October 1999


Urhobo and Itsekiri, two neighboring ethnic groups in Nigeria's Niger Delta, share a large expanse of lands as boundaries between their peoples who have inherited the reverine territory where the great River Niger drains its waters into the Atlantic Ocean. For centuries, these peoples have lived together in relative peace. However, with colonialism and the appreciation of land values at the turn of the twentieth century, there were several disputes on ownership of lands between Itsekiri and Urhobo.

Ajagbodudu lies in a contested piece of land, over which there has been some litigation between Oghara, a cultural fragment of Urhobo, and Itsekiri. Even so, Itsekiri and Urhobo have lived in peace in its neighborhood. There is a large amount of inter-marriages in this area of western Niger Delta. Local conflicts have occurred, but not on a large scale and not frequently.

On October 29, 1999, a simple dispute escalated into a heavy fighting between some Urhobos and Itsekiri. In ordinary times, this sort of dispute would be settled locally. But it was quickly conjoined with the existing problems in Warri City where there was physical conflict between Itsekiri and Urhobo in June 1999, five months before the Ajagbodudu inter-ethnic fight.

The Itsekiri organ reporting these matters in North America and in the internet is Itsekiri Survival Movement. It did not comment on this Ajagbodudu problem for two weeks. But the temptation to exploit it must have been considerable. On November 13, 1999, the Itsekiri Survival Movement denounced Urhobos for this local conflict. This drew a challenge on the characterization of the conflict from Urhobo Historical Society.

What followed these initial exchanges was, quite dramatically, a plea for reconciliation which was pursued by Urhobo and Itsekiri leaders living in North America, both publicly and privately. It was an opening that revealed a yearning for peace by both sides in the perennial quarrel between Urhobo and Itsekiri ethnic groups in the western Niger Delta.

We have assembled the public email exchanges on this issue, although there are several private email messages urging peace that have not been included in these pages. The messages start with the problem at Ajagbodudu. But they quickly move on to the larger issues of Urhobo-Itsekiri relations. They are published here because they reveal a great deal about the desire for peace in our region of Nigeria.

Peter Ekeh
February 26, 2000