02 March 2016, Benin – One person was reported killed, five missing, several houses and vehicles destroyed, while over 100 villagers have fled their homes following a violent communal clash between Erhuhun (Central Uneme) and Ogute- Okpella communities in Akoko Edo and Etsako Local Government Areas of Edo State, last Sunday, over land rights.
Among the five missing persons from Erhuhun community are Oladimi Ojo, Alasa Yusuf, Olurifemi Onifaye, Okereke Saliu.
HRM Yesufu Dirisu, Okuokpellagbe of Okpella The Okuokpellagbe of Okpella, His Royal Majesty Yesufu Dirisu and the Clan Head of Erhuhun community, HRH Moses Braimoh, who separately claim ownership of the troubled land, are spitting fire over the affair.
When Niger Delta Voice visited the area, last Friday, battle-ready soldiers and over 50 anti-riot police officers have taken over the communities.
A source said the police officers were on the manhunt for the masterminds of the crisis.
On the surface, the cause of disagreement looks like a land squabble over timber, but the naked truth is that both communities are in a fierce battle for mineral deposits, including gold and limestone in the said land.
How they struck— Zibril
The latest crisis erupted, last Sunday, when vigilante boys loyal to one of the monarchs invaded the Ehruhun community to seize the wood cut down by an indigene, Zibril Ahmed.
Ahmed who recountedthe invasion of the community by Okpella youths, said: “They have been threatening me that if I continue to fell wood in that forest, they will stop me. However, I told them that the land belongs to us here in Akoko Edo and not Okpella in Etsako East. On Saturday night, some people told me to remove the wood I chopped down, that they were coming to take them away.
“Nevertheless, I said I cannot remove the timber because I legally took it from our land and with permission from Akoko Edo Local Government. That Sunday, the vigilante boys from the Okpella invaded our community with two lorries when we all had gone to church with two lorries. However, our youths came out and told them they cannot take the timber away.
“And I told them they cannot take my wood from our land to Okpella in Etsako East and that was how the fight started. They have been intimidating us in this community because we are few but I said no, I will rather die than be denied what belongs to me rightfully,” he said.
Okuokpellagbe fishing for trouble— HRM Braimoh Clan Head of Central Uneme (Erhuhun)
HRH Braimoh, who decried the attack, stated: “Not too long ago, the Okuokpellagbe invited the BUA Cement Company to go and prospect mineral, which is in our area in Erhuhun land in Akoko Edo local government area. I personally stopped the BUA Company not to prospect anything because I am the appropriate authority to deal with on such issues and not the Okuokpellagbe.
“This led to series of protest letters by me to the state Governor, DSS, police and other relevant security agencies. In fact, this brought a stop to the BUA activities. What happened was that on the 11th of this month (February), they attacked one of our brothers, a registered timber contractor duly registered in Akoko Edo.
“Each time Okpella people want to foment trouble, they use vigilante people to come and terrorise us. He is claiming that this is his land, but it is not true. He cannot come from Etsako East Local Government Area to own a land in Akoko Edo. He took the vigilante boys to where one of our relatives was cutting wood in my own area.
“The vigilante people seized the saw our brother was working with and took it to their king. His vigilante boys also saw one of our hunters in the bush and seized his gun and his motor saw and took them to his palace. When I protested, they had to return the gun, but refused to release the motor saw engine,” he said.
The monarch further added: “But after series of protests, he released the motor saw engine, but warned that he should not go there again to fell trees and that even where I am staying today belongs to him. Meanwhile, this is a place where my great grandfather lived and died. It is over 300 years that we settled here, he is from Agenebode, and we have no connection with them at all. February 21 attack “So last Sunday, 21st of February, they came with two tippers, they went to the bush to confront our kinsman, the same man they collected his motor saw last time. This time around, they went to collect all his wood.
“But when they were returning back, our youths blocked the road that they should not carry the wood. The vigilante people from Etsako sent by the Okuokpellagbe, went to go and reinforce. Most of our people were in the church; before you knew what was happening, they started setting our houses on fire, destroying cars and motor cycles. The beginning of this crisis was when I wrote a petition that the land belongs to Erhuhun-Uneme, which I am the only person that has the authority to give instruction on what to do with it. “So I said that any company coming here to excavate any mineral, whether BUA or Dangote, they should come and register with me, then I will carry the registration to Igarra where our local government headquarters is. Oppression
“But the Okuokpellagbe is victimizing my people because he feels we are so small in population. Four of our relatives are missing since the attack. Those missing include Oladimi Ojo, Alasa Yusuf, Olurifemi Onifaye, Okereke Saliu. We have minerals in that land.
“The police invited us on the 2nd of February. When we got there, they said we should be peaceful, that land case is never the responsibility of the Police but that any of us who felt cheated should go to court. I told them I am ready to go to court. In 1981, we had a dispute over land, which led to a Commission of Inquiry.
“The white paper released by that commission blamed the Okpella people to have entered our land, even the forest officer, who gave them a permit, was dismissed from service. Terefore, I want the gvernment to come and give us a boundary so that everybody will know his area. Since he jumped from Etsako East to come to Akoko Edo to drag our land, it means he does not know his boundary. So I want the government to come and demarcate the boundaries so that he will know. Erhuhun molested my people— HRM Dirusu Reacting to the allegations, the Okuokpellagbe insisted that the disputed land belongs to Okpella, explaining also that Erhuhun people attacked his people and one person was missing.
“It is not the entire Okpella that has problem with Erhuhun people, it is only Ogute. Somebody from Okpella cut the wood they were bringing and Erhuhun people attacked the person preventing the boy from carrying the logs of wood out of the community, claiming that the land belongs to Erhuhun.
“The report on the land shows that the land belongs to Okpella not Erhuhun, and Okpella has boundary with Damgbala. Okpella gave the land where Erhuhun is occupying as tenants. One person is missing from Okpella today; we are still searching for that person. These people are settlers in our land, but it unfortunate that they are claiming it today. So it is not true that we attacked them, they were the ones that attacked our people, who went to carry their wood,” the king explained.
Misleading notion However, Erhuhun community leader, Prince Joel Itemoagbo, whose grandfather was a former village head of the area, said the claim by Okpella monarch that his people were tenants on the land was a fallacy.