Okere is one of the many communities that make up today’s Warri township. It is also the oldest of these communities. It comprises six (6) quarters known as idimis in Itsekiri, viz.
1. Idimi Odekporo
2. Idimi Jakpa,
3. Idimi Ode-Ile
4. Idimi Ogunobite
5. Idimi Ajamimogha
Ogieboro Felix Esisi, Current Olare Aja of Okere
Odekporo is the traditional headquaters of Okere. Of the six quarters listed above, five (5) of them are ancestral homes to the Itsekiri and one (1) is inhabited by the Urhobo. History has it that the Urhobos migrated to Okere some one hundred and fifty years after Ekpen, a Benin war General who was sent by Bini chiefs after Prince Ginuwa and his entourage, had founded Okere and settled there with the remnants of his army and family. The Urhobo immigrants, as they were at that time, were granted leave to settle in Okere by the reigning traditional head of the Okere people, the 4th Olare Aja of Okere, Arunkuneyi, a descendant of Ekpen.
Okere is traditionally headed by the Olare-Aja of Okere otherwise known as Ogieboro. This title is the only recognized traditional title in Okere and was also the only one duly gazetted by the state government unitl the upheavals and politcal intrigues of the 1990s. Only descendants from the male line of Ekpen through Ogitsi (his grandson) are traditionally eligible to occupy the position of Olare-Aja or Ogieboro. Below is a list of the Olare-Aja of Okere from Ekpen to the present time:
7. Okoleju I
8. Uku I
9. Okenrenkporo I
11. Omatsone I
13. Okoleju II
14. Okerenkporo II
15. Okerenkporo III
16. Uku II
17. Omatsone II
18. Uku III
19. Omatsone III
20. Pa Okere Uku
21. F. Esisi
As already pointed out in passing, Okere was founded by Ekpenede (Ekpen, for short), a general in the Oba of Benin’s army. Ekpen was sent by the Bini chiefs whose sons, numbering about seventy, were on the entourage of Ginuwa 1 when the latter set out from Benin about the middle of the fifteenth century to found his own kingdom at the behest of his father, Oba Olua. While Ginuwa settled at Ijala, and eventually Ode-Itsekiri (Big Warri), Ekpen and his retinue encamped at the place now known as Ogunu in Warri metropolis and later moved further inland to found and settle at Okere about 1497.
R.E. Bradbury, a European historian, in his book “The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria” (Pp 180) testifies to the founding of Okere by a part of the Benin army sent after Ginuwa. Also William Moore, in his book “History of the Itsekiris”, affirms that Okere was indeed founded in the last decade of the 15th century by Ekpen. John. W. Hubbard, another European historian, in his book “The Sobo of the Niger Delta” pages 6 to 7, states inter alia… “in the sixteenth century, the Portuguese penetrated up to the Warri River as far as the present site of Warri…, the Jekri (sic “Itsekiri”) living in the village of Okere came to meet the Portuguese”.
ADVENT OF THE URHOBO IN OKERE
The larger part of the Urhobo who occupy Idimi-sobo, alias Okere-Urhobo, came to Okere during the time of Arukuneyi, the fourth Olare-Aja of Okere. One of Arukuneyi’s wives was Idiboye, an Urhobo woman from Okpare in Olomu clan, in present day Ughelli North Local Government Area. Idiboye was the daughter of one Okpeki, an Okpare man, who was also the father of Sowhoruvwe, Owhotemu, Itifo, and Idama who was the youngest. Owhotemu, Itifo and Idama led a band of Okpare people on their way to Ugbokodo, the home town of their mother. They were running away from Okpare due to internecine battles in that community at that time. They passed through Okere on their way to Ugbokodo and stopped by to see their sister, Idiboye. It was Idiboye who appealed to her husband, Arukuneyi, to allow the immigrants to stay in Okere. This was how Owhotemu, Itifo and Idama stayed back and did not continue their flight to Ugbokodo. Other Urhobos from other villages like Okpaka, Ovwian, Effurun, etc. joined them at various times later on. Owhotemu, the eldest of the Okpare immigrants, was given to one lye, an Itsekiri woman and great grandmother of the present day Awani family of Ajamimogha in Okere, as a house help. Itifo and Idama, on the other hand, stayed with their benefactor, Arukuneyi, as house helps also. As helps, they were also assigned to farm duties and as their numbers grew by procreation and further immigration of their kith and kin in Okpare, they were allowed to settle in the farms thus creating the sixth quarter of Okere which was appropriately christened Idimi-Sobo, meaning Urhobo Quarters.
