By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South & Egufe Yafugborhi
CAN you tell us if peace has actually returned to Ugborodo?
The simple answer to that is yes. There is a truce, an accord as a result of the peace initiative of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigerian through the offices of the Chief of Naval Staff and the Inspector General of Police. I can say that the effort of the Federal Government Peace Committee which started since January this year has finally yielded positive results. All the grievances by the two sides have been addressed and everybody I can say has now sheathed his swords. Both sides have resolved to work together.
What were the grievances and how were they resolved?
You would recall that what took us to Abuja in the first place were the incidents of January 4 and 5 in Ugborodo, where there was altercation between members of the two factions. The altercation was as a result of some indigenes of these communities, particularly Ode-Ugborodo (Aruton) who were expelled or banished by force of arms by some of their kith and kin who belong to the David Tonwe factions. These people were banished from entering their own community since October 2013. They were banned for the simple reason that they belong to the Community Trust under the leadership of Chief Thomas Ereyitomi and they were so banned because of a Federal Government assignment they carried out.
Recall that President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration set up a Committee on Bunkering and Oil Theft. He made Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan chairman of that committee at the federal level. The mandate to that committee was very clear. It was for governors of the Niger- Delta to put a stop to oil bunkering in their domains or the federal government would take decisive measures to stop it. Sometime in October last year, the governor of Delta State who also chairs the federal committee called leaders of communities identified as oil bunkering red spots and gave a charge to them to stop the nefarious act. The charge to the community leaders was simple – you know those involved around your locality, go and warn them to stop the oil theft or the federal government will come with severe consequences.
Incidentally, Ugborodo was one of the identified red spots. And for Ugborodo, Thomas Ereyitomi, being chairman of the Ugborodo Community Trust along with his executive was saddled with the responsibility of passing the critical Federal Government message to his folks. So they took the message to the Ugborodo Community and gave the message to the people in a town hall meeting at Ode-Ugborodo, headquarter of Ugborodo which also has Ajudaibo, Magagho, Ijalla and Ogidigben as the composing communities. The Ugborodo Trust leaders sent three emissaries to deliver the message. But the emissaries managed to return alive. Their boats were seized; they were humiliated and accused of collecting money from government and wanting to stop them from where they were making their daily bread, which was illegal oil bunkering.
That was the beginning of the animosity of the oil bunkerers against the leadership of Chief Thomas Ereyitomi. And before you knew it, the hatred peaked and more people who they feel or perceived to be loyal to Chief Ereyitomi were chased out of the community. Their property were destroyed and it remained so till the January incidents.
Under the circumstance, Chief Ereyitomi’s Trust was compelled to petition the committee led by Governor Uduaghan informing it that in carrying out the assignment they and other indigenes of Aruton (Ode-Ugborodo) have been banished from their homes. They demanded government’s intervention.
It was consequent upon this that those banished made efforts to return to their homes, January 4 and 5. But in the presence of the Army and Navy on January 4, the people were still stopped from entering their community. They insisted that having come this far, there was no going back on thei return to Ode- Ugborodo.
That led to altercation between the Ereyitomi group’s returnees and the loyalists of David Tonwe/Alex Ideh group and there was fighting. It was as a result of the trouble generated by that fighting that the Presidency intervened and set up the Federal Government peace committee under joint chairmanship of the Inspector General of Police and Chief of Naval Staff. That was how we went to Abuja on January 10 and we have been holding series of meetings from then till now that we have reached final resolution.
What is the situation at Ugborodo today?
Part of the final communiqué is very clear. There was an order by the Chief of Naval Staff for all displaced persons in any of the communities to go back immediately and that anybody found or caught stopping anybody would have the Federal Government to deal with. This was an order both factions signed. So it is expected that people should begin to return now. Beyond the setting up of the EPZ Committee, the main issue now in the area is the insecurity as with some people, civilians stopping others from entering their communities.
Nobody has the right to chase even a law-abiding non indigene from settling in the community, not to talk of people being banished from their own land by fellow citizens. That can only happen by force of arms, which is a critical situation.
How can peace be sustained in Ugborodo?
It is for everybody to be law abiding; for leaders of both factions to impress it on their foot soldiers. The leaders are not the ones directly doing the violence. It is youths loyal to them.
The onus is on the leaders to talk to the boys in Ode-Ugborodo, Madangho, Ajudaibo, Ijalla and Ogidigben to sheathe their swords and maintain peace because the peace order is very clear – anybody caught with arms would have the law to deal with. It is for everybody to abide by the spirit of the final resolution.
Beyond the leadership tussle, the common man in Ugborodo has the feeling that development for the community is being hijacked by the community leaders. How does the final resolution resolve this basic grievance?
Development is both a function of leadership and that of followership. It behooves on the followers to ask questions if the leaders are failing, be it in the Trust or even as far as this EPZ Committee to be inaugurated is concerned. I don’t have a problem with a questionable leader being questioned even if it amounts to reporting him to the police for appropriate investigation.
They are not there to enrich themselves. They are elected to serve the people to whom they must be accountable. I must however also emphasize that the failed development of Ugborodo is beyond the failure of leadership. The oil companies also share the blame. If you look at Ugborodo where Chevron has its corporate headquarters, you see a small London and just meters across Ode-Ugborodo where the Chevron is making all the money, it is just like a primitive settlement.
But a basic limitation in developing the area too is the ability of the community to have unity of purpose in accepting development. There is the issue of $6M Chevron released that is lying idle for years when it is supposed to have be used for development of Ugborodo New Town Project
The fuss over US$6million has been over flogged. The governor has proved it and the bank confirmed that the money is intact. Why is the project for which the money is meant delayed? It is very clear. Chevron has brought money; Government has brought in something on the table too, but the community is being expected to bring some sort of money to do sand filling or site preparation or something. The community is saying no. This is a tripartite project. They are saying the donors have all the money.
They should spend what they have brought to run the project. Where do you expect the community to bring money? But the point must be made that the leadership of the Chief Ereyitomi’s Community Trust should be commended for having been so circumspect not to have dipped hands into the money.
They were thoughtful in keeping safe through the Itsekiri Regional Development Agency. We are talking of over seven years ago. If they were not circumspect, the money could have developed wings and flown. Let’s also make it clear that US$6million is pittance to the billions some people have been reaping from Ugborodo for years.
Final word: Two major projects, the EPZ, which will host the biggest gas plant in Africa, a fertilizer plant and other establishments at Ogidigben and there is the Marine University coming to the Gbaramatu axis.
These are gigantic Federal Government projects coming to that area, more than enough to feed and satisfy all Itsekiris, Ijaws, Urhobos, in fact Deltans and Nigerians. So there is no need to fight. We must also encourage the Governor whose initiative this whole EPZ thing is all about.
I was listening to him the other day addressing a parliament or a group in London. He spoke eloquently about the EPZ trying to attract investors to come and acquire stakes. So it is very important that Ugborodos, Itsekiris and Deltans in general should know this and support sustainable enabling environment for full benefits of the project to impact the area and its people.