AGBARHA URHOBO KINGDOM
WARRI SOUTH LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA
DELTA STATE, NIGERIA,
A FEDERAL PROTECTED TERRITORIES BILL
PROPOSED BY THE ITSEKIRI
OVIE OF AGBARHA KINGDOM, WARRI
The Palace of the Ovie
6, Edewor Street
P.O. Box 309, Warri.
Warri is at present a time bomb. It is like a huge pond or lake filled to the brim with petrol, and it requires only a tiny spark to combust. At this critical period one would have thought that well meaning individuals, groups and responsible leaders would suggest viable, equitable and just options to usher in permanent peace to the division. Unfortunately, the Itsekiri leadership, under the guise of a dubious Warri Council of Chiefs and an equally dubious Warri National Council is sponsoring an ominous bill, the Federal Protected Territories Bill (Vanguard July 5, 1999, pages 22 and 23) to the Senate for the creation of a Federal Protected Territory for Warri Division. Warri Division, which comprises the three controversial councils of Warri North, Warri South, and Warri South-West, is home to three indigenous ethnic groups of Urhobos, Ijaws, and Itsekiris.
Each ethnic group has its own defined geographical territory. The Urhobos are made up of two clans: Agbarha Kingdom and Okere-Urhobo Kingdom. The Agbarha Kingdom is the largest Urhobo ethnic group in Warri with a population of over 80,000. The Urhobos occupy the south-east of Warri Division, and in present day, Warri South Council, occupying about 85% of the city of Warri. The Ijaws occupy the South and North-West of Warri Division. The Ijaws have four Clans: Gbaranmatu, Isaba, and Ogbe-Ijoh which occupy the South, and is at present in Warri South-West Council, and the Egbeoma clan which occupy the North-West and is in Warri North Council. The Itsekiris occupy the center, mostly along the Benin River and other creeks in the riverine areas of Warri Division. They are spread in the three Warri councils of Warri North, Warri South and Warri South-West. A look at the map of Warri Division shows that the Itsekiris form an enclave, surrounded by Ijaws in the North-West and South and Urhobos in the East.
Of the three ethnic groups the Itsekiris are in the minority with a total population of about 60,000 as against over 150,000 each for the Urhobos and Ijaws. Unfortunately, the majority of the Urhobos and Ijaws in Warri Division were never consulted by the Itsekiri leadership over the purported proposal for a Federal Protected Territory for Warri Division. Against this brief background, it can be seen that the Itsekiri proposal for a Federal Territory for Warri is ill-conceived and, in scope and content, is apartheid and needs not be entertained by the Senate.
THE APARTHEID STRUCTURE OF THE PROPOSED
FEDERAL PROTECTED TERRITORY OF WARRI
The structure of the proposed ominous Federal Protected Territory (FPT) for Warri, found in Section 16, i.e.. the schedule of the so-called bill, consists of three apartheid organs:
The Traditional Council, according to the Itsekiris, will consist of 20 members made up of 15 Itsekiris, 3 Ijaws and 2 Urhobos, with the Olu of Warri as the permanent chairman, where the Ologbotsere, the traditional Prime Minister of the Itsekiris will preside in the absence of the Olu. This arrangement is to ensure that the minority Itsekiris who constitute only 16% of the total population in Warri Division enjoy 75%, and thus, virtually a total control of Warri Division. In the so-called traditional council, no mention is made of the Peres (i.e. kings) of the 4 Ijaw clans and the Ivie (kings) of the 2 Urhobo clans. This indicates that the Itsekiris do not wish to recognize the kings of Urhobos and Ijaws duly recognized by the Delta State Government. In fact, the Itsekiris who are in the minority view themselves as the law exactly like the minority Boer white South Africans in the days of apartheid in South Africa.
The Joint Assembly
The Joint Assembly is a council comprising principal officers of three controversial councils of Warri. According to Itsekiri proposal, the chairman and vice-chairman MUST be Itsekiris; meaning the indigenous and more populous Urhobos and Ijaws shall be excluded from the administration of the councils. Apartheid indeed where the minority Itsekiri are the minority white South Africans and the Urhobos and Ijaws the Bantus of South Africa who possess no rights.
