By Emma Amaize
WARRI—Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, ILT, in Delta State, yesterday, described as blackmail, the recent warning by Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, that the Federal Government may relocate the $16 billion Export Processing Zone, EPZ, if the opposing Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic groups fail to come to a compromise.
Secretary of the group, Mr. Edward Ekpoko, also told Vanguard on phone that the Itsekiri ethnic group had no apology to render to the minister or any other person for expressing its mind on the EPZ project.
He said: “It is a blackmail to say that if the Itsekiri and Ijaw people do not come to agreement, the project would be moved to another place. What agreement does she want us to reach with the Ijaw? Is Ogidigben, where the project is sited not owned by Ugborodo-Itsekiri people?”
On the one week ultimatum given to the two ethnic groups to resolve their disagreements over the project, the Commissioner representing Ijaw on the board of Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC, Mr. Kingsley, Otuaro, urged Mrs. Alison-Madueke to give them more time, as one week was not enough to iron out the issues.
Ekpoko, who was furious over the minister’s threat, insisted that the Itsekiri would not mortgage their land to satisfy the interest of Ijaw.
He said: “If she is looking for a ploy to take the project to Bayelsa State where she hails from, that is another thing all together. Government knows who they acquired the EPZ land from. It is not from the Ijaw, so what are we agreeing on? Are you saying that we should let Ijaw claim our land when they have no right of ownership over the land?”
On the apology, which the minister was said to have demanded from the Itsekiri, he said: “We, ILT, have no apology to render to her or to any other person. To say the least, it is insulting to ask the Itsekiri people to apologize to her.”
On whether Ijaw and Itsekiri leaders had opened communication in respect of the one-week ultimatum given them by government to resolve their differences, he said: “Itsekiri and Ijaw leaders can meet, but that does not mean that the land belongs to them or that we are going to share our land with them.”
Otuaro, chairman of Warri-Ijaw, Itsekiri Youth Peace Forum which brokered the peace between youths of the two ethnic groups during the unfortunate Warri crisis, said: “One week ultimatum is too short against the backdrop of the issues that the community leaders have to look into.
“What I am saying is that should they fail to resolve the matter within the one week that the minister gave, government should give more time for the leaders to establish the needed peace. Both the Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic groups appreciate the value of this project and would not want it to be relocated to any place.”