By Emma Arubi, Godwin Oritse & Akpokona Omafuaire
WARRI—THERE was confusion over the casualty figure in the escalating crisis in the oil-rich Ugborodo community, Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State, yesterday, following a fresh clash between two armed groups in the community.
While a source close to a prominent Itsekiri chief confirmed the shooting and the death of two persons in the clash, another source said four persons lost their lives in Sunday’s shoot-out, with many wounded. Vanguard gathered last night that the remains of one of the dead and the wounded were transferred to Warri A Division of the Police by one of the warring sides.
It was also learnt that exiled Ugborodo indigenes, who braved the odds and headed back home, came under heavy attack from an armed group opposed to the security team drafted by the state government.
It was gathered that many of the returnees suffered severe gunshot wounds and are currently receiving treatment in Warri. The crisis, it was gathered is between two groups, one opposed to the Delta State Government’s multi-billion Dollar Escravos Processing Zone, EPZ, project and another group, which had welcomed it. It was alleged that one of the groups moved against the project on the ground that government had not adequately negotiated with it before the siting of the project.
Operatives of Joint military Task Force, JTF, deployed by the Delta State Government to Ugborodo community to provide security ahead of the take-off of the proposed multi-billion Dollar Escravos Processing Zone, EPZ, project, it was gathered, were, yesterday, also prevented from entering the community by some Ugborodo youths and alleged hired militants from Kokori.
Sources said the returnees had successfully entered Ode-Ugborodo, while many were said to have fled into the bush, to avoid being caught in the ensuing gun battle. The security outfit was drafted to the area to ensure peace and security, following the lingering Ugborodo Community Trust leadership tussle between the Chief Thomas Ereyitomi-led executive and the David Tonwe group.
Havoc in the community
Meanwhile, former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Mr. Temisan Omatseye, has blamed the Navy for the renewed clash, saying “the Nigerian Navy that cleared the way for two prominent sons of the community to have safe passage into the villages should be blamed for the havoc in the community.” Omatseye noted that the villagers had banned both men from entering the villages and wondered what the two Warri chiefs went to do in these villages that led to the fresh crisis.
It will be recalled that the Delta State Government last week, invited both groups to a security meeting at the Government House Annex, Warri. While the Thomas group attended, the Tonwe group was absent.
Meanwhile, the state government has denied that there was heavy shoot-out in the state. Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Ovuozorie Macaulay in a statement, yesterday, said “the attention of the Delta State Government has been drawn to media reports especially the on-line media of heavy shooting in Warri. The state wishes to state categorically that there has been no shooting of any form in Warri or environ.
“In line with the agreement with NNPC for provision of security by the state government for the $16 billion Gas City Project in Ogidigben, the State Security Council at its last meeting in Warri on December 30, 2013, directed the security agencies to deploy some forces to the area to ensure the safety of lives and property as the construction of the project will start in the next few days. Some of the forces were deployed January 4, 2014. None of the forces has had cause to shoot any gun and nobody has been injured or killed.
“The state government is aware that some enemies of progress are out to thwart this laudable project of President Goodluck Jonathan, which will form the economic bedrock for Nigeria. Warri has been very safe and it is on record that there were no insecurity incidences in Warri and other parts of Delta State throughout the Christmas or New Year period. The government shall not be intimidated by anyone and all those spreading such seditious falsehood should desist from it. All law abiding citizens are advised to go about their normal activities and we shall ensure safety of their lives and property,” he added.
Speaking to newsmen on the incident, Vice-Chairman of Ugborodo Community Trust, Mr. Isaac Botosan, said that members of the task force were prevented from entering the community by some Ugborodo youths.
Botosan said that the people, who prevented the security team made-up of soldiers, Navy, Department of State Services, DSS and policemen had during the course of the internal problem, driven the leadership of one of the groups, some elders and even the youth leadership from the community, saying that they were well armed, otherwise they could not have mustered the courage to bar the security team.
The vice chairman reiterated that their commitment to the stoppage of illegal bunkering activities as ordered by the Federal Government was why the community was on fire by these miscreants and called on the government to take decisive action and bring these criminals to justice, assuring that they were willing to continue to fight illegal bunkering in Ugborodo.