By Emma Amaize, AUSTIN OGWUDA, EMMA ARUBI& GODWIN OGHRE
WARRI— SECRETARY to the Delta State Government, Ovuozorie Macaulay, yesterday, called for restraint from the mass media on the Warri crisis.
He said: “First, let me start by pleading with us. You are all aware that by the grace of God I was at the centre of the resolution of the seven year old Warri ethnic crisis and I tell you that one of the factors that escalated that crisis was the reportage given to it.
“The media played a great role in the escalation of that crisis that lasted eight years. I agree, we are human beings but at times we should be able to differentiate our emotions from the discharge of our duties. I came to Warri to manage that crisis, I knew what I went through.
Before you know journalists in Warri will be polarized. Some will be recruited to write for the Itsekiris some will be recruited to write for the Ijaws and the problem which ordinarily would have been solved in one week, we would spend the next one year solving it. Please we are having relative peace in the state, let us all join hands to ensure that we sustain that peace. You asked why government has not sent relief materials to the Itsekiris. There was a crisis which government was not pre-informed.
Sending of relief materials
“If you are the governor of the state, is sending relief materials to people who are pursued the first step or ensuring that they are not pursued first? This crisis happened in the last couple of days and the first step government took was to make sure that lives and property were saved, and that there should be no further carnage. Even till last night the governor called me on this matter. Every minute we are still discussing with security agencies giving them all the logistics assistance they need to make sure that there is no further escalation of the situation.”
Don’t play politics with peoples lives—IYDC
Meantime, the Itsekiri Youths Development Committee, IYDC, Okogho community chapter, has cautioned that no one should play politics with peoples lives.
IYDC said in a statement signed by Wisdom Keke: “Just as I appreciate the stand of some Ijaw leaders, who condemned the senseless killing of Itsekiri people and the burning of our communities, I urge all aggrieved persons and ethnic group to use dialogue as a way of resolving their grievances. Nothing can be achieved in an atmosphere of violence but on roundtable dialogue. Whatever might have led to this senseless killing and burning of our communities is not worth it. We have lost enough lives already. We don’t want our youths to see Ijaw youths as enemies in the name of politics. Even if we are forced to do so by this act of evil and gruesome murder of our people, we should try to bury our anger.”
Civility not a sign of weakness
The youth leader added: “civility is not a sign of weakness and no persons or ethnic group has a monopoly of violence,” stressing that no persons, with ambition for the acquisition of political power should play politics with the lives of fellow human beings.
Keke, who commended the state government and the Delta Water Ways Security Committee DWWSC, for their efforts so far in restoring peace to the crisis-torn Warri North and urged militias in the area not to sabotage the efforts of the security operatives.
This came as the National Association of Itsekiri Students, NAIS, has alleged that soldiers and Navy personnel stationed at strategic exits and entry points on the Benin River axis in Warri North, were compromised to pave way for the Ijaw arsonists to kill and destroy Itsekiri natives and their communities.
NAIS said that the attacks and killings had brought the amnesty programme of the Federal Government to question. It also faulted the Itsekiri leadership for its inability to take firm stand on the unprovoked attacks on the Itsekiris.
NAIS said in a communiqué at the end of its emergency congress in Warri, and signed by its President, Akatakpo Omatseye and Secretary-General, Omagbe Jeffrey, that they were disappointed that after one week of the killings, neither the federal, state nor local government had sent any delegation to the various burnt communities or offered any form of relief material to the affected people.
Describing the act of the assailants as equivalent to that of Boko Haram sect in the North, the communique said “it is more painful that the perpetrators are known ex-militants that have accepted amnesty and are fully benefiting from the programme largesse. The Nigerian military action on the invasion is questionable because we cannot imagine having military gunboats less than 200 metres to the destroyed villages and they claim not to have heard gun shots but only saw fire. As such, we see their action as amounting to collaboration with the Ijaw terrorists.
“The political reasons advanced as being the cause of their killings and destruction is totally unacceptable to us because the people killed and communities destroyed are not the political class. They should have directed their war arsenal against government agency and property.”
Calling on the three arms of government to immediately send relief material to the displaced persons and affected communities, including the immediate commencement of re-building the destroyed communities, NAIS said “we shall henceforth take our destiny into our hands and defend ourselves as the government security apparatus appears to be unable to do so.”
JTF chases gunmen
Meanwhile, the Joint Task Force, police and other security agents are, reportedly, on a hot chase for the gunmen, believed to have retreated deeper into the creeks after the incident. About 12 Itsekiri natives were allegedly killed and no fewer than three communities razed by the mercenaries purportedly agitating for equal political space for Ijaws in the area since the crisis erupted last Tuesday.
Two gunmen suspected to have participated in last Tuesday’s killings, have allegedly been arrested by security agents. Vanguard learnt, yesterday, that security agents picked them up when they came to sell a 200 Horsepower speedboat engine in Koko area but details were scanty at press time. Spokesperson of the Joint Task Force, JTF, Lt. Col Onyema Nwachukwu did not return calls made by this reporter to him.
ERG regrets incident
The Egbema Radical Group, ERG, the Ijaw militia allegedly responsible for the recent crisis in Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State, has lamented the unpleasant incident. It also denied saying that it would bomb Abigborodo, the country home of the state governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, which is in the troubled area.
ERG said in statement signed by its spokesperson, Ami Dada: “We regret Tuesday’s attacks but the story of the killing of a family after Tuesday incident is not true.” It was reported that on Wednesday, a couple and their child from Tisun community, were killed.
Dada said: “We want to still make it clear to the public that we are not criminals. Those who continue to call us criminals do not understand the meaning of marginalisation and injustice and they should go to school again. We all know that Governor Uduaghan was Secretary to the State Government, when the Warri Peace Agreement was implemented in Warri South and Warri South-West. But why is Warri North an exception since 2004? Since then, government has been applying divide and rule policy to acquire key positions for themselves. Not minding the political slavery and his verbal promises to the Egbema people, we gave all our votes to Uduaghan without any benefit. Have we not endured enough?
Warri peace agreement
“The agitation has been on after the Warri Peace Agreement. All we wanted was the implementation and you should stop calling us criminals, because we are agitators. Since the Federal Government has intervened, we will wait and see how they intend to resolve the problem. We do not have problem with JTF personnel and we respect them. They should not be used by government. We never said we will bomb Abigborodo, the hometown of Governor Uduaghan, it is not true, people are just telling lies about us.”
Asked if the group had rescinded its earlier threat to bomb a flow station in Warri North, he said, “I do not know, it depends on how they treat our matter.”
He reiterated that the killing of some Itsekiris and burning of their houses, last Tuesday, by ERG was not deliberate, saying the agitators were provoked by Itsekiri boys, who came to stop their protest over marginalisation of Ijaws in Warri North.
A source gave names of the two arrested suspectes as Samuel and Atigbi, disclosing that “one of them is a speedboat driver and the other is handling General Purpose Machine Gun, GPMG, for the militants.”