THE NIGERIAN NATION
D. A. OBIOMAH
THE URHOBO ITSEKIRI FEUD:
THE WARRI QUESTION
I WOULD be obliged if you would publish this rejoinder to the feature story by Maurice Akade which appeared in Concord Magazine of Sunday Concord of 1st July, 1984, Mr. Akade must be congratulated for being bold to write his factual report despite the threats of the wealthy Itsekiri man featuring in the story.
However, by discussing the issue under the general designation of Urhobos and Itsekiris the story touches. only the periphery of the war leaving the intense heat of it. This is misleading. The war is not between Urhobos and Itsekiris. It is between the Agbarha Urhobo Clan of Warri Local Government area and the entire Itsekiri tribe. The bone of contention is Warri Town.
What is the Warri Question? It is simply this. The Agbarha Urhobo people are owners, founders of Warri Town. They have been in continuous possession. There are other non-Agbarha Urhobos in the extended Warri Urban area of today. The Itsekiris claim that they gave Warri land to the Agbarha people to build their town so they are overlords of Warri including Okere Urhobos. The entire Itsekiri tribe endeavour to use their wealth, learning and manpower to remove and efface the Agbarha people, a single clan and not a large one at that, politically, economically and socially, Systematically they replace the Agbarha with Itsekiris. They do the same to the Okere.
In other words the Itsekiris have been and still are pulling the strings which have caused bloody wars among mankind at all times. Hence, it is a shocking misunderstanding of the question to refer to it as a "senseless squabble." Even Modakeke is not senseless and is not a squabble. And those who garrulously say "we are tired of it" must be persons who are not deprived of the comforts, and psychological satisfaction of full citizenship in their places of origin and cannot therefore have first hand knowledge of the pain, frustrations and degradation, which the conceited Itsekiri daily hatch for the true Warri Urhobo people. So they are satisfied with playing tennis with Itsekiris at Warri Club. It is a struggle for survival and cannot be brushed naively aside.
All Agbarha Clan lands are within Warri Local Government area. There are Ijaw lands of three Ijaw clans as well. But listen to Mr. O. N. Rewane, a lawyer and spokesman of the Itsekiri position:- "The Agbassa Urhobos are less than 2,000 people out of the present population of Warri Local Government Council area estimated at about 300,000. Over 50 years ago, they occupied two small villages and five hamlets but today all the two villages and hamlets except two (hamlets) have been completely absorbed and urbanised by the Warri City. In the result, Agbassa exists in name only and not in reality." (See paragraph 9 of Press Handout dated 15th October. 1983), the import of this statement applies squarely to the Agbarha, Okere and Ijaws.
If Rewane says that the Agbarha are a mere 2,000 people who make up the remaining estimated population of 298,000 of Warri City? Does he imply that this number is the influx of non-indigenous residents in his urbanised city of Warri? If so he is one of such non-indigenous residents because his father is a native of Jakpa in Benin River and his mother is Urhobo of Ughelli Local Government area. Is he saying that the rights of the indigenes have passed to the residents and he is the anointed claimant of these rights to the exclusion of his 2,000 indigenes? Have Lagosians lost their rights yet because they are a handful? Or because Lagos has become urbanised?
Mr. Rewane also says that the Agbarha people came to Warri 200 years
ago from Agbarha-Otor. The book History of the Itsekiri by
William Moore, an Itsekiri of Itsekiri royal blood, says at page 185:-
"During the reign of Olu Irame, a fatal skirmish occurred at Agbassa-Otor, and the quarters which suffered most in casualties resolved to migrate, and so they came to Olu Irame and begged for a place wherein to dwell. He apportioned to them the place Ubumale where they built a town (present town of Agbassa) and settled down."William Moore tells us that Itsekiri oddessy began about 1480 by Ginuwa lasted about 66 years before Ode-Itsekiri capital was reached. This is accepted by Itsekiris. Reading at paragraph 1 page 86 last paragraph of page 87 and paragraphs 1 and 3 of page 88 show that Irame reigned between 1546 and 1588. This makes it at least 400 years on the showing of the Itsekiris that the Agbarha Urhobos built Warri. William Moore was not making a careless mistake. He wrote as an enemy as indeed what follows is virulent vitriolic upon the Agbarha people.
William Moore has produced the order of the Itsekiri dynasties adopted by every Itsekiri writer so far. Where then did the learned lawyer get his authority from to the effect that the Agbarha people obtained the land from one Olu Atogbuwa in the 18th Century. Rewane finds Moore uncomfortable. Surely if Ginuwa's sons Ijijen and Irame arrived Ode Itsekiri about 1546, they could not have settled down and mastered the locality to be giving lands across the rivers cutting off their island of Ode-Itsekiri to other emigrants like themselves to settle on.
Indeed Professor Otite concludes that the Agbarha people must have been in Warri for about 600 years, a position supported by J.O.E. Sagay in his book The Warri Kingdom written for the proposed celebration that never was of 500 years of the Itsekiri Kingdom falsely called Warri Kingdom. Sagay says that Ginuwa met the Oghara Urhobos at Ugharegin in his passage from Benin, he may not have known that Jesse and Oghara also came from Agbarha-Otor as a second wave of migrants after the Agbarha of Warri.
The situation being what is outlined above, is it not astonishing that non-indigenes of Warri should seek to oust the Agbarha from Warri? Where are the Agbarha to go? Are they really a mere name and not a reality? Then the culture of the Agbarha must be a culture of Phantoms. Have Nigerians not heard of the celebrated Agbassa juju celebrated in Warri biennially? This makes the Itsekiris uneasy. They want to destroy this antiquity in the heart of Warri Town. Their last attempt was in 1981. They could not stop the festival in 1983. All Nigerians and the Police should be wary of their antics against the festival of 1985.
