LAND, OVERLORDS & LAND RIGHTS
By D. A. Obiomah
| Originally published in Warri by GKS Printers. Published
in URHOBO WAADO by permission of Mr. D. A. Obiomah.
© D. A. Obiomah 1987, 2002
BENDEL STATE GOVERNMENT & WARRI QUESTION
|WARRI INDIGENES AGBARHA (URHOBO) CLAN
Warri Local Government Area, Bendel State
Our Ref ..c/o 73, Warri/Sapele Road,
P. O. Box 408,
Your Ref Warri,
|8th July, 1986.|
|Col. John Mark Inienger,
BENDEL STATE GOVT. & THE WARRI QUESTION DESIRABILITY FOR TOTAL REORGANIZATION
1. We are convinced that everything that needs be said about local government as it is practised in Warri LGA has been said. Government cannot need more. Thus the exercise of repeating ourselves and nauseam is as debilitating to us as it is painful.
2. W are further convinced that it is not law that informs Government policies in Warri LGA otherwise there cannot be such a palpable morass of irreconcilable contradictions concerning Warri matters.
3. We are also convince that our position as Agbarha, Warri people, is in line with what Government professes on human rights, peaceful co-exisitence among the various communities and fair treatment for all. But words are not matched with action. We are convinced it is not our credibility that is in question but government's.
4. We are convinced that our cause is just. As a corollary we are convinced that we are oppressed, tipped to be ground to dust and scattered in the wind. We remain undaunted, and will continue to fight for our rights in our fatherland.
5. During the early days preceding the Civil War when the Ibos were leaving the North by their thousands as a result of widespread killing of Ibos, a journalist quipped that Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu brought the Ibos into Nigeria out of Iboland, but his son. Col. Emeka Ojukwu was taking them out of Nigeria back into Iboland. The anger and bitterness of the Ibos was clear. But what lay at the background as cause was divisive, unpatriotic politics in which some belonged to the country while others were not allowed a sense of belonging. Nigerians did not want the Ibos. Yet they would not let the Ibos go. So we have the Civil War. The concept of confederation has lingered from the Biafran crisis as an echo of frustration and mistrust.
6. The developments in Warri LGA seem to mirror the confederation syndrome. The Itsekiris do not want the Agbarha to go, they will not let them stay. The natural progress of such a situation as known to History is war. Such a war for us may be as David against Goliath or a gladiatorial show in which the pawns of a decaying (Roman) society were made to die as entertainment for the Emperor. But then the gladiators rose above their killers when they said goodbye in these words before they entered the arena, "Nos morituti te salutamus, we who are about to die salute the Emperor". As we continue to struggle for our lost sovereignty the ruler who calls us trouble makers for doing that which Nigeria's past leaders did to colonialism as a result of which he is able to rule today may send the dutiful Mobile Police after us. It will solve nothing. Since Pilate washed his hands off Jesus and the Jews, God's chosen people accepted his blood should be upon their heads they have wandered for two thousand years and have not found peace even since 1948 when Palestine was remade Israel by Big Brother, America.
7. We have not the gift of prophecy to know if we are about to die. It we happen to be, we retain the good grace to say, "Nos morituriti salutamus." Our Military Governor says that communities in Warri Local Government Area should co-exit, live together in peace. But the Itsekiris insist on living exclusively under apartheid and government also agrees, and is their greatest defenders, their pillar of strength.
8. The Itsekiris say they are minorities in Nigeria and as minorities they require protection. Government agrees. The Agbarha are a minority within Warri Local Government Area; they require protection. But the Itsekiri say no, that they are enclaves and indeed do not exist. Government agrees. The Itsekiris say they have no other home in Nigeria outside Warri LGA; that Urhobos have three hence Warri should be their own if they cannot have three. Government accepts this fallacy. What about us? We the Agbarha people have no other home in Nigeria outside Warri LGA in the same way that the Yorubas of Kwara state have no other home in Nigeria outside Kwara State notwithstanding that four states in the Federation are Yoruba States. Have the Igalas etc. said that the Yorubas should have no rights in KwaraState? For our government to act to ravage and rout us in our own Local Government Area is clearly bad governance if Yorubas are allowed in Kwara State as of right.
9. It is a contradiction in terms on the one hand to call the Agbarha homeless and on the other to call them Nigerian citizens and demand of them duty and patriotism. Does government believe with the Itsekiris that Agbarha came from Agbarha-Otor between two to five hundred years ago? (Source: O.N. Rewane and Itsekiri Historian William Moore). Then let the Federal Government order every tribe; every community to go back where they were two to five hundred years ago to enable the government rationalise indigene rights. To contemplate the pandemonium to be stirred up by such order (if it does not make the government a laughing stock) will make Itsekiri thinking stand out in stark relief as no more than the arrogance and greed of a sick head just as the sorry hallucinations of a mad man make him see himself as a king. Should government be taken in by this? But it has.
10. If the Itsekiris say they won a land case in Warri, this colonial fraud affected only a small portion of Agbarha lands. But government acts as though the issue covered every inch of Agbarha land. Be that as it may, the radical title which the Itsekiris claimed against Agbarha possessory rights as a result of Ometan v Dore Numa was abolished by the post-colonial Land Use Act. So what is left for which government and the Itsekiris team up to persecute us on colonial precepts?
11. The Okere Urhobos of Warri won title to land in Warri Town since 1976. O.N. Rewane and E. N. A Begho the so-called Ologbotsere and Isirighe of Warri, respectively, were for many years tenants to the Okere Urhobos up to 1978 when the Land Use Act came into force. But the pretext for holding the Irsekiris as overlords of the Agbarha does not hold good for making Okere Urhobos overlords of Itsekiri people. Twelve years after the Okere land case and eight years after government's own Law, the Land Use Act government still retains the Olu of Itsekiri as Prescribed Authority over Urhobos. What have we got, a sleeping government? Or else what operated in the mid of officialdom to make their own concept of just so uniquely exclusive?
