The Origin of Sapele Township

Urhobo Historical Society




Originally published in Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, Volume 2, Number 1 (December), 1960, pages 115-135.


SAPELE which is today one of the most important industrial port towns in the Western Region of Nigeria was a small village belonging to the people of Okpe in Urhobo country.  Sapele, Sapoli, and Sapeli, are the European rendering of the Okpe name of the village which is Urhiapele or Urhuapele.  The hinterland Urhobo call it Isapele and the Itsekiri people generally call it Usapele, both obviously after the European rendering. Urhiapele or Urhuapele is a combination of two Urhobo words – Urhie or Urho and Apele. Urhie or Urho means a river or a stream, and Apele is a name of a Juju of the Okpe owners of the village. Urhiapele or Urhuapele therefore means the “River or the stream of Apele.”

Among the Edo-speaking peoples of South-Western Nigeria, there are two groups of people both of whom bear the name Okpe. The first is the Okpe (Urhobo) people of the Delta Province, and the second is a small group in the north of Benin Province. Hubbard has already dealt with the origins of those in the first group while Bradbury dealt with those in the second group.(1)  So far, no affinity between the town Okpe groups has been identified.

At a point somewhere about 60 miles from the sea coast, the Benin River(2)  divides itself into two branches. In 1839, Mr.  Robert Jamieson(3) of Glasgow, who had considerable trading interests in the Oil Rivers, named the northern branch of the river after himself. In April, 1840, during his exploration of the Benin River, Mr. John Beecroft named the southern branch Ethiope after the name of the 30 horse-power craft used for the voyage. The craft belonged to Mr. Robert Jamieson, his employer.(4)  It is on the left bank of the Ethiope River that Sapele is situated.

The juju “Urhuapele”, according to tradition, was said to have belonged to a single family at Orerokpe.(5) It has also been said that it was Onoje, a member of that family and a son of Orhue, who brought the juju from Orerokpe to Sapele. Onoje was one of the founders of Sapele. At Sapele the juju became a communal juju for the whole people of Sapele. After Onoje, his son Basude became the priest, Basude was succeeded by Amune Aparo. When the latter became a Christian, he was replaced by Uboro. The original sacrificial place for the juju was at the waterside near the site formerly occupied by the Messrs. Miller Brothers(6)  but now occupied by the Stores of the United Africa Company. It is only a short distance from the Sapele Ferry Landing. The juju still exists but the sacrificial place has been shifted. A small house built for it by its worshipers can be seen in Sapele Urban area near Laborde Street.

The homestead of the Okpe people is Orerokpe. Tradition has it that owing to the autocratic attitude of the Orodje,(7) the people revolted and killed him. After that incident, the people abandoned Orerokpe and settled in groups in different parts of what is known today as Okpe land in Urhobo country. From among those groups of settlers came people like Ijigare, Onoje, Onokuta and Omighodua who were said to be among the founders of Sapele. There is no one alive today who has any idea as to when the revolt at Orerokpe occurred; nor can anyone tell when the subsequent founding of Sapele village took place.(8)

Early European Influence

For how long the Okpe people of Sapele lived on the land before its contact with outside influence, especially by way of trade, no one can surmise. The Portuguese who the first European power to have influence in the Bight of Benin made contacts with the Kingdoms of Benin and Warri from the middle of the 15th century. From that period, a considerable amount of trade in slaves, pepper, palm oil, ivory, etc., began with Portugal, Holland, England and other European countries. Some of the market towns on the mouth of Benin River, or in the creeks leading to the River included Arebo or Arbon, Gotton,(9) Boededoe(10) and Meiborg. Dr. Talbot thought that Arebo(11)  or Arbon might be Sapele but Sir Richard Burton suggested that Arebo or Arbon was Arogbo. From the description of the proximity of the town to the other market towns in the area, and also of the water-plants of the creek, I am inclined to agree with Burton that Arebo or Arbon was Arogbo, not Sapele. Captain Gallwey was of the opinion that the Portuguese, in their trade in the Benin River district, “must have confined their labors to the Benin country proper, as there was nothing to show that the white man had ever before been in the Sobo country.”(12) The Urhobo people were not directly concerned with the European slave-trade. For the little part they played, the Itsekiri and the Ijo people acted as middle-men.

It is a matter for conjecture whether Sapele village existed at the time of the European slave-trade. What seems to be true is that, if it existed, the slave trade activities on the Benin River by Europeans did not extend to Sapele. There has been, so far, no such evidence. There is evidence, however, that from the time of what came to be known as “the legitimate trade” Sapele, the first Urhobo market to be reached from the sea coast, had contacts with Ijo and Itsekiri traders. These traders acted as middle-men between European supercargoes and merchants on the coast and Urhobo people who are agriculturists and producers of raw materials from the hinterland.

