Memorandum presented by Concerned Itsekiri Citizens to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Ethnic conflicts between Ijaws and Itsekiris in the Warri North, South and South West Local Government Areas of Nigeria in 1997
We are reproducing below an edited version of the memorandum presented by Concerned Itsekiri Citizens to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Ethnic Conflicts Betweem the Ijaws and Itsekiris in the Warri North, South and South West Local Government Areas of Nigeria. The crisis occurred between March and May 1997.
The Warri Kingdom, comprising the existing three Warri Local Governments, Warri South, Warri North and Warri South-West, was an independent and sovereign state prior to the British Benin River Expedition (Nanna War) of 1894. The Itsekiri in various communities such as Omadino, Irigbo, Inorin, Ureju and Ugborodo, had occupied this area from time immemorial before a Bini Prince named Ginuwa and his chiefs set out to establish a kingdom here towards the close of the 15th century.
Prof. Obaro Ikime – an Isoko – in his book Merchant Prince of the Niger Delta at page 1 has described the Itsekiri country (Warri Kingdom) as follows:
“…The Itsekiri inhabit the North-Western extremity of the Niger Delta in an area bounded approximately by latitudes 5.20 and 6 N and longitudes 5.5 and 5.40 East. Their neighbours are the Bini to the North, the Ijo to the South; the Urhobo to the East and the Yoruba of Ondo province to the Northwest…”
See the authoritative Primary Atlas for Nigeria by Collins and Longman; Revised edition of l976 page 2l: Nigeria Ethnic Groups.
Prof. P.C. Llyold, the British anthropologist, in the book the Benin Kingdom with a section on the Itsekiri co-authored with R. E. Bradbury at page 172 says:
“The Itsekiri call themselves Itsekiri or Iwere, and the Yoruba and Edo use the same names, the Urhobo call them Irhobo, a term sometimes said to mean ‘those who float on the water.’ The Ijaw call them Selemo. In the English literature they are known as Warri or Jekri, though in the 19th century, they were often referred to as Benin, since contact with them was first made on the banks of the Benin River. Warri and Itsekiri have been spelt in many different though recognisable ways by European writers e.g. Oere, Ouere, Awerri, Owerri, Jekri, Jakri”. Others have spelt it Warree, Wari, Awyri until Warri as spelt it by Vice Consul Gallwey stuck.
lt has to be pointed out that about the mid-nineteenth century, resulting from the growing influence of the princes and nobles from Ogbe quarters in Ode-Itsekiri who maintained trading posts on present day Warri, the latter as well became known as Ogbe. In fact, Ogbe remains the popular name of Warri till today, and hence, understandably, the peripheral Urhobo town of Aladja across the Warri River took on the name of Ogbe-Sobo and an Ijaw settlement also across the river became known as Ogbe-Ijaw. From here in the closing decades of the last century, fishermen from Ogbe-Ijaw came to sell their fish along the Warri waterside (fish market) that took its name after Ogbe-Ijaw. Today there are Hausa quarters, Meciver, Ibo market and Isoko (gari) market as is the custom in Warri to name sections of the town in this manner. The main Ogbe i.e. Warri also was called Itsekiri (Ogbe-Itsekiri) to distinguish it from Ogbe-Sobo and Ogbe-ljaw. See agreement between Colonial Government and Agho Obaseki in 1904 in P.A. Igbafe’s Obaseki of Benin page 17.
For centuries, the ltsekiri have developed and operated an Oluship (Monarchy) – a highly centralised system of government. Their politics is free from clans and differences in customs and traditions. As a coastal people, they controlled trade in their part of the Niger Delta. In the second half of the 19th century, the govemment and administration of the area were in the hands of Itsekiri governors (Diare, Chanomi, Olomu and Nanna). Prior to the fall of Nanna in 1894 (two) Vice Consulates had been established in Itsekiri homeland i.e. Warri and Benin River, see Ikime- Chief Doghor Of Warri page 21. See also his Merchant Prince of Niger Delta page 69 where it is stated:
“The consul-general (Sir Claude Mac Donald) visited Warri on August 19th 1891. He reported that the chiefs of Warri were Itsekiri who were under Nana – the great middleman chief of Benin River………”
After the British Benin River Expedition of 1894, the Itsekiri leader, Paramount Chief Dore Numa, became the undisputed political and administrative head of the area with his chiefs. When British indirect Rule was introduced, the whole area known as Warri (later Delta) Province comprising the territories of the Ijaw, Ndokwa, Isoko, Urhobo and Itsekiri was administered from Warri as one judicial, administrative and political unit. The other ethnic groups, quite understandably, strongly opposed being grouped in the same political, judicial and administrative unit with the Itsekiri for fear of Itsekiri domination. The Itsekiri did not raise any objection to the other ethnic groups, being granted political and administrative autonomy.
Following researches into ethnicities and clan system by administrative officers (intelligence Reports and court decisions) the unified structure was dismantled, and separate Native Administrations were established in the 1930’s based on homeland concept. A Warri Division (later Warri Local Govemment Area) was established in the Itsekiri homeland which, for historical reasons, also contained some settler enclaves, inhabited mainly by Urhobo and Ijaw. The homeland concept led to the emergence of Divisional Councils in 1952 – See Delineation of Warri (Itsekiri) homeland as per the Public Notice No. 28 of 1951 & WRLN., 176 of 1955.
