Time For Tenable Peace in Delta State By Sabella Abidde

For several centuries, the Ijaw, Urhobo, Itsekiri and other ethnic nationalities in their immediate region in the Niger Delta have lived in peace. They intermarried. They fished and farmed as neighbours. They drank from the same wells and from the same springs. They lived, for the most part, as one happy family. And many outsiders found it difficult to tell the difference between these groups. This was so because there were no huge differences except perhaps linguistically.

In that part of the world, therefore, it was a huge deal to cohabitate as a three-in-one ethnic nationality. Other than the usual family disagreements, these groups – especially the Itsekiri and Ijaw – were the best of brothers and best of friends and best of neighbours. Their lives, history, fears and aspirations were intertwined – and so also were their moments of successes and great disappointments. That was the life they lived.

However, the relationship dynamics began to change because, in the words of Onoawari Edevbie,  of “an action of the government of Western Nigeria, which officially changed the title of the Itsekiri King from the Olu of Itsekiri to the Olu of Warri in May, 1965. The change was made at the request of the Itsekiri over the objection of the Urhobo who felt that the title, Olu of Warri, would give the impression that the Olu is a paramount ruler of Warri.” What followed were resentment and anger.

Consequently, that part of the country has not been the same since. In the end, therefore, it became a question of power and sovereignty, and a single question: Who owns Warri? With the question of ownership came economic power, political dominance and influence. In the years that followed, the relationship between the three groups could be described as icy. Beginning in 1997, the cold and distrustful atmosphere turned violent.

The placement of the Warri South-West Local Government headquarters at Ogbe-Ijoh (the Ijaw area of Warri) and its relocation to Ogidigben (an Itsekiri area of Warri) exacerbated an already tense situation. What followed were deadly riots. Although the Delta State House of Assembly has since relocated the local government headquarters to its intended location, there has not been tenable peace in Warri – especially between the Ijaw and Itsekiri.

It was difficult trying to predict what would provoke senselessness on the part of the Ijaw or the Itsekiri. But they fought. They killed. They destroyed. And they displaced the innocent. Both groups destroyed human bridges that took centuries to build. It was sad, so very sad to see centuries of goodwill and tolerance washed down the drain. The most recent skirmishes happened on Tuesday July 2, 2013.  While these groups are busy fighting and hating their friends and neighbours, their real enemies are misappropriating their resources.

Are the Ijaw not tired of all the killings and destruction they have caused? Are the Itsekiri not tired of all the extrajudicial killings and mayhem they have caused? Are the Urhobo innocent of these atrocities? It is time to stop and to look forward to a new beginning.

So, I’d like to, first, plead with the elites on both sides to stop manipulating the youths – many of whom are jobless, angry, uneducated and undereducated – from doing their bidding. The elites ought to know that whatever benefits accruing to them will not last a life time. They’d gain more in an atmosphere of real peace. Second, the Police and the intelligence agencies ought to be on the lookout for those who encourage the youths and the misguided to foment trouble.

Third, the multinational oil companies, along with other business concerns in and around the region, should encourage an atmosphere that benefits all. Fourth, both the state and federal governments should also look for ways to promote justice and lasting peace among these groups. Fifth, the youths of the region must stop being pawns in the hands of the elites and politicians. They are sacrificial lambs, but the children of the manipulators are safe in foreign lands attending some of the best schools and receiving care in world class medical centres.

What’s the point dying for those who do not care for you? And so I say to the youths of the region: Do not die a senseless death. Do no kill others. Make peace with others even if they are different from you. Be peaceful. The future is now, make use of it.

The problems of the region are many: Political and economic insecurity; fear of an unknown future; manipulative leaders; sickening environmental conditions; and unbridled competition for economic resources and political power. These are not unique to the region. Nonetheless, they are the challenges the youths should be looking forward to solving. These are the areas that demand and warrant their attention and intellect – not the senseless killings and hate that have come to characterise the region.

Finally, I will suggest that well-meaning elders and intellectuals and representatives of the youths across these enclaves meet to discuss and find a comprehensive solution to what’s been vexing them. They may not be able to find a solution to all the problems in two or three sittings; but at the very least, it would be a good start. It would be a good start if all the parties are honest and come to the roundtable devoid of unmovable stance.  Frankly, I believe that the Ijaw-Urhobo-Itsekiri problem can be resolved without the active involvement of government.

As a nation, we must understand that it is unconscionable — unforgivable even, for one generation to shift the problems it created to another generation. Yes, there are intergenerational problems, but it makes no sense to shift solvable problems to future generations.

In conclusion, I must say this to all those who are directly and indirectly involved in this matter: if you deny your neighbours peace, you too shall never know peace. You will never have a good night rest. From the beginning of your great ancestors’ settlement in that part of the world, your lives and destinies have been connected. Do not disappoint them, do not disappoint future generations. And so, I urge you to please put your pains and grievances and ulterior motives aside for the sake of peace and in the name of all that is both good and great about being Urhobo, Ijaw and Itsekiri. In the end though, the choice is yours: make peace or destroy yourselves!

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