1. SUIT in 1928:

Chief Apoh (Itsekiri) v. Perememighan (Ijaw) of Ogbe-Ijoh

Chief Apoh sued defendant and claimed ownership of land under the Olu of Warri.

The Warri Native Court found favor in Chief Apoh’s claim. Significantly, Chief Buluku, an Ijaw from Kiagbodo, was a member of this court.

2. SUIT #B/10/1934:

Aya (on behalf of himself and the people of Ogbe-Sobo) v. Okor and Dumokoromo and the people of Isaba.

The Urhobos of Ogbe-Sobo sued Saba Ijaws in Warri Division for a declaration of title to a piece or parcel of land within Warri Division. In his evidence, the first witness for the defence, Dumokoromo, an Ijaw, stated under oath that his ancestors migrated from a place in Western Ijaw and added:

“When they came to the area, the lands were unoccupied. I said my people saw no one on the land where we are now. They saw the Olu of Jekri. What I mean was that there were no SOBOs there when we came but the Jekris were there but not actually on the land we are now. They were at Big Warri. The Olu of Jekri gave us the land we are now but he made no restrictions. He just gave the land we are on now and we have been there ever since.

“The Olu will know to whom he gave the land. I know the German factory. It is on the Warri River. The Olu gave that land there to the Ogbe Sobo people.”

Defendants’ fourth witness, Omisikuta, stated in evidence:

“When my ancestors got to Saba, there was no one living there. When they arrived the Olu of Jekri owned the country and they went to give themselves to him.”

In his judgement, delivered in favor of Saba Ijaw on February 5, 1935, M.T.D.M. Bartley, Assistant Judge, observed as follows:

“The defendants depend on the following evidence in support of their oral history:

1. “The production of a Lease of Land to the German Company at Ogbe Sobo village which land though not part of the area in dispute is yet on the land shown as constituting Ogbe Sobo land. The lease is not only signed by the Ogbe Sobo Chiefs but also by Chief Dore who is head of the Jekris. This tends to establish defendants’ claim that the Jekris were the original owners of the land as from the evidence, it appears that by native law and custom, people allowed to settle on land have no right to lease a portion of it without the permission of the original owner.
2. “It is true that the lease tends to corroborate their allegation that the Olu of Jekri has an interest in Ogbe Sobo land. It is quite possible that neither party wished to put forward Jekri Chiefs or headmen as witnesses.”

3. SUIT in 1938:

Chiefs Apoh and Okotie (of Irigbo Quarters in Ode-Itsekiri) v. Perememighan, or head, of Saba (Ijaw) community

Plaintiffs sued to seek an injunction to restrain Saba Ijaws from fishing in certain rivers and using parcels of lands that belonged to Itsekiris.

The Pere did not dispute the ownership claim of the Itsekiri plaintiffs. However, he maintained that as Pere, he was entitled to fish in rivers without paying tribute.

In its judgement, the court declared:

“The Court will not make an order to eject the defendant from the rivers and land but an order will be made restraining the defendant from using the river unless with special permission and unanimous permission from the plaintiffs to whom the Olu has vested occupation rights. Defendants used to fish over the area with plaintiffs permission. The system must continue.”

4. SUIT #W/20/46:

Chief Sillo and Edremoda Golly (Itsekiri) v. Adurumokumor on behalf of Bakokodia people

Plaintiffs successfully obtained a declaration of title over Bakokodia and surrounding lands and rivers in suit at the Warri High Court. The court awarded damages for trespass against the Ijaws who, according to the Judge, were put on the land by Omadino people.

Ijaws lost their appeal to the West African Court of Appeal in Suit WACA #3707.

Ijaws continued disregard for these judgements led to a suit for forfeiture filed by Omadino people at the Warri High Court. At this court, Ijaws ultimately accepted a judgement in which they acknowledged the Omadino-ownership of the land.

5. SUIT #W/116/1956:

Eyin Pessu Apoh and the Olu of Warri (Itsekiri) v. Brigbo and Others (Ijaw).

Justice Obaseki decided favorably for the Itsekiri and held as follows:

“It is clear from the evidence before me that the friendly intercourse between the Itsekiris and Ijaws extends backwards over very many generations. With regard to the case put up by 8th and 9th defendants, I find that I cannot accept the traditional evidence given by the 8th defendant and his witness as true. I think it is a deliberate fabrication to deny plaintiffs’ (1) title to the land, and (2) right to put tenants on the land and creek in dispute.

