AN Itsekiri opinion leader in Delta State, Mr Alex Eyengho, says some persons from other ethnic groups in the state ascribe to the Itsekiri ethnic nationality influences it does not possess due to inferiority complex.
Eyengho, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard on claims that Itsekiri people stopped the siting of the capital of Delta state at Ughelli, abhor the development of other tribes in the state and Niger Delta region among other sundry issues, said: “The Itsekiri position was clear and in the public domain. Most times, people, out of inferiority complex ascribe powers that the Itsekiri do not have to them”
His words: “Paul Bebenimibo (A Niger Delta Development Advocate who pointed finger at Itsekiri in an interview, last week, with this paper) also lied by claiming that the Itsekiri stopped Ughelli from becoming the capital of Delta State. Perhaps he was too young then to know the historical trajectory of the creation of Delta State with all the intrigues and interests. I advise him to consult his elders for the true story.”
“How can Itsekiri have such power over Urhobo, Ijaw and Isoko to dictate to the authority that Ughelli (an Urhorbo town) should not be made the capital of Delta state? Yes, the Itsekiri had land dispute with the Okpe as it concerned Sapele and when the courts ruled in favour of the Okpe, they accepted the verdict in good faith and live happily with their Okpe neighbours in Sapele today.
“In the same vein, the Itsekiri won their case up to Supreme Court as it concerns Ugbolokposo in Uvwie Local Government Area of Delta State.
The Itsekiri people are obedient to the law and this is the civilized way of living. Can my Ijaw brothers say the same thing about Aladja, Gelegele in Edo State, etc?
“He should stop throwing stones because he lives in a glass house. For me, these things can be handled through dialogue and certainly not careless, abrasive and insensitive statements,” the Itsekiri opinion leader added.
Eyengho said it was absurd for any Ijaw person or indigene of any other ethnic group to harbour the thought that Itsekiri people do not like development of other ethnic groups, adding: “Any Ijaw man or woman or indeed person from other Niger Delta ethnic nationalities, who think this way or say such words is guilty of hate speech against the Itsekiri.”
Most friendly ethnic nationality
According to him, “One of the most hospitable, receptive and accommodative ethnic nationalities in Nigeria and indeed the world is the Itsekiri. Itsekiri philosophy is live and let us live and I know that the Itsekiri protect jealously their people, land and crown, popularly referred to as the ‘Itsekiri Plc.’
Even at that, they put human face to their dealings with everybody, particularly their immediate neighbours, who in this case are the Ijaws and Urhobos.”
He asserted: “Buried in the gene of an average Itsekiri person, particularly in dealing with fellow human being is the principle of equity, justice and fair play. So, it is absolutely untrue to say Itsekiri hate the development of Ijaw or other ethnic groups in Niger Delta. That is why I see it as preposterous, abrasive, careless, ridiculously stupid, warped reasoning, idiotic and foolish for someone like Paul Bebenimibo to perceive the Itsekiri that way in his recent interview.”
“Rather than try to set Itsekiri against their Ijaw and Urhorbo neighbours and indeed other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta, he should join me in preaching the gospel of peace. He should stop stoking the fire of hatred among the Itsekiri, Ijaw and Urhorbo. I denounce completely all what he said in the interview as figment of his imagination. He is not more Ijaw than I am! But we all have to be fair and circumspect in our utterances at moments like this. “That the Gas Revolution Industrial Park (GRIP) and the Deep Sea Port (DSP) have not taken off today is not the fault of the Itsekiri. These are Federal Government projects. In fact, the Itsekiri need the projects more than the Ijaw. This is why the Olu of Warri, His Majesty, Ogiame Ikenwoli demanded for its immediate take-off, when President Muhammadu Buhari played host to the Warri monarch and his delegation recently at the Aso Rock, Abuja,” he said.
Omadino’s petition on NMU overlooked
Eyengho noted: “Similarly, the Itsekiri people have never at any point resisted the siting of the Nigerian Maritime University (NMU) in its present location. No! They have only requested that the Federal Government must recognize the ownership of the community according to history and law. That was why the Omadino people reacted to an acquisition notice put up by the Delta State Government in 2013, stating their ownership of the place with historical and legal facts. They were ignored then for obvious reasons.”
