by the Benin River merchants as theirs. Major Macdonald found in favour of the Royal Niger Company.

37. The line was drawn subject to modification by further delimitation according to local requirements but the Company later rejected the idea of any modification.

38.  The five towns were Okpara, Uwhokori (Kokori), Oria, Eko (Eku), and Igu. All in the Agbon and Abraka clan areas in Western Urhobo.

39. Foreign Office’s letter dated 9.5.1895 to Sir John Kirk. Further Correspondence respecting the Niger Territories, January to June 1895, p. 176.

40. Sir John Kirk’s report dated 30.6.1895 to the Earl of Kimberly. Further Correspondence Respecting the Niger Territories, July to December, 1895, p. 67.

41. The personal name “Itaga” still common among eastern Urhobo people is a corruption of “Targart“. There was a soap (Carbolic soap) called “Odja r’itaga” meaning “Itaga’s Soap“. It was named after Targart because it was sold by the Royal Niger Company. The company’s trading beaches themselves were known as “Oto r’itaga“–“Targart’s beaches or shops.”

42. The Marquess of Salisbury’s Despatch No. 192 of 2.11.1897 to Sir Ralph Moor.

43. Sir Ralph Moor’s despatch No. 11 of 12.1.1898 to the Marquess of Salisbury.

44. Akpo” means “world” and in this concept “world” means regime.

45. Annual Report of the Niger Coast Protectorate 1897-8. Gallwey’s despatch No. 151 of 1.9.1898. F.O. 2/180.

46. “Abraka” is an important district north east of the Urhobo country and is 36 miles from Sapele by land. The Chiefs there entered into Treaty with the Government on 9.5.1892 and from information so far available, were the first Urhobo Chiefs to do so. They were quickly followed on the next day by Ogborikoko in the south in Warri district.

47. Sir Ralph Moor’s Despatch No. 77 of 23.5.1899. C.O. 444/1, Vol. 1. It will be surprising if there was no more reason for the outrage than the one given by the District Commissioner. The Abraka and the Orogun people (both Urhobo) have been known to be quarreling from time to time over land disputes, the most recent occurring only a few years ago when several lives were alleged to have been lost on both sides.

48. Sir Ralph Moor’s Despatch No. 66 of 14.4.1899. C.O. 444/1, Vol.1.

49. The little that is known about George Eyube of Igbogidi is that he died in May, 1901, at the early stage of  his career from injuries from an accident from his own pistol during the patrol to Orhokpo in Urhobo.

50. Tom Falladoh was an Ekiti Yoruba from Emure. His real name was Falodun but the Urhobo called him Fenedo. In connection with his work described above, he got the Abraka people to establish the Abraka waterside market (Erhor), sometimes called “Erhor ro Fenedo“. With the introduction of Native Councils in 1900, he became a leading member of the Native Council at Abraka where helived for many years before retiring home. Later in life, he founded and lived in a small village near Ekiadolor in Benin.

51.  Political Papers, District Office, Benin City. P 16/98.

52. “Dore” is the European rendering of “Idocho” also believed to be an abbreviation of an Itsekiri name. Like most Itsekiri, Dore was a trader. He started his semi-official career as a Native Interpreter at the Benin River Vice-Consulate and was made a Political Agent 1896, a Warrant Chief, 1902, and, an Unofficial Member of the Nigerian Council, 1914. For his services to the Government during the Nana and the Benin Expeditions, he was mentioned in despatches awarded medals and a combined set of clasps in May 1899: Niger Coast Despatches, 1899, Vol 3, C.O. 444/3. Received the King’s Medal for Chiefs in 1925; died 29.9.32. For further information about the Chief see William A. Moore–History of Itsekiri, Chapter XXII.

53. The Itsekiri people unsuccessfully claimed ownership of this land in 1941. Suit No. W/37/1941.

54.  William A. Moore – Op. Oit, p. 119. The Chief was an Itsekiri of Batere, Benin River. Odogene was his new village near Warri.

55.  Those were the first applications after the 1897 Expedition. That stroke of the pen brought to an end ever since then a title custom that existed from time immemorial.

56. “Kosini” is the Urhobo rendering of “Consul“. Some children born during the time of Consuls were named “Kosini” and the word has remained a personal name in Urhobo ever since.

57. The Urhobo’s other name for the Oba is “Orovwa Akpo” meaning “the owner of the world”. That was, of course, the world as they then knew it.

