By Robinson Ariyo
Our attention has been drawn to the well-orchestrated and brilliant looking design, the handiwork of a few powerful, politically influential and wealthy Itsekiri leaders of Warri North Local Government origin to cede Warri North Local Government Chairmanship seat to the Ijaws of the LGA in exchange for the 2023 Delta South Senatorial seat, for a yet to be named member of the Itsekiri leadership cartel.
We have also painstakingly and carefully perused the key arguments which the said group of oligarchic leaders has advanced for this purpose; even though in conceiving, designing and planning to execute this scheme, they sheepishly and arrogantly arrogated to themselves the stature of the Alpha and Omega of the entire Itsekiri people and therefore saw no reason to properly confer and even seek the opinion of the overwhelming majority of our people, hence the current acrimonious and discordant tunes vibrating from the ranks and files of the Itsekiri people today on this subject matter.
It is against the background of the above development, that we have elected to embark on this intellectual voyage of examining the merits or otherwise of the said scheme which without wasting time, we have already described as a fallacy; a description we owe the intellectual and moral duties to justify in this publication. We shall endeavour to live up to the task as we commence this journey with first presenting the arguments of the said leaders and then placing them side by side our own arguments for the judgment of reasonable members of the society; as it is now a settled proposition, that; “Justice must be rooted in confidence; and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking; ‘The judge is biased’ Per Lord Denning in; The Discipline of Law, (1982) p 87.
The rationale behind this approach is to make available to the general public particularly the right-thinking members, and then of course, the overzealous loyalists of the said leaders who have begun issuing threats of assault and physical attacks on persons like us, who disagree with their bosses. One principal endowment that keeps humans on top of animals is the ability to reason; the development of that ability is in our view the prime purpose of life. According to H.G Wells, “The first man to raise a fist is the man who has run out of ideas”. We subscribe to this great line of intellect. Afterall, there must have been a reason why logic and philosophy are made compulsory courses of study in our higher institutions at the General Studies level; it appears to be a potent weapon for those fortunate to attend a higher institution to engage in healthy intellectual intercourses. However, it must be quickly said that native intelligence in appropriate circumstances, conveniently substitutes the weapon for those who are not so fortunate to attend a higher institution. Consequently, the ability to utilize this weapon to engage in civilized debates in accordance with the dictates of a situation like the current one, is not the repository of those who attended school.
Be that as it may, the point must be made that once a man becomes too indolent to make use of his brain, he may then have no other option than resort to his fist; as the recourse to fist is always a symptom of a defective intellect; except when it is required for self defence.
Their agruments for ceding the chairmanship seat
It first came as a rumour that the named Itsekiri leaders of Warri North LGA had decided to sacrifice the Warri North Local Government Chairmanship seat for the Senatorial ambition of one of their associates. Be that as it may, as an organization that is essentially driven by the value of social justice, equity and good conscience; particularly by the principle of audi alteram partem which is a latin phrase meaning “listen to the other side”, or “let the other side be heard as well, we decided to wait patiently to hear the other side before engaging in this mandatory intellectual gymnastic. Having confirmed and heard the other side in the current debate, we may now procced.
The proponents of ceding the chairmanship seat have now in the open declared that they cannot deny knowledge of the possibility of allowing Ijaws who have 4 out of 10 wards in an LGA taste Chairmanship seat; even though they claim that they don’t have a particular Ijaw candidate in mind yet. They maintain that their position on the rotation of the Chairmanship seat in Warri South-West and specifically Warri North LGAs with the Ijaws is well known to all political players in the area.
They also insist that it is not due to cowardice but it is only fair that we let them taste the chairmanship because they are very active voters in every election. Responding on behalf of the proponents of this view, Honourable Godwin Ebosa said; “Did you know the the Ijaws and the Ilajes live with us in Eghoro, Ogheye and our Oboghoro and other communities?”. He further stated; “This Christmas carnival that we are planning, just come and take a headcount of the people there, you will discover a lot of Ijaws and Ilajes”
In concluding their position, Honourable Godwin Ebosa said: “We have been going round pleading with our fellow Itsekiri leaders that now that the Ijaws are pleading to be given a shot at the chairmanship, let us give them with some conditions because some of us have vantage position in this government”. They also made allusion to the Senatorial Seat in 2023 which is an attractive proposition in their opinion.
