ITSEKIRI SURVIVAL MOVEMENT NARRATES
GROUNDS FOR DISPUTE WITH URHOBOS
16 November 1999
Dear Peter Ekeh - Urhobo Historical Society,
We must reiterate that, the records show that Itsekiris cannot expect
justice, freedom from intimidation and fair play in Delta State Since 1926,
some Uhrobos who have settled in Warri, with the support of some of their
kinsmen outside the boundaries of the Itsekiri Kingdom, have
schemed to undermine Itsekiri culture and institutions and have tried to use judicial, extra judicial and violent means to take ownership of Itsekiri land.
In the celebrated case of Ometan against Dore, the Itsekiri were declared owners of Warri metropolis as against the Urhobos of Agbassa. The case lasted from 1926 to 1933 and was fought from the Divisional Court of the Supreme Court to the Privy Council in London. At every stage the Itsekiri were declared owners of Warri metropolis or township.
It must be emphasised that all land in Warri Division (Warri North,
Warri South and Ward South West Local Government Areas) are vested in the
Itsekiri people under the Overlordship of the Olu of Warri. The only contentious
bit is the 281.1 acres in the possessory ownership of the Urhobo family
of Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu of Okere. The Urhobo family won possession
of that parcel of land in the case of Idundun & Ors -v- Daniel Okumagba
for himself and on behalf of Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu families in Idimi
Sobo, Okere, Warri reported in (1976) 10 N.S.C.C. Pg. 445-446. The radical
tithe to the land is yet to be determined. It is on these judgments of
Courts of competent jurisdiction established to maintain and sustain law
and order in our country
that we, the Itsekiri, stand. Most of these cases were initiated by the Urhobos and Ijaws. With the exception of 28 1. 1 acres, the Urhobos and Ijaws lost claims to every inch of land in Warri Division to the Itsekiri. Hence their resort to violence.
From 1952, Itsekiris have experienced periodic violence, arson and mayhem
from some Uhrobos. Past unprovoked attacks on the Itsekiri and their property
in many Urhobo towns and villages and their mass expulsion from those areas,
virtually terminated the existence, even till today, of resident Itsekiri
communities in the Urhobo hinterland. There was also the incident of the
premeditated attack in 1976 by the people of Ekpan (Urhobo) on the ancient
Itsekiri town of Ubeji and its people in a naked attempt to acquire, by
force of arms, ownership of Ubeji land on which the Warri refinery is located.
The matter was later investigated by the Justice Omosun
Commission, which found the Ekpan people to be the aggressors. The list of attacks against the Itsekiris is endless.
On the 29th October 1999, we have history repeating itself for the Itsekiris
- unprovoked, premeditated attack on the Itsekiri town of Ajagbodudu by
the people of Ogharefe ( Urhobos) in a naked attempt to acquire by force
of arms, ownership of Ajagbodudu.
The origin of unprovoked and premeditated violence on the ltsekiri in Delta State can definitely be traced back to Chief Felix Ibru's Delta State government policy of ethnic cleansing directed at the ltsekiri during his tenure of office as the first elected civilian governor and chief executive of Delta State (2/1/92 - 17/11/93).
During the four consecutive years (1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991) following
the Olu of Warri's coronation on 2/5/87, the annual anniversary procession
through the same route was held without incident. But as soon as Chief
Felix Ibru, an Urhobo, became Governor of Delta State, Urhobos in Warri,
encouraged by the Delta State Government, served notice that they objected
observance of the Olu of Warri's coronation anniversary in Warri metropolis which is an integral part of the Olu's domain.
Violence erupted on 8/5/93 when some Urhobos and Ijaws attacked the
Olu of Warri's annual coronation anniversary carnival procession in down-town
Warri. The disturbances spread on the next day to Okere in the northern
part of the city. Several Itsekiri lives were lost and property destroyed.
It is common knowledge that the state government actively encouraged or
acquiesced in the disturbance.
