In recent times, some persons from Okrika in Rivers State have mounted strong campaign of falsehood claiming co-ownership of Port Harcourt with the Rebisi-Ikwerre people. We like to make the fact clear that there is nothing like co-ownership of Port Harcourt City with the Rebisi people. We also wonder why some persons from Okrika are in lands fight with almost all their neighbours: they fought with Ogoni; they fought with Etche and now it is do-or-die with Ikwerre people. This must stop so that we all can live happily together in Port Harcourt.
The historicity of the Ikwerre ownership of Port Harcourt in the following narrative is rather sacrosanct and defies any imaginable or crafty distortions. Additional facts were furnished by impeccable sources that can be validated in the authentic history of Obomotu (Diobu), Emeru (Borokiri), Igwocha (the high cliff) and Rebisi Kingdom of the Ikwerre nation. Furthermore, details from the Supreme Court Judgement of 1981 and the West African Court of Appeal (WACA, 1952) verdict on the Agreements of 1913 and 1928 irrefutably validate the truth of the ownership of Port Harcourt and totally rubbish the lies being peddled by some persons of the Okrika kingdom on the co-ownership of Port Harcourt. Moreover, incontrovertible Colonial Government Reports leave no one in doubt that Port Harcourt is Ikwerreland and Rebisi in Aparaland is the traditional owner of it. For the avoidance of doubt, here is THE REAL STORY OF PORT HARCOURT as narrated by the original ancestral owners of the land, The Rebisi Progressive Movement (2006:61-77, 91-127), and the Omaruta Rebisi Age Group, reproducing their words in great detail on the ‘Acquisition of Igwocha and Obomotu’, as well as ‘Ozugboko Land Dispute with the people of Abulo’ and the ‘Supreme Court Judgment’ of 1981.
- ACQUISITION OF IGWOCHA AND OBOMOTU
“During the first decade of the twentieth century, coal was discovered in Enugu-Ngwo. The interest of the colonial administration made it a priority that coal be mined for export. In consequence thereof, a suitable seaport was urgently required, and the Government launched an extensive search for a suitable location to establish a seaport as well as a railway terminus in the south eastern flank of the southern protectorate…. As is the extant custom of Ikwerre people, forests and farmlands in particular are identified by names. In the case of Rebisi people, later to be specifically called Diobu inhabitants by the British, their farmlands within the location adjudged suitable for the seaport, railway port terminal and a new town were known by them as Obomotu, Emeru, Osukwuohia, and so on.
The coming of the white man and request for land caused great concern among the people of Rebisi, particularly the Ogbum-nu-Abali communities who predominantly farmed the area. The request was rebuffed in the beginning… Representatives of the colonial administration included Lt. R.H.W. Hughes and Mr. Reginald Hargrove, the District Commissioner for Degema who superintended the execution of the instrument of acquisition, ultimately. It was not an easy time for either party… the British… enlisted as their agent Chief Daniel Oju Kalio of Okrika who had quite forthrightly earlier on enlightened the colonial officers that the area belonged to a people who referred to themselves as Diobu… At various times during the negotiations, two interpreters, one Amachree Iyalla and another, a certain Mr. N.G. Yellowe, were engaged to facilitate communication between the Diobu Chiefs and the colonial officers…
From available records, the 1913 Agreement was signed by the chiefs and headmen of Diobu, Okrika, Rumueme, Rumuobiokani and Oginigba, in addition to people from villages (customary tenants of Rebisi families) of Ogoloma located in Amadi-ama, Femie, Somieari, Ukukalama, Ozugboko, Okuruama and Abuloma. These various communities received various sums of money supposedly as compensation for the land and interests which they surrendered by the 1913 Agreement. The chiefs and people of these communities received payments for their portions of land to be given, and Chief Daniel Kalio received payment for his services ONLY as the land agent.
According to Omaruta Rebisi Age Group::
‘Available evidence indicates that the land was compulsorily acquired from its Rebisi owners. In the version of the proceedings… communicated to the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society, it was stated that the District Commissioner responsible for the area had compelled the chiefs to sign an agreement against their wishes and against native tribal law to dispose of the freehold of their land; that he had informed them that if any objections were made they would be forcibly removed; that they had on that occasion been threatened with the guns of the gun-boat ‘jug’; and that the Colonial Secretary, Mr. Lyttleton … visited the town on November 7, 1912 and told the chiefs that unless they moved from the land within three months, he would drive them away by force.
For their involvement in the matter, the Aborigines Protection Society was asked by the colonial office to divulge the names of their Rebisi informants and when they refused to do so, they were threatened with litigation.’