What exactly do the Itsekiri do to fire hatred and discord?
*Policy of Itsekiri only: In dispensing patronages and appointment the state government tries to get all ethnic groups represented as much as possible. For Urhobo government appoints from the three Urhobo L. G. areas. For Warri Local Government area Itsekiri is represented. The Itsekiris are thus always sure of being in government.
Matters of appointments etc. pertaining to Warri Local Government area are referred to the Itsekiri representative who nominates his tribesmen. Thus Itsekiris only are spread over the local government, contracts, honours and official invitations and what have you, to the exclusion of everyone else. To quote the Sunday Concord "the Itsekiris say the Urhobos are adequately represented in other areas of the Delta province. "This argument is a fatuous exposition of greed. It is like saying that the Yorubas of Kwara State should have no representation of any sort in Kwara State because Yorubas are Adequately represented in Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Lagos states.
*Gestapo policy: Itsekiri monopoly means that information about projects and events reaches them first. They immediately strengthen their interests while writing others off by secret falsehood.
*Uprooting Urhobos and transplanting Itsekiris: As commissioner for local government or as chairman of local government council or planning authority they have interacted with the defunct Itsekiri Communal Lands Trust, seized lands of the Agbarha people and redistributed them to Itsekiris thus importing Itsekiri population into Warri to join hands in seizing Warri. Their ill-motivated Itsekiri Communal Lands Trust, true to its satanic origin, was a brutal weapon of land sequestration until its demise in 1978. Its manipulators perfected the same devices which the Action Group used in the Western Region as contained in the Coker Enquiry report re-echoing one or two names of claimants of Warri lands. One and the same person is a high office holder of two establishments of which he may have interest in one. He writes a letter from the one establishment making a request for land or money. He receives his letter in his other capacity and approves it. Influence with government often helped such infamy. The Agbarha people were systematically dispossessed in this manner.
*Policy of all Itsekiris under the sun being Indigenes of Warri Town: In the fifties when the Action Group coined the pass word by which Yorubas were called "Omo eku aro eji re" the Itsekiri as Action Groupers coined "Oma Iwere." They now claim that the name Warri is derived from Iwerre and so Itsekiris are children of Iwerre. Ode Itsekiri was and remains the Itsekiri capital. It was not called Iwerre or when was it changed? Iwerre is not the name of a common ancestor.
Itsekiris were not known in present day Warri until recently in this century. How can itsekiris be children of Iwerre? How can every Itsekiri be an indigene of Warri, a place which is neither the native land of his father nor his mother? The propagandists have done it to delude Nigerians and have a whole tribe invade one clan. Everyday on television we hear the news translation in Itsekiri starting with "Oma Iwerre".
*Policy of credence by establishing presence: In addition to seizing land they change place names to reflect Itsekiri. When one of them was commissioner for local government the nominated council was Itsekiri and similarly, the traditional council of chiefs. New schools were named after Itsekiris. Time-honoured palace-names were replaced by Itsekiri names. Only Itsekiris were invited to official engagements which fell to the council to organize. Employment into council's service was confined to Itsekiris. All this a make-believe that Itsekiris own Warri.
*Sheer Brigandage: The Itsekiris say that Dore Numa won a suit against the Agbarha as overlord with the Agbarha holding possessory title. The Agbarha say that the verdict was manipulated to protect colonial interest which is true as records now show.
However, the Okere Urhobo won a title suit against the Itsekiri over their portion of Warri lands. The Itsekiri totally disregard it and act as though there has never been such a law suit. And the land Use Act? Also Section 39(2) of the 1979 Constitution? These abolished overlordship. But the Itsekiri stiff-neckedly insist that their Itsekiri Olu who was imported as a stranger into Warri in 1952 for the first time since 1480 is the prescribed authority for the Urhobos. Well may the Itsekiri say that 1952 is a long time ago and that the status quo should remain. The struggle for Nigeria's independence must have been to such humbugs with small opportunist minds a bother. For the Itsekiris it is not a matter of good conduct. It is a matter of desire completely impervious to the sensibilities of others. Cry Botha!
Itsekiri/Urhobo Feud: The Itsekiris have a well oiled propaganda machinery. They are priests with daggers under their cloaks. While persecuting the Urhobos for showing intermittent sympathy for the Agbarha position they announce to the public that they and the Agbarha are friends but the Urhobos are oppressors who want to use their greater numbers to dominate their Warri and the Itsekiris. Thus they constantly focus on the Urhobos in general and play down the name of the Agbarha who are the core of the problem and whom they scourge. If Nigeria sympathises with far off South African blacks, what wrong attaches to the Urhobos who say that wrong is wrong and "Itsekiri Apartheid" must stop? For the Agbarha it is a struggle for survival. For the Urhobos it is a reaction against backward-looking chauvinism, greed and effrontery.
It is no use saying that it is a senseless squabble. Senseless it must be on the side of the Itsekiris. We have fought many battles on this score and won most. The Justice Idigbe's Land Use Panel Report of 1977 described the Agbarha position in Warri as without comparison anywhere else in Nigeria. In spite of the Land Use Act the enemy hardens and hurries to carry out its evil plans. It is for the Agbarha not a senseless squabble. It is a wracking and debilitating war. The wealthy, erudite, debonair, ruthless Itsekiris must stop cannibalising us.
I doff my hat to Maurice Akade and his colleague who visited the Itsekiri chief and lawyer, referred to as a major "protagonist in the on-going controversy" for daring to publish. We kook forward to more action of this kind from the press and the authorities to change the situation described by late Justice Chike Idigbe as without comparison anywhere else in Nigeria. May his soul rest in peace. It is hoped that more light has been shed upon this vexed question for the public to identify it for what it is.
Proceed To Appendix C: Ovie Of Warri