Urhobo Historical Society

A Reply To Professor Itse Sagay's Claims on Warri
 "The Urhobo Are Not Expansionists"
 By Victor Ak' Denla
Vanguard, Sunday, May 25, 2003

ORDINARILY, one would have thought Prof. Itsey Sagay would not be involved in such controversy as the issue of Warri ownership. The professor has done so much for the resource control battle to the envy of those of us who are youths from this neglected part of the country. However, his article in the Sunday Vanguard of May 11 stopped short of the truth expected of him. One is really disappointed in the manner he tackled the issue of political control of the Warri area. If the professor had been objective in his handling of issues one would have kept quiet knowing full well that the professor, a respected lawyer and distinguished academic, is capable of handling such matters objectively. While he has listed the rights of the Itsekiris without telling his Itsekiris kith the home truth, one becomes suspicious of his motives.

The Ijaws could rightly be blamed in their sacking of various Itsekiri villages but adducing the same to the Urhobos is unfair of the professor. The Urhobos have never sacked Itsekiri villages, they have never gone beyond the Warri Township to go and attack the Itsekiris in their villages and as such have no territorial ambition. Calling the Urhobos settlers in their natural homeland of Warri is nothing but mischievous. The Urhobos have never contended with the Itsekiris as to the ownership of their portion of Warri Township while the Itsekiris have done everything to dispossess the Urhobos of their land.

I wonder what informed the professor that the Itsekiris who traded with the British were in control of Warri or the Itsekiri areas of Warri. Did the Nanas and Numas fight a war of conquest to annex the Urhobo areas of Warri? The Urhobo have never contended that the Itsekiris are not the owners of their portion of Okere, neither have they fought the Itsekiris to control Ode Itsekiri. They (the Itsekiris) have fought the Urhobos for political control of the Warri area. That control did not come until the late Obafemi Awolowo decided that the Urhobos of the area must come under the Olu of Itsekiri. History has nothing like the Warri kingdom, rather there was the Itsekiri kingdom presided over by the Olu of Itsekiri.

The professor one would have expected should be fearless in speaking the truth and call a spade a spade has done the contrary. The Warri area of today is a name from the township, which was not exclusively Itsekiri territory. If the Itsekiris want to control the entire area, no one is stopping them. The fact is that they should not think that every other people must slave for them like the Urhobos did in the era of the British when they lied that the Urhobos were their slaves while trading in items sold to them by the Urhobos. Historically, the township was never part of the Itsekiri kingdom, those areas inhabited by the Urhobos were never part of the Itsekiri kingdom. The Urhobos had settled in them long before the Itsekiris came. The Itsekiris originally were settled in Ode Itsekiri from where they began to expand to other areas and were granted spaces by the Urhobos. Coming centuries later to lay claim to areas not belonging to them is an affront to the settlers who had taken the Itsekiris as brothers for long.

The Itsekiris due to their political connection had used political power to lay claims to Warri Township through Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The professor should acknowledge this fact. The Warri problem is one requiring political solution because it is a political problem. The Europeans did not trade with the Numas and the Nanas as the rulers of a Warri kingdom (which never existed, neither were these acknowledged as the rulers of a Warri Kingdom encompassing both the Urhobo and Ijaw portions) but as middlemen. It is also a fact that they traded with the Urhobos not as their rulers but as trusted businessmen. The title "Olu of Warri" is only a contraption of Chief Obafemi Awolowo who in 1952 approved such. The Itsekiri traditional ruler who hitherto knew nothing of the Warri main town suddenly became a resident of the area, packing away from the traditional Ode-Itsekiri home of the Itsekiris. This was the beginning of several legal battles between the Urhobos and the Itsekiris. The professor should know that more than the Urhobos, the Itsekiris have been more ambitious in annexing the land of the Urhobos.

This could be seen in their claim to Ugbolokposo in Uvwie, the clash between the Itsekiris and the Ekpan people over the ownership of the refinery site in Ekpan and their spurious claims to Urhobo portions of Warri. The Urhobos were no tenants of the Itsekiris, even common sense should spell out the fact that if Ode-Itsekiri is the homeland of the Itsekiris, then they are the group requiring of land for expansion and it is this expansionist ambition that has led them to Urhobo land.

