|Urhobo Historical Society|
LAND, OVERLORDS & LAND RIGHTS
|(OMETAN Vs DORE NUMA)|
|FACT, FICTION & IMPERIALISM |
By D. A. Obiomah
| Originally published in Warri by GKS Printers. Published in URHOBO WAADO by permission of Mr. D. A. Obiomah.|
© D. A. Obiomah 1987, 2002
The Memory of the Brave Old Men
OGEGEDE & OMETAN
Who Remained Faithful
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Adueye Obiomah is an Agbarha indigene of Warri Town. He was educated at Warri College, now Government College, Ughelli, and at the University College Ibadan, under special relationship with the University of London, hence his degree of B.A. London, obtained in 1956. He entered the Administrative Service of the Western Region of Nigeria Government the same year as a Cadet Administrative Officer. In 1957 he returned to U.C.I. for a course in Public Administration. This course was designed to replace the Devonsire Course to which Nigerian Cadet Administrative Officers were hitherto sent. This was followed by a programme in Public Administration in May-July 1960, in the United States under its Development Agency for International Co-operation.
After six years service with the Western Region Government he resigned as Acting Senior Divisional Officer (D. O.) and took up employment with Nigerian Tobacco Company. He trained as Marketing Manager in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and Jamaica and rose to the rank of Divisional Marketing Manager in charge of Midewestern Region (now Bendel State) of Nigeria together with Kabba Province of present day Kwara State. He served the N. T. C. in Lagos, Ibadan; Benin, Nairobi and Kampala and resigned in 1968.
He returned home in 1969 to Warri where he has since set up business in real estate. At various times, between 1972 and 1975 he was a nominated member of the Warri Urban District Council during the Military Governorship of Col. (as he then was) Osaigbovo Ogbemudia. Under the Obasanjo Local Government reforms of 1976, Warri Urban District Council and the rural Warri Divisional Council were merged as the present Warri Local Government Council. Daniel Obiomah served for 30 months on the new Council 1976 to 1979 as an elected member. Within the same period he represented Warri Local Government Area at the Constituent Assembly which produced The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979.
In discussing questions of the nature we are concerned with here, involving opposing ethnic, communal interests some tend to be prudish, and would rather want the subject to be referred to only obliquely.To do this is like “Hamlet” without the Prince.It is to be in pain and yet feign to be a man who does not complain.Put subjectively, you have a pain in your throat that threatens to silence you for good; would you ask, and demand if necessary, the attention that is due to you, or be silent in demure good manners till you are past help?
If it is tribalistic to keep referring to ‘the Itsekiris’ it is because the Warri question has become rooted in tribalism or else so-called tradition or custom transcending the laws of the land.Therefore, this evil of our time is discussed by calling a spade and spade rather that paying lip-service to its disapproval through generalisations that actually paper over the problem without tackling it.
By Emmanuel Urhobo, Ph.D.
Barrister-at-Law, Warri, Nigeria
Mr. Obiomah has in this treatise brought into sharp focus some of the hidden issues in Warri political history whereby British Colonial Administration and British Judicial System in the Delta province and particularly Warri, conspired in defence of British self-interest to deprive the Agbarha Urhobo as indigenes and owners of WarriTown of their land and rights. The issues were not so clear until this presentation by Mr. Obiomah. Up to now, but for the recent unconscionable and provocative tirade by a group of Itsekiri people who claim leadership over the Itsekiris and the release of much venom against the Urhobos and Ijaws of the Delta Province, the issues had been almost successfully buried in false history and mis-interpretation of court judgements of the past by Itsekiri leaders and, upon which they had built their false claims of ownership of Warri and therefore all rights and privileges accruing therefrom, either economically, politically or traditionally, throughout the colonial period up to date and, in spite of 27 years of Nigeria’s Independence with a brand new Constitution in 1979.
