June 14, 2024

Strengthening socio-cultural, traditional values of Warri through arts, literature

  • May 2, 2024
  • 22 min read
Strengthening socio-cultural, traditional values of Warri through arts, literature

By Eriata Oribhabor


IF a poll is conducted on the residents of Warri about a major crisis that occurred in the town in 1999, majority may likely tag it as the worst thing that ever happened to the town and its people, leaving a trail of developments that negatively impacted her economic and social life. Still struggling to bounce back in all facets of life, as it were, this Webinar Series initiative of Warri Boys Social & Welfare Society themed ‘Revitalising Warri: Building a Thriving Future’ is timely and roundly commendable. As captured, the topic of discussion is ‘Strengthening the Social, Cultural and Traditional Values of Warri through the Arts and Literature’. It lends credence to the place of social acceptability and collectivism for peace, harmony, progress and development, with emphasis on the role of Arts and Literature in achieving both individual and communal well-being and their sustainability at a time when it appears uphill, finding pleasing outcomes in a country that’s yet to get it right politically. Notwithstanding the gamut of challenges facing us as a people, identifying ways and means of ameliorating or surmounting them means so much for our unity, progress and collective existence. This presentation seeks to highlight on the symbiotic relationship between the following key words – “social”, “culture”, “traditional” and “Values” – underpinned against building a value-driven society (Warri) via Arts and Literature. In approaching the subject under reference, popular coinages like Waffi, Wafferians, Kpangolo Waffi, Ogoro must jump and others are used and duly explaine

As it is, and in my opinion, the inspiration behind this Webinar series is hinged on the following catch phrase – ‘Warri No Dey Carry Last’ and the power of embracing an enchanting future that will be pleasing to both the organisers of this Webinar and the residents of Warri.

Waffi & Wafferians
SINCE this is about Warri and its residents, it is important to explain the following age-long aliases for which the town and its residents are identified and addressed by and without gainsaying, popularly on the lips of Nigerians viz: while Waffi stands for Warri, Wafferians represent the residents of Warri who have lived long in the town and have imbibed her “soul and spirit” of non-discrimination on tribal or religious ground, radiating warmth/lively disposition and unique speakers of Pidgin. Of interesting note is Warri’s sizeable nature which earned her a very old sobriquet – Kpangolo Waffi – meaning; small Warri. Notwithstanding, a mention of Warri anywhere readily brings to mind the following which I have aptly classified as attractions:

Warri & Her Attractions
A premium attraction for Warri is the place of the highly revered royalty, Olu of Warri and the town’s historical credit of facilitating trading activities in oil palm and its by-products, alongside other economic crops like cocoa, rubber, etc, with Portuguese and Dutch merchants, dating back to the 15th century. Similarly, in view of trading with foreign merchants earlier in history, the people were amongst the first to have early contacts with the European world. This is evident in the presence of mixed-race families in the town and exposure of the people in diverse fields of human endeavours.

  • The Olu of Warri’s coronation cum anniversary celebrations have become huge source of attraction for Warri and tourism for the town and Delta State in general.
  • Warri’s natural Port status remains a significant attraction till date. Meanwhile, the Nigerian Ports Authority’s (NPA), Warri Port, still functions till date.
  • Arising from various oil prospecting cum producing activities in oil-bearing communities around Warri, it is a centre for the coordination of crude oil-related activities, which lends reason to the nick name – ‘Oil City”.
  • The people’s unique predilection for speaking Pidgin and capacity of churning out new words, slangs/phrases are great attractions in their own rights. Home to frontline Nigerian comedians who are making fortunes by using Pidgin in delivering jokes in the country and overseas, non-Wafferian comedians, always find a way of promoting their comedy by deliberately mentioning Warri or associating with comedians from the town.
  • Sports city – Before the creation of Delta State, Warri was renowned for providing more athletes to the defunct Bendel State’s contingent to the national sports festivals. Now in Delta State, the town is renowned for producing the bulk of athletes in all fields of sport to Delta’s team during national sports festivals.
  • World of broadcasting – Warri is on record as one of the oldest towns to run a radio station from when it was part of the defunct Bendel State. Known as Bendel Broadcasting Service (BBS), it has roots in the old Midwestern Region. Currently, it’s home to Delta Broadcasting Service – (DBS) – proudly hosting the Rainbow Television and Melody FM respectively. This is not to mention over five private radio stations.
  • Warri Boys (Warri girls) – In view of positive peculiarities of the average resident of Warri, alreadly highlighted earlier on, the town remains an attraction to Nigerians, who are always craving to associate with Wafferians. Warri Boys are great mixers who are bound to create comfort wherever they find themselves – a survival philosophy that’s couched in a popular Warri slang that says – “Ogoro must jump” – nothing stops the frog from limping… This brings us to the background to Warri socio-cultural and traditional values.

