Exchange of Views: Aluko and Ekeh

Mobolaji E. Aluko wrote:


Phillip Ikomi is Itsekiri, Francis Porbeni is Ijaw and Peter Ekeh is Urhobo.

What can be done?

Bolaji Aluko

On Thu, 17 Jun 1999, Peter P. Ekeh wrote:

Dear Bolaji [Aluko]:

I appreciate your sincere concerns about the Niger Delta. However, I am not persuaded that all of a sudden things have gone infinitely worse. I fear that all the outburst was tied to the new regime's coming into place. How is it possible that it is the week after Obsanjo's inauguration that madness broke loose in that region? My worry is that the sensationalism that has been lent this whole matter is insane. What is it all about? Another Bosnia? Some leaders who want to make a living from crisis are talking of ethnic cleansing.

Is it not really unfair to say that Urhobos are at war with the Itsekiri? My clear understanding is that Urhobo leadership invested heavily to ensure that they don't get pulled into this crisis. Does it make sense that they should be involved at a time when a new regime is coming in? Unless you have information that I do not have, the situation in the western Niger Delta is that Itsekiri and Ijaw youth are armed to the teeth. Do you really have any information that Urhobos are so armed?

I fear that we may expand this whole matter by default. I hear that Urhobos suffered severely from the Warri fight. Can you not see that the anger in Agbarho and Ughelli is related to the heavy losses that Urhobos are said to have taken at Warri? My further information is that the Ivies (kings) especially are calming down things. The Orodje of Okpe has especially been excellent in ensuring that this matter does not expand to Sapele. You probably know that there are more Itsekiri at Sapele than in Warri.

While I commend you for showing concern, we should not assume that people at home have no common sense or that they are bloody. I also would like to caution that  you understand that not all of us are that partisan. It is all right to tap the three of us from three different groups. I don't know when was the last time I went to an Urhobo meeting.  And yet I spend all  my time on Nigerian affairs. You should not imagine that my earlier queries to Mr. Ojime this evening was done on behalf of Urhobo people. I have used my influence to ensure that mutual antagonism should be minimized in these matters.

I suspect what I am trying to tell you is that we should not be too excited. James Ibori's mother is Itsekiri, his father Urhobo. I am sure that he will invest quite a bit of his energies to see that relations between the two groups do not break down.

If you want to do something, I suggest we all educate ourselves about the issues in the Delta. I fear that all of a sudden Deltans are looked at as monsters. Maybe we should also learn about what is going on at Modakeke, Kafanchan, etc.

I am of course distressed that some so-called leaders in my region, that is, western Niger Delta, are feasting on this crisis. It is an old game they play. The ordinary people suffer while they fan hatred. But hopefully commonsense will prevail.


Peter Ekeh.

On 6/17/99 Dr. Mobolaji Aluko replied:

Dr. Ekeh:

I will be blunt with you, in a manner that will probably surprise, possibly offend you. Your response was not very helfpul, and could simply fan the embers of conflict in a manner that will never make them go away.

(1) The conflict has not gotten worse 'tied to the new regime's coming into place.' Rather, because it is a civilian regime rather than a military regime, checks on the conflict that can suddenly quell a particular outburst have changed QUALITATIVELY and QUANTITATIVELY. This is my uppermost concern, because I believe that the Ijaw are flush with both cash and arms, and probably smell victory, and military might will now have to be used sparingly.

(2) Nowhere have I stated that the Urhobos are at war with the Itsekiri. In an earlier communication with you over this affair months ago, you made the same correction, almost as if the Urhobos ARE NOT INVOLVED AT ALL in any conflict in the Niger-Delta. I smiled - but I knew better.

(3) You state that SOME LEADERS WANT TO MAKE A LIVING from the crisis.  Who are these phantom leaders, so that we can TAKE THEM OUT? By simply >making a statement like this, you make a deep assertion without a back-up.

(4) You state that you have not attended an Urhobo meeting for a while. That is PRECISELY the problem - maybe if you had, you would have ASSERTED some greater influence on all sides. By talking NATIONALISM, NATIONALISM, and living in Ibadan and Buffalo and Washington, DC, and living in ivory towers, many of us have neglected our own backyards. Now, the chicken have come home to roost.

(5) Lastly, you assume that the interest in some of us trying to be involved IMPLIES that we think that those at home are stupid, blood-seeking individuals. This is probably the most saddening of your statements, sir. I have just returned from home, and I know how much appreciated the efforts of NIgerians abroad are in trying to help solve problems at home. With our Yoruba groups, for example, in the past four to six months, we have sent people home to talk with different groups (OPC, Afenifere, Yoruba Parapo,etc., who have been mutually suspicious of each other), and most importantly brought them here. Ige and Falae shared a podium just this past weekend, together with Fasehun of OPC and Baba Omojola of another Odua group. About a month ago, Beko Kuti, Ige, Fasehun, Akinrinade, etc. were all in Washington, DC, on similar smoothening mission, and I hosted a town meeting here at Howard University School of Engineering.