At this distant time, no one can venture to guess when the trade at Sapele started. But Chief A. E. Omarin seemed to have shed a ray of light on the remoteness of the time in his historic letter of 1912(13)  to Chief Dore Numa. Chief Omarin stated in the letter that when Ijeghare(14)  and his people were at Sapele, the ‘Ijo’ or ‘Ujon’ people were often troubling him. Ijeghare therefore sent to the Olu to give him one of his Captains to trade with him. That the “Olu” sent to him at Sapele a man called Ibakpododo, that after Ibakpododo died, Princes “Idolu”(15) sent “Amakatse”. That after Amakatse’s death, she sent one Ofokunije.

The significance of the information is the close connection of the action said to have been taken by the Olu and Princess Idolu. If the story is true, then that Olu must be Akengbuwa who died on June 14, 1848. It is a fact in Itsekiri history that Princess Idolu took charge of the affairs of the Itsekiri country after Akegbuwa’s death. There was no Olu, after Akengubuwa until 1936, when Genuwa II was installed.

The inference to be drawn from Ijeghare’s contact with the Olu is that trading in Sapele must have been earlier, probably very much earlier, than 1848. From this point, one may be tempted to hazard a conjecture, albeit reasonable, that the palm-oil trade which began at about the close of the eighteenth century probably stimulated the founding of Sapele-a waterside village– to facilitate the trade. This is however a big guess and if one is to go by it, the conclusion may be drawn that Sapele village might have been founded either in the late eighteenth century or in early nineteenth century.

In the first half of the 19th century, however, Europeans paid occasional visits to Sapele. Dr. William F. Daniell visited the area in 1839, and in April, 1840, Mr. John Beecroft explored the Benin river and its two branches including of course Sapele.

Establishment of British Government at Sapele

In August 1891, the British Government established a Consular Administration over the Oil Rivers Protectorate, later, the Niger Coast Protectorate. The administration, consisting of six consular river districts, was under Major (later Sir) Claude M. Macdonald. He was the Commissioner and Consul-General and his headquarters was at Calabar. Tow of the sic river districts were located at Benin River and Forcados River. Shortly after its establishment, the Forcados River District was removed to Warri trading station which is now the Warri Township. It is with the Benin River District that we are concerned in this paper. The first Deputy Commissioner and Vice-Consul in charge of the Benin River District was Captain H. L. Gallwey.(16)  The District Office was at the mouth of Benin River, 5 mile from the sea coast. The jurisdiction of the Vice-Consul covered the whole of the Benin country and included the south-western part of the Itsekiri country and the north-western part of the Urhobo country particularly along the Ethiope River.

About two months after the establishment of the Protectorate Government, Gallwey was given an important duty to carry out. The new Government was anxious to open up the country. For many years, the powerful Chiefs of the sea coast had prevented European from penetrating into the hinterland. The two powerful Africans in the Benin District who were in the way of the Government were Chief Nana  (17) of Ebrohimi and the Oba of Benin. It was the Government’s view that unless both of them changed their attitude, there would be no peace, good government and expanded trade in the area. The Government would therefore be obliged to take strong measures against them if they did not change. In any case, the new Government needed a force. In order to be assured of an adequate and effective force readily available to sustain the authority of the Consular Officers, it was necessary to have some constabulary post at suitable points in the new Protectorate. Therefore, one of the first assignments to Gallwey was the survey in October, 1891, of the Urhobo Oil markets along the Ethiope River.

 The objects of Gallwey’s survey were however many, namely to endeavor to establish the authority of the new Government, to select suitable sites for Vice-Consulates, barracks and constabulary posts, to impress upon the people the great advantages to be gained by the cultivation of such crops as coffee, cocoa, etc., and to inquire into the general slackness of trade in that part of the Urhobo country.

On October 27, 1891 accompanied by Mr. S. Munro of the African Association, Gallwey proceeded on the voyage for the survey in a launch hired from Messrs. Bey and Zimmer, a German trading firm at Benin River. The following part of his report is pertinent:

 General Account of the Visit in Diary Form  “October 27: Left Consulate at 10 a.m. reached Sapele 6 p.m. anchored for the night-roughly 55 miles from Consulate and 60 mile from the mouth of the river.

 “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.

 “I consider Sapele to be a very good place to establish a Vice-Consulate, constabulary barracks, etc.

 “A great deal of clearing would be necessary to prepare the site, but this would afford work to the natives, and consequently be beneficial to some one.

 “By means of a launch all the markets could be reached in a very short time; a launch drawing 6 feet of water could go about 3 miles past Eku.

 “The river water at Sapele is fresh, and one is well clear of the mangrove and fever swamps of the coast.

 “Steamers drawing 14 to 15 feet of water could run up to Sapele.

 “These steamers could tranship cargo to and from the larger steamers in the Forcados River.”

