PRESS STATEMENT

COMMUNIQUÉ OF THE ITSEKIRI PATRIOTS GENERAL CONFERENCE HELD AT WARRI, DELTA STATE OF NIGERIA ON 23 – 24 OF JANUARY, 1999.

PREAMBLE:

Since March, 1997, the Traditional Warri Kingdom constituting the "Itsekiri Nation" i.e, the present day Warri North, Warri South and Warri South-West Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Delta State of Nigeria have been subjected to series of invasion from the Ijaw tribe, under the auspices of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Movement for the Survival of the Ijaw Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta (MOSIEND) and the Chikoko Movement. Given the Ijaws’ high representation in the top echelon of the Nigerian Military hierarchy, and also at the different levels of governance, the Federal Military Government (FMG) looked elsewhere and allowed the Ijaw militia to kill and behead umpteen Itsekiris, maim others and destroy over 30 Itsekiri towns and villages since 1997. In addition, over 100 houses belonging to the Itsekiris were burnt down in Warri Urban in the full glare of Federal Operatives. Added to all these is the unending seizing and beheading for ritual purposes, law abiding citizens of Itsekiri especially those on the high-seas working for Oil related companies. The latest being 7 staff of Chevron Oil Company seized from their crew boat in Warri River. Cases of such acts of barbarism and terrorism are endless and sadly, foreign workers of oil companies have also been victims of Ijaws’ hostage taken (not killing). Strangely, all these are done in the presence of Nigerian Law enforcement agents.

It is against this background that representatives of Itsekiri Patriots, both within and outside Nigerian converged at Warri, from 23 to 24 of January, 1999 to deliberate on the future of the Itsekiri Nation and the current Ijaw ethnic cleansing.

WHY THIS CRISES ?

Conference-in-session reviewed the alleged immediate cause of the "Crisis in Warri", which was wrongly hinged on the 1996 Local Government creation exercise by the FGM, when it was wrongly claimed that the Headquarters of the then newly created Warri South-West LGA was at a point relocated from Ogbe-Ijoh (an Ijaw enclave near Warri) to Ogidigben (an Itsekiri Town). Conference again perused over the two editions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria official Gazette of 30th December, 1996 and also that of March, 1997, both of which contained Decrees No. 36 of 1996 and No. 7 of 1997 respectively as legal instruments for the last LGA creation exercise. Conference noted that in nowhere was Ogbe-Ijoh ever mentioned for anything. The Ogbe-Ijoh issue in relation to Warri South-West LGA at the point of announcing its creation was the result of Col. John Dungs’ (the then Military Administrator of Delta State) imagination, capacity for evil.and his hatred for the Itsekiris. Conference again came to the inevitable conclusion that linking the present Ijaw war of attrition against the Itsekiris to the LGAs creation exercised of 1996 is not correct, but wondered why the FMG has not made any public statement thereby creating the impression that it derive benefits from this crisis especially Ijaw’s progrom against the Itsekiris and destruction of our Homeland.

Conference-in-session once again recalled its earlier advertorial publication in the Sunday edition of Vanguard Newspaper of June 15th, 1997,pp. 24 – 25, in which we asserted that the INC was vigorously pursuing a mad territorial expansionist mission irrespective of the macabre dimension of its strategy. The aim of this ambition we said was to make possible a geographically contiguous Ijaw "region" as a prelude to their planned secession from the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Conference noted with satisfaction that its earlier conjecture and conclusion has been proved true, given the current Ijaws’ invasion of Biniland in Edo State and Ilajeland in Ondo State, both of which like in "Warri Kingdom", they occupy the status of customary tenants. It was the strong view of conference that the present Ijaw secession bid is a matter between them and the Nigerian State. However, conference remain dismayed and with shock, the gruesome strategy adopted by the Ijaws which smacks of the type of barbarism, crudity and killing spree, reminiscence of ancient times, when raw power and capacity for destruction super-ordinate over civilization and the rule of law.