The composition is as follows:
The Territorial Force Command
All apartheid systems cannot operate without a strong and ruthless force as was demonstrated in apartheid South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola. The Territorial Force Command will be under the Itsekiris and will be used solely and expressly to brutalize Urhobos and Ijaws; to oppress, maim and kill them ruthlessly in the name of apartheid Federal Protection Territory. In fact the Federal Protected Territory is quite different from the Federal Capital Territory. The FPT is more or less an autonomous state, which the Itsekiris see as materializing into an independent nation in the future.
BRIEF HISTORY OF WARRI
Warri Division, as stated earlier, is home to three indigenous ethnic groups of Urhobos, Ijaws and Itsekiris. Before the area was formed into Warri Division for administrative purposes, each ethnic group was on its own, independent, with distinct traditional values and distinct languages. Warri is not a tribe, a clan, a kingdom or the name of any ethnic group. The term Warri is also not native to the Urhobo, Ijaw and Itsekiri languages Colonial records show that the term was coined by the British colonial officials in the second half of the 19th century to designate a town that the Itsekiris called Ode-Itsekiri.
The colonial word, i.e. Warri, has caused a lot of problems in the area up to this day, especially when it was used to refer to a province (Warri province), a division (Warri Division) and then the city of Warri. In 1891, the British colonial government moved their headquarters from Ode Itsekiri, across the Warri river to the upland in the present Warri GRA and christened it New Warri, after forcefully ejecting Urhobos and Ijaws who were previously inhabiting the area (see Pretheroe's Assessment Report of Warri in 1928 Ref. CSO 26/3, File 20653). The New Warri township was exclusively a European town and the neighboring town at that time was Otovwodo-Agbarha (i.e. Agbassa), the headquarters of the Agbarha Urhobo Kingdom.
In 1893, the British government duly signed treaties of protection with the Agbarha clan that comprises of seven patriarch towns of Otovwodo-Agbarha (the headquarters), Igbudu, Edjeba, Okurode, Ogunu, Oteghele and Ukpokiti and their numerous satellite villages. The treaties are:
In August 2, 1894, the following year, the same British colonial power signed a similar treaty of protection with the Itsekiris at the Benin Vice-Consulate. It is noteworthy that the British referred to the Itsekiris in the treaty as the Chiefs of Benin River and Jekeri country and not Chiefs of Warri. In fact the word Warri never appears in the treaty with the Itsekiris. Moreover the treaty was never signed in Warri even though the British had signed treaties with the Urhobos in Warri in 1893 independently. One may ask why the British did not sign the treaty with the Itsekiris in Warri. The answer is obvious:
Ownership of Warri
The Itsekiris claim to own the whole of Warri Division but this is completely false. It is this false claim that has led to incessant violent ethnic clashes in Warri. In fact the vexatious question of who owns Warri is best answered by historical evidence and not fraudulent court judgements. Historical evidence abounds which demonstrates clearly that the Itsekiris do not own the whole of Warri Division but rather Itsekiri territories along the Benin River.
The Urhobos do not claim to own the whole of Warri Division but their territories by which they duly entered into treaties of protection with the British in 1893 and the same applies to the Ijaws who claim only their territories.
Of the three ethnic groups, the Itsekiris were the last to arrive in
Warri Division. The Agbarha Urhobos had founded and occupied their territories
by the 13th century over 200 years before the arrival of the
Itsekiris in the late 15th century or early 16th
century. The Portuguese explorer, Duarte Pacheco Pereirra visited the Warri
Area in 1502 long before the division became known as Warri. In his account,
which is published in Thomas Hodgkin's book, Nigerian Perspectives:
A Historical Anthology, page 92, Pereirra records:
Five leagues beyond Rio dos Escravos is another river called Rio dos Forcados... Whoever enters this river will find that it branches to the right and to the left, five leagues up the left branch is a place of barter, which consists chiefly of slaves and cotton cloths, with some panther skins, palm oil and some blue shells the natives call 'coris'. The inhabitants along this river are called Huela. Farther in the interior is another country called Subou, which is densely populated. Beyond these dwell other called Jos.
