Urhobo Historical Society


A Reaction to a Book Launch of J. O. S. Ayomike's WARRI: A Focus on the Itsekiri

(As reported in Vanguard, July 8, 2010)

By Alice Ukoko

Excerpts (from Vanguard, July 8, 2010):

WARRI: A Focus on the Itsekiri, edited by renowned Itsekiri historian and chairman Itsekiri leaders of thought, Mr J.O.S Ayomike.


"Speaking in his capacity as the chairman of the occasion, former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, urged Nigerians to imbibe the spirit of living together as one and to live in peace for the good of the people, society and the country.

"General Gowon who has been in the vanguard of oneness specifically asked the Itsekiris and Urhobos to put their differences aside in the interest of the nation, just as he lamented that the present Nigeria is not the one he wished for.

He however charged Nigerians to think about what they could do to correct what was wrong with the country rather than harp on it.


Gen Gowon, while reacting to a question posed by one of the book reviewers, Mr. Agbeigbe, said, “Certainly this is not the Nigeria I want. But the fellow, who asked this question should ask himself what he has contributed to make Nigeria better, if we are all committed we would have the Nigeria we want.”  He said.


On the focus on the Itsekiris, Gen, Gowon said “History must not be left in the hands of people who have no sense of history. If we make the mistake of allowing just anyone to tell a story, all that we shall get in the end would be inaccuracies, deliberate distortions and outright falsehood that can only help spread  ignorance. In this kind of situation, we shall have a case of what a leading Nigerian writer would correctly describe as ‘combative ignorance trumpeting its own values.’ This, we must not allow this to happen.”


The former General
also argued that , “I believe that the writing of this book arose out of the intuitive need to correct the  history of a people for posterity, especially in the light of events of the past decade that have occasioned widespread misinformation about the Itsekiri following the spate of upheavals in Warri and its environs. This book should help a great deal to clarifying all areas of misinformation and help restore trust and confidence amongst all the people in the area who have lived and intermarried overtime.”


In his comments, the Editor and chairman Itsekiri leaders of thought Mr J.O.S Ayomike in an emotionally laden voice stated that “the book is part of the crowning of our experience and we have written things that we saw and participated in, things that were accomplished here in Warri….”


Continuing he added that “today, after two generations , I can proudly say as St Paul said to Timothy that my generation has fought a good fight, they have finished the race and kept the faith and like Simeon who at the sight of baby Jesus, just 8 days old in the temple realized that he had actually seen the long awaited Messiah.”


The book launch became a land mark event having produced the highest number of reviewers as six scholars in the persons of Professor Tony Afejuku of University of Benin, Professor Itse Sagay, Barr. Bright Omorogie, Barr. Sam S. Obaro, Prof. J.N. Omatseye and Barr. Fred Agbeyegbe reviewed the book.


Professor Afejuku in his review described the book as an excellent work of history and culture about the Itsekiri who have gone into diverse history books written by European and non-European scholars, historians and travelers alike as a highly civilised people.

 

According to Afejuku “generally, the forthrightness of the writers of this book is courageous, unsentimental and unsubjective, even though they are Itsekiri men who might be expected to write history from the biased stand-point of Itsekiri, they wrote the book without romanticizing, without exaggerating, without fanaticizing, simply put, they profoundly objectify and objectivize.”

 

He further stated that, “the Prologue of the book contains an account of how Warri came into being and the breakaway from Benin, it focuses on the Itsekiri and their early settlements, ownership of Itsekiri homeland, their Ijaw neighbours, the establishment of the Itsekiri kingdom of Warri; Itsekiri links with European and their Yoruba neighbours adding that it contains a graphic description of Itsekiri homeland and focuses on the interregnum in Itsekiri land”.

 
Alice Ukoko Re-Acts as Follows:-

 

Firstly, I want to point out that the book launched as stated above, for me is an interpretation of historical events as told by the Itsekiri; their early settlements; ownership of their homeland and establishment of the Itsekiri Kingdom amongst others. It is therefore difficult for me to comment on their perception and understanding of these events which they see as shaping the history of Itsekiri people of Delta State.

We are all free to recount our history as we are told it by others and expand it by contributing our understanding and our place in it on a continuous basis, this way we are all co-creators of our history. I therefore fail to see the point made by Gen, Gowon when he said:

 

“History must not be left in the hands of people who have no sense of history. If we make the mistake of allowing just anyone to tell a story, all that we shall get in the end would be inaccuracies, deliberate distortions and outright falsehood that can only help spread ignorance”.

 

I find the position taken by the General very unhelpful in his position as the chairman of an important event and one which goes to the very heart of a matter which many would say borders on Facts rather than just history. He ought to know that depending on whose event he was chairing the facts as presented would change.

At worse, the General’s remark is insensitive, provocative and unreliable at a time when the country he once took to WAR is fighting for survival. Hear him further:

“I believe that the writing of this book arose out of the intuitive need to correct the  history of a people for posterity, especially in the light of events of the past decade that have occasioned widespread misinformation about the Itsekiri following the spate of upheavals in Warri and its environs. This book should help a great deal to clarifying all areas of misinformation and help restore trust and confidence amongst all the people in the area who have lived and intermarried overtime.”