Warri’s Socio-cultural and Traditional Values
IN view of Warri’s strategic entre-port cum commercial status in history, it gained early recognition as a metropolitan town with people from all over the country living harmoniously, like Sapele town of the AT&P days. Further complemented by the coming of oil boom in the early 1970s, Warri’s cosmopolitan status went up in comparison with independent environ like the communities of Effurun, Udu, Ogbe-Ijaw, Jeddo, Gbokodo, Ughoton, Ubeji, Orerokpe, Eku, Ughelli, Agbarho, etc, thus an attractive destination for job seekers in the oil and gas industry and more. With the referenced scenario, non-residents of Warri had no issues with mentioning Warri as a place of residence whenever they are outside the state just as we experience in Lagos where residents of borderline communities of Epe, Badagry, Ikorodu and Otta in Ogun State respectively claim to be residents of Lagos.

However, and more than the harmless reference of Warri, communities like Effurun, Udu, Ogbe-Ijaw, Jeddo, Gbokodo, Ughoton, Ubeji, Orerokpe, Eku, Ughelli, Agbarho are socio-culturally connected in diverse ways, and bonded communication-wise via the speaking of Pidgin, to the extent that a non-Wafferian would find it hard telling the difference – who is Urhobo, Itsekiri, Isoko, Ijaw, Esan, Benin, Kwale, Yoruba, Ibo, Hausa, Nupe, etc. This was the welcoming order of things until people of selfish interests started fanning embers of disunity that led to the infamous Warri crisis whose fallouts, amongst others, were divisive coinages that sought to promote spheres of influence like “Itsekiri Warri” “Ijaw Warri” and “Urhobo Warri”, obviously in failed attempts at making nonsense of the age-long socio-cultural and traditional values/ties that largely contributed to the concept of Wafferian – a coinage that’s central, in intents and purposes – to the birth of Warri Boys Social and Welfare Society – aka Warri Boys Association.

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Eriata Oribabhor

In an interview published in Vanguard (November 6, 2022), the current president of Warri Boys Association, Mr. Matthew Ogagavworia said the following which borders on the aims and objectives of Warri Boys Association:

  • Platform for Warri Boys to engage towards rebuilding and improving on the image of Warri (talking about oneness, peace and unity).
  • Provide an opportunity to bond/socialise while thinking of Warri’s well-being.
  • Build a formidable body that encourages the culture of standing for one another whenever the need arises.
  • Plan developmental projects for Warri from time to time and influence both state and federal governmental attention to the town.

As may have been hinted by the club’s president Ogagavworia in the referenced interview, the aims and objectives of Warri Boys Association weren’t birthed from the blues. Rather, they drew from the existing socio-cultural and traditional values of Warri which serve as natural balm to the town’s collective humanity.

At this juncture, let’s consider/appreciate these values:

  • Social understanding and acceptability: Traditionally populated by the Itsekiri, Urhobo, and Ijaw, these ethnic nations recognise their histories and cultural ties, accepting one another as brothers which eventually rubs off on Warri’s cosmopolitan aura of liveliness.
  • Warmth and Openness: The people and residents of Warri are warm and open to visitors which makes it possible for anyone, irrespective of ethnic origin or religion to live and raise his/her family in peace and thus qualified to be called Wafferians.
  • Deeply Disposed to non-Discriminatory Living: Wafferians have high regard for one humanity and abhor discrimination of any sort.
  • The Confident Spirit: The underlining driver of every Wafferian’s daily disposition is confidence and determination to excel in all fields of human endeavour. Herein, lies the popular phrase – “Warri no dey carry last.”

*Act of Blind Trust: Until proven otherwise, the average Wafferian trusts whomever he/she is dealing with and sometimes taken for granted.

