HISTORIC EXCLUSION OF ITSEKIRI FROM THE NIGERIAN POLITICAL ECONOMY: A CLARION CALL FOR JUSTICE AND EQUITY
Being the Press Statement of the Press Conference Addressed by the Nigerian Human Rights Community, (NIHRCO) – A coalition of 121 Civil Society and community based groups across Nigeria) on the political and economic situation in Nigeria as it affects the Itsekiri people of the Niger Delta held on Thursday, August 17, 2023 in
Gentlemen and ladies of the press
On behalf of humanity, we bring to the attention of the world the political and economic situation of one of Nigeria’s major ethnic groups, the Itsekiri. We do this for posterity and for justice towards a stronger country based on respect for liberty and human dignity.
We wish to draw the attention of Nigerian people and their leaders to the striking case of exclusion of an ethnic community that contributes no fewer than 30 percent of Nigerian oil yet have been constantly and humiliatingly neglected by successive governments since the Nigerian independence in 1960. The politics of exclusion, trampling underfoot of indigenous people including Itsekiri are largely responsible for instability in many Nigerian communities today.
Today, we draw the attention of President Bola Tinubu, The National Assembly, the local and international communities to the critical situation of the Itsekiri, a very strategic ethnic group in Nigeria, small in population in comparative sense but strategic in terms of its profound contributions to the Nigerian economy with oil input in the range of over $60million dollars per day to the Nigerian purse, yet the people are left to endure the most degrading economic and political situations.
We call on people of good conscience to overview the pathetic state of Itsekiri people and the historic injustice they have suffered in the hands of successive governments since 1960 and now renewed with vigour since 1999 when democratic governance returned to Nigeria.
ITESEKIRI HISTORICAL ACCOUNT
The Itsekiri are a sub ethnic group whose homeland is in today’s Delta State. Their existence which dated back to centuries, has shown close relationship and shared history with Ijebu people, Ile-Ife and Benin. Their traditional institution dates back to the 11th century.
The Itsekiri were the first people in Nigeria to establish diplomatic contact with the Europeans, the Portuguese who were exploring the West African coast. As far back as the earliest centuries, the Itsekiri were exchanging envoys with Portugal as a sovereign people with a remarkable civilisation.They are historically, culturally and linguistically related to the Yoruba They are most closely related to the South-Eastern and South-South area of Yorubaland sub-groups – Ijebu, Akure, Ikale, Ilaje, Ondo and Owo.In the 1950s, the Itsekiri were grouped with the Old Western Region underscoring their cultural and ancestral ancestry.
From the 1950s, the Itsekiri have stood firmly supporting progressive political movements. They have made sacrifices for Nigeria including paying the maximum price of death. In 1966, during the coup, Chief Okotieboh was murdered in cold blood. In November 1995, Pa Alfred Rewane was shot and killed in Lagos being one of the main financiers of the National Democratic Coalition, (NADECO). Pa Rewane alongside others fought for the democracy of today without which there would be no today’s elected leaders.
In the last 2023 election, many prominent leaders in Itsekiti fully supported the All Progressives Congress, APC. Though the Itsekiri produce some 30 percent of Nigerian total oil output, the history of the people has been that of exclusion. Over the years, in the midst of armed insurrection by some ethnic groups in the Niger-Delta, the Itsekiri have never been involved in armed uprising neither are they involved in oil theft or destruction of oil pipelines. However, for decades the Itsekiri have suffered historic sidetrack relating to political and economic isolation indicated in the following signposts:
EXCLUSION FROM POLITICAL APPOINTMENTS FROM 1960
From 1960, when Nigeria obtained independence, the Itsekiri have been marginalised. At the Federal level, the Itsekiri produced the first Federal Minister of Finance (Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh) who was killed during the military putsch of 1966. It was not until the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo that an Itsekiri (Dr. Roland Oritsejafor) had a stint with a ministerial position which lasted for less than two years. Ministers are usually picked on state basis, but find below how ministerial positions have rotated within the trio-senatorial districts and the respective ethnic groups.From 2011 – 2023, this was how the State produced its Ministers for Federal Government of Nigeria.
- 2011 – 2015, Elder Godsday Orubebe (Ijaw) from Delta-South was Minister of Niger Delta.
- 2015 – 2019, Dr. Ibe Kachukwu from Delta-North (Igbo) was Minister for Petroleum.
- 2019 – 2023, Festus Keyamo (Urhobo) from Delta Central was Minister for Labour and Productivity.
Clearly, there has been Itsekiri brazen exclusion from Ministerial appointments by the Federal Government since 1999. Eventhough each state in Nigeria is expected to produce at least one Minister, the Itsekiri have been continuously denied this opportunity either in Delta or in Edo State. Other forms of marginalisation are listed below:
- Marginalisation of Itsekiri in oil related ventures since 1959. This finds expression in the form of denial of top positions like the Managing Director or NIMASA, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Niger-Delta Development Commission, (NDDC), Nigerian Ports Authority, (NPA) etc.
