HISTORY OF SAPELE AND SAPELE LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA IN OKPE KINGDOM DELTA STATE
1. CROWN LAND LEASES IN SAPELE
(i) Approximately 510 acres of land leased by Sapele Okpe community on the 3rd of December, 1908 to the British Crown which lease expired on the 2nd of January, 2007. The land has not been surrendered to the community;
(ii) By a Deed of Lease made the 3rd day of December, 1908 between Chief Dore Numa of Benin River, Trader, acting for and on behalf of the Chiefs and people of Sapele (hereinafter called the Lessor) of the one part and James Jamieson Thorburn, Companion of the Most Distinguished Order Of Saint Michael and Saint George, Acting Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Colony of Southern Nigeria (hereinafter called the Governor) of the other part.
Witnesseth that in consideration of the annual rent of One Hundred Pounds (£100) to be paid by the Governor and his successor (as hereinafter mentioned), the Lessor hereby conveys to the Governor and his successors ALL that piece or parcel of land situated at Sapele comprising approximately 510 acres or thereabout.
To HOLD the same in trust for His Majesty, his heirs and successors for a term of Ninety-nine (99) years according to the free interest and meaning of the Public Lands Ordinance 1908. He, the Governor and the successors yielding and paying to the Lessor the annual rent of One hundred Pounds (£100) henceforth on the 1st day of January in each (4) year clear of all taxes and deductions.
In witness whereof the said Dore Numa has set his hand and seal on the day and year above mentioned, and the said James Jamieson Thorburn has hereto set his hand and caused the seal of the Colony to be affixed this 3rd day of December, 1908, and registered as No. 208 in Volume 1B of the Lands Registry at the office at Warri, which said Deed is now kept at the Land Registry in the office at Asaba, Delta State;
(iii) The lessee’s right under the said lease, became vested in the Governor of Western Region by virtue of the provision of the Apportionment of Assets and Liabilities Regulation, 1954;
(iv) By a Deed of Assignment dated the 15th of March, 1960 and registered as No. 60 at page 60 in Volume 313 of the Lands Registry, Ibadan but now kept at the Lands Registry office at Asaba, Delta State, the land in the lease was assigned by the Governor of Western Region of Nigeria to Sapele Okpe Communal Lands Trustees for the remainder of the term of the said lease save, except the Federal and State Governments property described in the schedule thereto;
2. ITSEKIRI LAND CLAIMS IN SAPELE AND THE JACKSON JUDGEMENT
On May 05, 1942, Judge J. Jackson (In the High Court of the Warri Judicial Division) ruled in favour of the Okpe in a case brought before him by “Chief Ayomanor and Edwin Omarin on behalf of themselves and the Chiefs and people of Sapele against Ginuwa II, His Highness, The Olu of Itsekiri for himself and as representative of the Itsekiri people of Sapele.
After reviewing the testimonies of the contending parties, and reviewing all available evidence, Judge Jackson made the following remarks:
1) The evidence shows that after the overthrow of Nana at his town EBROHIMI, a large number of Jekris ran for refuge to Sapele, thereby obtaining the permission of the Sobos to settle and give customary “dashes” for the grant of that privilege. That was in 1894.
2) On December 3, 1908, the Governor of the Colony of Southern Nigeria acquired a lease of this land for a term of 99 years at an annual rental of 100 pounds from a Trader – Chief Dore Numa of Benin Rival, acting for and on behalf of the chiefs and people of Sapele.
3) Judge Jackson Described the evidence of the Itsekiri “which emanated largely from the fertile brain of that self-styled historian, Chief William Moore,” as containing a considerable amount of amusement to the Sobos in Court. As a background, or a frame to the picture of events within living memory, it appears to have no relation whatsoever.
4) The evidence called by the plaintiffs’ shows that until 1932, the relationship between them and Dore remained cordial, but ceased, when Dore claimed Sapele land to be his and ordered the Jekris living there and around not to pay rent any more to Sobos, a claim which the defendants erroneously assert to this day.
5) In dismissing the evidence of the Itsekiri that a deed was signed confirming the claim of Dore Numa, Judge Jackson opined: “…. If the deed was in fact signed at Sapele, why the oath of proof did not say so?”
6) Who were the ‘Chiefs and people of Sapele’ at that time? I have already found as a fact, that the only persons, who exercised any authority upon the land, as Chiefs prior to 1908, were Sobos and Not Jekris. The plaintiffs told me that Dore conveyed to the Government in his private capacity as their agent for this purpose. The deed sets out ‘Chief Dore Numa of Benin River, Trader, acting for and on behalf of the Chiefs and people of Sapele.)
7) The evidence before me satisfies me that when Chief Dore Numa did convey this land to Government for a term of years, he did so upon the authority of the Chiefs and people of Sapele, who were members of the Okpe Clan and residing in that area and around it, now known as the Sapele Township
8) In regard to the first agreement, the Okpe Clan, indisputable, occupied the land in dispute as farm land known as Sapele or Uruapele. The greater contains the less and the plaintiffs Omarin and Ayomanor are undoubtedly blood descendants of the founders of the original village known as Sapele.