  • Dynamically Wired: Wafferians are dynamically wired and hold a strong belief that every challenge is surmountable.
  • Respect for Intellect/Academically Driven: Generally, Wafferians place high premium on education. In this regard, parents would advise in Pidgin: “no matter wetin you like to become for life, first go school”. This value for education is recently being promoted by a renowned Nigerian comedian called DeskTalker who says; “education no be scam” which counters some lazy ones who are promoting the reverse.
  • Family/Family Name: The place of family is highly revered by Wafferians. In this regard, the Warri boy sees himself as a representative of his family whose name must be protected anywhere. The value placed on family name or compound and everything about one’s family means a lot. Against this background, hardly would you find a Warri boy indulging in crime-related activities. Similarly, wherever Wafferians meet anywhere in the world, they welcome each other as members of one family.
  • Respect for Ceniority/Elders/Authority: The value they place on family name/compound draws from respect for elders, belief system and heritage spanning generations.
  • Greetings: A form of respect to elders in Warri is the traditional greeting rendered to seniors in different tongues but the most popular which has somehow become a norm of sort is the Urhobo greeting which is ‘Migwo’ (I’m on my knee) and a show of respect in addressing an elderly one and the popular – ‘Oga’, ‘Ose’ likened to a traditional Yoruba word ‘Egbon’ popularly used in Lagos and western states of Nigeria. Meanwhile, “Ose” stands for ‘Father’.

Also, you will likely hear people who are not Esan greet Esan (considered senior) in Esan language – Owaen in Warri. It’s another testament of oneness and sense of collective living in the town. Additionally, a form of respect to anyone considered as senior (male), one may hear the word “Bros” or ‘Mama’ (for elderly female) and Sist. (for a young lady). However, the form of greeting rendered at any time to anyone is dependent on the relationship between the one being greeted and the one offering the greeting. As a way of explanation;

The above have been relatively stressed to emphasise the place of respect for seniority, elders and by extension authority by Wafferians.

  • Hard Work – (Ours/Mine): Not known to be lazy, Wafferians believe in the culture of hard work and jealously hold that, “our own and my own” are not same – (no be di same).
  • Proud Origin: Wafferians are proud respecters of their origin, and in this case Warri, where they have lived for so long, irrespective of their traditional homes that may be outside Warri or the state. A good example is my humble self who was born, bred and raised in Warri. It’s against this background that Wafferians carry themselves with esteem and respect anywhere, without disrespecting others. However, this is sometimes misjudged by some as pride.
  • Truth & Straightforwardness: The values of being down-to-earth and straightforward in whatever dealingn are dear to Wafferians. I had repeatedly heard people say; “di thing I like about Warri pipul be sey, dem dey very straightforward, and dem dey like to talk dia mind as e be!” wafferian
  • Cleanliness/Neatness: The culture of environmental sanitation and cleanliness were part and parcel of Warri, especially in the days of Sanitary Inspectors.
  • Warri Community Identity: Going by the listed values above, there is something called Warri Community Identity, displayed by Wafferians’ proud affinity with the town. This could be apprised from phrases like – ‘I Be Warri Boy’, ‘I Be Warri’, ‘I Be Wafferian’, etc.
  • Warri’s Social Landscape
    Rounding up this aspect on Warri’s socio-cultural and traditional values, I will be casting a reflective look at Warri’s social landscape, via popular cultural/traditional festivals and the overall social life/night clubs, etc.

Cultural/Traditional Festivals: The traditional festivals that made the town thick were Awankere, popularly called Okere Juju, Iju Agbarha (Agbassa Juju), popular annual Ipi masquerade dance of Itsekiri (Odion Road/Alders town area), Okere-Urhobo, Esan (Ishan Juju) – popular Igbabonerimi, Calabar Juju, Umanwu (Igbo), etc. These festivals used to be annual traditional festivals or dances that people looked forward to in Warri, irrespective of ethnic origin. Meanwhile, as a Warri boy, I value the honour of being a ‘Kpasha carrying boy’ during the Okere Juju Festival of the Itsekiri in Warri.

Social/Nightclubs: Night life was very much a part of what defined old Warri before the knives were let out. So we had Zeina Nite Club (By Old K-Chellerams/opposite Mudiaga Odje Chambers -Warri – Sapele Road), Lido Nite Club (Cemetery Road), Mid-West Inn Paradiso Nite club (Opposite Urhobo College), Genesis Nite Club, Gogo Room (Palm Grove Hotel/Ighogbadu Road), Green Virgin Nite Club (Ogedengbe Street), New Rex (Odion Road/Malori compound), Virginia Nite Club (Lower Erejuwa/Opp. Sam Warri, Essi Street), Night Nurse Nite club (Old Leventis/Eselemo building), Lord’s Nite club (Opposite Gold Spot/Water Resources), Pemy Nite club and the popular Kokori Bar (by Old Kingsway), etc.

Apart from the socio-cultural and traditional festivals and night clubs that lit up the social landscape and skies of Warri of old, there were standard cinemas like Delta Cinema (Old Warri Local Government Council Secretariat/Warri Sapele Road) and Laila Cinema (Opposite God’s Kingdom Society/Warri – Sapele Road) respectively.

Having presented the socio-cultural and traditional values of Warri that I could vouch for, the all-important question will be: What’s the state of things in today’s Warri?

