In his presentation, Dr. Alex Ideh provided an assessment of the position of Itsekiris within the political, social, and economic framework of Nigeria particularly in Delta State. Dr. Ideh highlighted the marginalization of Itsekiris at all levels of developmental activities compared with other neighboring ethnic groups. He recalls the active roles and accomplishments of Itsekiris in no distant past, and contends that in today’s Nigeria, Itsekiris faces tremendous challenges. Dr. Ideh summarizes the challenges as Environmental, Social/Political, and Leadership.
Environmental: Itsekiris are mostly located in the mangrove swamp of the Niger Delta, a challenging terrain. The challenge terrain means lack of basic amenities like portable water, road, school, electricity, health facility, social and economic activities, and presence of government. Because our communities are susceptible to mosquitoes, there is high incidence of malaria affecting the growth and well-being of children as well as adults. Exploration and exploitation of oil continue to have very harmful effect on the environment, destroying the eco-system and natural resources that people live on. Our people can no longer engage in fishing, their main means of sustenance due to pollution of the water and creeks. The effect of the unwholesome environment and recent ethnic attacks by the Ijaws has led to urban migration, displacement of families, outright takeover of Itsekiri communities, dilapidated and unpopulated schools, and
absence of government activities in Itsekiri communities.
Social-Political: Dr. Ideh submitted that no other ethnic group has endured hostile attacks as Itsekiris. Dr. Ideh provided an historical perspective of notable attacks on Itsekiris by Urhobos in 1952 and 1977, and by Ijaws from 1997 – 2003, and most recently on July 2, 2013. In all these incidents resulting in the loss of lives and properties, Itsekiris were attacked with impunity even though there were commissions and panels of inquiries set up by the various Government of Midwest, Bendel, and now Delta States. Recently, Itsekiri land and settlement bordering Ondo
State are being encroached on by the Ilajes with the tacit encouragement of the Federal Government. With Urhobos on land, Ijaws on the sea and Ilaje threat to the West, Itsekiri people are nothing but a traumatized people whose interest is being sacrifice for political convenience in Delta State, and the enrichment of Ondo State at the Federal level. Dr. Ideh contented that it was under these circumstances that the Ijaws were embolden to demand for the rotation of the Chairmanship of the Warri North Local Government, precipitating the recent attacks for which Ugbajo responded with humanitarian assistance.
Question of Leadership
The parlous state of Itsekiris affairs Dr. Ideh asserted is the result of the absence of visionarypolitical leadership committed to the cause of Itsekiri people. According to Dr. Ideh, Itsekiris has not fare better despite the fact that one of their sons currently presides over the affairs of Delta State. Rather than visionary leaders capable of piloting the affairs of Itsekiri and laying strategic foundations for institutional and infrastructural development, there is the emergence of filthy rich Itsekiri Youth Leaders who lacks the background and exposure require to tackle the myriad of issues affecting the Itsekiri Nation. Unlike his predecessor who brought’’ dividend of democracy” to his people and communities, the current administration has short change Itsekiri people in terms of developmental expectations. Dr. Ideh deplores the situation where young Itsekiri has no real education but content to work in Chevron and Shell farm tanks. Dr. Ideh also pointed out that an army of occupation exists in Itsekiri communities, an aftermath of the Warri crisis. In their occupation, young Itsekiri girls have become victims of sexual assaults from armed military personnel. The result is an increase in sexually transmitted disease including HIV. This phenomenon is resulting in infertility and dislocations of families, thereby negatively affecting the ability of young Itsekiris to be productive.
Dr. Ideh proffers the following solutions to address the issues raised in his presentation. They include:
Convey to Governor Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, the urgent need to commence rebuilding and rehabilitation of Itsekiri communities destroyed in recent Ijaw militant attacks.
Establish marine bases in Warri and Koko to check incessant attacks on Itsekiri communities.
