Ijaw, Itsekiri Leaders Gathers For Peace (Photo)

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Ijaw, Itsekiri leaders has gathered for peace, The Nation has said.

For some time now, the Niger Delta region has become synonymous with strife; a situation that has made peace, unity and development to elude the area. YEKEEN AKINWALE writes that worried by the unpleasant development, and determined to bring about sustainable peace in the Niger Delta, critical stakeholders organised a one-day talk in Warri, Delta State, under the auspices of Warri Multi-stakeholders’ Platform (MSP) Leadership Summit, with support from the Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND).

Ijaw, Itsekiri Leaders Gathers For Peace
Photo: Some members of the Ijaw, Itsekiri stakeholders cutting the peace cake at the summit.

According to The Nation, daily dressed Ijaw men known for their panache and active social lifestyle were a marvel to behold at the spacious Wellington Hotel Hall, Effurun Warri Delta State on September 23, 2021.

How to bring about sustainable peace in the Niger Delta region preoccupied their minds in that somewhat balmy afternoon. It was a gathering of who is who in Ijaw land.

The event was the Ijaw-Itsekiri Leaders’ Summit under the auspices of the Warri Multi-stakeholders’ Platform (MSP) Leadership Summit, supported by the Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND).

The theme of the event was “Role of Leaders in Fostering Peace, Co-existence, Security and Development.”

Critical stakeholders and organisations that support the cause of peace initiatives in the area were conspicuously present and were ready to proffer solutions to the critical issue of peace in the region that largely feeds the country. On their minds were peace, unity and security in the Niger Delta region.

Again, their minds were focused on what to be done for Warri to regain its glory. How can it return to the part of development that has eluded it, somewhat? And how can the ethnic groups bring back peace and harmony?

At the summit were leaders from Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic groups, members of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), government functionaries, political, community, and opinion leaders within Warri North, Warri South, and Warri South-West local government areas.

Some of the issues they deliberated upon were peace initiatives and peacebuilding, peaceful co-existence, conflicts resolution, violence, poverty eradication and restoration of development in the once-flourishing Warri city.

Speaker after speaker pointed to the need to re-establish sustainable peace and development in Warri, even as they pressed for alternative methods for dispute resolution and non-violence approaches to their rights demands.

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At the one-day summit, Delta State’s Commissioner for Technical Education, Princess Shola Ogbemi-Daibo said: “We are gathered here today for peace.

“The summit is long overdue considering diverse challenges and aspirations of the Niger Delta. One incontestable fact is that peace is the vehicle and precursor of sustainable development the world over.

“…So many resources have gone into peace-building measures to guarantee the enabling environment needed for investment and sustainable development.”

To achieve these, Princess Ogbemi-Daibo said, certain structures must be put in place.

“One of such structures,” the Commissioner said, “is the Peace Committee established by the state government to, among other things, engage in activities that will promote and strengthen harmonious relations among communities in the state.

“I would like the MSP to work collaboratively with the Peace Committee. The commitment of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to peace is to guarantee an enabling environment for local and external investors to feel safe to operate in our state, more so as our people are also fundamentally peaceful and hospitable.

“Investors already in the area should make it a point of duty to add value to their host communities as that also increases their chances of sustaining their Social Licence to Operate,” she added.

A common consensus reached by the stakeholders at the summit was the desire to put aside the experience of the past that denied the city of Warri its glamour and investment and chart a new course.

For instance, the Deputy Governor of Delta State Kingsley Burutu Otuaro said: “It is time to unite and conquer in order to leave the next generation with cities and communities to be proud of, rather than conflict-torn communities and towns. Let the factories re-open.

“Let the steam engines start to work again. Let the ships start anchoring at the Warri Port again. Let’s use all our political and intellectual and media platforms to promote peace and unity. Let’s prioritise progress over ethnicity.

“The investors will smell our nectar again and the jobs will return. The glorious night of Warri will resurface and consequently across the Delta, and certainly, the greatness of Delta will be realised.”

Otuaro lamented that conflicts in Warri forced investors and multinationals such as Halliburton, McDermott, Schlumberger and Julius Berger, and several other corporations, including multinational oil companies, to leave for a safer haven.

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“Factories and major warehouses closed down. The United African Company (UAC), Michelin, Gold Spot, Toyota, and African Timber and Co. (AT and C–Sapele) closed their doors. The engines stopped grinding,” he lamented.

He noted that Warri’s loss was the gain of Lagos and Ogun states.

“The Lagos Port was enlarged and Warri Port lost it all and Ogun State became the next industrial hub as companies sought refuge to set up factories and industrial estates where they could carefully exploit the massive Nigerian consumption market,” Otuaro said.

The Co-Chairman of Warri Multi-Stakeholders’ Platform Dr Jeffrey Wilkie said the summit came at the most appropriate time.

“There is no better time than now to hold such a significant summit; as it will go a long way in building on the existing peace among the Ijaw and Itsekiri.

“This summit is held in the week of World Peace Day, which is a day of tolerance. This is equally significant as the world is now looking the way of co-operation in the stead of conflict.”

He emphasised that the Niger Delta region needs enduring and sustainable peace.

“We need enduring and sustainable peace. Peace among the Ijaw, Itsekiri and, by extension, the whole world. Peace is sacrosanct because it is peace for the Niger Delta, peace for Nigeria and peace to the world,” he said.

Continuing, Wilkie said: “What armed struggle cannot achieve, round-table discussion can do. What guns and grenades could not achieve in decades, dialogue can achieve in minutes or hours.”

On alternative dispute resolution, the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) Boladei Igali called on leaders in Ijaw and Itsekiri communities to embrace this ideal way of entrenching peace.

“The world over, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has become the vehicle for resolving conflicts when they arise,” Igali said, stressing also that “there must be a framework of early warning systems to identify upcoming threats in order to nip them in the bud before they escalate to assume conflict dimension.

“Our leaders, religious, traditional and political, should be able to put in place such an approach to solving problems as they begin to take form,” he added.

He expressed optimism that peace will pervade Warri city henceforth, even as he stressed the need for greater socialisation and domestic mentoring of the youth, which he said will help to develop the spirit of civility and respect for the identities and peculiarities of others.

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“I am optimistic that peace pervades the city of Warri and indeed the entire Niger Delta region, as a panacea for the sustainable development that we all envisage. Now is the time to see that happen,” Igali said.

Corroborating Igali’s position on the importance of alternative conflict resolution methods, the Commissioner for Technical Education, Princess Ogbemi-Daibo noted that “traditional and community leaders, politicians, women and youths should eschew violence and things which divide us and embrace peace, tolerance and good neighbourliness on which our development is premised.

“Drawing from the lessons of the Tower of Babel, unity is all we need to bring our cherished dreams to fruition.

“According to Christopher Robin, ‘together we are stronger, together we are unbroken, together we can do anything,’ God helping us,” she said.

The Peace-building Manager at the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND) Dr David Udofia identified peaceful co-existence as the pivot for security and economic transformation of the Warri Kingdom.

He alluded to the theme of the summit as being in consonant with PIND’s framework of nurturing leadership in peace and economic development for the advancement of the region.

Warri MSP Facilitator, Lawal Africas said the summit was organised in order to galvanise thoughts from all the stakeholders on how to achieve a paradigm shift in peace-building and conflict resolution among Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic groups in Delta State.

Africas said such a platform as Warri MSP must be sustained and capacity of members built to strengthen the partnership of critical stakeholders at the three tiers of government and also in their dealings with the multi-nationals operating in the Niger Delta region.