 “October 28: Up anchor at 6 a.m. Half a mile after leaving Sapele I left the main stream and went almost due east up a side creek (or river?). Sapele is the first Sobo market, and from there each bank is dotted at intervals with the oil markets, the few houses on the river-side being a sort of depot where the middlemen live and buy oil as it is brought from inland by the Sobo men. Reached Acpara (18)  at 4:30 p.m.”(19)  Major Claude Maxwell Macdonald, the Commissioner and Consul-General visited Sapele on the 14th November, 1891, and approved the site as being eminently suitable. In his Despatch No. 30 the Foreign Office, dated 12th December, 1891, the Major said “I consider the Sapoli would be a very good situation for the establishment of a constabulary station; the ground is high, and though covered with forest, could be easily cleared. The people of Sapoli informed me that if I would come and build there, they would clear as much ground as I wished.” That was the historic decision that made Sapele Village the modern Township it came to be in later years.(20)

 The Government did not however wait for the work on the site of the proposed Sapele constabulary station to be completed before establishing there. The matter was urgent and a temporary device had to be made. A ship named the “Hindustan,”(21) bought at Bristol was sailed to Benin River. There it was dismantled, fitted up as a hulk, and towed to the Sapele anchorage. The hulk was said to have provided excellent accommodation for four Europeans, a Customs Office, a Consular Court, a Treasury, a Prison and Barracks for civil police.

 While the machinery of Government began in the hulk, the excellent site opposite the anchorage was being cleared for the construction of barracks to accommodate sixty men and a detachment of Protectorate troops under an English Officer. That was in 1892. To live and work in a hulk might be an innovation at Sapele,(22) but the idea was certainly not a new one to Europeans, especially European traders in the Oil Rivers. (23)  By its strategic location, Sapele, like Degema was considered to be an important military and administrative station for the projection of power and authority.

 Details about the settlement of the Government at Sapele for the next two years are yet unknown and must await further research. It is known however that by July, 1894, a Medical Department had been established. It is also known that by 1895, the Sapele Vice-Consulate had already been sufficiently established as to warrant the closing down of the Vice-Consulate at Benin River. Thereafter, the Benin River Office was used as a Customs post until October 27, 1905, when the post was removed to Koko Town.

Sapele Township

Under the provisions of the European Reservation Proclamation, 1902, a part of Sapele became a Reservation(24) Later, a Board (25) of Health for the Reservation was constituted. The President and Treasurer of the Board was Hugh Jones, Esq., Agent, Messrs Alex Miller Brothers & Company.(26) The significant point to be noted here is that the institution of the Board laid the first foundations of the present local government of Sapele township.

A major change in the local government set-up took place in 1917, by the enactment of the Townships Ordinance. Under this Ordinance, Order-in-Council No. 19 of 6th September, 1917, made Sapele a Second Class Township. The Senior District Officer became the Local Authority assisted by an Advisory Board. The two members of the Board were the Health Officer and the Chairman of the agents of the trading firms.(27). In September, 1924, Chief A.E. Omarin and Mr. J. A. Thomas wee appointed to the Board. They were probably the first Africans to be so appointed. In later years however, African representation on the Board was increased, but the Township was governed almost entirely alone by the Local Authority who was always a Civil Servant for 38 years.

 A new local government system was introduced in September, 1955, by the establishment of the Sapele Urban District Council under the Western Region Local Government Law, 1952.(28)  The Council consisted of 33 members, namely, the President, who was the Orodje of Okpe, 8 Sapele Okpe traditional Chiefs and 24 members elected from the local community.

 From the above account, it is clear that unlike many towns in the Western Region, but like the present Warri town, Sapele is a new town(29). Both places came into prominence as from August, 1891, when the Niger Coast Protectorate Government was established. Sapele has always been a rapidly growing town but its present size is not known. In December, 1908 the Government leased for 99 years, 510 acres of the land from the owners. This leased area has not only been developed since to become the present Sapele township, but a considerably large Urban Area has grown alongside it on the southwest and on the north-western side.

Sapele town has always needed some sort of planning. Before the establishment of the Protectorate Government, the original Sapele village was at the sit where the Prison Yard and the Government houses are now; the small market was at the old garage site at Court Road. The Sapele village had town quarters known as Udumurhie and Udumuogo.(30)  Udumurhie included the area where the District Officer and the Medical Officer’s houses were built at the waterside, and Udumuogo was the Prison Yard area. The original village was vacated for the Government and the Okpe aborigines moved farther out. Chief Ofotoku was living on the site where the present market is, and Chief Ogodo’s village was in the area now occupied by the staff buildings of the African Timber and Plywood, Limited. Mclver acquired the lease of the site and Chief Ogodo moved farther down to the Warri road where his village still stands today.

 These movements of the aborigines were uncontrolled and the areas occupied unplanned. As they began to sell or give the land around them to strangers, a large unplanned urban area with all type of houses began to grow. And something must be done to the layout of the town. Mr. Palmer(31) tells us that we had Mr. Laborde, District Officer who laid out the town, to thank for the good streets. But it has been a long time from Laborde’s days, and the slum in Sapele continues to grow.