12. Government says it is ruling through traditional rulers, but refuses to recognize ours. Who will speak for us? We are not Itsekiris. Has Nigeria broken British colonialism only to farm out internal colonies to chiefs of its choice? We have asked government to abrogate its unwritten law of denying political, social and economic appointments to Agbarha persons. Government is deftly incommunicado. Our idle children treated as rejects and denied appointments and contracts in their own LGA are taking to swindling. They could graduate to armed robbery. Then Justice having previously denied them her benign presence will expeditiously provide them free firing squad. Give us our separate local government, government says no. allow us to participate in the running of our Warri Local Government, government says no. join us with Ethiope, government says no. Give us appointment for dialogue with the Governor. This is ignored.
13. The so called Warri Traditional Council with Itsekiris as members claimed that Warri Farms was then baby. They chaperoned it. Then the Warri Local Government lost over N10m. Government announced it was due to large-scale financial malpractices. But government so loves the Itsekiris that instead of derobing the outrageous chiefs it has given the go-ahead for further loans to be lavished on the white elephant that is Warri Farms. It is as if to say, "Go ahead, spend freely, the Urhobo majority in their serfdom will pay." Indeed having thus place the white man's burden on the Urhobos in favour of the Itsekiris government dips 23 years back into its bags of tricks to revive the obnoxious provisions in the Midwest Constitution, 1963, and disenfranchises the Urhobos by removing them from membership of the Warri Local Government Council. Whereas there are as many as three nominated Itsekiri members out of a total of 4 and not even one Urhobo.
14. The weighty implications are that the three Itsekiri tribal stalwarts on the Council by intimidating and cajoling the civil servant Administrator while ignoring the lone Ijaw man will now settle to institutionalise apartheid.
(a) They will pass self-serving resolutions as expressing the will of the people of Warri LGA and government will turn to protesters, it is the decision of your Council
(b) Ogbe-Ijaw Market having been demolished at the behest of the Itsekiris without being rebuilt for nine years in order to punish Urhobo trader majority will now be required for the Olu of Itsekiri's Palace "lawfully";
(c) Revenue collectors will now set upon Urhobos;
(d) Monies due to Agbarha oil producing areas for ecological improvement will be misappropriated and applied to Itsekiri areas,
(e) There will be clinical replacement of the handful of non-Itsekiris on the staff of the Council and its agencies;
(f) Thus political arrangements for 1990 will be fully in the hands of the Itsekiris;
(g) Such monopoly gave rise to the colossal fraud of Warri Farms 1979/83 and the hijacking of the 1983 electoral arrangements which enable e.g. Esungbo with 17 fishing huts to register 814 voters;
(h) In a word the arrangements for 1990 are already being sabotaged by government. Need the government look elsewhere for subversives but at itself?
(i) Moreover, given the hypothesis that the present councils are nuclei for 1990 rulership whether through political parties or otherwise the Urhobhos of Warri will have been already left out and slated for whiplash.
(j) In matters in which the Local Government is required to make recommendations to higher authority such recommendations will be reserved for Itsekiris and Itsekiri interest. Occasions for such recommendations are appointments of J.P. scholarships, appointment of commissioners and members of boards, honours award, chairmanship positions, naming of streets and places etc;
(k) The chances are ten to one that in the event of Administrators being withdrawn today government will proceed as a matter of course to appoint an Itsekiri as chairman completely unmindful of the stalemate of January to March 1977 under the Obasanjo regime.
15. The colonialist, partial false corrupt situation in Warri needs attention. It will not do to now name one or two persons to represent Urhobo interest on the Warri Local Government Council (it is futile and deceitful to say that appointments are not on tribal basis). To protect our fundamental human rights we demand that government should proceed to undertake comprehensive review of the entire, confused, partial, unacceptable local government set-up in Warri LGA.
In particular we demand for a review of:
(i) the discriminatory policy of appointments at all levels - local government, state and Federal to positions to be filled by person of Warri Local Government Area;
(ii) the discriminatory policy of reserving leadership appointments for Itsekiris only;
(iii) the Traditional Rulership structure at present infuriatingly is patrial to Itsekiris; the Warri Traditional Council should be dissolved with immediate effect and reconstituted with fair representation. The venue for meetings should be provided by the Warri Local Government Council in the Council's property, not in an Itsekiri man's house. A Warri Local Government Council jointly owned by Urhobos, Ijaws and Itsekiris cannot consult with a Traditional Council whose members are only Iteskiris. It is a distortion inimical to the interest of Ijaws and Urhobos;
(iv) we demand whether or not, and to what extent, if any, Itsekiri customary law derogates from the fundamental human right of the indigenous Ijaws and Urhobos of Warri Local Government Area;
(v) we demand a declaration of the effect and meaning of the Land Use Act, section 39(I) as well as the provisions of Fundamental Human Rights in the Federal Republic of Nigeria Constitution, 1979, as they apply to the people of Warri Local Government Area.
16. If government cannot or will not do what we consider just to protect our citizenship and fundamental human rights in Warri LGA then it must either create a separate local government for us Agbarha Urhobo indigenes of Warri or merge us with Ethiope LGA where we can exercise our rights deriving from our ancient place of settlement as citizens of Nigeria which ever local government we are legally located. To do neither is to deny our rights which the Constitution bestows and which the government of Nigeria as a Trustee has sworn to protect.
|J. A. EYUREN
OTOTA OF WARRI
Chairman, Committee of Edion
|MATTHEW O. OMASANUWA
Secretary, Agbarha Clan