Open all primary school and provide incentive to teachers
Ugbajo should liaise with other associations, and source assistance from International Health and Aid Agencies to combat the incidence of sexually transmitted disease, HIV, infertility in youths and dislocation of families.
Engage and interact with our neighbors especially the Urhobos. Outreach efforts are already going on back home between Itsekiri elders and their Urhobo counterparts.
The value of human resources in any social, political, and economic setting especially in Delta State, Nigeria requires Itsekiris to have a productive family of more than one or two children.
Itsekiris must devise creative ways to survive in the midst of adversity – cannot afford to stand by and do nothing.
From Paramount Chief to Paramount Servant – Itsekiris in Nigeria and Delta State
Dr. Ogbemi O. Omatete.
Dr. Omatete engaged participants drawing attention to the declining fortunes of Itsekiri as apeople. Using the numbers of local government councils in Nigeria and their ethnic nomenclature, Dr. Omatete demonstrated the under representation of Itsekiris at both Delta State and Federal Government level. He reiterated the fact that only in Itsekiri local government council areas that we have Ijaws and Urhobos bent on dominating Itsekiris. The oppression does not stop at the state level. Oil wells belonging to Itsekiris in Warri North have been given to Ondo State for which a court action subsists. Notwithstanding that 40% of the oil produced in Delta State comes from Itsekiri communities; there is noticeable absence of infrastructure of any kind in Itsekiri homeland. The fact that an Itsekiri is the Governor of Delta State has not ameliorated the situation. Dr. Omatete observed that if current trend continues, Itsekiris will go from being Chief to Servant to a footnote of Nigeria political history. Dr. Omatete calls for actions to reverse the criminal neglect of Itsekiri homeland. He canvassed for a united front to achieve sustainable development of Iwereland.
The Itsekiri Nation and People in the 21st Century in Nigeria – The Way Forward
Captain Abel Memuduaghan (Rtd)
In his paper, Captain Abel Memuduaghan (Rtd) took a holistic approach to the problems and challenges facing Itsekiri people within the social, political, economic development of Nigeria. Unlike our past glorious days, Capt. Memuduaghan observed Itsekiris are confronted with serious environmental and ecological problems, dearth of infrastructure, urbanization, youth unemployment, growing disconnect between the privilege few elites and majority stricken by poverty, ignorance and resentment of the privilege few. He contended that despite the extraction of 30 percent of Nigeria’s hydrocarbon resource from Itsekiri land and waters, our communities continues to suffer from lack of infrastructure development. While the benefit of science and technology is improving the plight of similarly situated people around the globe, Itsekiris and their communities are impoverish with devastating effect of erosion and polluted environment. Capt. Menuduaghan observed that the blame for our current woes cannot be place solely at the Federal Government and Oil companies. Itsekiris need to look inward and do a critical assessment of ourselves. Based on their knowledge, expertise, and exposures in different areas of human endeavors, Menuduaghan called upon Itsekiris to provide their sons and daughters in diaspora, the opportunities to participate in the development of Iwereland. He said it was imperative to address dis-connect between our elites and majority of our people saying without unity, Itsekiris will always be at the receiving end of more cohesive nationalities. To survive and move forward as a people, Itsekiris must evolve strategies that position her sons and daughters into key positions in Government at the center, and in the oil and gas industry. To further such aspirations, Itsekiri must invest in the education of her youths particularly in the field of science and technology so that when opportunities arise, Itsekiris will have capable hands to represent her interest. Lastly, Capt. Menuduaghan called for a return to the cores of the morals and values that held and sustain our society together.