The said Owhotemu is the progenitor of the present day Ighogbadu family, while Idama is the ancestor of the Olodi line and Itifo is the ancestor of the Jarikre line. The ancestor of the Oki family was Ejiyere, son of Sowhoruvwe, who came later on to join the new settlers in Okere. Ejiyere later married an Itsekiri lady, Ukarin, a daughter of the Ogitsi family, and they begat Oki. The late Daniel and Benjamin Okumagba were of the Olodi family.
Below is a list of the descendants of Idama, the youngest of the first three immigrants from Okpare and progenitor of the Olodi family of Idimi-Sobo. This comprehensive lineage, in comparison with the chain of the twenty-one Olare-Aja of Okere listed earlier, underscores the fact of a relatively recent arrival of the Urhobo in Okere:
1. Idama – the youngest of the three brothers from Okpare that arrived Okere in the later part of the 18th century touted as the first Oroseun of their contrived Okere-Urhobo Kingdom.
2. Olodi – Idama’s direct son
3. Eboh – Olodi’s direct son
4. Okumagba-Eboh – Eboh’s direct son
5. Benjamin Okumagba – Okumagba-Eboh’s direct son, born 20th October, 1928 and died in April 2012.
6. Emmanuel Okumagba – the current “Orosuen”
Even if each of them lived to be 100 years old, obviously the three brothers could not have been in Okere by the time Okere was founded by Ekpen in 1497. In fact, according to R. E. Bradbury in “The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria”, even Olomu Clan, of which Okpare, the village from which the three brothers migrated, is a part, was not founded until over a hundred years after the founding of Okere Community by Ekpen.
Emmanuel Okumagba, Orosuen of “Okere-Urhobo Kingdom” in Okere Community.
HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL LANDMARKS OF OKERE
There are historical cultural landmarks of the Okere people dating back from the last decade of the 15th century long before the arrival of the Urhobo immigrants. These include:
Ogungbajaokereodola: Like was the custom with early founders of settlements, Ekpen planted his staff at the centre of present day Okere with the invocation “Ogungbajaokereodola” (literally meaning that before war comes to Okere, it will be yesterday – i.e. war will never come to Okere). Ekpen’s staff grew into a tree and this tree has been known by the name “Ogungbajaokereodola” from the inception of the town. It can still be seen by all even today at the Ekpen Street/Okere Market Road Junction just by the Coastline Microfinance Bank.
Arimabo: This is another tree located at the centre of the old Okere Market protected with concrete slabs which constitute the Okere roundabout of today. This tree, planted a few years after the “ogungbajaokeredola” tree, represents a deity which forewarns the community of impending dangers.
The Itsekiri Awankere (Okere Juju) Festival held annually in Okere for over 500 years to date
Awankere Annual Festival: The Awankere Festival (Okere Juju) is the most popular cultural festival in Warri and environs dating back to the late 15th century. Nobody who has visited and stayed in Warri for a reasonable period can claim ignorance of this festival which has significant similarities with the “Awerewere” festival of the Benin kingdom, the ancestral home of Ekpen, the founder of Okere. Until recently before the breach of the peace in the community, the Urhobo in Okere, along with their kith and kin, partook in this festival annually with their Itsekiri bretheren.
ldimi-Sobo: The name of the quarter where Urhobos stay in Okere is ldimi-Sobo or Uduvwu-urhobo, meaning URHOBO QUARTER in Itsekiri and Urhobo respectively. Existing official documents dating back to colonial and pre-colonial times attest to the fact that this area has always been known as “Urhobo quarters”, as for example in a letter written by Okumagba-Eboh, a descendant of the Idama line of that quarter.
