|URHOBO HISTORICAL SOCIETY|
|WARRI, URHOBO AND THE NIGERIAN NATION|
|By D. A. OBIOMAH|
AN OPEN LETTER TO GENERAL IBRAHIM BABANGIDA, PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA & COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE ARMED FORCES, ABUJA
Culled From The Guardian [Lagos, Nigeria] Of Thursday 13/8/92
WARRI INDIGENES AGBARHA (URHOBO) CLAN
Warri South Local Government Area
TEL: (053) 234548
c/o 121, Warri/Sapele Road
P 0. Box 408
Date: 20th July, ’92
During June, 1992, there were media reports and advertisements by Itsekiris calling for the creation of a Warri State exclusive to Itsekiris and also denouncing the addition of two Urhobo traditional rulers to the Warri Traditional Council.
The sum total of Itsekiri claim is that Itsekiris cannot share the same state with the more populous Urhobo ethnic group who it is claimed are oppressing them in the new Delta State: that Warri North and South Local Government Areas are Itsekiri territory through litigation, therefore these should be made an exclusive Itsekiri state although there are indigenous Urhobos Ijaws within the area.
Our reaction to these positions is to scan them against Itsekiri national (ethic) character. So, let us put the Itsekiris on stage and turn on the foot lights. Their great patrons who used them as demagogues for cowing and subjugating fellow natives for British colonial expansion recorded this:
“The Itsekiri is always polite and courteous… The Itsekiri is most dangerous when he is suave, and can mislead a stranger with the utmost politeness and demonstration of candour the Itsekiri is not a manual labourer. He lives on his wits” (Intelligence Report: Capt. J.C.F. Pender).
In a word the pleasant Itsekiris are dangerously insincere for their own ends. Their candour includes bullying in order to brow beat as they are doing now. They may deceive, but they cannot brow beat Mr. President.
Next may we follow with a summary of the points canvassed below.
(i) All the political patronages under the Governor’s influence accruing to Warri South LGA so far have all gone to the Itsekiris and nothing to Urhobos. Barking at the new Delta State government as oppressive therefore is vicious deceit for ulterior motive.
(ii) As far as law suits go the Itsekiris are laying claim to overlordship where they have lost and where they have won. So, head or tail they win, which means that legalism is indeed not the argument but Itsekiri supremacy.
By any means that legalism is indeed not the argument but itsekiri supremacy by any means.
(iii) On facts, the Itsekiri chauvinists have no free hold land in Warri Town, not even Chief Dore and the Olu. How can founders have no free hold land? The Agbarha by contrast have. They reached. Warri before the Itsekiris.
(iv) The brilliant Itsekiris are thinking in the past. They are following archaic leaders into isolation and possible dangerous seccession. We offer them friendship and peaceful coexistence.
(v) The Nigerian Constitution is supreme. Overlordship, whatever the term means, which is imposed is dead. Traditional rulership is ultimately about custom commonly shared by any group or groups of the Nigerian polity and not if even incidentally so about territory or ownership of land. Traditional rulerships are not imperial sovereignties within the Republic of Nigeria.
(vi) We the Agbarha Clan Urhobos of Warri South Local Government Area REJECT the call for WARRI STATE.
Chief Dore Numa leased part of Agbarha lands in part of Warri Town to the British who fought the case in their own courts when we sued him. Thus while the Benin River group act as owners of Warri with Dore at the back of their minds they are in a dilemma that they can claim openly only by saying that Warri is Itsekiri. They actually look upon warri as an asset for themselves just as the Omadino and the Gborodo Itsekiris insist that the proceeds from the crude oil in their areas is theirs and not for all Itsekiris or subject to overlordship. As of now Itsekiri claim to Warri is economic via political power not territorial as they want Nigerians to believe. The Itsekiris refuse to accept that political fortunes change. So, in 1987 they deceived the National Electoral Commission and registered 481,000 eligible voters out of a total projected population of 337,000. Together with Ijaws they are now recorded by the 1991 census as 87,000.
