Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, ILoT, has insisted that the disputed Ogbe-Ijoh Market in Warri, Delta State, belongs to the Itsekiti, as it called on the state government to hand over the market to Warri South Local Government Area of the state.
ILoT, in a communiqué by its chairman, Chief Edward Ekporo and Secretary, Mr A.S Mene, after their recent meeting on Agbarha-Urhobo (Agbassa)/Ogbe-Ijoh face-off over Ogbe-Ijoh Market in Warri, said: “The cause of the crisis is the illegal collection of levies from traders in Ogbe-Ijoh Market and its surroundings up to McIver area of Warri, by both the Agbarha-Urhobo (and Ogbe-Ijoh youths on the false claim of ownership of the land on which the market is located.
“The land on which the market is situated is part of the land leased by late Chiefs Dore Numa and Ogbe Yonwuren on behalf of the Itsekiri people on July 30, 1906, to Sir Walter Egerton, the then Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Colony of Southern Nigeria, for 99 years. The land later passed on to the defunct Western Region of Nigeria.
“As independence approached, the governor of the then Western Region agreed to return the lands leased by the Itsekiri people to the Colonial Government including the lease of 1906 which covered Ogbe-Ijoh Market and its surroundings.
“Meanwhile, during the military administration, the market was demolished and the then military government of the defunct Bendel State undertook to rebuild the market and started construction work which was later abandoned. Subsequent administrations of the state did little to complete the market and today it remains uncompleted, after over 25 years.
“The market in its uncompleted state has become an incubator of crime and other vices in Warri and its environs. Some parts of it have been converted to residential houses, brothels, hard drugs havens, gambling and hide-outs for criminals. Worst still, some people now claim it to be a kingdom or clan contrary to the law.
“It is in this state of lawlessness that miscreants and idle youths masquerading as ethnic champions are claiming ownership and extorting fees from traders in and around the market.
“Since the State Government has failed to complete the abandoned market after over 25 years, it should handover the market back to the Warri South Local Government Council to manage. This is the only panacea for peace in the area.”
“The false claim of ownership by both the Agbarha-Urhobo (Agbassa) and the Ogbe-Ijoh people over the market is provocative to the Itsekiri people who are the real owners of the land. Their continued illegal activities in and around the market area and the government acquiesce could make the Itsekiri youths too to exert their rights on the land.
This will certainly escalate the crisis and the only way out therefore is for the state government to handover the market to the Warri South council without delay and chase out all those who are in occupation illegally.”
They added that “The piece of land including Ogbe-Ijoh Market and the McIver area have been litigated upon between the Agbarha-Urhobo (Agbassa) and the Itsekiri people as well as between the Ogbe-Ijoh people and the Itsekiri people. The first is the case of Ometa vs. Dore Numa (No. 25/1926), a case between the Agbarha-Urhobo (Agbassa) (represented by Ometa) and the Itsekiri (represented by Chief Dore Numa) which terminated at the Privy Council in London in 1933 in favour of the Itsekiri. This same land also formed part of the subject matter in Suit No. W/48/56: Chief Izoukumo Olioki & 5 ors vs. Itsekiri Communal Land Trustees in which the Ijaws of Ogbe-Ijoh sued the Itsekiri Communal Land Trustees for a declaration of title. The case terminated at the Supreme Court in Suit No SC/450/1965 in favour of the Itsekiri. The Ijaws were barred for life from ever contesting the ownership of any piece of land in Warri with the Itsekiri people.
“The area designated as Ogbe-Ijoh Market has been used from the colonial time as such and had been under the management of the defunct Warri Divisional Council, whose successor is Warri South Local Government Area.
“The Ijaws of Ogbe-Ijoh appeared to be carried away by the name Ogbe-Ijoh Market. What is in a name? Ogbe-Ijoh Market only designates the area where the Ogbe-Ijoh people were selling fish and sugarcane during the colonial time. It does not confer ownership. We have Igbo Market, Hausa Quarters, Isoko Garage in Warri. It doesn’t confer ownership of those lands on the ethnic nationalities after which they were named.