Thus in January, 1949 the first Town Planning Authority was appointed. The appointment was long overdue for many years having regard to the rapid and indiscriminate way in which the urban area was developing. Everybody built just what and how he liked without control from the health authorities. On the Town Planning Authority were representatives of the Administration, the Health Department and the Township Board being represented by two of its members. Three members represent Okpe interests, and one member from the Amalgamated union of U.A.C. African Workers, Nigeria and Cameroons, represented the interest of workers in Sapele. For the next two years, Chief Arthur Prest and Chief Festus S. Okotie-Ebol (then Chief F.S. Edah) represented the Township Board, while Messrs Rabor Abeke, E. A. Iyefian and J. A. Ayomanor represented Okpe interest.

Within the last ten years, the Sapele Town Planning Authority has been enlarged both in membership(32) and organization. It has now a big separate office of its own. It is present projecting a new development scheme by which the area of the Township is to be extended to include all the parcel of land south of Sapele Urban Boundary and along both sides of Sapele-Warri road. This new acquisition contains an area of approximately 1,840 acres (2.88 square miles).(33) Following the enactment of the Communal Land Rights (Vesting in Trustees) Law No. 45 of 1958, a most significant change in the management of Sapele Township land occurred. Under this law, the Sapele Urban District (Okpe Communal Lands) have been vested in a board of Trustees known as the Okpe Communal land Trustees. The Orodje of Okpe is the Chairman and the other members of the trust are 10 other Sapele Okpe Chiefs. The main functions of the trustees are to demise land for a term of years, to accept surrenders of leases and to be reversioners of any lease so granted. All revenue received in consequences of the exercise of the board’s functions are to be applied or disposed of (a) in defraying the expenses of the trustees in carrying into effect their duties (including the management of any lands over which rights of disposition are exercisable and the conduct of legal proceedings in connection with which rights have been vested) and (b) in advancing the education or culture or maintaining the tradition of the Okpe Community. To ensure that the revenue received by the trustees is applied or disposed of in the manner specified above, an Okpe Lands Representative Committee has been established.(34) Under this arrangement, the Government of the Western Region which succeeded to the titles and rights of the former Nigerian government appears to have very little or nothing practically to do with the management of Sapele land.

 Sapele Township has for a long time now became a populous town of mixed Nigerian tribes ad other people from different parts of West Africa. A significant fact about the population of Sapele is that it has always included a large number of Europeans for a town of that size. Some of the historical factors responsible for the growth and the cosmopolitan character of the population may be described. Firstly, the transfer of the vice-consular office from Benin River, followed by the removal of the European trading firms at Benin River to Sapele, brought in its wake most of the mixed trading population which had settled in Benin River for many years. Secondly, when in 1894, Chief Nana was captured by the Protectorate Government, the concentrated population of Ebrohimi, was disbanded and many of them resettled at Sapele. A great many of them were Chief Nana’s domestics and among them were Uorubas, Ijos, Urhobo, Benins, etc. Thirdly, and this is perhaps by far the most important, the employment opportunities offered by the Sapele rubber plantations and the U.A.C. Sawmill and Plywood factories attracted a large body of people seeking gainful employment. Most people in this third category are Ibos; this factor accounts mainly for the large number of Ibo settlers in Sapele and its environs.

The African population of Sapele Township in 1952, was 33,638.(35)  This is comprised of some 14 tribes with the Ibos leading at 35.6% or more than a third of the total population. The figures in a descending order of magnitude are:-


The Problems of Administration

The Government’s reason for moving from Benin River to Sapele and from the Forcados River to Warri trading settlement was to have bases on land to facilitate penetration into the hinterland. These places, like many others in the Protectorate, were to be centres of a civilizing power. The officers of the Government must therefore have a sense of mission. Gallwey knew too well what he wanted to make of Sapele. He said in May, 1892 that before another year had passed he would “have founded a prosperous little English Colony at Sapele.” But how was this possible!

 Before Sapele, which had already been described as “one mass of forest”, could become a “prosperous little English Colony”, a lot must have to be done. There were therefore the problems of roads and other means of communication, the problems of sanitation and health, of administration of justice, of education and of economic development to make possible the realization of the prosperity desired for the little English Colony. But economic prosperity was impossible without adequate and effective communications with the interior of the Urhobo and the Benin country. Before the station was founded, the only sure access to it known to the Europeans was through water communication. There were, of course, bush footpaths from village to village, but know only to the natives.