9) I do grant to the plaintiffs Ayomanor and Omarin, and to those members of the Okpe Clan who are the blood descendants of the founders of the settlement now known as Sapele lands, a declaration of title that they are the owners of that land now commonly known as the Sapele Township. The plaintiffs are entitled to the full costs of this action which I assess at 150 pounds.
West African Court of Appeal Judgement on Itsekiri Appeal against the Jackson Judgement on Sapele Lands (holden at Lagos, Nigeria, Friday the 30th day of April, 1943, before their honours: Sir Donald kingdom, Chief Justice, Nigeria – President; Sir Philip Bertis Petrides, Chief Justice Gold Coast; and George Graham Paul, Chief Justice Sierra Leone)
After listening to the contending issues in the appeal lodged by the Itsekiri, the Chief Justices noted as follows:
I) The evidence of the Okpe “is supported strongly by the evidence of a completely neutral witness, the late Mr. I.T. Palmer, a Yoruba, whose distinguished career in Nigeria is well known.
II) The evidence of Ibuke, Etotoma who was a Jekri and who occupied the land opposite Renner’s compound as shown in the plan of Sapele submitted during the Sapele land case averred in evidence that the Jekris have no proprietary interest in Sapele Lands.
III) On the other hand, the evidence for the appellant is not impressive to read… The traditional history emanating from the ‘fertile brain’ of the Appellant’s self-styled’ historian is indeed fantastic and unconvincing, and the attempt to produce facts to back up this fantastic story is not at all impressive to read.
The Court of Appeal therefore issued the following ORDER.
(I) The Appeal is dismissed with costs at 200 guiness.
(II) It is further ordered that in lieu of the declaration of title granted in the court below, there be granted to the plaintiffs, as they are described in the writ, a declaration of title to all that piece of parcel of land situate at Sapele comprising approximately 510 acres or thereabouts commonly known as Sapele Township to the Western Bank of the Ethiope River on the East by the Southern bank of the Benin River…
It is necessary to place on record the following:
(i) There was no Nigeria as we have it today before the protectorate Ordinance of 1984;
(ii) The entity called Nigeria came into existence after the Berlin Conference of 1885 during which the Colonial powers partitioned and divided Africa into its components parts.
(iii) Between 1848 and 1936, there was no king in Itsekiri Kingdom.
3. AFRICAN TIMBER AND PLYWOOD LIMITED (NOW UNITED AFRICAN COMPANY PLC) LEASES
(i) By a Deed of Lease dated the 29th of March, 1951 and registered as No. 6 at page 6 in Volume 22 of the Land Registry at Ibadan but now at Asaba , a parcel of land measuring 341.9 Acres was leased to African Timber and Plywood Limited for a term of 60 years by the representatives of Oton, Ajamogha, Eghorode and Ogodo Quarters of Sapele, being members of Sapele-Okpe origin on behalf of the Sapele Okpe community;
(ii) By virtue of the Communal Land Rights (Vesting in Trustees) Law (Cap 42) Laws of Western Region of Nigeria, 1959, the premises, the subject matters of law became vested in the Okpe Community Land Trust Association (hereinafter called the Trustees);
(iii) By a Deed of Surrender dated the 11th of October, 1974 and Registered as 34/34/230 in the Land Registry, Benin City, the Company (African Timbers and Plywood Limited) Surrendered the said parcel of land to the Sapele – Okpe Community Land Trustees). This was before the Land Use Act of 1978 came into existence;
(iv) However, the dissolution of the Trust created by the Government spurred in the minds of the Sapele Okpe Community the greatest challenge arising from the promulgation of the Land Use Act, 1978.
Consultations with the best legal minds in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and supported by Judicial pronouncements from the Supreme Court were carried out by the Chairman of the Sapele Okpe Community Land Trust Association to establish thus:
(i) That the Sapele Okpe Community as represented by the Okpe Communal Land Trustee were in possession and deemed to be the holders of the Statutory Right of Occupancy by virtue of Section 34 of the Land Use Act, 1978.
(ii) That the various sub-lessors had no property in the land and could therefore not pass any valid title. The legal maxim is “maxim is “nemo dat quod non habet” applies;
(iii) That Section 4(a) and (b) of Section 34 of the Land Use Act 1978 and the Supreme Court of Nigeria Judgement in the case of Ojemen vs Momodu (1983) ANLR, pages 132 and 150 is to the effect that the Land Use Act was never intended to operate or deny the communities their right to Communal Lands. Infact, the intendment of Section 34 of the Land Use Act is to vest in the TRUSTEES a Deemed Grant of a Statutory Right of Occupancy over all leases of land in Sapele;
(iv) That the Land Use Act, 1978 was never intended to convert a Lessee into a Landlord and as a result the Lessee cannot in the first place acquire the character of a Landlord nor seek to defend its status from that position.
