THE NIGERIAN NATION
D. A. OBIOMAH
OVIE OF WARRI: STATEMENT OF FACT
BY THE AGBARHA URHOBO PEOPLE
Culled From Nigerian Observer Of Sunday 2/8/85
1. During the past one month we have been shocked by the hail of adverse publicity on newspaper, radio and television portraying our clan as a lawless people and as trouble makers. We have waited this long to give the general public the facts of the matter partly because it was necessary to watch the reaction of the originator of the infamy Peter Onogun, and partly because the wished earnestly to fully conclude creditably our involvement in the Warri Local Government Chapter of the Bendel State Development fund which was successfully launched here in Warri on the 15th June, 1985. With this event behind us, we feel it is the most appropriate time to make this statement.
2. On 2/5/85, Mr. Peter Onogun, an Agbarha man held a press conference featuring the head of our Agbarha Clan and persons purported to be Agbarha chiefs. Agbarha people who saw the television show were stunned and surprised. Peter Onogun had used the opportunity of the Bendel Development Fund to stage an abortive coup. While it lasted, his immediate motive was to be able to preside over the fund raising exercise. The Itsekiris seized the opportunity to style it installation. We the Agbarha people saw it as a ruse, Mr. Peter Onogun is notorious for harrassing his own people at their most critical time not without the co-operation of our detractors and law enforcement agencies in the state. It is relevant therefore to narrate events precedent to this event, what we did, and how Peter Onogun would not have had the opportunity to do what he did but for the fact that the Sole Administrator Warri LGA and the Warri. Police took wrong decision on our complaints:
(i). October 1984. Peter Onogun and Wilson Obelikpeyah first son of the head of our clan, at his father's house, the same venue of the so called installation purportedly sacked the traditional clan administration and set up those persons who appeared with him on television as the new rulers of the Clan. They defied the summon of the Edion Council the Supreme Organ of our clan and also refused to comply with the traditional sanctions imposed on them for disrespecting the Council when they failed to repent an sue for forgiveness.
(ii). November 17, 1984. The Edion Council imposed the traditional sanction of ex-communication on Peter Onogun and Wilson Obelikpeyah until they mended their ways and subject themselves to the traditions and procedure of our clan.
Instead, they went to the police who charged four of our people to court for conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace. One of the four persons so charged was the Chief Priest of the clan whose position was sacrosanct In spite of our pleas with the Warri Police that the matter was a traditional one which involved no violence or threat to the peace. The case was subsequently dismissed.
April 1985. The date of the Agbarha Juju festival having been fixed according to tradition and with the knowledge of the head of the Clan, an application for Police permit was made. The same Peter Onogun then wrote a letter to the police in the name of our clan head who is very old, stating that permit should not be granted, We failed to prevail upon the Police that Peter Onogun held no clan office, was misrepresenting facts and had no authority for his opposition. No permit was granted. So the Agbarha people have been unable to hold their festival this year.
April 26, 1985. The Sole Administrator was to visit us in official capacity as representative of the State Government at Otovwodo Agbarha on 26/4/85. On 25/4/85 Peter Onogun informed him that he should not come because if he did there would be bloodshed. The Sole Administrator ignored all the preparations made to receive him and did not so much as send word to the clan that he would not come.
April 19, 1985. (a) We sent a letter of protest to the Sole Administrator
enclosing our correspondence with the Police in connection with Peter Onogun's
activities in order to warn him from being fooled by Peter Onogun since
we are aware that Peter Onogun's immediate aim was to be able to take control
of the fund raising activities of the clan in order to appropriate the
funds for himself and discredit the whole clan. Part of our letter reads:
"We are unable to construe your decision. There are two broad options. It may be that we are barred from casting our bucket where we are in this Bendel State Development Fund raising effort, or you may make Peter Onogun answer for Agbarha Clan. Either way you will have explicitly to absolve us from responsibility for the failure of the venture as it concerns us and also from any financial irregularities arising from collecting money and accounting for it. As it happens the community has already donated N3,000.00 at the launching of the Fund in Benin without Mr. Peter Onogun's participation. Now you have chosen not to recognize the clan but Mr. Peter Onogun."
It is significant that the clan has made its donation to the Bendel Development, Fund without a kobo coming from Peter Onogun's fund raising pretence, whereas, N5,000.00 allegedly sent by an Agbarha son through Peter Onogun is yet to reach the sole Administrator.
(b) At this point it is clear that Peter Onogun was not and could not have been acting with the consent or knowledge of the Supreme Council of the clan. Indeed several of those persons with Peter Onogun on the Television appearance were not persons who could have any authority to represent or lead the clan at all. This accounted for the absence of prominent and active title holders like the clan Otota and other members of the clan such as Chief A. O. Osioh, Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo, A.O. Idesoh and D.A. Obiomah.
