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Maritime University: Ugborodo can’t speak for Itsekiri, Omadino —Pirah, Delta Oil and Gas Commissioner 

By Perez Brisibe

Mofe Pirah, Delta State Oil and Gas Commissioner, speaking as an opinion leader in Ugborodo, Warri South West LGA, speaks on how amicable resolution could be reached on the tussle between the Itsekiri and the Ijaw over the ownership of the land on which the Maritime University.

Mofe Pirah, Delta State Commssioner for Oil and Gas.

flaying the claim in the media that the Itsekiri of Ugborodo have conceded the land to the Ijaw.

On the notion that Ugborodo supports Gbaramatu ownership of varsity site.

I am an Ugborodo man from Ogidigben. Ugborodo is made up of five communities, namely, Aruton, Ogidigben, Ajubaibo, Ijaghalla and Madangho. I am irked by the leading questions of the interviewer in a media interview with Chief Michael Johnny of Gbaramatu during which he was asked, ‘Now that the Ugborodo people have confirmed that the land belongs to the Ijaw of Gbaramatu Kingdom, we hope the Federal Government will immediately kick-off the university?’ Let me make it clear, Ugborodo people cannot speak for Itsekiri Kingdom.

Ugborodo cannot speak for Omadino people whose ownership of the site is backed by Supreme Court ruling. And to go further, the three signatories to the purported publication backing Gbaramatu are not in the position to speak for Ugborodo under the circumstance. Obviously, the interviewer of Johnny is not on ground in Delta. That is why he missed facts of the case.

Ugborodo’s rights, limits of involvement

You saw the community’s position, as provided by the Elders Council which disowned the three signatories days after. For Ugborodo to author a publication of that magnitude, the Eghare-Aja and the Olaja-Orori would sign, that is if Ugborodo has the right to refer to Omadino land or any other land as owned by A or B. Alternatively, such responsibility is handled by the Management Committee or the Ugborodo Trust to which the community has entrusted administrative powers. These two are the only legitimate organs to speak on behalf of Ugborodo, and I must emphasize, not on behalf of Itsekiri, but of Ugborodo.

For about a year or so, there has been leadership crisis in Ugborodo, resulting in factional chaos. Someone was reportedly killed for which some persons are on trial. When people are drowning, they can go to any length to save their necks.

The claim that Ugborodo sold its land is the handiwork of drowning voices. Ugborodo sold no land, has no right to. Omadino people have their documents, judgement, to deal with their land. At the appropriate time, the Itsekiri and the Omadino people will respond. Those of us from the Ugborodo axis desire the university for the development it holds for everybody in the area, but then the reference to a ‘strange Okereghigho’ is inciting. Those claimants are blind to the history of the area. Those who grew up in that environment in the 70s, 80s, 90s, to an extent will affirm there is Okerenghigho. The demand for the Attorney General of the Federation to withdraw the memo to the National Assembly is laughable. We know the limits of the powers of the Attorney General.

He wrote to the National Assembly (NASS) based on concrete evidence and they jettisoned it. He has continued. At the right time, the issues will come to the fore and they must be resolved. I bear no grouse against the National Assembly for passing the law establishing the university under the name Okerenkoko, but, at the appropriate time, those in the right position will address the issue.

Brothers and sisters

We will not continue to heat up the polity. We have started living like brothers and sisters that we are. I am Itsekiri from Ugborodo, but I also have Ijaw (Gbaramatu) and Urhobo blood in me. We have no reason to fight but to say Ugborodo people confirmed land ownership, those people do not represent Ugborodo, neither do they represent Itsekiri.

No shying away from amicable solution

There are things you could say and it would offend party A, other things you could say and party B gets offended, especially for some with blood ties to both ends. However, we cannot be evasive forever if we must live in sustained harmony.

So, someone must bell the cat. Presently, the most visible occupants of parts of that land are Ijaw, but before we got here, there was a distinct quarter where Itsekiri people lived, separate from the quarter Ijaw lived, and that place was referred to as Okerenghigho. Even before the ethnic crisis, Itsekiri no longer felt comfortable in their quarter there, and started moving away. The crisis has made it a purely Ijaw settlement today.

Acquisition

In the event of acquisition, like the Maritime Varsity case, those who settled there are the rightful owners of the economic trees in that space. What the law says is that the settlers take 2/3, the original owners get 1/3 because the settler is the one hit by the direct impact. If I give you a place to settle and acquisition comes on that place, it is your farms, ponds, businesses that will be displaced. Any associated environmental hazard hits you directly. So the balance of interests favours you to take more of the compensation or benefit.

The state owns land. It is not paid for during acquisition. What you pay for are economic trees, shrines, shelter and all that, but because communities will always claim ownership, they crave for compensation too. There are the two words, “Okerenghigho” and “Okerenkoko”. “Ekeren” in Ijaw means a man, “Okeren” also means a man in Itsekiri. So, in this atmosphere of stalemate, Gbaramatu and Omadino people must sit on the table for amicable settlement to happen.

The expected discussion allows both parties to say, ‘let’s put a name here, an apostrophe or hyphen there’, and they have a name and move forward for the ultimate benefit of developing our area. That is the way to go. That’s what I expect of Gbaramatu and the Warri Kingdom. As one Delta, there are two major structures in our region – the EPZ and the Maritime Varsity. I want both to succeed.


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