Some Questions to Fill in Missing Gaps in His EDOWA Campaign

Peter Ekeh

Source: Subject: [naijanews] OMORUYI'S FRACTURED CONFESSIONS: Some Questions to Fill In Missing Gaps in His EDOWA Campaign
 Date:  Tue, 20 Jul 1999 09:38:18 -0400
 From: "Peter P. Ekeh" <ppekeh@acsu.buffalo.edu>
 To: edo-community <edo-community@egroups.com>
 CC: naijanews <naijanews@egroups.com>, Orevaoghene Charles Obaro <Impexma@online.no>, Yoruba Community Association <yca@yorubas.com>

Since his famous TELL magazine revelations on the aborted June 12, 1993, elections, Professor Omo Omoruyi has teased all of us with bits of information flowing from his influential relationship with his friend General Ibrahim Babagida. To account for gaps and discrepancies in information which he retails at opportune moments, he has referred us to General Babagida's imagined forthcoming memoirs. However, there are problems in Dr. Omoruyi's most recent revelations, on the 1991 exercise on states creation, for which we need not wait for the General's memoirs. We can ask Omoruyi to help us understand much more fully his claimed campaign for EDOWA state in 1991. This is because his story and reasoning do not add up.

First, Omoruyi introduces his role in the states creation project as that of "Director-General, Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS), Presidency, ABUJA." That means that what he did in this case was in his position as a public official. He proceeds to tell us that "What I wish to do in this [article] is dwell on the notes I took during the state creation exercises." Dr. Omoruyi should make these notes public. I assume that they are not his private property to be mined at will and at moments that suite his political preferences. Apart from helping us to check on how our public affairs were handled during the exercises for states creation, these notes should reveal to all of us how Babagida's military dictatorship worked.


The most daring aspect of Dr. Omoruyi's latest revelations is contained in the following statement: "A confession is in order: I developed for and with military President General Babagida the rationale for states and the location of the headquarters as growth pole during the 1991 state creation exercises." Now we have a better idea of how the issue of state headquarters was handled. Dr. Omoruyi should not be so taciturn about his role on this important topic. For instance, was he consulted in the matter of the location of the capital of Delta State at Asaba?

It would be quite close to Machiavellian politics if indeed Dr. Omoruyi had foreknowledge and a role in assigning the capital of Delta State to Asaba and then turns around to exploit that issue for his renewed campaign for EDOWA state. Openly employing an ethnic technique, Omoruyi tells us as follows: "I am taking up this matter as a Bini person of the EDO ethnic nationality. That the Itsekiri people's home cannot be in the present Delta State with headquarters in Asaba is my plea and that the home of the Itsekiri is in the present EDO State." Did he so reason with Babagida in 1991? Or did he hide his antipathy for Asaba because he was aware of the General's partiality for his wife's hometown? If the location of the Delta state capital is the key issue in his renewed campaign for the transfer of the Itsekiri from Delta State, may we ask if Dr. Omoruyi would change his mind about EDOWA state if the Delta State capital were moved from Asaba to Warri. 


Omoruyi says the prime motivation behind the drive by him and General Babagida to include the Itsekiri in Edo State was "to save them from ethnic cleansing that was in the offing then [in 1991]. President Babangida at the end of that meeting assured the Olu and his Chiefs that the wishes of the Itsekiri people would be met." In 1991, there was no ethnic conflict involving the Itsekiri in the Niger Delta. On the contrary, there was considerable inter-ethnic harmony in the region in 1991. Matters did not degenerate into conflict between the Ijaw and the Itsekiri until 1997. But we are now told that Omoruyi was discussing "ethnic cleansing" in Nigeria in 1991! Pray, can we have some confirmation of this grave allegation? Was it a subject of investigation in Omoruyi's Centre for Democratic Studies whose business it was to look into such matters? Omoruyi's allegation is not confined to the Delta. He recalls "the effort of the former President . . . to resolve the 'ethnic cleansing' in various parts of the Niger-Delta and in the country." As far as I am aware, the words "ethnic cleansing" came into popular usage as a result of the problems in Bosnia which occurred after 1991 and after Omoruyi had left General Babagida's esteemed service. Is Omoruyi sure that the reason advanced for including the Itsekiri in Edo State was related to "ethnic cleansing?" 

