Urhobo Historical Society

Views and Perspectives on the Location of the Headquarters
of Delta State, Nigeria, in Asaba

By Itse Sagay
Professor of Law, University of Benin

IN my short article entitled "Delta State: Its own worst enemy?", published in The Guardian on Monday June 10, 2001, I advocated certain solutions to the imminent political crisis in the state, which admittedly was controversial and bound to generate reaction and debate. I also expected that whilst some might accept my proposals, others particularly in the Ogboru camp might strongly contest my views. The issue of the location of the State capital in Anioma, instead of the real Delta State was incidental as far as I was concerned. It was meant to illustrate the fact that positive developments in the State tend to be accompanied by undesirable developments and phenomena. I little expected comments or criticisms on the issue of the State capital, although these are also welcome.

As expected quite a number of comments and reactions have rolled in. All these articles have been couched in decent, civilised language, and concentration has been on ideas and issues and not on personalities. That is, until Clem Okonjo's contribution published in the Guardian of Monday July 8, 2002. Okonjo abandoned the issue and descended on me, my motives etc and followed this with insulting, indeed abusive remarks. Let me illustrate with some examples. After describing my father as an icon, rare gem, detribalised etc Okonjo went on to state what a contrast I am to the 'great' man. In the first place my father has nothing to do with the issue, and Mr Okonjo is not qualified to judge his character, personality and achievements. Let Okonjo limit his views on personal qualities to members of his own family, who might appreciate it. For us in the Sagay family, it is an insult for some unknown quantity to dare to express his opinion about our illustrious father. Who appointed Okonjo a judge of his superiors' character? It has become the norm for nonentities to award prices and honours to their superiors these days. This is just a variant of that practice. Okonjo, the Sagay family reject your views on our father. You are unworthy to be a judge of his character. In any case our father was not in issue in the matter under consideration. The Sagay family was not in issue, and we as a family do not want to hear his views on our father. Next in quick succession, Okonjo called me, (i) Uneducated in rudimentary truths, (ii) a political jobber and (iii) an Itsekiri man who is a political jobber for the Urhobos.

On the last issue, it would appear that Okonjo has been a beneficiary of the Itsekiri - Urhobo disputes and is extremely disturbed by a possible alignment of views between the two Sister Nations. Of course the present location of the Delta State Capital in Anioma State is a fallout of this dispute, with outside opportunists stoking the embers of the dispute and making away with the rights and interests of the quarrelling sisters. And so for my conviction that the capital of Delta State was immorally and shamelessly transferred outside Delta, instead of remaining at Warri where it had been capital of Warri province, since the 1920s, I am a political jobber for the Urhobos. It is better that I am so than to be a political jobber for Aniomas.

Let me state clearly that my position on the location of the capital of Delta State has been consistent from the very beginning; right from August 1991 when Babangida used the Delta State Capital to pay his bride price to his Anioma in-laws. When I was invited to Asaba in May 1999 to give the hand over lecture from Military dictatorship to Civilian democratic government, and was asked by the out-going Military Administrator, Commander Feghabo, what I thought of the fact that only the southern Delta, particularly the Urhobos have so far produced civilian Governors for Delta State, my reply was simple. 'Delta State' is constituted by two States, Delta proper and Anioma. As long as the Delta Capital remains in Anioma,the Governors will come from the real Delta. Inspite of castigations in the press, by the Asagba of Asaba, and some other Anioma elites, I have remained firm in my views. The best solution is for the two entities to separate into two states with the Delta State Capital being at Warri. Anioma can then be a state with its capital at Asaba. Alternatively, Anioma can join Anambra State and become a member of the South Eastern group of states to which it truly belongs. It should not be forgotten that the Anioma part of the present Delta State came from Edo province. It was never part of Delta province. It is therefore an unacceptable outrage for a territory transferred from Edo State to join us, to be made our capital. The fact that the Anioma part of the State produces less than four per cent of the state's revenue or income only adds salt to a grievous injury.

I am always surprised that the Anioma people cannot understand the deep sense of injury of the peoples of the real Delta. It is no excuse that they have benefited from our misfortune. Instead of being sombre and restrained and joining us to seek a solution, the Anioma elite has been celebrating this great injustice - the stealing of our capital. Let me ask again as I did at a public forum on May 8 2002: "Here again, fellow Nigerians are capitalising on the unfortunate plight of another group of Nigerians. Should Asaba, which strictly belongs to the Igbo National Group be capital of a state of the Delta peoples? If then by a gross anomaly, this wrong has been inflicted on the Delta people, should this be confounded by an extra injury of governorship? Would that not effectively make the Anioma the colonial overlord of the Deltans?"

So if my Urhobo brothers share my view in this regard, does that make me their political jobber? Who says Itsekiris are happy to travel for two hours to a Delta State Capital situated in foreign territory, when our real capital is right there with us in Warri. Only a few weeks ago, we lost a great intellectual and true leader of his people in Professor Austin Egborge, who died whilst having to travel from our real Capital, Warri to Asaba. Who says Ijaws are happy to travel eight hours by motor boat to Warri, before starting afresh on a two-hour journey to Asaba? The truth is that the configuration of the present state is a misnomer, an absurdity and a terrible scourge on the people of the real Delta.

Okonjo says that I am out to please people in the corridors of power in making my proposals. Only an incorrigible opportunist, and an unprincipled exploiter and operator like Okonjo, can believe that unlike himself, no one can take a position on principle. No one can act on conviction. As for my so called Urhobo benefactors, it will be the happiest moment of my existence, when the Itsekiris, Urhobo and also the Ijaws start working together like one family that they have been for over 500 years. We have the same culture, food, identical mode of dressing; we have intermarried and are intertwined. The relationship can no longer be unravelled. Okonjo hopes in vain that the Urhobo/Itsekiri quarrels will prevent us from identifying our areas of common interest. He hopes in vain. Let the Urhobos be my benefactors, whatever that may mean. I accept that insult. But I shall not be diverted.

All the name calling, my 'ego trip' desire to be heard on every issue, all go to no issue. I have no apologies to make about my prominence and status in Nigerian Society. My constancy, steadfastness in the pursuit of principles and great causes have earned me that position. If I had wanted to be rich, or be appointed to a position of power, authority and profit, I could have compromised my principles in nearly thirty years of military rule in this country. My steadfastness and principled stand for human rights, democracy and justice have earned me the power and authority I have today, because inspite of all Okonjo's ranting about 'Jobbing', I hold no office in any political establishment even now.

If because he is a nonentity his views are not sought by journalists; if he is neither erudite nor popular, he must not lay the blame on me. Let him find out whether the fault is in his stars or in himself and do something about it. At the end of his abusive and vexatious article, Okonjo came out of the closet and revealed the true source of his burning hatred; the Urhobo people. My crime is that I do not hate the Urhobo too, for in Okonjo's imagination, every true Itsekiri man must hate the Urhobos. Well I don't. Many Itsekiri don't. They are our kinsmen. We shall reconcile and claim back our rights together, whether in terms of resource control or our estranged capital. Okonjo's rabid outburst will be an incentive for our unity.