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April 27, 2024

Okuama IDP camp: Right baby steps, by Francis Ewherido

Francis ewherido

The Delta State Governor, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevewori, on Wednesday set up Ewu IDPs Management Committee to cater for the welfare of Okuama indigenes in Ewhu (Ewu), Ughelli South LGA, Delta State. This camp should have been set up before now, but it was hindered by the army’s activities in Okuama.

The accounts of what led to the unfortunate death of the 17 soldiers are varied, but they are firm and uniform that the condemnable act took place in the river, not inside Okuama village. All well-meaning Nigerians agree that the killing of those soldiers is dastardly and unjustifiable, but the army also has no justification for razing and levelling Okuama. In anger management classes, you are taught not to act when aggrieved or angry. The destruction of Okuama is more out of anger and a vengeance mission, than seeking justice for the dead soldiers. 

I am happy about the setting up of an IDP camp within Ewhu Kingdom. Beyond the army siege on Okuama, I learnt other factors that caused the delay in setting up the IDP camp are getting a suitable location, security of the Okuama people while in the camp, convincing them to come out of hiding, etc.I hope enough trust has been built to enable them come out of the bushes where they are exposed to the elements of the weather, venomous reptiles and dangerous wild animals.

More gladdening to me is the appointment of Mr. Abraham Ogbodo as the chairman of the IDP Management committee. Ogbodo, Dr. Benson Uwheru and my humble self-spearheaded the efforts of Olorogun Moses Taiga, the former President General of Urhobo Progress Union Worldwide, to set up Okugbe Microfinance Bank to assist Urhobo women and youths, especially, to set up small businesses.

We surpassed our target and the capital base for an MFB, but all efforts to get an operating licence have so far been fruitless. The project is being hampered by the notorious Nigerian factor. Ogbodo is lead of the Okugbe MFB committee, while I am his vice. He has displayed remarkable transparency to the delight of all subscribers. Those who got tired of waiting have had their subscription money refunded to them. The balance of the money belonging to Urhobo patriots who have vowed to ensure that the project comes to fruition is very safe in the bank.

In Ogbodo, Okuama people are in safe hands. Ogbodo spent his early days as a teacher in Ewhu. He has no choice but to deliver. We have heard stories of stealing of money and diversion of relief materials meant for the displaced people in other IDP camps, and so I am charging the indigenes of Ewhu in the committee in Ewhu dialect: Avwavw’oshor’Oghenev’arodovwenr’iniovor’avwar’Okuamavworuiruona. Ukuotoroyen, ebruphiyor‘Oghenekadiak’avwanwhekpen.

Avwa di rui’ogbigbiru, erivwinkayor’avwan (Please handle this assignment with fear of God and empathy for your kith and kin of Okuama. At the end the blessings of God will be with you, but if you pilfer the money for the relief materials or divert the materials to personal use, you are committing an abominable act and it goes with grievous consequences). Some other members of committee are either former or current political office holders, so it should know that this is a humanitarian, not a political, assignment.Thank you for being part of the efforts by the Delta State Government to alleviate the pains of Okuama people.

Going forward, our governor, senator and member in the House of Representatives should continue to engage the Federal Government and the army so that, the army can end the siege to Okuama. An IDP camp is not a home but a temporary arrangement. Okuama people are still within Ewhu Kingdom, but Ewhu town, where the camp is, is upland. Okuama people are riverine people. They are mainly fishermen and farmers. Right now they are like fish out of water.

The camp can never look like home to them. They eat mainly fresh seafood and farm produce in Okuama. In the camp, they will probably not get the same food. Even if they are served fish, it’s likely going to be frozen fish, not the fresh fish they are used to. Fresh fish is very expensive in the market, so I do not see much of it being served to them in the camp. But at Okuama, some of them do not have to buy fresh fish. Catching fish is their source of livelihood. From what they catch, they consume some and sell the balance. 

People from other parts of Nigeria might not understand the importance of fresh fish from the river, especially (I am not sure if my mother has ever eaten catfish from ponds. She has an uncanny way of knowing the difference between catfish(orhueren) from the river and pond). As an Ewhuson, I grew up eating mainly fresh or dried fish. It remains my favourite. I will be fine eating only fish for the rest of my life. I can never be bored of it. 

The IDP camp is just a stop gap. The army has to leave Okuama as soon as possible. Okuama needs to be rebuilt. The indigenes need to go back to their ancestral home so that they pick up the bits and pieces of their lives together. I urge Governor Oborevwori to facilitate that. He can seek for a refund from the federal government thereafter. Okuama people will seek justice, but through legal means. The judicial inquiry will unravel the circumstances leading to the death of these soldiers. The investigative hearing of the House of Representative Committee on defence is also welcomed.

The 17 soldiers deserve justice, so do the Okuama people. To get to the bottom of the matter, among others, we need to know who invited the soldiers to Okuama. What was their mission? It was apparently not a peace mission. I am a marriage counsellor. I have never dealt with a marriage conflict without engaging both spouses individually or collectively. The earlier efforts by theDelta State Government to resolve the land dispute between Okuama and Okoloba had representatives from both communities, but in this case, the soldiers only went to Okuama. There is no record that they also visited Okoloba, why?

The Urhobos, Ijaws, Itsekiris and Isoko have lived together and intermarried over the years. I am Urhobo, but I also have Isoko roots. My nephews have Ijaw, Itsekiri, and Isoko roots. I have first cousins who are Isoko. Many families in Delta Central and Delta South are like that. The conflicts over land between ethnic groups and within ethnic groups will continue to occur. But the brutality of the killing of the soldiers should be thoroughly investigated. E get as e be.

AN ANGEL GOES HOME

This week Friday, the remains of Mrs. Rosemary Ighokpozi Efevwerha, the mother-in-law of my brother, Emmanuel Ewherido, will be committed to mother earth at Afiesere, Ughelli North LGA, after a funeral Mass at St. Anthony Catholic Church, Ugberikoko, Effurun, Delta State. Mrs Efevwerha was a very sweet soul. She had an uncanny gift of developing a special and personal relationship with everyone. Her smile was infectious. Her death is very painful, but our loss is heaven’s gain. RIP, sweet mummy.