Mr. Obiomah has carefully marshalled from accepted history, decided cases, British Colonial Official communications between themselves which are now public records, Intelligence reports, etc., a picture as devastating and so compelling that ever responsible Nigerian who is interested in truth, justice and, unity, cannot fail to ponder how it was possible that the British system of government otherwise famous for fairness and justice, could have been so crudely manipulated by the British themselves to single out a class of people (the Agbarha Urhobos) for oppression. Mr. Obiomah gives the answer that in tune with the British Policy of indirect rule in furtherance of their consolidation of power following the Berlin Agreement of 1885, the British had, as a matter of course, to always defend their interests at all costs particularly, any chief they had imposed on any people and, through whom British policies were effected and interests protected. The facts are more compelling still when Mr. Obiomah recounts how the British appointed agent Dore Numa for Benin River, after the British deposed the Itsekiri recognized leader Nana, and Dore Numa helped the British to overthrow and banish the Oba of Benin Overawmen Nogbaisi. It was a forgone conclusion that whatever the British agent did on behalf of the British must be defended by the British, even if it meant robbing the Agbarha Urhobos of their land for the benefit of Colonial settlement in WarriTown. The well know British principle of justice and fair play had to be thrown overboard in pursuit of the protection of British interests however fraudulently acquired.
As for the much maligned Agbarha elders who pursued the Agbarha cases with exceptional courage and intelligence as records now show, (although they were regarded by the prejudiced British judges as senile and stupid), Mr. Obiomah shows from the record of proceedings that this was far from the truth. The Agbarha lost their case because they were fighting against a self interested colonial government and Judiciary and not Dore Numa their agent. In spite of their lack of education, in spite of the threat of Her Britannic Majesty’s forces breathing down their necks, they held fast to their claim in quire intelligent and logical manner.Even when their lawyer was tricked into agreeing that if they won they would not alter the terms of the Dore leases on their behalf, they rightly stuck to their guns that they owned the land and not their lawyer. Their audacity before the court as illiterate persons rejecting their lawyer’s arrangement with the court, so infuriated the judge that he could not conceal his prejudice on the records.
Mr. Obiomah has brought out quite clearly and convincingly that the Itsekiri claim to ownership of Warri, historically and through the imposition of Overlordship was false ab initio. The Itsekiris, Mr. Obiomah convinces the reader, were the last of the three ethnic groups to settle in Warri Local Government Area and the last to come near Warri mainland. The same British who signed a treaty with the Itsekiris in a Ship S.S. Dodo at Forcados one year later in 1894, appointed Dore their agent the same year, 30 years later reversed history to decide through the Privy Council that Dore their appointed agent, and Representative of the Olu by their own grace, was the overlord of the Agbarha people in respect of Agbarha land in Warri Town. This same Dore who was an impostor foisted on the Itsekiris was made to sign leases in his personal name on behalf of the Chiefs and People of Warri, (the Agbarha people) of Agbarha land to the British, whereas he was supposed to be the personification of the Olu of the Itsekiris who owned all lands in Warri, Even when Dore confessed that the Agbarha lands belonged to the Agbarha people, and he had earlier ruled as President of his Native Court of Appeal that neither the Itsekiris nor Sobos paid any tribute to each other, the British still held that the Itsekiri Olu was overlord of Agbarha land. Even when the overlordship was whittled down and finally died, the ghost of this misnomer, this legal contradiction still lingers in the corridors of power in Nigeria to deprive the Agbarha people of their land and political rights. Successive Nigerian Governments have turned deaf ears to the Urhobos and Ijaws of Warri who still languish under the burden of political oppression.
Although history and subsequent legal decisions have proven the Itsekiri claims to be false, although the Agbarha and Okere Urhobos and the Ijaws are owners of their portions of settlement long before the Itsekiris came on the scene and, in spite of the Land Use Decree, 1978 and the Constitution of Nigeria 1979, this class of people who are citizens of Nigeria are not recognized by Government although their citizenship of Nigeria is because of their origin in Warri Local Government Area. Neither are their ancestral and presently occupied lands and houses located by government in any other local government in Nigeria or any other part of Nigeria, yet successive government seem to pretend that no problem exists when this class of citizens, by government acquiescence and action, are denied their political rights in their place of birth, without governments providing alternative solutions for their plight of denial and deprivation. They have all the obligations of citizenship but ad-hoc or even none of the rights of citizenship.
As for the political situation, Mr. Obiomah’s treatise is an indictment of Nigeria. Sooner or later, Nigerians have to face up squarely to the responsibility of building a Nation which they wrested from the British with all that is best and worst in British Policy and Administration and, do justice to all the peoples of Nigeria, if Nigeria is to be truly united and based on genuine freedom and equality of treatment for all citizens.
|Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo.|