•Victims at border points scared to return home regardless of security presence
•Why crisis has continued – Owhorhu I, Monbene III, Omare, Oyibode, Wilkie, Denighan
•Aladja youths molest Warri S-West chair, Tuoyo, Gov’s wife aides- Chief Monday Keme
• Tuoyo goes to office on Ogbe-Ijoh-Aladja road till date – Brown, Udu LG chair
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South and Perez Brisibe (Ughelli)
NOTWITHSTANDING the presence of policemen and soldiers at the perimeter and adjoining undergrowth between Ogbe-Ijoh in Warri South-West Local Government Area and Aladja in Udu Local Government Area, both in Delta State, residents from the two warring sides, who fled their houses, many months ago, have refused to return home for fear of losing their lives.
Some of the deserted homes now occupied by security agents that provide security in the affected areas have bullet holes from past skirmishes on their walls. Villagers, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard at Aladja and Ogbe-Ijoh, last Thursday, said it was better to be alive than stay in your home and be killed.
Clearly, there was uneasy calm in the two communities, as policemen mounted sentry with armored tank on the Aladja –Ogbe-Ijoh Road, which Ogbe-Ijoh people complained they had been totally denied access by Aladja people in the last two years.
At the moment, Ogbe-Ijoh, the headquarters of Warri South-West local government area can only be accessed by road through Aladja community; the only other means is by boat and because of the persisting crisis with the latter, practically all visitors to Ogbe-Ijoh, not just Ijaw indigenes, including workers of Warri South-West local government council, are caught in the melee.
Though one of the Aladja youths, who accosted our reporters escorted by some Urhobo leaders, claimed that the road was free for anybody to pass, it was patent that the opposite is the case. A cursory look showed that the access road was being overgrown by weeds due to years of non-usage.
The last shutdown of the road on March 24, 2016 until the time of our visit led to staff of the Warri South-West council abandoning their duty post for over six months. Authorities of the council had to procure a boat to convene the workers to the council secretariat in Ogbe-Ijoh from Warri.
Findings by Saturday Vanguard showed that the chairman of Warri South-West, Mr. Taye Tuoyo, an Itsekiri, had been held hostage on two occasions on the road with his entourage and was not released until top government officials intervened.
The latest infraction was on July 8 when members of the advance team, comprising medical personnel and support staff of 05 Initiative, founded by the First Lady and wife of the governor, Dame Okowa, on their way to Ogbe-Ijoh town for a free medical programme, were waylaid in Aladja.
Ijaw people sacked our communities – Asifor, Aladja youth chair
Chairman of Aladja Youths, Samson Asifor, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard in Aladja, said there was no barricade on the road by Aladja youths. He, however, stated that whatever is happening was in response to the sacking of residents of Ayama and Epame, both Udu communities, by Isaba, which he described as an Ogbe Ijoh community.
He said: “We did not block the road, but only asked the government to settle this issue and the decision were not made by us alone, but a collective decision by the entire community.
“Besides, our people cannot access their farms and ponds most of which are in the area close to Isaba community while residents of Ayama and Epame communities of Udu kingdom, have been chased away from their communities by youths from Isaba, who also closed down the only road to these communities.”
He debunked an allegation that Aladja youths were collecting levy from Ogbe-Ijoh and other people passing on the road, saying that it was only officials of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW that might be involved in the collection of toll.
Asifor also denied knowledge of the alleged harassment of members of the 05 Initiative, a nongovernmental organization sponsored by Dame Okowa, saying he was not in town on the day of the incident and was not briefed by his representatives up till the time of the interview.
Lamenting the spate of underdevelopment in the community, the Aladja youth chairman while applauding the state government for the ongoing renovation of the Aladja Grammar School, said, “We want the state governor to address the issue of road and pipe borne water in Aladja as well as the need for him to intercede into the three years blackout of electricity supply to Aladja which dates back to beginning of the crisis by both communities.
Udu wants peace – Subi, Udu youth president
Reiterating the peaceful disposition of the Udu people, Udu youth president, Sunday Subi, said: “We have always wanted peace even in the height of the crisis, but our people are being deprived from gaining access to their farms, especially in Ayama and Epame.”
Not safe for both sides – Wilkie, Aladja president general
Contacted, president general of Aladja, Chief Christian Wilke, who described the sack of both Udu communities as an open secret, said: “They (indigenes of Ogbe-Ijoh) know that with the prevailing circumstance, it is not safe for them to pass the road just as it is not for us too to access our farms and the sacked Udu communities.”
Chief Wilikie said that just as Ogbe-Ijoh people were complaining that they could not access their town through Aladja, so Epame and Ayama people of Udu kingdom cannot access their areas because of the siege by Isaba people of Ijaw extraction.
We pay toll fees to Aladja youths – Denighan, Ogbe-Ijoh Chairman
Reacting to accusations against Ogbe-Ijoh, Chairman, Ogbe-Ijoh Warri Kingdom Governing Council, Mr. Friday Denighan, fingered youths of Aladja community for mounting an average of four roadblocks on the Aladja-Ogbe-Ijoh link road, supposedly a government road and collecting a minimum of N5, 000 as toll fee from trucks carrying building materials to Ogbe-Ijoh before the total shutdown of the road.
He asserted: “It is false for Aladja to say that those collecting such fees are members of the NURTW. As a matter of fact, the Ogbe-Ijoh people should be applauded for maintaining the peace before the unfortunate clash between both communities and total shutdown of the road because until then, every building material truck that passes the road is compelled to pay at least N5, 000 for an average of four checkpoints, along the road to Ogbe-Ijoh.”
