I thank God for the privilege of standing in your midst today as we mark the fiftieth year of the passing of Chief Mukoro Mowoe, alias "Oyinvwin." As we look back on the life of the man who towered above all else in the Warri of the mid-1930s and 1940s, we have to agree that Oyinvwi was indeed a fitting odova [nickname]. Next, I thank the Mowoe family for the honour it has done me in inviting me to speak on this occasion. Since I published a biography of Chief Mukoro Mowoe in 1977, the Mowoe family has shown me nothing but gratitude and due regard. Let me here state publicly that I do appreciate this regard.
In 1952, four years after Oyinvwi had gone to join his ancestors, there was a riot in Warri, involving the Itsekiri and the Urhobo. I was a boy of sixteen at that time, and had no understanding of what led to those riots. We merely heard that the Action Group -controlled government of Western Nigeria had decided to change the title of the ruler of the Itsekiri people from Olu of Itsekiri to Olu of Warri. Because of that change, the name Warri Province was changed to Delta Province. I was then in Warri College, Ughelli, a very odd name, come to think of it! Then the name of my school was changed from Warri College, Ughelli, to Government College, Ughelli.
As I said earlier, I was sixteen. Yet these changes, the reasons for which I did not folly understand, made a deep impression on me. Nine years later, when having finished my first degree I had a chance to do a Ph.D., I decided that I would study Itsekiri - Urhobo relations. It was a daring decision, because at that time nobody at the University of Ibadan had any interest in studying the history of the peoples of this part of Nigeria. My teachers did everything to dissuade me, but I stuck to my guns. When they found I was determined to go ahead with my study, even my supervisor did everything he could to frustrate me. I refused to be frustrated. I dared to go on. I did not know then that one day it would be my privilege to write the biography of Oyinvwi, the man who dared to build a commercial empire. You have to dare to be free.
Since my Ph.D. in 1965, I have had an abiding interest in inter-group relations in Nigeria. It is for that reason that I have chosen, as we remember Chief Mukoro Mowoe fifty years after he left us, to speak briefly on the subject of Changing Administrative Arrangements and Inter-Group Relations in an Evolving Nation State, focusing my attention on the old Warri Province, later Delta Province. Why the focus? Because Chief Mukoro Mowoe was the member for Warri Province in the then Western House of Assembly.
Colonial Rule and New Administrative Structures
For all of Nigeria's peoples, colonial conquest followed by colonial rule was a traumatic and revolutionary experience. Before colonial rule, except in the case of war, peoples in the Nigerian geographical area decided their own fortunes. Thus, one group may decide to enter into a covenant of peace and friendship with another. Indeed this is how peoples were formed. Each group was free to decide with whom it would relate and for what purposes. In reaching such decisions, the overriding consideration was what that group perceived to be its own interest, and how those interests could best be served. For example, I am from Erohwa in Isokoland. I grew up to know that my people had a covenant (0vo) with Aviara and Iyede. It was forbidden for the people from these three communities to shed each other's blood. You could not deny hospitality. You could not steal from one another. An Iyede man was obliged to provide a bed for an Erohwa man benighted in Iyede. The belief was that any one who failed to keep the covenant would suffer dire consequences - and indeed some did. We find similar covenants elsewhere. It was the groups concerned which took their decisions for reasons known and clear to them.
Colonial rule changed all that. Let us take the old Delta Province. First, we belonged to the Western Division of the Niger Coast Protectorate. Then we became part of the Central Province of the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria with headquarters here in Warri. Onitsha was part of that Central Province. Then in 1914 with the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria, Warri Province was created, with Warri as headquarters. Within that province, we had the Western Idzon, the Aboh, the Urhobo, the Itsekiri, the Isoko, the Ukwuani. The crucial consideration in setting up these administrative structures was the convenience of the new political masters. Personnel on the ground was limited. Money available for salaries had to be kept low if the raison d'être of colonialism -- economic exploitation -- was to be achieved. The people grouped into these new administrative arrangements were not consulted. Nobody cared to look into past history so as to ascertain whether the groups could work together amicably. People were brought together into new units for new purposes by the fiat of colonial decision-makers.
