By Emmanuel Ojameruaye, Ph.D
On this forum, there has been a suggestion to create an Urhobo mega city from Warri City as a way of resolving the age-long controversy over the ownership of Warri. I think this is a bad idea, and I’d like to put in my two cents into this debate of combining the Urhobo areas of Warri metropolis with other adjoining Urhobo communities to form a mega city (Waado City?). I think this is a defeatist/withdrawal strategy which will be difficult to implement and may prove counterproductive. Firstly, the Urhobo people cannot and must not run away from the name Warri simply because the Itsekiri are laying claims to it. Our people living in the current Warri City are aboriginals to the area they occupy and have been associated with “Warri Division” since the late 1800s. Even though the Itsekiris claim that Warri is a corrupted version of the name “Iwere” which is the other name for Ode-Itsekiri, it is unclear when the name was first used, and by whom. Between about 1600 and the mid 1800s, the Europeans used several names to describe Ode Itsekiri including Oywere, Ouuerri, Iwerre, and possibly Warri but I have not seen any document before the mid 1800s where the word Warri was actually used. However, from the late 1800s the British colonialists used the name Warri to refer to the area encompassing Urhobo aboriginal lands and those of their neighbors, the Ijaws and Itsekiris. They did not use it to describe a king, a single tribe or even Ode-Itsekiri. In fact, according to Professor Peter Ekeh who has studied all the protectorate treaties between the British and the various ethnic groups in the region, “The British were clear in their designation of Warri District as home of the Urhobo….All seven treaties that the British signed with Urhobo between 1892 and August 1893 clearly bore the title and address of Warri District. On the other hand, the two treaties that the British made with the Itsekiri in 1884 and 1894 were clear in their designation of Itsekiri as people of Benin River … in the administration of their new colonial districts …that Warri District was Urhobo country. The British appointed Dore Numa, an Itsekiri chieftain …as their agent in the District of Benin River. For Warri District, the British appointed an Urhobo chieftain, George Eyube”. Original copies of these treaties are available at UHS website at http://www.waado.org/UrhoboHistory/NigerDelta/ColonialTreaties/ColonialTreaties_NigerDelta.html”
So, the British colonial administrators never recognized or endorsed the Itsekiri exclusive claim to the name Warri. In fact, the Warri Province that was later created included the Urhobos, Isokos, Ijaws, Ukwanis and Itsekiris, and the name Warri became a “commonwealth” and all the ethnic groups. This was why the British refused the demand of the Itsekiri establishment to use the title of “Olu of Warri” for Ginuwa II, and was therefore crowned “Olu of Itsekiri, Warri Province in 1936. However, the Itsekiri establishment/mercantile class continued to lay claim on the name Warri because of their insidious plan to use it to claim “overlordship” in the area and secure the attendant benefits such as rents. They got their way in 1952 after the British handed over the Western Regional Government to the Action Group (AG) party led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo when the AG-dominated parliament changed the tile of Olu of Itsekiri to Olu of Warri. But not completely, because the AG was compelled to change the name of Warri Province to Delta Province as a compromise that did not sit well with the Urhobos. It baffles me why the Itsekiri establishment, then and now, prefer to use a “corrupted” name (Warri) for the title of their king, rather than the original name “Iwere” or Itsekiri. The lure is their pursuit of “overlordship”. Unfortunately for them, the concept of overlordship is a relict of feudalism that has no place in our current capitalist and democratic dispensation. The courts have since ruled against overlordship in Warri metropolis in the case of Arthus Prest vs Itsekiri Land Trust (Suit No. W/15/1970 ) and Okumagba vs Itsekiri Land Trust (SCN, Suit No. SC/309/74. It is clear from the above that the Urhobo people in Warri city must not run away from the name Warri. They should claim it like the Itsekiri and let the world know they have their own kingdoms in Warri which are independent of the Olu of Warri. For instance, they should name their kings Ovie of Agbassa-Urhobo, Warri City (or Metropolis), Ovie of Okere-Urhobo, Warri City, and erect signboards with the names of their “towns” in their areas within the Warri City, e.g. Okere-Urhobo Town, Warri City, Edjeba-Urhobo Town, Warri City, etc.
Secondly, by definition, a megacity is a “very large city with a population of 10 million people or more”. There are only about 50 megacities in the world, including only Lagos from Nigeria. The projected population of the Urhobo area of Warri metropolis is 204,478 by the end of this year up from 151,799 by the 2006 census at 3.3% growth rate. The population of all 8 Urhobo LGAs and the Urhobo area of Warri are estimated by this author at 2,696,075 by the end of this year which is a far cry from 10 million. The term “mega city” should therefore not be used in this debate. We’ll be making a mockery of ourselves if we call such a city that will most likely be less than 1 million people a “mega city”.
Thirdly, forming and naming cities is the prerogative of government (federal or state) under our current dispensation and it has several administrative implications. For instance, how are you going to separate the new city from Warri City. Are you going to erect a wall akin to the Berlin Wall? What about the hundreds of thousands of “mixed” families own property and businesses across the artificial divide? I think the solution is to lobby for the creation of a separate Urhobo LGA for the Urhobo area of Warri South LGA, rather than an Urhobo “mega city” just as there are many LGAs within Lagos metropolis. Then the Warri Metropolitan Area will compromise of an Urhobo LGA, an Itsekiri LGA and an Ijaw LGA. For instance, in the State of Arizona in the United States, the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, a conurbation of almost 5 million people consists of two counties (Maricopa and Pinal) as well as several cities (City of Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Glendale, etc), and towns (Paradise Valley, Cave Creek, etc) .
Fourthly, it is spiteful and unrealistic to think that Warri will be “cosigned into the dustbin of history” if Urhobos dissociate themselves from the name. The assumption is that the Itsekiris will sit idly and allow the name to fade away. What stops the Itsekiris (or the government) from building a network of bridges to link the Itsekiri area of Warri metropolis with Ode Itsekiri and some Itsekiri communities to form another thriving Warri metropolis? Furthermore, history has shown that it is not easy to erase names of cities. For example, after over a thousand years since the Turks change the Greek names in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey), the Greek names are still in use today, especially among Christians. For example people still use the name Ephesus instead of the Turkish name Selcuk. Similarly the names Philadelphia, Pergamum, Anthioch, etc have endured despite their Turkish names.
Finally, I think we can find mutually acceptable ways of living together with the Itsekiris as we have done over the years by not allowing the past to becloud our journey into the future. I do think the modern generation is interested in the divisions, the issue of overlordship and the titles kings want to be called. In fact, my prediction is that most of the traditional institutions (kings) will disappear gradually, as in India and elsewhere, once we have progressive political leaders that will starve them of public funds and recognition and who will not pander to them.