4th May, 1985. After the clan had failed to convince the Police
and the Sole Administrator for Warri that Peter Onogun is an impostor and
the clan is a legitimate authority with its duly appointed representatives,
Peter Onogun sprung his TV surprise on the 2nd May, 1985, we
sent a protest letter to the Military Governor on the 4th May,
1985, cataloguing our relationship with Peter Onogun. This letter signed
by the Clan Otota and by the Clan Secretary was copied to the Commissioner
of Police, Benin, the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy
Affair and the commissioner for Finance and Economic Development. We said
"3... Mr. Peter Onogun, a member of the Clan, in concert with the eldest son the clan Head whom we know as Okwevwo/Ovie (a man now over a hundred years old) is exploiting their old man's nominal position of ascendancy, for personal gain. They have printed a letter head inscribed. "The Palace of the Ovie" and bearing royal arms. On these they write letters in the name of his royal highness, by which they delude the public that they are the appointed leaders of the clan acting on the authority and behest of his royal highness. On the contrary, they hold no office whatsoever in the Clan Administration. These are the circumstances in which they successfully deceived the Sole Administrator and caused him to blunder. "
7(v) "As a follow up of his inglorious success so far, he enacted on the 2nd of May, 1985 the melodrama on NTA news programme. He Peter Onogun then commenced to read an address prepared by himself, and purporting to be instructed by the head of our clan with the support of the Sole Administrator Warri, that he was authorised to collect donations for the Bendel State Development Fund from the Agbarha people and well-wishers." Also "2... Agbarha clan is a gerontocracy. The oldest may in the clan is automatically the head. It goes without saying, that the actual rulership of the community is not the preserve of the old man who may be senile, as in our present case, but in the hands of Traditional Administrative set-up, so that the role of the head is more or less that of a constitutional monarch."
3. What we have tried to establish so far is that:
(a) Peter Onogun acted alone without notice to us.
(b) We saw his television launching of the appeal fund as the general public saw it.
(c) If there was a formal installation ceremony we are unaware of it and never saw it on TV or in print.
(d) Peter Onogun has always been a stumbling block to us and we kept the authorities informed in time of his infamous antic. He even took us to court for trying to discipline him.
(e) He staged an unsuccessful coup de ta against us so we could not have acted in complicity with him.
(f) By combined tactics of exaggeration and misrepresentation, Peter Onogun was able to convey to the general public that a traditional ruler title approved by Government according to law existed and its incumbent in all his invested glory was speaking ex cathedra.
4. From the foregoing, we do hereby humbly request the State Governor and Government of Bendel State to absolve us from blame. We protested to the government against the signs of the episode as we saw them. However, hot on the heels of the event complained of the Commissioner of Police announced that he would investigate. Since we, loyal clan members were never contacted, we assumed that the Police had no difficulty in identifying those who were responsible for the offending act. We are baffled that after the intensity of publicity in the news media condemning the whole of the Agbarha and the Commissioner of Police's threat to deal mercilessly with the persons involved after thorough investigations, no body has been prosecuted, not even arrested. Even though the actors were identified on NTA and in print.
5. We stand up for our rights as Nigerian citizens by birth. No one can fault us for doing so. However we can be ignored, which is injustice. We are saying that we have been unjustly ignored and that the time is overdue to make amends.
PART II OUR STAND
6. We as a distinct Urhobo Clan are entitled to the recognition of our own traditional ruler in Warri Local Government Council Area through the normal legal and constitutional process and we shall continue to plead with the State Government to grant us our right. The Itsekiris behave as though Warri Local Government Area is their property to be managed exclusively for themselves an attitude which compels them to misappropriate public property in pursuit of their irrational megalomania which has resulted in the disaster of the Warn Farms involving the loss of over N10, million which all Bendelites particularly the Urhobos of Warri may be forced to pay for through rates and taxes and static development. Government recognizes Ijaw traditional rulers in Warri LGA but the Itsekiris do not. They call Warri Local Government Area Warri Kingdom and get away with this illegality and continuing incitement to violence.
On the 15th June, 1985 the Sole Administrator invited the clan head of the Agbarha people to the launching of the Bendel State Development Fund at the Warri Stadium. A chair was provided for him which was labelled "Clan Head of Agbarha". But E.N.A. Begho of the all-Itsekiri member Warri Traditional Council ordered the Secretary to the Warri LGA Council to remove it and he obediently complied. The sole administrator was powerless against Begho's lawless conduct. When Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo confronted Begho to say that he as an elderly man was not acting responsibly, Begho retorted "Your Agbassa people do not exist in Warri LGA." Had we insisted forcibly that we existed we would of course have been the trouble makers.
