Urhobo Historical Society


LAGOS, NIGERIA.     Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Finding a Solution to the Warri Crisis

THE internecine conflict in the Warri territory among the three ethnic groups of Urhobo, Ijaw and Itsekiri, particularly, in the recent times, between the last-named two communities, has assumed frightening dimensions. In the past few days, the Ijaw and Itsekiri communities have transformed the Warri territory into a veritable theatre of war. Countless lives, including those of innocent men, women and children, as well as valuable property worth tens of millions of Naira, have been wasted in the trail of the fratricidal war. The town has become unsafe for business and its residents; it is fast becoming a national embarrassment.

This war did not start yesterday, nor the day before, it has been with the people like a chronic plague. One of the results of the unending crisis in the Warri area is that the so-called rich oil-city that used to be a booming commercial emporium has now become a literal ghetto, a mere shadow of its former self. So many multinational and other companies have had to relocate to safer climes as the perennial inter-ethnic war rages on.

The interminable nature of the crisis and the level of havoc it has wreaked on the economy and people of the territory call for a dispassionate appraisal of the root-cause(s) of what is fast becoming a national headache. If Delta State is said to be a microcosm of Nigeria, it is because of the disparate congeries of ethnic groups, such as the Urhobo, the Ijaw, the Isoko, the Itsekiri, and the Igbo nationalities. The Warri territory alone boasts of at least three of those ethnic groups. These are the Urhobos, Ijaws and Itsekiris. All three of them had lived together amicably, inter-marrying themselves and mutually sharing their wealth of cultures for over five hundred years, until divisive politics started to rear its ugly head.

Successive governments of Delta State have made strenuous efforts to find a lasting solution to the Warri problem. In this regard, some credible commissions of inquiry, including those of Justices Agu and Idoko, had turned in voluminous reports on the possible causes of the recurring crisis and on suggestions for its elimination. Unfortunately, like all previous commissions of inquiry set up by successive federal and state governments in phrenic response to the outbreak of hostilities or to allegations of massive fraud levelled against any group of persons or institutions in any part of the country, the reports of those Commissions had been thrown into the dustbin as though some persons, in and outside Delta State, benefit from the interminable but unfortunate crisis.

Delta State remains the largest producer of petroleum and gas in the country. Accordingly, the socio-political stability of the state ought to have been uppermost in the mind of the Federal Government. Curiously, however, successive Federal Governments have behaved as though instability rather than stability in the area were a sine qua non to the subjugation of the people whose oil wealth constitutes the mainstay of the nation's economy. Until 1997, for instance, the ethnic rivalry in the Warri territory was limited to the Itsekiri nationality and the two Urhobo kingdoms of Okere and Agbasa in Warri.

In that year, the Federal Government under the late Gen. Sani Abacha created, in the country, a number of local government areas, including a Warri South-West Local Government Council, whose headquarters it located at Ogbe-Ijoh, in the Ijaw area of Warri. Defying reason, and as if the Federal Governemnt was irked by the resultant peace which attended that decision, it relocated the headquarters of the same local government council to Ogidigben, an Itsekiri area of Warri. That singular act of indiscretion on the part of the Federal Government widened the scope of the ethnic rivalry by getting the Ijaws embroiled in a skirmish that has now assumed military dimensions.

Since the outbreak of the destructive tripartite war, the Federal Government, whose act of indiscretion triggered it off, in the first place, has sat on the fence, leaving the State Government to bear the brunt of the resultant conflagration. The state Governor, Chief James Ibori has had to temporarily relocate from Asaba, the state capital, to Warri to stem the tide of the ethnic "war". One thing that has become very clear since the fresh outbreak of hostilities in the Warri territory is the virtual failure of the nation's security outfits" the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), the State Security Service (SSS) and the Police. What are the security agencies doing? It is a crying shame that the crisis in Warri has become a bloody, recurring decimal.

In response to the recent outbreak of hostilities, the Federal Government has set up the Lt. Gen. T.Y. Danjuma-led Committee, whose awaited report, we hope, will be fair to all the ethnic rivals and acted on with despatch, and not held in abeyance like those of its predecessors (the Agu and Idoko Reports). It should be clear to both the state and Federal Governments by now that a major solution to the on-going crisis should include the creation of a separate local government council for each of the warring ethnic groups, one of whose claims to ownership in the Warri territory cannot be disputed. To check the ongoing violence in the area, it may be necessary, in the interim, to declare Warri, officially, a disturbed area. If there are vested local interests and individuals fuelling the crisis, these should be identified and made to face the due process of the law.

Besides, the Federal Government should take special and direct interest in the socio-economic development of the Warri area, in particular, and of Delta State, in general, by establishing job-creating institutions that can engage the energies of the warring youths whose unemployment serves as a major heating agent in the perennial crisis. Experience has shown that indirect methods through the likes of OMPADEC and NDDC are not wholly serving the intended purposes. Direct Federal Government intervention is desirable. Deployment of massive military and police personnel to the war-torn territory is, at best, a mere fire-fighting palliative and not the cure.