HISTORY OF PARTIES TO COMMISSION (IJAW AND URHOBO)
The Ijaw and Urhobo in Warri Division are clearly described as settlers. See P.C. Lloyd, the Anthropologist, in his work already quoted at page 172:
“The Itsekiri live in the westernmost part of the Niger Delta, bounded by the Bight of Benin on the West and Lat. 6·N., Long. 5·45E and Lat. 5·.20’N. The Administrative Unit known as the Warri Division of Delta Provimce, whose area is 1,520 square miles, is opproximately coterminus with the territory of the Itsekiri, though it includes groups of Ijaw settlements in the extreme north and south and of Urhobo settlements in the South-East; the later, however, are subordinate to the Itsekiri rulers. Neighbours of the Itsekiri are: the llaje, a Yoruba sub-tribe, and the Apoi Ijaw, to the north-west; the Edo (Bini) to the North; the Urhobo to the east; the Ijaw to the South”.(italics ours)
Other vital references include the definition of these settlers:
(a) “The Sobo of the Niger Delta” by Jobn W. Hubbard (Gaskiya Corporation Zaria, 1948) at page 7 says:
“A migration occurred probably late in the eighteenth century from a Sobo town called Agbarha about twenty three miles east of Warri in the middle of the Sobo country…(they) crossed the Warri River and by negotiation with the Jekri obtained land from them…. built a village of their own which they named after their hometown Agbarha (Agbassa). This is now one of the quarters in Warri”.
(b) Intelligence Report on Itsekiri Sub-tribe by R. B. Kerr: (Asst. District Officer) 1931: Annexure ‘N’
“…The Ogbe-Ijo village group is included in the Itsekiri Local Administration by its express wish. It appears to have lost touch completely with the Operemor Ijo clan from which it originally came. It has intermingled closely with the Itsekiris and prefers to be considered a part of ltsekiri Local Administration to being included in the Western Ijo Division. It desires restricted judicial powers as part of a (an) Itsekiri native court. The Itsekiri Sub-tribe agrees to this proposal and also to its representation upon the Itsekiri Sub-tribal council. It is accordingly included inside the Itsekiri-Sobo Divisional Boundary…”
“The Gbaramatu Clan controls the disposition within thc area of fishing, hunting and occupancy rights over land and water subject to the rights of the Itsekiri Council representing the Olu (of Warri) to see that it does not confer rights on strangers without its consent. The Olu, as overlord, received one-third of all rents collected from strangers by the Gbaramatu Clan. – (italics ours)
(c) Intelligence Report on Gbaramatu by Lt. Commander S.E. Johnson (Acting District Officer) 1931.
“2. The clan name takes its origin from its ‘mother’ town i.e. GBARA, a flourishing town which was visited whilst on field work, and situated in the little known area to the Westward of EKOW in the old Brass Division…. The clan name GBARAMATU consists of two words GBARA-AMATU. The latter word signifies “first town” or “first settlement”. Thus Gbaras themselves are Ijaws of the Western Ijo Sub-tribe, and it was found that their language was practically the same as the Western clans of Gulani and IDUWINI… …With the increase in population of Gbara, congestion became acute, and dissatisfied families began to look elsewhere for space. Thus, then, it is asserted that one OSAKO, son of OGBEYAMA, together with all his family, left the parent town and finally made his new home on the Escravos river where the village of OPURAJA now stands… The first exodus occurred when one group left OPURAJ A and joined their former towns-people at Arugbo. Some time later, a general emigration took place, and the villages of KUNOKUNAMA, AJATITON, BAKOKODIA, BENIKURUKURU, OGOBA and OKERENGHIGHO were founded”.
(i) ln the famous case of Ometan on behalf of Agbassa Urhobo versus Chief Dore Numa on behalf of Itsekiri in 1926 reported at pp 46-50 of 9 Nigeria Law Report, it was decided inter alia “…that when the Agbassa came to Warri they were given permission by the Olu of Jekris to settle on the land which is now known as Bomali or Agbassa village… That from the earliest times and during recent years the Agbassa rendered service to the defendant as overlord …….”
The full court of the Supreme Court (Now the Supreme Court) in 1931 confirmed the foregoing decision as reported at pages 50-52 of 10 Nigeria Law Report and added: ….”the Agbassa were given permission by the Olu of Jekris to settle on land in Warri. That they have since increased in numbers, wealth and importance until now they feel themselves strong enough to impugn the title of their overlord ……”
(ii) And the Lords of the Privy Council confirmed the judgement in 1933. In further developments Asst. Judge Jackson in Suit No. W/44/l941 found:
“There is no question, I think that all claimants admit that the land, now the subject of this action, formed a part of that kind the subject of the action Ometan Vs. Dore Numa and…. as between the claimants before me, all of whom were either parties or successors-in-title to the parties in the case of Ometan Vs. Dore Numa these parties are estopped from denying these facts which were in issue and which were material to the finding of the Court in that case….” He apportioned £1 as tribute payable to Olu in the compensation involved in the case.
Ademola, an acting judge in another suit about 1949 said: “lt is common ground among the claimants that the land in question is in Agbassa District in Warri. It is also admitted that this is part of the land to which judgement in the celebrated case now known as Agbassa Land Case (Ometan V. Dore Numa) applies. The second and third group of claimants therefore do not dispute the first claimant’s claim to the land. In other words, they recognise the overlordship of the Olu of Itsekiri who is the virtual owner of the land in trust for the Itsekiri people” The Judge apportioned l/-per annum as tribute to the Olu as the virtual owner of the land.”
