Asserting Itsekiri Legacy: A Response to Recent Provocations by the Ogbe-ijoh IYC leaders

Asserting Itsekiri Legacy: A Response to Recent Provocations by the Ogbe-ijoh IYC leaders

In recent times, the Itsekiri people have been faced with unwarranted provocations and disrespect towards our rich heritage and historical legacy. We, the coallision of Itsekiri Progressive Media Team (IPMT) and Itsekiri Historical Front (IHF) stand firm in our resolve to uphold and defend the honor and integrity of our people against any form of defamation or misrepresentation by our tenants.

One such instance arose from the reckless publication made by certain individuals, purportedly representing the Ogbe-ijoh community. Their attempt to undermine the authority of the Olu of Warri kingdom and denigrate the Itsekiri people is not only baseless but also deeply offensive.

Comr. Omare Moses, the chairman of the IYC Ogbe-ijoh youth, and His secretary, Comr. Donye T. Vincent, sought attention by publishing disrespectful remarks aimed not only at the Olu of the Warri kingdom but also at the Itsekiri people who generously hosted them when they migrated from Bayelsa state for fishing purposes.

The Itsekiri people have been marginalized for far too long by companies within her land, it was on this regard that on April 16, 2024, Comdr. Collins Oritsetimeyin Edema, representing the Olu of Warri palace at NNPCL, held a global press event titled “Addressing Itsekiri Nation’s Continued Struggle with NNPCL and Its JV Partners: A Call to Action.” Joined by major media outlets such as Channels TV, DRTV, TVC, Vanguard, Fresh Angel and Gbaramatu Voice, Comdr Edema emphasized the imperative for the Itsekiri community not to endure oppression and marginalization in their homeland. He urged NNPCL to take necessary steps, warning of potential legal measures if action wasn’t taken promptly.

This Global summit created a buzz in the world of journalism due to its unique presentation of facts. Since the Olu of Warri holds the title of ruler over the three local government areas of Warri, this sparked anger among the troublesome Ogbe-ijoh community, leading them to release an offensive and potentially chaotic publication. As representatives of the Itsekiri historical front and itsekiri progressive media team, we would like to remind the Ogbe-ijoh community that they are already engaged in an unresolved conflict with the Aladja Community, which has tragically claimed the lives of numerous innocent Ijoh individuals and disrupted their daily lives. Involving the Itsekiri in such a crisis at this time will only result in their entrapment, with no clear path forward. Furthermore, we would like to emphasize that the Ijohs have significant economic interests in our territory, ranging from the NPA (Nigerian Ports Authority) to the Main market. Any provocative actions from the Ogbe-ijoh community will undoubtedly have detrimental consequences for these investments. The young generation of the Warri kingdom will no longer remain silent in the face of insults directed at our revered king.

The poorly written publication was filled with disrespectful remarks like “Olu of Itsekiri.” We would like to take this opportunity to inform the world that the correct title for the Itsekiri monarch is the “Olu of Warri.” Anything other than this is incorrect, as our kings have always been referred to as the “Olu of Warri.” This is a fact that can be confirmed through European records.

Since the removal of history from our school curriculum, it has come to our attention that a significant number of individuals lack knowledge about their own history. This lack of understanding has led to a state of ignorance and illiteracy, where people are oblivious to their cultural roots. However, as a historical group and a progressive group, we are committed to addressing this issue. We will dedicate our time to educating the uncultured and uneducated youths of Ogbe-ijoh IYC, providing them with valuable lessons in history.

In 1928, Chief Apoh (Itsekiri) sued Perememighan (Ijaw) of Ogbe-Ijoh claiming ownership, under the Olu of Warri, of Arutieghan Creek together with all the surrounding lands. The Warri Native Court, which found in favor of Apoh (Itsekiri), significantly had, as a member, one Chief Buluku (Ijaw of Kiagbodo). Then in 1938, the same Chief Apoh and Chief Okotie, Itsekiri Chiefs of Irigbo in Ode-Itsekiri, sued the Pere, the head of the Saba community in the Ogbe-Ijoh area, claiming an injunction restraining the Ijaws of the area from fishing in certain rivers and using lands described as Ofulu, Utonileme, Utongboro, Krokoto, etc., being Itsekiri rivers and lands.

While not disputing the claim of the Itsekiris, the Pere maintained that as Pere, he was entitled to fish on the rivers without paying tributes. The Court found, inter alia:

“…The Court will not make an order to eject the defendant from using the rivers and lands but an Order will be made restraining the defendant from using the rivers unless with the special and unanimous permission of the plaintiffs to whom the Olu has vested occupancy rights.

Defendants used to fish over the areas with plaintiffs’ permission. This system must continue.”

Secondly, In Suit W/116/56, Eyin Pessu, Akowe Apoh (Itsekiris), and the Olu of Warri versus Brigbo and others (Ijaws), Justice Obaseki found in favor of the Itsekiris in the case of the declaration of title over Aruteghan Creek together with all the surrounding lands. The learned judge held:

“It is clear from the evidence before me that the friendly intercourse between the Itsekiris and Ijaws extends backward 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’ title (1) to the land, and (2) the 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 which a father has that he passes on to his son. It is clear from the past cases that Numa was only averse to the idea of money rent payment. He acknowledged that the title of ownership resided in the Olu and that he gave the catch of fishes to the Olu’s son, Egbegbe”.

