THE ITSEKIRIS AND THEIR NEIGHBOURS

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In a general sense, the word neighbour refers to people who live within close communal proximity, or anyone living close to us. By implication, neighbours naturally share some kind of affinity and common interests especially, in terms of locality. To that extent, they are likely to live in closely-knitted spaces, sell and buy in the same markets, intermarry, crossbreed, bond in ‘unbreakable’ ways, and in times past, fetch and drink water from the same well. These qualities of the neighbourhood are what translate to neighbourliness; so much so that even the Holy Bible recognises these attributes of being neighbourly. When one of the Scribes asked the Lord Jesus Christ to explain which of the Ten Commandments of God he considers most important, the good Lord answered him by summarising the entire Ten Commandments into two—the love of God Almighty, and the love of one’s neighbour (Mark 12: 31 28); he would even go one to illustrate, demonstrate and explain the importance of neighbourliness by alluding the epic story of the “good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37).
Therefore, if we build on the template of Christ, we should come to the understanding that a neighbour takes the well-being of his neighbour(s) as he would to himself or herself. And we can also agree that the template is a universal recipe for peace; whether in Christianity, Islam, or Animism. However, the Bible also recognises the existence of bad neighbours, to which King Solomon admonishes in Prov. 3:29 “Do not plot harm against your neighbour, who lives trustfully near you”. Such is the dilemma confronting the ethnic nationalities occupying the geographical space called Warri City; and to which we have all been advocating for peace.


Fortunately, the Wado City Advocacy Movement has charted a new course in our quest for lasting peace in Warri by simply pointing in a direction that has since fallen under the radar since the quest for peace started in colonial Warri. The group identified, exposed and brought forth for interrogation what was missing in the ancient effort to supplant peace in Warri. It has identified what could be the solution to, what in modern times, is the major cause of rivalry between the Itsekiris and their traditional neighbours—the Urhobos and the Ijaws –within the geographical space called Warri city today. And at the root of this rivalry is the question of identity. It is no longer the issue of who owns what since all that has been settled by a landmark Supreme court judgement, extant laws and legislations. The claim of overlordship, hitherto fraudulently obtained has become obsolete and unsuitable for the times. Every Malam now knows his kettle and every man his father’s compound within the Warri metropolis. Most importantly, every king within Warri city now knows his jurisdiction, the area and the people over whom he reigns. What the Wado City Advocacy Movement offers, therefore, is a creative, almost magic-like wand solution to this issue of identity that has been the underlying cause of tensions and crises that have rocked the city and led to avoidable deaths in the past.

Historically, three tribes, Urhobos, Itsekiris and Ijaws are aboriginal to the area today called Warri. Good neighbourliness will suggest that these three ethnic groups which have coexisted from time and intermarried will live peacefully together but the Itsekiris who are by far the minority by population have over the years, through a combination of falsehood, deceit and propaganda denied the other tribes their political and traditional rights even to the extent of trying to blurt out their names and identity from the area called Warri. To maintain this false sense of domination, the Itsekiris have fought and continue to fight against every and anything that is of benefit to the other ethnic groups or to the area which they occupy. They fought against the creation of Delta State from Bendel State along the line of the old Delta Division and siting of its headquarters in Warri just because they perceived that the Urhobos who are the majority in the area will wrestle their contrived political grip on the city from them. Warri today would have been a more developed place were it to be state capital, but the Itsekiris wouldn’t have it to be so because they know they don’t own it and little parch of the city they own will become exposed for the world to see. So they applied the same principle of the woman whose child had died at birth before King Solomon applied wisdom. For individualistic reasons they lobbied the military government not to situate Warri city as the capital of Delta State; unfortunately, we didn’t have a sitting King Solomon to see through their motive and subterfuge of sacrificing Warri for Asaba as capital. And so Warri is the worst for it today. When the concept of rotational Governorship along senatorial zones was muted by Chief James Ibori to address the issue of ethnic harmony in Delta state, the Itsekiris who fought against the creation of a proper Delta state laid a claim to it and despite their being the minority ethnic group in the Delta South Senatorial Zone were given the governorship through Dr Emmanuel Ewata Uduaghan and enjoyed it for eight years. The same Itsekiris, despite being in minority, continued to use their closeness to successive governments to manipulate policies and has continued to deny, through manipulations the other ethnic groups in Warri South the Chairmanship of the local government. It was the same precarious situation for the Ijaws of Warri North local government area for twenty-seven years until Governor Okowa a believer in rotational leadership summoned the political will to see to the emergence of a Chairman of Ijaw ethnic stock during the last local government elections. Even this was staunchly resisted by the Itsekiris. Listen to what The United Kingdom-based Itsekiri Congress UK, ICUK, had to say at the time: “Democracy is a game of numbers, so if we have the numbers in our community, why should we then apologise for having the right to continue to represent our people?” They are the same people who, despite being the minority within the minorities in Delta State, were ceded the governorship of the state in the interest of peace and unity. This is despite the glaring facts on the ground that this claim to superiority of numbers is false. Talk about being duplicitous, it has always been about the Itsekiris. Either they have it or they spoil it.


Until the ascension of the Late Olu Nkewoli to the Itsekiri throne, the other two gazetted Traditional Rulers in Warri South Local Government Area were denied their lawful shares of the 5% of local government allocation to the local government traditional rulers by successive Itsekiri led administration of the local government. I am fairly certain that a similar thing happened to the Ijaw traditional rulers in Warri North save perhaps, Warri South-West Local Government Council where the Chairmanship of the council is rotated between the Ijaws and the Itsekiris.

The Itsekiris need to know that their claim to overlordship over which they seek to claim everything and subsume the identity of others is outdated. The hollow underbelly of that claim has been exposed over and over again, and one wonders why they continue to cling on to that relic of colonial mindset. For a people famed for self-acclaimed sophistication, this attitude is mind-boggling. It continues to portray the Itsekiris as unduly proud and arrogant people who have no love for their neighbours. They need to take a hard look at themselves in the mirror and decide whether the cloak of anachronism fits their purpose for the present times and the future. This is crucial to their survival and continued relevance, especially the reverence with which the Itsekiri throne is held by the outside world. The more they insist on their present course the more the lies that have helped them to build an aura of reverence around their kingdom will get exposed. When you remove the dressing from a decorated god, it becomes just a wood carving. Olu Atuwase III sent a positive vibe during his coronation speech which seems to be a departure from the past approach as enumerated above, when he said: “We extend especially, towards our neighbours, Ijaws, Urhobos and Ilajes, a hand of invitation to peace and development. As it is not our desire to prosper in isolation, we desire that our neighbours prosper also. We recognise that the peace and prosperity is a shared one, built on righteousness and justice, which is the motto of this our reign, and the foundation upon which God’s throne is built.”
The Olu equally sounded a similarly positive tone in his goodwill message to the Urhobo nation to mark the UPU@90 celebrations when he noted that there have been highs and lows in the relationship between the Itsekiri nation and its neighbours. His prayers and determination to continuously work with other ethnic groups to make those “lows” in the relationships become “highs” in other to “strengthen the elements that unite us a family” come to mind now. The issue of identity is a ‘low point’ in the relationship in this “family” Olu spoke about in his goodwill message. The Wado City Movement presents an ample opportunity for him to match words with action. Let’s all start today to build that much-needed unity. As Chinua Achebe said in a much-repeated quote “Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too – If one says no to the other, let his wing break.”

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