(iii) In a case in 1957, (Suit No. W/121/57), Justice Obaseki held in substance that: “Agbassa Community…are tenants under native law and custom and subject to the overlordship of the Olu of Warri now replaced by Itsekiri Communal Land Trustees… that have the right to and can convey…. the legal estate in the land either for a term of years or in fee simple”.
(iv) In a Supreme Court Judgement (SC328/1972 pp235-287 (1973) 11SC in 1973, it was said:
“That the Agbassa Community …are occupiers of the land under native law and custom and subject to the overlordship of the Olu of Warri ….and they cannot therefore convey the legal estate therein to strangers, the relationship between the Agbassa Community and the first claimants as the successors-in-title to the Olu of Warri, having been enshrined in several judgements of the Courts between the parties and their privies throughout the years.”
(v) The Supreme Court in SC67/1971 & SC327/1972 (consolidated) pp 189-234 (1973) 11SC in 1973 after reviewing the judgemant of Obaseki in the lower courts; the judgement of Webber, and the judgement of the Privy Council in Ometan versus Dore; the judgement of Jackson in 1941 and the judgement of Ademola said:
“In view of these unimpeachable recurring findings by the Courts of competent jurisdiction, there can be no question that the Agbassa, including the Igbudu are customary tenants of the first claimants (that is, the Itsekiri Communal Land Trustees). Their tenure of the land occupied by them is therefore subject to the incident of customary tenancy. It is fool-hardy on the part of the second claimants (that is, Chief Sam Warri Essi for himself and on behalf of the Igbudu people) in the face of such overwhelming evidence and findings of successive courts throughout the years to seek from time to time as soon as there is notice of acquisition and the prospects of a windfall like manna from heaven to relitigate issues which have been clearly determined and laid to rest against them by persisting in the groundless assertion that the people of Agbassa are the absolute owners of the land in dispute which has been conclusively established as forming the land the subject matter of suit No. 25 of 1926”.
In the Supreme Court judgement: (SC328/1972 pp 235-287 (1973) 11 SC ) in 1973, it was said:
“We have already observed that the first claimants (Itsekiri Communal Land Trust) are not mere reversioners. They are in fact and in law the legal owners of the land in the occupation of the Agbassa Community, who occupy the same subject to the usual incidents of customary tenancy, such as being of good behaviour and not attempting to alienate any interest therein to strangers without the knowledge and authority of their overlord. Any infraction of such incidents would immediately expose the offender to the full rigours of forfeiture which may be granted in a proper case. Instances are not wanting in the law reports of forfeiture having been decreed in certain circumstances… We are satisfied that the approach of the learned trial judge to the issue under consideration was correct and that his decision is unimpeachable. It is right”.
The Ogbe-Ijaw are found in five main village communities, namely: Ogbe-Ijaw, Isaba, Diebiri, Ijansa and Jelejele. Their population is estimated at 17,500.
(i) In 1934, in suit No. B/10/34 the Saba village community within the Ogbe-Ijaw group went to court over a disputed parcel of land against the Ogbe-Sobo (Aladja). Neither side wanted to involve the Itsekiri, their immediate neighbour. Dumokoromo, an Ijaw from Saba deposed on oath before Justice Bartley as follows:
“When my ancestors came to our present land, no one was there. The first person they saw was the Olu of Jekri and one of our daughters Emaye was given to him in marriage… The Olu of Jekri was the owner of the river where we settled and the land…. He gave to us the land we are on now, and we have been there eversince”.
And Omisikuta another Ijaw witness in the same case said on oath:
“When they (ancestors) arrived the Olu of Jekri owned the country and they went to give themselves to him… When I say they gave themselves to Olu, I mean that they went to him as he was the big man of the area and my people gave themselves up to him as was the custom in those days for protection”.
Obviously, Justice Bartley had no difficulty in giving judgement in favour of the Saba people who had anchored their case on the Overlordship Right of the Olu of Warri.
(ii) A case of most considerable importance was the action between Chief Isuokumo Oloiki and others (for themselves and on behalf of Ijaw settlers in Ogbe-Ijaw in Warri Division) against Itsekiri Communal Land Trustees and Another. In the action the Ijaw claimed a declaration of title to most of Warri Division including Warri township. After much of legal arguments and seeing the futility of their actions, the plaintiffs, eventually decided to discontinue the suit, and Justice Rhodes Vivour delivered a judgement part of which reads as follows:-
“On the 9/7/64, this Court delivered its Ruling refusing the plaintiffs’ application to discontinue after the trial date had been fixed to the knowledge of the parties. The plaintiffs have now asked for leave to discontinue under Order 28 Rule 2 of the High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules Cap 44 Laws of Western Nigeria 1959. The plaintiffs are hereby precluded from bringing any further actions or action against any or either of the first and second defendants in respect of the claims of which specific particulars were given in the Writ of Summons, Statement of Claim and amended statement of claim in this action. Leave is accordingly granted to the plaintiffs to discontinue this action”.
As the Ijaw people were aggrieved by this order which forever barred them from reopening this case against the Itsekiri Communal Land Trustees they appealed to the Supreme Court, which on 24th April, 1967, summarily dismissed the appeal.