Conference-in-session perused over the Ijaw Youths’ so-called KIAMA DECLARATION and noted the correctness of their views on the issue of marginalisation and deliberate under development of the Niger Delta raised in the document. It thus identifies with that position and the need for urgent solution which must involved the people themselves. Conference however, noted with dismay the claim by these Ijaw Youths that prior to 1936, all Ijaw settlements in the present Nigeria were geographically contiguous. According to them;

…The division of the Southern Protectorate into East and West in 1939 by the British, marked the beginning of the Balkanisation of a hitherto territorially contiguous and Culturally homogeneous Ijaw area…

Guided by history and existing reality, Conference-in-session noted the outcome of the Richard constitution which resulted into further administrative balkanisation of Nigeria but definitely not territorial, as nowhere in Nigeria’s history was it recorded that any ethnic group or group of persons where forcibly moved or re-settled and thus displaced from their homeland. For example, the "Igbo Nation" was shared between Eastern and Western Nigeria and this does not in anyway distort the obvious and visible territorial contiguity of the "Igbo Nation." As at today, the Igbos in the present Delta and Rivers States of Nigeria are indisputably geographically contiguous with those in the core Igbo States of Abia, Anambra, Imo etc. In the same vein, the "Yoruba Nation" suffered worse fate as they had previously been balkanised during the Berlin Conference and in that case they were balkanised between Nigeria and the now Republic of Benin. Within Nigeria, they were further balkanised between North and West. Despite these international and internal balkanisation, the "Yoruba Nation" today still remain geographically contiguous. Thus, the Yoruba towns in the Republic of Benin and those in the defunct Northern Nigeria (i.e. present day Kogi and Kwara States) are very much geographically contiguous with the present core Yoruba States of Ogun, Lagos, Oyo, etc of Nigeria. In the same arrangement, the Ijaws were balkanised between Eastern and Western Nigeria. Conference noted and rightly of course that despite this colonial arrangement, the Ijaw homeland is still territorially contiguous and this explains the indisputably territorially contiguity of Bayelsa State, with Patani, Burutu and Bomadi LGAs in Delta State.

The non territorial contiguity of the rest Ijaw scattered fishing ports and hamlets in Delta, Lagos and Ondo States with their homeland of Bayelsa State and their three LGA’s in Delta State, Conference noted, is the result of Ijaw’s nomadic nature. The truth is that the Ijaws being marine nomads occupationally, naturally moved into other people’s homeland along the coast and rivers for fishing, boat carving and even for piracy and this explains their presence in the creeks and rivers of traditional Bini, Ilaje and Warri Kingdoms respectively where they settled and have grown in population (as the years pass by) as customary tenants. This tendency also explains their high presence in Markurdi, in Benue State along the River Benue in Nigeria.

Conference-in-session seriously frowned at this deliberate distortion of historical facts exhibited in the said KIAMA DECLARATION ostensibly to mislead Ijaw population and goal them into mad ambition, adventurism, lawlessness and barbarism, in the name of right to self determination.

Conference noted that the consequence of this false knowledge is the current Ijaw wars of attrition against the Binis, Ilajes (Yoruba) and Itsekiris, and even with a section of the Urhobos, for examples, Ogbe-Ijo (Ijaw) war against the Aladja (Urhobos), Olota (Ijaw), against Oboroh (Urhobo) and Siema (Ijaw) against Gbaigolor (Urhobos). The said ultimatum given to the FMG of Nigeria is partly the product of this deliberate misinformation orchestrated by some educated Ijaws.

On Conference opinion that some of the Ijaws in places other than their homeland moved into these areas even for piratical purpose especially in the traditional Ilaje and Warri Kingdoms, conference rest its conclusion on a monograph entitled "A STORY OF NANNA OLOMA (OLOMU) By GEORGE WILLIAM NEVILLE" Neville was the first Lagos Manager of Bank of British West Africa (BBWA) from 1894. Writing on Nanna as Governor of the then Itsekiri Country (which consist of most part of the present Delta State), he said of Nanna.

…His action with regards to the river pirates, the Ijors, was even of greater importance. His nephew, Tonwey had been captured by these pirates and ultimately released on payment of goods to the value of 300 pounds. Subsequently Nanna dispatched 18 war canoes and succeeded in capturing a number of the robbers, who however were set free on refunding the ransom received… Peace now was generally all over the district and great was the rejoicing. The Ijors, on account of the great power displayed by Nanna, surnamed him "Pubene" (a great flood that overflow every bank. Pp. 3 –4.

Conference-in-session further took into cognizance the level of piracy and hostage-taking currently engaged in by some Ijaws under the guise of "right to self determination" and resisting induced underdevelopment of the Niger Delta Region by the Nigerian State. It came to the inevitable conclusion that the reasons usually adduced for these current ignoble and criminal acts of killing, piracy, hostage taking and rampaging are basically untrue, given the fact that these acts have historical and cultural roots prior to the coming into being of the Nigerian State, less oil exploration activities. Predicated on the above historical fact, Conference-in-session sincerely appeal to Ijaw Religious Leaders, Traditional Rulers, Men and Women of goodwill among the Ijaws etc. to prevail on their youths and others to abandon this cultural and historical legacy as this will not do the "Ijaw Nation" any good, but will only bring on them shame, dishonour and insecurity in the midst of other Nationalities and mankind in general. After all, killing and beheading the Itsekiris and further destroying their homeland; and taking foreign oil workers as hostages cannot develop Ijaw land.