Pereirra's account in 1502 is vivid and accurate. The Rio dos Farcados is joined by the Warri River which is the Southern boundary of the present city of Warri. The Agbarha Urhobos who had already founded Otovwodo-Agbarha, Igbudu and other towns are the first Urhobo people any explorer traveling along the Rio dos Forcados further in land and entering Warri River would meet. Pereirra in 1502 met the Agbarha Urhobo whom he called Subou (i.e. Urhobo) and traded with them. Pereirra never mentioned Itsekiri or Warri because these i.e. Itsekiri or Warri never existed at the time. According to Itsekiri account the Itsekiris came to Warri Division in 1480 in a group of 70 fugitives including Ginuwa their leader. By 1502, barely 22 years, the Itsekiris had not settled at Ode-Itsekiri and so were not seen or met by Pereirra. Rather, instead of Itsekiris, Pereirra met the Huelas (i.e. Ilajes). The Portuguese pronounce "h" as "j". Thus Huela is produced Juela which was corrupted from Ilajes. The Itsekiris met the Portuguese for the first time around 1580, a century after the settlement of Ginuwa and his followers.
This brief account demonstrates that long before Ginuwa and his followers came to live in the creeks and banks of Benin River from the late 15th century or early 16th century, the Agbarha Urhobos had founded and occupied their territories 200 years ago in the 13th century. Thus it becomes clear that the Itsekiris who were the last to arrive in the Warri Division cannot claim to be owners of Warri and Urhobo lands. How can the last to arrive claim to own the territories of first arrivals who had already founded and were occupying their territories?
The false claim of the Itsekiris that they own the whole of Warri is
categorically stated in the Supreme Court judgment, SC 309/4, in a case
involving the Okere-Urhobos and the Itsekiris viz:
A point which plaintiffs (i.e. Olu and Co) and their counsel have tried to urge on this court that because the land in dispute is in Warri and so in Warri Division, the Olu of Warri has right of overlordship over it because, as Olu of Warri, he has rights of overlordship over all lands in Warri Division. The whole argument is erroneous. The Olu, by title is Olu of Warri, but his rights of overlordship relate only to lands of Itsekiri people and even then there is ground for saying that it does not relate to all lands of all Itsekiri people.
In this vein, we wish to add that the Ovie of Ughelli does not own Ughelli North and Ughelli South councils, neither does the Oba of Lagos own the whole of Lagos. When the original traditional and indigenous title, Olu of Itsekiri, was changed to Olu of Warri in 1952 by the Western Region Government, controlled by Awolowo's Action Group, the British colonial administration made it clear in a letter dated September 13, 1952, Ref. 26801/1/7, page 2, that:
His Honour approves the change in the Olu's title from that of OLU OF ITSEKIRI to that of Olu of Warri. It should be made quite clear , however, that the change in title DOES NOT ON ANY ACCOUNT IMPLY AN EXTENSION OF THE OLU'S TRADITIONAL AUTHORITYIn the same letter, it was further stated that the Olu of Warri title was like the title of Alake of Abeokuta, and did not mean the Alake owned the whole of Abeokuta province which included Ilaros and Egbas who had their own Obas. It is this gross misinterpretation of the title Olu of Warri by the Itsekiri king coupled with the faulty government acquiescence to the false claim of the Olu, that had contributed much to fatal violent ethnic clashes in Warri.
A glaring example of government's wrong acquiescence and misplaced sympathy towards the Itsekiri is the 1997 creation of the three controversial councils of Warri North, Warri South and Warri South-West without taking into account the history and sensitivities and the fundamental human rights of the Urhobos and Ijaws. The creation of the controversial councils led to violent bloodbaths and destruction of property in Warri. The ethnic hatred is waxing stronger each day. The Itsekiris are in the minority in each of the three councils yet Independent National Electoral Comission gave them more wards than the majority Urhobos and Ijaws. In Warri North the minority Itsekiris control 6 wards as against 4 for the Ijaws. In Warri South, the minority Itsekiris control 8 wards while the majority Urhobos are lumped into 2 wards. In South-West the minority Itsekiris control 6 wards as against 4 for the Ijaws. The lopsided arrangement gives the Itsekiris virtual control of the councils with the Urhobos and Ijaws as Bantu pawns. Certainly this can never go down well with Urhobos and Ijaws of Warri.
ITSEKIRI FEAR OF COMMISSIONS
In handling ethnocentric cases, commissions are more appropriate than law courts. The Itsekiris are in great fear of commissions of inquiry into the Warri problems. Mention a commission and the Itsekiris will go to court to seek an injunction, even before membership of the commissions are appointed. The Olu and the Itsekiri leadership went to seek court injunction when Nnaemeka Agu's commission of 1993 and Idoko's commission of 1997 were set up. Nevertheless several commissions of inquiry, panels etc. have revealed one thing, that Olu's claim to ownership of the whole of Warri is false. Their recommendations have also favored separate councils for each of the three ethnic groups.