GBARAMATU IJAW ENCLAVE
In Suit No. W/20/46, Adurumokumor (Ijaw) acting for himself and on behalf of Bakokodia Ijaw Community took action against Kponu (Itsekiri) of Omadino for a declaration of title to the land described as Bakokodia. The true position is that the Ijaw inhabitants of Bakokodia and its environs came from Westem Ijaw and were permitted by Chanomi Iye on the authority of Omadino people to settle there. Ademola J. dismissed Adurumokomor’s action on the ground that the people of Bakokodia had failed to prove their title to the land claimed by them. As the Ijaws persisted in demanding tributes and rents from those using the land and fishing in the rivers, Omadino people, represented by
Chief Sillo and Edremoda Golly, sued Adurumokumor on behalf of Bakokodia people in suit No. W/20/46 in Warri High Court and successfully obtained a declaration of title over Bakokodia and the surrounding lands and rivers. The court awarded damages for trespass against the Ijaws who, according to the Judge, were put on the land by Omadino people who acknowledged the overlordship rights of the Olu of Warri. The Ijaws went to the West African Court of Appeal and lost in WACA No 3707
After this, the Ijaws continued to disregard the above judgements, and Omadino people sued them for forfeiture at the Warri High Court. Ultimately at the High Court the Ijaws accepted a compromise judgement in which they clearly acknowledged Omadino’s ownership of the land. See Suits Nos. W/29/51, W/37/61, SC/393/64 and Nos. W/35/90 & CA/B/65/90.
Okenrenghigho, another Ijaw settlement in Gbaramatu also fell under the axe of the Omadino people. In suit No. W/30/62 Chief Sillo (Itsekiri) versus James Uluba (Ijaw), Justice Obaseki held that the Ijaw of Okerenghigho are tenants of Omadino. The Ijaws then appealed to the Supreme Court presided over by Elias, C.J. Sowewimo and Ibekwe J.J.S.C. in suit No. SC/37/1973. They lost. The effect of these judgements is that the most of Gbaramatu area is populated by Ijaws who are customary tenants on lands owned by Omadino people under the Overlordship of the Olu of Warri.
In suit W/124/76 in which judgement was delivered on 24th April, 1996 Ugborodo Community – an Itsekiri Community in Warri North Local Government now in Warri South-West Local Government Council won a land case against Gbaramatu Ijaw. The whole of the lands including, Benikurukuru and, bordering the Omadino part of Gbaramatu, is adjudged to be Ugborodo land.
EGBEOMA IJAW ENCLAVE
Significantly, Ijaws of Egbeoma have never seriously disputed the fact that they are customary tenants of the Itsekiri and so with them life has been relatively peaceful. Asst. District Officer R. B. Kerr in his Intelligence Report has this to say of the Egbeoma Ijaw at page 33:
“..they (Egbeoma) state that their ancestor OLODUWA first obtained the Olu’s permission to settle there, but paid no rent or dues of any kind.”
The Ijaws in Warri Division, i.e. Ogbe-Ijoh, Gbaramatu and Egbeoma have no legal claims to the lands they are settling on. They are purely and simply, customary tenants of the Itsekiris in Warri Division.
OKERE: Okumagba Layout (281 acres)
Having clearly discussed the Intelligence Reports, History and Court Judgements as they affect the ljaw (Ogbe-Ijoh, Gbaramatu and Egbeoma) and the Agbassa Urhobo settlers in Warri, we wish to comment as briefly as possible on the “new phenomenon ” in Warri referred to as Okere-Urhobo by Chief Benjamin Okumagba family.
Okere ltsekiri Community, which the Agbassa Urhobo excluded when in 1926 they claimed the rest of present day Warri township has the following quarters (Idimi):
Idimi Kporo, Idimi Jakpa, Idimi Odeile, Idimi Ogunobite, ldimi Ajamogha and the newest and smallest Idimi Sobo
Idimi, an Itsekiri word, borrowed from Bini means quarters as in Bini language. The six Okere quarters have from time immemorial been designated ldimi. By 1955 when most of Idimi-Sobo was still farmlands, there was nothing known as Okere-Sobo. On 19th August, 1891 when the Consul General & Commissioner Claude Mac Donald visited Warri and found that Warri Chiefs were Itsekiri under Nanna (See Obaro lkime already quoted above), Popo and Awani were the Okere Chiefs there amongst the others such as Pessu, Ogbe, Omatsola, Tonwe Ejele and Okorofiangbe. All Okere have one head Chief each time, and according to Okere tradition he must descend partenally from Ogitsi the founder of the Community.
No headchief of Okere has ever come from the Okumagba family. In fact the following heads of Okere since 1922 have been so descended:
Nikoro, Omatsone, Edema Okoroleju, Iman, Otonghoku, Atseboma, Okutsa, Bede Uku and Walker Omatsone.
The falacy of the claim to Okere as an indigene by Chief Benjamin Okumagba becomes so glaringly obvious when it becomes known that almost all his father’s children bear Itsekiri names:
Chief Benjamin Okumagba has no Urhobo name. His name given by his father is Oyeofoetse-Ogho (talkertiveness is no money), and it is Itsekiri name. His elder brother’s only name Etseofonetorimi is Itsekiri (and it means I don’t blame who laughs at me). Uyakonmino (suffering fills my mind) is a name of another child of the father, and is an Itsekiri name. Eroaye, their father’s first daughter (unmindful of kindness) is another Itsekiri name. Even their father’s name Akomagba (Sic Okumagba) is Itsekiri. This is a basic socio-cultural fact: the acculturation of a settler group by the host-community. The Okumagba family, an Urhobo family had come to Okere from Okpare in Urhobo hinterland. The family has no relationship whatsoever with the Agbassa-Urhobo on Itsekiri land.