“The GRIP and DSP are Federal Government projects and Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, an Ijaw man, was the then President. So, it was easy to use the Federal might to muscle the then Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, an Itsekiri man into looking the other way. “That was how the compensation for the acquisition was paid to the wrong party, in the face of the law. Remember that Nigeria President is perhaps the most powerful President in the world in terms of wielding power to do and undo. This was the genesis of the Itsekiri agitation over the ownership and name of the location of the NMU, which has lasted till date,” he added.
Supreme Court verdict on Okerenghigho still tenable
He chuckled at claim that the Supreme Court judgment that Itsekiri people of Omadino are the owners of Okerenghigho, which Ijaws call Okerenkoko, saying: “This, to me is a laughable question. Only a Paul Bebenimibo would reason this may or make such laughable statements.
We are not living in the jungle or a banana republic where might is right. This is the 21st century, where law and order is the way of all human beings all over the world, including Nigeria. “
“Human beings are not animals. As human beings, we must submit ourselves to law, order, due process and due diligence. You and I know that the Supreme Court is the highest court in Nigeria and other countries. Once the Supreme Court rules on an issue, the aggrieved party can only appeal to God in a decent society. The only alternative to this is to resort to threats of war and other forms of violence, which tends to remind one of the sad era of the Hobbesian state of mankind when life was short, nasty and brutish, when might was right.
“I have never heard of how events can overtake a Supreme Court judgement. I need to be educated on this. I love to learn. The Supreme Court judgement is what it is. It is supreme for life! This is why the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami based his advisory memo to the National Assembly (NASS) on this same Supreme Court judgement. Malami advised the NASS, and rightly so too that based on an existing Supreme Court judgement, the right name of that community is Okerenghigho and Omadino, an Itsekiri community, owns it.
“He concluded by further advising that the University sited in the community should be called the National Maritime University, Okerenghigho. Nobody, not even the NASS have faulted the basis of this advisory memo from the Attorney General of the Federation to the NASS. That is the way I see it.
“Not even Paul Bebenimibo could fault this solid rock legal foundation. He even made another laughable statement to the effect that court does not grant land to people. Really! If two parties are in dispute and have irreconcilable differences over a parcel of land, the sure place known to civilization they go for arbitration is the courts, where both parties will present their case with historical facts and other documents. The judges give a final verdict and grant the land to the appropriate party.
“This process can go from High Court, to Appeal Court and ultimately the Supreme Court. This was what happened in the Okerenghigho suit. All the legal analysis Bebenimibo laboured very hard to justify a non-existent re litigation of a valid Supreme Court judgement amounts to nothing. He even contradicted himself in various ways. But going forward, there is always room for jaw-jaw to settle issues amicably without resorting to abrasiveness or violence,” he stated.
You are Eyengho, how true is the claim that your great grandfather is Ijaw and some of your relatives have traced their origin back to Gbaramatu
I have said it times without number and let me say it here for the umpteenth time that the blood that flows in my veins as a human being was donated by my biological paternal links of Itsekiri and Ijaw and maternal links of Itsekiri, Urhobo and Yoruba. I am very proud of my Itsekiri bloodline in communities like Ugborodo, Omadino, Orugbo, Abiugborodo, Koko, Egbokodo, Bobi, Orubu and a few others. I am also very proud of my Ijaw bloodline in Opuraza community, which is the headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom. So am proud of my Urhobo bloodline in Agbarho community and my Yoruba link in Ondo State.
Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo biologically related
So, the issue of some of my relatives tracing their origin back to Gbaramatu does not arise, because they were never lost in the first place! There is hardly a 100 percent Itsekiri or 100 percent Ijaw or 100 percent Urhobo. One way or the other, we are biologically related. Take for instance, Government Ekpemupolo’s (Tompolo) immediate younger brother of the same father but different mothers and immediate past Chairman of the Warri South-West Local Government Area, Hon. George Ekpemupolo is my nephew from his mother’s side because his mother and I are cousins.
From their father’s side, both of them are my cousins because we are all descendants of Igbeha who is a direct son of Oweijubiri, the founder of Gbaramatu. Any descendant of Igbeha is partly from Omadino by virtue of Oweijubiri’s wife and Igbeha’s mother (Abiloro) who was from Omadino community. The same way, any Eyengho is paternally Ijaw of Gbaramatu and Itsekiri of Ugborodo, Omadino, Abiugborodo, Orugbo and a few other Itsekiri communities. So, you can see how biologically intertwined we are as neighbours. The same goes for Urhorbo. I have always posited that going by biblical teachings, all human beings are from the same community called the Garden of Eden and the same parents called Adam and Eve!