It may be argued that in the early years of colonial rule, from about 1900-1928, for example, the life of the peoples did not change dramatically, in so far as there was little change in village and clan life. Yes, indeed there was a new political authority, but it was far away and distant. Such a conclusion would be facile. Admittedly, the bulk of the people may have thought that nothing dramatic had taken place. In reality, colonial rule began to create incipient tensions as administrative arrangements invariably favoured some groups and put others at a disadvantage. From 1900 onwards when the British began to set up native courts in those parts, for example, these courts were not set up in every village or every clan. Also only members appointed by the British could sit on those courts. People sometimes had to trek miles to attend court even at local level. Centres where these courts held became relatively more important than others. Court members acquired a new importance in society. Whether or not these results were intended, colonial rule began, imperceptibly but surely, to introduce into our society new inequalities, new tensions. Some were favoured; some not. From time to time those inequalities and tensions erupted. That is what happened in Warri in 1952.
From 1928, until the coming of self-government for the old Western Region, colonial administrative arrangements played a major role in creating inter-ethnic tensions in Warri Province. We do not have time to provide the full background for the administrative reorganization of the 1930s. Briefly, it may be stated that the inequalities created by the native court system and the Native Court of Appeals system became such as could no longer be ignored. In ruling the Warri Province in the years up to the 1920s, certain groups had been subjected to others, wittingly or unwittingly. Given the nature of native courts, to set up a Native Court of Appeals to which all the ethnic groups in Warri Province had to send their appeals was a contradiction in terms. When an Isoko case came up to the Native Court of Appeals in Warri, presided over by Omadoghogbone Numa, an Itsekiri, which native law and custom was to be administered? Did all the ethnic groups have judges sitting on the court of Appeals? No. There was thus a great deal of discontent. The British saw that this was the case and decided that they would reorganize Native Administration so that each ethnic group would have its own institutions. On the face of it, this was a realistic decision. There was, however, a paradox. On the one hand, the presence of a central and centralizing government in the colonial system was preparing the way for new nationhood in the future. On the other, indirect rule, Native Administration and institutions based on ethnicity were focusing men's minds on primordial loyalties at the same time as a new colonial state was being built. We are still caught up in this contradiction today.
Let us return to the reorganization of the 1930s. In implementingtheir own decisions, the British found themselves departing from the principle they enunciated. Thus they created the Jekri-Sobo Division which had the Itsekiri and a number of Urhobo groups -Ukpe, Uvbie, Udu, for example. The Resident defended this action by arguing that the Itsekiri and these Urhobo groups were so inter-mixed that they could be expected to fuse into one people in the years ahead. Then there was created the Sobo Division, with headquarters at Ughelli. The importance which Ughelli came to acquire in Urhoboland is owed to this decision. It was the first place in Urhoboland where a British colonial official resided! The Sobo Division, however, included the Isoko who are not Urhobo. Other Divisions created were the Western Ijo Division and the Kwale Division. The Urhobo clans of Agboh and Abraka were included in this Division.
Anyone familiar with the history of Warri Province would know that the 1930s were years of increased Itsekiri-Urhobo tension because of the existence of the Jekri-Sobo Division with headquarters in Warri. The Urhobo in this Division protested endlessly against being subjected to the Itsekiri. They argued that they paid more tax to the coffers of the Division than did the Itsekiri and that their tax money was being used to develop the Itsekiri. Eventually, the British had to yield to the protests. The Urhobo were excised from the Jekri-Sobo division and a Western Sobo Division was created for them. The tensions which the Jekri-Sobo Division threw up lingered on even after the Western Sobo Division had been created and were fuelled by the Sapele land case in which the Olu sought to claim Sapele land as Itsekiri land on the grounds that the deed which gave parts of Sapele land to the British was signed by Chief Dogho Numa, an Itsekiri who, the Olu argued, acted on behalf of the Itsekiri ruler. The case went as far as the West African Court of Appeals where the Olu lost it. It is interesting to note that even non-Ukpe Urhobo contributed money to prosecute the Sapele land case. It was seen as an Itsekiri - Urhobo affair. Ethnicity had been sharpened as a consequence of colonial administrative arrangements.
