… seven others purportedly killed in massacre
…Natives beheaded, some maimed, others permanently disfigured – Keme, Ogbe-Ijoh leader
…Army spokesperson: No one died during operation
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South –South
A FORMER Commissioner for Environment in Delta State, Chief Frank Omare, sounded very emotional on phone when he spoke to Sunday Vanguard penultimate Tuesday evening.
He was aghast at to why his Ogbe-Ijoh kinsmen in Warri South-West Local Government Area of the state and the next-door Aladja people in Udu Local Government Area, interlinked by marriage and culture, should be killing and maiming themselves in a war that has dragged on for decades and with no end in sight.
Omare, a native of Ogbe-Ijoh, cried out that the two communities, not more than two miles apart, could have developed into cities if not for the turbulence, lamenting that children were not going to school at the moment, while the local government headquarters, situated in the community, was not functional as it should because of the crisis.
Ibori, Uduaghan’s failed attempts
His words: “Former governor, Chief James Ibori, tried to resolve the issue for eight years, he could not. His successor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, tried for another eight years, he also could not. Now that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has come, we expect him to end the madness.”
Confessing that he had not been to his Ogbe- Ijoh home for over three years because the road has been barricaded, he pleaded with the leadership of both communities to let peace reign.
What sparked latest disturbance?
The up-to-the-minute conflict between the two communities started October 11 when gunmen invaded Ogbe-Ijoh community at about 1.40 pm and shot a 48-year-old man, Chief Wilson Aberiwa, in the throat.
Ogbe-Ijoh leader, Chief Monday Keme, in a statement shortly after the invasion, had said: “The Ogbe-Ijoh people once again appeal to Delta State government and security agencies to put a stop to the daily attack on the people of Ogbe-Ijoh to prevent the communal conflict from escalating.
“We have exercised maximum restraint and given government opportunity to resolve the boundary dispute and government has taken longer time than necessary in coming out with a definite stand”.
Trouble 11 days after
11 days after, heavy shooting erupted again between the two communities with an Aladja youth leader, Mr Wisdom Onatomre, saying his community was attacked by Ogbe Ijoh, a claim Keme dismissed, insisting that his community was rather attacked by some youths from Aladja.
It has been claims and counter-claims between the two communities whenever there was crisis. But the tension reached feverish pitch, penultimate Tuesday, when multiple sources in Aladja claimed that men in military uniform were involved in the previous day massacre of eight persons and maiming of numerous others.
How Aladja has been attacking us – Keme
Keme, in a statement on the renewed hostilities, said Aladja people hired security agents to kill Ogbe-Ijoh people.
“It is good to set the record straight. The boundary dispute between the two communities needs little or no introduction, as it has been in the news for the past two years and seven months”, he said.
“Within this period, the Aladja community has launched countless attacks on Ogbe Ijoh, where some were beheaded and bodies mutilated while many were injured and permanently disfigured.
“On October 11, 2018, an Ogbe-Ijoh indigene, Mr. Wilson Oborogha, was shot inside his house by Aladja assailants but was rescued by his wife and son with support from others and is still being treated in hospital.
“On October 22, these Aladja assailants came again to Ogbe-Ijoh and set ablaze a resting house in a fish pond, where they beheaded an Ogbe-Ijoh indigene sometime in November 2017.
“Few hours later, the assailants came back and opened fire on innocent Ogbe-Ijoh people going about their lawful businesses, where eleven persons sustained various degrees of gunshot wounds and are being treated in hospital.
“These are verifiable facts from security personnel who repelled the attackers and others who were either affected or witnessed the incident. It is therefore very unfortunate that the aggressor, which is the Aladja community, is trying to fabricate lies that it was Ogbe-Ijoh people that attacked them.
“The Ogbe-Ijoh people had, sometime ago, after the 1996 conflict, resolved not to engage or attack Aladja and have maintained that stand despite the daily attacks from Aladja”
‘Government to blame’
The Ogbe Ijaw leader went on: “The public is also aware of Aladja people and some Urhobo sympathizers, who have, at every point in time, frustrated efforts of government to resolve this boundary dispute. Delta State government has set up three different panels of inquiry which submitted reports. But none of these reports has been implemented due to vested interests of highly – placed Urhobo in government.
“Since March 24, 2016, there have been persistent and coordinated attacks on Ogbe-Ijoh by Aladja community which resulted in the complete shutdown of socio-economic activities in Warri South-West local Government Council, primary/secondary schools, JAMB CBT Centre, General Hospital, NSCDC office and other government agencies based in Ogbe-Ijoh, Warri South-West headquarters. These incessant and unprovoked attacks are being carried by Aladja hired assailants without any response from the government of Delta State.
“The failure of the Okowa government to end these attacks will invariably lead to the breakdown of law and order and, when that happens, nobody should blame Ogbe-Ijoh people.
