URHOBO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The Warri Crisis Peace Congress/ North America
Saturday, July 24, 1999.

Report by the Itsekiri Delegation

(Issued: Monday, 27 September 1999)



The Warri Crisis Peace Congress/ North America adjourned indefinitely following fruitless attempts to agree to an agenda. Delegates were hopelessly deadlocked on two of six issues proposed for discussion by the congress, convened by Drs. Philip Ikomi and Mobolaji Aluko on Saturday, July 24, 1999, at Howard University, Washington, DC.
 

Reason for Logjam
 

The stalemate resulted from Ijaw and Urhobo delegates' obdurate insistence on including the title of the Olu of Warri and the ownership of Warri on the agenda, a position the Itsekiri delegation (1)adamantly opposed for the following reasons:
 

· The leadership of the Itsekiri political structure, Ogiame Atuwase II, the Olu of Warri, had not delegated Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Incorporated or its members to engage in any discussions

· The title of the Olu of Warri and the Ownership of Warri are personal to Itsekiri people, indisputable and therefore irrelevant to the current crisis in Warri

· The organization was therefore agreeable to discussing only issues of common interest to the three ethnic nationalities
 

Background
 

When Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Incorporated was invited to contribute proposals to the agenda for the peace initiative, the organization responded, expressing its profound desire and willingness to participate in any effort seeking real solutions to the regional crisis. The group indicated that although the Itsekiri political structure headed by Ogiame Atuwase II, the Olu of Warri, had neither directed it nor its members to speak on or enter into any agreements on behalf of Itsekiri people, it would however discuss issues of common interest to the three ethnic groups.
 

Because this stance of Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Incorporated was seemingly ignored, both Vice-President Eyisan Omagbemi and Secretary Bawo Ayomike contacted Dr. Ikomi to object to items 5(ii), 5(iii) and 5(iv) on the tentative agenda released on Friday, July 16, 1999. These items covered the title of the Olu of Warri, the status of Warri and relocation of Local Government Area headquarters from Ogbe-Ijoh. Messrs. Omagbemi and Ayomike protested the inclusion of these issues on the agenda, indicating that Itsekiris may be forced to boycott the conference if the items were not excised. They stated historical and legal support for the title of the Olu of Warri and the ownership of Warri to back their request. Later on the same day, Dr. Ikomi advised Mr. Ayomike that the organization should document its position and release a statement to Ijaw and Urhobo representatives who presumably were uninformed. To demonstrate its utmost desire and willingness to seek meaningful resolution to the crisis in the region, Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Incorporated complied and distributed a statement by electronic mail on Tuesday, July 20, 1999, to Ijaw and Urhobo representatives as well as Drs. Ikomi and Aluko.
 

Title of Olu of Warri and Ownership of Warri Indisputable
 

In its statement, Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Incorporated asked the organizers of the congress to delete references to the title of the Olu of Warri and the ownership of Warri from the agenda because the issues were indisputable and therefore not open to discussion.
 

The statement presented historical evidence of the existence of the sovereign Kingdom of Warri founded by Bini Prince Ginuwa, who became the first Olu of Warri, circa 1480, citing the works of eminent historians, including Professors Kenneth O. Dike, F. Ade Ajayi and Obaro Ikime. It traced the history of the use of the name "Warri" and other derivatives of Iwere, as Itsekiris refer to their homeland. It referenced scholarly works, which documented the use of "Olu of Warri" as the title of the Itsekiri monarchy. It noted the use of this title through the reign of Olu Akengbuwa whose death in 1848 marked the beginning of the eighty-eight-year interregnum in which no kings were crowned in Warri -Itsekiri homeland.
 

The group indicated that the protestations of the Urhobo Progressive Union, UPU, under the leadership of Chief Mukoro Mowoe, during preparatory stages of the coronation of Ginuwa II in 1936, led to the title of "Olu of Itsekiri". It explained that the UPU protest arose from the creation of Warri Province, an administrative unit in the new country, Nigeria, that encompassed the homelands of Ijaws, Isokos, Ndokwas and Urhobos and that the UPU argued that the title "Olu of Warri" would suggest the Itsekiri monarchy reigned over the entire Warri Province.
 