As I said earlier, the Isoko were lumped together with the Urhobo in the Sobo Division. Just as the Urhobo groups in the Jekri-Sobo Division protested their inclusion in that Division, so did the Isoko protest their being in the Sobo Division. Unfortunately for the Isoko, no one listened to their protests throughout the colonial period. In fact it was not until 1962 that Isoko got its own Division. The person who represented Isoko in the Western House of Assembly was referred to as the "member for Urhobo East"! - thereby denying him his true identity. It was no doubt because of this administrative arrangement that the Urhobo kept claiming for a long time that the Isoko are Urhobo! There is no historical basis at all for this claim. The claim was made only because colonial administrative arrangements put the headquarters of the division to which Isokoland belonged in Ughelli, an Urhobo town. This meant that the Isoko frequently had to go to Ughelli to attend to various administrative matters. It meant the Isoko had to go to Ughelli to attend court (at a certain level). Consequently, the Isoko who had to go to Ughelli found it necessary to learn to speak Urhobo. Some gave their daughters in marriage to Ughelli men, so they could have lodging places when they had to go to Ughelli. The strange thing is that the Urhobo opposed the efforts of the Isoko to get a division of their own! The same people who had cried out against being put under the Itsekiri were determined to continue to dominate the Isoko, and even to deny them their separate identity. As I always say, in the matter of inter-group relations, we are not dealing with saints and villains; we are dealing with villains all. Whoever are favoured by a particular administrative arrangement want to hold on to it and to exploit it as much as possible to their maximum advantage. It is human nature. Yet what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
To conclude this part of the address, it isworth repeating that colonial administrative arrangements were made primarily for the convenience of the colonial administrators. When such arrangements resulted in inter-group tensions which could dislocate activities, the British tried to modify them. While such modifications could be justified, they did sometimes create new tensions. Let me illustrate. In the early years of the 20th century, when the British were penetrating into Urhoboland, they often took Itsekiri persons along as guides and interpreters. When the first native courts were established, some Itsekiri were appointed court members of Urhobo courts. Similarly, some Itsekiri were appointed as court clerks in Urhoboland. With time, the Urhobo began to protest against this practice. Eventually the British removed all Itsekiri court members and court clerks from Urhobo courts. This was a logical thing to do. In doing it the British sought to remove a source of tension. But the Itsekiri who had regarded themselves as allies of the British now felt let down. They did not, however, turn their anger and disappointment against the British, but against the Urhobo. Consequently, interethnic-tension persisted. So pernicious can inter-ethnic misunderstandings be.
The Nigerian State As a Carry-Over of the Colonial State.
In many ways, the Nigerian State in which we now live is a carry-over of the Colonial State. The British did not consult us before they put us together as Nigeria, as Western Nigeria or as Warri Province. They saw governance mainly in terms of the maintenance of law and order so that Nigeria could be effectively exploited for the benefit of Great Britain. Thus the colonial civil service had to be an exploitative service. Is it any wonder that even now our civil servants seem to think that they exist to exploit us not to offer us service for which we pay them? In the specific matter of administrative arrangements we find a great deal of the colonial practice in the way our nation operates. Let us, for example, consider the most recent exercise of creating local governments. Although some commission was set up to make recommendations to government, that commission did not consult the people with a view to ascertaining whether there was something in their history that would justify grouping peoples together or vice versa. As for the siting of local government headquarters, there was no consultation at all. Even when in the case of Warri and Ife where recent history should have put government on guard, government went ahead to make extremely indefensible decisions which have had the result of creating deep inter-group cleavages and the loss of hundreds of lives.
With the coming of self-government to the Western Region in 1952, local government was reorganized. Warri Province remained, even though the name was changed to Delta Province, and Warri remained the headquarters. That meant that senior administrative personnel stayed in Warri. That gave Warri specific political importance. Part of the reason for the ethnic tensions which erupted from time to time is that Warri became the greatest frontier of opportunity since the early years of this century, and therefore attracted many people of different ethnic groups.
That Warri became an administrative and commercial centre of great importance is not the doing of any of the ethnic groups in the old province. Not at all. Yet these ethnic groups find themselves from time to time fighting over control of Warri. They fight because controlling the political life of Warri confers certain advantages.
