ITSEKIRI’S POSITION PAPER ON WARRI CITY
AND THE CRISIS IN NIGERIA’S WESTERN NIGER DELTA
PRESENTED ON 7TH APRIL, 2003 BEFORE PRESIDENT OLUSEGUN OBASANJO
On behalf of the entire Itsekiri people of Warri Kingdom, we thank your Excellency for finding time to dialogue with us on this matter – which to us is life-or-death – with a view to finding a final solution. A close perusal of the invitation letter has impelled us to seek to put the recurring crisis in a proper context with a view to finding a permanent path to peace in Warri area rather than have a fragile and peripheral peace before, during and after the forthcoming elections. Between 1997 and 1999, the Ijaw under the direction of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) burned down and destroyed over thirty five towns and villages in the three Warri Local Government areas, resulting in a loss of over a thousand lives and enormous property worth over a billion Naira. The cause was the creation of an additional Local Government in Itsekiri Kingdom just as one was also created in Ijaw land. Again, over the last two weeks, following the ultimatum of the Ijaw National Congress over an apparent dispute with Government over ward delineation, the Ijaw have had a repeat performance : over thirty Itsekiri towns and villages including oil installations have been razed to the ground, over one hundred Itsekiri lives have been lost, and Itsekiri refugees have once again filled the urban areas in Delta and Edo states. Important among the communities burnt down are Madangho (centre of Shell installations and Chevron’s modern hospital; all burnt), Ogidigben (Shell oil fields/flowstations), Arunton community abutting Chevron’s Tank farm in Escravos, Gbogbodu (oil company communication centre), Tebu, Tisun, Kolokolo (Chevron oil fields/flowstations) etc etc
Itsekiri as Cannon – fodders
The Itsekiri are a micro-minority ethnicity in Delta State sandwiched between the Ijaw (said to be the 4th largest ethnic nationality in Nigeria) and the Urhobo, reportedly the 5th largest in Nigeria. Before 1914 the various ethnic nationalities in their different autonomous municipalities did engage in inter–tribal wars for their survival. But as Nigeria was formed in 1914, they were all supposed and assumed to have surrendered their sovereignties to the Nigerian State. Thus the Itsekiri, as a peace loving people, have put behind them those days of their warrior ancestors. This the INC has not done. In their bid to extend their control over the Nigerian coast with the advent of crude oil production in the Niger Delta which is the cause of this recrudence of rabid irredentism, the Ijaw have unleashed on us the type of war Hitler unleashed on Europe after the first world war. How much longer can we stand this ethnic cleansing?
The Ijaw group in a letter MOSIEND – USA/03/SEC/VOL.1/95 of 23rd January 1995 to President Bill Clinton of the United States declared their decision to “create and operate a contiguous country out of present Nigeria which we would like to be named as REBULIC OF THE NIGER DELTA, embracing all the Ijaws from Apoi / Arogbo in Ondo State to Opobo / Andoni on the Eastern banks of the Qua–Iboe River in Akwa Iboe State”. The same group had earlier on in their letter MOSIEND/S/003/VOL.1.1/01 dated 14th July 1994 demanded specifically of the British Government through Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II the abrogation of the Treaties of “ Friendship, trade and protection signed between the IJAWS and the British Government on the 25th of January 1836 at Bonny” to free them to proceed to create their Republic of the Niger Delta. In several other statements and press releases the Ijaw have claimed the ownership of the Nigerian coastline and do invariably regard, erroneously, the Niger Delta as their exclusive homeland, regardless of other several ethnicities within the area. Their intention is to acquire and control illegally and by violence all oil and gas producing areas of other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta. In order to achieve this objective of the Niger Delta Republic, the INC has goaded various Ijaw groups into this naked aggression of fighting other ethnic groups. In their inordinate ambition therefore, the Ijaws have sought, in addition to their Bayelsa State and three other Ijaw Local Government areas on the Western Delta, to control and assert their authority over Benin land, Itsekiri land, Ilaje land in Ondo State and parts of Lagos State. They must be a unique ethnic group – a special pedigree as such – in that they seek to own and control wherever they find themselves. The INC thus has Ijaw private army-the Egbesu Warriors–equipped with very sophisticated weapons ranging from machine guns, grenades to explosives, revolvers and pistols. In the Daily Times of 18th June 1997 at page 2, Brigadier-General Karmashie, the Warri Task Force Commander gave insight into the quality of their weapons thus:
“ You will be surprised that as a brigadier-general in the Nigerian army, I have not seen some of the sophisticated weapons before. Allah, throughout my career in the army, I have not come across some of them …..”