 Each of these problems was by no means easy and none second to the other in order of priority; but somehow construction of roads seemed to take precedence. Although nothing was done immediately, Gallwey suggested as early as July, 1892, that a road be constructed between Sapele and Urhobo (Sobo) Oil markets at Ekanaka and Okpara waterside to be followed later by a railway.(36)

The first bold attempt with the primary purpose of opening a direct road communication between Warri and Sapele was made on January 6, 1896. Accompanied by five orderlies, twenty-eight carriers and a guide, Major P.W.G. Copland-Crawford, the Acting Consul, Warri Division, marched through a number of bush paths from Warri Consulate to Sapele. That was the first time ever that any European had undertaken a journey overland between the two towns. The journey took two days and was regarded as an important new discovery. The Foreign Office forwarded major Copland-Crawford’s report together with the map of the route to the Royal Geographical Society, London who printed it in its Journal.

 However, the period of active road construction did not begin until 1903 when the provisions of the Roads and Creeks proclamation were applied to the area. From Sapele, two roads were projected. They were the Sapele-Warri and road the Sapele-Ologbo road. The latter was a first sector of the road from Sapele to Benin City. At Amuokpe, which is 4 miles on the Sapele-Warri road, a branch road to tap the oil markets in the Urhobo and Ukwuani countries was to shoot off.

 The Public Works Department took over supervision of the construction of these roads in 1904, when the Department was established. By this time, the portion of the road assigned to Egbeku village on the Sapele-Warri road had not been completed. Mr. Ross Brown, the District Commissioner, imposed a heavy fine on the Chief. As regards the other portions, it was reported that work from Sapele end was completed up to Amuokpe, and that the trace via the new cutting to Adeje was being rapidly cleared.

 In 1906, the 33 miles of the Sapele-Warri road was completed at a cost of £840, and the 11 miles of the Sapele-Ologbo road was also completed at a cost of £500. The cutting of the Ologbo-Benin City sector was about to be started and the Amuokpe-Kwale road was just being cut. Mr. C. Darby, superintendent of Roads, tells us that the construction of the portion between Amuokpe and Ovwori was started in late 1907. For the making of all these roads, labor was compulsory and, to a large extent, free. Free labor recruited by local chiefs was however given occasional presents. No other road from Sapele had been constructed since 1910, when the last of the three main roads named above , was know to have been completed.(37)  In 1911, it was possible to motor in a light car on the triangular route of Warri-Sapele-Kwale which were the first motor roads in Urhobo country.

 The Protectorate Government had in mind the construction of railway lines to link Sapele with Abraka, and Sapele with Benin City. In the latter case, definite proposals were put forward and a report of the scheme was submitted in 1906. The estimates were £79,000 for a 2 feet 6 inches line, and £105,000 for a 3 feet 6 inches line. But the scheme did not materialize. Following the amalgamation of the Protectorate with Lagos, Sir Walter Egerton, then Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Lagos Colony and the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, advised the Secretary of State against it. He condemned the proposed railway line as unballasted. Rather than constructing a railway at what he considered to be a heavy cost for a distance of only 29 miles, he recommended making a lower cost a good metalled road all the way from Warri to Benin city.(38)  It is interesting to observe here hat this same road was, in fact, not completely tarred until 1952 – 46 years later!

 From the beginning of the Protectorate Government, the Vice-Consul in charge of each River District was a Postal Agent. Gallwey was, therefore, the first Postal Agent for the Benin River-Sapele area. In the Annual Report for 1896, the Government reported the opening of three Post Offices each at Sapele, Forcados and Degema, thus bringing the number of such offices in the whole Protectorate to nine. The service was mainly a postal service by canoe. An inland weekly mail service between Sapele and Kwale station (now Abraka) through mail runners using canoe was started in 1906.

On the 1st April, 1907 a Postal Agency by non-Government staff, probably, the first in the area, was opened on the premises of the Messrs Alexander Miller Brothers at Siluko. It was a link of the weekly creek mail service between Lagos and Sapele. In 1909, the service was extended to Okitipupa and Gbekebo.

 Captain Moir, R.E., D.S.O., and five non-Commissioned Officers of the Telegraph Battalion, R.E., who arrived in the Protectorate in February, 1905 completed the erection of an overhead telegraph line connecting Warri, Sapele, Benin City, Ifon and Owo in December of that year; but the service was not officially opened until March 8, 1906. In 1908, a telephone system was opened at Warri.

 The Sapele Ferry which is till today the only means of carrying motor vehicles across the river was started in January, 1929.