The only thing is that as development and civilization comes with the attendant migration and settlement over the years, we, either by our own volition or the volition of our parents decide where to pitch our tents. By my own background and upbringing as someone born and bred in Lagos, I assimilated the Itsekiri and Yoruba ways of life perhaps to the disadvantage of my Ijaw and Urhorbo blood links. This does not make me any less Ijaw or Urhorbo today.
I had very good relationship with the late Chief Alfred Bubor for instance. I also have good relationship with Chief Patani Heavens (one time Regent of Gbaramatu Kingdom), Chief (Col) Satchie Etoromi, Sheriff Mulade, Moses Yabrade and a few other Gbaramatu Ijaws. These my Ijaw brothers took me as one of their own just as my Itsekiri brothers took me as one of their own when I contested for a seat in the Delta State House of Assembly in 2011.
One of my cousins, Sam Eyengho is in fact a Chief of Gbaramatu Kingdom. So, it is a matter of choice. Make no mistakes about it, I am very proud to be Itsekiri, Ijaw, Urhobo and Yoruba. As a matter of fact, I see myself as one of the stabilizing factors, particularly in terms of the relationships between the Ijaw, Itsekiri and Urhorbo. These are like triplets almost always engaged in needless bickering. It is high time we r[se above complex of all shades, negative perceptions and prejudices.
We must live as one so as to be in a position to bequeath lasting legacies to our children today and those unborn. My Ijaw brother, Paul Bebenimibo should stop making failed efforts to rewrite Itsekiri history on the pages of newspapers. By doing this, he is manifestly advertising his ignorance to the world. The Itsekiri history is in two phases: the pre monarchy Itsekiri communities (Ugborodo, Omadino, Ureju, Inorin and Irigbo or Ode-Itsekiri as it is popularly known today), which existed several years before 1480, and the post monarchy Itsekiri communities (like Bateren, Bobi, Orubu, Koko, Gbolokposo, Ajoki, Orugbo, Abiugborodo, Kolokolo, Ugbege, Ajigba, Obontie, Ologbo, Ajagbodudu etc), which came to be after 1480. Prince Ginuwa, the heir apparent to the Benin throne came with his entourage to fuse with the five communities I earlier mentioned and they all accepted him (Prince Ginuwa) as their King and only King till today, the Olu of Warri.
I urge Bebeminibo to google for more information because Itsekiri history is in the global space, well documented and unchangeable! He must stop painting a false picture as if it is a taboo for an Itsekiri to own up to his or her blood link with the Ijaw. Doing that is akin to making the Ijaw look small or inferior to Itsekiri. I am proud of my Ijaw and Urhorbo bloodlines but I have lived my life as an Itsekiri and Yoruba man for close to five decades now.
All I know is that I will not stand by and watch the Itsekiri oppress the Ijaw or the Ijaw oppress the Itsekiri, neither will I stand by nor watch these two ethnic groups either individually or collectively oppress the Urhorbos. No! Never! I shall continue to preach peace as a balancing force because I see all my biological links as an advantage to me as a human being. In fact, how I wish I also had biological links with Igbo and Hausa. These things make life easier you know.
A faction in Ugborodo accused you and others of under developing the community, is this true?
This certainly is incorrect. In fact, it is a lie from pit of hell! I have never been involved in managing the entire Ugborodo affair until coming on board as the Assistant Secretary of the Ugborodo Community Management Committee (UCMC) under the Chairmanship of Barr. Austin Oboroegbeyi. The UCMC came on board only in May 2017, less than a year ago! Before then, I was also the Assistant Secretary of the 21-member Ogidigben EPZ Committee Ugborodo. This committee was set up specifically to interface in matters concerning the proposed EPZ in Ugborodo and not to oversee the entire Ugborodo affairs. We functioned for barely two years before it was expanded to the current UCMC by the inclusion of 30 new members or so. This is the same case with other key executives and members of the UCMC including the Chairman, Secretary etc. So, I do not know what this so-called faction meant by accusing me and others of under developing Ugborodo community.