That was in 1997; now only God knows what their army has in its armoury!
As an ethnic nationality, we are a micro-minority in Delta State. Estimated at over 450,000, Itsekiri is one of the five distinct ethnic nationalities in the State: Urhobo – 2.5 million; Ijaw – 7 million with some 400,000 in their three local government areas on the Western Delta; Isoko – 400,000 and Aniocha / Ibo – 1.8 million. These ethnic nationalities are organic and are corporations in customary law. They have souls and are in destructible entities. The Itsekiri ancient Kingdom of Warri dates back to the 15th century. Their 1,520 square mile homeland, known over time in history as Iwere or Awyri, Warree, Aweri and Wari etc etc, had diplomatic, christian and trade relations with Medieval Europe between the 16th and 18th centuries. It became a prominent trade centre within the Oil Rivers Protectorate. Their homeland is described as follows by a prominent historian:
“ The Itsekiri inhabit the North Western extremity of the Niger Delta in area bounded approximately by latitudes 50 20 and 60 N and longitudes 50 5 and 50 40 East. Their neighbours are Bini to the North, the Ijaw to the South, the Urhobo to the East and the Yoruba of Ondo province to the North – West.” ( Obaro Ikime Phd Merchant Prince of the Niger Delta, 1968 )
Amoury Talbort, a colonial administrator in Nigeria in the early 1920s, in his book Peoples of Southern Nigeria, 1926 vol.1 page 317 says of Warri:
“The Jekri ( Itsekiri ) were called Iwerri and from this their town was given its present name, Warri”
Richard Gray, Professor of History, University of London in the Cambridge History of Africa vol. 4 at page 228 says of Warri:
“By the 18th century Warri is to considered as an independent Itsekiri political State, comprising also a few Urhobo and Ijo”.
Prof. Obaro Ikime in his Merchant Prince of the Niger Delta at page 69 says:
“ The Consul–General visited Warri on 19 August 1891. He reported that the chiefs of Warri were Itsekiri who were under Nana …….”
In the 2002 Catholic Directory and Liturgical calendar, published by the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, and writing under the caption, the Catholic Church of Nigeria – A Brief History, the following statement occurs inter alia:
“ Warri had a flourishing Christian Community at Olu’s court. Many Warri rulers from the 16th century were confessing christians. A son of such ruler was even sent to train as priest in Portugal as the Portuguese felt that Africans might be best missionaries to themselves”
In Professor Allan Ryder’s book, Benin and Europeans 1485–1897, the following appears at the footnote at page 108. “A.S.C. Scritture originali vol. 249 F328 – many varieties of the spelling of Iwere (Itsekiri word) appear in European documents. In the twentieth century English version – Warri has become the most common and will be used in future for the Kingdom of Itsekiri”
And Michael Crowder in his The Story of Nigeria at page 88 says of Warri:
“The last of the great slave ports was the Itsekiri state of Warri, which according to both Benin and Itsekiri traditions was founded toward the end of the 15th century by a Benin Prince”
In all ethnic maps of West Africa/ Nigeria from the 17th century to this day, Warri and Itsekiri have been used interchangeably as shown here under: foreign maps:
I. A Paris map of West Africa in 1679 shows Warri as Ouwerre.
II. A Dutch map of west Africa in 1705 shows Warri as Awyri
III. A London map of Negro land in 1747 shows Warri as Aweri
IV. A Paris map of West Africa in 1828 shows Warri as Owyhere
V. A Library of Congress map of West Africa in 1851 shows Warri as Warree.
VI. A map of Africa among other continental maps in the main hall of Montecello in Charlotteville, Virginia shows Warri as Warree.