It is true that the Okumagba family won a possessory title to 281.1 acres of their farmlands in Idimisobo in the Supreme Court in suit No. SC309/74. But Okumagba family is not the only Urhobo family in Idimi Isobo in Okere.
The Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs Memo No. CH 545 p. 70 of 12th September, 1977 will be relied upon in this matter. Part of it says:
“There is no record whatsoever in this office about a Clan Head of Okere Urhobo and no petition is available in which there is demand for recognition of such a Clan Head, if any, The Patridge Report makes no mention of any Okere (Urhobo) Clan Head in Warri Division… problems… as to the identification of the title and customary procedure (if any) for filling the vacancy also arise…”
In conclusion, attention is respectfully drawn to the case of ARUBO V. AIYELERU reported in 1993 Supreme Court of Nigeria Judgements (1993 2SCNL pages 90 – 109) especially at page 106 lines 28-37 where Nnameka Agu J.S.C., inter alia, stated as follows:
“No doubt a tribunal of enquiry is an inferior tribunal to both the High Court and the Supreme Court which are by the Constitution vested with unlimited powers to adjudicate on right of parties who appear before them and see to the execution and enforcement of their decisions.
Once a party gets a final judgement in his favour before a court of competent jurisdiction, such a judgement is effective, conclusive and binding on the parties and their privies and can only be upset on appeal. A tribunal of Inquiry is not a court of appeal, competent to review, set aside, or override such a judgement….”.
REMOTE CAUSES OF THE CRISIS
As already pointed out, local Government councils in Nigeria have generally approximated to homelands. See Local Government Councils Law 1952. From that year to 1991 Warri Divisional Council (later Warri Local Government) remained as one council.
The 1963 census figure showed that the population of Wani Division was 140,060. The three Ijaw enclaves of Ogbe-Ijoh had 5,999 out of this figure that is 4.1%, Gbaramatu 6,145 i.e. 4.2% and Egbeoma 8,960 i.e. 6.2%. Itsekiri were given as 64% that is 83,000 and others 21.5%.
The Nigerian Institute of Social & Economic Research (NISER) population estimates for Warri Local Government in 1980 were 415,288. Given the same ratios, Itsekiri represented 270,000 in their homeland, Gbaramatu, Ogbe-Ijoh and Egbeoma were 19,300, 17,500 and 22,000 respectively.
In the newly created Delta State, by Decree No. 42 of 1991, Warri Local Government was split into Warri North and Warri South Local Govermnent Areas. They had eleven and ten wards respectively. In the homeland of the Ijaw that is, Western Ijoh Division the two Local Governments earlier on created for them remained. The Urhobo who had four and the Isoko one had their councils increased to six and two respectively.
Demand For Councils
Since 1992, and with a repeated demand in 1996, the Itsekiri had asked the Federal Government to create four Local Governments for them.
Even though their expectations might not be fully met in December, 1996 when it became known that six new Local Governments were to be distributed among the three senatorial areas of the State, Itsekiri had hoped positively that at least ONE would be given to Warri (Itsekiri) homeland.
Thus they were dreadfully and most utterly disappointed when on 13th December, 1996, the Delta State Administrator announced two non-contiguous Ijaw wards of Ogbe Ijoh and Gbaramatu out of the eleven wards in Warri North as the new Warri South Local Government with headquarters in Ogbe-Ijaw, and changed the name of “old” Warri South to Warri Central with Headquarters in Warri. And by the very fact of prefacing this apparent mistake with his unfortunate desire to correct what he perceived as “injustice in Warri”, Col. J.D. Dungs precipitated a senseless crisis which has done so much damage to the Itsekiri ethnic nationality.
The settler Ijaws in Warri aided and goaded by their kith and kin of the lzon National Congress -locally headed by Chiefs E. K. Clark and B. Bozomo – thought they had won a Local Government and danced daily along Warri streets hurling abuses on the Olu of Warri and the Itsekiri in general. Significantly, both chiefs resident in Warri, are from Burutu and Bomadi Local Government Areas respectively.
The Itsekiri did not reply; they remained silent but forwarded a petition of protest to the Head of State. They made the following points amongst others against the new Local Govemment created for the Ijaw in Warri.
(a) Upsetting the delicate ethnic balance within the South Senatorial area by giving the two available Local Governments to the Ijaw. Whereas a new Local Government (Patani) had been added to their existing two (Bomadi und Burutu), it was illogical that one of the two already erroneously announced as having headquarters in Warri G.RA should be given to two non-contigious Ijaw wards as Local Government for Ijaw setlers in Warri.
