Against book-makers’ predictions and apprehension that the 25th anniversary boat regatta of the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse II may be marred by violence, the Ijaws and Itsekiris, instead exhibited a high scale friendliness when the two ethnic nationalities participated in the fan-fare.
Blank NEWS Online understands that during the boat regatta, at the Delta Boat Yard, the two ethnic groups in the state drew the calmness of watchers, whose apprehension turned to admiration at the display on Saturday.
Recall that it has been reported that ahead of the anniversary’s boat regatta, the Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan and the Delta State Commissioner of Police Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba had made efforts to ensure that the simmering face-off between the Ijaws and Itsekiris,which almost threatened the exercise was averted.
It was also earlier reported that the state governor and police commissioner contacted several key stake-holders and opinion leaders across the two ethnic nationalities to press home the need for peace to reign in the area.
The Delta state governor, Dr.Emmanuel Uduaghan was said to have contacted Itsekiri/Ijaw monarchs and leaders to prevail on their kinsmen not to do anything that will result in another round of ethnic crisis between the two ethnic groups as well as endanger the peace and security agenda of the state government.
A dependable source hinted that governor Uduaghan embarked on a communications diplomacy with leaders of the two nationalities, following the warning by the Ogbe Ijoh kingdom in Warri South-West Local Government Area of the state that the people would not allow the Itsekiri ethnic group to carry out a boat regatta scheduled for (Saturday May 5, 2012) on waterways, belonging to Ogbe-Ijoh.
Governor Uduaghan himself an Itsekiri indigene and who was central to the efforts that restored peace in the crisis in 2004, needed to avert a renewed crisis on the reputation of his administration’s peace and security agenda and to ensure that the two ethnic groups live in peace.
On his part, the Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba was said to have met with ex-militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, and former chairman of the Delta Waterways Security Committee, DWSC, Warri, Chief Ayiri Emami, behind closed doors in Warri, to avert what has the potential of becoming a fresh crisis between Iteskiri and Ijaw ethnic groups over the planned boat regatta by the Iteskiri people to celebrate the silver jubilee coronation anniversary of the Olu of Warri.
The meeting according to sources was centered on how to maintain peace during today’s (Saturday) boat regatta by the Itsekiri people in honour of their monarch.
Tompolo, who is generally regarded as the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, is an influential Ijaw youth leader, while Chief Emami, who is the Chairman of Itsekiri Oil and Gas Producing/Impacted Communities Development Committee, IRDC, is , undoubtedly a high-ranking Itsekiri youth leader.
Delta state police spokesman, Superintendent Charles Muka had on Friday confirmed that more policemen were deployed to Warri to ward off any crisis in the oil city, even as men of the Joint Task Force code-named, Operation Pulo Shield and the Nigerian Navy were also put on high alert on the waterways of the state.
It could be recalled that tension heightened in Warri, the commercial hub of Delta State, over the boat regatta programme slated for the 25th coronation anniversary of the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse II, when the Ijaws protested against one of the major events of the anniversary; a boat regatta for the Itsekiri monarch
The Ijaws, especially those of Ogbe-Ijoh, the headquarters of Warri South-West Local Government Area of the state, frowned that the organisers of the event planned to extend it to their areas and subsequently sent two petitions to President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan to prevail on the Itsekiri monarch to limit his coronation activities to the areas under his domain.
The Ijaws had vowed that any attempt by the Itsekiri to extend the boat regatta to their areas, especially Ogbe-Ijoh, would rekindle fresh ethnic crisis, the like of which was witnessed from 1997 – 2003 in the city.
The petition to President Jonathan was signed by Chief David Pere, Chief Favour Izoukumor, Mr. Lucky Oromoni, Dr. Clarkson Ari-bogha, Mr. Friday Deinghan and Mr. Oyimi Samson, on behalf of the Ogbe-Ijoh Traditional Council.
According to the petition: “We are compelled to write on behalf of the Ogbe people of Warri South and Warri South-West LGA of Delta State to draw your attention to the inherent danger and security implications of the proposed boat regatta in Ogbe-Ijoh (Ijaw) land, being put together by a body by the name Iwere International Boat Regatta Committee to mark the silver jubilee coronation anniversary of the Olu of Itsekiri (Warri), Ogiame Atuwatse II.
“According to the pro-gramme of the events re-leased by the committee, there would be a boat regatta on May 5, 2012 along Ogbe-Ijoh, Warri River bank through the Nigerian Port Authority to NNS Delta Naval Base.
“We strongly object to this deliberate and subtle attempt by the Olu of Itsekiri (Warri) to re-introduce his lordship agenda in Warri, which was mainly responsi-ble for the fratricidal war be-tween the Ijaw of Warri and the Itsekiris, on one hand, and the Urhobos of Warri and the Itsekiri, on the other hand, between 1993 and 2003.
“The reason for our objection is that Warri, just like other parts of the country and the world, every community, kingdom and ethnic nationality has its own territory of the area.
“It follows that the traditional rulers also exercise their kingship over their area, including cultural celebrations such as the silver jubilee celebration of the Olu of Itsekiri (Warri).
“As responsible and law abiding people committed to the sustenance of peace and security in our domain, we wish to most humbly appeal to you (Jonathan) as the chief security officer of the nation and Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, the Governor of Delta State, to prevail on the Olu of Itsekiri (Warri) and its Iwere Regatta Committee to shelve the idea of organizing a boat regatta in Ogbe-Ijoh (Warri) land.
“The impact of the 1997 to 2003 fratricidal war is still very visible in Warri. We want peace in Warri and its environs and do not want a repeat of the 1997 to 2003 ugly incident in our domain. We appeal to our brothers and sisters of Itsekiri ethnic nationality not to do anything that would breach the fragile peace in Warri and its environs. The pro-posed Iwere Boat Regatta is an antithesis to peace in Warri”, the Ijaws pointed out in the letter to the President.
However, the Itsekiris, also promptly wrote a petition to the President, urging him to call the “Ijaw war mongers” to order.
The group in an open letter to President Jonathan and signed by a prominent Itsekiri youth leader, Mr. Michael Diden, a.k.a. Ejele, warned the Ijaw that they did not enjoy the monopoly of violence. Diden accused the Ogbe-Ijoh of deliberately fanning embers of war apparently for self-aggrandisement, adding that “the Itsekiri have been living peacefully with their neigbours, including the Ijaw.
“We are surprised that the Ijaw are trying to return Delta State, especially Warri, to the dark days by their recent utterances and actions.
“The Itsekiri have sacrificed and contributed enormously to sustain the prevailing peace in Warri. They participated actively during the coronation of the Pere of Gbaramatu Kingdom; in fact, the Itsekiri dancing groups entertained the dignitaries on the occasion”, Ejele said in the open letter to President Goodluck Jonathan.