VII. Collins: Nigeria Ethnic groups shows Warri as Itsekiri homeland.
VIII. P.C. Lloyds’ map of 1957 shows both Itsekiri and Warri as denoting Itsekiri homeland
IX. John Anderson: West African states and peoples in 1800 shows Warri for Warri homeland.
X. Major Arthur Glynn Leonard: Southern Nigeria 1906 shows Jekri for Warri homeland.
Nigerian Sources –
I. Prof J.C. Anene;s Coast City States map 1885–1906 shows Jekri for Warri homeland
II. Obaro Ikime: The Itsekiri Country map 1968 shows Itsekiri for Warri homeland
III. Prof. Onigu Otite’s Ethnographic map of Bendel State, 1980 shows Itsekiri for Warri homeland
IV. Prof Ade Ajayi: The Delta states and their Neighbours shows Itsekiri as Warri homeland.
Population in Warri Division
In discussing the Warri population, we must first discuss the absurd and ridiculous figures given by the Secretary of the State Government to the participants of the Command and Staff College, Jaji Course No. 25 in February 2003. Are we to believe that population in Nigeria is declining as in Europe, while elsewhere in Africa there is an average growth rate of 2.5% per annum? Rather than ignore the controversial 1991 figures, as all objective analysts do, the state secretary, an Urhobo, no doubt has his own agenda. Why has he not excluded the huge figures for Egbeoma Ijaw (about 1/3 ) nullified by the Abuja Census Tribunal in 1991 in his computation of the Ijaw figures? Why has he overlooked all Government figures from 1975 to 1990?
How can Itsekiri population given in 1963 census as over 92,000, and in the NISER population projection in 1980 as over 200,000 be less than 66,000 in 2003? Here we call on all objective and fair-minded Nigerians to roundly ignore Chief Jim Erhuero figures as part of the Urhobo agenda to exterminate the Itsekiri.
Here are the official 1963 population census figures and the ethnic distribution pattern for Warri Division (now the 3 Warri Local Government areas.)
Ethnic group Population % of Total
I. Itsekiri 92,711 64%
II. Ijaw in 3 enclaves 20,702 14%
III. Urhobo of Agbassa 2,000 1.4%
IV. Urhobo of Idimi Sobo of Okere 480 0.3%
V Others – Urhobo, Edo, Hausa,Ibo 29,167 20%
Total 145,060 100%
By the NISER 1980 population projection, Itsekiri population was estimated at over 250,000 out of the 400,000 for Warri Division, The Itsekiri population has never been given or shown as less than the Ijaw population in Warri Division at any time as can be seen from these historical figures and events:
* 1952 Population figures:
Itsekiri total 33,000
The Ijaw districts of Gbaramatu & Ogbe Ijo 232
The Benin Kingdom with a Section on the Itsekiri by P.C Lloyd at pages 172-3
* First-ever local Government elections in 1955: Wards in rural Warri Division-
Benin River 11
Ogbe – Ijaw 3
WRLN No. 176 of 1955
* At creation of Warri North local Government Area in 1991 the following wards were delimited:
Itsekiri wards 7
Ijaw wards 4
* When Warri South West Local Government Area was created in 1997 five wards were extracted from Warri North as follows:
Itsekiri 3 wards
Ijaw 2 wards
These were factored by two to 6 for Itsekiri and 4 for Ijaws.
And besides the fact that the 10 years restriction imposed on ward creation bars any tampering with these wards created in 1997, there is no rational or logical basis for Ijaw claim to be regarded as a majority group in Warri South West Local Government Area, a part of Itsekiri homeland.
Homeland concept in Nigeria
Nigeria is a conglomeration of ethnic nationalities who have their homelands: we know the homeland of the Kanuri, that of the Yoruba, the Urhobo, the Ibo, the Nupe and the Isoko, no mater how large or small the homeland may be. And hence, especially, in Southern Nigeria there are land disputes and litigations to determine ownership over land areas. This homeland idea symbolizes a human instinct emotionally powerful in Nigeria because people have roots, traditions, myths and cultures; people belong to their roots and know where they are and what they are. The Itsekiri are Nigerians and like others have their ancestral homeland which is Warri.
Under the British, variants of indirect rule were used, but as Independence drew near, in the Western Region of Nigeria, the Western Region Local Government Law, 1952 (No. 1 of 1953) was promulgated to establish the Warri Divisional Council approximated to the Warri (Itsekiri) homeland. Such other Divisional Councils as Western and Eastern Urhobo, Western Ijaw, Aboh etc were also established based on homelands. And Isoko ethnic nationality who claimed they were not Urhobo, later struggled and got their Isoko Divisional Council established. From that period on the different ethnic nationalities were set to adopt this system of local governance.
