EPZ crisis deepens: ILT says Ijaws of Gbaramatu are Itsekiri tenants

Gas flow station in the Niger Delta18 November 2014, Lagos – Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, ILT, has expressed shock and disappointment over President Goodluck Jonathan’s failure to perform the ground-breaking ceremony of the Ogideigben Export Processing Zone, EPZ, describing it as a betrayal of the fatherly trust on him.

ILT in a statement, said it was disappointed that despite earlier calls on the President to build bridges across ethnic divides in the Niger Delta that he chose to side with his ethnic Ijaw kinsmen in an unnecessary dispute over Itsekiri land.

The nine-point statement issued by the ILT Secretary, Edward Ekpoko, said “the Itsekiri people and other well-meaning Nigerians are surprised at the failure of President Goodluck Jonathan to commission the ground-breaking ceremony of the EPZ project site at Ogidigben, Ugborodo in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State, on November 14, 2014, due to the threat of Ijaw militants mostly of Gbaramatu Kingdom.

“The EPZ project is completely sited in Ogidigben, an Itsekiri town in Ugborodo in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State. The closest Ijaw enclave which lies to the South is Yokiri, and it is about 14 kilometres, from Ogidigben.

“The other town which lies to the North of Ogidigben is Kpokpo. Between Kpokpo and Ogidigben are other Itsekiri villages like Madangho, Ajudaibo, among others. It is this Kpokpo that even has no geographical contiguity with Ogidigben that the Ijaws of Gbaramutu are using as bridge-head to lay claim of ownership to certain parcel of land earmarked for the EPZ, just as the Ijaws of Ogulagha are using Yokiri too.

“Kpokpo is an Itsekiri settlement owned by the Ugborodo community and its ownership has been settled judicially in Suit Nos. MCC/4/71: GODSPOWER OKOTUROH (of Ugborodo) (Itsekiri) vs. OGBABURO (Ijaw) and MCC/37/71: GODSPOWER OKOTUROH (of Ugborodo) (Itsekiri) vs. BURUTU (Ijaw) as belonging to the Ugborodo people.

“The Ijaw of Gbaramatu Kingdom, wholly, live on lands owned by the Itsekiri people of Omadino and Ugborodo communities as customary tenants, as pronounced over the years by courts of competent jurisdiction.

“In fact, Okerenghigho (now called Okerenkoko by the Ijaw) on which the Marine Dockyard and the Maritime University are built is on Omadino (Itsekiri) land. In 1962, the Itsekiri people of Omadino in Suit No. W/30/1962: CHIEF E. E. SILLO & 2 ORS (for themselves and on behalf of Omadino people) vs. JAMES ULUBA & 2 ORS (for themselves and on behalf of Okerenghigho people) sued for possession of title to Okerenghigho, rents and injunction.

“In a judgment delivered on October 3, 1969, the court entered judgment for the Itsekiri people of Omadino. Part of the judgment reads: “I am satisfied that the village land Okerenghigho which is the subject matter in dispute in this case falls within the area described in the claim in Suit No. W/29/51 in respect of which the then Supreme Court (now High Court) declared Plaintiffs (that is, Itsekiri people of Omadino) owners… Although it will now be superfluous to grant a declaration of possessory title of ownership to the plaintiffs, for the avoidance of doubt, I hereby grant it as claimed in respect of Okerenghigho…

“The Ijaw appeal to the Supreme Court in SC/294/70 was on January 31, 1973 dismissed by Elias C. J., Sowemimo and Ibekwe SC JJ.

“Oporoza, the headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom and the seat of their warlord, is in Ugborodo (Itsekiri land) The Ijaws settled there with the permission of the Itsekiri people of Ugborodo. This was confirmed in Suit No. W/124/76: BABINE EREKU & 3 ORS (for themselves and on behalf of other members of the Ugborodo Community) (Itsekiri) vs. OSUKE AKONU & ORS. The Oboro, Gbajor and Nehi families of Benikrukru, Gbaramatu (Ijaw) were the 2nd set of defendants in the suit. On page 57 of the judgement, the court held, inter-alia:

“I accept the evidence that Oboro, Gbajo and Nehi were descendants of Fifowei, son of Osako (Ijaw) who migrated from Gbaran less than 200 years ago and were permitted by the Ugborodo (Itsekiri) people to settle at Uton-Ima which they (Ijaw) later renamed Oporoza, on condition of payments of tribute. I accept that the areas they settled include Ubefan, Ajatiton, Uremure, Kpokpo and Omidudun later renamed Benikrukru…I totally reject the traditional history put forth by the second set of defendants (the Ijaw) tracing their descendants from Ijo from the Middle East” (words in brackets, ours)”

“We are, therefore, surprised how a customary tenant over-night turns around and begins to lay claim to the land of his landlord. In an advertorial published on page 12 of The Nation, we advised President Jonathan that he sits above and beyond the ebbs and flows and the rough seas of the Nigerian society, and as the father of all, he should ignore the baseless threats of war with Itsekiri from his Ijaw brothers and perform the ground-breaking ceremony of the EPZ.

“He didn’t heed the advice, but rather pitched his tent with war mongers and did the wrong thing. Itsekiri, Nigerians and indeed the world now know that President Jonathan is pursuing an Ijaw agenda. This agenda is to exterminate the Itsekiri in their God-given land. Nigerians and indeed the world are watching.

“We will resist it and we will never be intimidated by threats of war and genocide against the Itsekiri.

“We have repeatedly called on our Ijaw brothers, including President Goodluck Jonathan, to build bridges across ethnic divides, not only in the Niger Delta, but in Nigeria, but alas President Jonathan has by this action, joined the kinsmen in building fences among the ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta and Nigeria. Time will tell the outcome.”
*Dapo Akinrefon – Vanguard

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