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By Annabel Ogheneganre
Since the launch of the Wado City Movement, this writer has not ceased to advocate for caution in promoting the cause. In my initial remarks on the issue of name change for Warri, I stood for the status quo, maintaining as I had done in previous submissions that what Urhobo should rather do was to market the two Urhobo traditional rulers in Warri as Ovie of Warri Kingdom (for the Agbarha-Ame people) and Orosuen of Warri for the Okere people. The Ijaws could also be encouraged to promote their monarch as Pere of Warri as all the monarchs, the Ovie, Orosuen, Olu and Pere would exercise authority over their respective domains.
In maintaining this stance, this writer strongly believes that no matter the pressure from the Itsekiri nation, Urhobo must stand firm to claim and defend what truly belongs to them. At least, all historical accounts point to the fact that prior to the ignoble and contentious political move by the late Obafemi Awolowo in his punitive measures against Urhobo in changing the name of the Olu from Olu of Itsekiri to Olu of Warri, there was relative peace amongst the two neighbours whose relationship was defined by trade and commerce beside politics. Intermarriages thrived between Urhobo and Itsekiri and there were many Itsekiri settlements sandwiched between Urhobo villages as they were at peace with their hosts. But as soon as Awolowo made that calculated and deliberate political blunder to spite Urhobo suggesting subjugation of Urhobo people of Warri under the traditional authority of the Olu whereas Itsekiri original traditional headquarters was and still remains Ode Itsekiri, which they now politically coined as Big Warri, the city of Warri has known no peace. One of the consequences of Awolowo mischievous blunder was the loss of confidence, evacuation of Itsekiri from some of their dwellings amongst Urhobos and implacable distrust between the two neighbours.
I grew up to appreciate a saying amongst the Urhobo people that a man who takes delight in sleeping with other peoples wives, does not feel comfortable with the closeness of his friend to his mother. His fear is that his friend may probably be doing what he does with peoples’ wives to his mother. Itsekiri are masters of the game when it comes to name change. And their reactions to the proposal for change of Warri metropolis from Warri to Wado city has given them up as touching the very soul of Itsekiri uncharitable neighborliness over the years. These are the people who for over 400 years have their monarchs addressed as Olu of Itsekiri. They referred to themselves as Iwerre people and in their quest to lord it over the Urhobo people of Warri in a predatory manner whereas Urhobos are the original owners of most of the lands in Warri metropolis, they prevailed on the colonial masters for the change of the Olu title to Olu of Warri. The colonial masters resisted the pressure until Awolowo unveiled his satanic agenda that pitted Itsekiri against Urhobo till date. Today, Urhobo are taking stock of how they have fared under the Warri shenanigan and are taking a stand to change their areas in the city of Warri to Wado City. The question is what is the business of Itsekiri if, for instance, Ughelli decides to change the name of the town to Oghwoghwa City?
As I remarked earlier, it is the reaction of the Itsekiri Liberation Group led by Comrade Mone Oris and Comrade Ajofotan Omagbemi, Chairman and Secretary respectively, that has awaken my interest in the matter. The unprintable name-calling, the gutter language deployed by the group and laughable appeal to Governor Okowa for arrest of proponents of the movement is something that has awakens the Urhobo spirit in me to now stand to appeal to every Urhobo man and woman to take this matter seriously. From the language deployed by Itsekiri to present their opposition to the name change, it is clear the tail of the lion has been chopped off and the lion is writhing in serious pains because, the change will expose Itsekiri to be living off Urhobo benevolence over the years. In fact, the truth would be revealed that once Warri becomes Wado, there will be no Warri because there cannot be Warri without Igbudu, Agbarha, Okere, Ogunu, Okumagba and other core parts of the Warri metropolis that truly and still belong to Urhobo people. The Ode Itsekiri, which Itsekiri now refer to as Big Warri cannot be up to a mere quarter in one of Urhobo Towns in Warri Metropolis.
The Itsekiri Liberation Group, in their attack on Dr Ejiro Imuere, calls for ‘’his arrest and prosecution before he and his cohorts could cause another war in Warri’’. Why would ordinary change in name result in a war when they are still relishing the change of their monarch from Olu of Warri to Olu of Itsekiri? If Urhobo decides not to bear the name, Warri, what is the business of Itsekiri people? Is Dr Ejiro Imuere canvassing for change of name for Itsekiri settlements on the fringe of the Warri metropolis? Itsekiri should only be concerned with those territories that are under the authority of the Olu. This writer therefore finds the call for arrest of Ejiro Imuere as puerile, laughable and an invitation to chaos and anarchy.
According to the lies-laced reaction of Itsekiri to the movement, Dr Ejiro Imuero, whom they described as faceless suddenly had a face and was said to be ‘’recruiting some drug-inspired rascals, touts, thugs, disgruntled elements with huge character deficit to provoke Itsekiri sons and daughters…The said Ejiro Imuere and his gang have been trumpeting and boasting on end in the social media that they have mobilized thugs, fully armed to cause the second round of crisis in Warri and environ, come October 1, 2021; with the strange intent to start harassing Itsekiris and other peaceful non-Itsekiri settlers in the metropolis’’. October 1, 2021 has come and gone, no incident as painted by this gang of Itsekiri alarmists took place, rather, Dr Imuere and other Urhobo patriots gathered at the PTI Conference Centre, Effurun to marshal out points and reasons for the name change, draw out action plans and mobilize towards achieving their agenda for the Wado movement to the shame of those whose propaganda chord could not sway the government of the day into launching any offensive against the peaceful movement.
What baffled this writer most was the attempt at dragging the highly revered Dr Reuben Abati into a non-existent war between Urhobo and Itsekiri over the movement. Abati was hired to rubbish Urhobo claim to Warri and the movement for name change and he ended up burning his fingers beyond repairs. While this writer strongly believes there could be better ways of resolving the Warri impasse, I will not discourage those who believe this could be a sure way out. Whoever fights Dr Ejiro Imuere is fighting the spirit of Mukoro Mowoe. The man died before Awolowo came up with his satanic agenda in 1952. The so-called Itsekiri group’s reference to tenants and neighbours in the said reaction is provocative and an insult on the sensibility of the average Urhobo man. However, as things stand, the Itsekiri, Okere, Agbarha and Ijaw monarchs know their respective domains in the city of Warri. Whatever Dr Imuere is advocating for have no bearing with Ijaw and Itsekiri areas. Itsekiri should learn to restrict themselves to their coaster belt and leave Urhobo to decide what to do with their territories in the Warri metropolis.
Annabel Ogheneganre writes from Garki, Abuja. (09030558731 SMS only or email@example.com)