So, we must do our part, and reduce our partisan, no matter how hidden.

And I called upon the three of you not only because you belong to three of the contending ethnic groups, but because you are all affiliated with universities!

I rest my case for now, Prof. If you can refer me to one or more Urhobo groups in the US, I would appreciate it.

Bolaji  Aluko

On Thu, 17 Jun 1999, Peter Ekeh wrote:


We do have quite a difference in perspectives in this matter. Let me put it this way. You are working on several assumptions about the western Niger Delta that are not there. In some instances you are completely mistaken. You are not the only one in this category. I can ask you a series of questions, but I will delay most of them. One I must ask. Why is it that of all the deadly inter-ethnic conflicts in Nigeria, this is the only one that is being pushed before international attention? One view from the region is that it is being fueled by funds from the oil companies.

Regarding the Urhobo's role in the conflict. Why won't you accept the view from the Urhobo leadership that this is not their fight? They have been out of it since it broke out in 1997. They have spent enormous resorces in attempts to ensure that it did not spread to them. They have not been entirely successful, as the recent local Warri experience would indicate.

There is a desparate attempt to link the Urhobos with this conflict. Indeed, many Urhobos have become fearful that there is a plot to drag them into this conflict. Because they had a problem with the Itsekiri in the past, they must be part of a new war with them? Urhobos have their own reasons for wishing to stay out of this conflict. You apparently did not believe me when I told you that months ago. Let me repeat the point: Urhobos don't want to be dragged into this conflict -- either by way of appearances or in actual terms. Do you know how many thousands of Itsekiri  live in Urhobo lands? I do not want to wake up and hear stories about  Urhobo-Itsekiri conflicts, such as occurred in 1952. Please excuse Urhobos from this one.

I will consult with the Urhobo groups before submitting their names to you.

Meanwhile, I am copying this memo containing your views to two other Urhobos who may shed more light that will be helpful to your quest. It is my understanding that you know both gentlemen.


Peter Ekeh.

Dr. Mobolaji Aluko's Reply:
Date: Sat, 19 Jun 1999 15:06:11 -0400
To: ppekeh@acsu.buffalo.edu
From: "Mobolaji E. Aluko" <maluko@scs.howard.edu>
Subject: Re: Ijaws, Itsekiris, & Urhobos at War in Delta State, Nigeria. (fwd)

Dr. Ekeh:

With all due respect, either you or the Urhobos are trying to play the ostrich in this affair. It reminds me of the story in the Bible of the priest who, on the way to Damascus, side-steps the robbery victim, until a good Samaritan comes by.

You say that thousands of Itsekiris live on Urhobo land. So how is it that Urhobos will not be dragged into ANY conflict that involve the Itsekiri, even if the original problem is not Itsekiri vs. Urhobo? In running away from another conflict, where else would the Itsekiri come to but where Itsekiris already reside? And if that land will not sustain them, will they not, like Oliver Twist, ask for more land from the Urhobo?

WIll that not cause more conflict? Furthermore, there are hundreds, thousands of people with mixed Itsekiri/Urhobo/Ijaw blood: how can you ask that the Urhobos be left out of the conflict?

The Yoruba say that when the sky falls, it falls on all of us. We also say that when a person sleeping under your roof starts eating ants in the day time, you better caution him because when at night he starts to yell due to an upset stomach, you too will know no sleep.! So I will not excuse the Urhobo from this conflict, and no one should.

Prof., I don't know what 'several assumptions' you think I am working with about the western Niger Delta. I really don't. For example, I have ABSOLUTELY no preconceptions about Urhobo role in this affair, although I have some about the Itsekiri and the Ijaw, from what I have read or heard.

But note that at one time, it was Zangon-Kataf - the world appealed that Lekwot not be hanged then. At one time, it was Ife Modakeke. At another, it was the Ogoni, which made headlines first because Saro-Wiwa internationalized it by bringing it under the UN's Indigenous Peoples program, and bringing attention to the NIGER-DELTA as a whole being the money-basket of NIGERIA due to oil. Now, it is the Itsekiri/Ijaw/Urhobo crisis. There is no rocket science, no sinister reason behind the new-found emphasis on the conflict there.. Also note that it fits neatly into the pro-democracy program which requires restructuring and devolution of powers in the center such that communities have better control over their resources and lives: some of the things happening in the Niger-Delta (eg LG creations or moving of HQs, etc.) would not be happening if Abuja influence were not there.

Finally, Andrew Edevbie and I are very good friends, and I believe that I have been in touch with Igho Natufe before. Quite frankly, I forgot for a second that Andrew was Urhobo, because we have dealt with each other for the past six years as Nigerian pro-democrats rather than on an ethnic basis. But we have always shared the notion that we have a role to play in our nations of prideful association, and I am sure that he will join in seeing this madness in the western Niger-Delta stop.

Best wishes.

Bolaji Aluko