By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
WARRI—THE Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, has tabled a fresh proposal for the resolution of the controversy between the Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic groups in Delta State over the Federal Government $16 billion Delta Gas City project to the representatives of both ethnic groups.
Sources told Vanguard that the NNPC approach was to separate the project into two components. One is the Export Processing Zone, EPZ, to be named after Ogidigben-Ugborodo, an Itsekiri domain and the other, Deep Sea Port, to be named after Gbaramatu Kingdom.
Chairman of the Ugborodo EPZ Interface Committee, Mr. Austin Ogborogbeyi, two Warri palace chiefs, Chief Thomas Ereyitomi and Chief Ayirimi Emami; Ijaw leaders – Chief Daniel Ekpebide and Paul Bebenimibo, confirmed the new development to Vanguard.
However, the two ethnic groups, particularly the Itsekiri, who had demanded the survey plans of the Deep Sea Port, were said to be watching the NNPC to know how it will handle the matter.
While the Ijaw people, it was gathered, were not against a Deep Sea Port being named after Gbaramatu and the Gas City after Ogidigben, they, like the Itsekiri, also want to see the NNPC map and design for the project.
Ogidigben EPZ Interface Committee chairman, Mr. Ogborogbeyi, told Vanguard: “I cannot say the matter has been resolved. When they raised the issue of the Deep Sea Port to be located in Gbaramatu, we asked them (NNPC) to give us the plan to know the land they want to use for it. We must know the location before we can make more comments.”
On whether the ethnic groups have agreed on the groundbreaking which had been canceled on two occasions, he said: “We did not stop them from doing the groundbreaking before and we are not going to stop them now if they are ready to do it. Up till now, nothing has come from the NNPC after our last meeting with them in Abuja.”
A member of the Ugborodo EPZ Interface Committee, Chief Ereyitomi, said “To the best of my knowledge, the last meeting in Abuja by NNPC was to prepare a new way to resolve the logjam. I was not at the meeting but I have been briefed. The Itsekiri delegation said they want to consult with their people on the new direction adopted by the NNPC to name the “Deep Sea Port after Gbaramatu Kingdom. It is an entirely new development and they need to hear from their people.”
Ereyitomi maintained that the Itsekiri would not concede to any part of their land being used for a project that will be named after Gbaramatu Kingdom.
On why the thorny matters had not been thrashed out despite the trouble-shooting moves of ex-militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, who had met with the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse II and the Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, ILT, led by Pa J. Ayomike, a prominent Itsekiri leader, Chief Ayiri said: “There is no bridge building by Tompolo on the EPZ controversy. His bridge building is for Okowa and Otuaro. On EPZ, they are where they are. His visit is a political thing; they stand on their position on the EPZ matter. He wants people to vote Okowa, Otuaro and Senator Manager.”
Bebenimibo on his part, said “On December 23, last year, we met with the NNPC, we agreed that the project will now be separated, Free Trade Zone and Deep Sea Port. The Free Trade Zone, which is EPZ, will be in Ugborodo area and the Deep Sea Port from Ikpokpo down to Gbaramatu.
“We have also agreed that there should be different interface committees, Ogidigben and Gbaramatu Interface Committees for the Itsekiri and Ijaw respectively. We now said that we want to see the landmark/design of the project, EPZ and the Deep Sea Port, which is where we are, the NNPC is to work it out and get back to the two ethnic groups.”