Ijaws in Edo Accuse Edo Govt, Benin Monarch of Marginalisation

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Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City

The Ijaw extraction living in Okomu, Ovia South West Local Government Area of Edo State, have raised the alarm over what they termed as a calculated attempt by the Edo State Government and the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II to deny them of their ancestral rights and ownership of Okomu land, noting that contrary to the picture being painted that they (Ijaw) are settler of their present aboard, it was the Benins who are actually settlers.

They listed some of the moves to deny them their rights to include non- membership of a permanent seat on the board of directors of Okomu Oil and Rubber Plc approved by the presidency for Okomu kingdom, discriminatory employment policy against the qualified indigenes of Okomu in the last 40 years and the refusal of Osse Rubber Company, located in their land to visit their host community because of the pressure from the state government for the firm to recognise Udo, a neighbouring Benin settlement.

Spokesman of the Ijaws in the area, Chief Sunday Ajele, who stated this yesterday during a press conference at Okomu, also lamented that the result of all this policy was the total and effective diversion of all royalties originally meant for the Okomu kingdom to the Benins and their monarch
He said: “The administrative headquarters of Ovia South West Local Government Area which control both Okomu and Benin area of the council is nothing but an outpost of the Benin Empire; it has been the viceroy of the Benin monarch and that of Edo State Government in carrying out this repugnant policies against the people of Okomu kingdom by using staff of the local government who are of Benin descent to indulge in the illegal and immoral act of change of company names located in Okomu kingdom to reflect Benin ownership by adding the Benin settlement of Udo.

“Thus companies formally incorporated with only Okomu as host community now carry the affix, Okomu Oil Plc – Okomu Udo; Osse Rubber Estate Osse – Udo; and Okomu National Park – Araukhan- Udo.

Even at that, he said “It is regrettable that to state that with the huge economic contribution from the natural resources of Okomu kingdom to the coffers of Edo State Government, the latter has not found it fit to locate basic infrastructures in Okomu land. It will surprise the general public to note that the most token of government responsibility, education, is completely absent, as there are no primary and secondary schools. There is no health facility and link road to the outside world in Okomu to date”.

Chief Ajele, who was flanked by other Chiefs and surrounded by people of the area, further stated that the provocation by Edo State Government and the Benin monarch led to the conflagration of July 30, 2015 between the Okomu community and the Okomu Oil PLC, which necessitated the intervention of the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) after the state Peace and Conflict Committee failed to remedy the situated.

He added that after the visitation and findings by Majo-Gen. E.J. Atewe, Brig-Gen. A.A. Laleye, and Col. Balarabe, all of the JTF to Okomu community and Okomu Oil PLC respectively that they advised the Managing Director of Okomu Oil, Mr. Graham Never to employ Okomu indigenes, pay royalties to Okomu community and possibly construct a motorable road to the area.

However, he said between the above mentioned date till now of the commendable mediation efforts of the JTF, none of the resolutions have been implemented.

Ajele stated further that Okomu Forest Reserve was established in 1911 and gazetted May 31 of the same year in Public Notice No.38/1911 and constituted on April 17, 1912 No.397, No. of gazette 27/1912.

In that gazette according to him, “The whole of the 300 sq. miles of Okomu Forest Reserve is of Izon Western Delta fringe of Western Region. It comprises the Ijaw major towns of Okomu, Izide, Safarogbo, Cabelemotun, Gelegele, Ajakorama, Ofuniama, Abere, Gbolukanga, Gbeoba, Ajamage, Inikorogha, Igbinioba and Ikoro town.

“All together (14) reference map titled Okomu: sheet 294, edition 1 compiled and drawn Federal Survey 1986 and also Okomu extension forest Ben Prof 1/19 file No. 103/1927 – 1932 of Okomu Extension Reserve Notice in gazzete No. 43 of July 20, 1930, thus covers an area of 150 sq. Miles.
He further stated that Dr. Jacob Uwagboe Egharevba, a historian from the Benin royal blood in his book, titled ‘A Short History of Benin’, wrote that “Many years ago, the Benin’s came all the way from Egypt to found a more secured place after a short stay at Ile-Ife”.

