Howard University, Washington, DC, USA
July 24, 1999
(Issued: Tuesday, 10 August, 1999)
The Washington Peace Conference on the Warri Crisis was initiated and convened by Dr. Philip Ikomi of George Mason University and Dr. Bolaji Aluko of Howard University. The Izon, Itsekiri and Urhobo communities in North America responded to this initiative and met at Howard University, Washington, D.C., on July 24, 1999, to discuss and seek peaceful solutions to the Warri crisis.
The conference was conducted in two sessions. At the open session, Dr. Aluko read a goodwill message from Chief Anthony Enahoro. Chief Enahoro endorsed the idea of the conference and wished the delegates success in their deliberations. In his opening statement, the chairman of the conference, Dr. Ikomi, invited delegates to seize the opportunity offered by the peace conference to work together for the benefit of their respective peoples and communities which were dislocated by the Warri crisis. He appealed to them to make peace and advise their communities to stop the fighting. Leaders of the three ethnic groups of Izon, Itsekiri, and Urhobo delivered their respective opening statements in which they outlined their positions. They all condemned the fighting in Warri and sued for peace.
The closed-door session was devoted to a detailed discussion of the Warri crisis. A fundamental disagreement ensued when the delegations were requested by the chairman to identify the immediate and remote causes of the Warri crisis. Six causes of the Warri crisis were tabled at the conference:
1. Role of governments (federal; regional/state; local).
2. Siting of Local governments and their capitals.
3. Oil companies and ecological degradation.
4. Influx of arms into the area.
5..Title of the Olu, and
6. Status of Warri.
The three delegations accepted the first four of these causes as responsible
for the Warri crisis. However, the Itsekiri delegation rejected the inclusion
of the other two causes, namely, the title of the Itsekiri King and the
status of Warri. The Itsekiri delegates stated that they did not have
the mandate of their leaders in Nigeria to discuss those two issues.
Delegates were engaged in a protracted discussion in an attempt to persuade
the Itsekiris to recognize the right of other delegations to table what
they consider as the causes of the Warri crisis. The resulting impasse
prevented any further serious discussions of the issues. A motion to adjourn
was therefore moved, seconded and passed. The motion stated, inter alia,
that the refusal of the Itsekiri delegation to accept the inclusion of
the title of the Olu and the status of Warri on the agenda prevented the
peace conference from advancing.
Representatives of the Ezon, Itsekiri and Urhobo communities in North America convened at Howard University, Washington, D.C., on July 24, 1999, for a Peace Conference on the Warri Crisis. Dr. Philip A. Ikomi served as the chairman of the conference, while Dr. Mobolaji Aluko was the rapporteur. The chairman welcomed the three delegations, and declared the conference open at 9:00 a.m. with an informal introduction of delegates. This was followed by an opening prayer by Dr. Aluko.
Dr. Ikomi invited delegates to review the conference agenda for corrections and possible amendment. The agenda was amended to inlude the following: "Observance of a minute of silence for those who lost their lives in the current Warri crisis." The three delegations unanimously accepted the agenda as follows:
1. Discussion of causes of the Warri crisis:
(i) Immediate Causes
(ii) Remote Causes
2. Discussion of solutions to the crisis:
(i) Short term solutions
(ii) Long term solutions
3. Recommendations for Avoidance of such Crisis in the Future.
4. Suggestions for the future role of the coalition of ethnic groups for Peace in the Western Niger Delta:
(i) Continue the current association as a more inclusive organization to include the Isoko and Ukwuani.
(ii) Serve as a non-profit organization with a name to be decided in the future; or remain as an ad-hoc organization residing in the various ethnic organizations, with the understanding that such bodies could be called upon at any time.
The three delegations also endorsed the following goals:
1. To achieve harmony among the residents of Warri and its environs.
2. To work towards achieving a lasting peace in the area.
3. To help further the interests of all the people in the area by devising ways that will lead to the betterment of the area.
4. To work towards (a) an enhanced Revenue Allocation; (b) a reduction of the impact of oil exploration and degradation of the ecosystem of the Niger Delta; and (c) the rehabilitation of towns and villages destroyed during the crisis.
Following the introduction of delegates, a minute of silence was observed for all those who lost their lives in the current crisis. Dr. Aluko then read a message from Chief Anthony Enahoro.
After the Chairman's opening statement,. leaders of the three delegations
presented their respective opening addresses outling their viewpoints.
The opening statements are in the appendixes at the end of this report.
