President Goodluck Jonathan
Few days after President Goodluck Jonathan, inaugurated Orient Petroleum situated in Aguleri-Otu, Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State, the Kogi and Enugu State governments have begun to lay claims to ownership of the land where the oil wells are located, thus sparking a simmering crisis. Anayo Okolie gives an update on the development
Perhaps, it was the recent inauguration of Orient Petroleum and the proclamation of Anambra State as an oil-producing entity by President Goodluck Jonathan that aroused the consciousness of the neighbouring Kogi and Enugu States to the location of the oil wells.
The Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Idris Wada, had swiftly reacted to the declaration that Anambra State is the 10th oil producing state by Jonathan when he implored his people to protect the installations and assets of Orient Petroleum Resources (OPR) on Ibaji land. Wada believes that Kogi and Anambra States should have equal titles as far as Orient Refinery is concerned.
But Governor Peter Obi immediately countered this assertion in a broadcast when he said the oil wells currently being exploited by Orient Petroleum Resources belongs to the State.
“It is pertinent to recall that Orient was formed by the administration of Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju in 2001 and was allocated oil fields domiciled in Anambra State. The board is peopled by prominent Nigerians of Anambra extraction, such as Chief Emeka Anyaoku (Chairman), Dr. Alex Ekwueme (Vice-Chairman) and Chief Arthur Mbanefo.
“Though, Dr. Mbadinuju did not make any direct monetary contribution, however, under Dr. Chris Ngige, Anambra State Government invested the sum of N100 Million naira (N100 Million) in the project, with the vision and belief in the positive impact of the project on the economy,” he said.
The Anambra Governor also explained that his administration has “invested N4.4 billion in it directly and indirectly. This bolstered the confidence of other investors in the venture, thus making its commissioning a reality. Whilst my predecessors never visited the site, I personally laid the foundation of the refinery. I have also visited the site several times since 2006 during which no group or state raised ownership issue.
“It is pertinent to note that till date, neither the groups nor the states laying claim to the oil field have, directly or indirectly, invested a kobo in the project; whereas, Anambra State and its citizens have invested several billions. Let me state that Anambra State believes in good neighbourliness and will, in conformity with our nature, always admire and celebrate other states, which may become producers of oil or any other mineral resource in the future.
“However, we believe that people’s hard work, sacrifices and investment should be allowed to match their opportunities. Anambra State will remain a good neighbour and will continue to pray that oil be discovered in other states so that Nigeria will emerge an economic giant among the comity of nations,” Obi said.
A member of the House of Representatives from Anambra East/West Federal Constituency, Hon. Ameke Chriscato Ikechukwu, who is also from Aguleri, posited that in setting the record straight, the Orient Petroleum Resources, oil wells of Anambra River one, two and three in OPL 915, are all located in Aguleri, precisely Aguleri-Otu in Anambra East Local Government.
He said all the settlement and people in possession of it before the establishment of Anambra Reserve were named after the Aguleri people. Other acts of ownership include the establishment of Migrant School to serve the primary need of the people at Okpeze which is beyond the location of the oil wells, adding that a number of Churches have also been established in the area.
Looking at it politically especially with respect to federal elections, Ikechukwu said: “INEC polling booth located at Ngene Ejo, under Enugu-Otu Mpkunado Ward is part of Anambra Forest Reserve which administered to the commission in Anambra State to conduct and supervise the election for Aguleri people living in that area and they voted for me in the last election and I won the booth.
He explained further that the agitation to include Kogi and Enugu States with Anambra State as oil producing states would not be considered until their oil wells are explored and production of crude oil confirmed by the Nigerian government. Instead of antagonizing and laying claims on oil wells in Anambra State, Ikechukwu advised Kogi and Enugu States to facilitate the exploration of their oil wells just as Anambra State did to enable the state join the league of oil producing states in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, claims by Enugu and Kogi States on the oil field may have fueled protests by youths of the three states which if not contained could lead to violent clashes among the communities within the precinct of the oil wells.
A few weeks back, youths in Kogi and Enugu States embarked on a protest march, during which they threatened to stop Orient Petroleum project. After the protests by Enugu and Kogi youths, Anambra State youths under the umbrella of the Association of Anambra Town Unions (ASATU), warned Kogi and Enugu States to steer clear of Orient Petroleum in Aguleri Otu in Anambra East Local Government Area or be prepared for a showdown.
Anambra youths who described the situation as unfortunate, lamented that the two other states had waited for successive administrations in Anambra State to make effective investments in the realisation of Orient Petroleum before showing up to partake in its success.
Although the situation appears calm, it is obvious the end has not been heard the issue as each of these states still nurse as much bitterness arising from the claim of ownership. It is expected, therefore, that the commission on boundary disputes would wade in early and resolve the seeming crisis by affirming the ownership of the disputed land.
But historically, it is believed that the Aguleri people occupy the longest stretch of settlement along Anambra River, starting from Otuocha Aguleri to Inalo River, the border of Kogi and Anambra States. In fact, the people of Aguleri are believed to live on both sides of the rivers.
Statistics also show that in 1927, the boundary between Anambra and Kogi States was settled through arbitration jointly chaired by Captain Joel and Mr. Macabe. At the end, the arbitrators adopted a boundary line between Aguleri (Anambra) and Ibaji Land in Kogi.
Record also shows that the Anambra River has been the natural boundary between Aguleri and other towns on the east bank of Anambra River up to Ogurugu in Enugu State and that no community on the east bank of Anambra River, from Igbakwu to Ogurugu has a farmland on the west bank of Anambra River except Aguleri that occupies the entire west bank of Anambra River up to Inalo River which is the boundary between Anambra and Kogi States.
However, for Enugu, it is also on record that Igga community in the state in 1967 brought an action against SAFRAP Nigeria Limited, an oil company and two others, claiming a declaration of title to the land and an injunction, restraining the company and people of Aguleri from further trespassing on the land in question. But THISDAY gathered that people of Aguleri have been living, farming and fishing in the location of the oil wells known as Agu-Igbili, Agu-Ovo/Okpalia, Ngene-Ejo, Okpa-Nkwocha and Nnobi Aguleri.
Odeke, the Headquarters of Ibaji Clan in Ikala Land of Kogi State traced back their origin to Aguleri but a Source in the community told THISDAY that because of ancestral connection, they were allowed to live close to Aguleri and share common boundaries with the community.
“Given the topography of the entire west bank of Anambra River Basin, which consists of Anambra West Local Government Area and Aguleri-Otu in Anambra East Local Government Area; the land were acquired by government to establish Anambra Forest Reserve in 1931,” the source said.
Consequent upon this action, the Source said: “An agreement dated April 28, 1931, was made in accordance with the provisions of Section 5 (11) of Cap. 95 of the Forestry Ordinance 1931,” adding that “the communities that entered into the agreement included Nzam, Inoma, Nnani, Obodolu, Mmiata, Umuoba, Enugu-Otu and Oroma-Otu now Eziagulu-Otu Aguleri- all in the present day Anambra State.
“Another agreement was also made on February 12, 1932, by the communities while the Forestry ordinance was published in Gazette No. 20 Vol. 20, notice No.316 in March 30, 1933 and an ADO of the then Onitsha Division was appointed the Reserve Settlement Officer to supervise the Forest on behalf of the government of then Eastern Nigeria.
“It is important to note that the oil wells under discussion are located within Anambra Forest Reserve situated in Anambra East Local Government of Anambra State,” the source said.