- You cannot claim our land.
- Stop beating war drum.
Like all patriot and well meaning Urhobo, Urhobo Development and Unity Forum (U.D.U.F) have in the last few weeks observed keenly, the covert and surreptitious moves by the Itsekiri to lay false hearted claim to the ownership of some Urhobo communities. To achieve their atrocious agenda, they have embarked on a well scripted propaganda, by way of shunning out half-truths and hollow articles and write ups now being circulated through various medium in the social media
Apparently, this is not the first time in our modern socio-political history the Itsekiri would be embarking on this futile and pointless odyssey, which has resulted in our sometimes tense relations with them. Perhaps, it is becoming clearer by the day, that Urhobo hospitable and well intentioned dispositions towards her neighbors and foreigners have unmistakably turned out to be our greatest undoing as a people.
As a group, we are of the opinion that unless, the Itsekiri are once and for all put in their rightful place, they will not cease from this unending Machiavellian pattern and attitude of laying counterfeit claims to Urhobo territories. Perhaps our quiet mien and disposition is being misinterpreted for cowardice and spinelessness by our overbearing and bothersome neighbor (the Itsekiri).
In any case, it has become overwhelmingly pertinent to shed some light on the accident of history especially as it bothers on the current claim by the Itsekiri as Sapele Town being their own territory.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE OF THE I ITSEKIRI TENANTS IN SAPELE
For a better understanding of our subject matter, it is necessary to say a few things about Chief Dogho Numa, the Itsekiri British political agent, in other for the genesis of the Sapele land case to be effectively understood.
Dogho, the son of Numa, belonged to one of the leading Itsekiri families. His paternal grandmother was a princess of the Itsekiri royal house. In the trade and politics of Itsekiri land in the 19th Century, Dogho’s father, Numa belonged to a group that was: hostile to Olomu, father of the famous Chief Nana. In the rivalries and conflicts of 19th century Itsekiri history, Olomu triumphed over the Nana group. For this reason the Numa group developed great antipathy if not hatred for the Olomu family. Nana succeeded Olomu and Dogho succeeded Numa. Both of these sons inherited the family feud. As Olomu triumphed over Numa in trade and politics, so did Nana over Dogho. So the hatred continued. It was for this reason Dogho sided with the British when the latter fought against Nana in the 1894.
Expectedly, the British who were grateful to Dogho’s for services compensated him by appointing him as its political agent and also as the President of the Benin River Native Council in 1897. That was the beginning of over thirty five years of faithful and very profitable service to the British by this man who became one of the most power figures in Southern Nigeria between 1896 and 1932 when he died.
However, It was as British political agent and President of the Benin River Native Council in 1897 that Dogho signed the leases which gave parcels of land in Warri to the British in 1908 and 1911, and as well as the lease which gave a parcel of land in Sapele to the British in 1908.
However, a few years before his death, it was reported that Dogho began to instruct the Itsekiri who lived in Sapele not to pay rents to their Urhobo landlords on the ground that Sapele belonged to the Itsekiri. In 1941, the Okpe people of Sapele took the matter to court. By this time there was an Olu on the Itsekiri throne who argued that Dogho signed the lease which gave the land in Sapele to the British on behalf of the Olu, and that fact establishes Itsekiri ownership. The Itsekiri however lost the case.
It is pertinent to note that about the major reason the Itsekiri lost the case was because the Okpe owners of Sapele land produced evidence that before 1908 when Dogho leased its land to the British, they had given it out the land to European firms and African foreigners. These firms and individuals confirmed the Okpe claim. The judge in his judgment stated it as his opinion that Dogho signed the lease not because the Itsekiri owned the land but because he was the British political agent. The Olu appealed to the West African Court of Appeal and also lost.
Perhaps if the Okpe had not had cause to give out land to foreigners before the British ‘’bought’’ from them in 1908, the fact that an Itsekiri man signed the lease may well have resulted in the Okpe losing their land.
There is no doubt that the intense 19th century commercial and social intercourse between the Urhobo and the Itsekiri, which resulted in the Itsekiri establishing trading depots in Urhoboland especially in Uvwie, Udu, Agbon, Abraka, Okpe, and Agbarho, among others, which they later converted to their permanent abode, have unfortunately turned out to be a grave mistake made by our forebears.
Today, from Sapele to Agbarho, Aghalokpe, Uvwie, to mention a few, the story is the same, the Itsekiri are in unending contention with the Urhobos over the ownership of the parcels of land in these Urhobo communities who unreservedly gave them to establish their trading depots during the 19th century trade boom between both ethnic groups.
There is no gainsaying that the current development calls for the Urhobo, especially those hosting Itsekiri settlements in their territory to be very vigilant and ensure to take every necessary steps to stem the Itsekiri premeditated agenda of taking over Urhoboland
RECOMMENDATIONS OF WHAT SAPELE OKPE SHOULD DO
1. The idea of sharing political offices to non native should be well stated as privilege and not a right and must not be limited to only itsekiri if at all they so wish
2. The Okpe people must immediately build a befitting palace in the contentious area of Sapele in other to put a final stop to the Itsekiri sense of ownership of Otamua otherwise called Ogwanja .
3. Any political party that field Itsekiri as a candidate should not be voted for in Sapele local government.
5. The Name Sapele local government should be changed to Okpe north local government with it headquarters in Elume.
6. That the Itsekiri be made to know that no tribe has monopoly of violence and that as minority tribe it would be catastrophic for them if they use that approach in enforcing thief illegality.
Finally we also want to state very clearly that the people of Okpe are peaceful people and are ever willing to accommodate any tribe that wants to leave peacefully with them in thier Land.