BY CHARLES KUMOLU
CHAIRMAN of Ugborodo Community Management Committee in Delta State, Mr. Austin Oborogbeyi, speaks on how his committee is working to ensure lasting peace through dialogue, in the oil-bearing community.
As the chairman of Ugborodo Community Management Committee, how do you intend to address the current leadership tussle among the elders of the community?
There is no leadership tussle among the elders of Ugborodo Community. The council of elders is under the chairmanship of the Eghare-Aja, Pa Wellington Ojogor. That is the Congress of Ugborodo people. It is the highest decision-making body in the town. The Ugborodo Trust is in charge of the daily administration of the community.
What is the stand of your committee on the controversy about the Oloja Orori?
What is playing out now is the ambition of one man, Mr. Benson Dube Omadeli, who was appointed in 1998 as Chief Priest of Orori deity. It is Olaja-Orori or Olajori. He wants to forcefully assume the leadership of Ugborodo Community and create institutions that are unknown to the people. He addresses himself as emperor, his highness, and majesty. Every attempt by him to assume the leadership of Ugborodo Community has been seriously resisted by the people. Mr. Benson Dube Omadeli further attempted to use our Gbaramatu Ijaw brothers to rejig his ambition as published on page 25 of the Vanguard of January 30, 2018. We are using this opportunity to appeal to them to advise him to settle his problems with his people.
Olaja in Itsekiri means king. Olaja-Orori, therefore, means King of Orori. Orori is not synonymous with Ugborodo Community or vice versa. Persons who were priests of Orori before Benson Dube Omadeli knew their limits. Hence there was no monarchical tendency or roughshod with the Eghare-Aja. There was also no issue of supremacy battle. Part B of the Western Region Gazette No.5, Vol. 8 of January 22, 1959, recognised some chiefs from Ugborodo in Warri Kingdom namely: Orori, Oronmokeleboyowa, and Oyeolomuro. At the time of Olajori Ojogbo Erigbokuo, the late Jackson Egbetse Ereku of the Omideye stock of Olajori kindred family was the Orori of Ugborodo.
Areku now called Olajori with Oyen, Abomen, Eloko, and Koromini founded Ugborodo land. And they are referred to as the five kindred families.
Areku began to be called Olajori after marrying Orori, a water goddess as one of his wives. Upon her death, she became a deity while Olajori became the chief priest. An Olajori is appointed only by the descendants of Orori among themselves.
The head of Ugborodo Community is Eghare-Aja who is appointed from any of the five kindred families by Ugborodo people. Ugborodo people do not worship Orori but Isepkere and Eghare-Oboro whose Chief Priest is the Eghare-Aja.
Is there tension in Ugborodo community as a result of the press statement credited to some elders of the community, stating that Ugoborodo is not part of Warri Kingdom?
There is no doubt that the unfortunate statement by some persons that Ugborodo Community is not part of Warri Kingdom created some tension. The ambition of the current Olajori, Omadeli over the headship of Ugborodo Community is behind the said publications. Unfortunately, the authors of the said publications are not persons with the authority to speak on behalf of Ugborodo Community. Of the three signatories to the publications only one, Pasco Oritsegbami, is a member of the Council of Elder. Whatever they have put out in the media in the name of Ugborodo Community should, therefore, be discountenanced. Ugborodo Community in Warri South-West Local Government Council has its local administrative system like other Itsekiri communities all of which are integral parts of Warri Kingdom. And that has not changed.
What is the solution to the recurrent leadership tussle in Ugborodo Community?
There is no tussle among the elders of Ugborodo Community. What people consider as a crisis is nothing but the pranks of a few disgruntled persons, who do not mean well for the community. The present Ugborodo Community Management will continue to engage all and sundry through the Conflict Resolutions sub-Committee to make room for dialogue.
When people are given opportunities to express their views through dialogue, there will be less tension.
Our Committee will ensure that our activities are transparent to earn public confidence. We will ensure that people are not driven out of the community for whatever opinion expressed.
There will be lasting peace if people abide by the rules of the community.
Ugborodo Community has a Community Trust, whose Constitution everybody agrees should be revisited and amended where possible to meet the present realities of our time with provisions for specific functions for the various segments with defined goals and limits.
What are the measures your committee is putting on the ground to ensure that tussles among the elders of the community do not degenerate into internal crisis?
As stated earlier, there is no tussle among the elders of Ugborodo Community, although a member of the Elders Council, Mr. Benson Dube Omadeli is playing pranks with a few disgruntled elements who do not mean well for the Community. One of the ways to go which the present Ugborodo Community Management Committee is in support is to play by the Rules.
Also it will engage all and sundry through its Conflict Resolutions sub-Committee to ensure that people are allowed to express their views. When people are given opportunities to express their views through dialogue, they will have sense of belonging and there will be less tension.
Our Committee will ensure transparency in its activities to give people confidence. Ensure in accordance with our laws which guarantee freedom of expression, association etc. an end to that wicked tendency of driving people away from the Community for expressing their opinions contrary to others, particularly those in leadership. Where contrary opinions are suppressed there will be no meaningful but myopic development orchestrated by the few who feel that they know it all..
Why is the crisis becoming protracted despite past efforts at resolving it?
This may be due to greed because people are not looking at the bigger picture. There are people, who want to take the community backward. However, the resistance we are putting up is a sign that we will get to our destination.
How do you think the state can be helpful in resolving the crisis?
The state has always been helpful in resolving our issues. In 2014 the Federal, Government on the invitation of Delta State government through the offices of the Inspector General of Police and Chief of Naval Staff, set up a 21-man EPZ Interface Committee to interface on behalf of Ugborodo Community with third parties. One of the important assignments of the EPZ Interface Committee is the harmonization of the various constitutions of the Ugborodo Community Trust into an acceptable one. To achieve this, it was also provided that the EPZ Interface Committee be expanded. Mr. Omadeli and cohorts who made unsuccessful attempts to frustrate the Interface Committee thereafter took the issue to the governor Senator Arthur Ifeayin Okowa. Their interventions led to the constitution of the Ugborodo Community Management Committee, UCMC, which Ugborodo people totally embraced. But before the UCMC’s inauguration on May 30, 2017, Omadeli set up another committee called Ugborodo Administrative Committee with the same UCMC list but different executive. This resulted in another round of leadership crisis that led to the organised ambush and attacks between Kpokpo and Madangho. It was targeted at Ugborodo people, who were going for a meeting at Ode-Ugborodo. Several Ugborodo young men were kidnapped Mr. Benson Okoturo who witnessed the attacks slumped and died while Samuel Mayomi was gruesomely murdered. The lack of respect for the wishes of Ugborodo people, the mindset that things must be done according to the wishes of an individual and the craze for a monarchy that is unknown to Ugborodo people, is the cause of the recent crisis in the community.