URHOBO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

OPENING STATEMENT

by

ITSEKIRI DELEGATION

TO THE WASHINGTON, DC PEACE CONFERENCE,
JULY 24, 1999



We would like to commend those who have convened this peace conference, Drs. Philip Ikomi and Bolaji Aluko. Initiatives like this require sensitivity to human suffering.

We are shocked by the carnage and wanton destruction of property orchestrated and unleashed by the Ijaws against the Itsekiris in the three Warri Local Government Areas (Warri North, Warri South and Warri Southwest) which have been ongoing since 1997. For these atrocities, they put forth the following reasons:

1. Neglect and political marginalization

2 Worsening economic conditions

3 Pollution and degradation from oil exploration and exploitation.

While we agree and sympathize with the Ijaws, we are at a loss to understand why they have turned their anger on their neighbors, the Itsekiris, who are victims of the same deplorable conditions. It is therefore pertinent to ask the following questions. Are the Itsekiris responsible for these conditions? Do the Itsekiris not experience the same neglect, worsening economic conditions and pollution? The answer to the first question is an emphatic NO. And the answer to the second question is a resounding YES. So you can see why we are embittered and
saddened by the Ijaw atrocities against our people. In addition, the Ijaws have listed the apparent relocation of a Local Government Headquarters from Ogbe-Ijaw to Ogidigben as one of their grievances. Again it is pertinent to note that the Federal Government never created any Local Government with Headquarters in Ogbe-Ijaw.

The three Warri local government areas (henceforth referred to as Warri), account for 32% of Nigeria's oil and natural gas output- 86% of Delta State's total production. Over 90% of our annual national budget are funded with revenue from oil and gas production. And close to 100% of the oil and gas produced in Nigeria come from the Niger Delta area.

And what do the indigenes -Ijaws, Itsekiris, Urhobos, and others- get in return for the exploitation of the "black gold" in this region? Massive pollution of our lands, creeks and rivers, high unemployment, bad roads, no electricity, no running water, no hospitals or clinics, schools without chairs and books for the children. Not too long ago, people in these areas were able to feed their families with food grown in their backyards and fish caught from their creeks and rivers. Now, the pollution and degradation from oil spillage and gas flaring have rendered their farmlands and rivers useless and consequently deprived them of adequate means of livelihood.

At the same time that our people experience deprivation and debasement, some people from other parts of the country who have not seen a gas well or smelt crude oil and can not even locate Warri on the map of Nigeria have become millionaires (in US dollars and Pound Sterling). There is something very wrong with this picture.

This is why this aggression against the Itsekiris by the Ijaws is highly misplaced and totally irrational. The rational thing to do is to unite in a common struggle for justice and demand for what is rightly ours, the very reason we are here today. We therefore call on our neighbors, the Ijaws and Urhobos to join with us to demand that the Nigerian Government immediately start the equivalent of a Marshall Plan for the total and complete economic development of the oil producing areas. To achieve these objectives we propose the following:

1. Total cessation of hostilities

2. Immediate restoration of law and order

3. Expansive development of infrastructure

4. Clean up of the pollution from oil exploration and exploitation.

We are not asking for too much. It is our right to make these demands. Government investment in these areas will greatly enhance the social and economic conditions and bring a lasting peace, stability and employment in the oil-producing region. The multiplier effect of the economic activities that will result from these investments will be beyond our imagination.


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