Urhobo Historical Society


 By His Excellency, Chief James Onanefe Ibori,
Governor  Of Delta State, Nigeria

Being An Address By His Excellency, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, The Governor  Of Delta State To The Delta State House Of Assembly On The Warri Crises On Thursday, August 28, 2003.

Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members of the Delta State House of Assembly, let me  begin by commending this Honourable house for making it possible for me to address this important arm of Government at a time when clear indications reveal  that we need to re-order our political thinking.

Mr. Speaker Sir, I have no doubt in my mind that the house is motivated by the highest sense of patriotism to be able to convene at this short notice at  great inconvenience to members who have to break their well-deserved vacation.

No price is too high to pay for Our dear State and our people. It is the spirit that has brought about today's special session. As we marked the 12th Anniversary of our dear State yesterday, it was a State duty performed with mixed feelings for we should actually be mourning our brothers and sisters who lost their lives in the fratricidal conflict.

Delta State, the Big Heart of Nigeria, is historically a child of circumstance. It was conceived in ethnic agitations. Born in ethnic and sectarian agitations and it has continued to thrive in the midst of mutual ethnic distrust and acrimony.

I must say, however, that in our ethnic diversity lies the strength of our State. The fascinating ethnic composition of our State provides us with socio-economic and political advantages of unity in diversity. Democracy together with its attendant challenges is an added advantage for enhancing our strength in  my humble view.

One of the most serious challenges to the successful working of democratic  government in every civilization has been the unresolved tensions and conflicts generated by the phenomenon of diverse ethnic and social groups.

As H.C. De Silva says, these ethnic differences are not wholly negative factors as we sometimes imagine. Throughout human history, ethnic differences have  been known and are capable of being used as a unifying force to give separate  agglomeration of peoples a sense of community and a strong group identity.  This sense of a larger unit of distinct cultures of great values is the spirit of  the current and sustained move towards regional globalisation for political and economic or military reasons all over the world. The emergence of such  formidable powers blocs as European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation(NATO), the Africa Union and Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS) are  eloquent examples of the relevance of regional globalisation.

Please permit me Mr. Speaker and Honourable Members to recall a phrase in our  old national anthem-"Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we  stand". The social and political expression of oneness in unity and destiny that  has brought us into our beloveth State is the strongest resource God has  endowed us with and this we must preserve.

The primary constitutional duty in our democracy is to establish order, peace  and good government for our people. Therefore, at times of crisis and  conflict as these, we are challenged. We must respond appropriately to give hope to  our people and uplift the spirit and great values of democracy.

As elected representatives of the people, we owe it a duty to preserve the  lives and property of all irrespective of our ethnic affiliation and political  Creed. It is no excuse that the cause of the acrimony had existed long before  the State came into existence. It is therefore ennobling that the Almighty God  has placed us in a position to solve this problem once and for all. It is a great blessing for us to be counted among those who will be harbingers of  permanent peace in our land. This is a moment that calls for courage; a moment that calls for great sacrifice and forebearance. We will not fail.

We recall the past with nostalgia when our people evolved the spirit of  regional globalisation among the three ethnic groups-Urhobo, Ijaw and Itsekiri to develop the common trade with the Portuguese and other Europeans. These brought  prosperity to the region. There was no ethnic discrimination between the three ethnic groups in their social and economic life upon which was built family bonds and unity that are unequalled in any part in the history of the continent. The highest rate of inter-ethnic marriages in Africa is in Delta State. The highest history of contact with European nations and civilization was established in the Niger Delta. These cultural exchanges are manifest in the cosmopolitan language of pidgin English, socio-cultural institution, diplomatic decorum, cuisines, exquisite fashions and taste. These are great legacies that  remain our pride and must be preserved and passed on from generation to generation.

Our democracy places a burden on us to ensure that there is no sectorial  dominance of one group over another and there must be a proper balance between the competing interests of our people. For there lies the integrity and unity of  our state. This is the mission of Government.

We must look inward for a solution to our problems. In our history lies the  solution. In our great traditional heritage, we will find the solutions.

Theories to be found in great books cannot be a substitute to the indigenous wisdom, resourcefulness, and creativity in conflict resolution. We must demonstrate to all that we are equal to these challenges by the dangers posed to our co-existence.

Modern politics has bequeathed to us several forms of government and conflict meditation. Nigeria as a nation today is a union founded on the principles of Federalism, giving rise to a measure of unity in diversity. We should draw inspiration from this to wed together the divergent interests as a just solution  for resolving ethnic problems.

God has given each of us a measure of independence and freedom as expressed in the theory of freewill propounded by great philosophers. Therefore, a recognizable ethnic group should also have a measure of authority and sovereignty within the context of our constitutional arrangement for the full realization of  its aspirations.

