Published On: Mon, Nov 25th, 2013

Delta: Arrest of Itsekiri Community Leaders over $26bn EPZ Fund Sparks off Protest in Ugborodo


LAGOS NOVEMBER 25TH (URHOBOTODAY) – Tension is rising in Ugborodo, a community in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State following the arrest on Friday of the spiritual head and youth leader of the community, Mr. Benson Dube Omadeli, (the Olaja-Orori), and three others by men of the Nigerian Naval Base, (NNS Delta) from Warri.
The arrest is believed to be connected to the disagreement between the community and the committee set up by the Federal Government/NNPC over the proposed $26bn Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in the area.
A protest was organised by the community weekend to voice out their anger against the arrest. Some of the placards carried by the protesters read, “Ugborodo has a Registered Trustee”, “Udughan Respect the rule of law”, “Uduaghan what have you done with our N5bn Ugborodo New Town Project”; “Uduagha concentrate on governance, stop pursuing contracts in Ugborodo Land”, “Chief Emami go to Obaghoro, leave Ugborodo alone”; “Uduaghan follow due process and the rule of law. Don’t impose criminals on Ugborodo Community”, “Udughan has offended the gods of Ugborodo”.
“Uduaghan, Ayiri, Thomas leave us alone”, “Thomas, Ayiri, Isaac have committed sacrilege against us and Ugborodo”, “You are cursed by the land”, “Stop imposition of criminals on Ugborodo people,” amongst others.
A detachment of troops from the Naval base in Warri was said to have stormed the village on Friday to effect the arrest of the community leaders for allegedly opposing the committee allegedly set up by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan .
Local sources say trouble started in the village when Governor Uduaghan allegedly set up a parallel committee to interface with the Federal Government/NNPC on the EPZ project with Mr. Thomas Ereyitomi and Mr. Benson Babine as Chairman and Secretary respectively against the one earlier constituted by the Ugborodo people led by the Olaja-Orori, the Eghare- Aja (Traditional Prime Minister) Wellington Ojogor, and the Registered Trustees (Registered with CAC), Mr Eworitse Edwin Tsebi, with Mr. Olire Babine-Ereku as Chairman.
This, according to the sources, angered the Ugborodo people who protested the action, accusing the governor of supporting the same persons who were at the helm of affairs at Ugborodo when the community was allegedly defrauded.
The Delta State Police Command had investigated the alleged mismanagement of Ugborodo Community funds, after which a prima-facie case was established against one Ereyitomi, one of the arrow head to the Ugborodo crisis.
THEWILL investigation revealed the said Ereyitomi, among others, are allegedly facing a 12-count criminal charge of fraud and embezzlement of Ugborodo community funds to the tune of N= 577,000,000.00 at the Federal High Court, Warri in suit No. FHC/NR/64C/13 (Federal Government of Nigeria vs Thomas Ereyitomi and four others).
“It is this action of the Governor that has sparked protest by the Ugborodo people who rightly feel that it is not the duty of the Governor to choose a committee for them. This, they consider, is unwholesome meddlesomeness in their internal administrative affairs,” a local source said.
Femi Uwawah, an indigene of Ugborodo Community said the people have lost faith in the governor for allegedly taking side with some people led by Ayiri to unsettle the community.
Uwawah said the battle to control the EPZ committee was the primary reason the Olaja-Orori and youth leader was arrested by the Navy who he accused of alleged financial inducement to carry out the arrest .
“The crises that have been erupting in this community are caused by the governor of this state, Governor Emmanuel Udughan. He (Uduaghan) has been hiding under the umbrella of some crop youths who have gone to Warri to take chieftaincy titles to start to impose themselves on us.
“Ugborodo community is a peaceful community. We have been in existence over a thousand year. We want the federal government to come to our aid. We no longer have the trust of the governor of this state
“The community established a committee to manage the administration of the community. Ugborodo Community has a trustee registered with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). The governor set up a parallel committee and that is where the problem started. The governor refused to acknowledge the leadership of the community.
“As I am talking to you right now, the spiritual head and the youth leaders of this community are under incarceration. They have been detained since (Friday). A chief of Warri kingdom with AK47 led the naval boat to this community shooting sporadically and everyone was running. Many people have fled the community,” he said.
Another resident, Madam Felicia Bobi, said the people of the community decided to protest because the leaders of the community have failed them, stressing that there is nothing to show for their years of leadership. “We are suffering in this community. We want the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed to be implemented,” she said..
Explaining the invasion of the community on Friday, Pa. Anderson Ebiecutan explained that after a Christian crusade in the community to seek the face of God towards the development of the community, some highly placed persons informed the soldiers with fake information that people of the community were planning to attack Chevron.
Pa Anderson who collaborated the account of Uwawah, said a chief who is also a top PDP leader in the state led the team of naval officer on the raid on the community which resulted in the destruction of houses and other properties.
“We the people of Ugborodo Community are highly intimidated. We are highly oppressed by these set of boys we appointed some time ago to oversee and speak on behalf of the community with government and oil companies operating in the area”
“They made money now, they want to enslave us. They want us to dance to their tune,They want elders to abide with whatever they say. Those we gave power sometimes ago are the people fighting us because they have made money,” he lamented.
This came as the National Coordinator for Forum for Justice and Human Rights Defence (FJHD), Barrister Oghenejabor Ikimi, condemned the arrest of the Spiritual Head of Ugborodo Community and others, threatening to instigate legal action if they are not released immediately.
Ikimi in a statement in Warri, described the arrest as an aberration of any arm of the military to dabbled into community matters purely for police, calling on the Naval authorities to release them unconditionally forthwith.
“The attention of members of the Forum for Justice & Human Rights Defence, (FJHD) have been drawn to the recent unlawful arrest and detention of the spiritual head of Ugborodo community, Mr Omadeli Benson Dube, and others by men of the Navy in Warri over a leadership tussle in the community and we call on the Naval High Command to immediately order their release or better still hand them over to the police for proper investigation as it is an aberration for any arm of the military to dabble into community matters.
“In any case, should the Naval authorities fail to release the above persons unconditionally, FJHD would not hesitate to enforce the fundamental rights of the above persons and claim damages at large against the Navy and the Federal Government,” the statement said.
The Information Officer, NNS Delta, Lt.CID Yohanna, confirmed the incident, saying the troops only moved in to restore sanity after some irate youths attacked and maimed some youths loyal to a PDP chieftain. .
Yohanna said; “Our mission was to restore peace and sanity to the community. Should we leave them to fight? The reason for the arrest was very clear; it is to investigate the recent happenings in the community. We want to confirm what actually happened. We have not compromised.”
Source: THEWILL

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