IMMEDIATE AND REMOTE CAUSES OF THE WARRI CRISIS:
The chairman now called on the leaders of the delegations to present their views on the immediate and remote causes of the Warri crisis. They are as follows:
The leader of the Ezon delegation, Mr. Francis Ebikefe Porbeni, identified the following as the immediate and remote causes of the Warri crisis:
1. Creation of local government areas.
2. Title of the Itsekiri King
3. Status of Warri
4. Role of Multinational Oil Companies
5. Laws that militate against oil producing communities.
The leader of the Urhobo delegation, Dr. O. Igho Natufe, submitted the following as the immediate and remote causes of the Warri crisis:
1. Role of governments (federal; regional/state; local)
2. Title of the Olu
3. Location of Local Governments and thier capitals
4. Oil companies and ecological degradation
5. Influx of arms into the area
6. Status of Warri
Mr. Bawo Ayomike spoke for the Itsekiri delegation. He did not offer any reasons for the Warri crisis. Instead, he read a brief statement indicating that the Itsekiri were disappointed at the choice of issues presented by the Ezon and Urhobo. He threatened that the Itsekiri would withdraw from the proceedings if the twin issues of the title of the Olu and the status of Warri were accepted on the agenda. He claimed that they were not authorized from "home" to discuss these issues. Following his brief statement he and other members of the Itsekiri delegation stood up to leave the conference.
The chairman of the conference, Dr. Ikomi and the rapporteur, Dr. Aluko, as well as all other delegates prevailed on the Itsekiri delegation to participate in the conference. They advised the Itsekiri delegation that all perceived causes, remote or immediate must be included in the agenda. Dr. Natufe of the Urhobo delegation argued that it was within the jurisdiction of respective delegations to submit their perceptions of the remote and immediate causes of the crisis, and that the Itsekiri delegation has no right to dictate the perceptions of other delegations. The Itsekiri delegation again threatened to walk out but was persuaded to remain by the chairman and rapporteur. The chairman then called for a short break to allow for further consultations and to see if the Itsekiri would change their position.
Upon resumption of talks, the delegates were asked to restate the causes of the crisis. At this stage, Mr. Eyisan Omagbemi, who had presented the Itsekiri Opening Statement, indicated that the Itsekiri position on the causes of the crisis was as follows:
1. Neglect and political marginalization
2. Worsening economic conditions
3. Pollution and degradation from oil exploration and exploitation
Both the Ezon and the Urhobo delegations restated their respective positions
Following restatement of causes, the chairman, rapporteur and all other delegates argued that the title of the Olu and ownership of Warri must be on the agenda and open for discussion if the delegations that raised these causes had reasons to substantiate their positions. The Itsekiri delegation refused, making it impossible for the peace process to continue. Discussion was therefore stalled over an extended length of time because of the Itsekiri refusal.
The Itsekiri delegation drew the attention of the conference to an e-mail which they claimed was circulated a day before delegates arrived in Washington for the conference. The rapporteur circulated copies of the e-mail at the conference. The e-mail contained excerpts of individual opinions and a list of legal briefs from diverse sources believed to be favourable to the Itsekiri cause and which they accepted as the only correct and infallible reasons that back their positions on the issues of the title of the Olu and the ownership of Warri. They then challenged other delegates to disprove their claims by submitting their counter claims through the chairman, Dr. Ikomi or the rapporteur, Dr. Aluko before any serious discussions could commence. Dr. Natufe of the Urhobo delegation pointed out that he did not receive a copy of the Itsekiri e-mail before he left his station for the conference. He also indicated that he telephoned his secretary from Washington to open his computer and fax any documents that arrived after his departure. One of the documents was the Itsekiri e-mail, which he and members of the Urhobo delegation had studied. He advised members of the Itsekiri delegation to remain and discuss all the issues, including the title of the Olu and the status of Warri. Mr. Francis Ebikefe Porbeni, leader of the Ezon delegation, stated that, besides the fact that the Itsekiri e-mail was sent after delegates had left their stations for the conference, the e-mail attachments could not be downloaded by most. He stressed that most delegates were only reading the Itsekiri e-mail for the first time when they received copies from the rapporteur, Dr. Aluko, at the conference. Dr. Gadson Omubo-Dede of the Ezon delegation argued that each ethnic delegation should be permitted to table what they believe constitutes the immediate and remote causes of the crisis if we expect a just resolution of the current Warri crisis. He specifically referred to both the title of the Olu and the local government issues as very serious causes of the crisis. The Itsekiri delegation lamented that their people had fought for and lost all legal battles over land ownership at Sapele to the Urhobo and Burutu to the Ezon and that they were not prepared to discuss the status of Warri and the title of the Olu as part of the agenda or communique.