The general public will recall that when the launching of the Development Fund was reported on NTA 7 O'Clock news on 15/6/85 there was no mention whatsoever of the Ijaw Clans, Agbarha Clan and the Okere Urhobos. It was "Warri LGA Itsekiri Ugborodo community, Itsekiri...... Benin river Community Itsekiri, N.... etc., As Shakespeare has said "No man is well pleased to have his all despised." If the Agbarha are not wealthy it is partly because the Itsekiris have sucked us dry and sucessive governments dry want to continue to do so to our children and our children's children.
We are the founders in possession of Warri town and indigenes of Warri Local Government Area. We are a free people. We have no other home. Our rights as citizens of Nigeria by birth derive from being indigenes of Warri Local Government Area. We came from Agbarha. Otor which even Itsekiri historians say, was over four hundred years ago. They agree that we built Warri for ourselves. There is no returning to Agbarha Otor where we have no longer any family connections or any hectare of land of our own just as the Itsekiris no longer have in Benin or Ijebu or Okitipupa where they allegedly come from. How can we not get government recognition for our leaders in a place which is our home forever? Why should people of dubious origin whom are not indigenes of Warri Town the major part of which is Urhobo land - Agbarha Urhobos and Okere Urhobos - parade themselves with chieftaincy titles which have no origins in Warri?....
We have never at any time stopped putting our views to our successive governments. Such relief as has been granted has been slow to come; there has been peace because we are a very law-abiding people. EVEN AT THE TIME THAT PETER ONOGUN was self-serving OUR APPLICATION FOR THE RECOGNITION OF OUR CHIEFTAINCY TITLES was lying with the Military Government of Bendel State.
11. It is our view that no other people exist in this country who are deprived, oppressed and suppressed as we are. The Itsekiris have migrated into our own town where they monopolise honours, offices, opportunities because Government allows it.
12. Should such a state be perpetual? If not, when will it. end? If it does not, it cannot be our fault for not asking. While we are patient, it has to be accepted as a human situation that persons like Peter Onogun and others before him in their different styles will be promoted by our detractors, to trouble us or government, as the case may be. But this will end only when our legitimate claims are honoured so that Justice is done to all the citizens of this country equally and citizenship rights guaranteed.
13. General Note: It will be observed that the terms Okpako, Ovie, Okwevwo, Otota have been used in the course of this statement. This is inevitable as these are culture-bound terms. They refer to institutions, usages and the mode of Organisation of a people whether they are recognised by the government of the day or not. To say that they do not exist is to say, for instance, that such people can have no head or traditional social organization, which may be tantamount to disbanding the community. The language dilemma thrown up by the present issue stems from a defect in the existing law rather than a wish by government to disallow the Agbarha Urhobos as a traditional community long since in existence before more recent laws. Perhaps government needs to select titles and usages which are functional in the administration of each and every area and apply the law to these. leaving the rest to subsist as their users see fit. The Chiefs Law inherited by Bendel State from the Western Region was closer to this ideal. The dilemma is manifested when we abolish Ovie or Okpako or Okwevwo and discover that we still need a name to express the same idea and have to find an escape route by the use of "Clan Head" of Agbarha.
14. The law as it stands is grossly inadequate. It does nor reflect the fact that there are seven autonomous indigenous communities in Warri LGA. rather it treats the Itsekiris as imperial capitalist masters while the rest are colonial subjects of Itsekiris in an independent Nigeria. In such circumstances, when restlessness develops, authority is apt to witch-hunt the underdog and dub him by such terms as trouble maker, perpetrator, while espousing its own virtue. Evil destroys itself through excess of its exercise. Hence in a fit to survive restlessness develops and conflict. We do not want conflict. The conditions in Warri call for urgent resolution. Let the general public and all people of good will, churches, charitable organisations, philanthropists show greater interest in bringing change about. It is an urgent imperative. Why go to South Africa when Itsekiris are allowed to practice apartheid in Warri.?
15. We cannot conclude this statement without attracting attention to possible dangerous developments:
(I) The door should not be shut on the recognition of a traditional ruler title for Agbarha Clan by Government.
(II) The review of Local government is in progress at the national level. An itsekiri local government should not be crated which includes the Urhobos. When Agbarha Clan and Okere and Ogbe-Ijoh have been removed from Warri there is virtually nothing left to be called Warri. The Town is our own.
|Chief J. A. Eyuren||Matthew O. Omasanuwa|
|OTOTA OF AGBARHA URHOBO CLAN, WARRI||SECRETARY, AGBARHA URHOBO CLAN, WARRI|