By Simon Ebegbulem
BENIN—Edo Forum of Patriots, a socio-cultural organisation in Edo State, has charged the state governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, not to be distracted in his proposed plans to build the multi-billion naira Export Processing Zone, EPZ, in Gelegele, saying that the issue of the real owners of the land which is being claimed by the Ijaw had been settled in favour of the Benin people by the Supreme Court in 1983.
The forum commended the governor for what it described as the various developmental projects his administration had attracted, completed and commissioned since his assumption of office.
It, however, appealed to the governor to use his good office to secure the release of the President of the Benin Solidarity Movement, Mr Curtis Ugbo, who is facing trial over alleged treason after he led a protest against the Ijaw and oil companies operating in Benin land. Ugbo had accused the oil companies of neglecting their host communities.
However, the forum in a letter addressed to the governor, by Mr Bright Omokhodion for the Interim Management Committee of the forum and former Speaker of the state House of Assembly, noted that the EPZ project will create thousands of jobs for youths of the state.
Buttressing the point that Gelegele land belongs to Benin and not the Ijaw, the letter narrated that “at the High Court of Justice Benin, in Suit B/44/1970, judgement was in favour of Benin by Justice Ekeruche(J) on December 22, 1978. In the judgement, he held that: ‘Finally, I enter judgement in this case as follows: for the avoidance of all doubt, argument and controversy, I hear by say unequivocally that Gelegele village and its environs and bushes are Benin land. They do not belong to the Ijaw of Gelegele as owners.
“The Ijaws are tenants of his Highness, Akenzua II, the Oba of Benin. Apart from the above, the plaintiff’s claim is dismissed in their entirety.’ Dissatisfied with the judgement, the Ijaw appealed the ruling. The Appeal Court dismissed their appeal and again, delivered judgement in favour of Benin. The lead judgement was read by Justice Abdul Ganiyu (J) on December 16, 1981. Still not satisfied, the Ijaw went to the Supreme Court with Suit No.SC.131/1982.
“On August 19, 1983, Muhamadu Lawal Uwais, the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, and four others dismissed their appeal, upheld the judgement of the lower courts and awarded costs against the Ijaws. Despite these judgements, the Ijaws still claim ownership of Gelegele”.
“Base on these facts the Benin Solidarity Movement led by Curtis Ugbo, and the Benin National Congress have eminently asserted the non-negotiability of Oba of Benin ownership of the area. We therefore appeal to you sir, to do justice to this matter. We also pray for your intervention for the immediate and unconditional release of Curtis Ugbo as the issues bothers on citizens inalienable rights to peaceful protests.
“Consequently, we sincerely appeal to your Excellency’s passionate intervention, as our leader and in whose power God has today providentially placed the destinies of many in the state” it stated.