Eventually, between March and April, 1913, the pressure from the colonial administration yielded fruit when the Hargrove Agreement was made, whereby part of Igwocha was acquired for the port and rail terminal. The agreement signed in April 1913 was sealed on May 18, 1913. According to available records, the 1913 Agreement was signed by the chiefs and headmen of Diobu, Okrika, Rumueme, Rumuobiokani and Oginigba. These various communities received various sums of money supposedly as compensation for the land and interests which they surrendered by the 1913 Agreement.
Unfortunately, the Hargrove Agreement of 1913 did not make clear what town or village owned what part of the land so acquired. There was, however, a plan attached to the agreement. It too did not give more than a vague indication of the general locations of the Diobu farms and residential areas as it did of Okrika villages on the eastern flank, with northerly OmoEme (Rumueme), Omo Amass (Rumuomasi), Omo Biakani (Rumuobiokani), and Oginigba. It is noteworthy though that the plan gives succinct suggestion that 25 square miles was the intended land mass of the acquisition.
Controversy erupted soon after the acquisition. One month after the execution of the agreement, on June 17, 1913, the chiefs and headmen of Diobu repudiated the document. In Diobu, the problem was as much over the sum offered (two thousand pounds) as the sacrilege of a transaction purporting sale of land. The amount was considered far too small for the huge expanse of land the owners were being dispossessed of. Secondly, land was respected as a legacy received in trust from the ancestors for the benefit of posterity. The dissatisfaction of the people was also fuelled by the controversy in Okrika as regards the involvement of Chief Daniel Oju Kalio. In fact, Diobu chiefs expressed such damning sentiments alleging duplicity against him that he considered it necessary to write the provincial commissioner in Calabar on June 10, 1913, praying that Diobu chiefs be asked to ‘stop this talk as it will make trouble in Okrika, … people think the Government has paid me something to help them get land.’
What is clear, it must be stated, is that the amounts of compensation paid to the Diobu people in particular, and indeed other communities generally bore no relationship to the size of land allegedly surrendered. As an example, although the chiefs and headmen of Rumueme were paid the sum of three hundred pounds, at no time was any part of Rumueme lands included in the area taken for the establishment of the wharf, railway port terminal and the European Reservation (old GRA), which were high on the need of the colonial administration at the time.
In consequence of these considerations, a school of thought held that the amounts of money paid by the government especially to individuals and communities whose land were not part of the 25 square miles area being acquired were the reward to them for assisting the colonial officers sustain the pressure on the Diobu people resulting in the successful acquisition of part of Igwocha. In spite of the dissatisfaction of Diobu people, the colonial administration considered it a done deal, hence the Governor of Southern Nigeria, as he then was, Sir Frederick D. Lugard reported to the British Secretary of State, Sir (Lewis) Harcourt on May 22, 1914 that:
‘I have already taken steps to acquire the land before fictitious claims and artificial inflation of value should have increased the difficulty of acquisition. The occupiers belong to a single village named DIOBU… I have the honour to enclose for your information, charts of the estuaries and rivers in the neighbourhood of the proposed Ports and terminus of the Eastern Railway at Diobu or more correctly Igwocha (the high cliff). In the absence of any convenient local name, I would respectively ask your permission to call it Port Harcourt and I anticipate that in the future, it will be one of the most important ports on the coast of West Africa.’
Diobu Chiefs and headmen did not give up their search for justice in the matter. In the following fifteen years, they backed up their resentment with litigations, petitions and representations. Although there could never have arisen a situation to force the colonial administration to relinquish Diobu lands as contained in the 1913 Agreement, it is clear that the case the chiefs made for their land did not all go unheeded. Alongside their case, the Anti-Slavery Society spoke against the injustice meted out to the local people in the acquisition, saying it was against their wish and custom ‘to dispose of the freehold of their land.’
Eventually, some colonial officials admitted that the Diobu people were hard done by. Even Governor Clifford went as far as suggesting the abrogation of the 1913 Agreement and the drawing up of a new one. In July, 1924 Chief Wobo Ejeku Woji and Chief P.B.O. Chinwo went in the company of a certain Mr. Green to seek the intervention of Herbert Macaulay in Lagos. The only success achieved through all the pressure, entreaties, litigations and representations was the supplemental 1928 Graeme Thompson Agreement. It should be noted that Governor Thompson, as Clifford before him, showed understanding and sympathy for the plight of the Diobu people. In fact, he wrote on November 26, 1927 to the colonial office that:
‘Various sums were paid over and all were happy, except the Diobu who refused to accept the 2000 paid to them under the Agreement which they signed. There were some effort by the Anti-Slavery Society to upset matters and this drew the concern from the Governor that such generous terms had never been before, when it was necessary to acquire land for an important public purpose. Be that as it may, the Diobu never accepted payment and threw away the cheque (a native would do this as a symbolic act of refusal).’
