Rivers: Traditional rulers take battle to the streets

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*FG should correct its mistake as admitted – Gov. Amaechi

By Jimitota Onoyume

The battle between Rivers State and its neighbouring Bayelsa State, over who owns the stretch of area that generates three hundred thousand barrels of crude oil per day has left the court room.   The battle is now on the streets of Port Harcourt where, on Wednesday, traditional rulers, chiefs and other prominent community leaders of Kalabari stock took to the streets in Port Harcourt protesting what they dubbed an attempt to deny them of part of their ancestry with an alleged shift in the boundary demarcating Degema Division from the old Brass Division.

Decked in very rich flowing black Kalabari attires with complementary black hats, the protesters marched from Isaac Boro Park, Port Harcourt, to the Government House, also in the capital city. Youths carrying placards and banners with various inscriptions were in front of them. Some of the placards read: ‘Bayelsa, Niger Delta will boil again,’ ‘We say no to executive high handedness’, ‘Bakassi to Cameroon: Kalabari to Bayelsa, No’.

Before presenting their protest letter to the governor of the state who was represented by his deputy, Engr Tele Ikuru, His Royal Highness, Disreal Gbobo Bob-Manuel II, Owukori IX, Amanyanabo of Abonnema, said they were there to seek the support of the state government to help them redress a calculated attempt to balkanise the Kalabari nation.

He explained that the sudden shift of  the boundary between Degema Division  and Brass Division to River Sombreiro, in the 12th provisional edition of the administrative map of Nigeria had moved about ninety percent of Kalabari communities in Akuku Toru to Nembe in Bayelsa State.

Stressing that the action by the National Boundary Commission and Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, if not urgently addressed, could provoke another round of hostilities in the region, he said: “We have come here to protest peacefully. Our people are getting restless and restive. We are begging them to calm down. After a while it might be difficult to control them”.

That carried a tinge of threat.

He said River Santa Barbara is the original boundary demarcating the two areas, adding that it had been so for over a hundred years.  He said even the colonial masters recognised this and worked with it.  Describing the shift as the height of illegality and likely to overheat the polity, he said they would resist the attempt to make any part of the Kalabari nation be under the Nembe traditional council.

Receiving their protest letter, the deputy governor assured it would be delivered to the governor.  He pleaded with the National Assembly to urgently come to the aid  of the state, saying the state had not been able to get justice on the issue.

According to him, federal  agencies had also been frustrating every attempt by the state government to ensure the problem was resolved.

“We have gone to court but the court is tight”, he said.

The deputy governor said what was even more shocking was that money from oil and gas proceeds in the disputed communities amounting to seventeen billion naira that was paid into an escrow account was suddenly released to Bayelsa State when the matter had not been resolved.

“Soku has been known to be part of Rivers State. Suddenly we woke up to hear Soku does not belong to Rivers again. While we were challenging this, we asked that the whole money from there be paid into an escrow account. Suddenly they paid the money to Bayelsa State.”

The protesters later convened a press conference where they poured out their minds.
Mr Dokubo, one of the protesters and who was part of the legal team that headed to court on the issue, accused President Goodluck Jonathan of being behind the boundary adjustment.

According to him, the problem started when  Jonathan was deputy governor in Bayelsa State.  He said deputy governors automatically head their state boundary commission.  He said as Deputy governor, Jonathan first allegedly influenced the boundary to be shifted to San Bartolomew. Adding that when he rose  to the position of Vice President, he allegedly frustrated all efforts to resolve the matter until the  provisional  12th edition of the administrative map was released, this time with the boundary now River Sombreiro in Nembe area of  Bayelsa State.

PROTEST—Traditional rulers from Kalabari on a protest march against the ceding of some of their communities to Bayelsa State in Port Harcourt. Photos: Nwanpa Chijioke

“Goodluck Jonathan first shifted it when he was deputy governor of Bayelsa State.  When he moved to governor, the problem doubled.  When he became Vice President, the problem tripled.  Now that he is President, the problem is still there. All these things are being orchestrated because the benefiting state is where the President comes from. Has the President stopped payment of the money in the escrow account to Bayelsa State?” he queried.