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

“The 1st and 2nd plaintiffs (Itsekiris) are, however, entitled to a declaration of possessory title to the land, excluding streams and watercourses, including Aruteghan creek, described in Ex. “A”. The 3rd plaintiff (Olu of Warri) is entitled to the radical title to the land. The defendants who were dissatisfied with the judgment went on appeal to the Supreme Court and eventually lost. By that judgment, the dispute about ownership of the entire area of land which extends from Aruteghan near Ode-Itsekiri to the boundary of Warri Division near Burutu was brought to a close. It is now legally recognized that the whole area is the property of Irigbo people (Itsekiris) under the overlordship of the Olu of Warri.

Another case of most considerable importance was the action in Suit No.W/148/56 taken by Chief Isuokumo Oloiki and others (for themselves and on behalf of Ijaw settlers in Ogbe-Ijoh in Warri Division) against Itsekiri Communal Land trustees & Anor.

In the action, the Ijaws, not without the prompting of the Urhobos, claimed a declaration of title to most of Warri Division including Warri township. After much of legal arguments and seeing the futility of their actions, the plaintiffs, that is the Ijaws, eventually decided to discontinue the Suit, and Rhodes Vivour J. delivered a judgment part of which reads as follows:-

“On the 9/7/64 this Court delivered its ruling refusing the plaintiffs’ application to dis

continue after the trial date had been fixed to the knowledge of the parties. The plaintiffs have now asked for leave to discontinue under Order 28 Rule 2 of the High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules Cap.44 Laws of Western Nigeria 1959. The Plaintiffs are hereby precluded from bringing any further actions or action against any or either of the 1st and 2nd defendants in respect of the claims of which specific particulars were given in the Writ of Summons, Statement of Claim and amended statement of claim in this action. Leave is accordingly granted the plaintiffs to discontinue this action.”

As the Ijaw people were aggrieved by this order which forever barred them from reopening this case against the Itsekiri Communal Land Trustees, they appealed to the Supreme Court, which on 24th April 1967, with Sir Lionel Brett Ag, C.J. presiding, summarily dismissed the appeal in Suit No. SC/450/65. So, the Ijaws of Ogbe-Ijoh should never be heard to say anything about ownership of Ogbe-Ijoh lands or any lands in Warri Divisions again.

It is also important to note that the Ijaws testified in court that the Olu of Warri gave them lands to stay in a case between Ogbe-Ijaw and Ogbe-Sobo known today as Aladja.

In 1934, the Saba village community within the Ogbe-Ijaw group went to court over a disputed parcel of land against the Ogbe-Sobo (Aladja). Neither side wanted to involve the Itsekiri, their immediate neighbor and landlord.

In Suit No. B/10/1934 Between AYA (on behalf of himself and The People of Ogbe-Sobo) – Plaintiffs

AND

OKORO and DOMOKOROMO and THE PEOPLE OF SABA – DEFENDANTS

Dumokoromo, an Ijaw from Saba, deposed on oath before Justice Bartley as follows:
“When my ancestors came to our present land, no one was there: The first person they saw was the Olu of Warri and one of our daughters, Emaye, was given to him in marriage… The Olu of Warri was the owner of the river where we settled and the land …. He gave us the land we are on now, and we have been there ever since.”

And Omisikuta, another Ijaw witness in the same case, said on oath:
“When they (ancestors) arrived, the Olu of Jekri owned the country and they went to give themselves to him …. When I say they gave themselves to the Olu, I mean that they went to him as he was the big man of the area and my people gave themselves up to him as was the custom in those days for protection.”

This unequivocally indicates and substantiates that the Itsekiris granted the Ogbe-Ijaws the lands to reside in the Warri region. Additionally, the term “Ogbe” is of Itsekiri origin, and the full interpretation of “Ogbe Ijaw” implies an “Ijaw compound,” akin to the Hausa quarters in Warri city, suggesting that the Ogbe Ijaws were merely a quarter within the Warri Kingdom. Despite losing all legal disputes in Warri, they persist in attempting to assert ownership of the area.

Finally, Hon Justice Umukoro in 2013 barred Ijaws from contesting any land ownership in Warri and ordered that they respect their landlords and the overlordship of the Olu of Warri and the Itsekiri people.

With the lawlessness in the Ogbe-Ijoh bloodline, in Suit No: W/147/2020 between: W/147/2020 HRM Amaokosu Mobene Vs The Executive Governor of Delta state & 5 Ors, The Ama-Okosu of Ogbe-Ijoh claiming to be entitled to royalties in Warri South, this case was struck out as it lacks merit. This further shows that the banning of Ijaw from contesting any land in Warri done by Hon Justice Umukoro in 2013 was upheld. The Ijaws should learn to respect their landlord, which is the Olu of Warri, and live as tenants. They must stop every land grabbing attitude and respect the ancient throne of the Warri kingdom.

The Ogbe-Ijaw people ought to embody the humility and kindness of their ancestors, who primarily engaged in fishing and trading upon entering the Itsekiri territory. Historical records from early European visitors confirm that the Warri kingdom and its surroundings were indeed the domain of the Itsekiri people.

Signed

Itsekiri Progressive Media Team (IPMT)

Itsekiri Historical Front (IHF)

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