Cablegate: Nigeria: Warri Crisis - an Itsekiri Leader's

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: On April 5 EconOff met Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor,
an Itsekiri leader and a princess of the Warri Kingdom.
Chief Ogebebor is one of 6 Itsekiri leaders preparing for an
April 7 meeting with President Obasanjo and their Ijaw and
Urhobo counterparts. They will try to resolve the
continuing ethnic problems in the Niger Delta that have
resulted in loss of life and property, and closure of
foreign oil company operations. End summary.

2. On April 5, Chief Ogbebor told EconOff that the meeting
with the President is a result of her efforts to involve him
in a meaningful way to halt the hostilities in the Niger
delta region. The main issue is land ownership, she said.
According to Ogbebor, the Olu of Warri is the traditional
guardian of the lands that comprise the 600-700 year-old
Kingdom of Warri. The Ijaws, according to Ogbebor, were "sea
nomads" who sailed along the coast from Ghana to Cameroon
fishing and selling their catch to Itsekiri women who re-
sold it in market places. Ogbebor stated that the Ijaws do
not have a homeland and no one knows from whence they

3. Chief Ogbebor said she wants President Obasanjo to ask
the Ijaws what they want, from whence they came, and what
proof have they of their origins and attachment to Warri
land. She stated that she plans to "remind him" of his
responsibility to ensure that all Nigerians can safely
conduct legitimate economic activity and have their rights
respected. To this end, she is pleased with the presence of
the military forces in the Delta since they protect the
Itsekiris from Ijaw attacks. Should the results of the
meeting with the President be unsatisfactory, Ogbebor said
she will issue a 21-day ultimatum that states that if the
President does not control the Ijaws, the Itsekiris will
have no choice but to engage in armed struggle. In that
event, the Itsekiris' land will no longer be a part of Delta
State since they will establish their own state.

4. Ogbebor disclosed that there is nonetheless disagreement
within the Itsekiri camp. She and other like-minded
activists advocate recourse to armed struggle to resolve the
conflict with the Ijaws. But The Olu of Warri has failed to
provide firm direction and his hesitancy to authorize action
is one of the reasons, she said, why so many Itsekiris have
been slaughtered.

5. Because continuing violence has forced large numbers of
Itsekiris to flee their homes, many of them will be unable
to vote in the upcoming elections. Ogbebor concluded from
this that the Ijaws are attempting to control the elections
through ethnic cleansing. She requested USG assistance
(tents, boats, food, clothing and fishing nets) to help the
displaced Itsekiris return to their homes to vote. She
further asked that the USG help establish a Commission for
the Safety of Minority Rights. Ogbebor has written to the
United Nations and plans to go to New York within two weeks
to seek UN intervention. She will argue, she said, that the
Ijaws are engaged in genocide against the Itsekiris.

6. Comment: Chief Ogbebor's plan to have President
Obasanjo challenge the Ijaws' right to a place in the Niger
Delta certainly won't advance the peace agenda. However,
her interpretation of the Ijaw-Itsekiri conflict reflects
the fact that many of Nigeria's ethnic problems are rooted
in squabbles over land rights and the debate about who is
Nigerian. That said, we suspect that the real issue in this
instance is not about control of the much-polluted land and
water in the Delta region, but rather over the much bigger
question of oil wealth and who benefits from it, an issue in
which all Nigerians have equity.


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