THE OLU OF ITSEKIRI IN WARRI AFFAIRS
In 1914 the British colonial government considered the desirability of reviving the Oluship for the purpose of Indirect Rule. Opinion was that the British met no Olu and there was no need to recreate one Chief Dore Numa the Political Agent having already fitted the purpose of Indirect Rule. Eventually the institution was revived in 1936. Erejuwa I’s first act was to declare that he recognised no boundaries with anyone but only with the Oba of Benin thus stirring up Urhobo ire. It will be recalled that the Itsekiris themselves destroyed their Oluship through struggles with Benin River and a war of succession. In 1952 the Olu of Itsekiri left Ode Itsekiri, his ancestral home to a foreign land in Warri under a new name Olu of Warri to satisfy the political ambition of Benin River, since when it has been crisis, crisis, crisis. Now the Itsekiris are not only divided against their Olu, everywhere it is blood, blood and din of war.
Should the Itsekiri Oluship have been revived?
Agbarha, oppressed and subjected to heartless Apartheid in the past by Itsekiri machinations needs democracy. Let those Itsekiris who unite to call for a WARRI STATE for Itsekiris know that they are subverting democracy. How many times have we turned the search light on them as ruthless champions of Apartheid? Such monopoly effort is like holding water in a basket. It is futile, it is provoking anarchy. We resent and abhor it.
The Dore-oriented Itsekiris’ claim, that they won all of the Ijaw and Urhobo areas of Warri North and South LGAs in a thousand lawsuits whose recitation the media have been treated to ad nauseam, is a deliberately mischievous lie. In Warri urban the Agbarha sued Chief Dore Numa for leasing 766 acres of Agbarha land to his masters, the incoming British colonisers to whom he was a Political Agent. The Agbarha lost their claim of title but it was not awarded to Dore. Agbarha were however confirmed in their possession of their land. Again, in Warri urban the ltsekiris as Plaintiff lost to Okere Urhobo clan in a title suit No. W118/1968 and SC.309/74. How is it then that the Itsekiris are howling over Government recognition of clan Head for Okere? The Itsekiri are Being characteristically dishonest. They seem to be saying head or tail they win. Meanwhile, also in today’s enlarged Warri urban, the Itsekiris and the Agbarha Urhobo clan are in court over part of Ogunu, suit Nos. W/22/68 W28/69 and part of Okorode (Ekurede Urhobo) land suit No. W116/1970, Ogunu and Okorode are Agbarha communities in Agbarha clan of Warri South Local Government Area, Do the Itsekiris sue for title to lands they have already won in lawsuits?
The Agbarha have been, and have remained in continues possession of their areas for over 400 years as shown by Itsekiri Historians such as William More, author of History of the Itsekiri, 1930, and J.E. Sagay, author of the so-called “Warri Kingdom”. Meaning Itsekiri Kingdom O.N. Rewane himself the chief propagandist of the coinage “Warri Kingdom” conceded in his life time in writing that Agbarha existence in Warri was as much as 200 hundred years. The Agbarha are not a people who have any other home in Nigeria. Warri is their perpetual home. Nigerians must not be misled. Every people left somewhere else to settle where they are now permanently.
Now, firstly, the megaphones of Benin River origin who hold titles of Ologbosere of Warri Iseighe of Warri, Oshodin of Warri, Olorogun of Warri, Ejumotan of Warri, Eson of Warri and even the Olu of Warri have no free hold land in Warri inherited from their grand-fathers or great grand fathers and beyond as the Agbarha people have. These Benin Riverarians are like imperial dukes. Even Chief Dore who leased all the Agbarha lands to the British to build New Warri as headquarters on Agbarha farm lands had no land of his own in Warri except a plot now No. 42 Market Road leased to him by his British lessees. How can they be founders or natives and have no heritage of free hold land? The Agbarha have and grant leases to Itsekiris including some of the present propagandists.
The incoming British colonizer dethroned the Emir of Muri in Jalingo and replaced him with his more pliable brother. Typical. Fortunately he died without issue thus saving Jalingo successin disputes. Similarly, the British colonial administration through their kangaroo court, gave our land to the subversive Dore/Itsekiris who not only brought down great Nana and Oba Ovoramen of Benin but also piloted British military patrols into the hinterland to subjugate fellow natives for British imperial interest. Not being as lucky as Jalingo there is friction in Warri owing to divergent rights.
