Gelegele Ownership: We are equal to your war threats, group tells Binis

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  • Oba Be Guided in Your Utterance – Ijaw Elders
  • Edo Govt Is Bias – Spokesman
  • Be Warned Against Inter-ethnic Crisis – IYC

THE war threats by the Benin National Congress, BNC, should the Ijaws claim ownership of oil-rich Gelegele community seems to have irked the Ijaw speaking people of Edo State as a group known as Coastal Mandate for Peace and Development, CMPD has replied BNC, saying the Ijaws are equal to the task.

A statement signed by the group’s National Coordinator, Comrade Samson Uroupa said drums of war beaten by the Binis shall be attended to equally, stating that existence of the Ijaws in Gelegele community and every other Ijaw communities in present day Edo State pre-dated the existence of Nigeria and Edo State as political entities.

It described the Binis claim as exhibition of ignorance, wickedness, greed and hatred for the Ijaw people.

The group said “The history of these clans predates the history of Benin. See the book ‘A  Short History of Benin, Ibadan University Press, 1968,page 1’ by a renowned Bini historian, Late Chief Dr. J. U Egharebva.”

According to the group, careless and reckless statements emanating from the Binis would have long led to serious ethnic crisis if not Ijaw elders who have been consistently toeing the path of peace and harmonious living, warning that action by the elders does not mean cowardice.

While vowing to protect their territorial boundaries using every lawful means, the group called on Oba of Benin to caution his subjects before they fuel inter-ethnic crisis between the two ethnic groups.

Ijaw elders write President Muhammadu Buhari Gelegele ownership.

Also lending their voices to some set of Binis, including the Oba of Benin’s claimed ownership of Gelegele, a group of Ijaw leaders in Edo State warned the Oba to keep away from Gelegele community, stressing that the Ijaws existed long even before the Benin Kingdom.

In a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari titled ‘THE IJAW SETTLERS AND NON INDIGENES QUESTION IN EDO STATE, A RUSE’, the Ijaw leaders called on the Federal, Edo state governments and security agencies to urgently call Oba of Benin and his people to order on their unguided utterances, warning that such utterances may cause inter-ethnic clash in the state if not urgently checkmated.

The leaders’ letter is sequel to a statements credited to the Oba of Benin and his uncle, Prince Edun Akenzuwa, in which the duo called the Ijaws of Edo State non indigenes and settlers on January 31st, 2017 respectively.

The leaders said same act was repeated on March 6th, 2017, during the visit of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to the Niger Delta states, where the Oba of Benin in his palace asked the Vice President to caution the Ijaws who are claiming ownership of Gelegele community and other Ijaw communities in Edo State.

The open letter signed by Prof. C. A. Dime, James Okubokekemi, Chief  Oweikoru, Chief J.G. Uroupadei, Chief J. Wodubamo, Mr. B. Yabike and Dcn. K. Ebifagha on behalf of the Ijaws in Edo state, the leaders stated that Gelegele is an Ijaw word which mean a hilly or elevated community.

The Ijaw leaders therefore wondered why the Binis after failing in their attempt to change Ijaw communities to Bini names through the Edo State House of Assembly in 2001 would utter such provocative statements, adding that the failed attempt by the Binis was a clear indication that the oil-rich Gelegele community belongs to the Ijaws and not the Binis.

According to the leaders, the Ijaws in Edo State have suffered the highest level of deprivation and marginalization politically despite their high population, recalling that high population of the Ijaws in the state made the Constituent Assembly Report of 1988-1989, volume II, recommended creation of local government area in the riverine area of the then old Bendel state, now Edo state, which according to the leaders is occupied by the Ijaws.

“We want to state here that the Ijaws of Edo state have suffered the highest level of deprivation and marginalization politically despite the high population.

“This was appropriately captured in the Constituent Assembly Report of 1988-1989 volume II, Bendel state, viz: Ovia L.G.A. the Ijaw people in Ovia Local Government Area deserve a L.G.A. (i) Riverine Location (ii) Inaccessibility (iii) Not thoroughly assimilated by the Binis (iv) Denied Development (v) Very rich in natural resources (vi) Population high”, the leaders emphasized.

While stating that the Ijaws are among the oldest ethnic nationality in Nigeria and indeed in the West Africa sub region, they stressed that the Ijaws in Edo State are indigenous to the Niger Delta and it fringes to the East, West and North.

The leaders further stressed that Gelegele, being one of the most ancient and historic Olodiama Ijaw speaking community in Edo State, was used as an escape route when Oba Ovonramwen Nogbasi was taken on Yactch on his way to exile in old Calabar on September 15, 1897, stressing that if Gelegele community was a Bini community, the British would not have pass through it in the Oba Ovonramwen saga without attacking it.

“Gelegele is one of the most ancient and historic Olodiama Ijaw speaking community in Edo State.

“To wit, it was in this historic city that Oba Ovonramwen Nogbasi of Benin was taken on board the Niger Coast Protectorate Yacht on his way to exile in old Calabar on September 15, 1897.