In fact, the present–day local government areas are subdivisions of the old divisional councils created under the law referred to in the foregoing paragraph. The two Urhobo divisions are now 8 Local Government areas, Isoko Division 2; Western Ijaw 3, Warri 3 and the Aboh/Western Ibo 9, all making the 25 local Government areas in Delta State. There is nothing special about settler enclaves in Warri. There are large Isoko enclaves of Canaan and Ikpidiama today in Bayelsa, large Urhobo enclaves in the Ijaw local Government area of Patani, Itsekiri enclaves in Urhobo area, and large Itsekiri enclaves in Burutu (Ijaw) Local Government area before the crisis. There are even Urhobo, Itsekiri and Ijaw enclaves in Edo state. What may be seen as a constraint on the settlers in Warri is the fact of court judgements on their status. This is left for fuller discussion later in this paper.
Purported British treaties with Urhobo of Warri District
In recent times, the issue of some purported Treaties the British made with the Urhobo of Warri District towards the close of the 19th century has become the “in-thing” being generally talked about in Warri. For relevance, we will take the three i.e Ajebha (Ejeba), Agbassa and Ogoolu (Ogunu) for analysis and leave the other four, to which we will make just a passing reference.
Ajebha (Ejeba) Treaty of 7th March 1893. There is no signature of Her Majesty’s Representative on it before the marks of the three chiefs. There is the Forcados Vice-Consulate stamp on it and signatures of a witness to the marks and of an apparent interpreter. Treaty was dispatched to London on 30 November 1894 after over 17 months delay.
Agbassa Treaty of 14th March 1893. There is no signature of Her Majesty’s representative on it. A signature of one who witnessed the marks and that of R.A. Alder who signed the jurat exist. No Forcados Vice–Consulate stamp on it. Dispatched to London on 30 November 1894.
Ogoolu (Ogunu) Treaty of 30th March 1893: Five Chiefs signed it, but the document bears no signature of Her Majesty’s Representative. There is the Forcados Vice– Consulate stamp on it and there are witnesses to marks and R.A. Alder signs the jurat. Dispatched to London on 30th November 1894
Faults with the Treaties:
* As there is no signature of Her Majesty’s Representative on each treaty, no one can talk of a genuine Treaty as such. It takes two parties to make a treaty. As can be seen, the two treaties in respect of Itsekiri Country with Itsekiri Chiefs in 1851 and 1894 were duly signed by Her Britannic Majesty’s Representative. So were those with the King and Chiefs of Opobo in 1884; and with the King and Chiefs of Asaba in 1884 and with Abeokuta in 1893.
· Forcados was not in the Niger Coast Protectorate (NCP) and had no Vice Consulate. It was within the jurisdiction of the Royal Niger Company (RNC). As Flint, an official of the RNC, later said; “Forcados Treaties were forged”.
(Source – Obaro Ikime: Merchant Prince of the Niger Delta page 63)
* And the honesty in Flint’s statement can be appreciated from the cablegram (Consular Despatch No. x IIJ8094) of 2nd October 1894 sent to London by Ag. Consul-General Ralph Moor soon after the Nanna war.
“Niger Company (i.e. RNC), taking advantage of the troubles in Benin (District) have sent armed party under Flint and Mc. Targart representing themselves as Queen’s Officers into Sobo Country at the back of Benin (District) and Warri (District) making treaties….imperative such treaties be at once declared invalid. Benin and Warri being the natural outlets for trade of Sobo Country”.
* Flint knew there were only Six Vice- Consulates in the NCP viz, Benin (District), Warri, Brass, New Calabar, Bonny and Opobo and the main Consulate was in old Calabar. So a Forcados Vice-Consulate stamp was forged. Forcados was under the RNC that had its own government reporting direct to London. There was no Forcados Vice-Consulate!
* There was a long delay of nearly 2 years before the purported Treaties were dispatched to London on 30th November 1894, the day Nanna was put in the dock in Calabar. The chief is said to have opposed the idea of these purported Treaties covering Itsekiri land before the war, and that may be the reason his greatest foe, Ralph Moor, valiant in victory, still defended the territorial integrity of Nanna’s homeland, even a month after his downfall.
* Granting that these Treaties were genuine (which we do not grant) why were they not produced in the series of court cases that Agbassa people have had with the Itsekiri from 1925 to 1973? It is trite law that a superior court of the land can set aside or vitiate a treaty, even if genuine.