Dokubo said a federal agency refused to certify a document they needed to take to the Supreme Court on the matter. But the same agency certified the document for Bayelsa State on the suit. “So the handwriting is very clear on the wall”, he opined.

The  Amanyanabo of Kalabari  Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Prof T. Princewill, re-echoed the position in his speech at the event, entitled, “Clarion call for urgent intervention to prevent imminent crisis in the Niger Delta”. The monarch, who was represented by one of his chiefs, Awoyesuku Jack, said President Jonathan had deliberately allowed the dispute to linger on.

“We make bold to say that our President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, is very well acquainted with the facts of this explosive matter, but has allowed it to fester. May be because his native state is the beneficiary of this arrogance and outright wickedness against a people who solidly stood by him more than any other group in the federation when he passionately sought help to ascend to the high office of President of our dear country”, he said.

Jack explained that when they first noticed a shift from the original River Santa Barbara boundary to San Bartholomew in the 11th edition of the administration map of Nigeria that was published, they complained and got assurance that it would be corrected in the subsequent edition. But what they saw in the provisional 12th edition of the map was more shocking. He said this time they moved the boundary further to River Sombreiro, thus ceding about ninety percent of Akuku Toru local government area in Rivers State to Bayelsa.

He said they became more troubled when Timipre Sylva visited Soku in his capacity as governor of Bayelsa. They were worried that a governor of Bayelsa would visit the area unaccompanied by the governor of Rivers State they claimed to belong to.  Former Vice Chancellor of University of Port Harcourt, Prof Nimi Briggs, who also spoke, pleaded with the National Boundary Commission to right the wrong on the boundary.

Meantime, President  Jonathan, in a press statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Reuben Abati, denied any involvement in the issue.

But Governor Amaechi has urged Bayelsa State government to stay off its oil rich Soku and Elem Sangama communities, saying they are in Rivers territory.

He spoke in Calabar, Cross River State, while declaring open a capacity building programme for members of the Rivers State House of Assembly.

According to the governor, the Federal Government admitted in court that it made mistake in the 11th edition of the administrative map and it would be corrected, insisting that reference should be made to the 1st to 10th edition of the administrative map as a guide to right what he termed the error on the 11th edition and the provisional 12th edition of the map.

“We will not allow the attempt by the Bayelsa State government to collect our oil wells. I have read what the Bayelsa State governor said. That the 11th edition of the (administrative) map (of Nigeria) gave them the oil wells. When? They didn’t talk about the 1st edition to the 10th edition, they chose to avoid that, and went to the 11th edition, but the question they should answer is why void the previous editions?

“But the Federal Government came to court and said, ‘oh we made a mistake in the 11th edition, we will correct it’. They should correct it; the documents were filed by their lawyers, not our lawyers. All we want is for the Federal Government to go back to the 10th edition and correct everything…”.

The governor assured that he would stand by the Kalabari people to ensure they got back what truly belonged to them.

“I want the Kalabari people to represent themselves and I will stand behind them, and all what we are saying is that they should look from the 1st to the 10th edition (of the administrative map) and not an imaginary 11th edition”, Amaechi added.

“It won’t work; it will certainly not work, no matter how they try to intimidate the agencies of the Federal Government, we will continue to go to court and let our people know that the agencies of the Federal Government are being intimidated, that is what we are saying”.

Now that the struggle between the two states over who owns the five communities has moved from the court room to the streets, efforts should made to effectively manage it so that it does not snowball into violence.

Memories of the Warri war among brothers in Delta State are still very fresh.  The war that wreaked so much havoc on the economy of the area should not be allowed to play up between Rivers and Bayelsa States and the neighbouring brothers, Kalabari/ Nembe.

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