By Emma Amaize
THE Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, has given the Itsekiri and Ijaw in Delta State one week to resolve the disagreement over the $16 billion Delta Gas City project or government would take the project elsewhere.
It was learned that the Minister handed down the warning to the representatives of the two ethnic groups, who met separately, last week, with the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, in Abuja.
Both ethnic groups are scheduled to attend a fresh meeting in Abuja on Wednesday to brief the Minister on their joint resolution on the contentious issues, particularly the name of the project, but, as at yesterday, there had not been any meeting by leaders of both sides to resolve the issues at stake.
Leaders of the two ethnic groups were not even talking as if they planned to meet. When Sunday Vanguard asked an Ijaw leader, he said, “Ijaw people met Friday in Warri to deliberate on the Abuja meeting. I am not aware of any meeting yet with the Itsekiri people for a joint resolution.”
An Itsekiri leader and Ajuwaoyiboyami of Warri Kingdom, Chief Ayiri Emami, aka Akulagba, said, when contacted, yesterday, that the land where the Export Processing Zone, EPZ, renamed Delta Gas City, was sited, belongs wholly to the Itsekiri.
He said the NNPC authorities made it clear to the Ijaw representatives at the Abuja meeting that the over 2,500 hectares of land acquired for the project belonged to the Itsekiri communities of Ajudaibo and Ogidigben.
“They showed them the map of the acquired site. The only thing that brought Ijaw in is the 300 hectares acquired for the Deep Sea Port at Madangho/Kpokpo. Because of that, some people are suggesting that since there are two different projects, the EPZ should be named Ogidigben EPZ and the other, Gbaramatu Sea Port,” Emami said.
He, however, said, “Such suggesting or thinking is wrong since the Deep Sea Port is in Itsekiri land of Madangho and Kpokpo, which the Ijaw people call Ikpokpo and are using it to claim ownership. Kpokpo is not owned by the Ijaw, it is owned by the Itsekiri, which was why they burnt it down during the Warri crisis.”
The Itsekiri leader said his people would not surrender Kpokpo to the Ijaw, adding, “Even if they are claiming Kpokpo, the Deep Sea Port is also in Madangho. So why should it be named Gbaramatu Deep Sea Port? I have said that the way out is to use the Escravos Gas to Liquid, EGTL, project template and call it Delta Gas City, Escravos.”
An Ijaw youth leader, who attended the Abuja parley with the NNPC, said, “The Minister of Petroleum Resources came to address us on Tuesday after we held separate sessions with the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Joseph Dawha.
“The Minister was very bitter at the attitude of the Itsekiri people, who accused the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, of pursuing an ethnic agenda. She told them she was the one that conceived the project and took to the President for approval and she is also the person scouting for investors.
“She warned the Itsekiri people to apologize to the President and herself and told them to send the message to the Secretary of the Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, ILT, Barrister Edward Ekpoko.
“She said the project will leave the place if within one week, the Ijaw and Itsekiri did not resolve their differences, adding that she is aware that Ijaw and Itsekiri live in the contentious area in dispute. She further told them to be careful about their statements.
“The NNPC met with us later to take proposals from the two ethnic groups, The Gbaramatu-Ijaw are the owners of Ikpokpo community and we are insisting on a joint name for the EPZ project.”
ILT Secretary, Barrister Ekpoko, told Sunday Vanguard on phone, yesterday, “Itsekiri and Ijaw did not meet jointly with the NNPC and the land acquired for the EPZ project had nothing to do with the Kpokpo.”
He added, “It appears from feelers that the purported acquisition of land by Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, for a deep sea port is what is creating the problem. What I want to make clear is that the whole of EPZ is on Itsekiri land and even if your talk about Kpokpo, it is an Itsekiri land, and we have court judgment to that effect.”