URHOBO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

OPENING STATEMENT OF THE URHOBO DELEGATION

AT THE WASHINGTON, D.C., PEACE CONFERENCE ON THE WARRI CRISIS

HOWARD UNIVERSITY, WASHINGTON, D.C. USA
JULY 24, 1999


Presented by:

O. IGHO NATUFE, Ph.D.


INTRODUCTION

On behalf of members of the Urhobo delegation, as well as the entire Urhobo community in the Diaspora, I thank Dr. Philip Ikomi and Dr. Bolaji Aluko for initiating, organizing, and hosting this august gathering. It is no mean task to organize a conference of this magnitude. The road to this peace conference was tedious and rough. But for the patience exhibited by Philip and Bolaji, we would not have been here today. I also must thank our Ezon and Itsekiri compatriots for making this gathering possible by accepting to be here. A peace conference is a peace conference only when the parties at conflict agree to sit down and seek solutions to their conflict.

We extend our profound gratitude to Chief Anthony Enahoro for his concerns for this forum and for the remarks on the peace process which he prepared for delivery today. We will use his advice as guidelines for our deliberations.

Members of the Urhobo delegation are here to propose and seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict that has engulfed the city of Warri, an important metropolis with symbolic meanings to the Ezon, the Itsekiri and the Urhobo. In our quest for peace, we will also take cognizance of the legitimate interests of our Ezon and Itsekiri brethren with whom God has destined us to share contiguous territories from time immemorial. We are three nations in the bosom of the beautiful city of Warri. We have been enriched by our diversities and our shared history as a community for centuries. As neighbours, we have had occasions to disagree and engage in conflict. It is a natural phenomenon in history for neighbours to disagree and engage in conflict. But, I do not think any of us were prepared for the type of conflict that occurred in Warri and environs from the last week of May to early June 1999. The Urhobo delegation strongly condemns the violence and the wanton destruction of lives and properties. We urge the government of Delta State to investigate the riot and bring the perpetrators and their accomplices to justice. Our sincere condolence goes to all those who have lost their loved ones and properties as a result of this armed conflict. Although Urhobos suffered most of the damage in property and lives, we wish to assure you that Urhobos at home and in the Diaspora want to put that incident behind us.

As representatives of the Urhobo community in the Diaspora, we are not here to conclude a peace treaty that will be binding on all three nationalities in Delta State of Nigeria. However, we do expect that our deliberations and the communique arising thereof will help to shape the strategic thinking of our leaders in Nigeria on how to resolve the Warri crisis. We are here to explore, together with our Ezon and Itsekiri brethren, the possibilities of constructing viable and lasting alternatives to war for the consideration of our leaders at home. Thus, the Urhobo delegation considers this gathering a giant step in the right direction. The fact that we are here with our Ezon and Itsekiri brethren must be considered a huge success. As the ethnic group that has not been involved in this physical conflict in the Delta until the brief unfortunate events in Warri of a few weeks ago, we believe the Urhobos can be helpful in the peace process in a special way.

I recall as a young lad growing up in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Urhiapele (Sapele), Forcados and Warri playing under the moonlight with my Ezon and Itsekiri friends, just as our forefathers had done centuries before us. We want our offsprings to continue this tradition in every village, town and city of Delta State, and across Nigeria. From time immemorial, the Itsekiri and Urhobo have intermarried to such an extent that we can begin to talk of a blending of the cultures of both nationalities. They have intermarried more than any other two nationalities in Nigeria. Without any fear of contradiction, I can boldly say that all the Itsekiri principals in the current crisis have Urhobo blood flowing in their veins. To a lesser extent than the Itsekiri and Urhobo, though in significant numbers, the Ezon and Itsekiri have also established very strong marital ties between themselves. There are also thousands of Ezon-Urhobo marriages. If these ties are so strong, one might ask: why do they fight? Why can they not live in peace? This is why we are here today in Washington, D.C., to seek answers to these vexing questions. The sad irony of the situation is that thousands of Ezon, Itsekiri and Urhobo men were busy making babies with their spouses from the opposing nationalities during the armed conflict of 1997 and 1999.

The Urhobo delegation will propose answers to these questions at this peace conference. We will engage our Ezon and Itsekiri brethren in a frank discourse of our crisis, and seek mutually beneficial solutions to them. In accordance with the imperatives of peace conferences, we expect principled flexibility from each delegation at this peace conference. Even though we consider this peace conference to be an exploratory non binding enterprise, the spirit with which we approach and resolve the issues today will have profound implications for the developments in our beloved Delta State.