Further quotes from the same author in the same book (third edition) said, “In about 1170 AD, Prince Oramiyan, the father of Oba Eweka I, Oba of Benin came with his courtiers to the place now known and called Benin City, when he encountered more trouble at Ovia River with ferry men. Several years after this incident, Oba Ewedo of Benin also had a similar encounter with the aborigines”.

Ajele therefore concluded that the ferry men being referred to as aborigines by Dr. Egharegha of blessed memory, were simply the Ijaws of Okomu, Egbema, Olodiama, Furupagha and Gbanruan clan of the present Edo as they were neither Benins nor Yorubas.

He said if a royal blood of the Benin Kingdom acknowledged and admitted that the Ijaws of Ovia River, Okomu River and the entire riverine of Edo are aborigines, why should anyone twist the historical truth to one’s own advantage

The Okomu spokesman noted that from the foregoing, it is crystal clear that even the colonial masters and previous Benin rulers did not subvert the truth, but were able to indicate and acknowledge all documents relating to the acquisition of the land of Okomu kingdom for the purpose of a forest reserve because Okomu Forest Reserve, belonged to the Okomu community (Kingdom).

He therefore stated that the Ijaw kingdom in Edo is of aboriginal status as further buttressed by other historical facts besides ownership of the Okomu forest which has been their sacred grove, adding, “just as it is obtained in all ethnic rationalities that evolved distinctly in Nigeria and Africa, monarchs are sourced within the particular ethnic groups and so Okomu kingdom cannot be different as it will be a serious aberration and height of cultural and traditional sacrilege for the Benin’s to overlord the Okomu people”.

“At this juncture, it is important to note that the Peres (Kings) of Ijaw nation are neither elected nor by inheritance but through divine selection by the national Gods of the Ijaw nation who are both spiritual and political in their sovereign dispensation.

“Unfortunately, through the economic and political marginalisation of the Ijaws, there is an attempt to demean our monarchs and deny us our aboriginal rights of ownership. We are ready to defend with the last drop of our blood for our kingdoms and kings.

“Okomu kingdom in Edo State like other Ijaw kingdoms in the state has suffered serious political marginalization. Successive governments in the state and the Obas of Benin have orchestrated clandestine moves to legislate on traditional institution matters with a view to subjugate and coax the Ijaw cunningly and forcefully and thereby reducing then into second class citizens through the enactments of laws that are obnoxious and negative in democratic and plural societies.
“The Ijaws in Edo are balkanised into different wards, for instance where there are large Ijaw communities and population, they are deliberately broken down into smaller units and merged with Benin speaking constituents to prevent them from producing their own representatives”, he stressed.

In a swift reaction however, the Oba of Benin through his Chief Press Secretary, Comrade Desmond Agbama, said it is wrong for the Ijaws whether from Gelegele of Okomu to claim that the forest reserved and the lands accommodating various companies in the area belongs to them.

He said the entire Okomu area is part of Benin Kingdom with one paramount ruler, which is the Oba of Benin, adding that by so doing, it is natural that any royalty accruing from such must go to the state government and whoever is the traditional ruler overseeing the entire place.
According to Comrade Agbama, for the fact that someone has lived in a place for more than 200 years is not enough for the fellow to claim ownership of the place.

He said the Ijaws in Edo should not take the magnanimity of Benins for a ride because they (Ijaws) of Edo migrated from present day Bayelsa and because of the aquatic nature, some of them migrated to Edo as fishermen and were allowed to settle within the Benin coastal area.

He added that if the Ijaws so much needed land to farm, the Benin monarch will always obliged them if the cone with the right approach and not by saying the Okomu forest and the land housing the oil palm company and rubber plantations belong to them.

Also reacting on behalf of the state government, Special Adviser, Media and Communication Strategy to Governor Obaseki of Edo State, said presently, there is a broad-based strategy to bring development to all sections of the state in terms of their needs.

To achieve this, he noted that the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) has embarked of numeration of number of schools in the state, vis-à-vis to know those have schools and those who do not have with a view to allocating school one them, adding that as soon as that is completed, those who do not have will certain smile.

On the issue of ownership of Okomu land, he said the Land Use Decree (Act) of 1978 appropriates all land in the state to the government who in turn allocate same for any purpose as required or requested.

He added that the law has not been abrogated and so the issue of who owned Okomu land does not arise as all lands are vested in the hands of government.