By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South & Perez Brisibe (Ughelli)
BUT for eyewitnesses, who physically saw the armed youths, it would have been difficult to agree that human beings, not demons carried out the July 18 mayhem at the oil-rich Ogulagha community, Burutu Local Government Area, Delta State, in which over 60 houses and property worth millions of naira, belonging to select indigenes were willfully looted and destroyed with dynamite, petrol bomb and other explosives.
A bystander told Saturday Vanguard: “The community was completely under siege from 7.30 pm on that day until the early hours of July 19 by one of the factions involved in the community crisis,” adding: “Nobody could stop the rampaging assailants.”
Some chiefs of the community specifically targeted by the attackers scampered into the forest for their dear lives, while others, including their wives and children took refuge at the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC Flow Station guarded by operatives of the Joint Task Force, JTF.
The damage had been perpetrated before some of the victims came to know that the reason for the mayhem was suspicion that they had hands in the death of a former chairman of the community, Prebor, in an accident, along the Sapele-Warri Road, earlier that day, on his way back from Benin City where he went to honour an invitation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in respect of financial allegations against his executive.
The late Prebor and his executive had been accused of squandering, without approval, the sum of N1.17 billion tenant- ship rents paid to the community by SPDC, which has most of its operational stations in the community.
It has been a running battle between the chiefs, other stakeholders of the community and the Prebor executive. It seemed most likely that some persons loyal to him and his executive concluded that the opposing side programmed the accident that took his life and consequently, ran riot.
One of the affected leaders, Chief Francis Boumiebi, whose house was bombed, said that dynamites and makeshift petrol bombs were used in the burning of buildings in the community, while household appliances and other valuables, were carted away by the armed youths during the madness.
Sources said that enraged by the death of the late chairman involved in the fatal accident in company of three other members of his executive, the youths, who suspected certain chiefs and leaders of causing the accident, took laws into their hands.
The chiefs and other stakeholders had before the unfortunate event asked the Prebor- led executive to account for the N1.17billion tenant-ship rent paid to the community SPDC.
The money paid early 2017 into a special account with four signatories, was reportedly appropriated and spent by the late chairman and his executive without the mandatory constitutional requirements of the community.
A community leader told one of our reporters: “These requirements state that for any money belonging to the community to be spent, the Representative Council of the community will give an authority to withdraw, which must be rectified by the community’s Advisory Council before the chairman can make the specified withdrawal. The process is repeated again when the money is withdrawn for spending.”
“When the executive is found wanting of contravening this section of the constitution, they are asked to step aside and an interim executive is immediately constituted to preside over the affairs of the community and investigate the activities of the ousted executive , and if found wanting, they are made to refund the monies amidst other penalties.
“Contrary to this, the N1.17billion tenant-ship that accrued to the community was allegedly spent without following laid-down constitutional provisions,” he stated.
We owe nobody any obligation to render account – Pastor Isiayei
Contacted, Secretary of the Prebor-led executive, Pastor Christopher Isiayei, explained that since the money was paid and deposited in a Special Trust Fund account, the account does not fall in the purview of the constitutional requirement of the community as regards spending of funds.
According to him, “As the executive, we do not owe the community or anybody any obligation to give account of how the money was spent, as the persons with such responsibilities are the chairman (Late Prebor) and the other signatories to that account.”
He, however, added: “There are documented breakdown of how the money was spent and there was nothing like us embezzling money as being rumored.”
On what led to the July 18 episode, the embattled community scribe who was behind the wheels on the ill-fated trip that led to the death of the late Prebor, disclosed: “On our way back from the EFCC office, Benin, City following a petition against us by some individuals in the community who claimed that we diverted the money for our personal use, we had an accident leading to the death of the chairman.”
Reason for the protest
“As soon as the death of the chairman filtered into the community, owing to the love the people had for him, there was uproar as they believed that if the matter was withdrawn from the EFCC by those who sponsored the petition, he would not have embarked on the trip leading to his death.”
HRM Timiyan’s peace moves
The Pere of Ogulagha kingdom, HRM Elder Capt. Joseph Timiyan, explained that though Ogulagha community is one of the various communities under his sovereignty, he does not interfere in the day- to -day running of communities in his kingdom, stressing that he only arbitrates when there are issues to be resolved.
His words “I heard of the incident because Ogulagha happens to be one of the communities that make up the kingdom. I cannot be specific but I think this incident happened on a Wednesday and according to reliable information, the accident happened along the Benin- Sapele Road, four of them where in the car but the former chairman was the only person that died.”
“I did not hear of this accident that happened at about 6.00 pm early, what I heard was the burning of houses at about 8-00 pm, which they said was in connection with the accident that occurred in Warri.
“I found out that they burnt down houses of the chiefs, interim government, youth president and his cabinet and other leaders in the community, in fact, it was 70 and above and they claim it arose from the accident,” said.
Ex-chair terrorized chiefs, community leaders
On efforts he put in place to resolve the crisis, the monarch said: “I constituted a peace committee to intervene in the matter, the petition to the EFCC is not the first one as the late chairman had been petitioning chiefs, leaders of the community and intimidating them because he had received this money and accusing them innocently.
“Some pastors of the community came to me pleading that I should intervene in the matter and I accepted. I went to the community, discussed with all parties and told them that everybody should cease further petitions, they accepted and I started handling the matter stage by stage.
“But according to the constitution of the community, in any matter of financial misappropriation, it states that you must set up a fact -finding committee before you can conclude, so I constituted a committee and appointed the secretary of the erstwhile executive to be the secretary, making a total of nine persons and I inaugurated them.
“On that same day, the secretary presented a report stating how they spent the money. On the day of their meeting while waiting for them to come and face the committee, the secretary sent a text to the chairman that they did not embezzle any money, and are not coming and would rather face the EFCC and go to court. That was why the committee could not carry out the task before it.
“The constitution states that before you spend one naira in Ogulagha community, the Representative Council would give you authority to withdraw and this would also be rectified by the Advisory Council before the chairman can make the specified withdrawal and when withdrawn, the Representative Council again, would give authority to spend and also the Advisory would rectify that authority to spend.
Reign of impunity
“But unfortunately, before the money was spent, there was no authority to withdraw or authority to spend and when the community found out, they had no option than to constitute an interim executive leading to the removal of late Solomon Prebor.
“Immediately the interim executive took over, the secretary went to Area Command, petitioned about two chiefs and the interim executive, also, two days before Prebor died, he also petitioned the interim executive and the chiefs and policemen surrounded most of their houses in Warri, but could not find them to arrest as some of the chiefs did not sleep in their house on Tuesday only for his death on Wednesday.”
Fact finding committee met brick wall – Seimode
Chairman of the fact- finding committee constituted by the monarch, Prince Siemode, explained that before his death, the late Prebor and his executive boycotted the committee, stating that they would not subject themselves before the working group.
He said: “Two days to the time the committee was to sit, they (Prebor and his executive) reneged on appearing before the committee.
“They also wanted the monarch to withdraw the case from the EFCC, so we did not do any work aside from the document we got from the secretary of the executive, Christopher Isiayei, who was also the secretary of the fact- finding committee, stating how they spent the money and we told them we cannot work with that but would just use it as a guide.
“With the situation of things, I briefed the community representatives and the monarch, a vote of no confidence was passed against them and an interim executive was immediately set up.”
Since the violence, tongues are wagging in the state as to what really some Ogulagha people want for their community. How will an executive put in place by the people decline to render account to the people, but prefer to go the EFCC? And why should a section of the community destroy and loot the homes and property of their kinsmen based on unverified information?