Thus to us, these purported Treaties, absurd and faulty as they are, are dead and non–existent. The other four Treaties of this period dispatched to London on the same day relate to Urhobo communities that do not claim ownership of Warri.
Idimi – Sobo of Okere
We like to emphasize that the Itsekiri (as an ethnic nationality) do not have very serious problems with the Urhobo as a neighbouring ethnic group, although there remain the ancient rivalries, feuds and suspicions arising from British imperialistic designs and the Itsekiri middle–men trade policies and practices of the 19th century. What has in recent years fouled the relationships is the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) hi-jacked by one Chief Benjamin Okumagba of Idimi – Sobo (Urhobo quarter) in Okere. Here is a very ambitious Urhobo man who has grown up in one of the six quarters of Okere, an Itsekiri community within the Warri metropolis. Some three decades ago his family claimed a possessory title to 281.1 acres of farm land off Idimi – Sobo against leaders of Okere and the family won the case up to the supreme court. By contrast, the Itsekiri of Gbolokposo in the Supreme court 1n 1997 won a radical title to over 1,000 acres of land in Uvwie (Urhobo) Local Government area. They don’t rave and rant as Chief Okumagba, a possessory title holder.
These are salient aspects of the Okere case:
Daniel E.Okumagba, sole defendant and elder brother of Benjamin Okumagba, sued for himself and on behalf of Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu families of Idimi Sobo Okere Warri and not as representative of Okere Urhobo or Okere Urhobo Clan or Okere Urhobo kingdom – new elements now introduced.
· There is no reference whatsoever in the whole proceedings to Okere-Urhobo clan or Kingdom
· There are other Urhobo families in Idimi-Sobo from other Urhobo communities not related to Okumagba’s family.
· Okere, an Itsekiri community within the Warri metropolis, has six Idimis (quarters): Idimi Ode-Kporo, Idimi Jakpa, Idimi Ogun-Obite, Idimi Ode-Ile, Idimi Ajamogha and Idimi Sobo, the last being the newest and for settlers.
· The farmland claimed by the Okumagba family is at least some two miles from Okere community.
· The court decision does not give radical title to the family over the 281.1 acres of farmland within a 1520 square miles of Warri Kingdom territory.
The recent acrimonious state of affairs in Okere arises from the unbridled ambition of Chief Benjamin Okumagba who belongs to one family only in Idimi Sobo. He seeks to lord it over all the other Idimis in Okere using his connection with Urhobo Progress Union (UPU). In 1992, less than a year after the creation of Delta State, an Urhobo governor, Chief Felix Ibru enthroned Chief Benjamin Okumagba as the Otota of Okere Urhobo Clan. The Olu of Warri in suit No. M/51/92 challenged the Government action successfully. The pretender Otota was barred from bearing the title of a non-existing clan. Till date Chief Okumagba’s appeal is not yet heard, but he still parades himself as the Otota of Okere Urhobo. For the well over 450 years of the known history of Okere, the headship of the community has followed a patrilineal system, and nobody from Okumagba settler family has ever been made head of Okere.
Ibori’s State Government
To the Itsekiri, Ibori’s Government has become the worst nightmare in their experience of deceit, inconsistency and brutal suppression.
Governor Ibori came in, in the middle of the peace process. At a point where the Itsekiri had reached some areas of understanding with the Ijaw and Urhobo, especially the former, Governor Ibori suddenly somersaulted and unilaterally took some actions whose results have produced the present problems. For example:
a) Impartial panel of experts
It was agreed that impartial retired judges or lawyers from outside the State (possibly) be empanelled to be assisted by representatives from each of the ethnic groups to assess the court judgements on Warri lands. The intent was for Government to decide firmly once and for all that court decisions be adhered to religiously in the areas affected. Nothing has been done on this as decided.
b) Final position papers
While the governor adjourned the sittings for both Itsekiri and Ijaw groups to produce their position papers making concessions to each other so as to agree on a place for the Warri South West Local Government headquarters, Ibori suddenly without re-scheduling any further meeting relocated the headquarters to Ogbe-Ijaw from Ogidigben. Today this illegality still remains, because no further meeting was held to reach a consensus that would enable the National Assembly amend the relevant laws.