Omoruyi goes beyond 1991 in his allegations of "ethnic cleansing." He says it is going on, right now. His words: "Ethnic cleansing is still going on in the Niger Delta." Some five weeks ago, that type of hysteria filled the international airwaves of cyberspace. When those making them were challenged by human rights activists on the ground in Nigeria, they grumbled and shut up. Those in public life are judged by the credibility of their statements. Nigeria has given Omoruyi a lot of space for voicing his opinions. We expect him to use such privilege with caution. Now that Omoruyi is reviving an allegation that even the Itsekiri establishment has abandoned, we must demand some proof from him.

First, what exactly does Omoruyi mean by "ethnic cleansing?" Who are its perpetrators and who are its victims? In what cities is it happening? When he said that "ethnic cleansing" was taking place in other parts of Nigeria in 1991, creating concern for General Babagida, what exactly does Dr. Omoruyi mean? Omoruyi is an honorable man. Even honorable men are occasionally misinformed. But when honorable men are misled into making false allegations, they apologize. It takes some courage to do so. But I know Omo Omoruyi to be a courageous man.


The incessant quest for creation of states began with the Willink Commission that reported in 1958. Its premises have mostly been ethnicity and ethnic relations. However, in this fresh campaign for EDOWA state, Omoruyi conflates ethnic relationships with royal linkages as grounds for asking for Itsekiri to join their "kith and kin" in Edo state. It appears that Omoruyi's meaning of "kith and kin" varies from the standard meaning of this phrase in Nigeria. He tells us that the new king of Itsekiri, in order to "cope with the 'crisis of identity' which faced" his people, chose to break away from the Itsekiri's Yoruba heritage and align their fortunes with the Benin. We usually do not define "kith and kin" in these terms of negotiating new alliances that seek to resolve a "crisis of identity." It is doubtful that mainstream Itsekiri spokespersons will accept this unusual definition of Itsekiri's "kith and kin" that Omoruyi promotes.

What evidence does Omoruyi have that the Binis are the Itsekiri's "kith and kin?" His logic and definition appear tortured: "All the kings of the Itsekiris are direct descendants of the Oba of Benin and by extension the Itsekiri should have [their] home where the Binis are." The Itsekiri kings are indeed the descendants of the dynasty of the Obas. But that is different from the Itsekiri people. They have never claimed to be Binis or even to be an Edoid people. They claim Yoruba roots. Is Omoruyi saying that they should forego their linguistic and DNA-based ethnic heritage and move with their king to reclaim his Benin ancestry? This is an instance in which what is good for the Olu may not be good for the Itsekiri people.

But there are dangerous traps in Omoruyi's reasoning for the Itsekiri. We who come from the region know the ethnic arithmetic rather well, as Nigerians much farther removed will not. I assume that Omoruyi is also acquainted with the dangers that he is proposing for the Itsekiri in EDOWA State. Sometimes, I wonder whether Omoruyi is proposing this whole scenario for the sheer joy of creating an intellectual mischief. The ethnic figures do not add up for the Itsekiri in Edo or EDOWA State. The Itsekiri will be crushed in Edoid politics in EDOWA state.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Omoruyi's apparent prayers are granted and the present Warri Local Government areas are transferred to Edo State. That means a significant number of Ijaws will be transferred to Edo State, joining another group of Ijaws already in Edo State. They are not Edoid people, at least according to their own claims, but they control their own districts. The transfer will thus augment the Ijaw share in Edo State. A large Urhobo population in Warri City will follow. That will enhance the Urhobo presence in Edo State. The Urhobos are an Edoid people who have no problem existing in Edo State. The Urhobo presence in the Benin country side is significant, with some local government areas traditionally featuring key Urhobo elected politicians. The Urhobo presence in Benin traditional politics is also strong. The last civilian governor of Edo State, John Oyegun, is Urhobo on his maternal side. We were recently told by a Benin Prince that the present Iyase, the second highest office holder in traditional Benin politics, is an Urhoboman by ancestry. Nor is he the first Urhobo to be an Iyase in the history of Benin politics.