There is, however, an aspect of local government in the old Western Region which, so far as Warri city is concerned, was conducive to peace and harmonious living. In the 1950s, we had a Warri Urban Council and a Warri Divisional Council. The latter was largely an Itsekiri council with headquarters in Ekurede. The former was an all-comers council. All in the urban areas of Warri were free to contest election and they so contested. No conflicts arose because the lines were clearly drawn. I am persuaded that even though local government systems have evolved in different directions since the 1950s, where we are confronted with cosmopolitom populations with more than one group claiming to be indigenous to the given town or city, care must be taken in the creation of local governments. Local governments are supposed to enhance local development. They can hardly fulfill this role when, as has been the case in Warri recently, their creation leads to mayhem.
There is another aspect of the colonial state which the Nigerian state has taken on. The colonial state is necessarily a winner-take-all state. Once colonial rule is established, the colonizer has only one interest - to get the maximum economic benefit at the expense of the colonized. Since independence, politics has been a winner-take-all game. The concept of governance being for all is one we have not yet properly developed in Nigeria. I can never forget that in those days, just before elections, we would see drums of tar and heaps of sand on roads between Ughelli and Oleh. The elections would come and the Isoko would vote N.C.N.C., and the sand and drums of tar would disappear. The message was clear: you want your roads tarred? Vote for the party in power! That attitude persists. And that is why there seems to be no end to the agitation for the creation of states and local governments. Yet my observation is that creation of states and local governments does not seem to bring about any material change. All that happens is that when a state or local government is created, a new majority or favoured group is created which proceeds to lord it over a new minority. The winner-take-all syndrome persists and continues to result in inter-group tensions, whether these be ethnic or sub-ethnic or other kinds of groups such as religious or cultural groups. The painful truth is that when today's minority is, by some administrative engineering, transformed into a majority, it proceeds to unleash on the minority group under it all the evils about which it complained before -confirmation of the biblical statement that the heart of man is continually wicked. That wickedness must be purged for harmonious inter-group relations. And it is for the purging of that wickedness that we all need to pray.
What is in a Name?
Administrative arrangements are often given name tags. I spoke earlier of Western division, Central Province, Warri Province, Jekri-Sobo Division and so on. Over time these names come to have great emotive power. For that reason it is important that great care be taken in the choice and use of names. It was precisely because of this emotive power that the name Warri Province was changed to Delta Province as earlier noted. Let me try and illustrate and so make my meaning clearer. Some years back, the Nigerian Television Authority tried to do a documentary on the city of Warri. The script was sent to me for vetting. In the script, it was said that the Portuguese built a church in "Warri" in the 16th Century. When we met to review the script I asked the author what he meant by "Warri" in the context of the Portuguese building a church. He said he meant the Warri in which this lecture is holding. I told him that no Portuguese ever built a church in the Warri that has now become a city. He meant ode-Itsekiri, but deliberately used "Warri" on the grounds that the Itsekiri kingdom is the same thing as the Warri Kingdom. It was clear to me that he used "Warri" to score a political point. I tried, as a professional historian, to point out that the wrong use of names, even if calculated to score political points, can lead to great tensions.
Today, there is a local government called Ughelli South. It came into being when the former Ughelli Local Government was broken into two. One, with Ughelli as headquarters, was given the name Ughelle North. The other, with Oto-Ughienwe as headquarters, was called Ughelli South. Why should this latter one carry an Ughelli name, when Ughelli has nothing to do with it? Who knows, fifty years from now, some bright historian or other scholar might come up with the suggestion that the towns in Ughelli South Local Government have always been subject to Ughelli and that is why the name of the local government. A seemingly harmless action taken to reflect a purely administrative arrangement can, with time, acquire a completely different and unintended connotation. We all know that in our different societies names have deep meanings. We most be conscious that in inter-group relations careless use of names can lead to grave cleavages. If, for example, the Federal Government had not created something they called Warri South-West Local Government, many Itsekiri and Ijo now dead may well be alive. I believe there is something to learn. As we go into the twenty-first century, let those who exercise leadership be mindful of issues such as I have raised here.