As well coated as this proposition, we do not only vehemently disagree with it, but we are in our disagreement, heavily fortified with superior logic with which we herewith advance a win/win way forward in the interest of justice which is never a one-way traffic. Come with us and see.
Our argument against the ceding of the chairman seat
While we have considered the arguments of those in support of ceding the seat, we have decided not to resort to fist, but engage in a series of peaceful protests across the Federal Constituency; prepared to subject these arguments to the test of logic by advancing what we perceive are superior arguments for not ceding.
This does not make us enemies of these leaders; we are only persons who vehemently disagree with their views and they must be mature enough to know that we have a right to do so; that right is God given and no one including any of them can take it from us. We invite them to meet us in the field of logic.
Without proper context, we cannot make sense of a lot of situations; hence it may be imperative to briefly provide the context for this intellectual gymnastic.
Let us begin on a very painful note of recollection; which today, still traumatizes our people, to the point of occasionally questioning the existence of a Nigerian nation-state; with Federal, State and Local government administrative structures.
Until 1997 when the violent process occurred, of assigning the entire Itsekiri Nation into a lawless state; which is aptly reminiscent of the Hobbesian State of Nature; this area stretching from the huge cluster of communities from Koko to Ogheye, all in the Warri North Local government Area was an area that hoisted some of the most bustling and densely populated towns and villages in Delta State. For a few years, the whole of the said Benin River axis was profoundly depleted in terms of human habitation; courtesy of the destruction wrecked on us during the attack by the Ijaws.
When the destruction started in 1997, we appealed to the then Military Government of late General Sanni Abacha for direct military presence in the three Itsekiri Local Government Areas of Warri North, Warri South and Warri South West. Our request in this direction was not given any attention for reasons unknown. Yet in 1999 when the then Civilian Administration came on board, Itsekiris made a similar request; but nothing happened except in Warri and Koko towns which had scanty military presence. By mid-March 2003 when the crisis again mercilessly wrecked another round of havoc on us such that was unimaginable, the whole of this Odo Okun was unprotected. The result of the invasion was swift and disastrous for us as almost all Itsekiri families still mourn the destruction of their towns and the killings including beheading of thousands of their loved ones. Even, Koko town that had a detachment of Nigerian soldiers was on the 12th of April, 2003 attacked and destroyed with flagrant disregard for the military barracks there as the soldiers refused to put up even minimal resistance when the invaders arrived at about 4.10 pm.
The soldiers in fact decided to do nothing citing lack of order from their central command leaving the armless Itsekiris to their fate. Aja-gbodundun, which is the boundary town between Ethiope West and Warri North was at the same time attacked and destroyed.
Till date however, the rehabilitation and settlement of the people remains an unattended issue; while the issue of the perpetrators occupying Chairmanship position is now being peddled by leaders who ought to know better. Is this a design to reward lawlessness and discourage obedience to the rule of law?
Between 1997 and now, nearly all Itsekiri towns in the present Warri North and Warri South-West LGAs were either partially or completely destroyed in the crisis. It was indeed a war of extermination that we were subjected to. In Warri South Local Government Area, only about twenty communities were not touched. Indeed, at a point only Koko, Abe-Ugborodo, Aja-Etie, Aja-Gbodundun, Korobe, Akpakoka and Ibeilegbe had considerable human presence in the whole of Warri North LGA. We cried to the Federal and State Governments to come to our rescue, all to no avail.
Sometime around that period, two Americans who were workers of an oil company, including some Nigerians were brutally murdered.
Warri North LGA had about 70 Itsekiri towns and villages (excluding hamlets). Majority of those towns were burnt down to knowledge of the so called Warri North leaders at that time, it was only about 10 of these towns and villages that had significant human habitation including Koko and Ajagbodundun. Towns like Arun-Ologbo, Beresibi, Ureju, Eghoro, Aja Nanna, Obaghoro, Olobe, Aja-Okotie, Orugun Obonteeghareda, Ebohimi, Aja-Edun, Obaghoro, Ureju-Sinsin, and a host of others have remained dilapidated.
