Francis Ebikefe Porbeni
On Behalf of the Ezon Delegation
To the Tri-Ethnic Warri Peace Conference
In Washington D.C. on July 24th, 1999
It is necessary before delving much into our remark to gratefully acknowledge the efforts of the Convener and Rapporteur of this conference, Dr Phillip Ikomi and Dr. Bolaji Aluko, respectively for the tenacity and patience with which they have exercised in bringing this conference to hold. Special thanks must be given to Dr. Aluko for providing us the use of this auspicious venue at no cost to the delegates.
It was almost six weeks ago that the idea to convey a conference of this nature was first mooted. A number of persons through their concern, (publicly and privately) to what has being happening in Warri area, have encouraged the dialogue we will be having today. We wish to express our appreciation to all such persons, and also to those of you here today who have journeyed to witness this conference. We like also to welcome our brethren's in the Itsekiri and Urhobo delegation for being here today and making this conference a reality.
Need to Dialogue
The sad and shocking series of events at Warri and its environs in recent times underscore the need for a dialogue like this. And we believe that most of us here are aware that back home, quite a number of Ijaws, Itsekiris and Urhobos have closed ranks, and are making good-faith efforts to find a lasting solution to a controversy that has endured for a century or more-- claims and counter-claims about land; claims and counter-claims about dynastic transplantations and pedigree; claims and counter-claims about suzerainty. We sincerely believe that the outcome of our efforts today will go a long way in shaping efforts at home aimed to create an environment of mutual respect, tolerance and an enduring peace.
Accordingly, we have come here today with a genuine
need for a candid dialogue. Stating that all of us gathered here today
have a lot at stake may sound superfluous. There is no Ijaw delegate here
today who would say he does not know, at least, one Itsekiri as a friend
or an Itsekiri delegate here who would say he has no Ijaw or Urhobo friend
or acquaintance. We feel safe to draw similar conclusions that there is
no Urhobo delegate here who would submit that he or she does not have at
least a person from our ethnic groups as a friend or acquaintance. Exogamous
marriages prevalent within our three ethnic groups is further reason to
conclude that Ijaws, Itsekiris and Urhobos are eternally inter-connected.
But, in spite of this interconnectedness, there are grave issues that threaten
to tear us apart, and endanger our common destiny, if, urgent effort at
genuine communication is not pursued. We do not have any illusion regarding
the task ahead of us. It is very challenging and ardous, but we cannot
run away from these issues simply because of their enormity. There is an
Igbo proverb that says: the palmwine tapper does not shy away from climbing
the palm tree simply for fear of falling down and dying. Let us today begin
a process of climbing to the mountain-top in search of peace collectively
as a people, and view the horizon of our common destiny with a better
History tells us that throughout the whole world, it is travesty of justice when the exercise of stuffy influence on the legal system patently leads to "legal" decisions rendered. And the consequence is unending resistance. Apartheid South Africa of few years ago is a good example; in the United States, Segregation Laws of the '60s here in the U.S. are another example. Blacks in South Africa as well as Black Americans in the U.S. resisted "laws" which were enacted by virtue of White influence. To give one example since we are operating under the tyranny of the clock; In a 1896 case "Plessy vs. Ferguson", a court decision sanctioned "separate but equal facilities" for Blacks and Whites in the United States. We all know that things were not equal between Blacks and Whites.
We all know that this was an inherently unjust and oppressive legal decision. Hence in 1954, the "separate but equal" decision was rightly overturned in "Brown vs. Board of Education". It took almost sixty years but at least, justice prevailed because no matter how deeply it is buried, it always comes out in due time and flourish. Let us take cues from history and work honestly to make right the wrongs of the past. Our delegates have come here with the resolve to facilitate the process that would lead to justice that would, in turn, lead to sustainable peace among us all.
Causation of Crisis and Imperatives for Peace
We do not intend to use this opportunity of an opening remark to rehash our positions and claims. But it is necessary to state that for the Ezons, some of our key concerns are the subjugation and stifling of the political, economic and cultural expressions of our people by our Itsekiri brethren. This suffocation of our humanity manifest in various forms, not excluding the denial of a local government council rightfully due to us, and the over lordship by the paramount ruler of Itsekiri's, in the affairs of Ezons in Warri and its environ.
We are also very much concerned with the quantity of arms and ammunitions that has found its way into the Niger Delta. The continued influx of arms does not augur well for the social stability in the area. Compounding this problem is the grinding poverty that is afflicting the mass of the people in the region regardless of ethnic group. Judging by the fact that this region produces the bulk of the nation's wealth, it is an irony of fate when we look at the level of infrastructural and economic development of the region compared to other parts of the country. Poverty, low infrastructural and economic development, and the degradation of the environment as a result of crude oil exploration and exploitation are common problems we all share.
Since the beginning of this conflict, economic activity in Warri area has continued to decline. The very same transnational oil corporations that have contributed much to the devastation of the region have commenced plans to relocate away from Warri. Can we imagine what it will be like once the oil wells start drying up within the next 50 years as estimated by present data.
The challenge of this collection of leaders gathered here today is to boldly confront these problems and proffer a new vision for our people. Visions that will ensure that all groups equally participate in the social and political life of the area. Visions in which we have to start urgently devising a framework to judiciously maximize the resources of the region for the benefit of all her peoples. In order for this to happen, the imperatives to restore peace in the area must be identified. Failure to meet this challenge will be dire. We will like in conclusion to refer to the recipe for peace proffered by a prominent Itsekiri leader Dr. Richard Tosanwumi in The Guardian of October 30th 1998 page 34. Dr Tosanwumi made a few suggestions as a way to resolve the Warri crisis.
Among these suggestions are that more local governments should be created in Warri Urban based on geographical units, and others in the rural areas for either of the ethnic groups; establish six modern towns in the rural areas by the OMPADEC and PTF. Failure to act on these steps, he feared "restive youths of Warri would sack the city in the next five to six years." We hope that we will ensure that this prophecy does not come to pass.
We would like to assure the world that we Ezons are committed to genuine efforts at finding a lasting political solution to this tragic conflict. We earnestly look forward to having an atmosphere of harmony and tranquility return back to Warri. The unrest must stop and we must resolve to make it stop forthwith!
Thank you all.