Secondly, Mr. D. A. Obiomah has shown in his book Warri Overlordship and Land Rights that when Pacheco Perreira visited the Warri areas between 1500 and 1505 he found Ijaws and Urhobos but no Ode-Itsekiri. This was because Ginuwa who left Benin in 1480 died on the way at Ijala. His sons reached Ode-Itsekiri, AN ISLAND, the Itsekiri capital only about 1546. Hence the Itsekiris are clearly impostors and colonizers in Warri.
Thirdly, Agbarha, Oba Ovoramen of Benin and Chief Nana lost political cases. The Agbarha lost radical title to part of their lands but retained possession. The Oba was banished and Nana, too. The Agbarha case now is bound by res judicata. If today’s Nigerian Courts were to hear de novo the charges against the Oba and Nana, would the courts find them guilty like General Noriega guilty in America? But the infamy committed by the same Chief Dore subsists in form of radical title to land by successors to treachery, and is bound by British res judicata.
Fourthly, should Nigerian not think again?
CUSTOMARY LAW & THE NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION
Indeed, Nigeria has thought again. The Constitution is our supreme law. Whatever law is contrary to it yields place to it whether it is customary law of stature, including those retained as existing laws by the Constitution. It is not disputed that Agbarha are Urhobos. As Urhobos they cannot, under the Constitution, be discriminated against by being denied their sociological life because they are Urhobo ethnic Nigerian citizens and not Itsekiris. The Itsekiris have their own internal traditional organization. So have the Agbarha from time immemorial. The Itsekiris have titles for Chiefs (including the host of new ones fabricated daily for Warri to have credibility to Itsekiri occupation of non-Itsekiri land). The Agbarha similarly have their own titles. They have their own festivals. Neither consults the other in these matters. The two people have always lived separately and independently as neighbours without Itsekiris assimilating Agbarha to adopt Itsekiri language and customs. So what is the meaning of Itsekiri custom or vague overlordship superior to the Constitution to prevent government correcting the political injustices of the past? That Agbarha are a clearly defined sociological group distinct and different from the Itsekiris. They cannot under the whim and illusion of a glorified kingdom be made serfs here in our blessed Nigeria or in an imperial dream called WARRI STATE.
The British experience of the character of their friends, the Itsekiris, has already been noted above.
The Itsekiri attack on the Delta State Government simply because the Governor is Urhobo is a sinister application of wit. Of Urhobos, Ijaws and Itsekiris in Warri North and South LGAs it is only the Itsekiris who hold any positions. They are Commissioner for the important Ministry of Health. They are Party State Chairman. They are Party LGA Chairman. Is it through their numbers? It is a bad dog that bites the hand that feeds it to blackmail it. Both the Olu and the Leaders of Thought Clan are guilty of culpable, warped thinking, selfishness, ingratitude, bordering on sedition. The great pity of it is that the more Urhobos appease and sacrifice the more the Itsekiris taunt and squeeze them even to the extent of making them a laughing stock.
Nigerians know now why the Itsekiris are weeping Jeremiahs forever crying wolf on roof tops when they are beneficiary, oppressors, merciless monks with vicious daggers under their cloaks. The Agbarha are a peace loving and law abiding people. They are not calling daily for blood as the Itsekiris do but for unity. The Itsekiris must not, through greed and despicable pride, let the tragedy of Modakeke and Zango Kataaf upon the nation.
Finally, the Agbarha people reject very vehemently the call for a WARRI STATE. The Itsekiris are less than 50,000 people. Yes. They claimed they were Yorubas of Ondo State Origin and wanted to be with their kith and kin in Ondo State. Such is their wit. Then they wanted to be with the Edos who prudently rejected them. Their wit was at play. They do not want to be with Urhobos. That is wit to blacken Urhobos. Surely by their wit they are opting for isolation and ultimate secession. In fact they want to break away from Nigeria.
May we urge Mr. President with all responsibility of patriotic citizens to warn the Itsekiris against deceptive tears and daily threats of blood shed. Whose blood? How many of them want to die? Or are they preparing the/ground to instigate Mobil police action against Urhobos? What good will it do? On the contrary we offer our hand to fellowship. Our doors are open in Delta State for peaceful coexistence.
|Chief A. O. Osioh |
Oghwuvwie of Agbarha Clan
| D.A. Obiomah|
Leader, Agbarha Clan