Challenges of Sustainable Development in Warri Kingdom and Ways to Promote Itsekiri Unity
Dr. Omawumi Atsianbe-Urhobo
Dr. Urhobo’s started her presentation with a thought provoking question directed to any Itsekiri in the audience, “who readily can point to a befitting family home, in the different communities that were proudly announced as ancestral homes by attendees in the course of introductions?” She admonished Itsekiris for the neglect and abandonment of our communities. As a measure of the pride we have for where we all come from, she enjoined every Itsekiri to build a structure befitting of the sense of pride with which we announce our different heritage. Using a slide presentation, Dr. Urhobo showed the audience the state of neglect and abandonment that pervade Itsekiri communities today. This state of affair is a culmination of decades of neglect by successive administration, ecological effect of exploitation of oil, communal strife, migration, and prevailing sense of insecurity. She identified selfishness, ego, and personality clashes as factors militating against unity amongst Itsekiris. For her, the key to sustainable development lies in the coming together of all stakeholders to tackle the myriads of challenges facing Itsekiris. She called for a developmental plan of action that addresses several areas of our communal life including but not limited to the following:
Housing and Economic Activities: Rebuilding and rehabilitation to encourage Itsekiris to return to abandoned communities, and engage in economic activities that can sustain communal life. Such efforts are imperative because without occupation, Itsekiris cannot lay claim to abandoned communities. Town planning should be done based on the size, scale and needs of the different Itsekiri communities.
Education: Refer to non-existence of primary and secondary schools in Itsekiri communities. Where they exist, the school structures are in dilapidated conditions requiring urgent repairs or rehabilitation.
Electricity: Most Itsekiri communities are unlighted – in some communities, existence is still in primordial times. Some of these conditions she explained are self-inflicted. Agriculture: Means of sustenance of the people through farming, fishing, lumbering but this sector has suffer neglect and adversely impacted by erosion and pollution from oil exploration.
Publicity: Recommend use of advocacy tools to draw attention to the plight of Itsekiris and drum up support for its causes.
Disconnect between Elders and Youth Leaders: The division between Elders and Itsekiri Youth Leaders is getting wider to the detriments of Itsekiris. Enjoined Ugbajo Itsekiri to engage these groups to close ranks, and work in unison for the common good of Iwereland.
Dr. Urhobo advocated a holistic approach to the multifaceted challenges confronting Itsekiris. She recommended a Development Summit where all the issues holding back Iwereland can be examine, and a plan of action for the way forward formulated. Ugbajo should spearhead such a summit in conjunction with representatives of the Olu of Warri, and all Itsekiri interest groups.
Video Presentation on the aftermath of Ijaw Militant Attacks on Itsekiri Communities in Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State and Ugbajo Responsive Efforts
Mr. Bawo Akonu, walked the audience through video recordings of graphic images of destruction of lives and properties, at the impacted Itsekiri communities in Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State. Also shown were Ugbajo’s efforts in donation and delivery of relief materials to affected families. Ugbajo’s efforts included monetary and material gifts. It was observed that there is need for more rehabilitation efforts with appeal to all stakeholders to come to the assistance of impacted communities.
Promoting Itsekiri Unity
Moderators: Dr. Felix Abeson and Mr. Mac Nunu
Panelist: Dr. Ogbemi Omatete, Mr. Bawo Ayomike, and Mr. Tsola Aragho
The subject of Itsekiri unity, its absence, and the detrimental effect it is having on the overalldevelopment of Iwereland was examined. Issues raised include whether indeed there is unity among Itsekiris, how to come together – a think tank to which all stakeholders belongs. Roles and workings of leadership structure in Itsekiri communities, and commitment of leaders to Itsekiri causes. It was observed that the issues confronting Itsekiris today are not new. Itsekiris have survived over the years with well thought out strategies and leaders motivated by a larger Itsekiri cause. In the discussion that ensued, reference was made to a master plan of road networks that would have changed the Delta Region but were either half-heartedly executed or abandoned altogether. The roads include Patani – Port Harcourt; Lagos/Epe – Koko/Ogheye. These projects particularly the Koko to Ogheye is yet to take off after decades of conception. It was observed that the Koko to Ogheye road is crucial to development of Itsekiri communities in Warri North, and should be undertaken by contractors with proven record.