(b) To create Local Government for settler communities would be a dangerous element in destabilizing the country: for example, Igbo in Sabongari in Kano or any city in the North would ask for a Local Government. The Hausa Community in Shagamu where they reside in a large community for transhipping kolanuts/cattle to Lagos would crave for. (The Ijaw in Edo, the Urhobo in Ijawland, the Itsekiri in Edo, the Urhobo and Ijaw in Ondo and so on and so forth). Rather, settler Communities should be encouraged to settle amongst their indigenous brothers and learn to live together. Local Government for settler communities would lead to ethnic cleansing. Already the Birom in Plateau State (where several lives were lost in April this year) and Ayila in Ogun State (where their Baale was killed by Urhobo migrants in 1993) have experienced claims of migrants for autonomy and several others.
(c) The State Administrator appeared to have shown bad faith in giving a Local Government meant for Itsekiri homeland to the Ijaw whom he appeared to appease over the fight they had had with the Aladja Urhobo.
(d) The Itsekiri believed that the Administrator was in a position to know about the Federal Government arrangement and so were shocked to watch him give a go-ahead order for elections to hold at Ogbe Ijoh on 15th March into a non-existing Local Government.
And worse still, he about seven days later, swore in a Chairman for a non-existing Local Government. The totality of the steps taken by the Administrator on this Local Government exercise – some contrary to Federal directive, some as deliberate demonstration of his hatred for the Itsekiri ethnic group and some whose motives were suspect – all went a long way to humilitate and marginalise our people who have always been peaceful and peace-loving.
Geopolitical Dimensions & Oil Exploration
The advent of oil exploration in the Niger Delta Area by Shell and other oil companies has introduced new problems. The fishing and pottery occupations of the Itsekiri and their settler elements i.e. the Ijaws, have been completely devastated and thus they depend on compensation monies paid by oil companies. With the acquisitions under the Oil Mining Lease and Pipelines Act, the vast areas that are being utilised by these oil companies for oil exploration have resulted in the displacement of the natives from their homes. They demand compensations from the oil companies. This has in itself led to the setlers claiming areas not belonging to them. With the successive creations of States, and the growing ethnic consciousness of the 1960s, some ethnic groups, especially; the Ezons in the Niger Delta area have resorted to laying claims to vast areas of the whole of the Niger Delta which do not belong to them.
The Izon Nationd Congress has been directing and motivating Ijaws to lay claims to lands stretcthing from Akwa-Ibom to Ondo State. Their communiques in several national papers, including the Guardian of May 26th 1993 page 26, the Guardian of 17th June, 1993, page 7, the Guardian of 24th February, 1994, p 2 and the Guardian of 13th March, 1994 p 14, to mention a few, threatened fire and brimstone and demanded that laws such as the Land Use Decree, Treason & Treasonable Offences Decree be repealed so as not to violate their right to self determination and control of their resources enshrined in various international charters and declarations. Their release in the Guardian of 3rd April 1994 p A20 sumarises the breadth and depth of their resolve to “conquer” their designated homeland.
This oil politics, founded on the backing of the ljaw National Congress, had seriously led to the present situation where the Ijaw settlers in Warri in order to actualise their political ambitions have made frivilous claims to Itsekiri lands.
The Izon National Congress has emboldened the ljaw to back their demands with violence every where over the recent years. It may be ironical to say here, that where as they have carried this violence to places like Gbarigolo and Kpakiama in Ughelli LGA which they claim as part of their homeland, they do not concede their settler status in Warri where they lay claim to Itsekiri land.
They also moved to Aladja with the same violence and several lives have been lost. Not long ago they went to a part of Ondo State. They have now moved to the Itsekiri areas to carry out genocide, pogrom, carnage and arson.
Recently the Ijaw National Congress (lNC) carried on page 5 of the Guardian Newspaper of Saturday 3rd of May, 1997, their claim that the Ijaws occupy and are indigenous to over 80% of the Niger/Delta and went further to assert that they own over 70% of Nigeria’s coastline.
They further went to arrogate to themselves the role of (big brother) to other ethnic groups in this area which they claim to own. It is submitted that these assertions are not only false, but are capable of causing serious breach of the peace. No wonder the Ijaw from Bomadi, Burutu or even from Balyesa State and elsewhere have been involved in precipitating this Ijaw agression.
In understanding the immediate causes of this unfortunate crisis we will seek to understand the mind-set of Col. J. D. Dungs by restating what he said soon after his appointment as Administrator of Delta State: “God had a purpose for sending me to the State, probably, to be able to resolve the age-long problems that had been existing between the various tribes of the State” See THIS DAY 4th May, 1997, pages 12 and 13.
This fact alone makes it abundantly clear that prior to his posting to Delta State as Administrator, he was aware of the controversies prevailing in this State especially in Warri probably through his marital connection. Thus Col. J. D. Dungs did not come to Delta State with a clear mind. His misconceived ideas touched upon us – Itsekiri, as a group.
He came into the State at the time the Ogbe-Ijaw and Aladja land dispute had claimed several lives and govemment had set up a Commission of Inquiry to look into the matter. The Aladja people claimed Ogbe-Ijaw as their land while the Ogbe-Ijaw people claimed the land to be theirs. Uptil now, this issue has not been resolved by the governmnent. The Delta State Government, inspite of these conflicting claims, has not issued any white paper, but proceeded to make Ogbe-Ijoh the headquarters of an illegally created Local Government Council to the utter dismay and disappointment of Aladja people, the counter-claimants.
He further complicated the situation by allowing election to take place in that Local Government. During his tour of Ogbe-Ijoh, in November, 1996, he had promised the Ijaws a Local Govanment. Thus, on 13th December, 1996, at Asaba, while announcing the six Local Governments he stated categorically.