 

From the above, one would think that General Yakubu Gowon is the founder of Warri and so has accurate facts on the subject of who owns Warri.

I wonder what the General would say if invited by the Urhobo to chair the launching of the book WARRI CITY and British Colonial Rule in the Western Niger Delta” edited by Professor Peter P. Ekeh. One is tempted to guess that General Gowon’s remarks would be the same. This show of insincerity is one reason the General did not achieve the Nigeria of his dreams although by taking Nigeria into a civil war he led to a loss of almost one million Nigerian lives.

It is helpful to know that the matter of which ethnic nationality in Delta State owns WARRI has been addressed in a book review titled “WARRI CITY and British Colonial Rule in the Western Niger Delta” edited by Professor Peter P. Ekeh. (Please visit www.waado.org/Warri/book/WARRICITY_Review.html).

 Professor F.M.A. Ukoli, F.A.S., Oboiroro of Ogor Kingdom and retired Professor of Zoology, University of Ibadan, now deceased, presented his paper on the subject titled “I can See Clearly Now” at the Fifth Annual Conference of Urhobo Historical Society held on 29th October 2004 at the Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun, Delta State.

 

Excerpts from the Paper I Can See Clearly Now by Professor Frank Ukoli

 

...“The opening pages of the Preface dealt telling blows to the veracity of the frequently touted reasons for what has now come to be known as the Warri Crisis. The first of the assumptions, one can even say myths, to be exploded is this: it is not true that the minority Itsekiri are being oppressed by the mighty Urhobo majority. On the contrary, it is the Agbassa and Okere Urhobo who, though are in the majority, suffer humiliation and injustice at the hands of the Itsekiri who dominate the politics of the area.

Next to be debunked is the assertion that there was a case between Agbassa people and the Itsekiri in the 1920s which the Itsekiri won. There was no such case at all; the Agbassa sued Chief Dore Numa, not as an Itsekiri man or as their representative, but as a Political Agent of the British. Furthermore, the verdict of that case was based on “bare-faced fraud” given by a corrupt colonial court invoking the doctrine of overlordship of Itsekiri King over Itsekiri lands which clearly did not extent to Agbassa lands. It did not apply to Ugborodo land either. This is an Itsekiri community who successfully prosecuted their case in court. In any case, there had been no Itsekiri king for 78 years before the case. Dore Numa was no king!

More importantly, the Itsekiri establishment continues to cite this judgement to support their claim of ownership of Warri even though several subsequent judgements have repudiated the validity of the doctrine of overlordship.  Whatever the case may be, it is expected that the Land Use Decree (now Act) which is enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution should have put paid to this disgraceful chapter of the legal history of the western Niger Delta.

But most damaging to the case of the Itsekiri establishment are two significant revelations from a close examination of the so-called Protection Treaties which the British signed with the “Chiefs and Peoples” of the Niger Delta (and elsewhere in Nigeria) in the 1880s and 1890s. First, in the treaties with the Itsekiri, the full extent of Itsekiri country was defined to include the lands and waters of Benin River and both banks of the Escravos River. Nowhere did the Itsekiri lay claim to Warri nor was Warri mentioned, either in the 1884 or the 1894 treaty.

On the other hand, the treaty with the Agbassa (Sobo) of Warri District of 1893 shows quite clearly that the British recognised Warri as belonging to the indigenous people of the area, the Agbassa people. Also of great significance, as will become evident later in this review, nowhere in the treaties with the Itsekiri was the word “king” used; the treaties were with the “Chiefs” of Jekeri.”

Thank you Professor Peter P. Ekeh for your service to the Urhobo people of western Niger Delta.

 

As someone born in Agbassa Warri, I want to stress that I grew up knowing Warri as an Urhobo homeland with prominent names such as: Chief Essi of Igbudu amongst others.

 

I have reproduced a section of Professor Sagays’ presentation to enable clarity and knowledge as to who owns Warri.

 

"Reviewing the book from legal angle, Professor Itse Sagay stated that, “Warri: A focus on the Itsekiri” is about some political, business and intellectual elites obsession with Warri and the Itsekiri response to this obsession is not borne out of love for Warri but out of pathological pleasure in denying the Itsekiri their entitlement to the city founded by them and named after them.

 

"In addition he added that, “If we look at the Warri land cases, all conclusively confirm Itsekiri’s ownership of Warri and some of these cases have been reproduced at the back of the book as Appendices A, B, C, and D. They are in order: Ogegede v Dore Numa (High Court), Ometa v Chief Dore Numa at the Divisional Court (High Court), and the Privy Council, the Chief Commissioner, Western Provinces v Ginuwa 11, the Olu of Itsekiri and two others.”

