“The founder of Amadino (meaning Fish community) is an Ijaw man”
Niger Delta Advocate and Media consultant, Comr. Paul Bebenimibo, has said that the recurrent dispute between the Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic group in the state is caused by the Itsekiri’s aversion for trespassing in Ijaw land and other contiguous ethnic groups.
Mr. Bebenimibo, an Ijaw, from Okerenkoko, Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State, who spoke to GbaramatuVoice in an interview, stated that the Itsekiris’ fuss over the ownership of the Okerenkoko community, was part of the people’s deep animosity to its development, because of the location of the Nigerian Maritime University, NMU in the Ijaw territory.
He also asserted that the Supreme Court judgment relied by the ethnic group to assert title rights to Okerenkoko, had been overtaken by events, adding that other ethnic nations know Itsekiri people as manipulators.
“They are rabble-rousers” he began. “The truth of the matter is that Itsekiri people are trouble makers as far as the issues of land areas concerned, right from time immemorial.
”Neighbors and other Nigerians are aware that Ijaws are the first to settle in the coastal area, which today could be described as spanning from Akwa Ibom down to Ondo state and the people of Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South West Local Government Area, Delta state is situated within the western flank of the coastal area.
“An Itsekiri son in the 1920s, made it clear through intelligence reports that the Itsekiri people truly, came to meet the Ijaw and the Urhobo in the present Warri and environs and that was how their suing and dragging people to court started.
”It is not only the Gbaramatu-Ijaw that the Itsekiri people are troubling in terms of land issue; they are also troubling the Okpe people in Urhobo and some other ethnic groups, just because they are close to the colonial masters.
“They use their influence to oppress other ethnic groups by snatching lands from them. After all, it was the colonial masters that started this process of giving other people’s land to the Itsekiri as attested by Itsekiri leader, Chief Dore Numa, in the 1920s, that when they came from upland town to Benin River to Escrovos River, they met the Ijaw and that they did not have a single land, and that it was the colonial masters that gave them Ijaw and Urhobo lands in Warri as it is.
COURT DID NOT GRANT LAND TO PEOPLE
That place remains Okerenkoko, the Supreme Court Judgment they are making reference to is just something of few years back. In the 60s, let me ask, ‘‘Was it through court process that somebody owned a land?”.
If you go to Okerenkoko today, there is no single sign of Itsekiri culture in the community and the so-called Omadino people they say, are laying claim to Okerenkoko are not even Itsekiri people, they are Ijaw people.
The founder of Amadino (meaning Fish community) is an Ijaw man, he is the great grandfather of Eyenghos, and his name is Oweizibiri, married an Itsekiri woman and gave birth to children, one of them is Gbegha presently, the primary school in Ijalla (Itsekiri called it Jalla), one of the five communities of Ugborodo, which originally belong to Ijaw is named after Gbegha, son of Oweizibiri.
Go and find out, it is named Gbegha Primary School.
HOW OMADINO TOOK OLU TO COURT
The funny thing is that Itsekiri also adulterated Oweizibiri name to Oweijebine or something like that, trying to portray him as an Itsekiri man.
Omadino people took the Itsekiri monarch to the court in the 90’s, to clearly spell out their status that they were not Itsekiri people. They were on ground before Itsekiri people came, so for the Itsekiri people to now say that Omadino owns Okerenkoko, even goes to show that it was an Ijaw man, Oweizibiri that founded Amadino (Omadino).
Again, the people of Ugborodo have come out to say the same thing, that they are not part of the Itsekiri kingdom, and that they were on ground before Itsekiri people came from Ode in the present Ondo state.
So, all this go to show that the Itsekiri people do not have land, but they came in and exercised influence over the original owners of the land with the connivance of the colonial masters and grabbed the whole of the land that belonged to the Ijaw and Urhobo within Warri and environs.
