BY CHARLES KUMOLU
THEY are unique in every sense.The things they seem to lack in size are richly present in their affairs, thereby making them one of the most admired ethnic groups in Nigeria.
The Itsekiri may not have the expanse of the major ethnic groups in the country, but they boast of prominence in human and material resources.
These qualities, which date back to pre-modern times, have continued to define the Itsekiri narrative in attractive ways.
Little wonder their relevance in the contemporary Nigerian society.
Today, there are excellent Itsekiri imprints in virtually every sector in Nigeria.
One of the most likable factors that distinguish the indigenes of the tribe, any day, is their undying love for Iwereland (another name for Itsekiri).
Perhaps, it could be said that if all Nigerians could proudly be attached to their nation the Itsekiri way, nationalism may not be a challenge. And the country will achieve unimaginable growth and the much needed national tranquility.
Certainly, it was in furtherance to the affinity to Iwereland that an elite Itsekiri social club, Alpha-May Club, convened its 32nd anniversary lecture last Sunday in Lagos.
The event, which had joyful scenes of merriment, had in attendance eminent sons and daughters of Iwereland, who looked radiant in the traditional Itsekiri attire called Kemeje.
Consider these names: Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, a former governor of Delta State; Mr. Aji Orugboh; Chief Luck Ereku, Chairman, Alpha May Club; Chief Edward Epoko, the Tolureju of Warri; Mr. Sam Amuka, Publisher of Vanguard Newspapers; and Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor . Others are Chief Kofi Katey, Mr. Alex Eyengho, Chief Mene Brown and Pa J.O.S. Ayomike among others.
These achievers all converged on Standard Alliance Hall in the upscale Lekki Phase 1 with their friends as well, to celebrate Alpha May Club and, importantly, discuss issues germane to the growth of Iwereland.
Interestingly, the rendition of the 50-word Itsekiri anthem was more or less the curtain-raiser at the forum.
Thereafter, the actual thrust of the gathering, which was the anniversary lecture, entitled: The Itsekiri: People, Land and Crown, commenced with an opening speech by the Chairman of the club, Chief Lucky Ereku.
While providing insight into how the club was founded in 1984 by 15 Iwere sons, emphasis was made on the things the club stand for which are principally the development, promotion, and protection of core Itsekiri interests.
Specifically, the club, among others, provides support for educational pursuits; prepares informative write-ups relating to Itsekiri interests; anniversary lectures; and provides study papers for the advancement of the Itsekiri nation.
Even during the Warri crisis, which displaced Itsekiri from their towns and villages, the club, it was said, made substantial contributions to those displaced.
The advancement of Itsekiri history, which was one of the key aspects of the gathering, also dominated Ereku’s speech, as he narrated some aspects of the Itsekiri heritage and origin.
‘’The Itsekiri land comprises islands around the Benin, Forcados, Escravos rivers and several acres of land in the Warri Township including the New Warri, known as Ogbe Ijoh, measuring over 350 acres. It covers the present Warri GRA; the present day Daudu in Warri measuring over 90 acres; all land generally known as Agbassa measuring over 350 acres; Okere, Ajamimogha, Ekurede Ugbuwangue, Ubeji, Egbokodo, Pesu, Odion, Merogun and other adjoining towns,” he stated.
The Guest Speaker, Chief Edward Ekpoko, in his predominantly scholarly presentation, explored the Itsekiri history and the place of the tribe in today’s Nigeria in line with the topic of the lecture.
With emphasis on familiar narratives about the Itsekiri origin, he analysed events that had shaped the ethnic group and posited that Iwereland deserves nothing but the best in Nigeria.
Extracts from Ekpoko’s speech: “Itsekiri is a success story of the unity in diversity. It is a potpourri. It constitutes the seven different migration groups from all parts of Nigeria-North, East, West and Southern Nigeria. Although the Itsekiri have similar histories of different migration units constituting an ethnic nation, none in Nigeria has one language, one king, and one custom.
One language, one king, one custom
‘’Their diversities which were harnessed by the crown became their strength and exposed them to early civilization. There is something beyond the ordinary and magical about the tribe. It easily assimilates people and does not discriminate between male and female and their offsprings as well –equal opportunity for all, including non-natives to aspire to their zenith. This is the attraction. That is why people who are not biological Itsekiri proudly claim it. It is indeed a thing of pride. This was as a result of the doggedness and selfless service of our past leaders like chiefs Nanna and Dora Numa and in the words of Gen. S.O.Ogbemudia:
“The Itsekiri nation has been blessed in every generation with an enviable crop of leaders who have admirably embodied and expressed the circumstances of their people. In the long unbroken chain of excellent leadership, right from the epochal exploits of Nanna to the recent Rewane phenomenon and the current robustness of Ayomike and his peers , the Itsekiri nation has a lot to be proud of.
“A careful look at our present set up seems to reflect these terrible pictures. We pride ourselves as Otonlu, Oti-Uwangue biri Olologbotere or we go by the appellation Inueboro, konobra, deideikumo, tombrifa, akali, yesuo, eko, ogbolomo, Atari, etc. yes, we know these people and their contributions towards the development of Itsekiri in their time and the enviable height it attained years even after their death. But who are you? What have you done that you will be remembered for tomorrow?
‘’ You seek refuge, importance, and opportunities, in these appellations. It is like the story told in the Acts of Apostle 19:11-16 wherein seven imposters sons of Sceva , a Jewish priest in Ephesus who took advantage of the healing power of Apostle Paul who did many miracles in the name of Christ and wanted to cast out an evil spirit in a man in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches.
The man asked them, “I know Jesus, and I know about Paul; but you- who are you?” the man with the evil spirit attacked the violently and they ran away wounded and with their clothes torn . may our case not be like that.
“Finally, I will say to the Federal Government that Itsekiris are peaceful and law abiding people. We have contributed hugely to the development of this country called Nigeria. The history of Nigeria will not be complete without the Itsekiri people. It would appear that because we are a minority and apply only constitutional means in addressing our grievances, we are being ignored in the scheme of things. Even our peaceful disposition has been taken for weakness and the government appears to listen to only to those who have violent disposition; rewarding criminality at the expense of law-abiding citizens.
Getting Itsekiri right
“No one has the monopoly of violence. If you can’t get Itsekiri right you can’t get Nigeria right. The government must be cautious in its romance with politicians and the so-called elders in the Niger Delta masquerading as peace ambassadors. Many of them have been tested and proven not to be well-meaning. The elders who claim to be in the departure lounge should not see the Niger Delta as a duty-free shop. The government by its appeasement tendency is inadvertently creating another monster worse than the Frankenstein monster in Mary Shelly’s book, Frankenstein which is about a young student who created a destructive being in a human form that he could not control and which brought about his ruin. He that does not have a far view will have near trouble. Any government that leads by appeasement rather than the rule of law escorts its people from one calamity to the next.
‘’As for the Itsekiri people, I will stand by what you are known for. We will fight with the might and wisdom that has pleased the Almighty God to give us, within the law.’’.