Patrick Ochoga, Benin City
Inhabitants of Okomu in Ovia South West of Edo State of Ijaws extraction weekend said they will resist with the last drop of blood any attempt by the Edo State Government and the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II to denied them of their ancestral rights and ownership of Okomu land.
They noted that contrary to the picture being painted that they (Ijaw) are settler of their present aboard, it was the Benin’s who are actually settlers.
They listed some of the moves to deny them their rights to include none membership of a permanent seat on the board of directors of Okomu Oil and Rubber Plc approved by the presidency for Okomu kingdom, descriminatory 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 in 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 settlemnt 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 later 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 ever present 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.
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 that 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 oilpalm 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 base 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.
That 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.