“If Gelegele community was a Bini community, the British would not have passed through it in the Oba Ovonramwen saga without attacking it”, the leaders added.

While going historic, the leaders reminded Oba of Benin and his subjects, Dr. Jacob Uwagboe Egharevba’s book of 1968, where the Bini historian affirmed that the Binis met the Ijaws in this present geographical entity called Edo State.

Excerpt from Egharevba’s book, “Many many years ago, the Binis came all the way from Egypt to found a more secure shelter in this part of the world after a short stay at Ife, tradition states that they met some people who were in the land before their arrival, this people the Bini met were the Ijaws, the aborigines.

“In about 1170 AD, Prince Oranmiyan the father of Oba Eweka 1, Oba of Bini came with his courtiers to the place now known and called Benin City. When he came, he encountered much trouble at the Ovia River with ferry men. Several years after this incident, Oba Ewedo of Benin also had a similar encounter with the aborigines.

The leaders said “This ferry men referred to by Dr. Egharevba were neither Binis nor Yorubas; they were certainly the aboriginal Ijaws in the Ovia River whose autochthonism has been acknowledged and recorded by almost all credible historians the world over.”

While recalling E. A. Kenyo’s book: ‘The Origin and Title of Yoruba Rulers’, the leaders stated, “up till this time, Oba of Benin and his people were pure Yoruba and did not understand the language of the Aborigines who usually saluted themselves and the new people thus: A Doo” “Dolo O” and wherever the Oba’s people saw these Aborigines’ they used to call them “Ados”, from where the name Edo was taken. The Adoo is an Ijaw prayer greeting from the root.”

The leaders therefore warned the Binis they referred to as Yoruba immigrants, invaders, aliens, new dynasty, and new rulers to desist from embarrassing and provocative statements to the Ijaws, warning that any attempt to impose alien traditional Benin titles on the Edo Ijaws is a taboo, and would be resisted.

Edo Government Convenes Meeting

On his part, Spokesman, Gelegele community, Rev. Godwin Soroaye said true ownership of Gelegele community has been a lingering issue, lamenting that the government of Edo state has been insincere on the issue hence the imminent crisis.

Rev. Soroaye narrated how Edo state government recently convened a meeting between the Ijaw and the Bini with a view to resolving the issue, while pointing out that on getting to the meeting, body language of the government however indicated that they were not ready to resolve the issue amicably.

He said Gelegele people received a call from the Edo state government that there was going to be a meeting between the two ethnic groups but on getting there, one Chief Amos Osakwe name was penned down as the leader of Gelegele community, saying this did not go well with his people.

Rev. Soroaye further said they objected to the impersonation of Gelegele people by Amos Osakwe and asked the government to do justice to it but they refused.

“When we got to the meeting, we met 10 Bini people already seated but that didn’t bother us so we too seated.

“As we seated, they brought out a list and to our surprise, one Chief Amos Osakwe name was number one, and he was addressed as the Odionwere (head) of Gelegele community.

“I was therefore asked to write my name under this same man but I objected. I said this man is not from Gelegele; we do not know him; it is an impersonation; that the man is not known in Gelegele, that he is not Ijaw so he can not represent Gelegele people. This argument we were on when the Secretary to Edo State Government came in.

“When he came in he said accreditation and I said good. So one of them, Chairman of Ughoton, a neighbouring community, stood up and introduced his people. It was then my turn to introduce my people and I did. The SSG then said ‘What about the other people?’, then one Chief Amos Osakwe stood up and said ‘I have letter to that effect’ – a letter addressed to him by Edo State government that he should bring ten people from Gelegele.

“I then said Osakwe is not from Gelegele but from Ughoton, a neighbouring community. That it should be corrected before any meeting but the SSG refused. He said we should continue the meeting that it doesn’t matter, so we staged a walkout from the meeting. The government wants to impose someone on us; can you see Edo State Government is bias on this issue?” Rev Soroaye asked.

IYC Reacts

Also reacting, Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), the umbrella body of Ijaw Youths Worldwide declared that the letter by the BNC was provocative and warned against war in the area.

IYC warned that if urgent steps were not taken, the issue may generate into ethnic war, stressing that such would not do the Niger Delta any good.

“We condemn that statement, it is unnecessary; it is uncalled for and unacceptable to our people. We believe there are more civil means of expressing grievances rather than threaten war.

“Furthermore, such threat of war is not in tandem with the recent efforts of leaders of the Niger Delta under the auspices of PANDEF to bring all ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta under one umbrella

“The Bini group statement is inciting, it is capable of inciting Benin youths against Ijaw youths and which can snowball into inter-ethnic crisis between the Ijaw and Benin people. We therefore call on leaders of the Benin ethnic nationality and the government of Edo to call leaders of the BNC to order in order to avoid unnecessary inter-ethnic crisis in the Niger Delta.

On Gelegele, IYC leadership added, “What is needed is for all stakeholders to work together towards the actualization of the Gelegele sea port project and not comments that will drive away investors.”

The IYC therefore called on President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Godwin Obaseki to take urgent steps to nip in the bud the brewing ethnic crisis being sponsored by some overzealous Benin youths.