Naturally the Urhobo of ldimi-Sobo in Okere were over the years assimilated into Okere. Their lingua franca was until recently the Itsekiri language. Their dress modes, traditional burial rites, marriage rites and masquerade dances and songs are modelled on those of the Itsekiris and have remained so till date despite faltering attempts at “urhobonizing” themselves so as to be seen as “independent”.Okere Juju Masquerade in action
Further cultural ties are manifest in the Itsekiri names almost always given to the children of the Urhobo of ldimi-sobo in Okere. For example, the late Chief Okumagba-Eboh gave Itsekiri names to almost all his children :-
(i) Henry Uyakominor Okumagba (late) – Uyakominor is an Itsekiri name, meaning “I am fed up with suffering”.
(ii) Chief Daniel Etseoforonetorinmi Okumagba – Etseoforonetorinmi is an Itsekiri name, meaning “It is not the fault of those who laugh at me”.
(iii) Benjamin Oyeoforetseogho Okumagba – Oyeoforetseogho is an Itsekiri name, meaning “wisdom with words is not wealth”.
(iv) Madam Esidami Okumagba (late) – Esidami is an Itsekiri name, meaning “created/protected by God”.
(v) Madam Ejutemiweden Okumagba (late) – Ejutemiweden is an Itsekiri name, meaning “my kind is not rare”.
(vi) Even the name “Okumagba” is not an Urhobo name! It is either a slight corruption of the Itsekiri adage, “Uku e ma agba”, meaning “death does not know/respect age/elders” or a corruption of a common Itsekiri name “Akomagba”.
(vii) Other well known Itsekiri names within Urhobo of Idimi-Sobo in Okere are: Eyitene, Eburu, Emebiren, Oghotemi, Amaofororitse, Eminokanju, etc., etc.
OKERE AND IDIMI SOBO LITIGATION
Unfortunately, what used to be a union of brothers and sisters have for some years now been set more or less asunder by internal strife instigated by largely selfish interests. The Itsekiri of Okere and the Urhobo of Idimi-sobo in Okere co-existed peacefully as one entity until 1927 when Chief Okumagba-Eboh, the fourth in line of the Idama descendants, strayed and attempted to take possession of the land given them by the Itsekiri. This attempt was, however, thwarted by Nikoro, the then Olare Aja of Okere. In suit No. 784/27 held at the then Warri Native Court, Chief Okumagba-Eboh was ordered to pay the sum of five pounds as rent to the Ogitsi family (and therefore to the Itsekiri). An appeal was later lodged by Okumagba-Eboh in the Warri Native Court of Appeal and there setting aside the issue of rent, a new twist was introduced into the case: the question of economic (rubber) trees. The Court President ruled that when the rubber trees were ripe (mature) and sold for money, the Idimi-sobos should pay the sum of five pounds per annum for sacrifice to Ogitsi (a prominent grandson of Ekpen, the founder of Okere). This case was again revisited in 1942 (reference Suit No. W/14A/1942) held at the Magistrate Court of Warri Magisterial Area on 7th January, 1943 before His Lordship William Roland Awunor-Renner. In his judgement, the Magistrate stated inter alia, and we quote, “It is not disputed that the land belongs to the Ogitsi family. There is ample evidence that the defendant/respondent (Okumagba-Eboh for Idimi-sobo) and his ancestors have been on the land for generations. In fact he and his father were born on this land and for him (Okumagba-Eboh) to be removed, it was necessary for the plaintiffs/appellants (Chief Omatsone Tsegbeyeri Awani and Regbeti Popo for Ogitsi-Ekpen family) to prove such grave misconduct, acts and omissions, which would make him (Okumagba-Eboh) liable in law and equity to be dispossessed of the land…”
The other major litigation was suit No. W/48/68 (SC309/74) in respect of the so-called “Okumagba Layout” of recent years. This case was not directly between the Itsekiri of Okere and the Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu families of Idimi-sobo in Okere. However, it is noteworthy that in spite of all odds, the Supreme Court did not grant Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu families of Idimi-sobo radical title to the land in question. Gani Fawehinmi Chambers, acting as counsel to the Olare Aja of Okere and all Okere people, pointed out as follows in an advertised reaction to a July 1, 1992 write-up by Benjamin Okumagba published in the Guardian:
“The judgement of the Supreme Court referred to in the write-up (Idundun & Ors v. Okumagba & Ors [SC 309/74] delivered on 8th October, 1976 and reported in (1976) 1 N.M.L.R. 200,  10 S. C. 227) did not grant title or ownership of the land in dispute in that case to the respondents therein represented by DANIEL OKUMAGBA & ORS.
