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Nigeria: The conflict between Itsekiri and Ijaw ethnic groups in Warri, Delta region (March 1997-September 1999)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 14 September 1999
Citation / Document Symbol NGA32676.E
Reference 5
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Nigeria: The conflict between Itsekiri and Ijaw ethnic groups in Warri, Delta region (March 1997-September 1999), 14 September 1999, NGA32676.E, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

 A 12 July 1999 Post Express Wired report alleges that the conflict in the Delta states continues and now involves the Urhobos, the Ijaws, the Isekiris and lately the Aniomas. Apparently, President Obasanjo plans to appoint a Niger Delta Development Commission to study the conflict.

The conflict between the Itsekiri and the Ijaws reportedly flared up again in June 1999 and "several" people died (ibid., 15 June 1999). Post Express states that, "the Warri carnage is not only symptomatic of the numerous problems facing the peoples of the Niger Delta region, but also an exposé of an unwillingness by the government over the years to address problems which possess potent capability to affect the stability of the nation …the crisis had a more enduring motive than the relocation of the Headquarters from Ogbe-Ijoh (Ijaw land) to Ogidigben (Itsekiri land) ", and "centres around resource-sharing" (ibid.).

 The district of Warri in Delta State, has been the scene of ethnic and territorial conflicts between the Itsekeri and the Ijaws since March 1997, when ethnic violence broke out between the Ijaws and the Itsekeris following a government decision to relocate the headquarters of the Warri south local government council from an Ijaw community to a community belonging to the Itsekeris (AFP 23 Apr. 1997; DPA 16 June 1997; ibid. 24 Apr. 1997; Reuters 27 Apr. 1997).

With a population of approximately five million people, the Ijaw are reportedly Nigeria's fourth largest ethnic group. However, they are scattered in six  states, which makes them minorities in these states (ibid.). The relocation of the municipality to Warri allegedly angered the Ijaws who interpreted this as "further evidence of their marginalization" (ibid.). An AFP report claims that more than 80 people died in the clashes and the army was ordered to intervene (23 Apr. 1997). The conflict allegedly strained the relations between the "three ethnic groups: the Ijaw, Urhobo and Itsekiri, that make aboriginal claims to [Warri] (Post Express Wired 23 Apr. 1997). Nigerian troops were deployed to Warri "after five people including a policeman, were shot dead and several others wounded in continuing inter-ethnic fighting" (AFP 23 Apr. 1997).

At a peace meeting between youths and leaders of the Ijaw and the Itsekiri at Effon near Warri, the warring parties agreed to end the hostilities (West Africa 19-25 May 1997, 783). "Colonel David Dungs, and the general officer commanding the 82nd Division of the Nigerian Army, Major-General Felix Mojapero, presided over the deliberations that produced assurances from both warring parties that the safety of all persons and companies operating in Warri would be guaranteed…Major-General Mojapero later warned that the leaders will be held responsible for any fresh outbreaks of violence in the area" (ibid.). Men of the Nigeria Police Force who come from Ijaw or Itsekiri were removed from the area "to ensure safety of the officers and check any partisanship in the ethnic crisis" (Post Express Wired, 24 June 1997).

A statement issued by the Warri Council of Chiefs claimed that "about 3,000 Itsekiris have either been wounded or maimed since the hostilities began while at least 100 Itsekiri boats have been burnt or seized as a result of the blockade between Warri-Escarvos and Warri-Benin River"(Post Express Wired 2 May 1997). People arrested for their alleged involvement in the conflict were all "screened and releases except those who possessed arms illegally" (ibid. 6 July 1997), but the report does not indicate their names.

In October 1997, security forces reportedly attacked an Ijaw village killing one person and arresting 58 others in retaliation for the disappearance of four soldiers who had "disappeared on patrol in mysterious circumstances" (CNN 2 Oct. 1997). The soldiers were allegedly part of a task force sent to restore order in the Delta region. "14 houses were burned down and over 20 boats destroyed in the attack on the fishing village of Ekeremor-Zion" (ibid.).

In November 1998 the Concerned Itsekiri Women led by Dr. Joyce Ugochukwu, Mrs. Uwala Murphy-Akpieyi and Mrs. Esima Kpogho, "on behalf" of Itsekiri people appealed to the Federal Government to "help stop the genocide" against Itsekiri, and to remove the State Administrator Walter Feghabo, an Ijaw, for taking sides in the conflict (Post Express Wired 13 Nov. 1998). For additional information on the Ijaw/Itsekiri conflict, please consult Responses on the subject available at Regional Documentation Centres.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

Agence France Presse (AFP). 23 April 1997. "Urgent: Nigeria Deploys Troops After Five More Killed in Warri." (NEXIS)

CNN. 2October 1997. "Nigerian Troops Attack Ijaw Village in Oil Region."

Deutsche-Presse-Agentur (DPA). 16 June 1997. "Warri Fighting Flares Up Again in Nigeria." (NEXIS)

_____. 24 April 1997. "Ethnic Fighting in Nigeria, Three Killed." (NEXIS)

Post Express Wired [Ikeja]. 12 July 1999. Oghenetega Emerhor. "The Price of Disunity."

_____. 15 June 1999. Leanard Nzenwa Jnr. "Warri Crisis: The National Assembly to the Rescue."

_____. 2 June 1999. "The Crux of the Niger-Delta Matter."

_____. 13 November 1998. "Itsekiris Want Delta Administrator Removed."

_____. 24 June 1997. "Ijaw, Itsekiri Policemen Transferred from Warri."

_____. 7 June 1997. "Warri Crisis: Task Force Releases Detainees."

_____. 2 May 1997. Ifeka Ukadike, Warri and Dele Ogunyemi.  "Ijaws, Itsekiris Resort to Propaganda."

_____. 23 April 1997. Okey Ifionu."Changing Face of Delta Politics in the Wake of the Recent Warri Upheavals."

Reuters. 27 April 1997. James Jukwey. "Nigeria Risks Ogoni-Type Crisis in Tribal Feud." (NEXIS)

West Africa [London]. 19-25 May 1997. "Warri Talks."

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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