22 October 2015, Okpella – The once peaceful villages of Okpella Kingdom in Etsako East Local Government Area, Edo State, are now at each other’s throats, following the discovery of mineral deposits, including limestone, iron ore, gold, clay, dolomite phosphate, among others in marketable quantity.
Ordinarily, the mineral deposits ought to be a commonwealth for the entire Okpella people, but since Bua Groups of Companies revitalized the moribund Okpella Cement Company established by the defunct Mid-West government, divergent economic interests have triggered off a consuming ownership struggle. This cat and mouse relationship of today was unheard of when their ancestors left Benin 500 years ago.
3 quarters claim ownership
Investigations by Niger Delta Voice showed that three of the communities in the clan, Iddo, Ogriga and Imiegile are claiming ownership of the rich mineral section of the town and had accused Komunio in Afe- Okpella of trespassing into the territory, which they said does not belong to it.
They insisted that Komunio people were settlers in their present place at Afe-Okpella and, therefore, cannot lay claim to the ownership of the land housing the factories and mineral deposits. Representatives of Iddo, Ogriga and Imiegile quarters, who met recently at Okpella, reaffirmed their collective ownership of the land, saying they had been farming there for years and lived peacefully with one another.
At the meeting were Major- General Fred Irepitan, a retired infantry general, High Chief Peter Aronokhale, High Chief Francis Ibijiesan,High Chief Samanu Briamah, Chief Lawrence Adejumo, Alhaji Muhammed Jubril, Chief Abdullahi Isa Kadiri, High Chief Charles Oba High Chief Obamule Anthony and Chief Ekehunumhe Anthony.
Daring the king
They also accused the Komunio people of writing existing companies and intending ones to negotiate with them before entering the land in any manner, thus by-passing the authority of the traditional ruler of Okpella Kingdom, His Royal Highness, Alhaji (Dr.) A.Y. Dirisu, Okuokellagbe of Okpella, who they said is the only prescribed authority in the community.
According to one of the community leaders, “His Royal Highness, Alhaji A. Y. Dirisu is the prescribed authority in Okpella Kingdom and he has been controlling all the land on our behalf without any challenge from anybody.
“It is, therefore, surprising that the trespassers are now saying that the palace of the Okuokellagbe has no right to control them, that they are the owner of the land. This is false; we want the whole world to know today that the Komunio people have no right to claim ownership of the land.
“It is because the Iddo, Ogriga and Imiegile people allowed them to settle down with us. How can a people, who came to settle down with us, now suddenly become our landlord? This is what we are disputing.”
Corroborating the claim that Kuminio people were tenants, Chief Charles Oba from Iddo community, said the Kuminio took his late father, Chief Jack Oba, to court years ago for calling them tenants; he won, and there was no appeal against the judgment until date.
He said: “We are informing all prospective investors in the mineral deposits to consult the rightful owners of the land through theOkuokpellagbe, who is the prescribed authority in Okpella Kingdom instead of meeting with the wrong people; the 419s parading themselves as the land owners.
“We will not fold our hands and allow investors go to the dubious elements in some quarters, who now write to investors laying claim to the land.” The community leaders warned that anyone, who does business with the Kuminio people other than the three communities through the traditional ruler of the town, does so at his own risk and would have themselves to blame for any adversity.
The leaders said that they had prevailed on youths of their quarters to be calm and remain non-violent on the issue, as they would do everything to recover their land. They also resolved to take legal action against the Kuminio people if they fail to stop laying claim to the disputed land.
They‘re all liars
However, leader of the Kuminio in Afeokpella, Chief Charles Adogah (SAN), dismissed the allegations against his community when contacted by Niger Delta Voice. He said: “For whatever reason, a few people are always out to distort history. The land they are claiming to be theirs now belongs to my people, the Kuminio.
“What they are claiming now is close to the cement factory the Mid-West gazette published on January 28, 1965, entitled Public Lands Acquisition Law, simply said notice is hereby given that the following land at Kominio-Okene Road, Komunio, in the Afemai Division of the Benin Province, Mid-Western Nigeria is required by the government for public purposes absolutely.
“It did not say Iddo, Imiegle or Okugbe. Therefore, the lands where you have the mineral deposits are behind, towards the North-East. Their allegation that Iddo and Imieghele own the land is not true. “Ogriga is part of Komunio; they have no existence of their own, Ogriga is just a settlement in Komunio.
“Ogriga is right if they say that they are co-owner of the land because all of us are under one umbrella called Komunio. What happened is that the Komunio people, as peace-loving people, were interested in peace and good neighbourliness and did not just bother when the Okuokpellagbeof Okpella, Alhaji A. Y. Dirisu, overtime, was doing a lot of things signing concession papers and giving out our land.”
Okuokpellagbe owns no land in Okpella
His words, “Traditionally, the Okuokpellagbe is not the owner of any land in Okpella Kingdom. He does not own any land and we allowed him to do whatever he likes, but Section 100 of the Land Use Act says consent must be given by the owners of land before it is given, but we never gave any consent to him to give concession for mineral exploitation because we want peace.”
Beginning of crisis
Chief Adogah traced the genesis of the present crisis the traditional ruler of Okpella kingdom, who he accused of trying to wipe out Komunio people. He said the founder of Okpella kingdom had three children, two boys and a girl, and there were two ruling houses in Okpella known as Ogute, where Oke, Awuyime, Imiekuri and Imiegeli belong to, and Oteku ruling house, comprising of Komunio and Iddo branches.
He clarified, “They are the senior and we are the junior and unfortunately, the Okuokpellagbe is not satisfied with this and nobody is challenging him and now, he decided to drive us out of existence and so, the people took offence and decided to boycott activities at his palace. This is the genesis of what is happening now when he decided to get a section of Ogriga, Iddo and Imiegile to say that they now own the land.”
Adogah said it was Komunio people built the Ewo market, along the Okpella – Okene Express Way, but many had forgotten that the Express Road was not there originally. He advised those laying claim to the ownership of the land to show the documents and facts indicating that the disputed land belongs to them
They’re pushing us to the wall
On the issue of being a tenant, he said, “A lot of people believe in propaganda, say anything they like, but ask them to show their documents, nothing. If they can show the documents that the land where the factory is belongs to them, that they built the Ewo market and that they are six ruling houses in Okpella, I will surrender.”
According to him, “I am happy that they are now pushing us to the wall and at the appropriate time, we will react. Prior to this, we have been living in harmony and they are now trying to create crisis, disaffection and disharmony. It is very unfortunate and I feel sad about this because I know that at the end of the day, a suit follows. You cannot call people a slave and you expect them to be quiet. How do you call aborigines tenants and you expect them to fold their hands?” he said.
Attempt to speak to the Okuokpellagbe, Alhaji Dirisu, failed, but a source said the monarch took every section of the kingdom as his and, therefore, would not pitch one section against the other. “They are his subjects and he will do anything to ensure that there is peace and unity in Okpella,” the source said.