The 1928 Agreement did not only make a new provision for the perpetual payment of an annual rent of One Thousand Pounds to the Diobu people with arrears dating from 1913, but it also provided for the return of an approximately 3.5 square miles of land to the Diobu people.” The pressure was such that compensation for no less than 60 demolished homesteads of Diobu families was agreed and paid by the colonial Government in addition to a 1923 proposal by Lt-Governor Sir Harry Moorhouse for annual rent of Five Hundred Pounds from 1913 in perpetuity. This proposal in addition to the variation of the total acquired area to four square miles became a major aspect of the 1928 supplementary Agreement. The bulk of the initial area reverted to the owners.
To further buttress Rebisi-Ikwerre ownership of Port Harcourt, the former governor of Rivers State, Alfred Diete-Spiff (later Governor Zamani Lekwot) appointed a commission of inquiry in 1975/76 under the chairmanship of the acclaimed historian of Okrika origin, late Emeritus Professor Tekena Tamuno, and vice-chairmanship of also an Emeritus Professor of History, Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa (NNOM), an Ijaw man from Nembe, and Chief S. N. Woluchem (Eze Epara Rebisi) the traditional ruler of Port Harcourt was recognized as the Paramount Ruler of Port Harcourt. These sacred and undisputable facts are enshrined in the Supreme Court judgment as cited above. Consequently, there is nothing like “Diobu and Okrika” sections of Rebisi territory.
PORT HARCOURT CONSOLIDATED MAP Map of Port Harcourt Annexed to the 1913 Agreement
Port Harcourt was surveyed in 1910 and acquired by the colonial administration in 1913 as already indicate above. While the survey plan (chart) above designated the northern parts of the city as Diobu residential areas, the southern or old township areas were officially mapped out and shaded as “Diobu farmlands” and creeks. That includes all the Emeru (Borokiri) and Igwocha (the high cliff). The neighbouring Okrika on the other side of the creek were never in history recognised or even treated as co-owners of the expanse of 25 square miles of land then called Obomotu.
- ‘OZUGBOKO LAND DISPUTE WITH PEOPLE OF ABULO: THE SUPREME COURT JUDGMENT’
The ‘Ozugboko Land Dispute with people of Abulo’ and the ‘Supreme Court Judgment’ of 1981, excerpt:
… the relationship between the people of Rebisi clan and others from Okrika, Kalabari, Apara and Evo was sustained by common benefits the parties derived. The extent of interdependence was evident in the comparative advantage each party tended to possess in heir arrangements of trade, settlements and occupational necessities. It is certain that for centuries before, the ancestors of these clans were unsophisticated, simple, honest and inclined to trust one another without reservations, particularly as their interests seemed not to clash
In the case of Rebisi people and the settlers from Ogoloma in Okrika, the understanding by which grants of land were made were not different from those by which Evo clans such as Oginigba, Woji and Elelenwo permitted other Okrika immigrant fishermen to settle along the Woji creek until 1951 when the settlers left. But in Abuloma’s case, skirmishes, contentions, trespasses and legal battles ensued over title in a way that tarnished an otherwise good heritage of cooperation and friendship between the clans. Interestingly, such problems were not the result of any desire of Rebisi people to retrieve the settlements upon which large villages had sprouted. They were rather the effects of premeditated acts of violations of the conditions for the grants created and sustained over centuries by the descendants of Abulo and other customary tenants in the Ozugboko lands of Rebisi.
The understanding between the settlers and Rebisi leaders was such that they permitted fishing camps and occasional farms around the area. As time went by, the settlers were granted land to establish schools, churches and cemetery for which no rent or tribute was demanded. In return, the settlers were obligated to perform yearly oaths of fidelity in the compounds of Rebisi leaders to guarantee their stay on the land. And they did so without ado. There was nothing in the relationship to suggest subservience. It is customary in Ikwerre for beneficiaries to do so. Indeed the bond seemed to have been a happy one. It was cemented by occasional marriages and wrestling contests between Rebisi communities and the Ogoloma people in particular.
However, in 1925, the people of Abulo trespassed into certain areas of Ozugboko farmlands resulting to a skirmish between them and Rebisi people led by Chief Wichegbo Aholu, Ezebunwo Amadi and Elikwu Woluchem among others. There was no further act of impunity on their part for many years thereafter, but it was also clear that the grand-children of the initial settlers had given a signal that they would not honour the understanding and gestures of peace and friendship observed by their forebears in reciprocation of the magnanimity of Rebisi people. The interest, particularly of the Abulo people to usurp the surrounding Rebisi farmlands manifested clearly in 1966 following the compulsory acquisition five years earlier of the northern part of Ozugboko land by the Eastern Nigeria Government to develop the Trans-Amadi Industrial Area.