Conference noted that Ijaw nomadic life also explains their presence in Onitsha town in Nigeria. Conference looked at the report of its committee’s mission to Onitsha which reported that in Niger Street, Fegge, Onitsha South LGA, that there is settlement there referred to as "Ogbe-Ijoh". It noted the presence of some Bini lexicon in Itsekiri and Onitsha given the historical links between the Binis and the people of Onitsha and Warri respectively. The Bini word "Ogbe" is a clear example. "Ogbe" in Bini language means "quarter". Thus, Ogbe-Ijoh in Onitsha like in Warri means Ijoh (Ijaw) Quarter. The fact that there is an Ogbe-Ijoh in Onitsha does not make Onitsha their homeland, not to think of demanding for an Ijaw LGA in Onitsha. Conference used the opportunity to formally thank those indigenes of Onitsha who enlightened its committee members during their recent visit.

Conference-in-session note with dismay the KIAMA DECLARATION pretentious "offer of hand of friendship and comradeship to their neighbours" especially as it affects the trio of Binis, Ilages and Itsekiris, all of whom are victims of their current wars of attrition, expansionist dreams and ethnic cleansing. Conference further note that it was after this declaration of 11th December, 1998 that Ijaws armed militia seized 7 harmless Itsekiri workers with Chevron oil company on the 23rd of December, 1998 and since then nothing has been heard of them. Our prayer is that God enters into the minds of their captors to release them, if they had not already killed and beheaded them as they have done to other Itsekiris and Ilajes they seized.

Conference-in-session re-instate the usual determination of the Itsekiris to relate peacefully and work together with all its neighbours based on the principles of mutual respect, respect for the rule of law, equality and peace, and thus call on others especially the Ijaws to reciprocate.

Concerning the issue of unending crises in the oil bearing communities of Niger-Delta, Conference hereby call on the FMG to immediately direct the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to publish urgently, the percentage production quota of crude oil of each LGA in relation to the total national production. The present situation whereby the Itsekiris claim 29.5%, Ijaws 70%, Isoko 16%, Urhobo 10%, etc of total production is unhealthy and thus an invitation to inter and intra ethnic crises. It is the view of Conference that if each LGA is aware of its authentic actual production output, such will inform demands and expectations and consequently reduced tension, suspicion and antagonism.

Conference-in-session again re-emphasize the urgent need for a Sovereign National Conference and a new revenue sharing formula based on the principle of derivation in Nigeria as part of the strategy to reduce crises in the Niger Delta.

DEVELOPING ITSEKIRI HOMELAND

Conference-in-session note with sadness that the Itsekiris like other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta are hardly represented in the workforce of oil companies talkless of the management levels, especially in Chevron Nigeria Ltd., where the bulk of its production come from Itsekiriland. Chevron prefers to invest billions of Naira to develop Lekki in Lagos (which has no crude oil) and having nothing to show in Itsekiriland. Even Ugborodo and Ogidigben its operational base has no electricity, water and motorable road. Indigenes still depend on rainfall and shallow well as sources of drinking water. In terms of employment opportunity, the Itsekiris are the least to be considered and the first to be sacked usually for no just cause. Endless intimidation and clamping peaceful Itsekiri protesters in Ugborodo into detention has always been the strategy of Chevron to keep oil flowing from Itsekiri homeland. The world should know this, and appeal to Chevron to see the Itsekiris as human beings that have rights to their land and decent living. The world must not be deceived by Chevron’s vitrolic propaganda of preserving the environments of their host communities in Nigeria.

