Thank you for your reflections on the Washington, DC, Peace Summit. Your frustration with the result of the meeting is understandable. However, technically, the Summit's outcome is what is called a "breakup," rather than a "breakdown." From all accounts, the Motion to Adjourn was a sensible device to attempt a continuation of the discussions.
Following the Summit, the initial reaction from several interested Nigerian observers was one of disappointment that the Itsekiri Delegation set a roadblock by giving conditions for its participation. Since then, however, there has been a serious effort to spin the fault away from the Itsekiri Delegation by blaming the Urhobo Delegation for refusing to accept the conditions laid down by the Itsekiri Delegation. Sadly, your partner, Dr. Philip Ikomi, has cast aside all modesty and has been fully engaged in spinning the untoward outcome of the Summit in favor of the Itsekiri.
In these circumstances, facts are important. Let people draw their own conclusions. The first set of facts flows from the reality that we negotiated "guidelines" for the Summit. Among them was the decision that documents intended for considerations in the Summit should be presented well ahead of the meeting. I remember well that "two weeks" was mentioned as a reasonable period for submitting documents. You did complain, politely, that we were not hearing from the Itsekiri side. We also urged some documentation from the Itsekiri. Despite this clear understanding of the ground rules of the Summit, the Itsekiri Delegation's document that became the point of discussion was virtually presented to delegates at the venue of the Summit. That in itself was a source of a problem for the Summit.
The Itsekiri Delegation's document laid down twin conditions for its participation. First, the title of the Olu must not be discussed. Second, the ownership of Warri must be presumed to be Itsekiri's and must not be discussed. These are twin conditions because the one leads to the other. In sum, they state that Itsekiris own Warri because their King is the Olu of Warri. In my letter to Mr. Ayomike, to which you responded, I said the Itsekiri are free to call their King any title they wish. That is their cultural right. But it is not their cultural right to say that the title they invent for him has consequences for the Urhobos. Urhobos regard Warri as a tri-ethnic city, parts of which belong to the Ijaw, Itsekiri, and the Urhobo. If the title of the Itsekiri King is invented for the purpose of claiming ownership of all of Warri, then, clearly, it has consequences for Urhobos. As I told Mr. Ayomike, there is no Urhobo leader anywhere who will make such a foolish concession that all of Warri belongs to the Itsekiri because they have chosen to call their king Olu of Warri.
In your memo you said the outcome of the meeting might have been different if I had been a member of the Urhobo delegation. I doubt that very much. No Urhobo leader with any credibility will concede that Urhobos do not share in the ownership of Warri -- which is the import of the twin conditions laid down by the Itsekiri Delegation. My understanding is that both you and Dr. Ikomi tried to persuade the Itsekiri Delegation to drop their conditions and that when that failed you urged the Urhobo Delegation to accept them. From the outside, it seems to me difficult to accept the new spin that Urhobos should have embraced the Itsekiri conditions.
Dr. Philip Ikomi has given two spins to this matter that are irritating. First, he says that the Itsekiri Delegation offered to walk out when the ownership of Warri and the twin issue of the Olu's title were to be discussed. He thought the Urhobo Delegation should have accepted that. Second, he argues that the Summit should have pursued other issues related to the region, such as the NDDC matter raised by Igho Natufe recently, in effect avoiding the subject matter of the Itsekiri Delegation's conditions. This is all strange. Urhobos came to that Summit primarily because of our interest in Warri. If the Itsekiri Delegation walks out, with whom do we discuss? The primary purpose of the Washington Peace Conference was to resolve the Warri crisis arising from the Ijaw-Itsekiri conflict. If region-wide issues became the main focus of the Summit, rather than being ancillary matters, then we needed the Ukwuanis and the Isokos there as well. Why was the Summit labeled WARRI CRISIS? It is because of the fresh destruction of Okere. Urhobos believe that the Itsekiri establishment organized that attack because it wants to impose the Olu's suzerainty and his "overlord" ownership of Warri. Why would any Urhobo Delegation discuss these issues in the absence of the representatives of the Itsekiri establishment?
Let me add one reluctant note. During the preparation for the Peace Summit, Itsekiri leaders in the US launched a campaign against Andrew Edevbie in the mistaken view that he was their nemesis. Recently, Dr. Ikomi has engaged in unrelated attacks on Igho Natufe. For instance, Igho Natufe's NDDC project arose from a bill that surfaced at Abuja after the Washington, DC, Summit. And yet Dr. Ikomi had no hesitation in attacking Igho Natufe on its account, incredibly relating it to the Urhobo Delegation's refusal to accept the Itsekiri Delegation's conditions for participating in the Summit. His unprovoked attack on me two days ago is similar. Actually, I fear that Dr. Ikomi is only responding to the views of those who controlled the Itsekiri Delegation. I want to assure them that Urhobos will determine the membership of their own Delegation. We will not interfere in the choice of the Itsekiri and Ijaw Delegations. We urge the Itsekiri establishment to stop trying to shape the composition of the Urhobo Delegation. In any case, they will not succeed in their efforts.
Finally, I do want to thank you personally for your engagement in this Summit process. For whatever it is worth, I wish to say that my faith in your sincerity as someone struggling to achieve peace and justice in our area is greater today than when we started the process some two months ago. I am sure we all have benefitted from the experience of its organization in some way. Whether it will move forward or dies is unknown to me. I want to restate the Urhobo interest in the Summit. We are not combatants in the western Niger Delta conflict. It is between the Ijaws and the Itsekiri. On June 4-7, 1999, an attack organized by the Itsekiri establishment was launched on Okere, laying waste a vast area of Warri. Urhobos have refused to retaliate. I am aware that Urhobo leadership is worried about the consequences of any Urhobo-Itsekiri conflict for the tens of thousands of Itsekiri living in Urhoboland. Urhobos clearly want to avoid any physical conflict with the Itsekiri. Beyond avoiding mortal conflict with the Itsekiri, Urhobos want peace in the region. We want to participate in the search for peace. But it is up to the Ijaw and Itsekiri to stop fighting.