 The first attempt to establish a Mission and a School in the Benin River area was in 1875, 16 years before the administration of the Niger Coast Protectorate began. Bishop Samuel Adjai Crowther, accompanied by Mr. S. Cheetham, Mr. D. Johnson of Pinnock, and his son (later Archdeacon Crowther), visited Olomu at Ebrohimi on November 4, 1875. Nana was one of the two of Olomu’s sons present at the interview. He acted as an Interpreter as he understood English pretty well. Olomu did not welcome the Bishop’s mission, and so to the disappointment of many people, including European traders of the river, the mission failed.(39)

 A second unsuccessful attempt for the same purpose was made by Captain Gallwey in August, 1891. In his letter, dated August 28, 1891, six days after opening the Benin Vice-Consulate, Gallwey requested Archdeacon Crowther to establish a Mission at Benin River. In his reply dated October 8, 1891, the Archdeacon told Captain Gallwey that he would establish only if the Chiefs unanimously agreed and invited his Mission with a promise to support the cause. The support would be in the form of voluntary subscriptions, gratuitously giving the ground on which to build the station, helping to erect the houses for the Missionary agents, and of finding half the share of the annual expenses until the station could stand on its own. The Archdeacon sent the record of the 1875 visit to Gallwey and requested him to ascertain the feelings of the Chiefs who, he said, could not be regarded as “poor Africans.”

 Bishop Crowther died about three months after this correspondence. Matters connected with the death naturally occupied the Archdeacon’s time, and in the meantime, Gallwey was busy establishing at Sapele. However, Gallwey wrote to the Archdeacon on 3rd May, 1892, and indicated that he would welcome a Mission as he was opening a Vice-Consulate at Sapele where the ground was high and well away from the fever swamps of the coast. Clearing, he added, was at that time being made and before another year had passed, he would “have founded a prosperous little English Colony at Sapele.” Continuing, he said that two traders had established there more were to follow. They would all be glad to assist in helping the Mission to build and to contribute towards the erection of a small church. Workshops would be built and suitable instructors imported.(40)  Gallwey’s strong persuasions did not, however, move Archdeacon Crowther, and there the matter rested.

When the Ogugumanga Industrial Institute, Bonny, was founded in April, 1900, each of the local Chiefs was requested by Government to bring a son for primary education. Response to the request was reluctantly given, some Chiefs sending young slaves instead of their sons.

 On February 26, 1904 government opened an Intermediate School at Sapele, but on the Sapele-Benin road, with 14 boys on the roll. The late Chief A. E. Omarin and the late Mr. William Moore, the Itsekiri Historian, were students of that School. The school was temporarily housed in a native building as the brick building was not ready owing to a delay by the Public Works Department at Calabar. Later in the same year, a girls’ section was added. Supported by the Chiefs and European traders, the school was also grant-aided by Government.

 For many reasons, the school was not popular and attendance not encouraging. The Benin River Chiefs considered the distance too great for their children. The Sapele Chiefs felt the school was on the wrong side of the river as crossing the river involved risks of life. But these were not all. At a Council meeting with the Chiefs, Mr. W. Ross Brown the District Commissioner was told that more pupils were not sent because the fees were considered excessive. The Chiefs however appeared to be satisfied when told that the annual fee would be reduced to £2 if the pupils supplied their own food. Owing, however, to the continued unpopularity of the school, government was obliged to open in 1907, a new School in Sapele town itself. That was the beginning of the Government School, now Sapele Urban District Council School. The cost was £52 defrayed entirely from contributions by the Chiefs. It operated in two sections each separate for boys and girls.

By 1908, Bishop Johnson of the Church Missionary Society, through the assistance of Mr. I.T. Palmer had established the first church and missionary school, the St. Luke’s at Sapele. The school was not at first assisted by Government because it was not prepared to comply with the requirements of the Education Code, particularly in regard to religious instructions. The line of missionary educational work was soon followed by the Baptist Mission, headed by the Rev. J. R. Williams and Rev. Omatsola, and, the Roman Catholic Mission. Since then missionaries of other denominations have established in Sapele at various times.

 It is rather surprising that although attention was given to the education of females as early as 1904, no Colleges catering exclusively for girls’ secondary education have been established in Sapele. To the credit of the authorities of the Roman Catholic Mission it must be said that the only two missionary boys’ colleges in the area were introduced by them. There are, of course, some colleges in the form of commercial institutions owned by some private individuals like Chief Festus Sam Okotie-Eboh. But generally speaking, these colleges are by no means adequate. On the whole, progress in secondary education in the area has been very slow, resulting in the backwardness of many of the people.

 Mr. T. A. Salubi is Commissioner for Labor, Lagos.


1. J.W. Hubbard- The Sobo of the Niger Delta, pp. 107, 236-241and R.E. Bradbury,The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria pp. 110 and 117.

2. The River was so named because it was only through it that Benin City could be reached in the old days. Joao Alfonso, a Portuguese and the first European to discover Benin, named the river Rio Fermoso-the “beautiful river”. The English, French, Dutch and other northern European called it Benin or Argon river. A Description of the Coasts of South-Guinea:-John Barbot Book IV, Chap. V., p. 355. Churchill Collection of Voyages and Travels Vol. 5 B.M. 566 K. 10.

3. A. F. Mockler-Ferryman-British West Africa (1898) p. 288 and also, Capt. H. L. Gallwey-Journeys in the Benin Country, West Africa. J.R.G.S. Vol. 1, 1893, pp. 122-130.