58. “The Sobos declined to believe in the capture until they were shown the captive king at Warri. “Reginald K. Granville and Felix N. Roth–Notes on the Jekris, Sobos and Ijohs of the Warri District of the Niger Coast Protectorate, (1898).

59. Sir Ralph Moor–Despatch to Foreign Office dated 8.8.1894. Lt. Commander Heugh – letter to Rear Admiral Bedford dated 10.8.1894–Correspondence respecting the Disturbances in Benin and the operations against the Chief Nana, 1894, pp.4 & 6. The Effuru Treaty was concluded on 5.6.1894 and the town burnt on 8.8.1894.

60. Copland – Crawford called the town “Merrie” – 30 minutes paddling from Orere creek. This is therefore likely to be “Arhavbarien“. The incident occurred in May, 1896.

61. The station was known to the north-eastern people as “Ebareki” and has since become a personal name also.

The station was closed ultimately in about 1938 in favour of the present Kwale Divisional Office at Obetim.

62. The abbreviation “D.C.” is the origin of “Idisi” which had since become a personal name in Urhobo. The first “D.C.”, Mr. R.W. Bird, was posted to the station on 12.12.1905.

63. Quarterly Report on Central Province, March 1908: Supplement to Southern Nigeria Government Gazette No. 60, Vol. 3 of 19.8.1908. The two head Chiefs (Ivie) were Owe and Uwerhiavwe.

64. Quarterly Report Agberi District dated 4.7.1904: Gazette Op. Cit. No. 16, Vol. 5, September 23, 1904.

65. Chief Dore Numa’s Presidentship of the Native Council and later his Paramount Chief ship of the Judicial Council are the only bases of the claims of the Itsekiri people that the Urhobo people were once ruled by them, and nothing else in the history of the relationship of the two peoples.

The Chief’s supreme position which he fully enjoyed till the late twenties of this century was the creation of the British Government.

66. Colonial Reports – Annual No. 315. C.O. 520/3, Southern Nigeria Despatches ………. (missing information to be supplied)

67. The clearing work was not without its risks. In June 1906, Lt. Pierson and 13 of his waterway party working near Agberi on the Niger lost their lives when an explosion occurred.

68. Supplement to Southern Nigeria Government Gazette No. 24, Vol. 3 of 25.3.1908. C.O. 591/5.

The introduction of Itsekiri traders by Government to establish waterside markets along creeks or rivers in Urhobo land led to considerable administrative and sometimes political, troubles many years after. Many of the Itsekiri settled in the various market places and that gave rise to the problems of what the later Administrative Officers called “Itsekiri Enclaves” on Urhobo land. The Enclaves problems were not satisfactorily solved until only a few years ago.

69. The Foreign Office forwarded the report with a map of this journey to the Royal Geography Society who published it in its journal.

70. Even up till now the roads constructed at the instance of the Government usually 12 to 14 feet wide are still called “Idjere ro Oyinbo” (“the whiteman’s road”). Those of them along which telegraph lines passed are referred to as “Idjere re Etaligrofo” (“telegraph roads”).

71. Road work by communal labour was usually divided up into tasks, each adult in the community being given a task to finish. I was old enough to be among my father’s children who helped from time to time to do his task of grass cutting. The communal labour continued till 1928 when poll tax was introduced.

72. Minutes of the Legislative Council meetings of August 15 and December 26, 1906. Southern Nigeria Government Gazettes Nos. 23 & 42, Vol. I, of September 12 and December 26, 1906, respectively. C.O. 591/3.

73. The Rest House at Ovu Inland, my home town, was after a few years roofed in 1909 with corrugated iron sheets bought by my father at the request of the community. The cost was later repaid in kind i.e. by reserving for him for an agreed period the palm-oil from a portion of the communal palm forest.

74. Annual Report Western Division (1905) Southern Nigeria Government Gazette No. 2, Vol. I of 9.5.1903. C.O. 591/3.

75. For references regarding inland weekly mail service and telephone service, see Southern Nigeria Government Gazette No. 72, Vol. 2 of 18.12.1907. C.O. 591/4, and Colonial Reports–Annual (No. 630) 1908, respectively.

