DAVid Tonwe is chairman of a faction of the Ugborodo Community Trust. In this interview, he gives the perspective of his group to the crisis in the community. Excerpts:
What is the real problem with Ugborodu at this point?
There is no problem with Ugborodo. It is a question of a few people trying to set different rules for themselves from the rest of the community. It is the issue of a few trying to change the goal posts just because the scores are not in their favour. It is about the people’s will to wipe out prolonged injustice and the inequality that has festered in the community to the detriment of the majority alienated.
So, why would a war against injustice cause more divisions in the community?
That is a good perspective to expose the injustice I meant and those behind it. There are really no factions in Ugborodo in the strict sense of the word. At every transition year, the traditional authority in the trinity of Eghara-Aja, Olaja-Orori (Spiritual Leader) and the Registered Trustee are the final umpires who endorse and install the Governing Council, that is the Ugborodo Community Trust after verification and constitution of the Executive Committee representative of the respective communities according to the Corporate Affairs Commission registered instrument (Constitution) governing the community.
In 2008, that same process brought about the Thomas Eriyitomi led Community Trust. At the expiration of that leadership in 2011, the same process brought me in as Chairman working with other elected representatives in the current Ugborodo Community Trust.
This is what the larger community knows. Any other claimant outside my committee is a rebel.
But the other faction argues that Eriyitomi retained power in another election conducted in the community. And that your own faction stage-managed a parallel election outside Ugborodo, in Warri, another local government entirely.
That is a bundle of lies and it makes no sense to people back home. Those peddling these lies shield the fact that in 2008, Eriyitomi and co were elected and inaugurated in Warri and nowhere else. They dodge the fact that the inauguration was done in the Warri residence of Pa J.O.S. Ayomike with the traditional authority presiding.
Let me explain it another way. If there are factions in Ugborodo, then we should have been contending with a parallel traditional authority. We have only one Eghara-Aja, only Olaja-Orori and one Registered Trustee. And these are the people who inaugurated my leadership. Clearly, anyone who stage managed or impersonated these trinity is a rebel, not a faction.
Where is the place of the Olaja-Orori in all the wrangling that he had to be arrested and arraigned?
I still cannot understand why he was arrested. Olaja-Orori is the Spiritual Head of Ugborodo Community. By that office, he is a highly respected traditional authority in the community. It’s quite a scandalous abomination, (and I am not the Only “Ugborodian” who feels so) that some natives connived with external interests to set up and arrest the highly regarded Olaja-Orori.
I got call from the Navy that they needed Olaja-Ori and others for questioning. I demanded what the matter was and was told there is a petition. Eventually they were prevailed upon to see the Navy at their House Boat post around the community.
While they were being interrogated, the Navy trooped into the community with sporadic shooting, chasing people away. They destroyed Youth Leader’s house and property.
What is your reaction to the explanation given by the state government on the supposedly missing $6 millon?
These perceived Delta State Government’s interventions are actually fueling the problem. I have been part of the peace process like I said. It was agreed that any further decision or agreement would be reached in mutual agreement with the parties. Remember, the first EPZ Committee was nullified because it was constituted without participatory approval of the Ugborodo people. It was imposed.
So why would the Governor hurriedly announce a new EPZ Committee Chairman when parties are still in negotiation. We were never aware, never informed by the SSG who heads the truce committee before Oborogbeyi was announced as new Chairman on recommendation by the Olu. That is a return to the same impunity we have been living under.
You are aware the Ugborodo people in a recent meeting held in Ode-Ugborodo headed by the traditional authority rejected Oborogbeyi and resolved to select its own determined EPZ Committee.
On the missing $6M you may not believe it, but majority in the community are just hearing for the first time that such money belonging to the community is locked somewhere.
It is hard to believe the defense that the money has not been used for the community development it was meant for in past six to seven years ago because of some twisted challenges. Not convinced, the larger community has decided to go extra mile in recovering our money.
In the first place, Ugborodo never submitted to the idea of its $6M being in the hands of an Itsekiri Regional Development Committee. The popular feeling is that you cannot overlook the constituted authority in the community to give what belongs to us to a vague committee not recognized by law. The matter has been in court from the very beginning. Ugborodo remains resolute to get back its money.