“I want to correct the injustice in Warri and so I have decided to move the head quarters of Warri South Local Government Area to Ogbe-Ijoh, Warri South Local Government consists of Ogbe-Ijoh, lsaba and Gbaramatu and so what is left of the former Warri South is now Warri Central”.
He acted contrary to Decree No. 36 of 1996 and Decree No. 7 of 1997 which Decrees spelt out the Local Governments in Warri as follows:
1. Warri North, with Headquarters at Koko,
2. Warri South-West, with Headquarters at Ogidigben, and
3. Warri South, with Headquarters at Warri.
And adding further injury to the slap on the Federal Government’s face, Col J. D. Dungs swore in a chairman into a non-existent Local Government.
While the general public might not be aware of the existence of these gazettes, Col. J. D. Dungs, as part of General Abacha’s Administration, was certainly aware. Thus, his action in allowing an election to take place in a non existing Local Government on 15th March, 1997, inspite of the Federal Government’s gazettes and the Federal Government order announced on 13th March, 1997 which made Ogidigben the headquarters of Warri South-West Local Government Council, was done in bad faith.
Col. J. D. Dungs went on further to swear in the chairman of the non-existing Local Govermnent Council and directed him to resume duty at Ogidigben when in actual fact, Ogidigben was not part of the area the person contested the ill-fated election.
In continued defiance of the Federal Government directive as per the Decree No. 7 of 3rd March, 1997, Col. Dungs has refused to implement this as it affects the Warri South-West Local Government Council by making it functional, thereby derailing the Federal Government transition programme because of his excessive bias against the Itsekiri.
Another immediate cause of the Warri crisis was the press conference addressed by the Ijaw leaders namely: Mr. Oboko Belo and Chief Abel Ugedi on 20th March, 1997, and published at page 20 of the Nigerian Tribune of Monday 24th March, 1997 and also on the front page of the Daily Times of the same day. The Ijaw leaders threatened to defend the Ogbe-Ijoh based Warri South Local Govemment even in the face of its annulment by the Federal Government. They called on the Ijaws to defend the Council even with their blood.
This press conference was an incitement to the Ijaws who swung into action by blockading the waterways linking Warri to Escravos and Benin River; stopping Shell Operations in several locations, holding their workers hostage and kidnapping several unsuspecting Itsekiris who were out on their daily livelihood chores. Then came the spate of burnings and plunderings of Itsekiri communities and settlements which commenced with Bennet Island on the night of March 22nd 1997. To date, about 20 Itsekiri communities have been burnt down with explosives/grenades and other sophisticated weapons resulting in the loss of property and lives.
Col. J. D. Dungs, in his bid to prevent the ltsekiris from participating in the transition programme of the Federal Government without any justification, removed from office the chairman and councillors of the Warri South Local Govemment who were duly elected during the elections of 15th March, 1997.
Warri South Local Government Council was an old Local Government created since 1991 and was not affected by the recent Local Government creation exercise. The general belief is that Col. J. D. Dungs did this to actualise the desire of the Ijaws and Urhobos who demanded the creation of three ethnic homelands in Warri.
Col. J. D. Dungs knew that the Urhobos of Warri were not involved in this progrom carried out by the Ijaws on the Itsekiri. As the State’s Chief Security Officer, he would know that the Ijaws had sophisticated weapons, explosives and grenades which they deployed in carrying out their programme of “wiping out Itsekiri”. But to meet his peace equations, he would always fan in the Urhobos as a third force in order to find justification for creating his three ethnic homelands in Warri.
It is known that sophisticated weapons i.e. guns, grenades, explosives etc. have been freely used by the Ijaws. But it is uniquely significant that this Tribunal has not been required to enquire into the nature, quantities and sources of these weapons. We consider this OMISSION as part of Col. J. D. Dungs’ agenda to prolong the crisis in this part of Nigeria, and derail the transition programme. Why is this omission?
The Final Question: The Itsekiri Ethnic Nationality; To be or not to be?
So far it has been shown that the Itsekiri had their Kingdom or Country before the British Colonial rule – The Niger Coast Protectorate – was inaugurated in their country in 1891. From that moment up to Independence in 1960, the Nigerian State had sought satisfactorily to protect the Itsekiri as well as other ethnic groups (big or small). First, Itsekiri minority situation which needed protection, was highlighted by the Willinks Commission of 1958. Then the Midwest constitution of 1963, based on the Willink Commission Report incorporated protection clauses which guaranteed the corporate identity of the Itsekiri on their God-given land. The Itsekiri survived in the old Western Region. As the space grew smaller with the creation of the Midwest (later Bendel State), the Itsekiri though, feeling the harsher threat of domination by neighbouring ethnic groups, managed to survive.
Professor Sam Egite Oyovbaire, an Urhobo elite, and Former Federal Minister of Information in a pamphlet titled “For those against the creation of a Delta State” in 1980 said inter alia:
“ln 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 soon 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 very soon that the title of the traditional ruler of the Itsekiri will be changed from the Olu of Warri to the 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 harrassing all the other peoples by the “Okumagba (Sic Okumagba) kind of politics”, the politics of calumny, vilification and with chauvinism”.
