Warri: The Urhobo/Isoko People In Entertainment And The Warri Brand

By Iroro Orhero


I have decided to write on this at the request of a fellow Nairalander, Efewestern, who is also a namesake to Efe Ejeba, the recent Big Brother Naija winner that broke the airwaves and the internet on Sunday, April 9th, 2017.

Warri City

Warri is the most populous city in Delta State and the second largest oil city in Nigeria, coming only after Port Harcourt. It has had a rich history through the years from its modern manifestation as a small GRA in Agbassa-Warri area to its explosion as a metropolitan hub covering areas such as Okere-Urhobo, Okere-Itsekiri, Pessu, Otovwodo, Ajimimogha, Ogunu, Ejeba, Ugborikoko, Enerhen (suburb) Effurun (suburb), Udu (suburb), Ekpan (suburb), Osubi (suburb). Warri is mainly populated by the Urhobo people of Delta/Bayelsa/Edo States. However, the Itsekiris and Ijaws occupy significant areas in the city and both lay claims to ownership of Warri. Since this write-up is not on which tribe owns Warri, I won’t go into it here (however, I have written about this earlier on so you may search for it). Warri also houses an annexe of the Delta State Government house. It has a very good nightlife, a large population of youths and a unique brand of Pidgin, influenced by Urhobo-Isoko, Ijaw and Itsekiri languages.

It should be noted that although Warri refers to the city of Warri as explained earlier, the term is now being used to identify with people from Delta Central and Delta South. Warri has become like a ubiquitous term to refer to all Urhobo-Isokos, Itsekiris and Delta Ijaws, whether or not they are from Warri. In fact, the Delta Igbos are beginning to identify with the Warri brand as it is now.

The Urhobo-Isoko People

The Urhobo-Isoko is an amalgam of two related ethnic groups, Urhobo and Isoko, with Urhobo being the larger and Isoko being an offshoot of Eastern Urhobo. They are constitutionally regarded as different ethnic groups but they are one people in everything else, hence my usage of the compounded term, Urhobo-Isoko. The Urhobo-Isoko people are the 5th largest ethnic group in Nigeria (2006 census). They number over 5 million both at home and in the diaspora. They are the 2nd largest ethnic group in the South-South and Niger Delta regions, coming only after their ethnic neighbour, the Ijaws. Urhobos occupy 12 LGAs in Delta State (8 in Delta Central and 4 in Delta South), 1 in Bayelsa State (Ofoni, among others, in Sagbama LGA) and 1 in Edo State (Oghara settlements in Ikpoba Okha LGA). Urhobo-Isokos also have faraway village settlements in Ikale, Ilaje (Ondo State) Oro (Kwara State), and other areas in the South West of Nigeria. The Isoko people, who are ethnically Urhobo and politically Isokos, occupy 2 LGAs in Delta South (Isoko North and South) and have an estimated population of 1 million at home and in the diaspora. Isoko and Urhobo are regarded as one people and the Isoko can understand Urhobo clearly. In the colonial period, the Isoko and Urhobo were both regarded as the Sobo people. However, the Urhobo Progress Union, under Chief Mukoro Mowoe, fought hard to change this name to Urhobo. Isokos were a part of Eastern Urhobo until 1959 when the Western Regional House created an Isoko division from Eastern Urhobo. That marked the beginning of a separate Isoko identity.

The Urhobo-Isoko in Entertainment and the Warri Brand

The Urhobo-Isoko people, though regarded as a minority tribe in Nigeria, have attracted the attention of the majority tribes for various reasons. One of the reasons that the people have attracted so much attention is in the people’s natural knack for entertainment. The Urhobo-Isoko language is very musical, demonstrative and filled with innuendos, humour and vulgarity. All these have aided the people to excel in the domain of entertainment. Over the years, Urhobo-Isokos have produced great giants in the Nigerian entertainment industry. So much that we have created a Warri/Urhobo niche for ourselves. The Warri brand is so strong that every entertainer from Delta State, and some from Edo/Bayelsa State, identifies with it.

The Warri brand manifests strongly on the Nigeria’s stand-up comedy scene where Opa Williams (also an Urhobo-Isoko) launched the A Night of a Thousand Laughs show and gave voices to the many clowns and comedians from the Warri region. We have Urhobo-Isoko comedians such as Ali Baba (regarded as the King- Ose – of comedy in Nigeria, I Go Dye (one of the richest and most creative comedians in Nigeria), Bovi, I Go Save, Maleke, Gordons, A.Y. (Warri by association), Akpororo (Warri by birth/association), and many others.

In the music scene, the Warri brand has strong voices like Yung6ix, Erigga, Shun Bebe, Orezi, Dr Sid, Sammie Okposo, Kefee (now late), Harrysong (Warri-Ijaw), Omawumi (Warri-Itsekiri), Oritsefemi (Warri-Itsekiri), and many others.

In the movie industry, the Warri brand has pioneers like Fred Amata, Jeta Amata, Chico Ejiro, Richard Mofe Damijo (forget his name, he is a core Urhobo-Isoko from Udu Kingdom). Other actors include Bovi Ugboma, Isokoh Stanley, Joseph Okoro, Justice Esiri (now late), Ayo Makun, aka AY (by association), Omoni Oboli, Ufuoma Ejenobo Mcdermott, Sophie Okonedo (international actress), Balogun Fathia (forget the name, she is a core Urhobo-Isoko), Karen Igho, Peggy Ovire, and many others.

In the Reality TV series, the Warri brand has produced two Big Brother Winners: Karen Igho and Efe! Efe has been the man of the moment since he won Big Brother Naija on Sunday April 9th, 2017. He has attracted so much attention to the Warri brand through his down-to-earthedness and humour. Efe received massive votes across ethnic divides because he was considered to be “real”, just like most Warri people usually are.