Dr. Ikomi, chairman of the conference, revealed that prior to the peace
conference he had telephone conversations with some Itsekiri leaders visiting
London, England. He informed the conference that the Itsekiri leaders in
Europe advised him that the Itsekiris were urged not to participate in
the Washington Peace Conference on the Warri Crisis. This instructive disclosure
confirmed the positions of the Itsekiri delegation at the peace conference.
Mr. Andrew Edevbie of the Urhobo delegation countered the Itsekiri position
by pointing out that the Urhobo delegation did not have to seek the blessing
of Urhobo leaders in Nigeria before attending this peace conference. He
said the Urhobos agreed to participate in the peace conference as part
of their responsibilities to work with the Ezons and Itsekiris in the quest
for peace in Warri. He called upon the Itsekiri delegation to do likewise.
After a protracted discussion, the Itsekiri delegation then agreed that
they would now allow the title of Olu and the status of Warri to be discussed,
but that they [Itsekiri] would temporarily withdraw from the conference
room during those discussions. The conference then adjourned for lunch.
After lunch break, the Itsekiri delegation changed their position regarding the inclusion and discussion of the title of the Olu and the status of Warri on the agenda. They once again threatened to walk out if those items were included on the agenda and in the communique, which would have clearly stated that the Itsekiri delegation was not present during the discussion of those items as was earlier agreed upon. At this stage, the chairman unsuccessfully tried to delete the items from the agenda. All other delegates including the conference rapporteur supported the inclusion of all perceived causes of the Warri crisis for discussion if their inclusion would help to resolve the Warri crisis. Irrespective of the fact that the items on the agenda were re-arranged to accommodate the Itsekiris, they still refused to accept the inclusion of the title of the Olu and the status of Warri on the agenda. Mr. Edevbie of the Urhobo delegation invited the Itsekiri delegation to discuss the issues. He then placed a huge folder on the table containing the Urhobo response to the Itsekiri e-mail on their positions on the title of the Olu and the ownership of Warri. Mr. Ayomike of the Itsekiri delegation requested that any responses to their position be submitted to all delegations for their respective reviews and responses before any discussion at a future conference. Dr. Natufe countered that Mr. Ayomike's proposal was a tactical move of the Itsekiri not to ever discuss the two issues. Dr. Ikomi then declared that since the Itsekiris were against any communique that would indicate that there was any discussion of the title of the Olu and the status of Warri, only a report would be issued at the end of the conference.
At this point, Mr. Edevbie submitted an Urhobo delegation motion to
adjourn the conference. It was agreed that Mr. Edevbie's motion, reflecting
the friendly amendment of the Ezon delegation, be included in the final
report to be issued at the end of the conference.
The Motion to Adjourn
On this day, July 24, 1999, the Ezon, Itsekiri and Urhobo delegations came to Washington D.C. to discuss and seek solutions to end the Warri crisis. I, Andrew Edevbie, on behalf of the Urhobo Delegation, move as follows:
1 The record shows that every attempt was made to draw up an agenda and a proposal for the communique.
2. The Ezon, Itsekiri and Urhobo delegations agreed on the inclusion of the following agenda items, namely: Local Government and their capitals; Role of Governments (federal; regional/state; local); Oil companies and ecological degradation; and Influx of arms into the area.
3. That the Ezon, Itsekiri and Urhobo delegations were unable to reach a consensus on two of the six agenda items namely, the title of the Olu and the status of Warri
4. That the reason why consensus was not reached on the title of the Olu and the Status of Warri was the refusal of the Itsekiri delegation to include them for discussion
5. Therefore, on behalf of the Urhobo Delegation, I hereby move to adjourn the Washington Peace Conference on the Warri Crisis until further notice.
Dr. Joseph Ebiware of the Ezon delegation seconded the motion. Following
the adoption of the motion, the conference adjourned at 8:00 p.m. Members
of the three delegations, including the chairman and the rapporteur posed
for a group photograph.
1. Dr. Joseph Ebiware
2. Dr. Gadson Omubo-Dede
3. Mr. Francis Ebi Porbeni (Leader)
4. Mr. Justus Wariya
1. Dr. Felix Abeson
2. Dr. Oti Agbajoh-Laoye
3. Mr. Bawo Ayomike
4. Mr. Eyisan Omagbemi (Leader)
1. Dr. Igho Natufe (Leader)
2. Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro
3. Mr. Andrew Edevbie
4. Ambassador Elizabeth Ogbon