 

It is important to note from the above that Professor Itse Sagay is drawing on land case decisions to back the Itsekiri claim for the ownership of Warri.  Are these the same land cases analysed by the Urhobo Professors? It would appear that the credibility of these cases have been dealt with in the Urhobo claim so that it is pointless to repeat these arguments. For example, Prof. F.M.A. Ukoki in his presentation has this to say:

Most importantly, the Itsekiri establishment continues to cite this judgement to support their claim of ownership of Warri even though several subsequent judgements have repudiated the validity of the doctrine of overlordship. Whatever the case may be, it is expected that the Land Use Decree (now Act) which is enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution should have put paid to this disgraceful chapter of the legal history of the western Niger Delta.

I hope that the review by Professor F.M.A Ukoki puts the claims at the recent launch of the book Warri from the Itsekiri it’s factual (historical) perceptive. Please contact Professor Peter P. Ekeh or visit the Urhobo Waado website.

I am particularly anxious to say that the argument of which ethnic nationality of Delta State owns Warri is important for posterity and as such, it is important that we know the facts as presented by each nationality.

However, I am offended by the position taken by General Yakubu Gowon at the latest book launch and therefore want to seize this opportunity to express my anxiety over the aspect of Nigeria’s history of which the General was a major player.

 

Nigeria’s Civil War Years

 

“History must not be left in the hands of people who have no sense of history. If we make the mistake of allowing just anyone to tell a story, all that we shall get in the end would be inaccuracies, deliberate distortions and outright falsehood that can only help spread ignorance”

According to the General, particularly as a custodian of Nigeria’s war years and hence experience, how has the General attempted to present the facts to his fellow Nigerians and the world that have a right to know? Can the General open a discussion on how his destruction of Nigerians lives using British bullets has unified Nigeria and secured British interests please?

It is clear as he himself pointed out, that history must not be left in the hands of people who have no sense of history for if we make the mistake of allowing just anyone to tell a story, all that we shall get in the end would be inaccuracies, deliberate distortions and outright falsehood that can only help spread ignorance.

General Yakubu Gowon is right but, in a country where facts about a war that cost so many lives,  and that made equally many people homeless and without food and dignity, to continue to keep quiet is a disservice to Nigerians and humanity. The General needs to open discussion on the true conduct of that WAR. In particular we need to know the role of the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson of Britain in that war. No one should be allowed to sweep such facts under the carpet. Where is our history of the war?

Should we depend on the version of events as narrated in the Half of the Yellow Sun? Or, should we leave the history of the creation of the Nigerian State in extremely oppressive circumstances and how the Federal Government of Nigeria under the headship of General Yakubu Gowon conspired with the Labour Government of Harold Wilson of Britain to kill so many Nigerians and deprive them of freeing themselves from the strangled hold of Britain during the war years in the hands of Mr. Michael Peel a British journalist?

 

Is the account of Mr. Michael Peel when he wrote thus correct?

“...The conflict’s outbreak revealed starkly the internal regional divisions entrenched in Nigeria by colonial Britain. It also placed the Labour government of Harold Wilson in a position of considerable responsibility. As the former colonial ruler and a regular supplier of arms to the Nigerian government, Britain would have a strhog influence on the conflict’s outcome.

"From start to finish, London’s position was one of unequivocal and highly controversial support for the Nigerian federal government. Arms continued to flow to the then federal capital, Lagos: London argued that it was merely continuing existing policy and fulfilling a duty to help defend a fellow Commonwealth member whose land had been invaded. No protests from Biafra, or its sympathizers overseas, changed what Britain maintained was a principled stance. Nigeria must remain whole and alliances must be honoured, London said, much to the Lagos authorities’ relief and the Biafran’s dismay.

What Britain was more coy about saying in public was that one of its biggest preoccupations was protecting its stake in Nigeria’s OIL”

(Page 51 “A SWAMP FULL OF DOLLARS Pipelines and Paramilitaries at Nigeria’s Oil Frontier by Michael Peel. Published in 2009 by I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd)

Forty years on, Nigerians are still waiting for the true account of what happened during the war years and the General’s role in the conspiracy of how British Labour government of Harold Wilson protecting British oil interest supplied the bullets that killed so many Nigerians. The General would say that he did what he could to keep Nigeria ONE!!!! But for who?  

So, before extending his crooked vanguard of oneness to the people of Delta State, he needs to tell Nigerians the truth of his dealings with the British, after all the history he presided over holds the key to enduring understanding and progress and oneness in that region of West Africa.

The General is however correct when he called on Nigerians to think about what they could do to correct what was wrong with the country rather than harp on it.


It is not helpful to say “Oh E never pass? That na old story” In fact, that is what history is about, past events told correctly to create the people that we must become learning from past experiences. It is a serious disservice to the many ethnic nationalities that are struggling to free themselves from the falsehood that Nigeria presently is. Read Michael Peel’s account of who we are then you will understand why we need to redeem ourselves. Fifty years later, Nigerians need to know how we got here, General Yakubu Gowon is not going to live forever, he needs to tell us now his part of our history. Nigeria’s Civil War Years   (ALICE UKOKO 6.8.10)



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