•Edo govt: Monarch owns land
•Otuaro mediates in Chevron, host communities’ row
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
ON Tuesday, May 21, half-clad women and youths of Gelegele, an Ijaw community which the natives call Gelegelegbene but which Bini identify as Gelegele, in Ovia North East local government area of Edo State, allegedly chased away over 50 police officers and construction workers from the riverine community.
The workers were in the community to map out the site for the construction of a housing estate for the Oba of Benin, while the police officers were there to provide security for them.
However, Ijaw residents of the community, who are contending with the Benin monarch over the ownership of the area, saw the action as an affront.
24 hours later, the people of Kokodiagbene, another Ijaw community in Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South-West local government area of Delta State, shut down Chevron Nigeria Limited, CNL’s Otunana flow station, citing alleged refusal and neglect of the American oil giant to extend electricity to the host community.
The angry villagers threatened to cause more havoc forcing Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to instruct his deputy, Mr Kingsley Otuaro, who is the Chairman of the Delta State Advocacy Committee Against Vandalism of Oil and Gas Facilities, to relocate from Asaba to Warri to mediate.
As of the time of this report, Otuaro indicated to Sunday Vanguard he was still in Warri.
In Edo where the dispute between Bini people and Ijaw people of Gelegele had been raging without resolution for years, Ijaw youths from other parts of Niger Delta have vowed to join forces with their Gelegelegbene counterparts to battle the Benin monarch who they alleged is behind the crisis.
An unconfirmed report said Ijaw youth were mobilizing to defend their tribesmen in Gelegelegbene and were not ready to cede any party of Ijaw land to Bini people.
Reports said the irate villagers marched the police officers and workers out of the community and seized copies of a survey plan of a housing estate by the Oba of Benin in the area.
The ownership of Gelegele has remained a knotty issue between the warring Ijaw and Benin ethnic groups, but the state government has been unable to amicably settle the problem.
The National President of Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, Austin Ozobo, told Sunday Vanguard, “As Ijaw people, we are not happy with the manner Governor Godwin Obaseki is handling the matter. He is taking sides with his Bini people and has not been a fair arbiter.”
A community leader, Chief Macaulay Ayiwe, alleged that the state government wants to acquire 300 hectares of Gelegele land as part of the plan to harness the Ijaw community for Benin Kingdom.
“We were shocked when several armed Mobile Policemen, who came in six patrol vehicles, including a state government-registered van, came to the community in a combatant style,” he added.
Land properly allocated to Benin monarch – Edo govt
The Special Adviser to Edo State Governor on Communication and Media Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, affirmed that government duly allocated land in the Gelegele to the Benin monarch, warning that government would deal with trespassers in accordance with the laws of the state.
Osagie said Obaseki is vested with the power to oversee lands in the state and therefore in a position to allocate land without hindrance, pointing out that there was no question of government forcefully acquiring land.
He explained that the state government set up the Private Property Protection Task Force to protect people’s land from being trespassed and that no individual had the right to trespass on other people’s property.
Ijaw youth threaten mayhem
The National President of the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Pereotubo Oweilaemi, accused the Oba of Benin of continued trespass on Gelegelegbene land, saying he was inviting anarchy.
He said, “The Ijaw nation wishes to pass a note of warning to the Bini ethnic nationality over the continued encroachment of Gelegelegbene lands by the Oba of Benin and his subjects. The silent war of aggression against the Ijaw in Edo State, particularly the people of Gelegelegbene, is becoming alarming. We cannot fold our arms anymore.
“The Bini monarch’s unprovoked trespassing on Gelegelegbene lands on daily basis is a declaration of fratricidal war against the Ijaw nation and we will no longer fold our arms. Ijaw will not cede their land anywhere in Nigeria, including Edo, to any self-professed aggressor. We are equal to the task and we will defend our father’s lands with all vigour.