· Ibori’s government has today not assisted in rehabilitating any of the over 35 Itsekiri towns and villages destroyed in 1997- 1999 as Ondo State Government has done in Ilaje.
· Ibori’s government has recognised other traditional rulers in Warri Kingdom – a most unedifying action taken to destroy the Itsekiri psyche. In fact Ibori has flagrantly contradicted the two Government white papers on the Judicial Commission Reports of Justice Omosun and Justice Nnameka Agu that decreed against splitting Warri (Itsekiri homeland) among three ethnic groups.
· As a peace – loving people, we abide by the rule of law, hence we always go to court over our grievances, such as
(a) Ibori’s Illegal relocation of headquarters from Ogidigben to Ogbe – Ijaw
(b) Installation of settler traditional rulers in Warri Kingdom and
(c) The purported delimitation and increase of wards from 10 to 12 in Warri South Local Government Area against the Electoral law establishing it. The apparent interference of governor Ibori has stifled the proceedings of these cases to the extent that judgement was deliberately and scandalously undelivered in the relocation case, and the state INEC Chief was influenced to deceive the public a few months ago that an Appeal court had given a go ahead for his action, while (the case was not on appeal, but still being heard in) the Federal High court Benin City.
· On January 31st 2003 when Chief Okumagba’s warriors withdrew from the P.D.P. primaries in the Warri stadium to burn over 22 Itsekiri houses in Okere, Governor Ibori said nothing. When the mayhem continued on Saturday 1st February, Asaba continued to remain silent. Then on Sunday evening when the Itsekiri youths went on a revenge rampage and destroyed property in Okumagba estate, Ibori grew upset and angry to the extent that when he dashed to Warri to inspect the extent of damage, he refused to meet the Okere Itsekiri who were waiting for him. He went to commiserate with his UPU chairman.
· Governor Ibori has condoned the brutal oppression of the Itsekiri by the Ijaw settlers of Gbaramatu who have changed all the original names of the towns to Ijaw. All maps up to the 1980s still bear the correct original names, but the new maps by his ministry of Lands and Survey have used the new Ijaw names such as:
Okerenkoko for Okereghigho
Kokodiagbene for Bakokodie
Pepe gbene for Ajipepe
Opuedi for Uremure and so on and so forth
· In the recent Ijaw invasion to ethnically cleanse Warri of Itsekiri people, Governor Ibori had played a most passive but suspicious role. While he rode from place to place campaigning for his second term in a business-as-usual manner, Ibori most unfortunately interfered in the improper release of Ijaw leaders caught red-handed in boats loaded with weapons. Over 30 towns and villages have been burnt down and up to the time of writing this paper Governor Ibori has not visited any of these places where the bulk of the funds for his “Resource Control” gimmick are derived. And he has neither condemned this pogrom and ethnic cleansing nor has Ibori shown any interest whatsoever in the refugee problem arising from the Ijaw mayhem.
· Itsekiri Leaders Forum had complained to Governor Ibori that Itsekiri could no longer easily bury their dead in Warri. He promised to look into it. Till date he has done nothing after over ten months. Until force is used to bury our dead – which could explode into ethnic war – Ibori will do nothing.
· Since Ibori came, his Oghara people have besieged Ajagbodudu, an Itsekiri town in Warri North Local Government area with a view to annexing it as part of their Ethiope West LGA. The boundary between Ajagbodudu and Oghara has since been settled on the basis of the Jackson Line in suit No. W/22/1941 long long ago. Ibori is behind this illegality.
· Early last year by a letter Reference EGPM/PAR/002/02, an Ijaw group – Egbesu Grass root Political Movement – wrote to Governor Ibori, copying other Government functionaries and others in the State, warning that, come the years 2005 and 2007, they would forcibly take over their lands in Warri covered by leases B2 of 1906 and B5 of 1908 from the Itsekiri. Already Ijaw youths are forcibly preventing people from re-roofing or building in these areas. And Governor Ibori has done nothing to eject those Ijaw that still forcibly occupy Itsekiri houses in the water-front area of Warri. To us the future seems ominous and we foresee a greater war in which all our people may be wiped out. And these are lands in Warri leased early last century to the British Crown by the Itsekiri Olu, and were given back to us before Independence.