Warri Today

TODAY’S Warri has become more cosmopolitan than what it used to be. More than ever before, residents are challenged by the reality of the fact that old social lifestyles are giving way to new ones with accompanying novel cultures that openly challenge socio-cultural and traditional norms that were upheld by the traditional ethnic nationalities of Warri and residents in general. A few examples in this regard are:

The ‘Deve culture: Although not peculiar to Warri and environs, it wasn’t a prominent part of Warri culture. Simply put, ‘DEVE’ is an illicit development levy that’s charged by community youths as condition for anyone wishing to purchase and develop land/property.

Open disrespect for elders and constituted authority by youths is sometimes displayed with impunity, likened to exacting a pound of economic flesh from Warri and its residents. A good example is the taking of hemp and other hard drugs in the presence of elderly ones with a care in the world. With glaring mad pursuit for money and disregard for due process and the culture of hard work, what we find associated with a majority of youths is the unfortunate act of indulging in the popular YAHOO business. Funny enough, some parents even sponsor their children to learn the act of engaging in the Yahoo business, although this is Not peculiar to Warri alone.

Considering the unfortunate Warri crisis of 1999, the town experienced the sad closure of major oil-related companies and consequent relocation to other towns/cities like Port-Harcourt, resulting in economic flight and job losses. The untold negative effects of this on the town and people are innumerable and catastrophic.

In the presence of poverty and uneasy calm in the midst of supposed wealth, residents of Warri are doing their best to win back the town’s glorious past. This Webinar series is one of several efforts.

Almost all the social night clubs and cinemas have become history in the face of new ones that largely promote/support the fast approach to money-making, money spraying rounds and more. Again, this is Not peculiar to Warri City.

Despite a law against activities of gays, lesbians and the likes, Warri is experiencing a growing number, thus introducing a counter-culture that’s completely threatening our cultures and traditional values. Recently, news of the arrest of persons suspected to be in the mentioned group at a party in Warri made the rounds and went viral.

With the coming of Delta Mall that houses a cinema, the cinema culture is gradually coming back. Somehow and shockingly, one could find girls hanging around the mall, prostituting themselves for clients as early as 6:00pm.

Sporting culture isn’t what we used to know like in the days of McDermott (Jaramacs Football Club) and the NNPC Oil Boys of blessed history.

Areas that make up the old Warri town seemed to be infra-structurally neglected without rescue in sight. Poverty smells. Shockingly, a building that one knew while growing up may still be what it was and sometimes, worse off.

Based on the preceding, the obvious challenge of strengthening the social, cultural and traditional values of Warri is valid. In this regard, and as aptly stated, we shall be addressing observed challenges via the arts and literature. Without being academic, and to safely bring the subject matter home to the appreciation of people across board, the following are my suggestions, specific to the arts and literature:

Annual Collaborative Conferences/Colloquium: Just as Wafferians see themselves as a family, the chairmen of local government areas of Warri, Ogbe-Ijaw and local governments like Uvwie, Otor-Udu, Orerokpe, Ughelli, etc should routinely hold joint programmes like conferences that will help build on the overall image of the listed communities whilst strengthening their socio-cultural and traditional values. Ultimately, it will send messages of peace and harmony to the traditional rulers in these local government areas, their people and residents.

Enlightenment Seminars/Workshops on Socio-Cultural and Traditional Studies: Similarly, as custodians of customs and traditions, traditional rulers should have it as part of their annual programmes to organise enlightenment workshops/seminar on socio-cultural and traditional studies that seek to promote her people’s identity.

Application of Language of The Immediate Community: The local authorities and traditional rulers should be interested in promoting the speaking of mother tongues as prescribed in our nation’s language policy. In this regard, schools under their domain should be compelled to respect the policy.

Religious Literature, Sermons, etc: A step towards guarding the language of the people is ensuring that religious houses, especially churches, sing more of their songs in the mother tongues of the immediate environment. Deliberately or otherwise, we are experiencing how sermons and songs of praise in churches are largely rendered in dominant languages like Yoruba in Western Nigeria. These days, rather than hear children in these parts call God in their traditional languages like Oritse, Oghene or Tamara, it is becoming fashionable to do so in Yoruba. Same for songs. In this respect, both traditional rulers and opinion leaders should be concerned about pastors that are being posted to worship houses in their communities. Ultimately, and as it is, religious/worship houses fall under theatre and performing arts form like dance, music, singing, etc. The place of language is key in strengthening our socio-cultural and traditional values.

Identification of Wafferians in Arts and Literary Industry: Wafferians with proven record in the arts and literary world should be identified and routinely celebrated and further encouraged to come up with different interventionist arts and literary programmes to support our communities. Examples in this regard are literary and arts festivals.

