Friday, January 11, 2013
THE WARRI QUESTION AND SOLUTION By Ena Ofugara
If I move to France today, in five years time, I can run for president. A child born by me here in the United States can become president. Yet an Itsekiri whose father's father's father's father that was born in Oguaja quarters, Aja-imelle, Amogodo, Aruwun-ugberikoko, Aja-ugungwor (ogorode area-sapele) Obontie-igboren/ikeresan, Aja-ogunoyibo- (aghalokpe area-okpe) and who themselves know nowhere else as home except Sapele, will not be considered "Children of the soil" or amwa na mwa". These Itsekiris are expected to trace their roots to somewhere on the benin River, Koko etc etc.
In the same vein Ijaws in Ogbe-ijaw, Makaiva etc are either expected to move to Burutu or Bomadi or perhaps swim across the River to Bayelsa.
Urhobos in Warri who even the most pro-Itsekiri narrative agrees have been in Okere/ agbasa, Ogunu, Ejeba, Ugboroke for well over nine generations are expected to move to Agbarho even when their roots can no longer be traced
And even in that Warri, the Urhobo and Ijaws expect the Itsekiris in Ugbuwangwe, Okere, Ode itsekiri, Ajamimoghan etc must find their way back to Yoruba land despite a clear record of Itsekiri having been in around the Sapele, Benin (Ologbo) Warri axis for about 500 years. They want to push them back to the Benin River as that is where history books say they are from.
Each of the tribes lay claim to total ownership of the lands when anybody with any conscience knows these tribes have occupied the lands since forever and in clear symbiotic relationships of farmer/fisherman exchanges.
I took the pains to have every tribes position and argument pasted on my page. I had a lawyer give us the legal position. I heard arguments wherein the Ijaws and Urhobos argue that Dom Domingos an Itsekiri leader used his College education to claim lands his fathers never ruled over. They also point to total oppression and exploitation by Dore Numa in the precolonial era and of Okotie-Eboh and an Awolowo who they say was so pro-Itsekiri as itsekiris are Yorubas.
They point to the fact that the Colonial masters knew to label the Itsekiri paramount leader Olu Of Itsekiri and not Olu of warri as he was a king of his people in a cosmopolitan/multi tribe warri. They continue to be angered by the 1953 move by Awo to change the Title to the Olu of Warri. The Urhobos point to their immediate violent protest in 1953 which was duly quelled. They point to Itsekiris having the 8 seat of Afenifere as proof of Awolowo partiality since Awolowo is known to be pro everything Yoruba related.
The Itsekiris also point to clear robbery of Sapele from them. They insist that they have an unshakeable joint ownership. They point to having 5 to Okpe/Urhobo's council's 11 members in the very first council set up around 1906 yet today after a long-drawn legal battle, the whole of sapele is considered Okpe/Urhobo even when it is clear they have existed in the aforementioned lands since forever and when Sapele continues to be so much their "base" till date.
From the foregoing, it is clear this is a question wherein people have tried to exclude others from lands they have been in for a really long time.
It is instructive to note that what you see of Warri or Sapele is not what it is today. These were largely vacant bushes with human settlements separated from each other. Aside Benin Kingdom, no other King is recorded as being powerful or as a conqueror. In fact the Oba of Benin will immediately quash whatever upstart king in any of these areas. THE OBA BROOKED NO COMPETITION. Till date, Urhobos and Itsekiris still consult the palace of the Oba of Benin when they want to crown a King...I know the Uvwies and Okpes do. Thus none of the Urhobo, Itsekiri or Ijaw Kings ruled over those not of his tribe.
Also ask yourselves if there are stories of war between the Urhobos/itsekiri/Ijaws in pre-colonial Niger-Delta. The new Itsekiri scare-word "Ijaw wanre" (The ijaws are coming) is new and not part of Itsekiri history or folklore. The wars and violence is new. The continued inter-marriages especially between Urhobos and Itsekiris clearly suggest a clear living in total cooperation between these people. In fact word is that an Ijaw king must be born by an Urhobo mother. These arrangements were to ensure exchange of fish and land produces in trade by barter.
Also note that in these marriages, the oldest person amongst the urhobos, Itsekiris, Ijaws break the kolanut whereas once a Benin native...irrespective of how young he is, is present, he breaks the kola. (A tradition that is slowly eroding but very extant when true custodians are around) This clearly shows that only the Binis were superior and the rest of the tribes lived in unity and equality.
