Urhobo Historical Society

Prof. Itse Sagay's History of Warri
Is Erroneous

By Chief D. A. Obiomah

Vanguard [Lagos, Nigeria], Sunday, May 25, 2003

WHEN Professor Itse Sagay expressed his views in an essay concerning the location of Delta State capital, he was castigated by Itsekiris as an Urhobo stooge hankering for personal gain. Now he has written another one titled: "The Itsekiris, Ijaws, Urhobos and the political control of Warri territory", published in Sunday Vanguard of May 11, 2003, which is attracting adverse comments from Urhobo. This is not to say that Professor Sagay is fair-minded but the parties to the Warri issue refuse to see reason, so he is denigrated by both sides. Surely, Professor Sagay is a scholar. On that score, I believe that he does not have all the facts, hence he has strayed so sharply this time. But I am worried by the abusive style he has adopted this time around.

I can find explanation for it in the fact that it ties neatly with Itsekiri propaganda strategy. He must be aware of something in the offing. It is a pre-emptive bluster to buy sympathy. The Itsekiri nation knows that they are not at war with the entire Urhobo nation but with the small population of Warri indigenous Urhobo whose population the Itsekiri projected as 5000 only in 1990. These are the Agbarha and the Okere Urhobo. The whole of Itsekiri land is at war with this negligible population by Itsekiri computation. But they strenuously want to keep this fact from the general public including the international media and the U.S. State Department. Does Itse Sagay deny this? If he does, what does he know about Warri to prompt him to start learning by throwing himself in at the deep end?

It seems that the Itsekiris need a voice as strong as Professor Itse Sagay’s to prop up their impossible case before the General T.Y. Danjuma (retired) committee to establish peace in Warri. The fundamental question that General Danjuma is bound to resolve is the ownership of Warri. Warri is sweet poison that the Itsekiris have swallowed for which General Danjuma has to administer to them an emetic. Warri is Urhobo territory. It is the homeland of the Agbarha chiefs and people. General Danjuma is requested to please regard Prof. Itse Sagay’s blustering as intended for his ears. The Agbarha are not bothered by such thunder. General Danjuma should regard it as unfair entrance through the back door. Sagay has roamed round the world for generalisations. He will be tied down to specifics at the right time.
But it is interesting that Prof. Sagay says: "The answer to the apparently difficult (but in fact simple) question, who are the traditional owners and indigenes of Warri territory, is to be found by the simple expedient of considering another question: which ethnic nationality or group was in political control of Warri land when the British came to the area." It is my hope, not a vain one, for Prof. Sagay is a scholar, that when it is shown convincingly Agbarha were in control when the British came, Prof. Sagay will change sides and support the Agbarha against the untrue Itsekiri claims to territory which was for the Agbarha and lost to them for much the same reasons that Nana, the stalwart of indigenous rights against the British lost and was replaced by the anti-indigene treachery of Chief Dore Numa who sabotaged Nana and Oba Oworamuen of Benin and won British medals, preferment as government chief despised by Itsekiris.

Itsekiri Nana was never Warri chief replaced by another Itsekiri chief Dore as Sagay says. Dore as political agent for Benin River, Jakri country from 1893 had his territory of Benin River, Jakri country extended to include Warri formerly under George Eyube, Urhobo political agent of Ugbogidi. Eyube died suddenly in 1901 by accident when his revolver went off during a patrol and killed him. It is not true, as Sagay seems to imply that British Colonial expansion was by conquest. It is not our history. Colonial take-over of territory in the Delta area which we are concerned with was by way of Treaties of Protection. Such treaties were signed with Jakri chiefs in Jakri country and in a ship at Forcados, and one with ‘Agbassa (Agbarha) Sobo "in Warri, for the protection of the chiefs and people of Agbassa" and "the territory under their jurisdiction and authority." Without going any further, this wording satisfies Itse Sagay’s formula. The "Chiefs and People of Agbassa" represent the political structure, the territory is theirs, over which they had jurisdiction and authority, when the British met them. Itsekiri were not mentioned. This was in 1893. What is striking about Sagay’s loud cry is that it is the same loud wailing as Itsekiris have been making through false propaganda viz. Itsekiri claims are "immemorial historical facts. Warri North, South and Southwest are Itsekiri homeland while Ijaw and Urhobo are immigrant communities. The entire Urhobo ethnic group is carrying out a pogrom against the Itsekiri "aimed at wiping them off their Warri homeland completely, and with that, the total elimination of their immemorial human and political rights in their homelands." True to type except that this comes from a scholar. If gold rusts what will iron do?

General Danjuma should be cautious and "fear the Greeks..." and note that their time-honoured propaganda strategy is to transfer their own guilt to the Urhobo nation. To give a few examples: feuding Itsekiris removed Gbesimi Emiko, their Olu and sent him to all but royal village of Ogbese near Owo and replaced him with Igbene. It was an Urhobo who redeemed him and when it suited Itsekiris, to be vicious, they spared no foul phrase in their attack on their benefactor.

It was Itsekiri E.N.A. Begho who told Agbarha Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo, "you and your people do not exist," who accused the Urhobo nation of being "an army of occupation" trying to efface them from existence. Yet, in actual fact it was the effort of the Itsekiri that made the discrimination against Urhobo to be entrenched in the Midwest Constitution of 1963 carrying on to 1979 when it was removed from the Federal Republic of Nigeria Constitution of l979. Until then they could not stand elections.

These are but a few examples of the dangerous Itsekiri as recorded by their friend Capt. J.C.F. Pender when he characterized them thus in the Itsekiri Intelligence Report: "12. The Itsekiri is always courteous and polite both to Europeans and Africans alike, and in outward appearances at least the young Itsekiri invariably treats his seniors with every respect. 13. The Itsekiri is most dangerous when he is suave, and can mislead a stranger with the utmost politeness and demonstration of candour."

Such "candour" includes an affection of righteous indignation to veil their own viciousness. Now, Professor Sagay is roaring about Urhobo carrying out pogrom against the Itsekiri in order to wipe them, men and matters, from their immemorial existence. Here is a rock underneath the smooth surface. Sailor beware! When will Urhobo ever answer back? "Hard words break no bones", Sir James Robertson, last white Governor-General of Nigeria told us. If I may give Prof. Sagay gratuitous advice he will benefit by opening up contact with Urhobo Historical Society, Email: Editor@waado.org.