“It is a matter of regret that the title which 8th defendant’s grandfather, Numa, never disputed is now being disputed by 8th defendant, Torowei Numa. It is only the title a father has that passes on to his son. It is clear from the past cases that Numa only avers to the idea of money rent payment. He acknowledged that the title of ownership resided in the Olu and that he gave part of his catch of fishes to the Olu’s son, Egbegbe.”

Finding the plaintiffs’ case proved, Justice Obaseki entered judgement in respect of the declaration of title in favor of the plaintiffs as follows:

“The 1st and 2nd plaintiffs are entitled to a declaration of possessory title to the land.”

The defendants were dissatisfied with the judgement but lost on appeal to the Supreme Court.

Ijaws also lost judgements in Suits #W/29/51, #W/37/61, #W/30/62, #SC/393/64, #SC/37/73, #W/124/76, #W/35/90 and #CA/B/65/90 in which different Courts affirmed Itsekiri-ownership of Warri.

The Warri Crisis Peace Congress/ North America
Saturday, July 24, 1999.

Report by the Itsekiri Delegation


The Warri Crisis Peace Congress/ North America adjourned indefinitely following fruitless attempts to agree to an agenda. Delegates were hopelessly deadlocked on two of six issues proposed for discussion by the congress, convened by Drs. Philip Ikomi and Mobolaji Aluko on Saturday, July 24, 1999, at Howard University, Washington, DC.

Reason for Logjam

The stalemate resulted from Ijaw and Urhobo delegates’ obdurate insistence on including the title of the Olu of Warri and the ownership of Warri on the agenda, a position the Itsekiri delegation[1] adamantly opposed for the following reasons:

· The leadership of the Itsekiri political structure, Ogiame Atuwase II, the Olu of Warri, had not delegated Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Incorporated or its members to engage in any discussions
· The title of the Olu of Warri and the Ownership of Warri are personal to Itsekiri people, indisputable and therefore irrelevant to the current crisis in Warri
· The organization was therefore agreeable to discussing only issues of common interest to the three ethnic nationalities

Background

When Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Incorporated was invited to contribute proposals to the agenda for the peace initiative, the organization responded, expressing its profound desire and willingness to participate in any effort seeking real solutions to the regional crisis. The group indicated that although the Itsekiri political structure headed by Ogiame Atuwase II, the Olu of Warri, had neither directed it nor its members to speak on or enter into any agreements on behalf of Itsekiri people, it would however discuss issues of common interest to the three ethnic groups.

Because this stance of Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Incorporated was seemingly ignored, both Vice-President Eyisan Omagbemi and Secretary Bawo Ayomike contacted Dr. Ikomi to object to items 5(ii), 5(iii) and 5(iv) on the tentative agenda released on Friday, July 16, 1999. These items covered the title of the Olu of Warri, the status of Warri and relocation of Local Government Area headquarters from Ogbe-Ijoh. Messrs. Omagbemi and Ayomike protested the inclusion of these issues on the agenda, indicating that Itsekiris may be forced to boycott the conference if the items were not excised. They stated historical and legal support for the title of the Olu of Warri and the ownership of Warri to back their request. Later on the same day, Dr. Ikomi advised Mr. Ayomike that the organization should document its position and release a statement to Ijaw and Urhobo representatives who presumably were uninformed. To demonstrate its utmost desire and willingness to seek meaningful resolution to the crisis in the region, Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Incorporated complied and distributed a statement by electronic mail on Tuesday, July 20, 1999, to Ijaw and Urhobo representatives as well as Drs. Ikomi and Aluko.

Title of Olu of Warri and Ownership of Warri Indisputable

In its statement[2], Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Incorporated asked the organizers of the congress to delete references to the title of the Olu of Warri and the ownership of Warri from the agenda because the issues were indisputable and therefore not open to discussion.

The statement presented historical evidence of the existence of the sovereign Kingdom of Warri founded by Bini Prince Ginuwa, who became the first Olu of Warri, circa 1480, citing the works of eminent historians, including Professors Kenneth O. Dike, F. Ade Ajayi and Obaro Ikime. It traced the history of the use of the name “Warri” and other derivatives of Iwere, as Itsekiris refer to their homeland. It referenced scholarly works, which documented the use of “Olu of Warri” as the title of the Itsekiri monarchy. It noted the use of this title through the reign of Olu Akengbuwa whose death in 1848 marked the beginning of the eighty-eight-year interregnum in which no kings were crowned in Warri -Itsekiri homeland.

