When I first read the catching axiom of “Kite” and “Eagle”in Things Fall Apart, a masterpiece of one of the greatest storytellers in history, Chinua Achebe, I didn’t quite give the proverb any metaphorical interpretation beyond the context of the novel until reactions started trailing the recent call for the renaming of a chunk of Warri city, occupied by Urhobo, as ‘Wado city.’
An Urhobo group muted, proposed and circulated the idea of Wado City as a panacea to the primordial land quarrel between the ethnic nationalities in Warri, It is an uncommon proposal for resolving a historical disquiet about the ownership of the contentious space called Warri City; a harmless proposition that should ordinarily provoke interesting conversation about the demarcations between peace, justice, fairness and prosperity of the conurbation called Warri.
After reading Dr Reuben Abati’s recent publication titled “The Brewing Crisis in Warri,” I knew that Abati relied on a history book titled A History of Warri, published in 1988 by a certain JOS Ayomike, a civil commissioner in Midwest State in the 1970s. Also, I realised that Abati did not read the seminal research edited by Prof. Peter Ekeh, a world-renowned scholar on the same subject titled: Warri City and British Rule in Western Niger Delta; nor did he read its review by F.M.A Ukoli titled “I Can See Clearly Now…” which dented, very badly, whatever claims the Itsekiri has left of Warri City.
While I would rather leave the subject of the ownership of Warri for other fora, a few questions may help in presenting a more informed essay: Who invented the name Warri? What were the areas of present Delta State referred to as Warri Province in colonial Nigeria? Why and when was Warri Province converted to Delta Province? Why and when was Olu of Itsekiri changed to Olu of Warri? Was there any place called Warri before colonialism? Why are there three recognised kings in the Warri kingdom? Why did Olu lose his litigation claiming overlordship of Okere Urhobo land to Okumagba? Why is the Olu’s palace built on leased land from Okumagba? Where is the place of overlordship in the Nigerian constitution on the Land Use Act? These begging questions will go on and on, but your truth lurks therein.
While trying to use their socio-political advantage to outsmarts the other ethnic groups sharing the Warri space with them, the Itsekiri establishment ended up making unwholesome demands calculated to make them owners of Warri City, when in reality the Urhobo people occupy the larger part of the city; a scary reality that has become the ‘Joker.’
But what is now playing out with the conversations around Wado City is a call on the government to solve the problem it helped to create in the first place. It is like a people saying we want you to call us by our rightful name; especially when it is obvious that Warri was a colonial arrangement designed to conceal the doctrine of divide and rule and to distract the people from perceiving colonial exploitation and exploration going on in the province.
The real question to ask is, what will Ijaw or the Itsekiri lose if the Urhobo enclaves and other adjoining Urhobo towns come to be addressed as Wado City? Meanwhile, let the conversation continue; or better still, let the Eagle perch and let the Kite perch too.
Uwa John is of the Department of English, University of Lagos.