· And what’s more! Even the House of Assembly of the state could not pass a motion condemning this barbaric whole sale destruction of Itsekiri towns and villages, persons and property including oil installations that make their state the richest in Nigeria.
Conclusions and Prayers
Today, we recall the Willink’s Commission Report of 1958 which made recommendations to assuage the fears of minorities. Hence the Minorities Protection Clause was entrenched in the Mid West Region Constitution of 1964. The Itsekiri, Akoko-Edo and Western Ijaw were covered under this clause. Then Western Ijaw (the present 3 Ijaw local Government areas in Delta State) ironically were a minority. Then there was no crude oil, no gas and no INC! Unfortunately, the military scrapped this clause when they came to power in 1966.
The Itsekiri ab- initio had opposed their inclusion in the Mid West Region until they had the guarantee of the protection clause in the Mid West Constitution of 1964. Therefore when the military abrogated the clause, they struggled to the limit of their power and resources to be excluded from the then proposed Delta State for fear of oppression and marginalisation – today’s pogrom and ethnic cleansing in Warri were not even contemplated then.
A visionary Urhobo leader, Prof. Sam. Oyovbaire and one time Federal Minister of Information in a pamphlet in 1980 titled For those against the creation of Delta State, prophetically cautioned:
“In the case of the proposed Delta State, the Urhobo people, within the psychosis of a dominant group, would very soon go about threatening the other groups by their numbers. They would demand and boast that the capital of the state is destined for them, the Governorship for them, Chief Justice for them, Permanent Secretaries for them, all markets for them; everything for them. They would demand soon that the title of the traditional ruler of the Itsekiri will be changed from the Olu of Warri to Olu of Itsekiri; that the whole of Itsekiri land belongs to them …… and so all land settlement belongs to the Urhobo……The easiest way to destroy the case for a Delta State is for Urhobo and their fifth columnists to go about harassing all other peoples by the “Okumagba (Sic Okumagba) kind of politics”, the politics of calumny, villification and with chauvinism”.
Even though the Professor should have added the Ijaw, his prophecy has not only hit the bull’s eye, it has left little or no time to save the bull – Itsekiri ethnic nationality. We are vindicated and we are proved right when we opposed the Delta State idea.
We cannot be more dead than the dead. We have been driven to the wall. We have come to the realisation that we do not belong to this State. Now, we have come to the point of no return. We cannot continue to be canon-fodders to the Ijaw Egbesu warriors. Enough of Okumagba intrigues with his UPU faction. We owe to prosperity our precious heritage of our oil filled Warri homeland. We will not lose a square inch of it to anybody even in the face of naked terror.
We have decided to leave this state willy-nilly and we have called on all Itsekiri wherever they are to wear black clothes. We shall declare a day of national mourning for all our dead, slaughtered, burnt and missing.
We shall declare our homeland to be outside this state on a given day. On that day of declaration, we shall state where we shall be.
It has to be noted that we are not declaring a Warri Republic. We strongly believe in the Nigerian nation where all ethnic nationalities are given a sense of belonging and minorities protected. What we say is that we will explore all constitutional means to take our Warri homeland i.e. Warri South, Warri North and Warri South West local government areas from Delta State.
We call on the Federal Government as a matter of utmost urgency to rehabilitate all Itsekiri towns and villages destroyed by the Ijaw and the Okumagba Urhobo between 1997 and 1999 and in the years 2002 and 2003.
We further call on the Federal Government to provide adequate protection to displaced Itsekiri with a view to ensuring that they return to their towns and villages with a sense of security.
Although we are determined to leave Delta State for good we, as Nigerians, are entitled to the protection of the Federal Government of Nigeria as provided for in section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria wherein it is declared that:-
“The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of Government”
Therefore we call on the Federal Government to ensure the Itsekiri are protected from any further attack by the Ijaw warriors under the direction of INC and Chief E. K.. Clarke the self-acclaimed foremost Ijaw leader.
We further call upon the Federal Government to provide relief materials to all Itsekiri refugees wherever they are.
For Warri National Council For Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum
Chief G. E. Mabiaku
The Iyatsere of Warri
Chief I.O. Jemide
Chief Mrs. Rita – Lori Ogbebor
Igba of Warri
Mr. J. O. S. Ayomike
Chairman, Politics / Strategy Committee
Chief F. E. Esisi
The Olare – aja of Okere
Mr. Eni Afolabi ‘Umuko