CHIEF Rita Lori-Ogbebor, is a Princess of Warri Kingdom and prominent business woman.Â
In this interview she called on Niger Delta elders to put their house in order, saying that it is the only basis for proper planning in the region.Â She also expressed concern over the level of poverty among the Itsekiri people.
By Charles Kumolu
You were among some prominent chiefs of Warri Kingdom reportedly attacked at the Palace of the Olu recently. What actually happened?
I went to the Olu of warri to discuss what I felt should be done to reduce the degree of hunger among our people. I suggested we should sit down and rub minds with the people. The Olu graciously endorsed the idea.
So, we organised a seminar that lasted seven days. It started with the chiefs, because we believe that the head needs to be in good condition for the entire body to function well.
The meeting and deliberation of the chiefs centered around how to rededicate ourselves to the service of the kingdom. Naturally, you donâ€™t expect all the chiefs to be in one accord, some have been benefiting from the plight of the people.
After that, various heads of communities also met the following day, and then the youths came up to say what their fears and expectations were. The women also came.
It was the day the Itsekiri professionals were meeting and presenting papers that the place was invaded by thugs. These thugs, we suspected, were recruited from Sapele.
The thugs, whom I noticed at once were not Itsekiri, arrived in about six buses and their leader, unfortunately an Itsekiri man, Mr. Michael Diden (aka Ejele) walked up to me and demanded that he wanted to speak.
I advised him to first sit down, because Geofrey Etikeintse, a former Legal Adviser to Chevron was presenting his paper. I expected that as the Senior Special Assistant on security to Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, he would be civil and respect the palace. He didnâ€™t, but ordered the thugs to start destroying the chairs and removing the canopies.
Words quickly went round Warri and Itsekiri youths came in their numbers to contain these thugs and Ejele himself.
Before we started the summit, I sent letters to all the security agencies. When the crisis ensued, I called and they responded swiftly. In fact, we have men of the Military Joint Task Force to thank that the palace was not burnt that day.
However, I donâ€™t know the level of involvement of the State Government on this matter, because the boys that came to prevent the thugs from burning the palace have since been harassed andÂ being detained.
The leader of the group you said is an Itsekiri man, is there anything the palace is doing to sanction him for the disruption?
Yes, the matter has already been communicated to the Olu of Warri and the chiefs will sit down and take appropriate sanctions in due course.
But like I said earlier, when this summit was conveyed, there were some chiefs who have been benefiting financially from these boys and felt threatened by the outcome of such sensitisation and understanding among the people. I assured you that they are threading on a dangerous path.
Would you say the attack was part of the fall out of the Ugbuangue land crisis?
The same Ejele was the arrowhead of the Ugbuangue issue. We all know better today why he and his group secretly sold the disputed land against the advice of the Oloraja (community head).
So, the attack was certainly a spill-over and we also infer that the so-called burst pipes that are taken to that land for repair were all deliberate actions.
What are the gains of the summit in Olu palace?
It was an opportunity to sit down together and discuss the welfare and future of our people. It has given us hope; we were able to tell the boys that there are alternatives to politics, to violence.
The summit proved to the youths that their destinies are in their hands and that they should work for it, their lives is more important than politics.
The greatest achievement, I should say, is that there is now greater awareness among my people. We have re-identified poverty as our problem and the way forward, we agreed, is to ask for our legitimate resources and judiciously commit same to alleviating poverty among our people.
What is your assessment of the efforts so far to lift the Niger-Delta region out of the woods?
I am not impressed with what has so far happened in the Niger-Delta, particularly in the Warri Kingdom, and that explains why I am still restless.
There are some of us who fought because we thought our people were not getting a fair share of the oil money. Today, we are wondering what has been happening to the quantum of money appropriated to the region in recent years.
For example, I have visited some places in this kingdom and only see half-completed houses here and there in the rural areas. Because they are not completed, they are not habitable and no one is saying anything. I have discussed this with the governor; I know he is walking on a very tight rope, having come form a minor ethnic group – Itsekiri. The likes of Ejele are not helping matters.
Those are some of the challenges and the governor is now at the mercy of this Ejele. So long contracts are awarded and money paid without execution of the projects, poverty will continue to persist.
Do you think amnesty can guarantee lasting peace in the Niger-Delta region?
Like I have always said, it is the man that wears the shoe that knows where it pinches. Niger-Delta can only be developed by the people themselves.
I am of the opinion that it will be in the interest of the region that the elders direct their energies and time from aggressive politicking to the developments of the region.
We can not continue to play politics with the lives of our people. These young men fighting are doing so because of hunger and lack of development. Now that the amnesty is under way, it behooves the elders to step in and plan for employment, feeding of the people and structures.
We alone can plan for our people.
We may not, however, achieve much if all we are doing is political schemings, to become chairman, governor or minister and in the process start grabbing money meant for the development of the region.
What is happening is outright scheming to corner the better part of the accruing funds so that they will always be in the position to install people into offices.
There is enough money for development but this money not being properly channeled. I hold therefore that the elders should put their house in order and ensure proper planning for the region.
There are a lot of intrigues that are not beneficial to the region which are, unfortunately, being perpetrated by political leaders. The question is for how long are we going to continue like this?
You can observe that these children are becoming bolder by the day and by 2011, they could go lawless and unleash terror on even the innocent souls.
I am saying instead of collecting money and banking it away in Europe, we should spend this money for the people to minimise their suffering.
God is a good judge. You donâ€™t take away what belongs to communities to sponsor your own children in Europe and think they are in safe haven. There is danger everywhere.
You were one of the voices that clamoured for 13 per cent derivation. Another campaign for 50 per cent is on, you think it is justifiable?
I am not a politican but a realist. Besides, I am a planner and whether I am successful or not could be seen in any private institutions. I donâ€™t go to borrow money from the banks until I have started my project and can see my way very clearly.
What I am saying is that there is nothing on the ground to justify the 13 per cent we have been collecting. You need to convince yourself of what we have done with this little before start asking for more.
I must be stupid to join hands with others to start demanding money that cannot be accounted for.
Convince the world what we have been done with the 13 per cent. As far as I know the increased derivation has not affected development in the oil region; it has only created a few billionaires. Some of the boys have money that they cannot quantify; they donâ€™t know what it means.
The 50 per cent used to be a law of derivation in the past when cocoa, kolanut, groundnut, rubber among others were the mainstay. These were products of inputs of direct human resources which made it understandable.
I am not saying that the Niger-Delta does not deserve more money, because of the difficult terrain which makes development more expensive, but I cannot in honesty justify demand for more money, despite all the pressure on me.
Many people have approached me on this matter, asking that I add my voice to the demand. But my conscience has found it difficult to justify such campaign because I have seen money being expended with stupidity.