By Emma Amaize, Jimitota Onoyume & Prince Okafor
MORE reactions, yesterday, continued to trail the recent memo by Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to the National Assembly that the correct location of the proposed Nigerian Maritime University, NMU, is Okerenghigho, and not Okerenkoko.
While, apex Itsekiri youth body inaugurated by the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Ikenwoli, the Itsekiri National Youth Congress, INYC, and Itsekiri youth leader, Mr. Alex Eyengho, insisted the AGF was in order, spokesman of the Gbaramatu Council of Chiefs, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, and Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI, contended that the AGF was wrong.
According to Mr. Eyengho, the memo by Malami did not warrant Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic nationalities to beat the drums of war.
He said in a statement: “Honestly, I do not see the reason for the hullaballoo trailing the advice to the National Assembly, NASS, by the AGF. As the chief law officer of Nigeria, he (Malami) did the right thing expected of him under existing laws of our land. He advised the National Assembly, and rightly so too, based on a valid exiting Supreme Court judgment. Malami simply did not want the lawmakers to progress in error by passing a law that will ultimately become subject of endless litigations. The Supreme Court judgment the AGF quoted in his memo to the NASS is clear and unambiguous even to the most stupid person on earth.
“He only drew the attention of NASS to the existing position of the law regarding the issue at hand. I am sure the NASS will do well to work with his advice to deepen the law and order this administration preaches. So I do not see any reason for anyone to beat war drums, neither do I see any justification for a renewed crisis between the Ijaw and Itsekiri on this matter. The bottom-line is that the Maritime University remains in its present location and the manifest fact that the occupants of the location are Ijaws of Gbaramatu in Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State.
“The benefits of having that university in the area will come to Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo and other Deltans and indeed Nigerians. Any crisis or war between the Ijaw and Itsekiri over this matter is simply a fratricidal war that will only spell doom for both parties, Delta State and Nigeria. Make no mistake about it, nobody living or dead is more Itsekiri, Ijaw, Urhobo than I am. The blood flowing in my veins paternally and maternally cuts across these three ethnic groups. Therefore, I would not want to see either of these ethnic groups engage in any needless hostility.”
INYC lauds AGF
Similarly, INYC in a statement by its President Esimaje Awani and Secretary, Humphrey Tuoyo, argued that “a people cannot be advocating for a university and at the same time presenting themselves to the world as a people who have strong intolerance for the judgment of the highest court of law. It is a shame to describe the judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction as inconsequential and should, therefore, be discountenanced. There is absolutely no basis for the call to jettison the judgement of the Supreme Court in this respect and under any circumstances as there is a civilised procedure for calling for review of court judgment. This does not include threatening to blow up pipelines or resorting to other forms of violence.”
While commending the AGF for “his dexterity, skilful devotion to duty, uprightness, and fearlessness as demonstrated in his well-informed legal opinion on the subject,” INYC expressed disappointment that such a “call could be made at the present time and in this modern age from a people who are supposedly educated and present themselves as desirous of a university”.
INYC called on members of the civil society, especially the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and the international community not to maintain silence on the issue, noting that “it is almost becoming a routine for the Ijaw in this region to blackmail the Federal Government into sacrificing the rule of law on the altar of necessity for oil exploration. We recall the issue of the illegal relocation of the headquarters of Warri South-West Local Government Area of Nigeria, the illegal delineation of Wards in Warri South, Warri South-West and Warri North as well as the recent attempt to illegally convert estates in Benin Kingdom by installing an unknown king.”
NMU in Okerenkoko —IPDI
Kicking against the AGF, IPDI, through Ozobo Austin and Ezekiel Daniel, President and spokesperson, in a statement, said: “It is pertinent to note that Okerenkoko is the original name of where the Nigerian Maritime University is sited. You cannot give a name that does not belong to us and you expect us to accept it. That is a capital NO, because we are not known by Okerenghigho but Okerenkoko and for the purpose of records, Okerenkoko is not being disputed in any legal tussle. Okerenkoko and Okerenghigho are not the same name and OKerenkoko is not a corrupted name of Okerenghigho, the whole world should note.
We wish to state unequivocally and reiterate that Okerenkoko is the original name of where the Nigerian Maritime University is located. There was no time Okerenkoko was called Okerenghigho. No community in Gbaramatu Kingdom is referred to as Okerenghigho. Okerenkoko is made up of Ijaw only. It is unfortunate that deliberate attempts are being made by AGF Malami to ignite fire where there is none. We want president Muhammadu Buhari to call AGF Malami and the cabal at the corridor of power to order. It is not only curious and spurious, but surprising how Malami came up with his jaundiced memo that is meant to instigate crisis between the Ijaw of Gbaramatu Kingdom and our Itsekiri neighbours. We believe Malami’s memo is what is known in political parlance as voice of Jacob and hand of Esau. Those trying to fan the embers of bloodbath among the people of Delta State in order to justify security allocation should desist.”
In the same vein, in a statement, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, who is the Ibe-Benemowei of Gbaramatu Kingdom, said: “Let it be known that the Ijaw people of Gbaramatu Kingdom, the Ijaw people of Warri South-West will not, cannot, shall not, allow their community’s name to be bastardized by a group of persons who are always looking for trouble. It is this changing of name and sitting of places that brought about Warri crises in the relocation of the local government from Ogbe-Ijoh to Ogidigben. Those who have not read about the Warri crises should know.
“From the publication, I understood that Malami and H. A. Tahir relied on a Supreme Court judgment. The Supreme Court judgment was between one James Uluba and others. E. E. Sillo and others. This is not the first time it is happening. The Itsekiri have always referred to this judgment. The bill that was submitted to the National Assembly carried the caption: ‘Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko’; it has never been ‘Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenghigho. In Okerenkoko, there are other institutions like the Okerenkoko Secondary School, the Okerenkoko Cottage Hospital, the Okerenkoko Cherubim and Seraphim Church, the Okerenkoko Anglican Church, the Okerenkoko Primary School which was established in 1955.
“All these institutions carry the name Okerenkoko. What of the delineation of wards? It is Gbaramatu Federal Ward with headquarters in Okerenkoko. In Gbaramatu Kingdom and all over Warri South-West, there is no place that is called Okerenghigho.
“In the whole of Okerenkoko there is no single Itsekiri man. So how come they own the land? Were they driven out? Did the Ijaw capture the Itsekiri and kill all of them? When did that happen? Is there a historical fact to that effect? The Ijaw are the aborigines of Gbaramatu. One begins to wonder when the name ‘Okerenghigho’ came in. So, Okerenghigho is the imagination of evil forces to cause crisis in Warri South-West and Niger Delta at large.”