CO-CONVENER of Oghara Center for Social Justice, a Nigerian civil society organization helping the community to fight for its rights, Rev David Ugolor, has said that the problem between the people and navy stems from the fact that the security agency has practically abandoned its primary responsibility in the area to pursue business.
Ugolor, who spoke to NDV at Oghara, said: “How do you reconcile with the fact that navy is saying that the reason why they are acquiring the land is to build stores. Is it the business of the navy to build stores in the community? Is that what Navy is established to do in this modern age of insecurity and economic depression.
“Is there not due process, particularly with the illegality that we have seen, just a commissioner signed a C of O and we have heard now that Uduaghan is saying that he did not give permission to the commissioner? You can see that there is a massive confusion. The Oghara community wants the land back.”
Continuing he said: “First, the land belongs to Oghara people and their land is their life, it is their source or livelihood, no government can hide under a controversial C of O to take away their rights.
“As a matter of fact, the legitimacy of any government is derived from its protection for the people and if government becomes a source of conflict and crisis to the people, you know the legitimacy of that government will be eroded. Oghara land, which belongs to the people, is a source of crisis as we speak now.”
No navy impact on ground
Claiming the impact of navy has been neglegible he said: “That massive land is in the heart of Oghara kingdom, but just to let you know that the reason why the community first accepted the Navy in Oghara community was the intent that with the presence of Navy, they will provide security for them. However, it will interest you to know that an average of five kidnap cases happen in Oghara every week, so their presence in Oghara is not felt by the people.”
Ugolor added: “Then the issue of military social responsibility to the people is not there, but the fact that where the navy were originally is not for them has to be put on the table. The community would not have allowed the Navy or any security presence in the heart of the kingdom because that will create problem, it will create conflict.
“It has its own social implication and dimension of crisis because of the power dynamics that exists between civilian and security officials. The police are more civil when dealing with security issues that affect civilians. The community did not consider the Navy in the 500 by 500 they gave out. There is no document and I challenge the navy authorities to produce any document that they used in getting the 500 by 500.
“How the Navy even maneuvered and got the 500 by 500, the community is not aware. However, being a peaceful community, Oghara people did not question how they entered in as much as their activity is limited within the expanse of land duly taken from the people by government for the police. The people were consulted, compensation was paid and due process followed, the people have no problem with that.
Alleged forceful acquisition
“Where it became a problem is when the Navy now decided to acquire the entire heart of the kingdom. It is not just the heart of the kingdom that they want to acquire illegally with their arms, they have now started molesting the people, destroying the cash crops, lakes, which the people have always depended on from century to century as their means of livelihood.”
Ugolor queried: “What do the navy want to use such a massive tract of land in the heart of the community to do, that is why the people decided to come together and that is one thing we have learned in this part of the world, the only language that government understands is violence. Particularly in this South-South zone, hiding under this Federal Government contraption, they believe that anything they do, the people have no voice. How can you take the land of the people and think they have no voice?
“No Navy, local, state or the Federal Government can hide under illegal C of O to take our land. Therefore, we decided to do a peaceful protest to serve as a warning to them that they should return our land to us. “And the Navy has to pay compensation.
”The compensation we are demanding for is not for the land, it is for the property on the land that they have destroyed. If you visit the land, you would see the palm trees and economic trees they have destroyed,” he added.
The activist asserted: “The unemployment level in Oghara is over 95 per cent, the only source of livelihood of the people is farming and trading, but unfortunately, the same government, which has encouraged the people to go into agriculture is on the other hand, appropriating their land.”
Community petitions EFCC
Ugolor indicated: “We are also sending a petition to the EFCC because to steal a community land through such an illegal process is fraudulent, it is corruption and we want those involved in this fraudulent act probed and brought to book. “We confirmed from a top official of the Ministry that the documents in the file for purported land acquisition are incomplete. They did not follow proper procedure, which is why documents are missing. So we want the EFCC to come into it.
“We will be submitting the petition; the commission should invite all the relevant officials of the Ministry of Lands to explain what happened. People just say Niger Delta people are violent, we are not violent, and people react when you push them to the wall. The navy is the party that has been violent in this Oghara land grab.”