“The Supreme Court made it clear in pages 201 and 229 respectively of the above-stated reports where it stated as follows:-
The averments in the plaintiffs’ amended statement of claim and the evidence adduced in support showed clearly that the claim was based partly on traditional evidence and partly on acts of ownership. The averments in the defendants’ statement of defence and the evidence given by them in support gave a completely different version of the traditional evidence. The defendants also testified as to their acts of ownership on the land in dispute. It must be pointed out at this stage, however, that the defendants did not counterclaim for title to the land.”He concluded that “… it is trite law and beyond any legal argument that no court has power or jurisdiction to grant to a party a relief he did not claim. In essence, that judgement dismissed the claims as framed which covered only 281.1 acres but did not grant title to the land in dispute to the defendants therein i.e. Daniel Okumagba & Others”.
Obviously, the Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu families did not ask for radical title to the land because they could not have done so, conscious as they were of the outcome of previous relevant litigations and, more importantly, the fact that it was not their ancestral land. But on the basis of that Supreme Court judgment of 1976 that granted them merely a possessory title to 281.1 acres of land in Idimi-Sobo, they have since then sought to prise themselves from the larger Okere Community, preferring instead to refer to themselves as belonging to an Okere-Urhobo clan which later metamorphosed to “kingdom”. Through political intrigue and maneuvers with a complicit political class in Delta State, they succeeded in the early 2000s in procuring the title of Orosuen and having it gazetted by the State government as their king even when they manifestly have no kingship tradition. Nevertheless, the Okere people remain resolute in their rejection of this scheme and do not recognize any other traditional title in their land than the Olare Aja who is the Ogieboro of all Okere.
OTHER RELEVANT LEGAL CORRELATES
In the case of Ometan versus Dore (Suit No. 25/26), Ometan, an Urhobo man from Agbassa, said under cross-examination that Itsekiri people own Okere. Another Urhobo man, Okandeji, also testified in the said case that Okere is Itsekiri land.
The Deed of Lease over the land presently occupied by the Federal Prisons in Okere was entered into between the people of Okere (Itsekiri) on the one hand and the government of Nigeria on the other hand.
ROOT OF CONFLICT IN OKERE AND WARRI IN GENERAL
Impunity and Disregard for the Rule of Law
The foremost cause of conflicts between the Urhobos in Warri and the Itsekiri is sheer impunity and refusal to obey court judgments and orders.
The Urhobos of Agbassa have refused to accept Supreme Court decision in Ometan versus Dore (supra) cited in Essi versus the Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria and Others (supra) which declared them tenants of the Olu of Warri in respect of Agbassa and Igbudu lands. A faction of the Urhobos of Idimi-sobo in Okere, led by Mr. Benjamin Oyeoforetsogho Okumagba, have likewise refused to accept the decision in suit No. W/14A/I942: Omatsone and Others versus Okumagba which declared them tenants of the Okere people. They have also refused to accept the more recent decision of a Warri Court in Suit No. M/51/92 which quashed their claim to an Okere-Urhobo clan and restrained the said Okumagba from parading himself as the Otota of a non-existent clan. This non-acceptance of court decisions has on occasions translated into outright hatred, use of abusive language, and even violence, against the Itsekiri and the institution of the Olu of Warri as was shown in the combined Agbassa and Idimi-sobo attack on the Olu of Warri’s coronation anniversary carnival train in May, 1993.
