By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
YOU could glimpse it, almost touch it, the pains of the Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, last year’s twilight, as he ventilated on the inability of the State Government to resolve the intractable land dispute between Ogbe-Ijoh, an Ijaw community in Warri South-West Local Government Area and Aladja, an Urhobo settlement in Udu Local Government Area of the State.
The crisis, which had recorded uncountable deaths and destruction, was there during the former Governor James Ibori, Emmanuel Uduaghan administrations, but many thought that the Okowa regime should have put it to rest, last year.
Also speaking to reporters, last weekend, the outgoing Commissioner of Police, Delta State, Mr. Zanna Ibrahim, who is departing the state for the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, mentioned the inability of the police to restore complete peace among the warring Ogbe-Ijoh and Aladja communities, Umuebu and Amai in Ndokwa area, as part of his regrets.
Okowa, who also shared the same sentiments, lamented that determining the age long dispute between the two quarreling neighbours earned him many insults, last year.
Though he revealed that government would soon release the White Paper on the Report of the Professor Abednego Commission of Inquiry, he set up to look into the crisis, the governor knows that any slip-up could spark fresh catastrophe.
Police locked up community leaders
His words: “I have received a lot of insult concerning the Aladja and Ogbe-Ijaw crisis. If you understand the management of human beings and management of communal crisis, it is not something you can just take decisions anyhow because of the issues that concern loss of lives and properties. I want to really get to the root cause and be able to find solutions, which will bring peace to the people.”
This crisis has been on for more than two decades, we have been very proactive in trying to address the issues and the people who go there know that. We have had several meetings; we have had to set up committees to look at the whole thing. If you are having a court judgment, the court judgment does not give you peace in many instances.
We want to be able to create situations where people are still able to live with each other. It has been a very problematic situation to resolve. At a point and time, the leadership of both communities had to be reporting twice a week to the military base, they were busy shooting themselves and the leadership had to be locked up by the police.”
White Paper ready
“Now the white paper is ready, but it is my prayer that the white paper itself will be able to bring peace. The youths are not being reasonable, but the leaders are, and the traditional rulers, but unfortunately, they appear to have lost a reasonable control of the youths of both communities. That is the challenge that we have. I am aware that at a point in time, they vandalized the palace of the Ovie of Udu because he was seeking a peaceful process.
That shows the level of trouble we have in the place. When communities begin to lose control over their youths, it can become very dangerous and you have to manage it in the best way possible. These are security issues and security issues require a lot of intelligence to deal with it.
We are only being pushed to take the course of the white paper because we have not been able to get the youths of those areas to listen to the voice of reason,” he said.
I am not prejudiced
Dismissing the allegation of bias on his part, Okowa said he had no reason to take sides with anybody just as in many things that he does, especially in governance of the state, adding that the government would take necessary decisions in the white paper and direct security agencies to do what they have to do.
Why Dep Gov, SSG cant preside
“I want to be on the side of truth as much as possible. Therefore, we have not been taking sides. There are people, who feel they want us to take sides with them and it has been from both communities. They have accused the Secretary to State Government, SSG; they have also pointed fingers at the Deputy Governor. My SSG is Urhobo and my deputy is Ijaw.
“Therefore, most times, even in meetings, if I cannot find myself fit in meetings, it is difficult for me to ask my Deputy governor or SSG to preside. I am sure you are beginning to see how complex the situation is, it is not just a simple matter, but I believe too that the press can help to educate the people. The press can actually help us by reshaping the people. I have said and done all kind of things I need to do,” he asserted.
The youths of the communities were so defiant to government and security agencies, last year that they never kept agreements reached by their leaders with government. In fact, barely 24 hours after the governor brokered peace between the feuding communities, July, last year, at the Government House annex, Warri, both communities resumed hostilities against each other with locals scampering for safety.
Both Aladja and Ogbe-Ijoh communities accused each other of kidnapping and killing their relatives correspondingly and security operatives sent to the area had a difficult time containing the rampaging armed youth, who either behead or burn their victims alive.