Some of these towns are yet under siege as indigenes of these communities are itching to go back to their towns and villages, but there are still visible threats that all these towns have been captured and no Itsekiri dares come back to again occupy them. In fact the names of some of the towns have either been or are currently being change from “ Aja” prefix in Itsekiri language, to “ Gbene” prefix in Ijaw language.
What we must first begin discussing are ways to ensure that there is the rule of law and people are allowed to live without threat to their lives and property. Thereafter, we can begin relocating and restoring the destroyed communities as this is the standard global practice anywhere there has been a crisis of this proportion. If these Itsekiri leaders are truly more concerned about development of Itsekiri than their respective personal and political investments in the area, they should take this global protocol step by step.
We cannot close our eyes to the set back that was occasioned by the attacks on our communities as if nothing happened and we are now discussing how the culprit will occupy such a political position as the Chairman of the LGA and as a matter of fact sit in the very town which he probably superintended or burnt during the crisis. Even God does not forgive without confession, repentance, reparation and restitution.
After crisis there has to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) treatment for the victims, resettlement, reconciliation before you contemplate negotiation and unification. It is a huge shame and gross disregard for humanity to neglect these critical stages of recovery of a wounded people and begin power sharing negotiations; inhumanly sweeping the wrongs done to us under the carpet. Like the lawyers would say; “ubi jus ibi remedium” meaning, whenever there is a wrong, there must be a remedy!
Let us also remember that as we speak, in towns like Burutu and Bomadi and other Ijaw LGAs where Itsekiris had significant estates prior to the crisis, they have been displaced and same forcefully taken over; and we are here talking about being fair? Is the part of the formular to displace us in their area and occupy spaces in our area? Is that not double jeopardy? Please allow us ask these Itsekiri leaders advancing the ceding of the Chairmanship seat if they have influenced the government and the international community to look at any of the above post war treatment for their people.
Not too long ago, there was the establishment of CDCs to cater for the different tribes in some LGAs. Again, the LGAs where Itsekiri are correspondingly present, like Sapele and Uwvie were left out. What else can be more conspiring against a people. Where have these influential leaders been? Should these critical areas of potential intervention not occur to the leaders? Could there be something more to their proposal than we can see?
The situation that our leaders are attempting to exploit suspectedly for their personal gains was created not by the victims ( the Itsekiris) but by the assailants ( the Ijaws) who now seek to be the beneficiaries.
Our respect for the rule of law should not be misconstrued as a lack of ability for violence and terrorism. Afterall, when we decided to evoke the law of self-survival to defend ourselves in Warri Urban during the crisis, even the then Governor was amazed at the outcome for a people known to always be peaceful.
Let it be known that our respect for the rule of law, peace and tranquility is a product of nurture as no human when push to the wall will remain human.
Our leaders are influencing the Government to gradually push us to that stage when we shall begin to protect ourselves as we cannot have lighting strike our own home place twice.
Our leaders should engage their influence in the direction of igniting the process of assisting our people to go back home and focus on how they will be treated by way of PTSD attention. Please leaders of Warri North, we appeal to you in the name of God and humanity to bring our plight and predicament to the State and Federal Governments in the reasonable order of priority. The Government can and should redress the wrong done to us by restoring us back to the pre-crisis state; after that, we may then begin having the kind of discussions as being proposed by the leaders.
However, if the leaders elect to wield their influence and succeed in silencing the voice of the people with their wealth and political influence, we would have spoken for God to hear and whatever follows no man should complain; because Vox Populi, Vox Dei (‘the voice of the people is the voice of God’).
Those who are rejoicing today about the potency of their wealth and their political influence and electing to wield it in this manner should recall; the immortal words of the late journalist, Dele Giwa: ‘No evil deed will go unpunished; any evil done by man to man will be redressed; if not now then certainly later; if not by man, then by God for the victory of evil over good is temporary’.
The precondition for a proper engagement cannot be without the above demands being first met and such decision being both people driven and people centered. It should be about the people principally not about the said leaders perse.
We are not averse to living in peace with our neighbours but we must adopt the Rotarian noble guide in doing so:
The 4-Way Test of the things we think, say or do: Is it the TRUTH?. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? . Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
As a final word, charity should begin at home and not outside please. Our arguments above constitute our justification for describing the planned sacrifice of Warri North Local Government Chairmanship seat for Itsekiri Senatorial ambition as a fallacy; for it is indeed a fallacy.