It is believed that two factors spurred the Abulo people to clear an approximate 26 acres of Rebisi farms and converted the area to an oil palm plantation. The first was avarice arising from the compensation in cash received by Rebisi people for the acquired area. The second reason was their realization that with the increasing value of land in Port Harcourt, they stood to gain from their speculative land grab if unchallenged.
It needs be said that the Ogoloma communities and leadership largely declined to ally with the Abulo in that act of trouble-making as indicated by the absence of anyone of much substance, also admitted as not in support of the Abulo who were sued to the Port Harcourt High Court. In suit P/46/66 before Honourable Justice A.E. Allagoa, Chiefs Victor Woluchem, Dick Wami, Gabriel Kalagbor, Samuel A. Dede, Lazarus Ogoloma and Magnus Brown representing Rebisi people as Plaintiffs in the name of Elekahia-Diobu. The Defendants were represented by Chiefs Simon Gudi and Kaiser Ajuwa among others.
The Chiefs of Rebisi sought the Court to declare that the entire land belonged to them. Secondly, they claimed damages for the incursion as well as an injunction against the people of Abulo perpetually restraining them from further interference with the rights, title, possession and interest in and over the said land of Rebisi people. The Nigerian civil war interrupted the court process, but as the war came to an end, the people of Rebisi re-organized themselves in a sixteen-man committee with mandate to revive and prosecute the pending court matter against the Abulo people to its logical conclusion. Honourable Justice Allagoa in giving judgment in favour of Rebisi people on 22nd September, 1975 submitted that;
‘the land in dispute is in fact called Ozugboko. Although the Defendants pleaded it is called Ejamako, their plan Exhibit ‘D’ does not show the name of the land in dispute. That apart from the vast area of the adjoining land to the north for which it is not disputed the Plaintiffs have been paid compensation, 1st Defendant admits that the Plaintiffs farm on the land in dispute.
What is more, whereas the Plaintiffs assert positively that it is their ancestor, Mgbada, who allowed the ancestor of the Defendants to establish a fishing settlement to a defined area near the Okpoka River, the Defendants who say their ancestor is Obulom are not able to say where he came from. Ozugboko as has been shown is an Ikwerre not Okrika nomenclature…. The learned trial judge stated that the admission of 1st Defendant that he accompanied his father to the Plaintiffs’ village from a tender age of 15 years held up the truth that such visits were connected with the annual swearing of oaths of fidelity as Ikwerre custom demands of beneficiaries such as the Defendants’ forebears. At the trial, the surveyor for the Plaintiffs was not challenged by the Defendants who did not even have their surveyor in court throughout the legal exchanges. The Court concluded that;
‘it was the Plaintiffs who as a simple and unsophisticated community as owners of the land in dispute called Ozugboko allowed the Defendants’ ancestor… to erect a church and school for their convenience. I am confirmed in this view by the conduct of the Defendants in not mentioning anything about the proposed site within the area in dispute which the Rivers State Government has acquired for a Federal Government Girls College. The Plaintiffs say they have made a protest to the Government over the name given to the institution. It is hoped that whoever are concerned with this project will take into advisement the findings of this Court as to the ownership of the land in question.’
The judgment was in favour of Rebisi-Ikwerre people.
Judgement was given in this case in favour of Elekahia but Abuloma appealed to the Federal High Court of Appeal at Enugu against the verdict delivered in the High Court of Port Harcourt by Hon Justice Ambrose Allagoa, an Ijaw man from Nembe. The Appeal Court relied on a technical legal matter which was never raised or argued by the people of Abulo at the trial in Port Harcourt to reverse, on 22nd May, 1978, the judgment of the learned trial judge, whereupon, the chiefs of Rebisi appealed to the Federal Supreme Court.
The judgment of the Federal Court of Appeal Enugu Judicial Division dated 22nd May, 1978, which was against the Rebisi Ikwerre people of Elekahia with order as to costs, was set aside by the Supreme Court in 1981. The judgment of the Port Harcourt High Court dated 22nd September, 1975 in favour of Ikwerre ownership of Port Harcourt was restored and that shall be the judgment of that Court. The Supreme Court awarded costs to the Rebisi-Ikwerre Appellants assessed at N200 in the Federal Court of Appeal and N300 in this (Supreme) Court. The judgment was delivered by Hon Justice Augustine Nnamani (JSC), leading a team of five (5) Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria who decided the case, Suit No. SC.23/80.
