It was indeed an excursion into the history of one of the nationâ€™s ethnic groups as the age long battle for the ownership of Warri by the two arch combatants , the Urhobos and the Itsekiri was put to rest last weekend at the main hall of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs Victoria Island as renowned Itsekiri scholars and leaders of thought came out with a book that has all the historical, cultural, judicial, sociological evidences and valid treaties that point to the fact that Itsekiris are the owners of Warri.
The event which brought together eminent personalities, scholars, leaders of thought and prominent Itsekiri sons and daughters was the formal presentation of the book, WARRI: A Focus on the Itsekiri, edited by renowned Itsekiri historian and chairman Itsekiri leaders of thought, Mr J.O.S Ayomike.
Speaking in his capacity as the chairman of the occasion, formerÂ Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, urged Nigerians to imbibe the spirit of living together as one and to live in peace for the good of the people, society and the country. General Gowon who has been in the vanguard of oneness specifically asked the Itsekiris and Urhobos to put their differences aside in the interest of the nation, just as he lamented that the present Nigeria is not the one he wished for. He however charged Nigerians to think about what they could do to correct what was wrong with the country rather than harp on it.
Gen Gowon, while reacting to a question posed by one of the book reviewers, Mr. Agbeigbe, said, â€œCertainly this is not the Nigeria I want. But the fellow, who asked this question should ask himself what he has contributed to make Nigeria better, if we are all committed we would have the Nigeria we want.â€Â He said.
On the focus on the Itsekiris, Gen, Gowon said â€œHistory must not be left in the hands of people who have no sense of history. If we make the mistake of allowing just anyone to tell a story, all that we shall get in the end would be inaccuracies, deliberate distortions and outright falsehood that can only help spreadÂ ignorance. In this kind of situation, we shall have a case of what a leading Nigerian writer would correctly describe as â€˜combative ignorance trumpeting its own values.â€™ This, we must not allow this to happen.â€
The former General also argued that , â€œI believe that the writing of this book arose out of the intuitive need to correct theÂ history of a people for posterity, especially in the light of events of the past decade that have occasioned widespread misinformation about the Itsekiri following the spate of upheavals in Warri and its environs. This book should help a great deal to clarifying all areas of misinformation and help restore trust and confidence amongst all the people in the area who have lived and intermarried overtime.â€
In his comments, the Editor and chairman Itsekiri leaders of thought Mr J.O.S Ayomike in an emotionally laden voice stated that â€œthe book is part of the crowning of our experience and we have written things that we saw and participated in, things that were accomplished here in Warri….â€
Continuing he added that â€œtoday, after two generations , I can proudly say as St Paul said to Timothy that my generation has fought a good fight, they have finished the race and kept the faith and like Simeon who at the sight of baby Jesus, just 8 days old in the temple realized that he had actually seen the long awaited Messiahâ€.
The book launch became a land mark event having produced the highest number of reviewers as six scholars in the persons of Professor Tony Afejuku of University of Benin, Professor Itse Sagay, Barr. Bright Omorogie, Barr. Sam S. Obaro, Prof. J.N. Omatseye and Barr. Fred Agbeyegbe reviewed the book.
Professor Afejuku in his review described the book as an excellent work of history and culture about the Itsekiri who have gone into diverse history books written by European and non-European scholars, historians and travelers alike as a highly civilised people.
According to Afejuku â€œgenerally, the forthrightness of the writers of this book is courageous, unsentimental and unsubjective, even though they are Itsekiri men who might be expected to write history from the biased stand-point of Itsekiri, they wrote the book without romanticizing, without exaggerating, without fanaticizing, simply put, they profoundly objectify and objectivize.â€
He further stated that, â€œthe Prologue of the book contains an account of how Warri came into being and the breakaway from Benin, it focuses on the Itsekiri and their early settlements, ownership of Itsekiri homeland, their Ijaw neighbours, the establishment of the Itsekiri kingdom of Warri; Itsekiri links with European and their Yoruba neighbours adding that it contains a graphic description of Itsekiri homeland and focuses on the interregnum in Itsekiri landâ€.
Reviewing the book from legal angle, Professor Itse Sagay stated that, â€œWarri: A focus on the Itsekiriâ€ is about some political, business and intellectual elites obsession with Warri and the Itsekiri response to this obsession is not borne out of love for Warri but out of pathological pleasure in denying the Itsekiri their entitlement to the city founded by them and named after them.
In addition he added that,Â â€œIf we look at the Warri land cases, all conclusively confirm Itsekiriâ€™s ownership of Warri and some of these cases have been reproduced at the back of the book as Appendices A, B, C, and D. They are in order: Ogegede v Dore Numa (High Court), Ometa v Chief Dore Numa at the Divisional Court (High Court), and the Privy Council, The Chief Commissioner, Western Provinces v Ginuwa 11, the Olu of Itsekiri and two others.â€
In his contribution, Prof. Agbeyegbe lamented that the Nigerian constitution didÂ not protect the interest of minority groups adding that the Itsekiri people have not faired well under successive administrations in Delta state. He also added that the military incursion in the nationâ€™s politics also contributed to the woes of the minority group in the country.
Earlier in his address of welcome, Chief Willy Edema Ofoni, chairman Itsekiri National Heritage unearthed the untold story of Itsekiri nationâ€™s pioneering role in Nigeriaâ€™s civilisation and concluded by saying that Itsekiri has come of age and should be recognized as a component part of Nigeria.
The event which also displayed the rich cultural dress sense of Itsekiri became another forum to reaffirm Itsekiri â€˜s ownership of Warri as amplified by the six reviewers of the book in their respective presentations.
Those at the event include Gen Gowon,Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu(Rtd) Mrs Oluremi Tinubu, Uncle Sam Amuka, Mr. Allison Ayida, Chief Hope Harriman, Chief Mrs Rita Lori-Ogbebor, Mr. Kayode Fayemi, represntatives of The Wakilin Adamawa, Oba of Benin, Oba of Lagos, Olu of Warri and Minister of Niger Delta.
Others are,Â Mr J.O.S Ayomike, Prof Itse Sagay, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Ambassador Segun Olusola, Prof Tony Afejuku, Barrister Fred Agbeigbe, Chief Adolor Okotie Eboh, Mrs Doris Rewane, Tony Ede among others.