By Way of Conclusion
As you listen to me, you may begin to wonder what all of what I have said has to do with Mukoro Mowoe whose memory we are gathered to honour. In 1989 I delivered the first Mukoro Mowoe Memorial Lecture in which I drew attention to the making and the mark of a leader in Mowoe. I cannot today be expected to repeat that kind of lecture. Yet, as will become obvious in this concluding section of the address Mowoe has a relevance for today. I titled his biography The Member for Warri Province. He was the only one who represented Warri Province in the Western House of Assembly at that time. All you have to do is read his speeches in the House, and you cannot but be struck by the fairness and balance of the man. He put before government the needs and problems of every group in the province. As I prepared for this address, I read again that part of the book. I was particularly struck by the eloquent plea he made to government to stop the neglect of the Ijo. He called for measures to be taken to help flood victims; for boats to be provided to ease transportation problems in the area; for health facilities to be brought close to them, given the difficult terrain in which they dwell. Today the Ijo are seeking their own nation, as a protest against a century of neglect. Way back in 1947 Mowoe was fighting against this neglect. Today's leaders can borrow a leaf from him in the area of fair mindedness.
Mowoe was a Warri man; His boneslie here, not in Evwreni. As a Warri man, he believed in building bridges across ethnic divides. He lived in a time of increased tension between the Urhobo and the Itsekiri. Mowoe was a key figure in the Sapele land case mentioned earlier. He was pitched against the Olu in that case. But he was a friend of the Olu till the end of his days. The story is told of how on one occasion Mowoe was with the Olu and had his hat on. An Itsekiri Chief used his walking stick to take off the hat. The Urhobo who were present immediately sprang up, eager to defend their leader. Mowoe turned the affair into a joke and eased the tension. He was the unchallenged leader of the Urhobo in his days. Yet his home was the meeting place for the business elite of Warri. He did not thrive on promoting tension and discord -- a practice for which quite a few leaders of various ethnic groups in Warri have become notorious. The administrative arrangements of Warri Province in his day were even more provocative than they are in our day. He lived above the tensions they threw up. You and I must seek to do likewise.
The other reason why I have gone about this address the way I have done is to give myself the opportunity of reflecting, however briefly, on what history is and its value. "History", someone has said, "is the memory of human group experience. If it is forgotten or ignored, we cease in that measure to be human. Without history we have no knowledge of who we are or how we came to be, like victims of collective amnesia groping in the dark for our identity. It is the events recorded in history that have generated all the emotions, the values, the ideals that make life meaningful, that have given men something to live for, struggle over, die for". It is indeed necessary that we should have something to live for -- something, some ideal, some value that is precious to us as human groups. If, however, we are not to kill each other over these values, we must also reach deep into history and learn how it is that human groups have accommodated each other down the centuries. The ovo (covenant) institution among the Isoko to which I earlier referred clearly came into being as a vehicle of accommodation. It is not uncommon in history for violent battles to end and be sealed with some covenant of accommodation. That is the meaning of "Live and let live". There is plenty of wisdom in that epigram. The peoples of Warri need to learn that wisdom.
You may have observed that really all I have done is to present a few slices of the history of this area -- the old Delta Province. There are many today who do not see that history is relevant to society. Where are the professionally trained historians of Urhoboland? Where are the historians of Itsekiriland interested in Itsekiri history? Where are the professional historians of Western Ijoland? As I advance in years, so I feel sad that I have produced no successors -- persons whose first love is the history of these parts. We have produced some historians, but they are not involved in the study of our history. In the Nigeria in which we live, nobody will study our history for us, if we don't study it.
Today's young people don't want to become professional historians because history does not sell on the labour market. May be it doesn't. But every nation, every group must have its historians. And all who have a role to play in the governance of their country had better be familiar with the history of that country. This is because part of the function of history "is to deepen understanding about men and society, not for its own sake, but in the hope that a profounder awareness will help to mould human attitudes and human action". Put differently, a proper understanding of the history of our nation should help in making all of us more tolerant, more able to act rationally. By unearthing material about Nigeria's history, including the history of these parts, the historian hopes, thereby, to provide all concerned with what they need for a more sympathetic understanding of the problems with which society has to contend. The truth, which most people ignore, is that the past which the historian studies is constantly impinging on the present. Do you really want to understand the present? Arm yourself with knowledge of the past!
Inter-group relations (including inter-group tensions and wars) are a function of history. The British political officer who said the Jekri-Sobo Division was created because the two peoples in it were closely related socially was correct. There was a great deal of inter-marriage. There was on-going trade. At purely personal levels there was great interaction. But at political and group levels there was tension -- because of the history of the years before reorganisation. That history is supposed to serve a purpose. History is supposed to give us knowledge. And knowledge should enable us to understand how things have come to be as they are. We find ourselves in certain situations not because we have worked for those situations, but because historical events have created those situations. When we thus understand the forces at work, we are mentally prepared to make those adjustments which we need to make in the interest of maintaining our sanity. When we understand how things have come to be as they are,we can be more sanguine in seeking solutions.