Perhaps, other warring nationalities in other parts of Nigeria will use us as a model. After all, Delta State is a microcosm of Nigeria.
 

THE CRISIS

What are the causes of the Warri crisis? They are many and varied. It is quite normal for warring parties to have contending explanations for their crisis. Irrespective of these contending views, they almost always agree that the crisis was precipitated by a single issue or a combination of ssues. For the Urhobo, that single issue revolves around the title of the Olu, the Itsekiri King.

Power, and influence and domination are generally the causes of inter-ethnic conflict. When one group has undue access to the corridors of power and uses that access to influence state/regional policies in its favour vis-a-vis the interests of competing ethnic groups, we are bound to have a breakdown of inter-ethnic harmony. The group possessing a more powerful alliance construct, whether internal or external, is usually more likely to have its values and symbols dominating the polity of the area in crisis. In his book, Ethnic Politics, (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y., 1994, p. 217) Professor Milton J. Esman argued that: "Where the state has been created or captured by a particular ethnic community and operates as an agent of that community, that state becomes a party to ethnic conflicts, especially when prevailing rules, practices, or allocations are challenged by ethnic competitors." The Itsekiri establishment was able to exploit its alliance with the government of the then western Nigeria to the detriment of other ethnic groups with legitimate titles to the city of Warri. It is the view of the Urhobo that this inimical alliance precipitated the Itsekiri-Urhobo fratricidal conflict of 1952. Itsekiri-Urhobo relations were fractured in 1952, and have remained so to this day.

We view the structure of Nigerian federalism as one of the causes of the current Warri crisis. This structure has systematically destroyed the independence of the federating units over the past 33 years. The erosion of this independence has reduced state governments to the role of mere administrative organs of the federal government. As a consequence of this, Delta State, for example, does not have any control over the exploitation, development and marketing of its natural resources. The usurpation of this function by the federal government and its collaboration with foreign multinational oil companies have caused serious dislocation in the economy of Nigeria's federating units, particularly in the Delta State. Frustrations caused by the federal appropriation of the revenue of those states, and the increasing ecological degradation of the environment in Delta State caused by the oil companies, have compelled those affected to seek other means of redress. We cannot underestimate the damage caused by these multinational oil companies in the economy of Delta State, as well as in other areas of Nigeria.

The arbitrary and conspiratorial manner in which states have been created in Nigeria since 1967 has further reduced the value of the Nigerian federal system. Besides the Midwest State (later Bendel State, which was broken into Edo and Delta states in 1991) whose creation in 1963 satisfied all constitutional requirements, the process of state creation in Nigeria has been monopolized by military dictators in alliance with their academic and bureaucratic collaborators. It is the view of the Urhobo delegation that each state must exercise exclusive jurisdiction over their respective natural resources and economy.

The Urhobo delegation will elaborate on these issues during this peace conference.

RESOLVING THE CRISIS

Our proposals on resolving the Warri crisis derive from our belief in the fundamental principles of self determination. We proceed from the premise that we, the Urhobo, as well as our Ezon and Itsekiri brethren have the right to self determination. Each legitimate claim for self determination must recognize an opposing legitimate claim for self determination. It is only by this process of mutual respect and recognition that we can strive to have sustained peace in our beloved Delta State.

We demand an atmosphere where each nationality can develop their respective culture and continue to contribute to the economic growth and social development of Delta State and Nigeria. The Urhobo delegation will argue along this line and propose the following during the conference:

1. The title of the Olu be reversed to Olu of Itsekiri.

2 The palace of the Olu of Itsekiri is relocated to Ode Itsekiri, the spiritual home of the Itsekiris where Itsekiri Olus are crowned.

3. The Delta State Government to create Urhobo local governments of Agbasa and Okere.

4. The King of Okere to continue to have his palace in Okere.

5 The establishment of a genuine federal system in Nigeria.

6. The establishment of an Ezon-Itsekiri-Urhobo Solidarity Committee in North America.



Members of the Urhobo Delegation:

Dr. O. Igho Natufe (Leader)
Dr. Aruegodore Oyiborhoro (Secretary)
Mr. Andrew Edevbie
Ambassador Princess Elizabeth Ogbon


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