“We have taken the pains to maintain the peace despite being deprived of not only using the only access road to Ogbe-Ijoh, but also no electricity supply for about three years.
“This avoidable conflict has claimed many lives, including many innocent Ijaw- speaking persons, in an attempt to access Warri South-West headquarters, Ogbe-Ijoh, by passing through Aladja community. In the latest attack, eight persons sustained various degrees of gunshot wounds with one on life support.
“We, therefore, call on the Federal Government to intervene by enforcing the boundary law of 1955 and prosecute the violators”.
Assistant Secretary of Aladja Community Council, Bezi Ighotegwolor, whose claim was corroborated by the Youth Chairman, Samson Asifor, gave a different account when he spoke to Sunday Vanguard.
He said: “The fight between Aladja and Ogbe-Ijoh broke out yesterday (penultimate Monday) when an Ogbe-Ijoh leader mobilized fighters they had assembled beforehand to Ogbe-Ijoh.
“The Ogbe-Ijoh people accused Aladja of coming into Ogbe-Ijoh to burn down a building, which is a lie from the pit of hell. When the soldiers on Ogbe-Ijoh side visited the scene, they found it was a plank building. It raised doubt but the truth was not revealed.
“If Aladja was to burn any building, it will not be a plank house. And before getting to that purportedly burnt house, they would have passed many choice buildings, which the assailants did not burn. This is a lie from Ijaw leaders to cover their tracks.
“Before the attack on Aladja, information had come that they had rounded off the training of their fighters and that they would attack soon. But because of the government peace initiative, nobody took it serious.
“It was not until security agents started accusing Aladja of burning a house in Ogbe-Ijoh that it dawned on Aladja that the rumour they waved away was not an idle rumour. We called the police, the army and the DSS, etc to inform them of the planned attack on Aladja.
“Moments later, guns started booming from the Ogbe-Ijoh end, as they had crept close to Aladja. But the mobile policemen stationed on our side of the boundary gave a good account of themselves as they defended their position since they were the first to be attacked by the marauding Ijaw.
Alleged shooting frenzy
“While the shooting and exchange of fire was ongoing, the military came and started shooting from about three poles into Aladja main town, killing one youth, Iya, instantly and wounding several others. While going round the town towards Ogbe-Ijoh, the soldiers kept firing. That was when they killed a lady.
“They instantly carried the corpse of the lady into one of their vans. Then they went into a frenzy, shooting anyone in sight and killing or wounding them. The victims include children between 11 and 13 years. The survivors are in various hospitals receiving treatment now”.
Calling on the Federal Government to set up a panel to investigate the army officer who led the team, he said: “If they are saying that they did not shoot anybody, let them come and we will take them to the mortuary to see the corpses.”
Ighotegwolor added: “Are we saying people just fall and die and they see bullets in their bodies? The information we got is that many on the team that came were Ijaw boys. So, if they probe, they will know those who came because it is an Ijaw community that is fighting Aladja.
“The Aladja community was facing a very serious attack and Aladja was repelling them when these soldiers came in. We do not know who brought them but the information we got is that top people in government brought them”.
President General of Aladja Community Council, Mr. Elias Dogene, corroborated the killings, saying: “If the army authorities deny, it means they are not being truthful to the oath they swore to defend the citizens of this country.”
Army denies attack, killings
Spokesman for 6 Division, Nigeria Army, Port Harcourt, Col Aminu Ilyasu, who emphatically debunked the allegation of massacre, stated: “The army did not fire any shot in either Aladja or Ogbe-Ijoh. The army moved in after the police were almost overwhelmed by the situation.
“The Chairman of the local government council witnessed the role of the army. The army also kept in touch with the state governor on its presence there. For emphasis, the army fired no shot while in Aladja or Ogbe-Ijoh. The governor and the council Chairman can testify to this.
“There was nothing like those claims by the Aladja community; rather the people, having barricaded the access through their town with heavy metals and all sorts of materials and vehicles, started raining stones and firing at the troops that were sent to calm the situation.
“While that was going on, the Commanding Officer of the 3 Battalion had to put a call through to the state governor to hear what was going on. You can call the governor to confirm this.
“Besides, the Chairman of the LGA (Udu) was also with the troops while this was happening. You can call him to confirm if what his people were alleging has any truth in it.
“Despite all the provocations and even the fact that the people of the community were firing live bullets at the troops, the Commanding Officer ensured that not one shot was fired by his men.
“If they claim that men of the Nigerian Army shot at them or killed anybody, you should ask them for the corpses or the identities of those killed”.
Aladja releases names of eight persons purportedly killed
Ighotegwolor, Aladja leader, gave Sunday Vanguard the details of the eight persons that were allegedly killed.
Some of those injured, according to him, include a 15-year-old girl, Joy Sunday; Edirin Oviri and Jonathan Esakpaide, who was shot on top a motorcycle along Iyeghe Road; John Odudu; Julius Ogbedi; Fosarhe Godspower; Mr. Emmanuel Obulegbe; Efe Kebeke and Endurance Kogba.