Warri S-West boss held hostage- Chief Monday, Ogbe-Ijoh leader
A prominent Ogbe-Ijoh leader, Chief Monday Keme, who disclosed that the current closure of the road predates the current crisis between both communities said, “We have always been prevented from accessing that road even in the past two administrations. Each time the road is blocked, we cry out, security personnel are deployed, the government intervenes and the road is opened for vehicular activities.
“Coincidentally, not only indigenes of Ogbe-Ijoh are stopped from accessing the road, but even non-indigenes of the area going to the council headquarters for official duties, are prevented from passing the road thereby grounding administrative activities at the council with workers not being able to access their duty post.
“Recently, the council chairman, an Itsekiri man and some staff of the council were held hostage while trying to pass the road. The advance team of the wife of the state governor whom were going to Ogbe-Ijoh for the 05 free health care programme were also stopped from passing the road.
…Security personnel, DSIEC staff too
“Also, in the last local council election in the state, security personnel and staff of the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission, DSIEC, were prevented from passing the road to Ogbe-Ijoh for their duties,” he asserted.
Aladja, Ogbe-Ijoh monarchs lock horns
Ovie of Udu kingdom, HRH E.B .O Delekpe, Owhorhu I, who was visibly angry with his Ogbe-Ijoh counterpart while citing reasons for the impasse between both kingdoms, said: “If they are not claiming ownership of our farmland which they have deprived us from, there could not have been any problem of confrontation.”
“They do not allow us access to our farms but they want to pass through our community to their area,” he said.
Puncturing the claims of the Udu monarch, the Ama-Okosu of Ogbe Ijoh Warri Kingdom, Pere Monbene III, who spoke through one of his traditional chiefs, Chief Keme, noted that efforts to reach his Udu colleague on several occasions met a brick with the Udu monarch allegedly accusing him of being a troublemaker.
He said: “The Udu king believes that the entire land of Ogbe-Ijoh, including the land the Ogbe-Ijoh palace is built on belongs to the people of Aladja and this has made it practically impossible to resolve the issue.
Warri S-West chair drives to office on the road till date – Jite, Udu council boss
Chairman of Warri South-West local government, Mr. Taye Tuoyo, rebuffed all attempts by Saturday Vanguard to speak with him on the crisis despite the fact that one of our editors earlier discussed our visit on phone with him.
His Udu counterpart, Chief Brown Jite, who spoke on phone, said: “We believe that we are progressing more than before. Since we came in the last five months, there is progress, we have held several peace meetings and I can tell you that gradually, things are coming back to normal.
Chief Brown, who said he just left his Warri South-West, Tuoyo, after an official event, last Saturday, added: “We have been synergizing to ensure that peace reigns. We have been meeting at local government level; our next week meeting is at the palace of the monarchs.”
He said it was not that the Warri South-West chairman, Tuoyo, was held hostage on the Aladja-Ogbe-Ijoh road, saying: He drives through the road to his office up till now.”
On the siege to Ayama and Epame communities, he retorted: “All I know is that the process of peace is on.”
Okowa addressing burning issues – Olorogun Oyibode, Special Asst
Speaking on the efforts of the state governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, to put behind the Ogbe-Ijoh/Aladja crisis, his Special Assistant on Community Development, Olorogun Vincent Oyibode, said: “The truth of the matter is that government before now has failed to address this issue the way the Okowa government is addressing it and peace is returning with representatives of both communities building on the peace process amidst establishment of infrastructural development on both sides.
“As we speak, meetings are going on to address the issues which include Aladja people farming with fears and the need to relocate residents of the two Udu communities sacked from their homelands.
“Security operatives made up of the police and soldiers have also been stationed to forestall a likely breakdown of law and order in both communities,” he added.
He said the governor was also tackling the issue of infrastructural underdevelopment at Aladja and Ogbe-Ijoh with a view to giving the two communities a sense of belonging, adding: “I can tell you that peace is gradually returning to both communities and I am sure that very soon, cause of disagreement will be resolved.”
Way forward – Monarchs, community leaders
Speaking on the efforts of the state government to contain the crisis, community leaders from both sides accuse it of not being firm in finding a lasting solution to the matter.
Though the Pere of Ogbe-Ijoh applauded the state government for doing its best with the setting up of a Panel of Inquiry to investigate the crisis, he said the state government should hasten the implementation of the report, adding: “The governor should do what needs to be done and he has our support in taking a fair decision that will bring lasting peace.”
Udu monarch, challenged the governor saying, “I have told the governor that if he cannot say the truth, he cannot settle the matter.”
Establish border, take steps to sustain it- Omare, IYC president
President, Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Eric Omare, stressed that the state government needs to be definite and take a position in the resolution of this issue. If a recommendation and a white paper have been released, it needs to be implemented because government not taking a definite position on the matter is the reason for the escalation of this impasse.
He said: “What I expect the government to do is to define an established boundary between both communities so that the people can know their boundaries, when done, further steps should be taken to sustain the peace and encourage the communities to coexist again.”
Mount four army/police checkpoints between Aladja-Ogbe-Ijoh- Denighan
On his part, Ogbe-Ijoh chairman, Friday Denighan, advocated establishment of at least four checkpoints made up of police and military personnel along the Aladja-Ogbe-Ijoh access road, adding that the crisis was beyond the leaderships of the two communities, who are waiting for the decision of the government.
Ogbe-Ijoh, Isaba should lift siege on Ayama, Epame, says Sunday Subi
Udu president youth president, Sunday Subi, asserted: “I advise that Ogbe-Ijoh and Isaba should allow Epame and Ayama to go to their farms and access their abode and with that mode of happiness, they too can pass Aladja as it is that fear that is making them stay away from passing Aladja.”