So the traditional and legal ownership of Port Harcourt by the Rebisi-Ikwerre people is not in doubt till date. In a unanimous decision of all the learned Justices of the Supreme Court on 29th May, 1981 the judgment of the trial judge in Port Harcourt was restored as meeting all standards of justice in the matter… In the final analysis, the Supreme Court declared that the trial judge, Honourable Justice Allagoa’s ‘approach to the evidence was impeccable’ and that the admission by Akarolo, a witness, connecting two Rebisi communities to Ozugboko lands ‘amount to no more than that they, the plaintiffs, and some other members of the wider family of Rebisi own the land in dispute.” The Supreme Court judgment was firmly in favour of Rebisi-Ikwerre.
Thus with the Supreme Court judgement of 1981, Rebisi-Ikwerre people are right and hence they have consistently maintained that they own the whole of Port Harcourt from Emeru, their farmland which is now called Borokiri, to the whole of Diobu all of which was originally known as Obomotu. These three cases ( at the High Court of the Port Harcourt Judicial Division in 1966, to the Federal Court of Appeal Enugu Judicial Division in 1978 to the Supreme Court of Nigeria holden at Lagos in 1980, and was decided on 29th May 1981) lasted for exactly sixty-eight (68) years (18/5/13-29/5/81) after the signing of the Hargrove’s Agreement in 1913 between Rebisi Ikwerre chiefs and the colonial administrators.
- ORIGIN OF THE NAME PORT HARCOURT
The waterfronts, farmlands, bushes and rivers of Rebisi-Ikwerre people were purchased on 18th May, 1913 by the British Government according to the Hargrove’s Agreement for the establishment of a new port city. The Secretary of State for the (West African) Colonies based in London then was Rt. Hon. (Sir) Lewis (Viscount) Harcourt. It has been stated that three important earlier steps were taken to actualize the new port. First, was the christening of the port city after the then Secretary for the Colonies, Rt. Hon. Lewis Harcourt, which is why it is called Port Harcourt. Second, was the building of the railway terminus, and thirdly, the establishment of the seaport (harbour).
From then on the Rebisi waterfront was called Port Harcourt in Nigeria. It is the only port in the Niger Delta that bears English name. The British Government developed Port Harcourt more than other ports in the Niger Delta, so much so that the town Port Harcourt became the major city of the Ikwerre ethnic group. According to the Rebisi Progressive Movement (2006:2) “The name Diobu evolved with time. It is in fact a corruption of ‘di eli’, a reference to a free born Ikwerre, the name by which Ihuroha’s descendants pride themselves.” Ihuroha was the third son of Akalaka, a Benin prince, in verified history.
- POLITICAL ADMINISTRATION OF PORT HARCOURT
The old Rivers Province at some point in time was administered as Degema Division. The Division consisted of Degema and Ahoada Districts. Ahoada became a Division in 1923. Around 1927, Ahoada Division encompassed the upland Native Court Areas, namely; Isoba (now Choba), Mboli (now Eleme), Umukoroshe (Rumuokurusi), Nkarahia (Isiokpo), Rumuji, Elele, Okomoko and Umuaturu in addition to Abua, Ekpeye, Ogba, Egbema and parts of Engenni.
Diobu (Port Harcourt) were then in the Rumuokwurusi Native Court Area. In April 1931, Diobu (Port Harcourt) was moved to become part of the Obio Native Court Area when it was established to replace Rumuokwurusi Court. Thus even as early as that time (1931) of the history of Port Harcourt City, Okrika and Diobu were not in the same Administrative Division. Evidence of the separation of Okrika from Port Harcourt is further outlined in the 1949 Government Notice No. 1577 pursuant to Section 5(2) of the Nigeria (Protectorate and Cameroons) Order-in-Council 1946. That was the instrument by which Port Harcourt was elevated from being a town council under Ahoada Division to become an autonomous Colonial Administrative Division. The Command of the Governor-General signed by the Chief Secretary to the Government, Mr H.M. Foot, in Lagos on 18th November 1949 proclaimed the boundaries of Port Harcourt Division thus;
“That part of Ahoada Division which includes the Township of Port Harcourt and the Crown Lands adjacent thereto, shall be constituted as an Administrative Division of the Rivers Province, to be known as the Port Harcourt Division. The boundaries of Port Harcourt Division shall be those described in the First Schedule to the Proclamation.”
No mention of Okrika is made in the proclamation and its accompanying schedule because Okrika was not part of Port Harcourt Division. It is a matter of fact that Okrika was part and parcel of Degema Division all through the colonial period and until the Local Government Review of 1976 under the chairmanship of Ibrahim Dasuki. From then, Okrika, Oyibo, Tai and Eleme were constituted into one Local Government Area known as Okrika/Oyibo/Tai/Eleme Local Government Area.