SOME EYENGHOS HAVE RETRACED THEIR STEPS
On the recent claim by the spokesman of Ugborodo community management committee, Mr. Alex Eyengho, that Okerenkoko belongs to Itsekiri, he can say that, perhaps, because of his stake in Itsekiri now. After all, these same Eyenghos changed the name of their great grandfather, Oweizibiri, so there is nothing they cannot do.
That is why they are doing what they are doing now. But the truth is there, as I am talking to you. Some of the Eyenghos that pitched tent with Itsekiri and later realised that they were making mistakes, have traced their origin.
Presently, one of the Eyenghos is a Chief in Gbaramatu Kingdom; he has come back to stay in Gbaramatu Kingdom. We are still surprised that the Itsekiris have continued to claim ownership of (Jalla), just by Okporoza, the traditional headquarter of Gbaramatu Kingdom, as one of the five communities of Ugborodo kingdom.
The original name is Zoughalaiba, an Ijaw name, but it has been adulterated to Jalla. Now, some of them have traced their origin back to Gbaramatu as Ijaw people, though maternally, they are Itsekiri.
Their father was Oweizibiri from Gbaramatu Kingdom and that is that. Like I said before, one of the Eyenghos is a Chief in Gbaramatu Kingdom, because he has traced back his origin.
They punished him because of that; he was stripped of all the benefits he was enjoying in Ugborodo land. So I can tell you clearly that the truth is unraveling on a daily basis and they do not have any other thing to do, other than to destroy history, which is what they are doing.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE ITSEKIRI
I also want to inform you that one problem with the Itsekiri is that, they do not like development. If you go to Ugborodo, which is supposed to be a big Itsekiri area, there is no good modern building standing in that place.
If there are, they are few; it is only Chevron Nigerian Limited (CNL) structures that are standing, even the people that are making trouble in the name of Ugborodo are in Warri, they do not even go there, which is why the main Ugborodo people have stood their grounds, that they are no longer in Itsekiri–Warri kingdom because, they have been using their resources to develop an area that does not belong to them.
This of course is Warri, whereas their people are living in Ugborodo and nothing is happening there. Over 30 years now, Chevron has been giving contracts, jobs slots to them; they sell them to non-indigenes and the people living in the place are under abject poverty.
They do not live there. This is why the main Ugborodo people said they want to take their destiny in their hands, because their alliance with Itsekiri people has grossly underdeveloped them over the years.
OKERENKOKO, COMPLETELY AN IJAW COMMUNITY
Okerenkoko and other communities in Gbaramatu Kingdom are all original Ijaw communities, there is no trace of Itsekiri, and the so-called Omadino has an Ijaw quarter.
If you doubt me, go there; ask them, they will tell you. Some Ijaw are still there because it is an Ijaw land, that is the real Amadino, meaning community fish pond.
Oweizibiri was actually going there for fishing expedition; he was an itinerary fisherman, moving from one community to the other.
It was also his son that founded Kantu; everybody knows that Kantu is an Ijaw community in Gbaramatu Kingdom. There are people related to Itsekiri that stay in Kantu, but the original owners are Ijaw people.
You just made statement that the ijaw are the original owners of Okerenkoko, but contrary to the claims of the Itsekiri, that the Omadino people are the rightful owners.
Ijaw did not meet the Itsekiri or any other tribe whatsoever there, but as an accommodating people, they accommodated the Itsekiri people when they came around. But the Itsekiri said it was the other way round.
That cannot be true because, when the Itsekiri people moved to the coastal area, their points of movement were different; some came from Ode, some from Benin and the first people they meet when they moved around were the Amatu-Ijaw people in the present Bayelsa state.
They were the ones that gave them wives to marry and that was how they produced children. You are journalists, if you investigate, you will find out that an average Itsekiri man is either Urhobo or Ijaw paternally, but Itsekiri maternally.
I can make reference to late Franklin Ateke, he is an Urhobo man, his father is Urhobo but he claimed to be Itsekiri man, and so, it is with many today.