The Urhobos who had in the time past seen no harm in living with the Itsekiris began to view with suspicion the role the Itsekiris played in aiding the white man into the Niger Delta. While the Urhobos had often regarded the Itsekiris as brothers, the Itsekiris to the contrary had seen the Urhobo man as his slave. This age long deception in the attitude of the Itsekiri man culminated in arm twisting Chief Obafemi Awolowo into proclaiming the Olu the overlord of the Warri province.

One hopes that the professor is aware of the fact that Warri province was not the same as Itsekiri kingdom. So who is politically ambitious. Or should the name of the local governments harbouring the Itsekiris be changed to Itsekiri North, Itsekiri South West and whatever to reflect the political ambition of the Itsekiris? In the matter of ethnic cleansing, the professor should not have joined the Urhobos in the matter because it is not true that the Urhobos are after the Itsekiris. If the professor visits Warri after a major crisis, I challenge him to often quantify the losses in term of Itsekiri and Urhobo areas. The Urhobos have borne greater losses to their properties than did the Itsekiris who initiated the act of property destruction in their quarrel with the Urhobos after their first brush with the Ijaws. A visit to Warri will convince the professor that the Itsekiris have been more vicious in their attack of the Urhobos than the other way. Urhobos have never opposed the right of the Itsekiris to self determination but the Itsekiris had gone as far as denying the Urhobos their right in Warri.

Perhaps, the professor needs a graphic definition of Warri to understand that the Urhobos have never gone beyond the town of Warri to attack the Itsekiris. Warri Township, the professor must admit, is made up of about 60 per cent Urhobo territories that the Itsekiris had sought to annex.
Indigenous People

The Urhobos had never contended Ode-Itsekiri with them nor have they contended with them for Escravos or Koko and all other Itsekiri villages. Itsekiris are not the indigenous people of Warri Township, they met the Urhobos there and should therefore respect the right of the Urhobos to live in their own homeland. As it is, the Urhobos are the minority group in one of the three local government areas where they have been lumped with the Itsekiris. Yet, the Itsekiris had opposed their right to agitate for separate local government while not asking that any of the Itsekiri territories be included in the local government.

The Urhobos have never sought to colonise the Itsekiris, rather, it is the Itsekiris that had sought by all means to colonise the Urhobos by all subtle and clandestine means. The fact that the Urhobos are in control of some local governments does not mean that where they are in minority in their indigenous homeland, they should not agitate for liberation from the imperial ambition of the Itsekiris. It is obvious that it is the Itsekiris who have ambition to take over the political control of Warri. Indeed, the professor goofed, matters of history should have been thought to us by people like Professor Obaro Ikime. The Agbarha, Agbassa, Ogunu, Okere Urhobo, Ekurede Urhobo areas of Warri were never part of the Itsekiri kingdom yet it is the Itsekiris that have sought to colonize these areas and some other Urhobo lands.

Does the fact that the Europeans traded with the Numas and Nanas make the Itsekiris the owners of Urhobo lands? If the professor agrees that it indeed means that the Itsekiri own the area, we will then be right to say that the Royal Niger Company own the entire Niger Delta and indeed the entire Nigeria because they were the sole agents of the imperial government of Britain.

Or is the professor saying these were holding the Urhobo territories in trust for their Olu as well? Even then, in what items did the Europeans trade with these Itsekiri middlemen? Did the Itsekiris produce these items or they bought them from the Urhobos while they later went to the white man to lie that the items were from their slave camps? Such is the trust of the Urhobos on the Itsekiris who spared no remorse in betraying such trust.

The professor should tell the others whose land the Itsekiris had sought to annex to remove Warri from the name of their areas so that the Itsekiris can have the exclusive right to the name. He should check history again to see if there was anything like Olu of Warri or Olu of Itsekiri, Warri Kingdom or Itsekiri kingdom, if there was ever a Warri that was the capital of such Itsekiris of Warri Kingdom. The fact is that to resolve the crisis in the Warri area, a bold step must be taken and it does not matter who is hurt at the end of the day. Be he a royal father, a titled chief or a political office holder, the right approach is to go back into history and invoke a political solution. It was the politics of Itsekiris and the Action Group that brought about the Warri crisis so it is requiring a political solution.

The Itsekiri problem and ego is the same with Nigeria, where all have been made to live together by force without respect for their consenting right. This is why, the nation must also recognize the fact that we need a sovereign national conference to right the wrongs of amalgamation and the partitioning of Africa by the Europeans.

•Mr Ak’Denila is a former students’ leader, a writer,a producer, and coordinator of Movement for Non-Violent Conflict Resolution.