Families confirm loss of loved ones
The Ovien family confirmed that their son, Obukohwo, was shot dead.
A family member, Bassey Ovien, said: “It is true soldiers killed my brother. He was praying at the shrine when he was shot. It is not only him. They also shot other people. My brother was killed in front of our house.”
Frank Ovien, eldest brother of the late Obukohwo, lamented: “Ijaw used soldiers to fight us.” Mr Sodje also alleged that soldiers killed his younger brother, Avwirorosuo Sodje, as he was standing in front of the family house in Ekregwhare.
Mr. Matthew Arebo, whose wife, Charity, aka Mama Onome, was allegedly shot, said: “My wife was among the Ewheya (women group) protesting at Ekrehware quarters in the community, soldiers shot her dead.”
Sponsorship of crisis
Ijaw people, meanwhile, believe that some influential Urhobo persons were behind the conflict.
Ighotegwolor said: “The information we got is that three Ijaw leaders in government are the arrowheads of the attack on Aladja, which is why we are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate the rationale for shooting unarmed and defenceless citizens of the country”.
Chairman of the Delta State Waterways and Land Security Committee, Chief Boro Opudu, described the allegation that he sponsored soldiers to attack Aladja people as spurious, saying: “I was at Government House, Asaba, at the time they said I brought soldiers to attack them.”
Omare also rebuffed his link to the crisis.
Keme, who emphasised the Ijaw angle, told Sunday Vanguard: “We also want to use this medium to appeal to prominent and influential Urhobo persons not to fuel the Ogbe-Ijoh/Aladja conflict. It is our firm belief that Aladja is being backed by the larger Urhobo to daily attack and kill innocent non- Ijaw speaking people as well as threatening Delta State governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, from finding solution to the problem.”
To the Aladja charge of killings by soldiers, he said: “While we are not holding brief for the army, nothing of such happened. Because, each time Aladja attacked, the military were not allowed to pass through Aladja as women will dance naked and block the road. The army is aware so they do not honour such calls. Therefore, whoever that was said to have been killed died of bullets from Aladja assailants.
“These Urhobo leaders have threatened not to support the governor in his second term if he goes ahead to implement any of the reports on the boundary conflict. The governor, whose second term success hangs in the hands of these leaders, has completely abandoned all plans to implement the reports on the conflict.
“The governor, early this year, directed the state’s survey team to map out the disputed land which the team has done. But the Aladja community wrote a letter to the governor to stop forthwith any plan to demarcate the land and threatened to cause mayhem if the governor did not yield to their warning.
“True to that threat, the Aladja community attacked the advance team of the governor’s wife, Dame Edith Okowa, and prevented her and her team to hold the 05 Initiative. It was after much begging and intervention of some Urhobo leaders that Aladja community reluctantly allowed the governor’s wife to come to Ogbe-Ijoh”.
What community leaders expect from Okowa
Concerned leaders and youths of both communities, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, said the crisis was not impossible to resolve, but lamented that the state government, over the years, appears to lack the political will to take hard decisions and damn the consequences.
Many stated that it was time Okowa dealt with the trouble once and for all in an unswerving and self-assured way, even though there is some threat in doing it.
Niger- Delta activist and National Coordinator, Centre for Environmental Peace and Justice, CEPEJ, Sheriff Mulade, who is familiar with the problem, also said: “Government must take a firm stand even if it means displeasing some political allies as the committees set up to resolve the problem have proved unproductive and failed woefully.
“The state government should also stop the business of unproductive committees and face the reality of ending the unnecessary bloodshed between the two neighbours.
“The crisis is communal and not ethnic, so Governor Okowa has at his disposal the apparatus to stop the fighting if political sentiments and interest are shelved.
“Peoples’ lives are being wasted and some unproductive committees enjoy their new jobs of compiling report upon report that are disconnected from the reality of the crisis. Governor Okowa should call a spade a spade regardless of who is angry or benefiting from the crisis. Government should stop playing politics with the life of people”.
Is Okowa set to act?
Penultimate Wednesday evening, Aladja Youth Leader, Asifor, called our reporter, saying: “The state government has deployed bulldozers to the boundary of the two communities to clear the expanse of land between them so that the villagers would be seeing themselves. What we are hearing is that structures may be built and army and other security agents will stay there.”
The issue of security agents having permanent presence between the two communities is part of the long-term recommendations to the state government. But whether that is what Okowa wants to implement is not clear yet.
Contacted on the new development, Keme said: “Yes, bulldozers came in today (penultimate Wednesday), they are clearing the bushes. We have been blocked from passing the road from Aladja to our community for many years now. We do not know what government is planning. We had suggested permanent military and police posts between the two communities and border patrol. Government should take a definite position and stop this crisis.”