76. Talbot had said the Urhobo were under the Oba or the Olu of Jekri (Itsekiri), P.A. Talbot–The Peoples of Southern Nigeria, Vol. I, p. 318. That was a lone view in contradiction of facts and the truth. The Urhobo were never under any Olu of Itsekiri. Happily, but without any disrespects to the learned author, the present-day scholars have started to discover some inaccuracies in this book. Mr. Lloyd says “. . . . some of his “facts, which are unsupported by citations, are inaccurate”. P.C. Lloyd in “The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-Speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria” (Bibliography) p. 203. I am certain his statement that the Urhobo were under the Olu was one of such inaccuracies.

77. Sir Ralph Moor’s despatch No. 50 of 14.6.1896 to the Foreign Office. One of the proposals in the Despatch was the appointment of two men to act as forerunner of Government in penetrating into the interior and explaining Government aims.

78. Gallwey’s Report on the visit. Op. Cit.

79. Sir Ralph Moor’s Despatch No. 58 of 18.7.1896 to the Foreign Office. F.O. 2/101, pp. 180-187.

80. Annual Report Western (Warri & Benin) Division. Southern Nigeria Government Gazette No. 2, Vol. I of 9.5.1905. C.O. 591/3.


Pereira, Duarte Pacheco: Esmeraldo de Situ Orbis: Hakluyt Society (1937) (translated by G. H. T. Kimble)

Granville, R. K. & Roth F. N.: (1898) “Notes on Jekris, Sobos and Ijos of the Warri District of the Niger Coast protectorate” J. Anthrop. Inst. XXVIII August & November pp. 104-126.

Bradbury, R. E.: The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-Speaking peoples of South-Western Nigeria (1957).

Hubbard, J. W.: The Sobo of the Niger Delta (1948).

Talbot, P.A.: The Peoples of Southern Nigeria (1926).

Mockler-Ferryman, A.F.: British West Africa (1898).

Gallwey, H. L.: “Journeys in Benin” Geographical Journal 1.

Population Census of the Western Region Of Nigeria, (1952).

Neville, Geo. W.: “Nana Olomu of Benin” J. Afric. Soc. XIV.

“An F.R.G.S.” (Sir Richard Burton): “My Wanderings in West Africa”. Fraser’s Magazine, Vol. LXVII

Daniel, William F.: Sketches of the Medical Topography and Native Diseases of the Gulf of Guinea West Africa, (1849).

Beecroft, John: “On Benin and the Upper course of the River Quorra or Niger” Geographical Journal II.

Baikie, William Balour: The Narrative of an Exploring Voyage Up the Rivers Kwora and Binue (1854).

Moloney, Sir Alfred: “Notes on Yoruba and the Colony and Protectorate of Lagos, West Africa” Geographical Journal XII.

Darwin, Major L.: “Precis of information concerning the Niger Territories with Maps. Intelligence Division of the War Office” (1890).

Lloyd, P.C.: “Nana Olomu–Governor of the River.” West Africa No. 2098 of 29.6.57.

Dennett, R. E.: Report on Forestry Work in the Western Division,  January, 1906.

Macdonald, Major C.M.: “Report by Major Macdonald of his visit as Her Majesty’s Commission to the Niger and Oil Rivers” (B.S. 14/37 British Museum).

Moore William A.: History of Itsekiri (1936).


(i) Despatches.

The despatches of British Consuls at Calabar to Foreign Office and Foreign Office despatches to the Consuls from 1888 to April 1899, and thereafter despatches between the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria also at Calabar and the Colonial Office.

Reports and Correspondence from the Vice-Consuls, later Divisional Commissioners at Warri and Benin River (later Sapele) Districts to the Headquarters of the Protectorate at Calabar (1891-1906). Also reports etc. of High Commissioners, Central Division to the Governor at Lagos (1906-1913). Most of these documents are to be found in the Public Record Office and the Foreign Office Library, London.

(ii) Reports.

Monthly and quarterly reports by Departmental heads of the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria published from time to time in the Supplements to the Government Gazettes 1900-1913. Annual Reports of the Niger Coast Protectorate and the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria (1891-1906).

Annual Reports – Colonial: Southern Nigeria, available at the Colonial Office Library.

(iii) Official Gazettes.

Southern Nigeria Protectorate Government Gazettes 1900-1906 (1st May).

Southern Nigeria Government Gazettes 1906 (May) – 1913. Nigeria Gazettes 1914-53.


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