On the Ijaw side, several court judgements declaring them tenants within the Warri Kingdom (refer to Suits Nos. W/116/56, W/148/56, SC/450/65, W/20/46, W/29/51, WACA No. 3707, W/37/61, SC/393/64, W/30/62, SC/37/1973 and W/143/84) have been publicly described and dismissed by the Ijaw, particularly Messrs. W. Okrika and an otherwise eminent Ijaw leader, E. K. Clark, who ironically is a lawyer, as being fraudulently obtained thus precluding any basis for reasonable or meaningful dialogue. Like the Urhobo of Idimi-Sobo in Okere, they too have had recourse to political maneuvering and intrigue to procure kingship titles for their settlements within the Warri Kingdom in recent years.
Chief Onanefe Ibori, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, and Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan – Governors of Delta State to date – Triumph of Politics and Nuisance Over Rule of Law?
Pan-Urhobo and Ijaw Movements
The activities of the Urhobo Progressive Union and the Ijaw National Congress, worldwide umbrella organizations for Urhobo and Ijaw interests respectively, have encouraged chauvinism amongst these two ethnic groups in their relationship with their Itsekiri neighbor.
The existence of these umbrella organizations encourages the Urhobo and Ijaw in Warri, who are minorities in the kingdom, to team up with their kith and kin from outside the Warri Kingdom to suppress Itsekiri rights and annexe their lands.
While the Itsekiri have no linguistic or cultural affinity with any ethnic group in Delta State, the Urhobo have and are in league with heir kith and kin from the Urhobo lands of Ughelli, Okpe, Uvwie, and Udu Local Government Areas, as well as with their cousins of the Isoko Local Government Areas. This way, they swell their numbers in Warri kingdom, dominate the State House of Assembly, unduly influence executive political appointments to favor themselves, and so are able to pass resolutions and freely issue gazettes to give legal backing to their every whim.
The Ijaw on the other hand, team up with their brothers in Burutu, Patani, and Bomadi Local Government Areas of Delta State as well as with the entirety of Bayelsa State to also suppress the Itsekiri people in their homeland, invade their communities, forcibly take over their lands and communities, and rename them with impunity. The strife of the 1990’s is a case in point. The Itsekiri were attacked, brutalized and killed in their hundreds in the guise of an ethnic conflict or war whereas indeed it was a deliberate one-sided assault of the Ijaw on defenseless Itsekiri elders, women, and children, with annexation of Itsekiri land and political domination as their singular objective in keeping with their original Kiama Declaration where they claimed that all coastal lands from Akwa Ibom State to Ondo State, regardless of subsisting court judgments, belonged to them. It is thus that despite subsisting 1972 Supreme Court judgments in favor of the Itsekiri with regard to the ownership of Okerenghigho and Bakokodia communities in Warri South-West Local Government Areas, the Ijaw under the presidency of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan (himself an Ijaw man from Bayelsa State), annexed and renamed the communities as Okerenkoko and Kokodiagbene respectively and got the State Government to gazette them as such!
In the ethnic configuration of Delta State, and indeed the entire South-South geopolitical zone therefore, the Itsekiri people, despite their absolute majority in their own homeland comprising the three Warri Local Government Areas, find themselves crowded in, particularly at the legislative and executive arms of government, by two ethnic groups with filial affinity to other Local Government Areas and a neighboring State that actively support and collaborate with them on all fronts. This is a situation that must be addressed urgently.
The Delta State Government, and by extension the Federal Government, has also been a significant spoiler in the quest for peaceful coexistence among the the Itsekiri, Ijaw, and Urhobo in Warri in their inability to uphold and enforce the rule of law. It can even be rightly said that they are complicit in the subversion of the rule of law. How else can one explain the absurdity of creating a kingdom (Okere-Urhobo) out of a community (Okere)?! And the gazetting of a king for such a kingdom by the government in defiance of a subsisting and explicit court judgment (Suit No. M/51/92) that such a kingdom does not exist! It is impunity taken too far. The government, particularly in the aftermath of the Warri crisis of the 90s, rewarded nuisance; the higher the nuisance value, the more substantial the reward. They thus set an unfortunate precedent. It is this precedent that has continued to encourage acts of lawlessness and crass impudence, like the current call for the renaming of parts of Warri Township. The Urhobo and Ijaw in Warri do not have a monopoly of nuisance. Government must live up to its responsibilities to uphold the rule of law and give justice even to the quiescent lest they too be encouraged to deal in nuisance.