In the same vein of disregard for the Itsekiris because of their propensity for peace and smallness of population, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), despite having its operational based in Warri (Itsekiriland) has never shown any interest in developing Itsekiriland. A classical example is its recently introduced Shell Intensive Training Programme (SITP), where qualified Itsekiri applicants where sidelined at least in the first set of admission. Similarly, in its employment policy, the Itsekiris like other Niger Delta minorities are the least to be considered. Even in the impending retrenchment exercise due to be carried out by Shell, information received have indicated that the Niger Delta minorities will be sacrificed for cut in oil production and fall in oil prices. In this impending vindictive act, the Itsekiris will loose more. For SPDC, we are watching out for the next batch of intakes into the SITP programme and impending retrenchment exercise. In the midst of such shameless and criminal neglect of oil bearing communities especially Itsekiri Homeland, information received state that Shell is about to undertake a renovation of its rented office complex (Freeman House) in Marina, Lagos Nigeria at a cost of about 6 billion naira only. What a further manifestation of evilness by Shell. Also, Agip and Elf Oil companies respectively pursue this same policy of deliberate unemployment of Itsekiris even when both companies are operating in our homeland. Conference note with sadness, the particular case of Elf’s total neglect of Obodo and Omadino despite the 18,000 barrels of crude oil it is daily getting from there as both communities have no school, electricity, access road, pipe borne water etc.

It is the view of Conference that the embracement of peace by Itsekiris in their dealings with oil companies is yet to yield any positive result. It therefore call on oil companies to note that the Itsekiris are running out of patience and oil companies must note that the capacity for violence is not the monopoly of any particular group or groups.

Given all the above, Conference-in-session call on the FMG to ensure the development of the Niger Delta. It should direct its agencies like Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), the Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC) and all the Oil related companies operating in the Niger Delta to show genuine interest in developing their area of operations. In particular, Conference call on the FMG to direct the formation of Niger – Delta PTF just like the Military and Police PTFs to enable the people of Niger-Delta have their fare share of the PTF.

As it effects the "Itsekiri Nation", Conference call on the FMG, PTF, OMPADEC and all Oil Companies operating in Itsekiri Homeland to put in place immediately:-

Massive construction of all season roads in Itsekiri Homeland which should include:-

Koko – Ogheye-Ugbege road (and this proposed road could pass through Ilaje land to Epe in Lagos State).

Koko – Ajoki Road.

Aladja-Ode-Itsekiri-Orugbo-Ugbodede road.

Completion of Omadino bridge and linking Omadino with Obodo.

Road linking Deghele-Bateren and Ugborodo with a bridge across Benin River linking Jakphatie with Bateren.

Completion of Sapele – Arunowun road and linking it with Abe – Ugborodo.

Rehabilitation of all roads and government owned schools in Warri.

Guarantee the security of "Itsekiri Nation", so as not to force the Itsekiris into acquiring arms and ammunition for self-defence. Such possibility will not augur well for Nigeria.

Proportionate representation of qualified Itsekiris at all level of the workforce of oil companies and award of contracts based on our oil yield quota.

Conference note with satisfaction the present tri-partite discussion between the representatives of Bini, Ilaje and Warri Kingdoms in the fact of Ijaw barbarism against the indigenes of these "Kingdoms". It thus call for a concerted effort to deal with the situation as the Ijaws are prepared to pursue endlessly their mission of ethnic cleansing and territorial acquisition.

Conference-in-session note significantly the recent appointment of Retired Vice-Admiral Dan Preston Omatsola as the Chairman of OMPADEC. While we will not express any particular joy for now even though the Chairman is an Itsekiri, Conference call on Vice Admiral Omatsola to display the true spirit of the Itsekiris by ensuring probity, accountability and pursing equity and justice for all in the Niger Delta. As an Itsekiri, he must not embark on creating few millionaires and putting in place frivolous and irrelevant projects that has no bearing on the lives of the people of the Niger Delta as was the case of his predecessors in office. Our joy will be determined by the extent to which his tenureship will ensure the overall development of the Niger Delta.

Conference-in-session appeal to men and women of goodwill, non governmental organisations and governments the world over to visit Itsekiri land and have a first hand knowledge of the havoc the Ijaws have wrecked on our Homeland, besides our sons and daughters they have killed and beheaded. Our population is about 300,000 while the Ijaws are about 10,000,000, and as such they have the capacity to eliminate the Itsekiris. This must not be allowed to happen.

Conference-in-session call on all Itsekiri sons and daughters , the world over to be vigilant and resolute in the face of this Ijaw aggression and killings. This is a trying period in our enviable history and would soon be over as Ijaws will soon start destroying themselves. God and the civilise section of humanity are on our side.

Finally, Conference-in-session sang the anthem of the "Itsekiri Nation" and offered prayer for Ogiame Atuwase II, the Olu of Warri and for the peaceful repose of the souls of all those killed by the Ijaws, in their progrom against the Itsekiris, Ilajes and others.

 

AYORO A. NANNA

Chairman, Communique Committee of Itsekiri Patriots' General Conference 24TH January, 1999.