Peter Ekeh

Date: Fri, 20 Aug 1999 19:59:10 -0400
From: "Peter P. Ekeh" <ppekeh@acsu.buffalo.edu>
To: "Bawo_Ayomike@freddiemac.com" <Bawo_Ayomike@freddiemac.com>
CC: 'Andrew Edevbie' <edevbie@dwsd.org>, 'Jebiware <Jebiware@mcla.mass.edu>,
        "'Eyisan E. Omagbemi'" <eomagbemi@itsekiri.net>,
        FRANCIS EBIKEFE PORBENI <feporben@unity.ncsu.edu>,
        "Mobolaji E. Aluko" <maluko@scs.howard.edu>,
        'Paul Ekadi' <agbere@aol.com>, "'Justus D. Wariya'" <Ogidi@aol.com>,
        Aruegodore Oyiborhoro <oyibo@aol.com>,
        fabeson <fabeson@netscape.net>,
        Peter Ekeh <ppekeh@acsu.buffalo.edu>,
        Helen Ekeh <helenekeh@adelphia.net>,
        Andrew Edevbie <kevtrics@juno.com>,
        Aruegodore Oyiborhoro <oyibo@aol.com>,
        Igho Natufe <inatufe@NRCan.gc.ca>, Ona Pela <Onapela@aol.com>,

Dear Mr. Ayomike:

Your short mocking reply to Dr. Igho Natufe's correspondence with Dr. Philip Ikomi on the Washington, D.C., Peace Summit reveals in its entirety the dilemma that Dr. Bolaji Aluko and Dr. Ikomi face in their efforts at convening a Peace Congress on the Warri Crisis. Igho Natufe had alleged that the Itsekiri establishment "engineered" a massive attack on "Okere-Urhobo community" on June 4-7, 1999, and that they had targeted the "residence of the King of Okere." Apparently, his accusation does not bother you. What irked you, instead, is the mention of the "King of Okere" and "Okere-Urhobo community." You clearly imply from your reply that these entities -- "King of Okere" and "Okere-Urhobo community" -- are illegitimate. Do they therefore deserve to be destroyed? In the full context of the correspondence between Ikomi and Natufe, your reply clearly suggests that the attack "engineered" by the Itsekiri establishment on "Okere-Urhobo community" and the "residence of the King of Okere" on June 4-7, 1999, is justified because they are illegitimate.

You asked the question: "Where in recorded history have you ever come across this monarch [king of Okere]?" The answer is, "Nowhere." If there is no recorded history of kingship among the Okere-Urhobo, but the people of Okere choose to make their own history by having their own King, what prevents them from doing so? Is it a slave colony that has no rights of its own? Every community has a right to choose to have a king or not to have one. My understanding is that the people of Okere had no king until recently. They have chosen to have one. What is your problem with that? Agbon is one of the largest sub-cultural units of Urhoboland. Until the 1950s, it had no king. In the 1950s its citizens decided to have one. Now their royalty is flourishing. What prevents Okere from following the example of Agbon?

Beyond the kingship matter, you seem to question the very right of "Okere-Urhobo community" to exist. You mocked Dr. Natufe as follows: "I suppose in the next breath, you will probably proclaim Urhobo-ownership of Okere." Who else owns Okere but the people of Okere? Nigerians own Nigeria. Deltans own Delta State. Okere people own Okere. Is that not the constitutional meaning of citizenship? Are you suggesting that the people of Okere are not citizens?

In your address to the Washington Peace Conference, you conceded that the Okumagba family won a case claiming areas of Okere. If so, what prevents them from claiming ownership of Okere? Chief Benjamin Okumagba has claimed that in that case "the Supreme Court of Nigeria in Suit No. SC/309/74 . . . found among other things:

(i) That the ancestors of the people of Okere-Urhobo kingdom namely Idama, Owhotemu, and Sowhoruvbe founded Okere;

(ii) That the Olu's Kingdom did not extend to Okere; and

(iii) That the Olu's over-lordship rights did not extend to Okere."

