- *Enraged Delta villagers chase away security agents, vent anger on Presco
- *NBC official complains of poor funding, antagonistic communities
- *Edo claims ownership; Delta enjoins Commission to act fast to save lives
By Emma Amaize and Perez Brisibe
ASABA- INSTEAD of ebbing, the boundary row between Edo and Delta states is snowballing, following the strange inability of the National Boundary Commission, NBC, to come to a decision on the border lines connecting the two sister states, almost 23 years after the crisis broke out in 1995.
Finding by NDV indicates that if NBC does not wake up to its responsibility, the incessant arrests and confrontations between security agents and aggrieved communities, especially in Delta State, over alleged incursion into their lands by Presco Plc, a fully-integrated agro-industrial establishment based at Obaretin, Edo State, could assume a monstrous dimension.
The company is currently trapped in the melee between the two states due to the powerlessness of NBC to perform its constitutional duty.
Some weeks ago, angry villagers at Ethiope East Local Government Area, Delta State, physically abused and chased away Mobile policemen from the Police Command, Edo State, who escorted workers of Presco Plc Nigeria, to work in a plantation in Abraka area. The audacious attackers had the effrontery to snatch an AK 47 rifle from the shamed security operatives.
In 2015, soldiers hunting for a native of Ovre-Eku, also a Delta community over alleged show of aggression stomped his baby to death
Uneasy calm reign at the border communities between the two states over the delay in determining the boundary, but while NBC and the two states agreed on maintaining the status quo ante in the disputed areas pending resolution, the agreement was being observed in breach by parties and agents from the two states.
Some years back, the Managing Director of Presco, Mr. Felix Nwabuko and other top officials, who opted to hold talks with Eku natives, escaped death by the whiskers while one of the company’s excavators deployed to the state was set ablaze by irate villagers.
Our problem is funding- NBC official
An NBC official contacted by NDV said: “The problem is funding, we do not have the funds to carry out the exercise and our men are also facing hostilities from the affected communities.”
The official, who preferred anonymity, asserted: “It is really unfortunate that the matter has degenerated for so long, NBC is hamstrung because of finance. I agree with you that it is causing more tension between the two states but there is nothing we can do if the Federal Government did not release funds.
“We rely on the affected state governments to make available funds for our men when they visit and for accommodation, but it is not forthcoming from the states at the moment,” he added.
NBC waiting for bloodshed to take action- Ovre-Eku community
Chief Felix Okotie, spokesperson to the President-General of Eku community, Chief Joseph Ukueku, wondered whether NBC was waiting for blood of innocent citizens to be spilled before demarcating the boundary on the River Ethiope.
The community in a petition to NBC, Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa and others, maintained that the boundary between Ethiope in Delta State and Edo State was spelt out in the Local Government Law, 1980.
Playing host to the NBC Director-General, Dr. Mohammed Ahmed and officials of Edo and Delta State Boundary Committees, at Asaba, in 2016, Governor Okowa, represented by his deputy, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro, urged him to ensure that all disputed lands were resolved to put an end to further hostilities in border towns.
The governor noted that the tension generated along the Abraka/Eku/Umutu axis over boundary matter had taken another dimension and sued for immediate resolution to avoid loss of lives and other valuables.
Director-General, National Boundary Commission, Dr. Mohammed Ahmed said the interstate boundaries between Delta and Ondo states had reached completion stage, while the meeting in Asaba was aimed at resolving the Edo/Delta land dispute.
Dr. Ahmed disclosed that the meeting intended to discuss the outstanding additional fieldwork in the grey sectors and to examine the factors that militated against the implementation of the last scheduled programme, as well as to agree on a new programme of activities that would put the issue at rest once and for all.
In April 1995, the military administrators of Delta and Edo states, Col. Bassey Asuquo, Group Capt. Ibrahim Kefas and Dr Aboh Zhawa, then Director-General/ Secretary, National Boundary Commission, signed a communiqué, both states pledged to maintain status quo for the purpose of peaceful co-existence within the disputed boundaries, pending delineation by the commission.
The ritual has continued over the years in NBC and from one government to the other in the states, the last being between the Deputy Governor of Delta State, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro, his former Edo counterpart, Hon. Pius Odubu and NBC officials.
Assurances by the current NBC director-general over the years, that the Federal Government would soon resolve the dispute, has not been matched with action.
Edo Govt owns disputed land – Dep gov
While NBC is wavering on its responsibility, Deputy Governor of Edo State, Comrade Philip Shuaibu, maintained that the disputed land belonged to the state, while the Head of Administration, Presco, Mr. Tony Uwajeh, explained the company acquired the land from the Oba of Benin in 2011 and was duly issued a Certificate of Occupancy, C of O by the Edo State Government in 2013.
Presco ready for negotiation with Delta communities – Uwajeh
Uwajeh, however, explained that the company was not involved in a land tussle with any community in Edo and Delta states, saying the firm acquired the land from Edo State and as an investor, it was willing to dialogue and reach compromise with any host community in Delta State if NBC determined part of the land to be in the state.
He disclosed that Presco was relating well with the people of Ovre-Eku, one of its host communities in Delta state and was willing to partner it for development, urging the people to drop their aggressive approach as it was seriously affecting growth plans.
How 800 Abraka villagers battered policemen, workers – Presco
Speaking on the most recent attack, an official of Presco, asserted: “There was an attack from Abaraka youths on May 10 by exactly 11.50 am. Both genders participated in the attack having more than 800 youths scattered all over K, L and M blocks, all armed with machete and guns.
“Workers in K and L blocks were chased with sporadic shooting. In the course of our defending our lives and property of the company, we incurred the following:
“Three(3) mobile police officers, three (3) organic security operatives and one driver were shot and received multiple lacerated knife cuts, and in the process a mobile police officer’s rifle was collected.
“Chief Security Officer’s vehicle was sprayed with bullets which damaged the windscreen.
“One dozer, a long vehicle for conveying of workers, a small truck for conveying seedlings and one private motorcycle owned by a worker, were burnt while one of the company’s tractors was damaged alongside one contractor’s vehicle.
“Many of the workers received stray bullets and were rushed to hospital in Eku. All planted seedlings in some fields in L block were rooted and cut to pieces (malicious damage). As at the time of this report, if there is any casualty on their side, it is not confirmed and attack lasted for four hours,” he stated.
Police opened fire on unarmed farmers, youths – Umiaghwa-Abraka community
Legal representative and spokesman for the Ovie of Umiaghwa-Abraka kingdom, Barr. Harold Aboloje, told NDV when contacted: “What happened on that day was that the people said they went to their farms and were farming when they saw over 12 Hilux vans filled with mobile policemen and started chasing them amidst sporadic gunshots.
“This attracted the attention of youths in other farms in the interiors that ran to the scene of the incident in an attempt to rescue the situation. This led to the police shooting directly at the boys. Somehow, the bullets did not penetrate the boys and this caused panic on the side of the police as the boys became agitated.
“As a result of this, the police decided to retreat. As they were retreating, one of the policemen panicked upon seeing the boys approaching, fell down from the Hilux and was caught up by one of the boys. During the melee that ensued, the gun of the policemen discharged leading to the boy being shot on the leg and was taken for treatment at Abraka.
“Only for us to hear that some policemen came from Benin and arrested the boy on his sick bed. He is still in custody of the police and they have refused anyone seeing him. According to them, they took the boy for treatment and they would talk to us when he is stabilised.
“In fact, the Abraka DPO was among the people that took the boy to the hospital for treatment. No gun was snatched as claimed by Presco and no vehicle was burnt,” he added.