- Monopoly of top positions in the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC and exclusion of Itsekiri despite the fact that the positions of the Managing Director is expected to be rotated among the oil producing communities.Since the existence of the NDDC, no Itsekiri person has been appointed to the positions of Chairman, or Managing Director, despite the quantum of oil and gas that the Federal Government extracts from Itesekiri land. For example, the Urhobos have produced two Managing Directors since its existence, even though the ethnic group is far behind Itsekiri in oil production. Other parastatals such as Nigerian Ports Authority and NIMASA that are based in the Niger Delta region have been administered with conscious Itsekiri exclusion.
- Equally to be noted is that since the position of Adviser on Presidential Amnesty was established, only persons of Ijaw extraction has always been appointed, even though Itsekiris have equally been involved in the amnesty program.
- Added to the above forms of alienation at both the Federal and state levels, is that no person of Itsekiri extraction has been appointed at the federal level to head any major parastatal since 1999.
- Infact since 1999, hardly had any person of Itsekiri been appointed to any board or parastatal of the Federal Government. Throughout the era of former President, Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari, only one person of Itsekiri extraction was fortunate to be appointed into a board and that was the Federal Medical Centre, Abuja (Dr. Alex Ideh).
ITSEKIRI AND THE CURRENT SOCIO-POLITICAL SITUATION IN NIGERIA: A DECIMA OF HUMILIATION
- 46 Ministers have been appointed by the present Government of President Bola Tinubu. Not a single person is of Itsekiri. Twenty Advisers have been appointed, not a single person is of Itsekiti.
- It is alarming, embarrassing and humiliating to discover that no Itsekiri person was fortunate to make the ministerial list, Special Adviser and Assistants to the President of Nigeria.
- Thoughmembership and positions in boards and parastatals are yet to be constituted, from what we have seen, the marginalisation of Itsekiri is an historical pattern that will once again follow.
GRAND ALIENATION BY OIL PRODUCING COMPANIES
- Denial of top positions in oil companies even though Itsekiri are some of the most educated people in Nigeria and exclusion in strategic positions of oil refineries eventhough one of the refineries is located on Itsekiri land.
DENIAL IN DELTA, THE ITSEKIRI HOME STATE
- In Delta State as presently constituted, made up of 5 ethnic groups within its 3 Senatorial Districts. They include :-
- Anomia Delta North Senatorial District (Igbo, Anomia)
- Delta South Senatorial District (Ijaw, Isoko, Itsekiri)
- Delta Central Senatorial District (Urhobo)
In Delta State as at today, top critical government positions are ‘distributed’ as follows:
- Governor (Urhobo)
- Deputy Governor (Anomia)
- Speaker (Ijaw)
- Deputy Speaker (Urhobo)
- Secretary to Government (Anomia)
- Chief of Staff (Isoko)
- ITSEKIRIS has NONE!
The Ijaw, Isoko and Itsekiri constitute the Delta South Senatorial District. A Senator of Isoko extraction currently represents the Delta South.Now, from 2023 – 2027, the two ministerial positions allocated to Delta State has two persons of Urhobo extraction. Itsekiri has again sadly lost! Now the Urhobo ethnic group has the governorship position, including the two ministerial slots and the APC Chairmanship for Delta State.In all, at the levels of political and economic structures, the Itsekiri are at the receiving end of the stick. This is very painful.This is why the Nigerian Human Rights Community, NHRC hereby appeal to President Bola Tinubu to come to our aid and speak for the Itsekiris at the level of the presidency. We plead with all righteous voices to look at us with pity and deploy all possible political machineries to assist the Itsekiriparticularly to be appointed into such parastatals that can be deployed for the development of Itesekiri ancestral and by extension Ilaje land inclusive since both (Itsekiri and Ilaje) occupy the same geographical and ecological arears.
We trust that President Bola Tinubu has listening ears. We thank him for being steadfast all these years. We recall that President Tinubu was responsible for the memorable recognition of Pa Alfred Rewane’s role in the democratic transformation of Nigeria in which he paid the supreme price of death. President Tinubu named one of the longest streets in Lagos State after Pa Rewane to which we remain eternally grateful. We believe he will demonstrate again his passion for justice by listening to the demands Itsekiri People.
Given the background of President Bola Tinubu as a humanist and pro-democracy leader, we kindly call on him to assist in addressing these long standing afflictions of a peace loving people who are committed to a united, strong and prosperous commonwealth where liberty and justice reign supreme.
Mr Tunde Adeleke
Chief Are Kunle Oshodi
Prince Emmanuel Okotie-Eboh