Dr. Igho Natufe to Dr. Mobolaji Aluko

Subject: RE: Ijaws, Itsekiris, & Urhobos at War in Delta State, Nigeria (fwd)
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 1999 23:51:30 -0400
From: "Natufe, Igho" <inatufe@NRCan.gc.ca>
To: "'Mobolaji E. Aluko'" <maluko@scs.howard.edu>
CC: Andrew Edevbie <kevtrics@juno.com>, 'Peter Ekeh'  <PPEkeh@acsu.buffalo.edu>

Dear Bolaji:

I welcome, and do appreciate your intervention on this issue. I am  particularly pleased to read your declaration of assets. We are all involved in this mess. We cannot sit down and claim neutrality. To profess neutrality is to abandon our responsibilities

I do not know of any two ethnic groups in Nigeria that have inter married as much as the Urhobo and the Itsekiri. Mrs. Rose Ali, the wife of the late governor of Bendel State, Professor Ambrose Ali, once expressed her  bewilderment on why the Itsekiri and Urhobo fight during the day but share the same bed at night busy producing babies. This is one reason why I personally find any fight between them very destabilizing. Just like you, I have to declare my assets. My maternal grandfather is an Itsekiri from Obereda, while my maternal grandmother is an Urhobo from Okpara Inland. My paternal grandfather and grandmother are Okpes (Urhobos) from Urhiapele and  Amukpe respectively. "Sapele" is the corrupted colonial name for Urhiapele.

It may be difficult to establish who fired the first shots in the current madness in and around Warri. What is important for me is that my brothers and sisters are, once again, engaged in a bloody fight. And I cannot claim neutrality. It would be irresponsible for any of us to hide under the umbrella of neutralism.

But, what I do know is that respective regimes since 1952 have injected fundamental elements of discord into Urhobo-Itsekiri relations. First, it was the Action Group regime of 1952 that changed the title of "Olu of Itsekiri" to "Olu of Warri." As a pupil of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Warri, I witnessed the senseless killings of innocent persons of both side of the conflict in the Urhobo-Itsekiri fratricidal war of 1952. A war which was caused by the policy of the Action Group government. This action was taken for political expediency as the then government opted to mollify the Itsekiri for their support, and to punish the Urhobo for supporting the rival political party, the NCNC. It was an action that offended the sensitivities of the area. The response of the government was to change the name of the province from "Warri" to "Delta Province."

Was the decision of the last (I hope it is really the LAST) military government of Delta State to confer the title of "King of Urhobo-Okere" on an Urhobo leader designed to mediate or aggravate Itsekiri-Urhobo relations? Why did the Abacha regime relocate the headquarters of a local government from Ogbe-Ijoh, an Ijaw community to Ogidigben, an Itsekiri community? While we must condemn the rationale of the above policies by successive regimes, we must equally reject the resort to violence as a way to resolve the conflicts.

As a Nigerian, especially as an indigene of the area, I cannot sit on the fence when my brothers and sisters are fighting. It is our responsibilities to intervene and bring the parties to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. But we must recognize that to resolve any conflict requires the courage to make and accept meaningful compromises. We cannot wait for any government to decree a solution. But the government has a role to play, the role of a mediator. A decree, the types of which we have had since 1952, must not be imposed on the contending parties. What is required is a meeting of the parties to discuss and seek solutions to the conflicts. It is vital that we demonstrate our ability to see beyond ethnic chauvinism and embrace a reasonable approach to resolving the conflict. We must seek answers to these key questions:

Are we prepared to rectify past historical misdeeds? Are we going to exert pressures on the government to accept our personal view of resolving the conflict?

Our response to the above questions will determine where we stand on the issues.

The fight over land ownership in Warri has benefited a few Urhobo and Itsekiri leaders, while the masses of Urhobo and Itsekiri people continue to languish in abject poverty. ( We can say the same thing about Nigeria in general where a small clique of people command the wealth).

The broader issue, and perhaps the most critical issue, is a restructuring of the federal system. The current structure of Nigerian federalism is bound to cause perpetual crisis and conflict among various ethnic groups. If we accept the states as independent components of Nigerian
federalism, then we must accept the exclusive jurisdiction of each state within its defined borders. For example, it is incongruous for any federal government to create local governments. Witness, for example, the number of local governments in Kano and Lagos states where the former was "assigned" more local governments than the ] latter, irrespective of the fact that Kano State has fewer population than Lagos State. Similarly, the federal government should not have the power to create states.

The mechanical approach to state creation is one of the reasons for the mess in contemporary Nigeria. The federal government has abused and mis-used this power to render Nigerian federalism obsolete and moribund. Linked to this issue is the vital question of revenue allocation. We cannot exclude the current crisis in the Niger Delta from those broad questions. Just as I support a meeting of the groups involved in the Warri crisis, I equally support the proposal for a national conference to restructure Nigerian federalism. We must have the opportunity to define ourselves as different nationalities in a federal polity. The design of a viable federal system must recognize the independence and inter-dependence of these differences. Not until this is done and resolved in a truly federal system, we will continue to witness a repeat of the sad situation in the Niger Delta.


Igho Natufe