To further prove the point of Rebisi-Ikwerre ownership of Port Harcourt, the mayors of Port Harcourt City Local Government Area have always been Rebisi-Ikwerre people since wresting the position from the Ibos. Never has an Okrika person been the mayor of Port Harcourt whether during military regime, government appointment or by democratic election. We can see that in this: out of thirty-three (33) mayors that governed Port Harcourt City since 1956 only five (5) are non-Ikwerre people. Of the 5 non-Ikwerre people none of them is from Okrika. This goes to solidly confirm the Ikwerre ownership of Port Harcourt. The table below makes this case clearer:
Table 1 Summary of Mayors of Port Harcourt by tribe
S/n Tribe Number
- Rebisi-Ikwerre 28
- Igbo, Ogoni and other Ijaw (Not Okrika) 5
- Okrika 0
- Total 33
If Okrika owns half of Port Harcourt (as claimed by Opubo Daminabo: 2013: xxvii and others) then they should have been providing half of the mayors of Port Harcourt either by direct equitable appointments by the Rivers State Government or by democratic election. But this has never happened. Thus no one from settler communities has ever ventured into the mayoralty of Port Harcourt.
- IILEGAL ACTIVITIES OF SOME OKRIKA ELEMENTS IN PORT HARCOURT
In 1977 some persons of Okrika extraction were emboldened by the fact that the then Attorney-General of Rivers State and also the Permanent Secretary in charge of the Ministry of Lands were both individuals from Okrika, to approach the Court to seek Court Declaration that the 1913 Agreement was valid and subsisting. They also wanted the Court’s declaration that they could re-negotiate with the Government in view of the fact that the Diobu people had by the 1928 Agreement varied the terms of the 1913 Agreement as it affected their own lands.
The Attorney-General of Rivers State and Permanent Secretary Ministry of Lands who, in their respective capacities, not only had responsibility to defend the interest of the Government but also had access to all documents relating to payments on Port Harcourt Crown Land neglected to put up any Statement of Defence on behalf of Rivers State Government. Mr Justice Okara had no alternative than to rule that, in the absence of a defence from the Government, Okrika people having been paid for the land in 1913 should on production of a plan showing their area of Port Harcourt Crown Land, be entitled to the revision granted Diobu chiefs in 1928. But the case before the Court was not the ownership of any part of Port Harcourt. It was a miscarriage of justice.
Following this development, the Rivers State Government-owned “Nigerian Tide” newspaper reported in the issue of 14th April 1977 that Mr Justice R.P.G. Okara had ruled that the land of Port Harcourt belongs to Okrika people. In response to that misrepresentation, the respected Judge ordered that an immediate correction be made by the “Nigerian Tide” newspaper. In a letter published in the “Nigerian Tide” of 19th April 1977 on page 3 the Chief Registrar, on behalf of the High Court, stated that;
“It must be noted that the issue before the Court was whether in view of the West African Court of Appeal judgment in the case of Wobo vs Attorney-General at WACA on page 132 the Agreement between the British Colonial Government and the Okrika people and various other communities made in 1913 was valid and subsisting, and whether Okrika people were also entitled to a variation of the compensation payable on the Agreement. It was not a matter of who owned Port Harcourt and the Court never gave decision as to who owned Port Harcourt.”
Armed with that misrepresentation of judgment of Hon Justice Okara, those Okrika people showed up for payment of arrears based on the 1928 Agreement between Diobu and the Colonial Government. Fortunately, at that point in time, both the Okrika Attorney-General and Permanent Secretary for Lands were no longer in those positions. Besides, a new administration led by another military officer demanded the Okrika chiefs satisfy the stipulations contained in the ruling of the Honourable Court.
The chiefs from Okrika who asked to be paid for Port Harcourt Crown Land acquired by the Colonial Government could not show their area of the land. They could not forge it. They therefore abandoned that pursuit in 1978 until 1983 during the administration of an Ogbia-Ijaw man, Chief Melford Okilo, and with an Okrika Secretary to Government, Chief Rufus Ada-George, who fraudulently paid them arrears for their purported land in respect of 1928 Agreement with no survey plan and no documents as to the area of Port Harcourt Crown Land the payment covered. 1983 was seventy (70) years after the acquisition of Port Harcourt from Diobu Chiefs and people by the Colonial Government. Since that misguided and unsustainable act of the Okilo Administration, the elements of Okrika whose penchant is to propagate the false claim of co-ownership of Port Harcourt with Diobu people have not relented in pursuing their irredentist (land grab) dream.
What these elements have been doing since about 1982 is to massively encroach on Port Harcourt Crown Land, and examples abound of such irredentism (land grab and theft). Complaints and protests by Diobu people to the Government of Rivers State at various times since then and through various channels including newspapers have largely been ignored. Between then and now, Okrika people encroached upon lands reclaimed with Rivers State Government funds for public use in Borokiri, establishing settlements and giving them names completely strange and ascribing indigenous status to them. Other people of Rivers State and elsewhere who were allotted plots in the planned layout lost their allocations as a result. The same thing happened at the Reclamation Layout in the early to mid-1990s in violation of the plans of Rivers State Government for those areas.