The fact that they grabbed people’s land and took the case or cases to the court, does not make them owners of the land.
Coming back to the Supreme Court judgment, which they always talk about, I want to say that the Ijaws were truly disadvantaged at the time, in terms of education and other things because our people do not go to school.
However, when the Okerenkoko people realized that Itsekiri people had taken them to court, they follow up the matter, but not with all diligence.
They Itsekiri had their way because of that and went to the lower court to enforce the judgment. However, when the Ijaws also went to the court to stop them and in the wisdom of the judges at the time, they struck out both cases and sent the matter back to the antebellum, that is, back to status quo.
SUPREME COURT JUDGMENT NOW EXTRANEOUS
That is the position today; so the Supreme Court judgment they are making reference to is nowhere. It has been overtaken by events. As I am talking to you, the Ugborodos and Benikrukru people are in court because Itsekiri people extended the case to other parts of Gbaramatu and those other parts of Gbaramatu indicated interest and went to court too.
At the end of the day, the Itsekiri people won in the lower court, but the Ijaw people went to the Appeal Court in Benin; this is just a very recent one. At the Appeal Court in Benin, the judges referred the matter back to the trial court, that the matter lacked merit, that they should go back and look at the issues critically. The Itsekiris refused, that they were moving to the Supreme Court.
The matter is now in Supreme Court because, Itsekiris went to the Supreme Court. The Ijaws are not parading court judgments the way the Itsekiris do, because we know that the matters are still inconclusive and because they have not been fully litigated, so to make claim at this point in time is dangerous.
The same thing applies to the Omadino you are talking about. Let us face it, if the Omadino people could take the Olu to court and told him that they were not Itsekiri, how much more will they take the Ijaws to court?
Some Itsekiri leaders insist that Itsekiri people still live in Okerenkoko at the moment, that it is not entirely an Ijaw community.
Again, I wish to say that you are journalists; let them take you to the place and point to where Itsekiris presently live in Okerenkoko or anywhere an Itsekiri man had lived in Okerenkoko in the past.
You will find out that is a bogus claim. Itsekiri man is not in Okerenkoko. I know that you went there last month to carry out investigation, you spoke to the villagers. I am not sure any of them told you when you asked that he is of the Itsekiri stock.
I have also said that Ijaw people are in Amadino, which they call Omadino and that Ijaw quarters are there, being the original owners of the place; go and see for yourself, and that is why when in 2013, the Delta State Government revoked that land for the use of the Federal Government to establish the Nigerian Maritime University (NMU) Okerenkoko, it was published in two newspapers in September, 2013.
It was stated that whoever has a claim should come up with his claim within six weeks, behold nobody came out with any claim till after two weeks, and then compensation was paid to Okerenkoko people for damages of economic trees and fishing gears.
Until recently, two years after, in 2015, that was when they were coming out to make claims that they own the land. This shows that Itsekiris are very mischevious people, that others should be wary of.
THE STORY OF ITSEKIRI STOPPING UGHELLI FROM BECOMING DELTA CAPITAL
Perhaps, it was because of their age-long attitude of pushing off development projects, from the environs. I am sorry to say this, but that was how they pushed out the capital of Delta state from Ughelli and other parts of the state.
The government had to go to Asaba, the present location. The original arrangement was not Asaba. Of course, Asaba people also know that.
If not, why did they not come out in September 2013, when it was published to lay claim to that land. You know when the Minister of Transport, Rt. Hon. Amaechi, ignorantly opposed the location of NMU in Okerenkoko, the Itsekiri people took advantage of it, because it is their stock-in-trade to oppose development.
Some reliable sources claimed that the Omadino people, made claims to the ownership of the land through their lawyers, but were told, to go to court if they were the owners. So, that it is not true that no claim was made, are you saying you are not aware of such claim?
I am not aware and let me tell you, I am sure that there is no such claim.