Like I noted earlier, the war and violence is new. It would not be if there was a history of conquest or overlordship between these tribes. VIOLENCE ONLY OCCURS WHEN A PEOPLE TRY TO DOMINATE ANOTHER OR WHEN THEY KEEP THE "WATERING WELL" TO THEMSELVES.
THE NEED FOR THESE TRIBES TO LAY CLAIM TO OWNERSHIP
As I noted in my article on Okotie Eboh, the British like to deal with ONE POWERFUL LOCAL that can ensure peace and continued business for them. It is better known as INDIRECT RULE. People like NANA and DORE NUMA were able to provide that power in both warri and Sapele and but for the testimony of the representative of the Oba and the yoruba slave merchant PALMER (Palmer Primary School Sapele which I attended is named after this Yoruba settler), NANA'S claim to being Olu of Itsekiri and Sapele would be extant today when he was neither. These powerful locals like the NANA's draw their legitimacy from being representatives of their tribe and the bigger their lands and tribes, the more they are regarded and the Colonialists even arm them so as to quell those who dare to question their legitimacy. They thus claim lands way beyond that occupied by their tribes.
The Urhobos have been lucky to have the Mowoe's and Mudiaga Ojes and Salubis to dislodge those claims in court but the Ijaws are only now getting into their own and EK Clark is perhaps the first Ijaw to assume a position of power while the itsekiris have had a NANA since the 1800's and an Okotie-Eboh in the 1900's
Now these leaders collect all the benefits. Chevron and other companies signed all memoranda of understanding with the Olu of Warri. (Which is why the brilliant Okotie-Eboh changed the name to OLU OF WARRI so he is seen as leader of everyone in and around that area) In fact Erejuwa11 the Olu of warri is the first traditional ruler on planet earth to have two palaces as he had to move to the mainland to assert his authority.
THE ROLE OF JEALOUSY AS A CAUSE OF CRISIS
For Itsekiris in Sapele, there is not much oil nor industries and wealth to share so they remain quiet. However as the company that bought SHELL's interests moves to Sapele, let us watch how long the Itsekiris will watch the Okpe/Urhobos monopolize the resources.
So do put yourself in the shoes of the urhobos and ijaws in Warri. An Itsekiri boy with whom you played "suwe" and "kelekele" and "kpishun kpishun" will grow to immediately work in Chevron and build houses and perhaps take your girlfriend from you simply because he is Itsekiri. As an Urhobo or ijaw, you have to deny your heritage and answer "Misan" or "Toju" to be able to enjoy benefits in a land your fathers and fathers father resided in.
Indeed the itsekiris accuse the other tribes of JEALOUSY and I say they are right. If it was the other way round, will they too not be jealous and fight?
THE IJAW AWAKENING
The Urhobos are studious and have largely been content with their civil service jobs and have not really "fought" for Warri in a violent manner instead choosing the part to endless court cases some of which have lasted 30 years and more while the Itsekiris continue to be the main beneficiaries of the oil wealth. The Ijaws of course did not know their own power. They were content to be employees of the tugboats and ships owned by Itsekiris which were contracted by the oil companies. THEY WERE A QUIET LOT until.... When a local Government was canvassed for by the influential Itsekiris, the then governor being Ijaw changed the headquarters to Ogbih Ijaw and the Itsekiris were astonished as the whole creation was their doing. The governor however felt that the Itsekiris have only 3 towns in that local government and the ijaws 7. He felt that as the majority, the ijaws should have the capital.
The Itsekiri were annoyed and rioted and burnt a few places and the Governor changed it back to the original itsekiri town. The Ijaws, for the first time since Jaja of Opobo saw a need to unite and fight and the rest is very modern history. The Ijaws, the downtrodden tribe of the Niger-Delta suddenly realises that they could render the Chevron and shell and Mobil etc and their oil exploration closed. The OLU of WARRI could no longer guarantee safety of oil company workers and thus Chevron and other companies started to factor the Ijaws, as only their vessels could sail the waters. Itsekiri villages were sacked and suddenly the Ijaw youths became instant millionaires and rated for the first time.
