The Ologbotsere (Traditional Prime Minister) of Warri (Itsekiri Nation), Chief Ayiri Emami, speaks on the recent memo by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to the National Assembly on the Nigerian Maritime University.
What is the reaction of the Itsekiri people to the recent memo by the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, to the National Assembly requesting it to change the site of the Nigerian Maritime University from Okerenkoko to Okerenghigho?
The AGF has not done anything different or contrary to the law. The place where the Maritime University is located is known to law as Okerenghigho and that is how it has always been. You can google the acquisition by the Shell Petroleum Development Company or get the map of the SPDC and look at it. When the acquisition was being done for Omadino, the site of the proposed university was called Okerenghigho. The maps, documents and Supreme Court judgment are there to testify to the fact that we own the land. It does not mean that because you stay somewhere, you own the place. It is just like a case of a tenant who rents an apartment and furnishes the house to make it look beautiful. That does not make him the owner of the property.
The Itsekiri are not saying the university should not be built, but the right thing should be done. In such a situation, the rule of law should be the order of the day. We have always prayed in the country that we should have a government that would enforce the rule of law and citizens should be equally law-abiding. What the AGF has done is nothing new to us. I have been crying out in writing before now that the said land belongs to Itsekiri and there is nowhere known as Okerenkoko. Doing the proper thing should not be a problem and equally should not stop the school process from going on.
When was this Supreme Court judgment, which the Itsekiri are laying claim to, delivered? Are the Ijaw right that the judgment your people are referring to is a family affair?
It’s a clear fact that a community starts with a family. So, I don’t want to go into that. The dates of the judgment are there. If you verify, you will see it. It’s a Supreme Court judgment. Recently, they went back to court under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan to challenge the judgment but the Itsekiri still won.
Why is the Itsekiri contesting the land now when the Independent National Electoral Commission and other school documents bear Okerenkoko as against the Okerenghigho?
The Itsekiri have always been speaking out that they own the land. To me, you can write anything in your house. In your own house, you can name your dog whatever name you like. What the Itsekiri are saying is that when they (Ijaw) came to the area, they were customary tenants to somebody. They were paying money to somebody. There are evidences to show that the Itsekiri of Omadino are the original owners of the land before the schools were built. The fact that you built a school in a place does not make you the original owner of the land.
For instance, Kpokpo is an Itsekiri town where the EPZ Deep Sea Port was to be built but they came and said the Federal Government should name it Gbaramatu Deep Sea Port. Was anything in Kpokpo named after Gbaramatu? You are claiming ownership of the place; that is why you said they should call it Gbaramatu but there are no evidences that you own the place. We (Itsekiri) said if you can’t name it Ugborodo Deep Sea Ports, then it should be named after Kpokpo where it is sited. If you are using such examples, it means one is just going back and forth without making a headway. But the Itsekiri are always very consistent with whatever we are saying. Schools and churches shouldn’t be the yardsticks for claiming ownership of a place. What we are saying is that all legal procedures, including maps from origin and those from Midwestern Region — these are not just the maps of today. You can’t just wake up one day and start changing names, and we are seeing a similar thing in Warri South here, where names too are being corrupted.
Are you not worried that this ownership tussle between the Itsekiri and the Ijaw will further delay the take-off of the Maritime University?
To us, we don’t see the controversy over the name of the site as capable of preventing the take-off of the university. Itsekiri people want the university to be built but we must keep to the rule of law. That’s exactly what we are saying. We are not bothered because we all need the school. It’s not only the Ijaw from Gbaramatu that will attend the school.
Many people might erroneously believe that the Itsekiri nation is against the establishment of the school.
A lot of us want the school to start but the government must do the needful. In fact, nobody wants problem but what we are saying now is that the AGF has not done anything wrong on this issue. There is nothing wrong in appealing to the National Assembly to follow the rule of law. The AGF’s position should be commended.
But many people have said Malami’s memo is a ploy by the FG to delay the take-off of the institution?
That is if they decide to fall for it, because they (Ijaw) can go to court when the school is ongoing. This is exactly what I did in the case of the Deep Sea Port when former President Goodluck Jonathan came and named the place Gbaramatu Deep Sea Ports. I went to court, and it doesn’t stop the project. I said they shouldn’t name it Gbaramatu Deep Sea Ports. That’s what people do in a civilised society, unless you want to tell me you are an animal.