The group indicated that the protestations of the Urhobo Progressive Union, UPU, under the leadership of Chief Mukoro Mowoe, during preparatory stages of the coronation of Ginuwa II in 1936, led to the title of “Olu of Itsekiri”. It explained that the UPU protest arose from the creation of Warri Province, an administrative unit in the new country, Nigeria, that encompassed the homelands of Ijaws, Isokos, Ndokwas and Urhobos and that the UPU argued that the title “Olu of Warri” would suggest the Itsekiri monarchy reigned over the entire Warri Province.

The statement noted Itsekiris displeasure with the break in their tradition by the change of their monarch’s title and the denunciation by Nigerians including Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who wrote an article in the West African Pilot on the subject in 1940. It stated that the title was restored to its original form after the Western Regional House of Assembly debated the issue and renamed Warri Province as Delta Province, allowing Warri to revert to simply being the homeland of Itsekiris, a change Urhobos accepted.

The statement also provided numerous historical support and legal justification to Itsekiri claim of ownership of Warri, citing and quoting from judicial pronouncements in lawsuits between Itsekiri and Urhobos and Itsekiris and Ijaws.

Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Incorporated expressed its utmost abhorrence at Ijaw and Urhobo attack on and disrespect for culture and custom shown by their endless questioning of the title of the Olu of Warri and the ownership of Warri. The group noted that Itsekiri communities in Ijaw and Urhobo homelands accord respect to their hosts and demanded reciprocity. It explained that it had taken the time to prepare and issue the statement in the interest of amity in the region. It asked Ijaws and Urhobos to either send a response impeaching Itsekiri claims or cease further attacks.

Ijaws and Urhobos never responded.

Attempts to Engender Discussion

Indignant and shocked at the mention of the same issues in the Ijaw and Urhobo opening statements’ to the Congress, the Itsekiri delegation threatened to withdraw from further deliberations. The Ijaw and Urhobo groups claimed that late receipt of the Itsekiri statement made it impossible for them to respond. The Itsekiri delegation therefore remained and at various times later made several concessions to engender progression.

The Itsekiri delegation suggested discussions be limited to critical concerns that all delegates identified to be of common and vital interest to the three nationalities. Broadly, these issues were (1) Economic deprivation and Political Marginalization, (2) Regional Underdevelopment, (3) The Role of Government and (4) Ecological Impact of Oil Production in the Niger Delta. However, the Ijaw and Urhobo delegations disagreed, insisting on the inclusion of the title of the Olu of Warri and the Status of Warri on the agenda.

Since the previous suggestion was rejected and because the Ijaw and Urhobo delegations were so insistent, the Itsekiri delegation agreed to allow the discussion of the two issues to take place in its absence. However, the group indicated that conclusions reached by Ijaw and Urhobo delegations could not be part of the communiqué issued at the close of deliberation because of the lack of consensus on discussing the subjects. Alternatively, the Itsekiri group agreed to allow the communiqué to state that two issues were proposed but could not be discussed because of a lack of consensus.

Finally, the Itsekiri delegation proposed that the Ijaw and Urhobo delegations should provide Itsekiris with their repudiation of Itsekiri claims, which the Itsekiri delegation did not know, existed since there were no responses to its statement. The Itsekiris agreed to allow an insertion in the communiqué stating that the group “would be willing to examine” the Ijaw and Urhobo submissions.

The Ijaw and Urhobo delegations rejected each of these initiatives.

Mr. Andrew Edevbie on behalf of himself and the Urhobo delegation finally proposed a motion to adjourn indefinitely and was seconded by the Ijaw delegation after it attached a friendly amendment to the original motion.

The meeting adjourned shortly before 8PM.


[1] Members of the delegation were:
Dr. Felix Abeson, Itsekiri National Association of the Washington, DC-Baltimore CMSA Inc.
Dr. Oti Agbajoh-Laoye, Oma-Iwere Itsekiri Organization Inc., NY-NJ-CT.
Mr. Bawo Ayomike, Itsekiri National Association of the Washington, DC-Baltimore CMSA Inc.
Mr. Eyisan Omagbemi, Oma-Iwere Itsekiri Organization Inc., NY-NJ-CT
[2] See attachment.