The Itsekiri had made a mistake in thinking Ijaws would go the way of the urhobos and seek legal redress. The Ijaw action was to affect oil prices globally and Ijaws are today the singular most inportant tribe in Nigeria as crisis in their region leads to stoppage of oil exploration. In fact, an ijaw is president of nigeria just to placate them.
To say THE ITSEKIRIS CREATED A MONSTER by their altercation with the ijaws, will not be too far from the truth.
AS IT IS NOW
As it is now, there is peace in warri but deep hate between the average ijaw and Itsekiri. For the first time there is little or no inter-marriages between these two tribes. A lot of Itsekiri houses prior to the war are occupied by the Ijaws as Itsekiris continue to make Sapele...and also Benin (Sapele Majorly) their home
THE COST OF THIS PEACE
The Delta State Government spends a billion naira a month trying to keep the warlords of these two tribes happy. The Urhobo families of Okumagba are well employed by this government, a move many see as merely placatory and papering over large holes. (A position that may be untrue as the Okumagbas are deserving of whatever appointments they get. Francis and the rest are serious financial players in the economy and frankly with companies like BGL, Delta is blessed to have such people as sons. But perception is reality isn't it?) Emami Ayiri and Chief Michael "Ejele" Diden are multi billionaires and Tompolo is a god...SIMPLE! The moneys in the hands of these "leaders" of their people is to bribe sorry placate and also neuter any youth trying to throw down the gauntlet.
SO THE GRIEVANCE IS?
It was trade benefits with the Portuguese and then British but now It is oil revenue. The urhobos and ijaws want a lot more of the pie. The youths cannot continue to see just a particular tribe buying the big cars and houses while they hunger and starve.
Yes their leaders have been bribed to keep quiet but how long will these leaders continue to be leaders? how long will it be before some new Titans arise among the Ijaws and Agbasa Urhobo that would rubbish Tompolo, EK CLARKE and okumagba's leadership?
THE QUESTION NOBODY IS ASKING
With the Land Use Act declaring all lands to be property of the Federal Government and with the fact the traditional rulers have no executive roles but merely custodians of their people's values and culture; with the fact that traditional rulers are not even allowed to be involved in the voting process, WHY ARE THEY ALLOWED TO DEAL WITH OIL COMPANIES? Why are communities and private individuals allowed to have conversations with the companies? Why would particular tribes and communities be allowed to put so much pressure on companies to only employ and give contract to their people as opposed to every member of the local government?
ON THE KINGSHIP
I can never support any move to rename the seat of The Olu Of Warri. Too much water has gone under the bridge. Moreover, what is in a name? "A rose would smell as sweet by any other name" says Shakespeare.
The point remains that the seat must be limited to what the constitution says are its role which is chiefly as a custodian of the culture and tradition of IT'S PEOPLE.
Following therefrom, since the Olu is "Custodian of the cultures and traditions of its people, should the Olu decide to build a palace in Koko (which is not Warri and yet he rules over) or in Oguanja as was once attempted, there is no reason why not. HIS PEOPLE ARE INDIGENOUSLY THERE AND HE IS THE CUSTODIAN OF THEIR CULTURE and constitutionally so.
In the same vein, the Agbasas (Urhobos) in Warri should be free to have their King as well as the Ijaws their "Pere".
Now the constitution in following that of Britain has given the Kings NO POWERS in truth. Thus dealing with companies and revenues is ultra vires and must be stopped henceforth.
All dealings are to be done by elected representatives of the people and not by tribal leaders.
This rule follows the Orodje of Okpe as well as the Ovie of Uvwie and all kings in the state.
The Kings are kings of THEIR PEOPLE and do not even possess right of arrest, punishment or adjudication aside from things that have to do with culture and tradition and only of their people.
ROLE OF THE STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
The state HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY must pass laws that will make it illegal for any Local Government or company or anyone for that matter to deny any member of a "settler" tribe (who is a settler who is not? we all are in some ways.) benefits. It must be crystallized as law that Urhobos ijaws and Itsekiris rights and benefits must be protected in Local governments they find their settlements.
If this law is passed, it will render unnecessary for tribes to go to courts to establish that their fathers fathers mothers fathers mother was first to get to the land... things none of the tribes have been able to prove satisfactorily as can be seen by all claims by the various tribes. THERE IS NO WAY TO KNOW IF URHOBO OR IJAW OR ITSEKIRI WAS IN WARRI FIRST OR SAPELE OR ELUME FIRST. OUR HISTORY IS TOO UNWRITTEN FOR THAT TO HAPPEN WITHOUT A BENEFIT OF DOUBT.
