Benikrukru Community Camp, Gbaramtu Kingdom, South West Warri Local Government Area, Delta State, starting place for Peace Football Competition and Ijaw/Itsekiri unit started by Chief Sheriff Mulade, Ibe-sorimawei of the Gbaramatu kingdom and national coordinator/CEO, Center for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), was on Wednesday, November 16, 2022, packed to capacity and sparingly dotted with an imposing, conspicuously placed banner with loud but familiar inscriptions emphasizing the importance of peace and unity for humanity.
The atmosphere in the place was refreshing as the gaily dressed guests filed in. Members of the Ijaw and Itsekiri home community were relaxed in their seated positions. They were entertained by the stable rhythms of Ijaw and Itsekiri traditional dance masters.
His humble and friendly dispositions complemented each other and made it very easy for non-indigenous people to feel comfortable in his presence, even when this was the inaugural visit to the community.
In addition to being attended by former Super Eagles players Christian Obodo and Sam Sodje, among others, the event was also attended by brave Niger Delta, who in the past have encountered resistance from their own government but refused to give up in their quest to build a better Niger Delta region and Nigeria by extension.
But from all that I observed, the meeting recognized what has been on the minds of Nigerians.
Fundamentally, he frontally demonstrated a strong conviction that non-discrimination, justice and equity are the foundations of peace, unity, stability and economic prosperity of any nation. From the love that existed between the two ethnic groups that day, at that time, and in that place, it was obvious that building a nation where all citizens of the country are not discriminated against for reasons of ethnicity, sex, language, religion, political opinions, or other type, birth or other status is possible.
Essentially too, from the way the two teams entered the field with confident stride and fair play, the competition provided an opportunity for Ijaw/Itsekiri to introspect the two ethnic groups on the journey thus far. Some praised the ‘union’ for the tremendous progress it has made in building unity and peace and overcoming the area of hatred and hostility, while others felt that the new challenge facing the two ethnic nationalities is to become a strong economic bloc to position itself for the challenges of the 21st century, as it shapes the Niger Delta region.
To help readers appreciate this current journey towards sustainable peace of the two ethnic groups through the football tournament, it is important to underline that the Warri district in the Delta state has reportedly been the scene of ethnic and territorial conflicts among the itsekeri. and the Ijaws since March 1997, when ethnic violence broke out between the Ijaws and Itsekeris following the government’s decision to move the Warri South local government council seat from an Ijaw community to an Itsekeri-owned community.
Although the hostility was overtly stopped and controlled, covertly, it has remained an area where fierce warfare has raged between ethnic and social forces in Nigeria over ownership and control of oil resources. And as a direct result, a long, dark shadow has been cast over efforts to improve the well-being and economic development of individuals, towns, and communities in the region.
Undoubtedly, the Ijaw/Itsekiri hostility is not only stark proof of the many problems facing the people of the Niger Delta region, but is to a large extent an exposure of the government’s lack of will throughout years to address problems that have the potent ability to affect the population. stability of the Niger Delta as a region.
The above statement, in my opinion, becomes more revealing after listening to Mulade, who spoke on the sidelines in the opening match, where he stated that “The essence of this tournament is to try to reduce the hostility between us. A few years ago, we had some misunderstandings. That led to what is known as the Warri crisis. So what we’re doing is building the relationship. So for you to join us is to support this celebration of peaceful coexistence.”
Certainly there are grains of truth in the above position. The tournament has not only brought to light something different and fundamentally new that will help shape the relationship between the two ethnic groups. Rather, it has helped bring health and vitality to peaceful coexistence, reaffirming the commitment to peace, promoting unity and enhancing the harmonious development of the Niger Delta region.
The facts are there and speak for it.
On Monday, November 7, 2022, it was reported that the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse III, while receiving Chief Sheriff Mulade and members of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) who paid him a courtesy visit at his palace, gave his endorsement and royal blessings to peace and unity football event. The Olu applauded Chief Comrade Sheriff Mulade for initiating such a laudable program and promised to work with Mr. Amaju Pinnick to bring his wealth of football management experience to support the process.
In a similar style, members of the LOC, on November 11, 2022, were received by Oboro Gbaraun II, Aketekpe, Agadagba of the Kingdom of Gbaramatu at his palace in Oporoza, the traditional seat of the kingdom.
In his response, the monarch thanked the organizer for his initiative and implored him to continue preaching and spreading the need for peaceful coexistence because peace is not negotiable. He also enlightened the LOC team on the importance of peace in bringing development to Delta, particularly Warri and its surroundings. He encouraged the unremitting contribution of the LOC to unite Ijaw/Itsekiri, whose importance is crucial to reaping the development dividend and opportunities for our people.
While this piece celebrates the feat, there are, however, accompanying beliefs in my view that the Ijaws are a truly peaceful group of people.
The first such example is a recent statement by an Ogbe Ijoh-based political pressure group, the Independent GrassRoots Liberators (IGL), where the group, among other comments, pleaded with the Delta state government led by Senator Ifeanyi Okowa to immediately resolve communal disputes. between Ogbe-Ijoh, an Ijaw ethnic nationality from the South-West Warri Local Government Area of Delta state and Aladja, an Urhobo community in the Udu Local Government Area of the state, adding that they want to live in unity as they have been doing before. “We don’t want to kill each other anymore,” they said.
The second concerns the recent comment credited to Pere of the Gbaramatu Kingdom, Oboro-Gbaraun II, Aketekpe, Agadagba, at his palace in Oporoza, the ancestral seat of the Gbaramatu Kingdom while hosting Mr. Ali Muhammad Zarah, Managing Director , Nigeria Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), on Sunday, November 13, 2022.
The first-class monarch, according to media reports, said; “This is the Kingdom of Gbaramatu, and we are a very peaceful people. If you get close to the people, you’ll know the kind of people we have here. Some people can punish our names or tarnish our image, but we are not like that. We know who we are.”
Growing up philosophically, the Monarch said: “We want to say that if the children are happy, then definitely the father is too. I recently told some senators that instead of staying in Abuja and speculating about what is happening in the Niger Delta region, they should take a trip to the region to assess the situation on the ground. If they come, they will know what people are like, but being away from them, you can’t know what they are really like. So I am very happy that people like you are visiting our Kingdom.”
As the author of this article, while I commend the efforts of the tournament organizers, the article, for its part, believes that there is a lesson for the government to learn from the revered traditional monarch’s earlier words.
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Program Coordinator (Media and Politics) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be contacted through [email protected]/08032725374