Perennial Iwhreko-Ekiugbo Crisis: History, cause, trend, way out
Ovie of Ughelli, HRM, Oharisi III.

Iwhreko is one of the about 22 communities that make up the Ughelli kingdom. It is considered as one of, if not the most, commercially viable communities in the kingdom by reason of the existence of many commercial institutions including banks, shopping malls, stores of various domestic and industrial wares and items; health institutions and facilities, schools and even churches.

It was the seat of colonial administration in Urhobo land.

The attraction and concentration of business places and activities in Iwhreko is hinged on the major Isoko and Market Roads, which run from Otovwodo Junction at the East-West Road axis of Isoko land to Ekiugbo Junction towards the Warri axis. In between the junctions lay Otor-Iwhreko where the popular Iwhreko Goods Market is located.

There has been controversy as to the true ownership of the area where the market is located, as recent events have recorded bloody clashes between youths of Iwhreko and Ekiugbo communities in contention for who owns the land.

Apart from ease of availability of various wares, foodstuff, fancy and, in fact, items of celestial, terrestrial and even marine components that can be found and purchased there, it is a gateway of exit from Ughelli to Warri and any disruption to the peace of the market endangers commuters who are heading to or coming from Warri.

And there have been many cases of disruption arising from bloody clashes between youths of Iwhreko and Ekiugbo communities, both in Ughelli Kingdom.

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Clashes, casualties

It is on record that no fewer than four persons have been killed with scores wounded from gunshots and matchet cuts.

In the most recent case, precisely Thursday, September 16, another violent clash erupted during which a youth, who was neither an indigene of Iwhreko nor Ekiugbo, was shot dead and many youths from Iwhreko sustained various degrees of injuries from gunshots allegedly fired on Iwhreko youths who were in celebration of the Iwhreko community annual festival, Ihenrin; danced to Over Bridge area where they were ambushed at Egor Junction by Ekiugbo youths.

The recent clash, as usual, disrupted commercial activities in the market and commuters were scared of using that access road to and fro Warri, until soldiers were deployed to restore peace and order to the area.

Consequently, Iwhreko women (Ewheya), trooped en masse in a protest to the palace of the Ovie (King) of Ughelli, HRM, Oharisi III and asked for the monarch’s intervention to provide a permanent solution to the recurring violent clashes between the two communities of his kingdom.

It was learned that the king appreciated the action of the protesters and gave assurance of reaching out to the relevant authorities with a view to putting an end to the problem, but declared his dissatisfaction with the effort of the Local Government Council Chairman, Hon Chief Godwin Adode aka Coach Tete on whom the onus of mobilizing security personnel for the market area laid, as earlier agreed but failed to do so and nothing was yet to be done.

Genesis

We sought the audience of the leadership of Iwhreko community to find out the origin of the problem and how to put a final end to it. Going back historical lane, Mr Godwin Ogheneochuko Onabedje, President of Iwhreko community traced the genesis of the dispute and gave an update on how to resolve it.

“The problem dates back to 2005, with one Oke (late) of Ekiugbo; a well known common criminal who terrorized Ughelli,” Onabedje said in an interview.

“At that time,” he continued, “Barr Idisi was the Chairman of Ughelli North Local Government Council. Oke was power drunk so much that he wanted to expand the geographical boundary of Ekiugbo.

“In order to get that done, he attempted to annex the popular Iwhreko Goods Market and in the process, kidnapped an indigene of Iwhreko by name Aghogho Odugbo at the Iwhreko Goods Market.

“Until date the body of Aghogho has not been found although we learned later that Oke used his dead body to feed his fishes.”

Who owns the land?

“I grew up to meet the market as Iwhreko market when it was trade-by-barter. People from Ijaw, Ughievwen, Gbaregolor were coming through the Okpare-Iwhreko River with their various items of trade, which they exchange for starch and tapioca.

The original course of the river passed through the Goods Market where they used to berth and traded at the other side which is in the Iwhreko end. During that time, the water current flowing from the original course of the river was cutting the Iwhreko side of the bridge.

