Cablegate: Nigeria: An Ijaw's View of the Ijaw-Itsekiri

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

Ref: Lagos 736

1. Summary: On April 6, EconOff heard the Ijaws' side of
the story regarding their longstanding conflict with the
Itsekiris, the subject of reftel. The Ijaws argue that they
have a legitimate claim to the land in and about Warri. Our
Ijaw interlocutor, who acted as if he spoke for the Ijaws
collectively, disclosed impatience with negotiations to
resolve the conflict. He said the Ijaws have concluded an
agreement with ChevronTexaco that will enable a modus
vivendi. The same cannot be said for the relations between
the Ijaws and Nigerian military forces in the region.
Should they interfere with the April 12 and 19 elections,
the Ijaws will be prepared to oppose force against force.
End summary.

2. Doyah Tiemo, an Ijaw leader and former banker and
financial consultant, spoke with EconOff on April 6 about
the Ijaw-Itsekiri conflict. Tiemo asserted that the
conflict is about land ownership, as did an Itsekiri contact
(reftel). He blamed the Itsekiris, whom he said claim
exclusive ownership to Warri and its environs and look upon
Ijaws as settlers or migrant tenants, terms he considers
derogatory. According to Tiemo, the Itsekiris found the
Ijaws already in place when the former arrived in the Warri
area. Tiemo said the Ijaw's have been in the region since
1450 so they cannot be characterized as "settlers". The use
of the terms tenant or settler thus impedes peace, he said.
Tiemo asserted that the Ijaws helped the Itsekiris establish
themselves in the area when it became necessary for the
first son of the Oba of Ilua to leave Benin. The Ijaws then
provided land to him and his 70 chiefs and all settled in
the Warri area.

3. Tiemo doubted that a meeting between members of the
Ijaws, Itsekiris, and Urhobos on the one hand, and President
Obasanjo on the other hand, would take place on April 7
because the Ijaws had reservations about the list of
invitees. The Delta State government compiled the list of
the delegates for the meeting with the President, Tiemo
said. Some of the Ijaw youth groups oppose the Ijaw elders
who figure prominently on the list, people whom they feel
have sold them out. The youth are also unhappy that the
proposed delegates have yet to deliver results from
negotiations on their behalf. Furthermore, the delegates do
not appear to have a clear mandate from the Ijaw community
with respect to what it should expect from the meeting.

4. Tiemo said relations between the Itsekiris and Ijaws
might improve if more local government areas (LGA) were
established and if they would in turn allow for the economic
development of areas by the respective ethnic groups. This
would mean that the different groups could have their own
assemblies at the state level. Tiemo's plan calls for the
creation of three additional LGAs to bring the total to six.
The Istekiris and Ijaws would then control three LGAs each,
and a seventh LGA would serve as a central unit and be
composed of Ijaws, Urhobos, and Itsekiris.

5. Tiemo disclosed deep-seated Ijaw grudges against the oil
companies operating in the region. He stated that the
companies "undermine" the Ijaws even though most of the oil
wells are on their land. One complaint Tiemo mentioned
against the oil companies is the alleged insufficient number
of Ijaws on their work force. To rectify this situation,
ChevronTexaco recently agreed to employ as permanent staff
an Ijaw from each of the ten communities per year for the
next five years, he said.

6. Contrary to the Itsekiri viewpoint (reftel), Tiemo does
not welcome Nigeria's military presence in the area. He
opined that should the military forces intervene in the
conduct of the elections, they will encounter resistance
from the Ijaw boys, a group of young men 15-20 years old.
He said the Ijaws are numerous, know the terrain, and are
better equipped than the military forces in the area. The
Ijaws have GSM phones, satellite phones, mobile radio
equipment, and automatic weapons. (Comment: Indeed, both
the oil companies and the Nigerian military have admitted
that the Ijaws are far better armed than they realized. End

7. Tiemo concluded the discussion by reaffirming the Ijaw's
claim to the land disputed by the Itsekiris. He added that
all the ethnic groups in the area have to live together
peacefully since Warri and its environs are the mainstay of
the country's economy. But making his point that arms and
other combat equipment are in the hands of Ijaw youth, he
boasted that most members of the Ijaw community contribute
money to support them and, with money, the boys have no
difficulty obtaining what they want.


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