By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
EVOCATIVE of the “Aba Women’s riots of 1929” in which thousands of women in the then provinces of Calabar and Owerri organized a massive revolution against the policies of the British colonial administrators, hundreds of women from Kokori in Ethiope-East Local Government Area of Delta State, joined by youths, last week, carried out a civil disobedience against government, soldiers on “internal security operation” in the troubled area, their monarch and notable elite.
Kokori is the country home of Delta suspected kidnap kingpin, Kelvin Oniarah, arrested September 25, by a combined team of Department of State Service, DSS, and the army, while staying in an hotel in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State.
Like the Aba riots in which thousands of Igbo women congregated at the Native Administration centers in Calabar and Owerri as well as smaller towns to protest against the warrant chiefs and the taxes on the market women, Kokori women protested nude (Eweya) , last weekend, demanding the withdrawal of soldiers on “internal security operation” from the community.
The women, angry that they were prevented from selling in the market, penultimate Saturday, by soldiers who upturned their wares for allegedly selling food items to the boys causing problem for the government, were further infuriated by the report they received when they got home that soldiers broke into the community shrine for the second time and destroyed every object at sight even after the chief priest, Michael Omonigho, had been taken into custody.
Citing the schools in the community, health centre and markets that had been forced to shut down because of the siege to the town by soldiers, who accused of beating up their men, they embarked on a protest, and, stunningly, they prevented soldiers from entering the town for several hours on Monday.
Accusing the soldiers of chasing away their husbands and desecrating their custom and tradition, the women, acting on unconfirmed information that soldiers wanted to demolish the Igban shrine, formed a human shield around the shrine and prevented them from purportedly executing the mission.
Caskets in the palace
They did not spare the leaders of the community, the elite, led by their monarch, Ovie of Agbon Kingdom, Ogurime-Rime, Ukori 1, who they accused of looking the other way while the community was under siege by agents of government and soldiers. Consequently, they carried caskets and deposited them at the palace of the monarch and homes of some prominent sons of the town.
Despite the expressed wrath of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan over the alleged support they gave their suspected kidnapper- son, Kelvin, the women maintained that the community was being marginalized as stated by the alleged kidnap kingpin and asked the governor to develop Kokori.
It is like the women are tired of the silence of their men and have taken over the battle for the “liberation” of the town from perceived enemies.
The protest, which went wild, last weekend, started penultimate Saturday when the women returned from the market angry that soldiers allegedly came to upturn their wares, asking why they should sell food items to Kelvin boys, who were fighting government.
They went round the community half naked raining curses on the soldiers that night. The next day, Sunday, the women were joined by members of Liberation Movement of Urhobo People, formed by the alleged kingpin, last month, and they really went fanatical.
They allegedly broke into the monarch’s palace and vandalized the citadel. The youths, who, penultimate Friday, only laid siege to the palace and held the royal father, PDP senatorial candidate for yesterday’s bye-election, Chief Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, and others hostage, for more than one hour, broke into the palace this time around.
They allegedly vandalized property of the monarch and the residence of a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Akpodiagaga Emeyese. Emeyese, who was allegedly injured in the first attack on the palace, broke his leg and has been hospitalized since then.
The protesters reportedly attacked a hotel belonging to Emeyese and other elite in the town, saying they were the ones that gave Kelvin out to security agents in Port-Harcourt, where he was reportedly arrested after he was tricked there.
According to a source, “Chanting songs of disenchantment with the portrait of the Ovie of Agbon, HRM Ogurimerime Ukori I after placing a casket at the palace gate, the women said the last thing they would tolerate was the destruction of their shrine, declaring that ‘Egba’ shrine was as old as Kokori town.”
Our grouse – Spokesperson
Spokes person of the protesters, Madam Irerevwo Oyokoko, called for the release of Kelvin and the arrested chief priest, Michael Omonigho, insisting that government should attend to his (Kelvin) demand, instead of arresting him and terrorizing the entire community with soldiers.
Noting that indigenes of other communities in the Niger Delta that carried arms against government were granted amnesty, Oyokoko asked why Kelvin’s case was different.
It took the intervention of the chairman of Ethiope-East for the women to disperse last Sunday, having been assured by a top military officer, who was on ground when the chairman addressed them that they would not destroy the shrine.
However, they regrouped on Monday and built a wall around the shrine following a report that soldiers were seen with motor-saws supposedly to hack down the tree, which form part of the shrine.
On Tuesday, there was report that calm was gradually returning to the community, but the situation changed, Wednesday, as the women, maintaining their children no longer go to school and that soldiers were worsening their plight, while government was not concerned by their ordeal, but interested in uprooting anything Kelvin out of Kokori, marched from the town to Isiokolo, the headquarters of the council on foot to lodge a formal protest.
Led by the oldest Kokori woman, they trooped to Isiokolo, drumming, dancing and raining curses on their monarch who they accused of conspiracy.
At Isiokolo, where they met the Head of Personnel Management, Mr. William Egbukuage, they repeated the call for the release of the chief priest of the community’s shrine, saying he was not a juju priest for Kelvin and his gang, as claimed by those who apprehended him.
They told Egbukuage, who received them in the absence of the chairman of council, that Kokori was indeed marginalized, as stated by the seized alleged Delta kidnap kingpin, Kelvin.
According to them, since 1961 when oil production started in Kokori, the community has practically nothing to show for it.
They also called for the release of all the “innocent farmers, traders and villagers” that were arrested by soldiers on their way to the farm, market and other places.
Egbukuage promised to deliver their message to the council chairman.
Meanwhile, Kokori people in Ghana, last Sunday, decried the invasion of the community by the military under the guise of searching for gang members of Kelvin, calling for withdrawal of the troops.
Leader of the Kokori community in Ghana and public relations officer of Urhobo Progress Union, UPU/ South-South community, Ghana, Mr. David Ukueku, said the entire Kokori people in Ghana were incensed by the invasion.