The PWD (Public Works Department) of the council at that time came with their engineers and discovered that the force of the current coming from the other end of the Goods Market was the cause of the destruction of the bridge, which could lead to its collapse and hinder commuters from accessing Warri through that route.

So, they dug a canal in a straight line running a few yards to Omaluku Shrine to the point where the river meanders to the Articles Market. As at that time, the Goods Market has not been formed, they were still trading on the Iwhreko end.

It is the original course of the river that the Omaluku regalia pass and reverses back to the shrine even long before the canal was constructed.

“As the market progressed and expanded, many more people came to trade there until around 1961 when the then Central Urhobo District Council which authority covered Isoko, Orerokpe, Jeremi and Agbon, approached the Iwhreko people to lease the Goods Market to the council and a lease agreement was duly entered into and signed.

“At that time, from Iwhreko till you reach the primary school in Ekiugbo, there was no house. And that agreement has not been challenged until date. All the area surrounding that market namely: Ojokor, Egor, Omotor, Osia, Igbudu and the adjoins were leased by Iwhreko to different persons and corporate bodies including where FCMB is sited today.

“When Oke kidnapped Aghogho Odugbo, the king and leadership of Iwhreko and Ekiugbo were going to the council secretariat to discuss the issue. Idisi was vehemently against that act of terrorism. I represented Iwhreko community during the discussion.

“Oke, for fear of being arrested for act of kidnapping and terrorism in Ughelli kingdom avoided the meeting and he was represented by Monday Owhesiri. Others who came from Ekiugbo for the meeting were afraid to return home for fear of what Oke could do to them. They asked for escort.

“Every community in Urhobo land, no matter how small, has a market and that of Iwhreko cannot be an exception. The rule of Idisi as the council Chairman was short-lived and that matter died naturally.

“Ekiugbo has its own market on the wayside to Agbarho through Ododegho. Ekiugbo was a meeting place of traders, not founded by anybody. Initially it was not a community. Eki-ugbo as the name indicates, a market on the wayside. People from the surrounding communities came, traded and left and majority of those there now are settlers.”

The boundary

“The people of Iwhreko really has boundary with Imowhe, the younger brother to Osia who was one of the most important dignitaries that came with Owhowha from Tarakiri to Ogoviri, around the present site of Ogor Technical College.

“The boundary was Omoja, the stream that runs around the area of Club 100, by St Theresa’s Grammar School. The boundary is also called Iwhreko Creek. In truth, Iwhreko does not have boundary with Ekiugbo, rather we have boundary with Oteri and Afiesere.”

Ekiugbo aggression

“On Thursday, April 29, Ekiugbo came to Iwhreko with three vehicles of Ekiugbo vigilante security outfit, launched an unprovoked attack on Iwhreko people and the innocent traders around Iwhreko Junction and shot Johnmark Erekamrere and Odibo dead on the spot.

“Now, Odibo was the only surviving child of Aghogho Odugbo who was earlier kidnapped and killed by Oke in 2005. The report of this unprovoked attack and assassination is with the police and the bodies of the victims are lying in the mortuary. We are waiting for the police to do their work.”

Claims

“Any right thinking person in Ughelli who knows the truth of what is happening could attest to the fact that the Iwhreko people are the true customary owners of Iwhreko Goods Market. In 2013, the Government of Delta State attempted to destroy and renovate the market.

“But the Iwhreko people, the then President General of Ughelli Descendants’ Union (UDU), Chief Kenneth Iwhewhe and the Ovie of Ughelli, knowing that Iwhreko people are the true customary owners of the land joined us to oppose the state government and went to court in Suit No UHC/87/2013 challenging the Delta State Government that that action, as it affects the rights and interests of the Iwhreko people cannot be taken without securing the consent of the original owners of the market.”

Way out

“After the first invasion of Iwhreko community by Ekiugbo, the king summoned everybody to a meeting during which no mention was made of the dead.

“The king and the police have been silent over the matter and because nobody has been indicted or questioned, they (Ekiugbo) took it upon themselves and again, struck on September 16, a few days ago and killed in cold blood, Nathaniel Ovwegre of Afiesere and Agbarha, neighbouring communities to Ughelli and injured Samson Abudu, Onome Orhogesia, Omonigho Ageze and Oghenebrorhie Jacob who are presently in critical conditions.