The Itsekiri vehement protest against inclusion in the Delta State failed when it was created in 1991, and since then, especially, with the assumption of office by a hostile Urhobo Civilian Governor, every element in the foregoing prophecy got fulfilled: the old boundaries (e.g. Jackson line) were de-recognised; settlements/villages within Warri were redesignated as being Urhobo settlements, our heritage was assaulted; the Olu of Warri humiliated with the creation of non-existing Urhobo Chieftaincies in Warri; Urhobo-Itsekiri fight was instigated, e.t.c.
It is said that for centuries, the trial that led to the death of Socrates left a blot on Athenian democracy. It was one reason why Plato, his pupil, treated Democracy with contempt. It also helps to explain why most political thinkers well into the 18th, century regarded Democracy as a fool’s paradise, if not worse.
In Nigeria where there are Federal Govermnent agencies to protect the delicate balance among ethnic groups i.e. Federal Character Commission, e.t.c. the Itsekiri honestly believe as follows:-
The Itsekiri accept that the Ijaw (or any other ethnic group) in Warri, as a minority group, should accept them as a majority group to work with on a representative basis in the council areas. They resent the idea of block alignment with others, who are non-indigenes of Warri, to dominate them. The Itsekiri see such alignments as a development to blot them and their heritage out of the Nigerian scene. The Itsekiri see their neighbours, Urhobo, Ijaw, Isoko and Ndokwa as having their own Local Governments (eight, three, two and five repectively) and would not concede their right to be represented in their own three Loal Governments. This is the core of the Warri problem. There are Itsekiri enclaves in Edo (Ologbo and Abudu), in Okpe-Urhobo (Sapele, Ajimele, Aja-Ogunoyibo and Aja-0jiguo); in Uvwie-Urhobo (Gbolokposo), in Burutu – Ijaw Local Government (Burutu), in Ethiope-West Local Government area (Effurokpe, Ibrifo, Oye-Aja, and Obite-.Ugbo). Shall they be given ethnic homelands (Local Govermnents) in these areas? This is the question of the moment!
The Itsekiri position is straight forward, before the British came we had our ‘country’ as others had theirs. The British then brought us together and formalised it in 1914. But the British allowed the homeland administration to continue, and this is what our local government system has been based upon. Kano or Sokoto or Calabar is administered on this homeland concept as other ethnicities in this country. As one country our sisters and brothers from other communities in Nigeria live amongst one another. This is what we stand by. Another concept that is dear to us is the rule of law. The non-adherence to the principle by the Urhobos and Ijaws living in Warri is at the root of this crisis. Creating local government for settler communities will distabilise this country and the aIternative to the rule of law is violence and the rule of jungle.
To us homeland as a concept symbolises a human instinct as ancient as the hills, but still powerful because people belong; they have roots,
traditions, myths, cultures. They know who they are, what they are and where they are. We say Warri is our homeland.
ITSEKIRI COMMUNITIES/SETTLEMENTS ATTACKED BY THE IJAWS:
1. UBA-ERURE (Bernet Island) (Saturday 22nd March):- The whole town was burnt down and properties were looted.
2. UKPOMI ODIDI CAMP AND MOSAYAGHAN (Sunday 23rd March):- a total of 30 (thirty) houses in the three towns (after looting properties) were burnt.
3. WARRI METROPOLIS (25th March):- houses and properties were burnt and looted by Ijaw attackers. There was one dead and 4 Itsekiris injured.
4. TAKULA (26th March):- The Ijaws invaded this village and burnt six houses, after looting all the properties inside. Two people were killed including one Eremoje Dudu.
5. IJAGHALA (Friday 4th April):- The Ijaw invaders also burnt down the village and all the properties which included 49 residential houses, a community hall and other household properties. Two lives were lost – . Madam Jejuaghanto Ebietomerone and Madam Atiwo Tsani. Jetty contractor’s materials and equipments worth over Nl million destroyed.
6. UGBOGBODU (Wednesday 9th April):- all the houses and occupants in the town were set on fire, and two (2)lives were lost including Pa Oghobi of Ogbotosan and four people were injured.
7. MADANGHO (AJA-OKOTURO) & KPOKPO (AJA KOLO FREGENE) (Saturday 12th April):- The Ijaws attacked these Itsekiri settlements and had already set one house ablaze when they were successfully repelled by the Itsekiris. While retreating they set ablaze the Itsekiri village of Kpokpo. One live was lost.
AJAINOMI (near Kantu) (14th April):- settlement set ablaze and two people kidnapped.
9. WARRI METROPOLIS (Thursday 17th April):-
Warri metropolis was again attacked and selected Itsekiri houses set ablaze. Those who loss their lives include: John Metete, Godfrey Oluwaeyere, Joseph Apoh, Osborne Lori, Samuel Pessu and Murphy Omagbemi Agindotan. Injured victims are: Patience Amorighoye, Francis Ukiokio, Otimeyin Edun and Evelyn Timaro. In addition, the following persons were either killed or kidnapped along Warri River while crossing from Orugbo/Ode-Itseldri to Warri: Aboyi Oritseweyinmi, Eyinone Ogbe, Patience Adidi Atsiangbe, Oritseweyinmi Okoro, Mayomi Ejejigbe, Eyetsetunokan Madu Tenumah, Mr. Okiemute and Alfred Adwenye.
10. KANTU (17th & 20th April):- This Itsekiri Community was attacked and set ablaze, killing 9 inhabitants and looting their properties.