“The proposed building of a palace on Gelegelegbene land by the Bini monarch is not only being viewed by the Ijaw nation as despicable, we also see the gesture as an open declaration of war of aggression against the entire Ijaw nation.
“An attack on one Ijaw community is an attack on the entire Ijaw nation. We will no longer condone Bini people’s land grabbing attitude.
“We are warning security agencies to be neutral in this matter. They should not stoke ethnic crisis in Edo. We will not have any problem with them if they go there to maintain law and order.
“As for Edo State government, since it has become a policy that the Ijaw in state do not deserve to be protected by the former, we will do well to stand with our kith and kin in their ancestral lands.
“The Ijaw in Edo even pre-existed the Bini ethnic nationality. The Ijaw nation will rise in defence of our lands in the state by every means necessary since the government therein has chosen to exterminate our existence in Edo State through the Bini monarch.
“We are calling on the Federal Government, the National Assembly and the governors from across the South-South geopolitical zone to prevail on the Edo government and the Oba of Benin to stop their aggressive action against the Ijaw nation.
“The action of the Bini king is a ticking time bomb, which may explode at any time into a full-blown ethnic crisis”.
Ijaw‘re our tenants – Bini Traditional Council
In its reaction, Secretary, Benin Traditional Council, BTC), Frank Irabo, dismissed the allegation that Bini trespassed on Ijaw land, saying the Ijaw were tenants going by a decision of the Supreme Court over 30 years ago.
“It was the Ijaw that took the matter to the Supreme Court between 1982/83. The judgment said that the Ijaw are tenants in Gelegele. They chose not to obey the judgment, that statement from them has no basis. The whole of Gelegele and environs are part of Benin land and it belongs to the Oba of Benin,” he said.
Mulade blasts IOCs
In Delta, the protesting communities had, for a long time, demanded, among other things, that Chevron extends electricity to them from the flow station, provide drinkable water and build a hospital.
A Niger Delta activist, who hails from the area, Sheriff Mulade, called on the oil giant to meet the age-long demands of Kokodiagbene, which has been Chevron’s host for over 40 years.
Mulade, who is from Kokodiagbene, condemned IOCs’ activities, particularly Chevron, in delaying supply of electricity from their stations to their host communities in the Niger Delta.
He said, “The host communities have lost confidence in the IOCs in the discharge of their Corporate Social Responsibility, and government has failed to give a sense of belonging to the host communities, especially to Kokodiagbene.”
Mulade, who spoke before the peace meeting brokered by the state government, added that the failure of the oil firms in the area to fulfil their promises to the people had resulted into different crises in the Niger Delta.
Otuaro brokers peace
Otuaro, who has become a veteran in conflict resolution in the state, invited the company and stakeholders, including the affected four communities hosting the flow station to a meeting at Government House Annex, Warri to broker peace.
He said shutting down the facility was unhealthy to the host communities, the company, the state and the Federal Government and called on the oil company to look into development of its host communities.
The deputy governor charged the company and stakeholders of the communities to work in accordance with the decisions reached.
The General Manager, Policy, Government Affairs of Chevron, Mr. Esimaje Brikins, said his company would work to meet the ultimatum given it by the host communities to avoid shutting their operations down again.
He thanked the state government for the timely intervention to avoid loss of revenue and to bring about lasting peace.
Some of the stakeholders from Egbema, Gbaramatu, Kokodiagbene and Makaraba communities said that if Chevron failed to respect the ultimatum given to it, they would further shut down the flow station.
They alleged that the oil firm had refused to provide basic amenities for its host communities in addition to failing to implement the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) reached with them.
Opinion leaders from the affected communities and top government functionaries, including the Commissioner for Oil and Gas, Mr. Freeman Fregene, Chairman of Warri South West local government area, Hon. Taiye Tuoyo and the Special Adviser to the Governor on Conflict Resolution and Peace Building, Chief Edwin Uzor attended the meeting.