The UCMC only started working this February 2018 because by force of arms, some persons made it impossible for us to work in the community until they were flushed out of the community earlier this February 2018 by a combined security operatives of army, navy, SSS and police. Five of them have earlier been arraigned in court for the murder of Samuel Mayomi among other criminal charges, while four of those earlier declared wanted by the police since November 2017 have been arrested shortly after the flushing exercise.
Who are those people I am being accused with? When did we under develop Ugborodo community? How did we under develop the community? I am sure those making these baseless allegations are members of the criminal gang in Ode-Ugborodo who have successfully been dislodged by security agencies and sanity now restored in the entire Ugborodo community. They are only trying now to use the media to fight back by cooking up stories to fit into their selfish and dangerously wicked desire. This is after their unholy alliance with certain elements in Gbaramatu failed woefully.
Wrong signal from Gbaramatu palace
However, I am taken aback that His Majesty, Oboro-Gbaran II, Aketekpe, Agadagba, the Pere of Gbaramatu Kingdom, was deceived by the likes some of his people to receive in his palace at Opuraza, Ugborodo dissidents and fugitives despite the public knowledge that most of them have been declared wanted by the Nigerian Police Force since November 2017 for criminal offenses like murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms etc. The King should have known better not to receive these fugitives. It sent a wrong signal that he was in support of these rebels against the Olu of Warri.
To put the records straight, Ugborodo people at no time denounced the Olu of Warri or dissociated themselves from Warri Kingdom or announced Ugborodo as a separate Kingdom from Warri Kingdom. It was Benson Dube Omadeli, Ofe Pender Nene and their other co fugitives that did that. As at today, they have been flushed out of Ugborodo and are on the run. Four of them have been tracked and arrested.
Ugborodo today have been rid of all criminal elements and as such on track for massive transformation to the envy of all. Ugborodo is an integral part of Warri Kingdom under the over lordship of the Olu of Warri and it shall remain so for ever. So, Bebeminibo should stop being a meddlesome interloper and busy body on Ugborodo or Itsekiri matters, which he knows next to nothing about. Ugborodo and indeed Itsekiris generally shall remain at peace with their Gbaramatu neighbors. Some of us shall ensure this because we are on both sides of the imaginary divide. By God’s grace, slow but steady, we shall continue to chatter all the imaginary glass ceilings of impossibilities between the Itsekiri, Ijaw and Urhorbo. We are stronger together.
You said recently that Itsekiri has substantial presence in Okerenkoko, but a visit there, last month, showed that only one Itsekiri woman, who is a wife to an Ijaw man, lives in the town, are you sure of your claim?
I stand by my earlier statement! Like I told you earlier, Ijaws of Gbaramatu and Itsekiris are closely related either by virtue of their births or through marriages. I know that not a few families in that community are of mixed parentage with their children living there. Do you call such children 100 percent Ijaws? The Olare-aja (oldest man in the community), Pa Ariwenebi is an Itsekiri man from Omadino who is married to an Ijaw woman.
Of course they have children together who are living there. He was actually the one that received my entourage when I took my political campaign there in 2011. I know of a fact that there are predominantly Ijaws in the community as at today but to say there are no Itsekiris living there is like denying oneself. Paul Bebeminibo’s account, particularly as it concerns Omadino and all that is nothing but tales by moonlight told to children.
For instance, he talked about an Ijaw Quarter in Omadino as a justification of Ijaw ownership of Omadino. Seriously! So, Hausa Quarter in Warri is a justification of Hausa ownership of Warri? How warped a reasoning! He demonstrated yet again that he has a warped sense of history. His manifestly divisive posturing will take us nowhere. Since he perhaps sees himself as 100 percent Ijaw man, he should keep quiet and allow those of us who have stake both ways handle issues. Extremism will take him nowhere. My take here is that we should not because of the naming of a Federal University cause bad blood among our children, cousins, wives, brothers and sisters living together peacefully in the same community before now. We should as much as possible avoid hate speeches.
For me, this should be seen as a passing phase in the lives of the Ijaws of Gbaramatu and their Itsekiri neighbors. What unites us as a people is much stronger than what divides us. Let us continue to live as one in love and respect for one another. For me, there is no alternative to jaw-jaw.