4. A. F. Mockler-Ferryman-British West Africa (1898) p. 288 and also, Capt. H. L. Gallwey-Journeys in the Benin Country, West Africa. J.R.G.S. Vol. 1, 1893, pp. 122-130.

5. Orerokpe is a combination of two Urhobo words – Orere and Okpe meaning “Capital town of Okpe.”

6. Evidence of Chief A.E. Omarin and others in the Sapele Land Case No. W/37/1941. Chief Omarin was educated and one of the leading Okpe Chiefs of his own time. Died 12.3.1949.

7. Orodje is the Okpe rendering of  Ovie. The Orodje is the titular head of the Okpe people. The office was defunct for many years. The present Orodje of Okpe, His Highness Esezi II, O.B.E., M.H.C., J.P. was installed on 1.1.1945 on resuscitation of the Office.

8. Giving evidence before Mr. Alexander, Commissioner of Lands, on the 9th November, 1911, Chief Iyefian, one of the Sapele Okpe Chiefs, claimed that their fathers who were farmers had always been at Sapele. He described how the boundaries of the land were demarcated and divided, according to Urhobo customs, into compounds each occupied by a family. See memorandum on the subject of Native land Tenure in the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. (C.O.L.) Nigeria Pamphlet No. 36, Vol. 1 pp. 20-21. Chief Iyefian’s evidence was supported in later years by Chief Ayomano, Chief Omarin, Itoto Ogodo and Amune Aparo in the famous Sapele Land Case; but not one of them gave any direct indication as to when Sapele was founded.

9. This is Ughoton. Its other names by the Portuguese are Hugato or Agatton. John Barbot, Ibid. It was also called Gwato or Gato. Ughoton was the old port town to Benin City known to Europeans. It is about 25 miles to the City.

10.Boededoe was identified to be the Itsekiri town of Bobi on the left bank of the mouth of Benin River. See Selected Papers on Anthropology, Travel and Geography by Sir Richard Burton edited by N.M. Penzer, author of annotated Bibliography of Sir Richard Burton, etc., London, (1924) p. 229.

11. P.A. Talbot The Peoples of Southern Nigeria, vol. 1, p. 325.

12. H. L. Gallwey-Report on visit to te Sobo and Abraka markets: F.O. 84/2111, pp. 473-482.

13. This letter is historic having been tendered as an exhibit in the Sapele Land Case No. W/37/1941.

14. Very likely to be the same person as Ijigare named at page 2 as one of the founders of Sapele.

15. Princess “Idolu” was an influential Itsekiri woman. She was a daughter of Olu Erejuwa. Her full name was  Udorolusan but she was popularly called Iye. Europeans of the time referred to her as “Princess Dola or Dolla”. Letter dated 1.3.1849, from Commander John Tudor of H.M.S. Firefly off the Benin reporting the disturbed situation of affairs in the river to his Chief Commander A. Fanshawe of Constance at Ascension.

16. Gallwey, Lieut.-Col. Sir Henry Lionel; K.C.M.G., created 1910 (C.M.G. 1899); D.S.O. 1896; born 25 September, 1859; (Assumed the surname Gallway in place of Gallwey 1911); A.D.C. and Private Secretary to Commander-in-Chief and Governor, Bermuda, 1882-89; Deputy Commissioner and Vice Consul, Oil Rivers Protectorate, 1891; concluded treaty with King of Benin at Benin City, 1892; in command of Hausa force, under Sir Frederick Bedford, at attack on and capture of Nimbe, and during further operation against Brass Chiefs, 1895; Acting Consul-General, Niger Coast Protectorate 1896-98, and was during that period attached to Sir H. Rawson’s intelligence staff, and also in command of a Hausa company for operations in Benin country, including capture of Benin City, 1897; Acting High Commissioner Southern Nigeria, 1900; Chief political Officer Aro Expedition, 1901-1902 Governor of St. Helena, 1902-11; of the Gambia, 1911-14; of South Australia, 1914-20; Hon. Col, 27th Australian Infantry, 1921-46; died 17.6.1949, Who Was Who, 1941-1950.

17. Chief Nana was a powerful Itsekiri Chief. His full name was Eriomala. His father was Olomu and the mother an Urhobo woman from Evhro (Effuru). Made “Governor of Benin River”. 6.5.1885, captured and kept in exile at Calabar December, 1894; deported to the Gold Coast (now Ghana) August, 1896; released from exile and resettled at Koko 1906; died 3.7.1916.

18. Acpara refers to Okpara Waterside.

19. H. L. Gallwey-Report on visit to the Sobo and Abraka markets op. cit.

20. As the founder of Sapele Township, the Sapele Urban District Council will do well to honor Gallwey’s memory by naming at least a street or a square in the town after him.

21. The “Hindustan” cost £1,800; a further £1,800 was spent to adapt it for the Government’s purpose. F.O. 84/2194, pp. 330-331.