Not even the Port Harcourt Cemetery is spared the rabid encroachment and irredentism (land grab and theft). The cemetery was established from the early days of Port Harcourt, yet its sanctity as the final resting place for countless souls including colonial officers and other foreigners as well as Nigerians from different walks of life was violated by Okrika irredentists. As in other locations, they erect signboards bearing names not known in Port Harcourt Crown Land and proclaim chiefdoms in those areas.
These elements of Okrika go as far as selling land in Port Harcourt Crown Land as well as Trans-Amadi Industrial Layout acquired from Diobu people in late 1950s by the defunct Eastern Regional Government of Nigeria with spurious titles, mischievously putting those to whom they sell the stolen land at risk of losing their investments should the Government of Rivers State wake up from its deep slumber to protect what is in its care for public interest. The failure of the Government of Rivers State in managing the Port Harcourt Crown Land inherited from the Colonial Government following Independence is monumental. Much of that failure began from, and is the result of the connivance and laissez-faire attitude of, the mostly Ijaw-dominated administrations in Rivers State.
At some point in time, Diobu people even requested to be allowed to repossess the land since it appeared Government seemed not interested in protecting and making good use of the land compulsorily acquired from them. Instead, successive administrations of Rivers State sought to outdo themselves in taking more land from Ikwerre communities, particularly in Obio-Akpor Local Government Area, ostensibly for Government projects. But once acquired, the land is hurriedly allocated to individuals to the exclusion of persons from the acquired areas, so another round of acquisition may begin with same.
From the points made thus far, including those in the earlier part of this narrative, some persons from Okrika, except those Ogoloma people who are located in Amadi-Ama, Femie, Someari, Ukukalama, Ozugboko, Okuruama and other villages, have never been a part of the political and administrative framework of Port Harcourt. There was also no question of waterfront settlements from where we now hear of a group self-styled “Port Harcourt Aborigines Wakirike.” The same waterfront settlements are also being claimed as homeland by those elements of Okrika who are also indulging in sham coronation of illegal kings and chiefs of various descriptions. Waterfront settlements are recent developments in Port Harcourt because the Diobu people were mostly a farming community who traded with coastal peoples from towns such as Okrika and Bonny at the watersides of the Port Harcourt peninsular.
Until about 1982, the areas now described as waterfronts settlements were inhabited by itinerant fishermen from different parts of Rivers State, and those locations are part of Port Harcourt City Local Government Area. Such places developed into shanty towns as a result of massive influx of people mostly seeking cheaper accommodation. The waterfronts themselves were identified by the streets leading to them. Hence, there were Enugu, Ndoki, Aggrey Road, Ibadan, Captain Amangala and Afikpo waterfronts amongst others named for the streets after which they sprouted. Other waterfronts were named after the towns to or from which passenger boats plied. Hence, there was Bonny waterside, Okrika waterside, Nembe waterside and Abonnema wharf. Yet others were named for the type of business carried on there, viz: Timber waterside and Marine base being good examples.
There were no ownership claims or ancestral claims of ownership by residents of the waterfronts. It should be noted that waterfront residents are not peculiar to Port Harcourt City. Many are found in other parts of Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State such as Ogbakiri, Ndele and Emohua, settled by Kalabari fishermen who lay no claims to ownership of the land. Even Lagos, Nigeria’s foremost metropolis boasts its own waterfronts settlements. Why should it only be in Port Harcourt City Local Government that waterside settlements will be claimed as ancestral communities and chiefdoms by some people from Okrika.
In 1992, Chief Rufus Ada-George (former Secretary to Government of Rivers State) became the Executive Governor of Rivers State. That development emboldened the self-styled aborigines group to break out to spearhead the erection of illegal signposts bearing strange names proclaiming new communities in Port Harcourt City. They even started to intimidate other residents in the waterfronts besides naming and installing chiefs on the streets, forcing residents to pay allegiance to them, extorting illegal levies and making provocative pronouncements. Eventually, their excesses led to the clash with other residents, particularly the Ogonis in December 1993. The then Rivers State Government was absolutely complicit to these atrocities.
The self-styled Port Harcourt Aborigines Wakirike is led by one Mr Derrick Acheseomie who installed himself the Obumuton of Port Harcourt South on 17th November 2017. This is yet another attempt to fragment Rebisi Kingdom as Derrick Acheseomie seeks to rule over the area from the Bonny River/Primrose Creek, behind Government Comprehensive Secondary School Borokiri, Port Harcourt to old Port Harcourt Township, which were all shown on the survey plan attached to the 1913 Agreement as Diobu farms within the Port Harcourt Crown Land acquired from Diobu Chiefs in 1913 and 1928 Agreements.
