14 November 2014, WARRI — President Goodluck Jonathan has called off the commissioning of the $16bn Delta Gas City project in Delta State scheduled for today following a threat by the Ijaw of Gbaramatu kingdom to unleash violence if he went ahead.
Reports that the President, indeed, suspended the groundbreaking, the second time in six months, having deferred it earlier in June, ignited fresh controversy in the state, with many wondering what was really going on.
This came as Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, warned against bloodshed between the Ijaw and Itsekiri in Delta State over the Federal Government-owned Export Processing Zone, EPZ, project, now renamed Delta Gas City.
The Ijaw, claiming that the Export Processing Zone, EPZ, project was named after an Itsekiri community, Ogidigben, whereas it was not exclusively located on an Itsekiri land, had severally sworn to disrupt the groundbreaking process, except the name was appropriately changed and acquisition formalities perfected with Ijaw co-owners of the land where the project is located.
President Jonathan, who announced his fresh intention to officially flag off the project at his declaration ceremony, Monday, in Abuja, surprisingly, reversed himself on Wednesday, despite re-assurance by the state government.
It was gathered that the Ijaw of Gbaramatu Kingdom renewed their objection to the groundbreaking between the time Jonathan announced his intention on Monday and Wednesday afternoon, prompting the president to shelve the plan.
Meanwhile, an Itsekiri leader and Ajuwaoyiboyami of Warri Kingdom, Delta State, Chief Ayiri Emami, has slammed President Jonathan for suspending the project. Chief Ayiri Emami, who was clearly disillusioned at the President’s action, said: “It is disheartening that President Jonathan is pandering to the selfish and clannish interest of some group of Ijaw persons in Gbaramtu Kingdom against the wider interest of the nation.”
However, an Ijaw youth activist in the forefront of the crusade for Jonathan not to perform the groundbreaking now, Mr. Paul Bebenimibo, disagreed with Emami, saying the President needs to be commended for listening to the voice of the oppressed people of Gbaramatu Kingdom.
Emami told Vanguard that “this project has been on for almost a year without distraction. The Ijaw were carried along by Julius Berger of Nigeria, JBN, but because of the selfish interest of one person, Jonathan succumbed to threats to abort the groundbreaking again. The question I am asking is: ‘Are we safe under Jonathan if a project of such magnitude and importance to the nation will be toyed with because of the interests of few persons.’”
He accused ex-militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, of using his influence to blackmail and intimidate people, warning that the continuous plan by Tompolo and his Ijaw brothers to deprive Itsekiri nation of what rightfully belongs to it was getting out of control.
Bebenimibo said: “I commend President Jonathan for listening to the voice of the oppressed people. Having postponed the groundbreaking again, my advice is that government should do the needful. It is not enough to say that the name has now been changed to Delta Gas City. The name of the project should be complete with the location of the project boldly proclaimed, and which we maintain should be Delta Gas City, Gbaramatu/Ogidigben.
“Besides, government should formally acquire the land from Gbaramatu people just as it did with the Itsekiri people. Mr. President should not come for the groundbreaking at all until all these issues are resolved. The project is also in our land and they should not act as if we are strangers. Jonathan should set up a high-powered committee to resolve the issues.”
After all, the Ijaw and Itsekiri have a common destiny, they are the ones laying the golden eggs and have been deprived of the benefits. I appeal to my Itsekiri brothers to understand our struggle. We should not kill ourselves before we forge a united front to fight our joint enemy.”
*Emma Amaize – Vanguard