By Emma Amaize & Egufe Yafugborhi
WARRI—TWENTY-FOUR hours to the expiration of the deadline given to Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic groups in Delta State to resolve their disagreement over the $16 billion Export Processing Zone, EPZ, project in Ogidigben, Warri South-West Local Government Area, the leaders have opened a line of communication.
The Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, last week, gave Ijaw and Itsekiri leaders up till Wednesday, to sort out their grievances or the project may be relocated to another place. Both sides are expected to meet tomorrow in Abuja to update the minister.
Meanwhile, a lawyer and development expert, Mr. Robinson Ariyo, has called for the disarmament of Ijaw communities of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South-West Local Government Area, Delta State, alleging proliferation of weapons among youths in the area.
Ariyo who reacted in Warri to the recent threats by Gbaramatu people, which aborted President Goodluck Jonathan’s planned groundbreaking for the Ogidigben EPZ project as well as the harassment of 14 journalists by youths in the area days later, described the events as constituting great danger to the security of their Itsekiri neighbors, Ariyo, Legal Adviser to the Itsekiri National Youth Council, demanded urgent clamp down on those allegedly wielding sophisticated weapons to intimidate their neighbours.
He said: “The youths have weapons the least of which is the AK47as attested to by the journalists that were kidnapped. We are asking the government and the security agencies what these arms are doing in the hands of private people.”
Chairman of Ogidigben EPZ Interface Committee, Mr. Austin Oborogbeyi, who led the Itsekiri delegation to the meeting, last week, with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC authorities, told Vanguard “We have started discussions, though at individual level.”
A member of Ijaw delegation to the Abuja talks, who spoke to Vanguard, weekend, however, said: “The minister gave us one week to resolve issues but as at Sunday, the two ethnic groups have not met formally. I think it is the Itsekiri people that have to reach out, they are the ones kicking over the project, and they should call for a meeting, not us.”
Asked if that meant the Ijaw would be going to Abuja for tomorrow’s meeting without an agreement on the way forward with the Itsekiri, he said: “I told you that it is left for the Itsekiri, the buck is on their table. We stand on the NNPC proposal that the Free Trade Zone should be named after Ogidgiben and the Deep Sea Port after Gbaramatu because the projects are two.
“We have accepted that one of the projects be named Gbaramatu Deep Sea Port and the other, Ogidigben EPZ. That is the position we have adopted.”