Do you deny the Supreme Court's and Chief Okumagba's claims? If you cannot refute them, then on what judicial basis do you wish to deny the people of "Okere-Urhobo community" their right to exercise their own existence?

Talking about legal matters, I am aware of the legal doctrine called "customary ownership" that belongs to the Olu. According to its protagonists, this form of indirect ownership overrides the direct ownership rights of landlords in Warri. But may I call your attention to the case won by the esteemed Itsekiri politician and legal luminary against the Olu and Itsekiri Lands Trust. On 9th July, 1971, in a celebrated case Suit No. W/15/1970 that pitched Chief Arthur Prest against the Itsekiri Communal Lands Trust, the court declared as follows:

For the avoidance of doubt, especially as there are numerous cases pending in the Warri High Court on this overlordship issue, I hereby make it abundantly clear that the defendants [the Itsekiri Communal Lands Trust] have no power whatsoever in law to exercise the Olu of Warri rights of overlordship over lands owned by private individuals and families in Warri Division.

Even assuming that the 1974 court case won by the Okumagba family had not happened, this victory by Arthur Prest invalidates any claims of "overlordship" over any portion of Warri City in which there are only family and individual land holdings.

I have gone to this extent to make several points. First, your mockery of "Okere-Urhobo community" and the "King of Okere" is wrong. They are the victims of an unprovoked attack organized by the Itsekiri establishment in a conflict in which they are not involved. Rather than being apologetic as a representative of the Itsekiri establishment, you are mocking them.

Second, it is wrong for you to deny the "Okere-Urhobo community" the right to exercise the cultural right of having their own kings, if they so wish, while you claim absolute right in this sphere for the culture to which you belong. The Okere people are peace-loving people. They do not seek to rule the Itsekiri. You should leave them alone. In this regard, you should understand that as Nigerians and as a free people they have the cultural right to name their king as they please. If you wish to call your King the Olu of Warri, that is fine. But then the Okere people cannot be denied the same right that you wish to exercise. They call their King the OVIE OF OKERE. They are a free people, hopefully as free as the Itsekiri.

Third, it is silly to say that Urhobos do not own any part of Warri. The recent attack on Warri demonstrates that very fact. If Warri belonged to the Itsekiri, it would have been spared. Urhobos own a very large chunk of that city. Legally, the British-imposed medieval doctrine of feudal "overlordship" has long been deposed in Nigerian courts. It is not the turn of Urhobos to go to court. Those who do not like the current judicial declarations (especially in Arthur Prest versus Itsekiri Communal Lands Trust) may go to court to overturn them. Urhobos are fully satisfied with them. It is therefore wrong to expect that any Urhobo delegation will make the foolish concession that Warri is owned by some legal fiction that has long been overthrown. The Urhobo delegation to the Washington Peace Summit will return to negotiations on the full acceptance of legal and constitutional rights of citizens to own their own property. I know of no other city in Nigeria whose citizens have been subjected to perennial harassment on the claim that some "monarch"has overlordship rights over its people and properties. 

Finally, I want to make it clear that Urhobos came to the Washington, DC, Peace Summit on the full understanding that we are not combatants. The Ijaws and Itsekiris are combatants. It is true that Okere-Urhobos have been attacked. But they and other Urhobos have refused to be drawn into a physical conflict with the Itsekiri despite provocation. For this, we are proud of Urhobo leadership. We are particularly proud of the Orodje of Okpe who has invested a great deal of his time to ensure that there is peace between the strong Itsekiri population at Sapele and their Urhobo compatriots. We note with satisfaction that Itsekiris trust Urhobos enough to escape from Warri for Sapele and other Urhobo towns. Urhobos will participate in any search for peace in the region because we all will benefit from peace. But it is up to the combatants to stop fighting.


Peter Ekeh

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