“In my capacity as President of Iwhreko community, I inherited the problem of the killing of the two indigenes and decided to proffer a solution to the lingering problem by taking a legal action, instituting a court case via Suit No. UHC/149/2021 against Ekiugbo community, the King, the Local Government Council and the President General of Ughelli Descendants’ Union.

“The legal action was filed on Thursday, September 16. The moment they (Ekiugbo) heard of the suit, they struck; on the same day, on the day of Ihenrin cultural festival of Iwhreko-Ughelli. We were dancing to celebrate the festival when Ekiugbo got the hint that we have sued them.

“They ambushed the Iwhreko people who were dancing to celebrate the feast along the Market Road at Egor Junction and shot sporadically at them, killed one person and several others were wounded. The case has been reported to the police once again.

“For permanent peace to be restored to that place, I appeal to all interest groups for calm and let the law take its course. The matter is already in court,” Godwin Onabedje, PG of Iwhreko community concluded.

I’m committed to peace — President-General

Efforts to reach the Ekiugbo President-General for his comment were unsuccessful.

But earlier, the President- General of Ekiugbo community, Obakare Ejaife Benard had told some newsmen, “It has been a long dispute between the two communities just because of boundary.

“Over 15 years ago, crisis erupted and the kingdom called a meeting and they set up a committee to look into the problem. The committee actually worked and submitted its report but it was swept under the carpet.

“About eight years ago, the same crisis started, the same leaders, the same government came and set up another committee. They went, they did their work and the report went the same way as in the past.

“Then after about five years, the problem came up again. The kingdom called again and set up another committee. The committee worked, submitted its white paper but nothing happened.

“Two years ago, under the leadership of my predecessor, the same crisis erupted and they went to the Ovie Palace that they should find a lasting solution to it. They asked, ‘where are the (previous) white papers? Nobody could answer because there are some eminent chiefs that are conniving to sustain the crisis.”

He accused Iwhreko community youths of breaking part of the agreement entered for truce by going back to the market to collect revenue and even assaulted a past president-general of  Ekiugbo community, who challenged them.

According to the report, “Bernard fingered some stakeholders in Ughelli as allegedly fuelling the crisis,” noting that as Ekiugbo President-General, he was committed to peace.

“I have been calling meetings right from the very first day that nobody should move out of Ekiugbo to go and fight or do anything harmful, and they listened to me.

“The leadership of Ughelli has failed Ekiugbo people. I thank God government is coming in, and I know there is going to be a special delegation of people that will stand for justice and fairness,” he said.

Efforts to reach him for an update on the recent clash were unsuccessful.

UDU President-General, Council Chairman and DPO

Contacted to comment on the update of the matter, the President-General of UDU, Chief Pius Omubaye, said it was not only UDU that was involved in finding permanent solution to the lingering dispute, but all stakeholders, including the local government council, the body of traditional chiefs of the kingdom and the police.

He said they were all working hand-in-hand to find a lasting solution to the crisis.

“The Ovie of Ughelli has called a meeting for today, Wednesday, September 22. We have held several meetings before but no good solution has come forth. We cannot be tired, we will continue to work,” he said.

Reached to react to the allegation that he failed to mobilise security personnel to man the market area after stakeholders have so agreed, Chairman of the council, Chief Godwin Adode aka Coach Tete absolved himself from any blame and passed the buck back to the Ovie of Ughelli.

“I have tried my possible best. The king needs to define the boundary between Iwhreko and Ekiugbo. I have built police posts around the market area to deter the boys from making further trouble there.

“I met the DPO to deploy men to man the posts promising to give him N100,000 every month but the DPO refused and demanded for N200,000 every month.

“Where will I get that money after I have spent N400,000 to build the police posts? That is where we are”, he said.

Confronted with the position of the council chairman, the PPRO of Delta State Police Command DSP Bright Edafe, debunked the claims of the council Chairman as excuses for irresponsibility.

In response to our query the PPRO said: “The Council Chairman has access to the Commissioner of Police. I believe if he has a genuine complain he would contact the CP.”

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