Groups uncomfortable with govt role
Despite the efforts of the state government to contain the crisis, last year, some groups and persons still think that government was lethargic in handling the matter and charged Governor Okowa to be decisive, this year. Concerned Ijaw and Urhobo youths and civil society groups had to stage a peaceful walk in Warri, last year, calling on Governor Okowa to implement previous peace committee reports to put an end to the lingering crisis.
The groups included Niger Delta Peace Volunteers, NDPV; Ijaw People’s Development Initiative, IPDI; Urhobo Progressive Union, UPU (Youth Wing), Concerned Ijaw Transformation Ambassadors, CITA; Committee for Rural Development Movement among others.
Addressing reporters, Convener of the Peace Walk, Williams Walemu Jnr. expressed worries over the killings between the two sister communities “Ijaws and Urhobos have cohabited for ages and at no cause they should engage one another in a warfare,” he asserted.
Our expectations, by Aladja
President General of Aladja community, Mr. Elias Dogene, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard, said, “Government set up a Commission of Inquiry headed by Prof Ekoko, which had submitted its report. Our position is that government should implement the report.
We need peace, we are against an alleged plan of the government to totally acquire the disputed land between us and Ogbe-Ijoh because the land belongs to us and that will not solve the problem. We understand that government is under pressure from Ogbe-Ijoh and others to acquire the land because it is not theirs.
“It is all clear in the case of the two women, who came before King Solomon in the Bible that the one that is not the owner wanted the baby killed, which is what Ogbe Ijoh wants. but we want government to establish the owner of the land and resolve the matter in such a way that will bring peace to both sides,” Dogene said.
Dogene, however, praised Governor Okowa for the bold steps he had taken so far on the resolution of the crisis between the two communities, adding that from available information, the Ekoko panel recommended far-reaching decisions.
He cautioned:”I, nevertheless, restate that forceful acquisition of the land by government will not solve the problem. Government should establish the ownership, and then determine it in such a way that there will be peace.”
What we want – Ogbe-Ijoh
Reacting, Ogbe-Ijoh leader, Chief Monday Keme, said, “Whatever decision the government takes that will bring about lasting peace, we are in support. We heard that at the next State Executive Council meeting, they will consider the white paper or take a position on it.
We believe that we have made our positions known to government at the various commissions that were set up and meetings on the matter. The Aladja people in their last press conference accused government of being in a hurry to release a white paper and also called for the relocation of the headquarters of Warri South-West local government from Ogbe-Ijoh.
“We are surprised that they are accusing government of hurrying to release a white paper in a matter that everybody wants the government to resolve quickly and to demand that the headquarters of Warri South-West be relocated from Ogbe-Ijoh showed the desperation of Aladja people.
“You know that our case with Aladja is not about local government headquarters, you can see where the problem is coming from and why,” he said.
Chief Keme, who admitted that Ogbe-Ijoh was letting go part of its land to government, added, “How can we be accused of not being the owner of our land because of our peaceful disposition. Government is acquiring over 289 acres of land between the two communities, Ogbe-Ijoh is not letting go because it is not the owner, there is a clear-cut boundary between Ogbe-Ijoh and Aladja, and we are only letting peace to reign.”
“I want to say that the Public Notice 28 of 1951 defined the boundary of Warri and Urhobo divisions, while Ogbe-Ijoh is in Warri division, Aladja is in Urhobo division. The said boundary is a creek, which the Delta Steel Company, DSC, turned into drainage.
“The Aladja people petitioned the Western Region Council over the boundary and a peace process was put in place, which determined the present boundary between the two communities in 1955. Government later adjusted the boundary to the present location, which is the roundabout in Aladja when going to Ogbe-Ijoh, “he said.
The Ogbe-Ijoh leader asserted that contrary to the ownership claim by Aladja, the disputed land belong to Ogbe-Ijoh, which between 1988 and 1989, appropriately gave our part of the land to the Nigerian Navy for training purpose and the defunct Bendel state government for agricultural and housing scheme.