Ethnic councils are what predominantly obtain in Delta State with the exception of the Warri controversial councils. For instance, Isoko North and South councils were created for the Isokos, Oshimili North and South Councils for Ibos, Ughelli North and South Councils for Urhobos, Burutu and Bomadi Councils for the Ijaws. It is only in the Warri councils that there is a mixture of Ijaws and Itsekiris or Urhobos and Itsekiris. Thus in Warri North, there is a mixture of Ijaws and Itsekiris; in Warri South the mixture is between Ijaws and Itsekiris. This mixture has contributed a great deal to violent ethnic clashes in Warri. In fact there is no justification at all for such unwholesome, unjust, inequitable and apartheid mixtures. Peace, long lasting peace, will immediately prevail when each of the three ethnic groups is given its own council so as to be in line with what obtains in Delta State. The crisis in Warri is thus a struggle for the emancipation of the oppressed Urhobos and Ijaws from the clutches of the Itsekiri apartheid system in Warri. It is also a struggle for the enthronement of justice, fairness, equity and fundamental human rights.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE
ILL-CONCEIVED ITSEKIRI PROPOSED
FEDERAL PROTECTED TERRITORY FOR WARRI
The Itsekiri proposal of a Federal Protected Territory (FPT) for Warri carries a lot of implications. First, the proposal itself is a clear indication that Itsekiris do not own the whole of Warri Division. If they did, they would not ask the Federal Government to take over Warri. The Itsekiri behavior is exactly like that of the deceitful, selfish and wicked prostitute who asked King Solomon to kill and divide the baby simply because the baby did not belong to her. Since she could not have her way and would also not want the real mother of the baby to have her child, she wanted the baby to be put to death. This way both she and the real mother will lose out. But there is a curious twist this time. Instead of allowing King Solomon to kill the baby, the Itsekiris are now demanding that King Solomon give baby to them to do the killing. In essence they want to eat their cake and have it as well. That is being clever by half. In truth the hidden agenda of the Itsekiris is to obtain a state through the backdoor using Urhobos and Ijaws as pawns.
After all the FPT is nothing but a state in disguise. What is more, and very ominous, is the plan of the Itsekiris to get the government to legalize apartheid, colonialism and oppression in an Itsekiri-controlled state under the guise of a Federal Protected Territory. With a Territory Force Command, the Itsekiri-controlled State will be quite different from other states. Certainly the Senate and the Government should not entertain any such proposal for a Federal Territory, as the consequences would be difficult to contemplate.
The Position of Agbarha Kingdom:
Separate the Three Feuding Ethnic Groups Into Their Respective Councils
In the Itsekiri proposal, the Itsekiris deliberately did not mention Agbarha Urhobo Kingdom. The Agbarha Kingdom, which was never consulted by the minority Itsekiris, does not wish to be part of the ill-conceived Federal territory. In this regard they would not want any part of their territories, especially the lands covered by leases B2, B5 and B7 which were forcefully and fraudulently taken from them by the British colonial government and given to the Itsekiris. The leases expire between the years 2001 and 2008 after which Agbarha would want their lands back. For the avoidance of doubt, the lands covered by B2, B5 and B7 are part of the territories on which Agbarha people entered into treaties of protection with the British colonial government.
On the Warri crisis, the Agbarha Urhobo Kingdom endorses the formula of separate councils for each ethnic group in the Warri Division. This position is even shared by the United States government on the Warri issue. Moreover, the councils should not bear the prefix Warri, but rather names, which reflect the ethnic group in a council. In this vein, the Urhobo council in Warri Division should be called Agbarha Council, Ogbe-Ijoh Council for the Ijaws and Itsekiri Council for the Itsekiris. The Itsekiris should be proud of the name Itsekiri instead of hiding under a colonial name of Warri. Furthermore, to be proud of our African culture, the original title of Olu of Itsekiri should replace the colonial title of Olu of Warri.
The Itsekiris should see the handwriting on the wall and recognize that the dark days of colonialism, apartheid, and misplaced overlordship are over.
CHIEF M.E. AGBOGIDI
The Otota of Agbarha Kingdom
(Urhobo) Warri South LGA.