… As Indigenes Lament, Call for Protection of Cultural Heritage
By Iteveh Ekpokpobe
Palpable disaster looms over lives and property of residents around the Warri Royal Cemetery located in Jala-Ikeren community of Warri South Local Government Area, following illegal activities of crude oil merchants on the land.
A visit to the historical and cultural heritage of the Itsekiri’s reveals that the property is fast losing its grandeur as a tourist center in view of the development.
The Warri Royal Cemetery is the resting place of all kings that have reigned in the ancient ‘Iwere’ now known as Warri Kingdom.
Unlike conventional cemeteries filled with tombstones, the Warri Royal Cemetery is filled with trees, vegetation and plants of various kinds, coupled with a serene environment and the chirping of birds that breaks the silence to welcome tourists.
Folklore has it that an iroko tree is planted on the grave of every late king at burial, which implies that some of the Iroko trees are over 400 years old. These Iroko trees have attracted tourists from both far and wide.
Sadly, the Royal Cemetery and these age-long trees will soon disappear due to the activities of illegal crude oil explorers.
Residents of the area are pleading with the Delta State Government and the Palace of the Olu of Warri to swing into action and nip this ugly activity forthwith.
Recall that several houses worth millions of naira were demolished years ago to preserve the sanctity of the territory.
An anonymous respondent said, “We cannot demolish several houses worth millions of naira, only to be used as a Bunkery Headquarter. I learnt long ago that the adjoining land was reserved for the Immigration head office. A development that can turn that environment into a better place. I have seen immigration personnel there severally. Recently, they came to inspect the land. Residents heaved sighs of relief seeing the bulldozer clearing that land yesterday, believing that government is set to kick start the immigration offices.”
“Sadly, everyone was wrong. It was for something else. Today, we woke up to realize that the essence of clearing the land was to relocate the illegal oil exploration activities from Setraco and Marson road to the royal cemetery. Death is staring at everyone.” She decried.
Another concerned resident stated that “the only thing that attracts people from Warri urban to that stretch of Ifie at the moment is the Falcrop Park (the zoo). The part of the Royal Cemetery that they have decided to use for this bunkery, is adjacent to the zoo. Will any sane man still allow his children to visit that zoo? Knowing that they may not return home in the event of a fire outbreak? Invariably, the school and the zoo are the first casualties of this decision.”
However, an eyewitness stated that the Spokesperson of Warri Kingdom, the Ologbotsere of Warri, Chief Emami Ayiri, yesterday, led a delegation of palace courtiers to ascertain the true situation.
In a telephone chat, the Ologbotsere of Warri, Chief Emami Ayiri, said the palace was well aware of the matter and was according it requisite attention.
He said, “We are aware of the position and the matter is under control. I will get to you if there is any change in situation reports.”
The State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Hon. Lawrence Ejiofor, when contacted via telephone said the Warri Royal Cemetery, though a tourist site was not under the purview of the state government. Hence, he could not speak as an authority on the matter.
He stated that the site was a cultural heritage of Warri Kingdom and issues bordering on it would be handled by the kingdom.
Member representing Warri South I, Hon. Austin Uroye at press time disclosed that he was unaware of the development as he had not been officially briefed.
Nevertheless, he condemned in strong terms any action suggestive of encroachment on the historical landmark.
Uroye said illegal bunkering was a serious offence which had been proscribed by several laws in Nigeria, thus, the activity should not and would not be tolerated.
All effort to reach Warri South Local Government Council Chairman at Press time proved abortive.