Urhobo Historical Society

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Warri's light-ball moment
Date: Thu, 6 Jan 2005 09:47:30 -0800 (PST)
From: larry arhagba <lawval2@yahoo.com>
To: ppekeh@acsu.buffalo.edu

Warri's Light-Ball Moment

By Larry Arhagba


Even though this is belated, I wish to congratulate Urhobo Historical Society for the success of the Society's conference in Urhoboland in October 2004.  Thank you all so very much for your sacrifice and contribution to the success of Warri’s seemingly incredible history.


I read the latest contribution with deep interest not only because Warri was the first township many of us grew to know, but also because Warri city touched many of our lives and little beginnings.  The title of your book that was launched at the Conference, Warri City and British Colonial Rule in Western Niger Delta, was apt because I know it will represent that light-ball moment when everyone could see clearly the facts of history on the ground. When I read the late Chief T.E.A. Salubi’s “ringside” commentary on the Warri crisis to some Delta youths recently, it almost brought the house down.   Even the blindfolded could see the salient piece of history leaping at you.


Sadly, our society is notorious for sweeping the facts of history under the carpet.  Too often, many well-meaning voices on Warri were chilled. 


As it happened, it was all too easy, even convenient, to add Warri to our awful litany of failures and abandon the struggle to the ash heap of the nation’s twisted history.

For example, consider the disgraceful role of leaders in the historic crisis.  While Warri remained a stain on the nation’s conscience, the nation’s rulers looked away instead of confronting the truths. 


The leaders watched and cheered the parties to the conflict kill each other. Our rulers fiddled while Warri bled.  Very soon, the erstwhile pulsating city became the shadow of its old self.  As the crisis intensified, Warri became the chessboard for power hungry leaders who were quick to tear the city apart to appease wives, in-laws and political cronies.


The Warri story is a classic case of how megalomania, misrule, and reckless leadership can turn around the fortunes of otherwise peace loving peoples.    Oil which ought to be a blessing, was soon turned into a lubricant of social disharmony.  Former high school buddies who in the 60s never knew the Itsekiris from the Urhobos and the Ijaws became sworn enemies overnight.     


By confronting the wrongs of Warri History head-on in a major publication, UHS has made a bold statement on the sanctity of facts and historical records.   It was also a clear caution sign to mischief-makers, paid academics and our growing army of revisionists of history who believed that by parading lies long enough, inconvenient truths of history would someday melt into oblivion. 


More than a home coming event, the conference was particularly important for the embattled Warri community and the UHS. It was an auspicious moment to launch the book on Warri, a heartbeat away from the major actors and field generals of the senseless conflict.


 The November meeting was a clarion call to the Ijaws, the Itsekiris and the Urhobos to work together and move forward to reclaim Warri’s lost glory. UHS was there armed with a mighty pen, and matching to noble chants, which even the deaf could hear: Let us seize the time!  And open a new file on Warri based on facts, not fiction!! Warri’s tragic past must not be allowed to become its identity.


While it might be too early to gauge the true impact of that meeting, UHS is on the path of honor and well positioned to win the battle of hearts and minds of the people in the embattled community.  Of course, the road ahead may be bumpy and opposition even from the most unexpected quarters is possible.  Some among our army of chiefs and titleholders may continue to haul flak at the organization.  However, UHS must not be deterred because they are on the side of history.  Jesus Christ himself was vilified for his impudence.


Still, we must be careful not to over-exaggerate the blessings of the efforts.  The purpose was not to teach the people how to think.  The hope is that by making the historical facts available to all, the people will be more independent in the decisions they make and be better equipped to take their destiny in their hands.  The old order when the youths looked up to traditional rulers for decisions and interpretations of historical facts may have been punctured forever because the valuable documents are now only a website away.  Many of the traditional rulers and their hangers on are already growing restless because they may not be in business for much longer.


If in retrospect, the UHS touched the people, connected with them and felt the pulse of the community, and succeeded in pointing the community towards new beginnings then, UHS may well have taken the first steps on the journey towards opening a new file on the troubled community. If the truth must be told, charity has well begun at home for UHS right before our eyes. 


Not so for Nigeria’s national and State leaders, past and present.   Too easily, they forget that their authority is merely a loan from the people.  The true solution to the Warri crisis was elusive because our leaders, especially at the national level, ignored the facts of history and tended to feast on the crisis.  In their bid to deify themselves, they defaced themselves.  And we the followers became alienated from the truth and from ourselves.  It was a sorry state of affairs.   Without honor in their homeland, our rulers are quick to race to foreign lands where they shop for honors like groceries.


Contemporary History shows that leaders without honor in their homeland tend to go abroad to buy respect at huge costs in foreign countries from those who neither need them nor notice them.

What redeems leaders is public service, their ability to touch the poor and seek ways to soothe their pains. Their redemption does not lie on foreign shores. 


The mistake we all made for too long was to have entrusted our fate with rulers who reaped huge fortunes from our pains.

Delta indigenes must not allow themselves to be fooled again.  Leaders and self-acclaimed patriots who talk about reconciliation without recourse to the facts of history are insincere. They do not have the interest of the people of Warri at heart.  That is why they are forever struggling and denying reality.   Such rulers must no longer be given audience. 


 Lies and true reconciliation go ill together.    Facts, fair play, honesty and good will are the true pillars and foundation of genuine reconciliation.  Anything less is a sham.  That is why many well-meaning nations and communities who are serious about reconciliation often start out with elaborate plans to put the record straight, and unearth past wrongs before reconciliation efforts.  When we have all the facts on the table, then we can look at each other in the eye and talk about true reconciliation.   For me, that was the clear UHS hand writing on the wall at PTI Effurun, Warri.


Not to be forgotten is the unusual route which the architects of the historic meeting set out to accomplish their tasks.  It is an approach which only few mortals who understand the intricacies of the Warri crisis would have dreamed about: Blast out the historical facts taking advantage of cheap information technology and empower the folks to make the right choices.  Such an approach may not be without its risks.  Yet, that approach may hold the key to the lasting solution of the crisis.  For as Oswald Chambers idicated, "Never look for justice in this world.  But never cease to get it."


Warri proved impossible for long because the key actors were too deeply entrenched in their own world and tended to listen to their own voices.  What mattered, it seemed, was not the success of the group but self glorification and the ruthless drive for personal honor. The gospel truth was not the result of independent investigations, but what papa, mamma or their paymasters told them about Warri. 


Warri may well be the first fruits of UHS labor but hopefully not the last.

UHS will succeed because it has started on the right footing.  One of its strengths is its independence and its growing recognition that it could not afford to please everybody.  Thank God Almighty that so far, the organization does not seem to have needed the anointing of chiefs and title holders to soldier on.