22. When Degema district was being established in 1894, a hulk“George Shotton” was used for exactly the same purpose as the “Hindustan“.

23. Ellen Thorpe gave an interesting description of this mode of living by Oil Rivers traders in her book-Ladder of Bones pp. 170-203.

24. Order No. 6 of 29.1.1903, Southern Nigeria Protectorate Government Gazette No. 1, Vol. 4 of 31.1.1903, p. LXXII.

25. The Board was proclaimed on 3.2.03.

26. Other members were J.E. Dickson, Esq., Agent African Association Ltd., J. Frisch, Esq., Agent Bey and Zimmer, the District Commissioner and the District Medical Officer. p. 12 of Gazette quoted immediately above.

27. Government Gazette Notice No. 7, p. 13 of the Nigeria Gazette No. 3 of 10.1.18.

28. W.R.L.N. 220 of 1955, pp. B. 617-620, Supplement to the Western Regional Gazette No. 34, Vol. 4 of 21.7.1955.

29. Among other towns in Nigeria which like Sapele and Warri owe their origin to the British administration mention may be made of Port Harcourt, Enugu, Aba and the Capital Territory of Kaduna.

30. Udumurhie means “Riverside Quarter” and Udumuogo means “Farmland Quarter”.

31. Mr. I.T. Palmer, a Yoruba, was for many years a Political Agent of the Royal Niger Company. He was popularly known as Ogana among the people of the Afenmai and Asaba Divisions among whom he exercised his jurisdiction. On retirement in 1898, he settled at Sapele in the following years as a businessman. He was the first person ever to be nominated as an unofficial member for Warri-Benin Provinces to the Legislative Council of Nigeria (1928-1934). Died at Sapele on 26.10.42.

32. For the present members of the Authority, see Western Regional Notice No. 1329, p. 728 of Western Region of Nigeria Gazette No. 57, Vol. 8 of 10.12.59.

33. W.R.L.N. 462 of 11.9.59, pp. B597/8 of Supplement to the Western Regional Gazette No. 43, Vol. 8 of 17.9.59.

34. W.R.L.N. 219 of 11.6.59, p. B303 of Supplement to Western Regional Gazette No. 27 of 11.6.59.

35. Bulletin No. 9 Delta Province: Population Census, Western Region of Nigeria, 1952, p. 28.

36. H. L. Gallwey-Report on Benin District for the year ended 31.7.1892, F.O. 2/51 p. 54.

37. It is not know when the Sapoba-Agbor road which branched off from the Sapele-Ologbo road at mile 4 was made, but it is believed to be later than 1910.

38. Government Notice No. 350, p. 471 of  Southern Nigeria Government Gazette No. 23, Vol 1, of 12.9.1906, also p. 864 of Gazette No. 42 of 26.12.1906.

39. Archdeacon D.C. Crowther. The Niger Delta Pastorate Church West Africa, its Establishment during the Episcopacy of the Rt. Rev. S. A. Crowther, D.D. 1864-1892. pp. 119-125.

40. Ibid. p. 128.


Barbot John – A Description of the Coasts of South-Guinea-Churchill Collection of Voyages and Travels Vol. 5 Book 4 Chapter V.

Bradbury R. E. —The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-Speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria.

 Crowther D.C. — The Niger Delta Pastorate Church West Africa. Its establishment during the episcopacy of the Rt. Rev. S. A. Crowther D. D. 1864-1892.

Daniell William F. — Sketches of the Medical Topography and Native Diseases of the Gulf of Guinea West Africa (1849).

Gallway H. L. — Journeys in the Benin Country, West Africa J. R. G. S. Vol. 1, 1893.

 Hubbard J. W. — The Sobo of the Niger Delta.

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

Penzer N. M. — Selected Papers in anthropology, Travel, and Geography by Sir Richard Burton edited by Penzer also author of Annotated bibliography of Sir Richard Burton.

Salubi A. —  The Establishment of British Administration in the Urhobo country (1891-1913) Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria Vol. 1. No. 3, December, 1958.

 Talbot P. A. — The Peoples of Southern Nigeria Vol. 1.

Thorpe Ellen — Ladder of Bones (1956).


(i) Despatches

 The despatches of British Consuls at Calabar to foreign Office and Foreign 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 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. Memorandum on Land Tenure by Mr. Alexander, full record of the Sapele Land Case No. W/37/1941.

 (iii) Official Gazettes and Other Publications

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

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

 Western Region of Nigeria Gazettes.

 Population Census of Western Region of Nigeria, (1952) Bulletin No. 9.

(iv)   Miscellaneous Correspondence

 Chief A. E. Omarin’s letters and evidence in the Sapele Land Case. Chief Ogodo’s petitions 1923-25. Petitions by Okpe Clan Executive Council (1932) and by Urhobo General Council (1938).


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