From recent events in our state and elsewhere, it has become apparent that the system of Local Government Administration has not adequately responded to the aspirations for peaceful co-existence of the diverse interest groups in our State.

It is also apparent that the existing System has not been flexible enough to foster the union of inclusiveness demanded by the people under a democratic dispensation.

Section 14 (4) of the 1999 Constitution stipulates among others, that the composition of a Local Government Council and the conduct of the affairs of such a council shall be carried out in such a manner as to recognise the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of  belonging and loyalty. But it should be recalled that the existing local Government Councils came into force before the present Constitution. The manner of  their creation has not been able to respond to the lofty ideals of unity in diversity enshrined in the constitution.

It is pertinent to note that there is great national concern that the present  system of Local Government Councils needs reforms. We must commend Mr. President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for his bold initiative in pursuit of  this objective, even though the approach has evoked some criticisms.

In the peculiar Warri situation, we cannot afford to wait for the outcome of  the envisaged reforms. We have an immediate duty to stop the ethnic carnage and anarchy that have engulfed the Warri axis of the State. As the adage warns  us, the wise man must be wise before, not after the event. We must bring our wisdom to play. Our people are hungry for development; Our people are thirsty for peace.

The problem before us has a long history. Let me quickly recall some of the initiatives taken in the past to tackle the problem. During British colonial rule in our part of Nigeria, the principle of ethnic and national autonomy was  preserved through the doctrine of Indirect Rule introduced by Lord Frederick Lugard. When Warri and other towns were established in the 1890's, a local administration system was set up. It followed as much as possible the principle of  ethnic autonomy. In the Warri Province, Local Councils were established for the Urhobo, Isoko, Ijaw, Itsekiri and Ukwuani. Subsequent reforms extended this system to embrace other areas. This arrangement continued into the 1940's when the Sir Arthur Richards federal constitution came into force. This gave added impetus for extending local autonomy to all constituent ethnic and language groups. The British colonial administration adhered to the preservation of the idea of unity in diversity for example, the Western Regional Government in the old Warri Province created the Gbaramatu, Egbema, Ogbe-Ijoh, Warri Divisional and (later the Warri Urban District) Councils. This system engendered peaceful co-existence and a sense of belonging among the people.

As recently as 30 years ago, the principle of local administration remained paramount for the purpose of the development. Even the autocratic military  regime of 1966-1975 adhered to this principle. For instance, in 1974 the Ogbemudia  government of the old Mid western Region established Development Committees for the region. In the Warri division there were the Warri Urban Development Committee, the Ode-Itsekiri Development Committee, Ogbe-Ijoh Development  Committee, Benin River Development Committee, Egbema Development Committee, Ugborodo Development Committee, Gbaramatu Development Committee and Koko Development Committee. All of these should indicate to us that the mutual co-existence of  the ethnic groups will require the recognition of the identity and aspirations of the various ethnic groups.

The crisis we have today has arisen because the process of Local Government reforms and creation was carried out by a central government that had little knowledge of the local peculiarities of the Warri situation. As a consequence, the balance the British colonial administration and subsequent post-independent governments used to stabilize relationships among the three ethnic groups was destroyed. This is one of the major causes of the current instability and  violence in the area.

It is clear that the present arrangement lacks the necessary ingredient for balancing ethnic interests in the Warri area. Therefore, there is urgent need  for the ethnic groups to meet and fashion out an indigenous administrative framework that would guarantee a fair, just and equitable co-existence. For now, our focus should be on how to build an efficient system of local administration that would meet the yearnings of the people for development.

Mr. Speaker and Honourable Members, we have a task before us. To accomplish the task, I have made reference to relevant local government reforms and  legislation of the past to stimulate our thoughts process on the way forward.

It is time to come to terms with the express needs of our people in the ability of Government to deliver them from the present calamity. We can only be relevant to our democracy and people to the extent that we are able to do this. We must through wide consultations, discussions, debates and frank exchanges which are some of the great attributes of democracy achieve a consensus for a just and equitable co-existence among the ethnic groups in the Warri axis. As the representatives of the people in this democracy, you have the mandate to initiate this historic peace process. You have a duty to assist the Warri ethnic groups to embrace this peace process in order to find a lasting solution to the carnage that has caused poverty, misery, and shame to Delta State. These afflictions must be eliminated.

Mr. Speaker Sir, and Honourable Members of this House, this assignment is urgent. Given the urgency, of the task, Government expects the outcome of your intervention without delay, so as to enable it through legislative process design a framework for achieving enduring peace and harmonious inter-ethnic relationship in the State. This is the only way forward to realise our hope and pride.

Mr. Speaker we cannot afford to fail.

Thank you for your attention and God Bless.

Office of the Governor,
Government House

August 28, 2003.