Features of the Warri Brand

I have been saying “Warri Brand” over and over again. So what exactly are the features of the Warri Brand in the Nigerian entertainment industry? Let me just outline some so that anyone can identify them:

1. Humour: The Warri brand in entertainment is filled with laughter and humour, whether in the movie, music or reality TV shows. Anything Warri people just makes everyone laugh. It’s as simple as that.

2. Language: The way Urhobo-Isoko people speak English is very different from that of every other Nigeria. In Urhobo English, the accent, intonation and pronunciation of words usually elicit interest from every other person in Nigeria. When Urhobo-Isokos speak, they tend to demonstrate a lot and this makes their communication very effective and humourous. Discourse particles such as “Shuooo!”, “Ewoooo!”, “Oghene Biko!!!”, “Okpetu!”, “Ibabo!”, etc, and the way they are pronounced, usually make other Nigerians reel out with laughter.

3. Warri Pidgin: The Warri people speak a unique type of Pidgin which, together with Sapele Pidgin, forms the Urhobo-Isoko dialect of Nigerian pidgin. This pidgin is influenced by the Urhobo language, as well as by Itsekiri and Ijaw languages. The pidgin is innovative, humorous, and expressive. Warri people can speak certain types of pidgin that no one else can decode. i.e. “Kasala just burst for area as men carry shaka bula commot from Ekoro. As we observe them, some men just Va, me and my kidney just perm small so that my blood nor go boil egg. Oniovo, the omutan and opata wey Akpos de throway go put am for voicemail soon and na okpetu go end the kasala”. I challenge others to attempt at decoding this (mind you, this is a VERY LIGHT Warri pidgin expression). Erigga, an Urhobo-Isoko rapper from Warri, as well as Shun Bebe, are known for using the Warri dialect of Pidgin to rap.

4. Slangs: Warri people are known to have some very funny slangs and expressions found nowhere else. These slangs are found in both the English and Pidgin spoken in Warri. Warri people even have their own terms for many things. i.e. “Sun too hot nor mean say fowl go lay boiled egg”, “no matter how rough they drive motor inside TV, e can never jam you wey de watch am”, “Warri nor de carry last”, “at all at all naim bad pass”, “kpata kpata na draw”, “anybody wen de dull na odonyo e be”, etc. Again, Erigga expresses these in his music alot.

5. Simplicity: The Warri brand is known for simplicity and “real”. You hardly find people forming “posh” or what they are not in Warri. Even RMD, with all his money and class, is still that confirm Warri boy anytime. The Warri brand is simple and real, no complications, no scandals, no stress!!!

Warri and its Future Potentials as Nigeria’s Ultimate Entertainment Hub

I have written on the Warri brand already and its position in the Nigerian entertainment scene. However, much is left to be done. Warri has gained its niche largely through stereotypes. There are many divergent artists, actors and entertainers that are yet to be discovered. All they need is support. This is why I am very glad about the way every Nigerian (regardless of tribe) voted Efe, a simple Urhobo-Isoko boy of the Warri brand. Many people said that Nigerians did not vote for Efe but voted for the Warri Brand and I agree with this in a way. Warri needs to take a large share of Nigeria’s entertainment industry but this can’t do this alone. Warri needs support to get to this stage. Below are some of the reasons why Warri can be the next entertainment hub in Nigeria:

1. Warri has a large population of youths who are very creative and need a platform to show their creativity. In fact, the average Warri youth can act, sing, rap, dance or crack jokes with ease. Most of the shows in the Warri axis are done on a very low key. Warri and its environs need more shows and more support from sponsors.

2. Warri has the potential market for entertainment. With an estimated population of over 1 million residents only within the city (not to mention those in Sapele, Ughelli, Abraka, Oleh, Ozoro, etc), Warri has a good market for entertainment. If sponsors key into this population and the people’s love for “flexing”, they would realise that Warri is a good market.

3. Warri is an oil-rich city that attracts lots of people from all over the world. These people need places to relax, enjoy and express themselves. If the entertainment tourism potentials of Warri can be reached, more and more people will flock to this city and the boom will continue.

4. Warri has the potential wealth to keep the entertainment industry running. With young billionaires and millionaires dotted across the city, Warri has the wealth to keep showbiz afloat. All that is needed is for show promoters to look for good sponsorship from these big names and use this to encourage Warri-based entertainers, as well as to bring in other entertainers from all over the country.

5. Warri has a large swathe of celebrities who would be willing to work with new entertainers from the region provided they are provided with good platforms to market their music and carve their own niche. The older celebs are very open and willing to help the younger ones. All that is needed is the encouragement and show promotion by entertainment gurus.

Final Words

Warri is a brand! Having evolved from a modest Government Reserved Area to a metropolitan city, it has become a hub for latent talents in Nigeria. The Urhobo-Isoko people that populate Warri and its environs have a solid representation in the entertainment industry. However, there is more to be done. Warri can be the new Lagos, the entertainment hub in Nigeria. With just a little push and encouragement, the Warri phenomenon can explode to entertain and delight all Nigerians!!!

Congratulations to Efe Ejeba on his success at the Big Brother Nigeria show. He has done Urhobo-Isoko, Warri, Delta and Nigeria proud. I also wish to thank all Nigerians, be it Yoruba, Igbo, Nupe, Igala, Tiv, Junkun, Anaang, Ibibio, Oron, Efik, Baruba, Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, Itsekiri, Ijaw, Ogoni, Ebira, Gbagyi, etc, that supported Efe and the Warri brand. Keep supporting us and we will never let you down!




Their ………!

Urhobo-Isoko Wadoooo!!!!

Misiagware oooo!

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