BY Emma Amaize & EgufeYafugborhi
THE peace accord brokered by the Federal Government in May between two warring Ugborodo factions in Warri South-West Local Government Area, Delta State, came under threat during the week. Anarchy was let loose when members of the Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic nationalities started beating war drums, notwithstanding the ceasefire efforts of governor Emmanuel Uduaghan.
Their actions further endangered the fragile peace in that part of the state. Saturday Vanguard spoke to an Ijaw leader and Benemowei of Gbaramatu Kingdom,Chief Godspower Gbenekama and Itsekiri youth leader/ Ugborodo Interface Committee on the Ogidigben Export Processing Zone, EPZ project, Mr. Alex Eyengho, both of whom are conversant with the matter, on the EPZ. They capture the unfolding developments in this special report.
COMMANDER, Nigerian Navy Ship, NNS Delta, Navy Captain Musa Gemu, who is heading the security team put in place by the Federal Government to restore peace to the troubled Ugborodo community, Warri South-West Local Government Area, was livid during the week over the anarchy that was let loose by violent youths in the area.
Two warring factions had been at daggers-drawn in the community, killing and maiming themselves before the federal government managed to bring them to a roundtable to sign a peace accord at Abuja in May.
Leaders of the factions were asked to return home and facilitate the return of indigenes that fled the community on both divides, as well as surrender their weapons.
Captain Gemu’s attempt to recover the weapons was frustrated as the warring factions refused to surrender the arms and weapons in their possession.
Undeterred, Gemu continued preaching peace and forged ahead with the resettlement process, but last Saturday violence, spearheaded by Ugborodo youths, the third in the last few months, left him wondering if the community genuinely desired peace.
He told Saturday Vanguard: “I met with leaders of the two sides the other day. They assured on being on ground to lead all displaced persons back home in their respective strongholds. On the agreed Saturday, only Isaac Botosan and Ayiri Emami of the Thomas Ereyitomi bloc were on hand to lead the displaced persons to Ogidigben and Ajudaibo, where they are in control.”
”The other faction, which gave its word never showed up to talk to the boys at Aruton to resettle displaced persons there. These same youths at Madangho and Aruton, who refused to allow displaced persons return home also scared people from leaving to Ogidigben and Ajudaibo,” he said.
The navy commander said: “It is not like the Aruton youths can stop the navy. Applying force now is not the spirit of the peace process. So I asked my men to pull back. I went in with just two men and interacted with the community elders and youths. They gave conditions for reintegrating the displaced persons. This is not healthy and if it persists, the military would have to take appropriate action.”
For five successive months before federal government interface, Ugborodo community was on fire. However, the federal mediation provided the atmosphere for the state government’s inauguration of the UgborodoInterface Committee for the $16b EPZ project.
Youths resist Navy
Peace, nevertheless, snapped, last weekend, when youths at Ode-Ugborodo (Aruton) and Madanghon, repelled the Nigerian Navy’s move to resettle residents chased from home since January’s fight. The resettlement of displaced persons was a critical term in the final resolutions signed by warring factions at the Naval Headquarters, Abuja.
Two days after the Saturday/Sunday incident, hostilities spilled to Warri and environs, as factional youths moved against opposition leaders, resulting in the demolition of the home and vehicle of an Aruton youth leader resident at Egbokodo, a Warri South community, Ofe Pender, in what is believed to be a backlash of Sunday’s violence at Aruton.
Vice Chairman of the Thomas Ereyitomi-led Community Trust and member of the 21- man EPZ Committee, Isaac Botosan, was among immediate victims, as youths went wild following the failed resettlement of exiled residents.
Botosan told Saturday Vanguard after the destruction, “On Saturday, I was among leaders, who accompanied the Navy to return displaced persons home, and the youths had their way, resisting the Navy. I never had problems with anyone, I am at loss as to what happened on Saturday would provoke the destruction of the house I built for my mother in Aruton.
“These violent elements partially destroyed that house back in January. As they completed the destruction Sunday, they proceeded to wreck my grandfather’s house too and that belonging to national chair of Ugborodo Youths, Julius Atete.
Botosan whose mother and grandfather’s house were destroyed has already petitioned the Inspector General of Police, calling for the arrest and prosecution of perceived masterminds of the alleged arson.
“I also have complained to the Navy. But the way to achieve lasting peace is for Federal Government to stand firm at this point and stop this impunity of violence once and for all. If they do not come in now, they are encouraging the other side to take to self- help, which is not what we want as it will definitely escalate the tension,” he asserted.
Aruton, Madangho give conditions for peace
An executive member of the David Tonwe- led UgborodoCommunity Trust faction, Femi Uwawah, told Saturday Vanguard that the government’s move through the Navy to resettle displaced persons was an impossible wishful thinking if executed in isolation of perceived grievances in the affected communities.
Uwawah said, “Those who offended Ode-Ugborodo cannot hide behind the Navy to come back to the homes where they committed atrocities. They must atone for their actions before being allowed back. Then, all cases in court must be withdrawn while mercenaries being harboured to attack perceived enemies at Ajudaibo and Ogidigben must be evicted before lasting peace could prevail.”
They‘ve murdered sleep
A peeved Uwawah said, “The offenders have stepped on toes, people have been remanded in prison without just cause, some charged to court. There is no short cut to peace. Those arrested must be released, cases in court should be withdrawn and the offenders of the community disciplined in line with the custom of the land. Then, we can talk peace. We do not need Navy to enforce peace if only those offenders would respect the tradition.
Ojogor carpets factional leaders
But, Special assistant to the Eghare-Aja of Ugborodo community, Anderson Ojogor, blamed the drift towards another armed conflict on failure of some factional leaders to respect the peace accord and understanding with men of the NNS Delta to lead resettlement of displaced indigenes in community in their stronghold.
“The deliberate act of that faction’s leader switching off his mobile phone and not making himself available to the Navy at the appointed time aggravated the anger of the youths resulting in burning of cars and houses in Ugborodo and Warri”, Ojogor alleged.
Aggrieved victims call for EPZ c’ttee dissolution
Already some victims of the crisis, particularly displaced persons, have called for the dissolution of the EPZ Interface Committee, saying the essence of the committee, which was to unite the warring factions and usher peace has been defeated.
Oboroegbeyi dismisses allegation
Chair, Ogidigben EPZ Interface Committee, Barr Austin Oboroegbeyi, who decried the renewed violence and destruction of property in Ugborodo communities, which extended to Warri town, debunked the claim that the committee was responsible for the crisis.
“It is sad enough that there are inadequate houses in the area, one then wonders why the few ones people struggled to build are destroyed”, Oborogbeyi quipped.
The Ogidigben EPZ committee leader asserted that that whatever resentment over the patriotic attempt of the Commander, NNS, Delta, Navy Capt Musa Gemu on Saturday 26th July, 2014, to return displaced persons to their communities in Ugborodo, was not an excuse for the wanton destruction that took place few days after.
His words, “Ugborodo major challenge today is to be united to face external problems. I, therefore, plead that all parties should, without further delay, provide the genuine platform to put the crisis behind. It is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war.”
He pointed out that the factional crisis in Ugborodo started some years back, and not with, or because of the Ogidigben EPZ Interface Committee, made of representatives from both factions, adding that since its inauguration, the committee had been reaching out to ensure peace in Ugborodo.
Groundbreaking still chancy
From available indications, the road to the groundbreaking for the $16 b Gas Revolution Industrial City, which was postponed by President Goodluck Jonathan, some months ago, is still a long walk.