(Interjection, we are in possession of purported copy of the letter)
That is their attitude; they are adept in doing diversionary things to confuse people when the time comes. You saw that when the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation attempted to change the name from Okerenkoko to Okerenghigho, that was when they went to produce some maps to indicate that Okerenghigho had been the name right from time. That is not true; we have so many landmarks to show that it is not true.
In 1995, a primary school was approved for that Okerenkoko and it is named after Okerenkoko, where were the Itsekiri people then?.
And after that, there have been developmental projects even in the Federal Government election registration and so on, Okerenkoko is what is there.
Why have they not made claims to that since? Why are they coming up now? I can tell you that what they are doing now concerning Okerenkoko is an afterthought. And it must have arisen from when they started this agitation in 2015, two years after the publication was made. They can go and put papers together that they objected, okay, when they were asked to go to court, why didn’t they go to court?
Why do you say that Itsekiri people do not want development in Ijaw area when a personality like the Olu of Warri, has copiously stated that they were not against NMU, Okerenkoko, but want recognition as the actual owners of the land?
Let me tell you a story. In March 26, 2015, former President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated what they call Ogidigben Gas City project and Gbaramatu Deep Seaport. The Ijaws and Itsekiris agreed that those names should reflect on the projects. The Olu was there, but after the inauguration at Ogidigben, some of them went back, they went to court that the name, Gbaramatu in the Deep Seaport component, cannot stand.
It is close to three years now, that the projects are at a standstill after inauguration. If they were not against development, why would they not allow it to go on when both parties had agreed on the names and the inauguration was done on Itsekiri land?. Why did some of their leaders went to court to disturb the project?
If those projects were going on in the past three years, I can tell you that Nigeria would not have experienced economic recess.
Contrary to what you are saying, many Itsekiri alleged that Gbaramatu people arm-twisted their son, former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, at the time. How do you react to this?
How did the Ijaws of Gbaramatu Kingdom arm-twist Uduaghan? Did they give him a wife? Well, that was on a lighter mood. The truth of the matter was that, Ijaw did not arm-twist Uduaghan.
We never gave him money or anything to toe the line of Ijaw people. But I can say that, he is aware of the history and I believed that he took the decision at that time to move on with the project in the best interest of the state. Moreover, there was no way, Ijaw people would have arm-twisted Uduaghan on this matter.
As an Okerenkoko indigene, will you say that your people are grateful for the decision of Uduaghan?
Uduaghan as at that time, was the governor of Delta state; he was a governor to every ethnic group in the state, including the Ijaws of Gbaramatu.
And as the governor, he is statutorily the one that is supposed to do the job, what he did was under his purview to do, so there is nothing special, to want to love him or hate him for, in the role he played.
As far as I am concerned, it was because he was at that material time the governor of the state that he played that role. The Ijaws have nothing to be excited about, in what he did, which was under his purview to perform as governor then.
IJAWS DIDN’T INSTIGATE UGBORODO AGAINST OLU?
Ijaws have no hand in the present crisis between Ugborodo people and Warri-Itsekiri people. Was it the Ijaw that instigated the Omadino people in the ’90s to drag the Olu to court, where they obtained a judgment that they were not Itsekiri people?.
The truth is that, some of the present Itsekiri people came in batches, they did not come to the present Warri area in one batch, some of them came as different tribes entirely, but after inter-marriage and so forth, they seemed to have fused together.
But if Ugborodo people find peace, harmony and happiness in the union they had over the years, It would not take the Ijaw people to instigate them to carry out the action they are carrying out today.
What I perceive is that they have examined themselves and found out that the present arrangement has not been favourable to them. One of their sons said it on television, that is where I got the information, that in recent time, about 30 years period, some set of people that do not even go to Ugborodo, have been at the helm of affairs of the community and they have, through the process, underdeveloped the community because all the money accrued to the place were taken upland, either to individual’s pocket or otherwise, but that everything have been o the detriment of the people.