By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Few days ago, Otukpo the traditional headquarters of the Idoma kingdom and the home town of the Senate President, David Mark, was engulfed in a major crisis that shook the very foundation of the town. The crisis which started as a protest by the irate youths who were protesting the citing of a private university by the Senate President, at Asa 111 area of the town, led to the alleged shooting of five Police men and six others by the protesting youths.
Saturday Vanguard reliably gathered from an eyewitness that the armed irate youths had last week barricaded the Otukpo/Oju federal highway in protest of the decision of their leaders to allot parcels of land for the establishment of the new institution.
According to the eyewitness, “While Akpegede and Otobi communities gave the Senate President the go ahead to use their land for the institution given its attendant benefits to their communities, some youths in Asa 111, an area which is a renown hotbed for opposition politics in Benue South senatorial district and mostly dominated by people from Okpiko in Ohimini local government, for whatever reasons renounced the decision of the leaders and elders of the community to have the institution domiciled in their community.
“In their protest, they went as far as barricading the road for some days which prompted the decision of the Police to intervene with the use of tear-gas canisters to disperse the resilient youths in order to allow motorists and pedestrians the use of the road.
“But unfortunately, the action of the Police was resisted by the youths who responded with gunshots, injuring five of the Police men and six others,” he said.
The ugly development prompted an emergency meeting of the Otukpo Area Traditional Council convened by the Och’Otukpo Odu, Chief John Eimonye and attended by district heads, elders, stakeholders as well as opinion leaders of Otukpo. The leaders at the end of the meeting frowned at the action of the youths which was considered to be militant and anti developmental and they requested that the perpetrators of the dastardly act be brought to book.
In his reaction, spokesman of the Asa 111 community and 78 year-old retired Army Captain, Reuben Anyebe described the action of the youths as ‘barbaric and unfortunate’ and he wondered why anybody would protest against a developmental initiative which he said is laced with several opportunities.
Anyebe pointed out that the elders of Asa had unanimously conceded the parcel of land for the establishment of the proposed institution after assurances had been given that necessary compensation would be paid to the original owners.
He disclosed that necessary documentation was already going on pending the commencement of the payment of compensation and benefits to every genuine owner of land within the earmarked area before the outbreak of the crisis. He also added that aside the financial benefits accruable to individuals, it was also agreed that the community as a whole would also be compensated adequately.
“That is the more reason why we are baffled at the actions of these few individuals who instigated the crisis. Perhaps, their action may be political, because the world over, no one would genuinely kick against the citing of an institution in his land considering that such a gesture will greatly enhance the social and economic life of the people.
“Honestly, my pain is that we parents are failing in our responsibilities of ensuring that our children and wards do not fall into the hands of self-seeking individuals who would rather use them to achieve selfish agenda to the detriment of the collective interest of the people.
“In fact, the people behind the crisis are redundant individuals who would prefer that the pot is broken rather than have the people eat from it. That is the vivid description of what has happened”, he stressed.
On his part, the chairman of Otukpo local government council, Dr Innocent Onuh who lamented the ugly development and attack on the police commended the security operatives for their restraint even in the face of the attack.
Onuh maintained that the crisis was the “handiwork of some dissidents who have no stake in the parcel of land, and because no benefit is expected to accrue to them, they choose to thwart efforts that are aimed at bringing development to the area.
“Every discerning mind knows that the location of a university in a community comes with tremendous benefits to the inhabitants of the area outside the socio-economic benefit the people stand to enjoy from the students’ community.
“That is the more reason why everybody in Otukpo and Idoma land is pained by the action of the few persons behind the shameful act. Those of us in Otukpo are bothered because we wouldn’t want this opportunity to slip away since other council areas are also willing to provide enough land to the Senate President so as to have the institution sited in their area.” In his reaction, the Benue state liaison officer to the Senate President on media, Chief Adakole Elijah wondered why a people would kick against the citing of a developmental project like a higher institution in their community.
Adakole insisted that the crisis was instigated by political foes and detractors “who are ready to deny their people mouth watering benefits just for political reasons”.
However, Saturday Vanguard gathered from some of the irate youths of Asa 111 who craved anonymity that they embarked on the protest to demand better compensation for their farmland which would be used for the proposed institution.
“Infact, the way they are going about the whole thing, it’s as if they do not want to carry us along. Moreover, many of us have been beaten and molested by security agents in our community because of our stand point on the issue. We are aware of the fact that the proposed university will certainly open up our community but outside that, we’re also entitled to other benefits and good compensation because we are giving away our land forever”.
When contacted on the issue, the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO in the state, DSP Daniel Ezeala said the command was still investigating the matter while the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, for Otukpo, Francis Obinwa appealed to the people of Asa 111 to desist from further acts that could threaten the security of the entire area.