Thus the State Assembly must protect "settlements" and "citizens rights" as opposed to who first got there or who came second.
THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT AS A SOLUTION
Much as we vilify how local governments are run, and hold them in derision, it remains the only way to assure peace. A community based pressure group or traditional leader only represent their tribe members but the local government factors even Igbos and Yorubas and Hausas in hausa quarters in warri as they all will vote in an election.
In Sapele for instance, the role of Vice chairman is reserved for Itsekiris (a position I have heard denied and affirmed so I go with it) and this is an unwritten political contract/pact. Thus if employment opportunities are sent to the local government, there will be an Itsekiri there to look out for Itsekiri interest.
In warri however, the reputed "12 disciples" who are twelve Itsekiri Leaders of Communities continue to monopolise the opportunities available to the land. They represent the new NANA and DORE NUMA, and FESTUS OKOTIE EBOH. Contracts, jobs etc etc are shared by them only and since it is a tribal based group, the Ijaws and Urhobos will continue to be excluded and thus hatred and jealousy grows...and we all know what hatred leads to...VIOLENCE AND DEATH.
Like i have tried to establish, it is preposterous denying communities who have been in areas for generations a right to the resources and benefits of the land. THE ITSEKIRIS OF SAPELE ARE NATIVES OF SAPELE AND IJAWS, ITSEKIRIS AND URHOBOS OF WARRI ARE NATIVES OF WARRI AND MUST SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE. Oil companies must stop dealing with tribal groups but instead deal with an all-inclusive Local Government. Job opportunities and contracts must be shared amongst all constituent tribes in that local government. As long as Urhobos and ijaws need to change their names to Itsekiri names just to get jobs, there will not be peace. If indeed everyone has a feeling of belonging and the opportunities for jobs, contracts, etc etc are available to them, there will be no need for them to fight and indeed the I BILLION NAIRA said to be spent on security will be used in making the land great for everyone.
YOU ALSO MUST NOTE
My "blooder" Tosan Ometie begs all to hold their horses. He asks that we go to the loading ports of NNPC and find out the tribe spoken if it is Ijaw or Itsekiri or Urhobo. He says Ijaws and Urhobos fight Itsekiris who only get crumbs. He asks me to name an Itsekiri who owns an oil bloc...including the Olu. He asks us to go to the employment list and find out how many Itsekiris are in management staff. That the Itsekiris in Chevron are merely junior staff and helps and that because of the poverty in the land, salaries paid makes Itsekiris seem like they are well-to-do. He says to look the management names and triibes spoken and to find it is majorly Hausa and then Yoruba, with Ibo coming a distant third. He says WE CAN CHOOSE TO FIGHT OURSELVES OVER CRUMBS OR ASK FOR A SLICE FROM THOSE WHO MONOPOLISE IT TODAY.
Another replied him (I forget whom) that first let these changes be made so when we get more money (I myself edits the piece to now include the PIB law which will give 10 perceent of profit to the host community which means there will be serious crisis when that ten percent is shared to the exclusion of some tribes) it does not prove a the ignition of a bomb waiting to explode.
As a big believer in capital punishment (all religions support it and I am a religious man) ANYONE WHO KILLS or causes anyone to be killed, or commit arson or any other crime, must face the full wrath of the law. No more should there be "political settlement" of murders. The Ijaws by dint of their number and arms have ridden roughshod over the Itsekiris. SUCH OPPRESSION MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE. Houses and villages of the Itsekiris taken over as spoils of war must be returned to them. Even in International law, you are not allowed to occupy lands you win in a war, how much less lands of sister tribes "won" through tribal skirmishes.
I repeat, TRIBAL WAR KILLINGS IS STILL MURDER and the murderers and inciters must be made to face the music. If children growing up know they can sate their evil lust for blood without consequence as long as it it "gbege", then we indeed have created monsters as then nothing stops them from killing at the slightest tribal provocation.
How is it easy to love each of our Itsekiri and Urhobo and Ijaw friends and yet once we gather, we hate as a group?
God bless Delta State, God Bless The South-South , God Bless Nigeria.