The statement noted Itsekiris displeasure with the break in their tradition by the change of their monarch's title and the denunciation by Nigerians including Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who wrote an article in the West African Pilot on the subject in 1940. It stated that the title was restored to its original form after the Western Regional House of Assembly debated the issue and renamed Warri Province as Delta Province, allowing Warri to revert to simply being the homeland of Itsekiris, a change Urhobos accepted.
 

The statement also provided numerous historical support and legal justification to Itsekiri claim of ownership of Warri, citing and quoting from judicial pronouncements in lawsuits between Itsekiri and Urhobos and Itsekiris and Ijaws.
 

Ugbajo Itsekiri USA Incorporated expressed its utmost abhorrence at Ijaw and Urhobo attack on and disrespect for culture and custom shown by their endless questioning of the title of the Olu of Warri and the ownership of Warri. The group noted that Itsekiri communities in Ijaw and Urhobo homelands accord respect to their hosts and demanded reciprocity. It explained that it had taken the time to prepare and issue the statement in the interest of amity in the region. It asked Ijaws and Urhobos to either send a response impeaching Itsekiri claims or cease further attacks.
 

Ijaws and Urhobos never responded.
 

Attempts to Engender Discussion
 

Indignant and shocked at the mention of the same issues in the Ijaw and Urhobo opening statements' to the Congress, the Itsekiri delegation threatened to withdraw from further deliberations. The Ijaw and Urhobo groups claimed that late receipt of the Itsekiri statement made it impossible for them to respond. The Itsekiri delegation therefore remained and at various times later made several concessions to engender progression.
 

The Itsekiri delegation suggested discussions be limited to critical concerns that all delegates identified to be of common and vital interest to the three nationalities. Broadly, these issues were (1) Economic deprivation and Political Marginalization, (2) Regional Underdevelopment, (3) The Role of Government and (4) Ecological Impact of Oil Production in the Niger Delta. However, the Ijaw and Urhobo delegations disagreed, insisting on the inclusion of the title of the Olu of Warri and the Status of Warri on the agenda.
 

Since the previous suggestion was rejected and because the Ijaw and Urhobo delegations were so insistent, the Itsekiri delegation agreed to allow the discussion of the two issues to take place in its absence. However, the group indicated that conclusions reached by Ijaw and Urhobo delegations could not be part of the communiqué issued at the close of deliberation because of the lack of consensus on discussing the subjects. Alternatively, the Itsekiri group agreed to allow the communiqué to state that two issues were proposed but could not be discussed because of a lack of consensus.
 

Finally, the Itsekiri delegation proposed that the Ijaw and Urhobo delegations should provide Itsekiris with their repudiation of Itsekiri claims, which the Itsekiri delegation did not know, existed since there were no responses to its statement. The Itsekiris agreed to allow an insertion in the communiqué stating that the group "would be willing to examine" the Ijaw and Urhobo submissions.
 

The Ijaw and Urhobo delegations rejected each of these initiatives.
 

Mr. Andrew Edevbie on behalf of himself and the Urhobo delegation finally proposed a motion to adjourn indefinitely and was seconded by the Ijaw delegation after it attached a friendly amendment to the original motion.
 

The meeting adjourned shortly before 8PM.
 

Members of the delegation were:

Dr. Felix Abeson, Itsekiri National Association of the Washington, DC-Baltimore CMSA Inc.

Dr. Oti Agbajoh-Laoye, Oma-Iwere Itsekiri Organization Inc., NY-NJ-CT.

Mr. Bawo Ayomike, Itsekiri National Association of the Washington, DC-Baltimore CMSA Inc.

Mr. Eyisan Omagbemi, Oma-Iwere Itsekiri Organization Inc., NY-NJ-CT


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