PATHS TO RESOLVING URHOBO-ITSEKIRI DISPUTES
Urhobo Historical Society
Dear Mr. Tosan Ojime:
I thank you for your detailed explanation of the basis of Itsekiri fears in the affairs of the western Niger Delta. I salute you for your commitments in serving your people. Needless to say, it will be helpful if the ethnic groups of the western Niger Delta refrain from demonizing one another. It is clearly unhelpful to associate the odious practice of "ethnic cleansing" with a man of integrity such as Governor Felix Ibru. Governor Ibru hardly needs any defence in any Nigerian community. However, I see that there are international readers who may be unaware of the expansive commitments of Delta State's first civilian Governor to the promotion of inter-ethnic accord. I want to assure them that this is another occasion where the Itsekiri Survival Movement has misused the word "ethnic cleansing."
Despite recent quarrels and excesses in the western Niger Delta, we
are all good people who have found ourselves in difficult circumstances
that have been created by agencies whose origins are external to our region.
Without going into great details, I would like to make two central points
arising from your detailed presentation.
Fears and Complaints of
Ethnic Groups in the Western Niger Delta
First, what makes our problems in the western Niger Delta so delicate is that each affected group has a credible basis for complaining about its misfortunes and how much the behaviors of other groups may have contributed to their formation. I have read statements from the Ijaws that are at least as persuasive as the case you have made for the Itsekiri. Your account suggests that the Itsekiri are fearful that the numerically stronger Urhobo may oppress them. On the other hand, minority Urhobos of Agbarha and Okere in Warri, where the Itsekiri are a majority, have complained for decades that they have been oppressed by the majority Itsekiri. I invite your readers to see versions of these viewpoints as recently presented by representatives of the three groups at a Peace Congress in North America. (Please visit our web site at: http://www.waado.org/Organizations/UHS/WarriPeaceCongress/WarriPeaceCongress.html).
There is liable to be a grain of truth in each of these positions. It
does not help when we do not even listen to the statement of fears of the
other groups. This is why we need to talk to one another. Fear leads to
exaggeration of reality. I believe each of the three ethnic groups at dispute
in the western Niger Delta may well have exaggerated their own disadvantages
and their opponents' advantages. For instance, it seems to me that you
have underrated the strength of your people, the Itsekiri, in Delta State.
The Governor of the State is maternally Itsekiri. The Speaker of the State's
Assembly is Itsekiri. How many other ethnic groups are so privileged
in Delta State? It strikes me that many of the representatives of Human Rights and Environmental Rights organizations to whom you have appealed do not come from communities with as many privileges as the Itsekiri. You may not be aware of it, but there are ethnic groups in Delta State that are envious of your privileges.
The way forward is through extensive communications among ourselves. We know ourselves quite well. We all understand that we can live together. Why can't we muster the courage to discuss with one another our fears and how best to accommodate them in a settlement? At some point we must try not to vanquish the other group. None of us will accept defeat for long. We need a formula that will allow both sides to claim victory. Our leaders at home and those of us in the diaspora need to sit down and settle this quarrel. I understand that the current Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, was born after the beginning of the great blow-up of 1952 which effectively began the Urhobo-Itsekiri quarrel. For how long can we continue a quarrel from which no one gains anything but misery?
Federal Presence in the Niger Delta
The Itsekiri Survival Movement has consistently asked for a larger Federal Government presence in the Niger Delta than currently exists as a way of ensuring the rights of the Itsekiri. The Federal Government is already in our region in a big way. They and the international oil conglomerates own the oil exploiting operations that cart away so much wealth from the western Niger Delta. What they have left behind is sludge in the Escravos in Itsekiri and Ijaw waterways and deadly fire-traps in the Urhobo mainland. It is an illusion to believe that a bigger Federal presence will benefit anyone. That will only lead to more misery for all of us in the western Niger Delta.
All of us in the western Niger Delta must plead with your organization, the Itsekiri Survival Movement, to banish the idea of calling for the "federalization" of Warri. All groups have worked hard to develop that city into what it is now: a strong economic magnet. Handing it over to the Federal Government will lead to a scale of corrupt uses of our resources in ways that we cannot imagine now. But if you think it is a worthwhile idea, then let all of us discuss it rationally. This is an instance where our unnecessary quarrels will lead to further adverse exploitation of our resources, ruination of our already endangered fauna and flora, and the wastage of human lives that the Idjerhe Fire Disaster exemplified. (See http://www.waado.org/Environment/EnvironmentPage.html)
Again, I thank you for your commitments. I hope you will be persuaded
to accept the viewpoint that the way forward is through negotiations and
compromises in the difficult differences that exist among the ethnic groups
of the western Niger Delta. Neither the Federal Government of Nigeria nor
international organizations will solve this problem for us. At least we
must take the first steps.
For: Urhobo Historical Society