It is also a matter of historical record that the Ibru government attempted
to create rival Urhobo traditional chieftaincies in Warri. Earlier, for
over a decade, Urhobos in Warri who are customary tenants of the Itsekiri
had sought unsuccessfully for government permission to install rival Urhobo
"traditional rulers" to the Olu of Warri claiming that their enclaves constituted autonomous clans outside the Olu's prescribed authority.
However, as soon as Chief Ibru took office on 2/1/92, a Delta State
Government legal notice was published announcing the creation of two posts
of Urhobo "traditional rulers" in Warri township, the "Otota of Okere Urhobo
(later Okere) Clan" and the "Otota of Agbarha C Jackson Adjogri, an Urhobo,
and Benjamin Okumagba was named the "Otota of Okere-Urhobo (later Okere)
Clan". The Legal Notice was cleverly backdated to 24/12/91 to give the false impression that the posts were created by Chief Ibru's predecessor-in-office, Group Captain Luke Ochulor.
The Itsekiri promptly challenged in court the legality of the government's action. On 29/9/92 the High Court, Warri presided over by Justice J.A. Obi, a Delta State lbo who is neither Itsekiri nor Urhobo, delivered judgment in the "Otota of Okere" case in favour of the Itsekiri. His Lordship held that under the law there could be no clan in Warri township and therefore, there could not be an "Otota" of a non-existent clan. The Court made the following order of perpetual injunction:
(1) Restraining the Government of Delta State and the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Delta State from according recognition to any person or persons put forward for the position of clan head of the purported Okere Clan or giving any effect whatsoever to the provisions of the Order amending the Order establishing the Warri Traditional Council, D.S.L.N. No. 1 of 1992 as it relates to Okere.
(2) Restraining the 1st-6th defendants (Benjamm Okumagba and 5 others) or whosoever from exercising the functions of the purported clan Head of Okere and/ or clan Head of Okere-Urhobo clan or parading themselves as such.
But, characteristically, Benjamin Okumagba to this day has continued to answer the fake title of, and parade himself even in official circles as, the "Otota of Okere" in flagrant contempt of the Court. While the Delta State judiciary and civil service have done nothing to stop or call him to order. The Head Chief of Okere recognized by law 'Is the Olare-Aja of Okere appointed by the Olu of Warri.
The truth, then, is that the Urhobos in Warri, having lost the legal battle over the creation of the post of rival Urhobo "traditional rulers" in Warri resorted to violence in May 1993 in the hope of strengthening the hands of the Delta State Government to change the law and ethnicize Warri metropolis under the pretext of achieving lasting peace.
In the early 1940s the ltsekiri and the Okpe (Urhobos) went to court over the ownership of the town Sapele. The Itsekiri lost the legal battle over the ownership of Sapele, and since then as civilized and responsible citizens they have accepted and respect the Court's decision even when they far outnumber the Urhobos in Sapele and have substantial capital investments and landed property there. ITSEKIRIS DID NOT RESORT TO VIOLENCE. There is also a large Itsekiri enclave in Sapele, called Oguanjugbege and they have not tried to install 'Itsekiri traditional' rulers in this enclave. The Itsekiri in Sapele are law-abiding; they recognise and respect Urhobo institutions and traditional rulers. That is the basis of the good relations which Itsekiris have fostered in Sapele. All the Itsekiri ask for is a reciprocal behaviour from the Ijaw and Urhobo in Warri.
The Itsekiri, even though a minority in Delta State, are entitled to protection by the Federal Government as of right. It is the duty of the Federal Government to protect the Itsekiri from the periodic violence, arson and mayhem unleashed by Urhobos and Ijaws on them.
It is not surprising that Uhrobos should protest at the exposure of their atrocities against the Itsekiris. Itsekiris will not keep quiet nor tone done their just plea for help when they are being slaughtered by some Uhrobos and Ijaws.
Let those Uhrobos who abhore the unjust attacks against the Itsekiris,
speak out to the world by condemning the attacks outright.