Death toll mounts in Delta oil community war

*Armed militants walk freely

10 March 2013, Uzere – THERE must be something defective with the line of attack adopted by government and security agencies to tackle the lingering crisis in oil-rich Uzere Kingdom in Isoko South Local Government Area of Delta State, otherwise the bloodshed, which escalated in 2011, should have abated or ceased two years after.

If there is nothing wrong with the approach of the authorities, then, the apparent conclusion is that demons of war have been unleashed on Uzere by the dark kingdom to spill blood on regular basis and some human beings are pawns in their hands.

Otherwise, how can one explain the bloodletting and arson, where brothers kill brothers and set property ablaze in the community without any feeling of sorrow?

In the beginning In November 2011, no fewer than three persons were killed in a clash between security agents and villagers, who laid siege to the flow station of the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, in the community. About 100 persons sustained various degrees of injuries in the ensuing stampede. The villagers’ grouse was that their traditional ruler, His Royal Majesty, Odhebeodhiwu Udogri I, Ovie of Uzere, was fraternizing with the oil company to short-change them.

Escape from death Whereas the royal father strongly denied the allegation, the fury of the protesters knew no bounds, as his palace, guesthouse, wife’s supermarket and vehicles were set ablaze. But for the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, in the area, who warned him to run for his dear life, the monarch could have been burnt alive on that day.

Trouble with SPDC Uzere, home to some 50 oil wells, is the second community, after Oloibiri in the present-day Bayelsa State, where oil was discovered in Niger-Delta. The people, who were angry that Shell was foot-dragging in the signing a Global Memorandum of Understanding, GMoU, with them, blamed the royal father for the delay situation.

At the Shell flow station where the mayhem started, two patrol vehicles belonging to the police were burnt and another vandalised. About 30 charred motorcycles of the protesters, allegedly torched by security agents in retaliation, also littered the roadside near the flow station. The house of a female police officer, an indigene of Uzere, accused of firing the teargas that provoked the violent reaction by the youths, was also vandalised.

Uduaghan’s response
Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, responded by sending security agencies to the troubled community to restore peace and, later on, a judicial commission of inquiry, headed by Justice Sylvester A. Ehiwario, was inaugurated, January 2102, to look into the crisis and advise government on the way forward. The government’s response saved the situation from degenerating. Because of the extensive damage to his palace, the monarch, Udogri, went on self-exile in Warri and the commission, which sat in 2012, had since submitted its report to the state government.

As the commission was sitting in Warri, the opposing faction in the community, claiming that Udogri had abdicated his throne, based on his absence from the kingdom for about three months at the time, installed a parallel traditional ruler.

Parallel royal father The state government could not take it. The police declared the royal father, Henry Etuwede III, wanted. He was purportedly installed on June 9, 2012 but because of the manhunt for him, he went into hiding.

Udogri returns
Udogri returned to Uzere on the advice of government after the commission completed its assignment.

He returned, July 2012. He was treated to a colourful reception in his palace by his subjects. Addressing his subjects on that day, he pledged to promote unity, harmony and peace in the community. The monarch described his re-instatement as a testimony of the people’s confidence in him and his ability to give the community a qualitative leadership, pledging to unite all aggrieved persons in the kingdom.

Fresh crisis
However, peace has remained a mirage in Uzere. About a fortnight ago, five persons were killed again and 10 houses, including the temporal palace of the monarch, razed.

Gunmen were said to have invaded the community killing one Omojoli ldolor, a security guard to Etuwede 111. A source said irate youths regrouped for a reprisal attack and killed one of the gunmen, while another was severely wounded and the house of one of their alleged sponsors razed. Retired army officer behind crisis- Monarch

Addressing reporters in Warri, the monarch said, “What is clearly discernible is that there are some persons in the community motivated by personal interest and sentiment that will stop at nothing to hijack power and authority in the land”.

Giving an account of the crisis, he said, “Prior to the 2011 general elections, a top army officer (names withheld) sent some emissaries to my palace with a view to luring me to support his candidate, who was contesting into Delta State House of Assembly. “My refusal to yield to their request on account of my position as a father to all may have angered the general. “I strongly believe that the negative utterances and attitude of the general towards the palace thereafter are tied to my refusal to endorse the candidate.

“I am sure that was when he launched a total war against the palace. Since then, we have not not known peace in Uzere community. Several lives have been lost while properties worth millions of naira have been wasted in the land.”
*Emma Amaize, Vanguard

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