- This paper has proved beyond reasonable doubt that Rebisi-Ikwerre people own the whole land upon which Port Harcourt City exists.
- This paper has proved beyond reasonable doubt that Port Harcourt Crown Land acquired under the 1913 and 1928 Agreements was the farmlands of the Diobu people (also referred to as Rebisi Kingdom).
- This paper has proved beyond reasonable doubt that what Sir Fredrick D. Lugard said, “The occupiers belong to a single village named DIOBU,” and recognized the settlement of Okrika people on the other side of the creek but NEVER mention them as either sole or co-owners as well as the fact that Chief Daniel Oju Kalio of Okrika “had quite forthrightly earlier on enlightened the colonial officers that the area belonged to a people who referred to themselves as Diobu, were all absolutely correct.
- This paper has proved beyond reasonable doubt that some Okrika persons are busy grabbing lands in Port Harcourt under false claim of joint ownership with the Rebisi-Ikwerre. As a Crown Land, the Rivers State government has a duty to stop them and protect the land.
- This paper has proved beyond reasonable doubt that for over 108 years (1913-2921) since the land was acquired till date, no Okrika person has been elected as Mayor of Port Harcourt. This means that Okrika has no ownership stake in Port Harcourt.
- This paper has proved beyond reasonable doubt that Rivers State Government holds the Crown Land acquired from Diobu in Port Harcourt in trust for public use but the Okilo and Ada George’s Administrations aided and abetted the Okrika false claims, brazen land grab, without a forthright resistance or reprisal.
- This paper has proved beyond doubt that between 1982 and now, some Okrika people have encroached upon lands reclaimed with Rivers State Government’s funds for public use in Borokiri, establishing settlements and illegally giving them names completely strange and ascribing indigenous status to them. Other people from Rivers State and elsewhere who were allotted plots in the planned layout lost their allocations as a result of the land grab. The same thing happened at the Reclamation Layout in the early to mid-1990s in violation of the plans of Government for those areas. Not even the Port Harcourt Cemetery is spared the rabid encroachment and irredentism.
- This paper has proved beyond doubt that these elements of Okrika go as far as selling land in Port Harcourt Crown Land as well as Trans-Amadi Industrial Layout acquired from Diobu people in late 1950s by the defunct Eastern Regional Government of Nigeria with spurious titles clearly putting those to whom they sell the grabbed land at risk of losing their investments should the Government of Rivers State wake up from its deep slumber to protect what is in its care for public interest. This is most grievously unacceptable and grave injustice.
- This paper has proved beyond reasonable doubt that by criminal negligence, the then Attorney-General and Permanent Secretary Ministry of Lands refused to defend the Rivers State Government against the fraudulent claim by some elements from Okrika to arrears for the Crown Land accruing from the 1928 Agreement.
- This paper has proved beyond reasonable doubt that in further criminal negligence, illegal signposts bearing strange names proclaiming new communities and chiefdoms in Port Harcourt City and the installation of chiefs and paramount ruler by Okrika elements since 1982 has been unwittingly accommodated by the Government of Rivers State.
- This paper has proved beyond reasonable doubt that it is very convincingly evident from the narrative above that there was an official complicity between the Rivers State Government and some Okrika people to defraud Rebisi-Ikwerre people of their land. This makes the Government also liable for the injustice.
- This paper has proved beyond reasonable doubt that today, in brazen fraud, the self-styled Port Harcourt Aborigines Wakirike led by Mr Derrick Acheseomie, who has already illegally installed himself the Obumuton of Port Harcourt South on 17th November 2017, seeks to rule over the area from the Bonny River/Primrose Creek behind Government Comprehensive Secondary School Borokiri, Port Harcourt to old Port Harcourt Township, which were all shown on the survey plan attached to the 1913 Agreement as Diobu farms within the Port Harcourt Crown Land acquired from Diobu Chiefs in 1913 and 1928 Agreements. The Rivers State Government need to stop this and such others in the future.
- The IDMO wish to state that the ultimate goal of this publication is not to chase away or discourage anybody from living in Port Harcourt; but to bring to the attention of the whole world, Nigeria and Rivers State Government in particular that the claims by some Okrika persons with respect to the ownership of Port Harcourt is historically and legally false.
- Iwhnurohna (Ikwerre) people are one of the most hospitable ethnic groups in the World. Our generosity shall not kill us; rather it shall help us to live excellently well forever. Amen.
PRINCE O. OGBONDAH