Sustainable Development of Itsekiri Homeland
Panelist: Mr. Eworitsemogha Mabiaku, Dr. Omawumi Urhobo, and Dr. Akali Igbene
Development of Itsekiri human resources is crucial to sustainable development of Iwereland. Returning Itsekiris to abandoned communities from where they were displaced is critical to the habitation and development of these communities. Most Itsekiri communities in the riverine areas lack amenities like drinkable water, electricity, transportation, and schools that are essential to human habitation. Building local economy around agriculture with revival of farming and fishing was suggested. The importance of Itsekiri having some presence in their ancestral homes by building a structure in the community they hails from was reiterated. Such initiative will facilitate the return of people to populate our communities. It was acknowledged that Government may not necessarily return people to abandoned settlements but could provide enabling environment by beefing up security. Itsekiris were implored to have contingency plan to forestall, and provide robust response to incessant attacks.
Other suggestions include youth orientations to embrace work ethics instead of easy gratification, tackling high rate of unemployment among Itsekiri youths especially graduates whose knowledge and skills can be engaged, and empowering women who are the bedrock of families in our communities. Helping Itsekiri women is an investment that not only secures our homes but our future. Itsekiris need to join forces together in other to move forward. Waiting for Government is not the right strategy to adopt. Development does not happen overnight but is a long-term endeavor that requires planning, dedication, and implementation over time. Now is the time to start planning the future of Itsekiri – this requires the participation of all stakeholders.
Issues, Challenges, and Feedbacks Confronting Iwereland
Absence of a united front among Itsekiris
Leaders do not put Itsekiri first in their action – Itsekiri need patriotic leaders
System of community leadership Olara Aja does not get to the point and requires reevaluation
Ojoye makes recommendations to and reports on events that happens in their domain to Olu of Warri
Recognize Itsekiris are a micro ethic group and should look out for each other – Be Itsekiri first and foremost
Ugbajo must find a representative to pursue its agenda in Nigeria
Recognize effecting changes will not happen overnight and requires long-term commitment
Itsekiris need to be disperse in various political interest groups
Leaders should meet and discuss - Ugbajo should initiate a think tank
Sustainable Development for Itsekiri Homeland
Lack of basic amenities - fresh drinking water, electricity, schools, health facilities, etc.
Lack of Government Action/Involvement in Itsekiri communities particularly in the riverine areas
Negligible participation of women and young undergraduates in economic activities
Environmental challenges from oil activities
Affect the community by building a house in our villages
Revive agriculture; farming, fishing
Microfinance – Pull resources together for investment
Ugbajo should organize Development Summit
Empower Youths and Women to unlock their potentials – Offer employment opportunities to recent graduates
Do not reinvent the wheel – Revisit old ideas
Evening Dinner Fundraising Banquet
Chaired by Chief Mrs. P.B.E. Uku, the Erelou of Warri Kingdom; the evening events commencedwith an opening prayer by Engr. Gbesimi Akperi. Renditions of Itsekiri anthem was performed by children from host association Uranran Iwere, Atlanta, GA followed by the address of the President of host association Mr. Emmanuel Ejutse. Chief Uku, the chairperson of the dinner fund raising event, praised the efforts of Ugbajo Itsekiri in organizing the event, and solicited support from guests and attendees to the fundraising. The fundraising was coordinated by Mr. Tunde Johnson and Kingsley Onuwaje.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
A bus tour of the City of Atlanta, GA by attendees to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Center (on the 50th anniversary of the “I have Dream Speech”); the World of Coca-Cola; and Luncheon at the home of host President, Mr. Emmanuel Ejutse brought to a close, a memorable 16th Annual Convention of Ugbajo Itsekiri USA, Inc.
Monday, September 2, 2013
Attendees departed for their various destinations with notice that Oma-Iwere Itsekiri Association; Miami, FL will host the 17th Annual Convention from Friday, August 29, 2014 to Monday September 1, 2014.