Inter-schools Literary and Arts Activities and Promotion of Arts Education in all Ramifications: This should be actively promoted by local authorities to include debating, storytelling, poetry writing, spoken word poetry performance, etc.

Inter-schools Sporting Competitions: This will serve as grooming ground for sporting athletes and social bonding.

Carnival or Festivals: If traditional festivals were being held by different ethnic nationalities in old Warri, it is possible to bring back that glorious past via the encouragement of local authorities because they help to speak for peace and harmony. In this regard, other ethnic nations with relative population like the Esan (Ishan), Calabar, Igbo, etc should celebrate. After all, celebrations happen wherever there is peace. The goal is bonding as it used to be.

Warri’s Performing Arts Industry: It is an open secret that some of the biggest names in today’s Nollywood are from Warri, with some originally members of Warri Boys Association. Top on the list is Richard Mofe Damijo. Meanwhile, Alex Eyengho, Tony Akposheri, etc are active members. Not to mention a lot of comedians like Ali Baba, AY – Ayo Makun, I Go Dye, etc. The message one intends passing is about harmonising the power of what Wafferians are blessed with and how to work towards deploying same for enhancing Warri’s socio-cultural and traditional standing. Thus, ‘Come Back Home’ programmes should be held for our artists as it’s being done by a prominent Warri Boy – Amaju Pinnick, the sole organiser of Warri Again comedy event. Others should toe this line.

Additionally and for the record, Eyengho mentioned single handedly established Warri Performing Arts, Stage & Screen Artists Initiative to support Warri as a place of gifted star acts.

Warri’s Film Industry: Under the aegis of Almartel Ventures International, a Warri Boy and frontline Nollywood personality named Eyengho has been doing a lot in positioning Warri as a destination for film production and viewing. The first Warri International Film Festival would be held in December 2024 in Warri. Interestingly, the last five films of Eyengho were deliberately produced in Warri and environs that is blessed with beautiful riverine and mangrove scenery. The message here is that whilst encouraging interventionist initiatives of this nature, Wafferians in all fields of human endeavours should be encouraged to return to support Warri.

Wrap up on Education: Having observed that a lot of our youth are yielding to fast money-making habits like the infamous Yahoo, it is important to go back to Warri of the following: Architectural Survey & Technical School (ASB) – (Ajamimogha, Warri), Atamakolomi Technical School – (Enerhen, Warri) – mechanical, vehicle, etc, GES (General Electric service) – behind NNB and PB Djebba W/S Rd, Midwest College – owned by Chief Ovieragha (Glo office, opposite Edewor Shopping Complex) and United College of Commerce (UCC) now College of Commerce.

Wrap up on Socials: Hosting of beauty pageantry like Miss NPA and the like can help and bring a sense of belonging to our female folk.

Recognition of Prominent Family Names in Warri: A way of connecting with Warri of the past for the benefit of today and tomorrow is identifying and celebrating prominent family names in Warri irrespective of ethnic leanings by His Royal Majesty, Olu of Warri.

The Warri of Old: An interesting aspect about Warri that a majority residing in the town and beyond doesn’t know is that over 80 per cent of the bigger Warri are in the riverine areas that should be fully connected to Warri. By this connection, people will find more space to create and recreate for the benefit of all. Like the popular Lagos Island and Mainland, Warri has her Islands and Mainland that must be promoted and developed to international standards.

The overwhelming place of the Olu of Warri requires that he continually reaches out to all traditional chiefs, kings, etc, in the nearby communities to build better relationship for enhanced social bonding and more. Similarly, other chiefs and rulers should follow suit in visiting the Olu.

Strengthening the socio-cultural and traditional values of Warri via arts and literature is both broad and exciting. It is likened to an ex-ray of the entire socio-cultural fabric of society. This attempt is one of several towards showcasing societal shared values, and its sustenance for the benefit of all.

In enlightening a people, exposing them to their history and heritage is key. This presentation took us back to Warri’s past, highlighted a bit of the present and made suggestions on the way forward. It is hoped that the approach succeeds in bringing the message of strengthening Warri’s socio-cultural and traditional values via arts and literature home.

I specially thank the President and Exco of Warri Boy’s Association for the opportunity of speaking on the topic under reference. This is the most important task I will be challenged by in the cause of the betterment of Warri – my place of birth!

Warri, I hail o!

Thank you.

* Oribhabor (Di Poet), President of Poets in Nigeria Initiative, delivered this lecture as part of Warri Boys Social & Welfare Society Webinar Series 2024

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