AN APPEAL TO
ITSEKIRI SURVIVAL MOVEMENT
Urhobo Historical Society
We refer to your press release of Friday, November 12, 1999, titled URHOBOS ATTACK ITSEKIRI TOWN. Since your emergence in late May, 1999, as a U.S.-based advocacy group reporting on the crisis in the western Niger Delta, you have issued, by now, scores of reports of alleged attacks on Itsekiri by your ethnic neighbors, the Ijaw. On June 4, 1999, you also reported that Urhobos had joined Ijaws in attacking your people, the Itsekiri. As it is well known by now, the opposite was the case. In the early hours of June 4, 1999, Okere-Urhobo in Warri was invaded by well-armed Itsekiri youth. The attack continued until June 7, 1999, resulting in the loss of innocent lives and destruction of property. Of course, as a single-minded advocacy group you never went back to those whom you had so informed that the information you fed them was wrong.
With all due respect, we will like to suggest to you that your press release on the recent ethnic clash in Ajagbodudu was also crafted to mislead your readers. We must acknowledge at the outset that this clash was painful and utterly unnecessary as a way of settling local disputes. It is a shame that violence has become rampant as a consequence of military rule and as a result of a dramatic fall in the standards of administration of justice in Nigeria. In many instances, such violence has surfaced in inter-ethnic clashes of which the western Niger Delta has had a large share. We fully sympathize with all victims of these acts of violence. We all hope, and pray, that with new effective administrations at the state and federal levels of government, this tendency toward violence will diminish.
Having said the above, we must challenge you on the way
you reported this case of a clash at Ajagbodudu and the unfair interpretation
you have imposed on it. We do so on the following grounds.
Local Conflicts. Urhobos and Itsekiri share boundaries that run into tens of miles, with many different border communities. Now and then, local conflicts do arise between Urhobo and Itsekiri, involving, but not limited to, border disputes. Most of these have been handled by local Itsekiri and Urhobo leadership without resorting to violence. Unfortunately, Ajagbodudu is one area where there has been failure. What that suggests is that local Itsekiri and Urhobo leaders should work harder at resolving these matters without their excitable youth getting involved. If it appears that local leadership cannot settle such matters, pan-Urhobo leadership is willing and able to step in to reign in any impending dangers.
The problem in your report is that you have given the impression that every local problem falls into a global dispute between Urhobo and Itsekiri. It is not in anyone's interest that every local problem between Itsekiri and Urhobo should be globalized. We are aware that your responsibilities in North America benefit by such globalization. However, ultimately that will not help our people at home. We strongly appeal to you to be more restrained in reporting matters that those far away from the western Niger Delta cannot fathom an Ocean away in Europe and North America.
Itsekiri-Urhobo Relations. Your report is liable to be misunderstood by those who live so far away from the western Niger Delta as indicating that your people, the Itsekiri, are mortal enemies of the Urhobos. As you well know, nothing can be farther from the truth. There are no other two ethnic groups in Nigeria that are as close as the Urhobo and Itsekiri. There are very few Urhobo who have no Itsekiri relatives. There are very few Itsekiri who are not partly Urhobo. Of course, this does not mean that there are no ethnic problems between the two peoples. But these should not be painted as ones of deadly conflict as suggested from your report.
In this regard, it is important to point out to those
so far away from the Niger Delta that there are two major cities in the
western Niger Delta: Warri and Sapele. The Itsekiri claim Warri as their
own. There is no dispute about the fact that the second largest city of
Sapele is an Urhobo city. It is revealing that there are more Itsekiri
living and working in the Urhobo city of Sapele than in the City of Warri.
In fact, Itsekiri language is spoken more widely in Sapele than in Warri.
It is well known that during the dark days of the Warri crisis, Itsekiri
were moving from Warri to Sapele for safety. The Orodje of Okpe, an Urhobo
King in whose domain Sapele lies, has worked tirelessly to ensure that
there continues to be peace between Urhobo and Itsekiri in Sapele. Indeed,
His Majesty, the Orodje of Okpe, is legendary for his determination to
ensure that the rights of all in his domain will not be violated. You will
agree with me that that is something
to celebrate. It is that kind of leadership that ensured that the Urhobo were able to refrain from the two year unfortunate inter-ethnic conflict between the Ijaw and the Itsekiri. It also prevented the Warri crisis from spilling over to the neighboring Sapele.
Governor James Ibori. Your remarks on the Governor of Delta State, His Excellency Chief James Ibori, are incomplete and unfair. You say that Governor Ibori is an Urhobo and for that reason he is pro-Urhobo. For the sake of giving out full information, should you not also reveal that Governor Ibori's mother is an Itsekiri? Should we really believe that the Governor is part of a plot to destroy his mother's people? This appears to be carrying sensationalism a little too far. Our information is that Governor James Ibori seeks to make peace in the Niger Delta. Making peace is never easy. But let us all work together.
Let the Leadership Talk. We are operating from North America, far away from home in the western Niger Delta. At some point we should genuinely seek to bring peace to our region. We are the same people. Representing each other as monsters may give temporary advantage. In the long run, it will pay to make peace rather than seek to win favors from an American audience. Maybe our efforts at canvassing on behalf of our different peoples should be praised as patriotic duty. But it will be greater patriotism if we urge and pressure our leaders at home to talk to their "opponents." As you are well aware, there is a stable leadership among the Urhobo. Indeed, the phenomenon of youth leadership forcibly assuming power, which has invaded other ethnic communities in the Niger Delta, has not yet arisen in Urhoboland.
I am copying this letter to Chief J. E.Ukueku, Vice-President
of Urhobo National Assembly. Although it hardly needs it, I am urging Urhobo
leadership to seek out Itsekiri leadership at home for full-fledged discussions
about ethnic problems between our peoples, including the Ajagbodudu matter.
I beg you to appeal to Itsekiri leadership at home to engage Urhobo leadership.
Meanwhile, let us stop the propaganda warfare on the western Niger Delta
in the internet. We all can, and must, live together in the western Niger
For: Urhobo Historical Society.