A former Chairman of Egbema Gbaramatu Communities Development Foundation, EGCDF, and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Delta State, Chief Michael Johnny, in this interview with Sunday Vanguard speaks on the raging controversy over the location of the Nigeria Maritime University and why the Ijaws and Itsekiris would never fight again.
Sir, do you think the controversy between the Ijaw and Itsekiri over the ownership of the land where the Nigerian Maritime University is located could lead to another crisis between the two ethnic nationalities?
No, not at all, we are good brothers and neighbours. The controversy is not an issue; some few persons just want to make something out of nothing which can never be possible. Those who think they can instigate Ijaw and Itsekiri to fight again should have a rethink. As a leader from Gbaramatu and Warri South West local government, the sponsored ownership dispute over the land where the Nigerian Maritime University is located will not lead to any crisis between the Ijaws and Itsekiris in Warri South West Local Government Area, because the people of both ethnic nationalities are wiser now, the era where few individuals instigated them into unnecessary fighting is gone. Most of Ijaws and Itsekiris are very much aware of the selfish agenda and move by some people to cause crisis between them but I can assure you that no reasonable Ijaw or Itsekiri would kill each other again or sacrifice innocent blood.
The Itsekiri people are not ready to go into another war or crisis with the Ijaws for any reason whatsoever, not even on the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko community, in Gbaramatu Kingdom. The position of the Itsekiri was made clearly known in an advertorial published on Monday 22, January, 2018, in Vanguard newspaper, on page 45, by the people of Ugborodo Community. Those who signed the advertorial are Itsekiri and bonafide indigenes of Ugborodo Community, they made it clear that the Nigerian Maritime University is located in Okerenkoko, an Ijaw Community in Gbaramatu kingdom.
The people of Ugborodo have stood for the truth, and demonstrated true patriotism and love for their neigbours, the Ijaws. It is amazing that the Ugborodo people even urged the President Muhammadu Buhari not to be deceived about the location of the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko and that the place where the university is located belongs to the people of Gbaramatu kingdom. I wish to draw the attention of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami to the publication made by Ugborodo people.
Now that the Ugborodo people have confirmed that the land belongs to Ijaw of Gbaramatu kingdom, hope the Federal Government will immediately kick-off the university?
First, let me advise President Muhammadu Buhari to closely monitor the activities of some of his appointees who are frustrating the efforts of the APC-led government because of their personal interest. Secondly, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami should withdraw the memo he had sent to the National Assembly to rename the location of the Maritime University from Okerenkoko to Okerenghigho and apologize to Ijaw and Itsekiri in Warri South West, because his misleading memo almost caused fresh crisis between Ijaw and Itsekiri.
When Vanguard newspaper published the memo purportedly sent to the National Assembly by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami, I quickly did an open letter to President Buhari to call Malami to order because such a memo is capable of truncating the peace and security already restored in the Niger Delta region by the President since he assumed office 2015.
Malami’s memo was a misrepresentation of facts and misleading on the true ownership of the location where the Nigerian Maritime University, is located, but thanks to God and the people of Ugborodo, the matter has been put to rest.
Those Court judgments some few Itsekiri are parading and relying on to erroneously claim ownership of Okerenkoko community, an Ijaw land should be investigated, even though the Ugborodo people have confirmed that the land belongs to Ijaws of Gbaramatu, I think President Buhari should set up a commission of Enquiry to investigate how those Court judgments emanated and delivered.
The investigation is very important because it will help the Ijaw and Itsekiri in Warri South West to permanently live in peace and harmony. I have always desired a peace among the Ijaws and Itsekiri in Warri South West local government, we are brothers and neigbours and it will remain so.
The Federal government is expected to do the needful by ensuring that the University kicks off immediately because the issue relating to the true ownership of the land where the University is located has been settled, signed and sealed by the past Delta State government which acquired the land from Gbaramatu kingdom. The federal government has no further excuse to delay the kick off of the University, except there is something else the Federal government has not told us.
But have you been able to reach your friend Chief Ayiri Emami on how to resolve the controversy over location of the Maritime university?
No, I have not been able to reach him. Ayiri Emami is a friend and party man. I only read his interview in Vanguard newspaper, where he said and I quote him “I do not see any tension over the name of the site of the Nigerian Maritime University, NMU. What the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, did is not new to me; it is what is supposed to be done in any civilized society.”
I disagree with my friend Ayiri on the action taken by the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Malami. What the Attorney General of the Federation, did by sending a memo to the National Assembly to rename an existing Ijaw community, Okerenkoko to Okerenghigho an unkown name without the consent of the people and owners of the community was very wrong and will not be tolerated in any civilized society.
I don’t want to join issue with Ayiri because he should know better that no Court judgments will ever change the fact that Okerenkoko is an Ijaw community. I thank God for him, he is now the Ologbotsere ( Prime Minster) of Warri kingdom of Itsekiri descendants, I expect Ayiri to use that position to preach truth, peace and unity among Itsekiri and their neighbours across Nigeria.
Ayiri also said and I quote “So, Okerenghigho issue is not a new issue. If you go to the map, those areas are called Okerenghigho owned by Omadino people. You are fishermen and these places were given to you to fish and it should not mean that you own the place”. I will also disagree with Ayiri on this, so I ask, who are the people or indigenes of this strange Okerenghigho community since Omadino is an autonomous Iteskiri community?. Many lives, souls and properties were lost to the Warri crisis, till date affected victims have not been able to recover from their lost. People lost their loved ones and families members. I am a leader in Gbaramatu and Ayiri is a leader in Itsekiri, we know our past deeds, now that we have become leaders, we should use our offices or position to promote peace, security and protect lives and properties,
Therefore, as I said before, the Ijaw and Itsekiri in Warri South West local government are not ready to fight another communal crisis, anyone sponsoring, plotting or thinking such will happen again in the local government should have a rethink.
What is the solution to the herdsmen killings in the north and other parts of the country?
No right thinking Nigerian will derive pleasure in killing fellow Nigerians for no reason, no normal being will enjoy shedding the blood of innocent souls, it is totally insane. Many Nigerians have complained and even alleged that the herdsmen are not Nigerians and I urge the President, Muhammadu Buhari to properly investigate it. However, I do not see what anybody will achieve from the senseless herdsmen killings in North and parts of the country. The federal government must do every thing possible to stop the killings and I thanked Nigerians for condemning the killings and they should support the Federal government to end the menace of criminal elements pretending to herdsmen.
The threat issued by militant groups in the Niger Delta to resume hostility in the region
Please, I don’t want to talk about or comment on the threat reportedly issued by any militant group to resume attacks on oil facilities in the region. There are other better and more civilized ways to actualise the desire of the Niger Delta region, certainly violence is out of it. The incessant issuing of threats to resume attacks on oil facilities is becoming irrelevant and unprofitable to the region. Whenever a threat is issued, what follows? We must sincerely pursue the collective agenda for the development of the Niger Delta.