The Warri of today is a town torn asunder. My heart bleeds for Warri which I regard as my town. I grew up here. I went to secondary school from here. I went to university from here. I played football for Warri for years in the Challenge Cup competition. I met my wife in Warri, and Warri has been for me a home since I was twelve. To see Warri at war with itself is a matter of great pain. Certain administrative arrangements -- the creation of local governments -- have led to the eruption of war between two of our ethnic groups. Regrettably, the Federal Government, whose inept handling of the mater led to the fighting, has not been able to find a solution. Hundreds of lives have been lost, and who knows, more lives may still be lost. I repeat we are not dealing here with saints and villains. We are confronted with a terrible human situation embedded in the history of these parts. I appeal to lovers of Warri -- the Mowoes of our day -- to put their heads together and help find a lasting solution. I refuse to accept that we cannot find Urhobo, Isoko, Ukwuani, Aboh, who can cometogether and offer themselves as peacemakers to our embattled Ijo and Itsekiri. Changing administrative arrangements will continue to throw up problems for us. We must endeavour to live above those problems. An Itsekiri Chief who thought he was honouring his ruler struck the hat off Mowoe's head. Mowoe lived above that provocation. That is the way forward and we must seek it.
This lecture is taking place even as we are, as a nation, seeking once again to transit to elected civilian rule. A phrase that has become popular is restructuring. Some people are insisting that unless there is a re-structuring, there can be no real peace and justice in the land. What are these people saying? They are saying, among other things, that the administrative structures have favoured some groups for too long to the continuing disadvantage of other groups. They want a more equitable dispensation. Undoubtedly, those making this call are sincere and mean well. Let us, however, go back history lane. I was a postgraduate student when in 1961 I lead a team of students to tour the Delta Province, canvassing for the creation of the Midwest region. At that time, there were many in the old Western Region who were dead set against the creation of the Midwest Region. In the then Eastern Region, the Igbo majority lorded it over the Ijo, Efik, Ibibio and other minority groups, and it took some doing before other states were carved out of that region. As for the old North, to talk of another region was like sacrilege! Why? Because administrative structures always favour some groups and put others at a disadvantage. This being so, we must learn that no matter how we restructure, even when re-structuring is necessary, that is not enough. Man's heart must be touched. Those favoured must come to accept that it is the absence of any policy of equitable development that explains the constant demands for new states and new local governments. The Nigerian nation must accept the need to evolve a policy of equitable development for all who constitute the nation. That is part of the challenge of the 21st century.
To end, I ask: confronted with the situation we have lived with in Warri these last two years, what do we do? I know the two groups are arming themselves for more fighting. Some are seeking government intervention. Others are providing themselves with medicine that will keep them alive when the guns begin to speak. Permit me to say, "vanity of vanities, all is vanity". At a time like this, Christians in Warri -- and I mean born again, Spirit-filled children of God -- of all ethnic groups and denominations must meet together and fast and pray that God may stop the hand of war. I am a historian, by the grace of God. And I know that prayer shapes history. I know of seven times that the American nation has corporately fasted and called on the name of the Lord Jesus to intervene in the affairs of the land and God has answered. The same God will answer us if we would approach Him sincerely and penitently. I urge this on our people in and of Warri. I urge it with all my heart.
Mr. Chairman, the Mowoe family, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, we live in an emerging nation state. Because we still are an emerging nation state, administrative arrangements are still fluid. I for one believe that we should let existing structures have time to settle down, and not keep on creating states and local governments ad infinitum. However, while these changes keep taking place, there will always be groups that are advantaged and others that are disadvantaged. Tensions are inevitable in such situations. These tensions can be contained and managed by fairness, justice and equity. We must begin to acquire the political culture that enables both the advantaged and and the disadvantaged to live in peace. That is the challenge of leadership. That is the challenge of followership. The Mowoes of yesteryears had their challenges and faced and overcame them. The leaders of today cannot, must not, do less.
Thank you for your patient attention.