So what will be the consequence for the Itsekiri of Omoruyi's and Babagida's famous dream of EDOWA state? First, is Omoruyi suggesting that the Binis and Edoid peoples will change the name of their state from EDO to EDOWA in order to accommodate these new arrivals? If they are the "kith and kin" of the Edoid peoples, why add "WA" signifying Warri to the state's title? In any case, let us grant Omoruyi's dream for now. The Itsekiri will be the new comers in this concoction called EDOWA state. In so doing, they will be a tiny minority. They may well be less than the Urhobo. This is because thousands of Itsekiri live in Sapele and other Urhobo towns in Delta State. These are their homes and they are not going to EDOWA. The net effect of EDOWA will be to create two Itsekiri minorities in Delta state and in EDOWA state. How will these Itsekiri minorities survive in any of these states? Did Omoruyi ever do the ethnic arithmetic on this matter at all?

One more issue concerns the status of the Olu in the imagined EDOWA state. I note that Omoruyi calls the Itsekiri king the "brother" of the Benin Oba. It would be unusual language, in the hierarchy of royalty, to call, say, the Onogie of Ekpoma the Oba's "brother." Is Omoruyi now suggesting that the Olu is of the same rank as the Oba? In any case, what will be the status of the Olu in EDOWA state? Will Omoruyi be able to help the Itsekiri if there was a campaign by the Edoid elements in this EDOWA state that the right title for the Olu is "Onogie?"


Omoruyi's account of the 1991 states creation exercise critically examines Benin politics. On more than one occasion he chides the Benin political establishment for its behavior. I am intrigued by Omoruyi's report for what it indicates about his understanding on the welfare of the Itsekiri if the 1991 campaign had succeeded and plunged the Itsekiri into this EDOWA state.

First, there are his views on the behavior of the Oba of Benin. Omoruyi commends the efforts of the Olu, the Itsekiri king, for his "bold move" to bring his people to Benin, making "this view known to his older brother, the Oba of Benin, I was told." He then asks, rhetorically, "What was the attitude of the Oba of Benin? Did the matter come before the Benin people?" He continues: "I was told that the Benin monarch was cool towards this plan. Why was he cool towards the plan?".Dr. Omoruyi did not provide any answers to these rhetorical questions. I assume that he does not expect any.

Omoruyi then gives a full account of what he regarded as phony demonstrations by the Iyase and all of the Benin traditional establishment against the plan to bring the Itsekiri into a new state with the Binis. He further reports: "The Benin traditional Institution followed this organized outburst with a protest letter to the President voicing objection of the Benin people . . . to the plan." Omoruyi complains that they did so without consulting the Benin people. 

If Dr. Omoruyi, near the helm of Ibrahim Babagida's Presidency, was unable to protect the plan to include the Itsekiri in an Edoid state, why does he think that he can from Boston ensure the political welfare of the Itsekiri in a new EDOWA state? In any case why did he not go to the Iyase or even the Oba with his arguments for this plan? His complaint that "They did not consult any body and even me in the Presidency" is intriguing. If Omoruyi knew of some benefit that would accrue to Binis from the inclusion of the Itsekiri in EDOWA state, he was perfectly free to canvass his views. I would suggest to him that his cloakroom deal with General Babagida and the Olu was wrong. The Oba and the Iyase knew what they were doing. They were right.


Delta State is a unique state in that it was designed to ensure that no ethnic group is overwhelmingly powerful. It is a state in which an Itsekiri can be Governor. Its present Governor is Itsekiri on his maternal side. It is romantic to believe for a moment that Edo state, made of Edoid peoples, will better accommodate the interests of the non-Edoid Itsekiri. Omoruyi was wrong when he designed that plan in 1991. He is very wrong in advocating its revival with alarmist propaganda in 1999.

The Itsekiri elite are some of the most privileged people in Nigeria. Indeed, apart from the Fulani aristocracy, I know of no other group with more privileges. If they move to this imaginary EDOWA state, they will lose all of their privileges. If they move to Ogun state, they will lose most of their privileges. If they remain in the Delta State, they will retain most of these privileges. In my humble judgment, the Delta State is the rightful home of the Itsekiri. Professor Omo Omoruyi is painfully wrong.

Return to Contents Page | END OF DOCUMENT | Return to EDOWA