5. LAND WITHIN THE FORESTRY RESERVE IN SAPELE LOCAL GOVERNMENT
A. Notice of the proposed Ukpe Sobo Native Administration Forest Reserve
This notice was approved and signed by the Acting Resident of Warri Province and the District Officer, Sapele and witnessed by my father, Tom Omueya who was the interpreter on the 7th day of May, 1932.
B. Order made under the forestry Ordinance (No. 33 of 1933)
(i) The Forestry Ordinance No. 33 of 1933 shows clearly that there was an authority that gave all the parcel of land to the Forestry Department IN TRUST with particular reference to Section 17 of the Interpretation Ordinance of 1939;
(ii) The order made under the Forestry Ordinance Authority (UKPE SOBO NATIVE ADMINISTRATION FOREST RESERVE) ORDER 1933 can be better understood and explained in the Second Schedule, where the order pin-points the facts that the Ukpes/Sobos are the COMMUNAL OWNERS of the Land and the rights of which is RECOGNISED emphatically in items 1 – 3 of the Second Schedule (Rights Within the Reserve), as the Communal Owners of the Land;
(iii) It is clear that a group of people in Sapele owned Sapele including the areas carved out for the Forestry Reserve;
(iv) The natives of Sapele, represented by late Chiefs Ayomanor and A.E. Omarin then, own Sapele including the areas in question and hence they signed the authority and gave it to the Forestry Department in 1933 vide Order No 33 of 1933 signed on 16th June 1933.
(v) The maxim: NEMO DAT QUO NON HABET: (NO ONE CAN GIVE WHAT HE HAS NOT) applies
(vi) Sapele before 1954 was under the Western Urhobo Native Administration and was administered by the Udogun Okpe until 1955 when Sapele was carved out from the former Western Urhobo Native Authority and became Sapele Urban District Council with Headquarter in Sapele.
6. DEATH AND REBIRTH OF SAPELE OKPE COMMUNITY LAND TRUST ASSOCIATION
(i) By Bendel State Notice No. 123 published in Bendel State of Nigeria Gazette No. 35 and dated the 28th of May, 1986, the communal Land Right (Vesting in Trustees Law (CAP42) was revoked, and the Trust established there under was abolished
(ii) However, Bendel State Government under Section 2(iii) of the said NOTICE constituted a Committee under the Orodje of Okpe to administer all personalities of Sapele Development committee (Sapele Okpe Community Land Trust) as at the 29th of March, 1978. The then Military Governor of Bendel State further directed that the Trust shall be administered by Committee members made up of Sapele Okpe origin for the benefit of Sapele Okpe community;
(iii) To meet up with the challenges, the Okpes in Sapele appealed to the Orodje in Council to lend his support to the creation of a Trust by a letter dated the 17th of August, 1996 and addressed to the Registrar General of Corporate Affairs Commission, Abuja for the benefit of Sapele Okpe Community;
(iv) Equally, the Ministry of Social Development, Youth, Sports and Culture, Asaba in a letter dated the 30th of May, 1996 endorsed the grant of a Certificate of incorporation to Sapele Okpe Community Land Trust Association
(v) Also, on the 29th of June, 1996, the Orodje of Okpe in Council gave approval to the registration of Sapele Okpe Community Land Trust Association by the Registrar General of Corporate Affair commission at Abuja
(vi) The whole Transaction was finalized by the issue of certificate of Registration to the Sapele Okpe community Land Trust Association on the 17th July, 1996.
(vii) By a power of Attorney dated the 17th December, 1996, the Orodje of Okpe and the Authorized Representatives of the Sapele Okpe Community granted to the Trustees absolute power and authority to mange the Trust
(viii) The Orodje in Council by a further Deed of Ratification, ratified the power of Attorney dated 17th of December, 1996 and Registered as No 17 at page 17 in Volume PA.8 of the Lands Registry in the Office at Asaba, Delta State, granted the Trustees and their Successor-in-Title power to manage the Trust as follows:
a. “To hold, control, manage, administer, let, sublease, sell, grant or otherwise dispose of the leasehold interest and all other personality including any reversion thereon of Sapele Okpe Community in Sapele Township”
b. To accept Surrender of all leases, reversions and other interest in land in Sapele Okpe Community in Sapele and to receive and accept rents arrears of rent and all sums due in respect of any lease or license of Sapele Okpe community lands”
(ix) Also, the Trustees by a consent Judgment in the High Court of Justice, Delta State of Nigeria in the Sapele Judicial Division rectified the boundary between Amukpe Community and Sapele Okpe community on the 21st of December, 2006.
(x) Thus, the Sapele Okpe Community Land Trust Association owes no duty to any person or group of persons who dispute our claim to the ownership of lands in Sapele.
CHIEF D.O. DAFINONE, B.Sc. (ECON), D.P.A, F.C.A, OFR
Owhere 1 of Okpe Kingdom
9th December, 2011