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Interview

Edo Communities Vow to Retrieve Grabbed Ancestral Land

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Tony Ehra

It is not the best of times for the Edo State Government (EDSG), currently led by Mr. Godwin Obaseki and most of the local communities who garnered their votes to elect him for a two straight tenures of eight years. Having spent barely over a year in his second tenure of four years each, the governor, as now alleged by the various local communities of Edo, have bared his fangs by ceding out to powerful companies and individuals ancestral farmlands and forest reserves, belonging to the locals, as had not been done by many governors before him, thus leading the poor people and their communities into acute dispossession and hopelessness.

Whilst some hapless Edo local communities like Urhonigbe, Iviukue, Odighi, Ekiadolor, Odiguetue, Uhiere and others recently took their grievances in wild street protests to Benin City, over purported undue ceding of their land by the state government, deadly crisis is brewing in the vast community of Okpamakhin, spreading across the threesome forest reserves of Ehor, Owan and Iuleha/Ora/Ozalla, altogether called Owan forest zone.

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As vexatious and inflammable the matter had become, the various communities, who are diligently mobilizing indigenes of the community, users of the land and the general public, have vowed to Our Reporters that they would deploy every legal means to resist and retrieve their land inheritance from the alleged grabbing.

Alas, like ‘fire and brimstones’, the over 35 villages of the rain forest-bearing Okpamakhin, spreading across the three local government areas (LGAs) of Uhunmwode, Ovia North East and Owan West, to some other contiguous LGAs, are at titanic tug-of-war with Governor Obaseki for ceding their ancestral farmlands and forest reserves (as alleged by the various communities) without their prior information and consent, to influential private companies and individuals, for plantation erections and other agro-allied business ventures.

The Okpamakhin communities include Orhua, Oke-Irhue, Umokpe, Ekpan, Agudezi (for Uhunmwode LGA); Ozalla, Igbira Camp, Uhunmora, Oke-Ora, Sabongida-Ora, Eme-Ora, Ugbeturu, Atoruru, Ugbebezi, Agoshodin, Obi Camp, Etiose, Ewei, Uzebba, Ukpuje, Avbiosi, Sobe and others (for Owan West); Owan, Agbanikaka, Uhiere, Odiguetue, Odighi etc. Okpamakhin is a derived name from ‘Okpame’, a Bini prince, who inhabited and enhanced the area while on exile from the kingdom and thereafter, when he reigned as Oba Ozolua, from 1483 to 1514. He influenced the communities to regenerate the entire forest land, with important economic and medicinal trees including ogbolo, rubber and oil palm trees etc.

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Earlier in December, 2019, unknown to Okpamakhin, trouble resumed for the entire community when Governor Obaseki floated a jointly N69 billion loan scheme and ceded the remaining community’s land from the poor locals to please the rich and the mighty. Earlier on, the governor allegedly assisted Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc (OkomuOil) to grab about 14,000 hectares from the same ancestral Owan forest zone, most part of which the previous state government, in which he served as Economic Adviser, had revoked.

But, behind the scene, part of the alleged grabbed-land is said to be earmarked for the now disputable cattle grazing land. His namesake, Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Centre Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Obaseki told the newsmen that Edo and the apex bank was providing the fund for some companies and local growers of the tree, on the codename of Edo State Oil Palm Programme (ESOPP). Obaseki further hinted that his administration had provided 120,000 hectares of land, including vast forest cover for the plantations, which would finally cost N200 billion.

During the project’s inaugural event organised by the state government, CBN and Plantation Owners Association (POFON), Obaseki’s Special Adviser on Media and Communication, Crusoe Osagie, named some of the companies that would access the funds as Dangote Dansa Farms, Bruk Plantation Edo Limited, Saro Africa, FDGB Group of Malaysia, Ella Lakes Plc, De United Foods Industries (Dufil), Platform Capital, WACOT Limited, TGI Group, A & Hatman Ltd, Saturns Farms (Nosak Group), Agro Allied Business (FMN), Farmforte Agro Allied Solutions and Masini Limited.

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At the event held in Benin City, the state capital, medium and small scale growers, like the local farmers, who were also to be receivers of the fund, were allegedly denied entry, leaving the big businesses and influential persons to commandeer the humongous fund.

Speculations of the eventual undue allocation of the remaining vast forest land allegedly wrested by OkomuOil, came into the light when Fayus Nigeria Ltd and some other beneficiaries of the last allocations visited Orhua, Ozalla, Sabongida-Ora, Uzebba and the rest communities claiming to have acquired the land from government. Several meetings were held in Government House, Benin, where invited representatives of the communities were lured into giving out the land through financial inducements and subtle threats. Whilst most of the communities turned down the overtures, they were threatened with police arrests. Further visits were paid to the communities, with large retinues of heavily armed soldiers and policemen where the communities rebuffed them, especially when the investors and government’s officers maintained that government is the owner and last authority on the land. The communities themselves asserted that they own the land and that government only acts as a trust that is responsible to the communities. A town hall meeting organized by government for Sabongida-Ora between the communities, government and the investors was stalemated.

Although the communities insisted on not relinquishing their lands, government still insists on having it whilst continuing with its survey and evaluation of the existing farm crops, upon which it says the investors would pay compensation. About two weeks ago, the Ozalla and Sobe communities, on their axis of the forest had resisted the mapping and enumerating of crops on the land in the same manner Uzebba and others stopped the removal of immature crops to give way to the investor’s bulldozers.

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When such exercise was about been carried out at Ozalla, aggrieved youth halted the planned bulldozing of their crops on the land. Fayus Company Ltd had another plan, even though it promised the youth of Ozalla not to destroy the crops and would abstain from that axis hence it was a farmland with crops.

A day after the visit to Ozalla community, where the promise was made a pre-scoping workshop on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) acquisition on the land was carried out in Benin City by Fayus, without due invitation to Ozalla and the other communities, who ideally are the first stakeholders in the EIA process. Fayus thereby revealed that it acquired 5,082 hectares of the land within the same Ozalla and Ora forest reserve. Arguments ensued between the community’s representatives and the organizers.

“Amongst the individual communities of Okpamakhin, we have been holding many meetings in our efforts to mobilize our people. We must overcome this affliction of the grabbing of our land, which could ruin our people and make our community go into extinct, if the land, the livewire of our community is ceased from us”. Said, Chief Aizenabor of the Ozalla Traditional Council and a foundational member of the Okpamakhin Community Initiative, an organization that represents the enlarge community. Also speaking at the occasion of the recent meeting held at the Palace of Onotare, the traditional stool of Ozalla clan, asserted that allowing the investors to possess the land would lead the people into perpetual slavery, as lots of youth of the community, who presently depend on the land, would have nowhere to go than turn to crime.

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At the Arelu Palace Hall, Sabongida-Ora, series of meetings had been held at the instance of the Odion (leadership by the most senior man) of the town, several of its traditional heads and Mr. James Alufokhai, Secretary of the Ora Traditional Council urged all to use non-violence means to stop the land grab. A crowded meeting also held at the Uzebba palace of the Utebi of Aoma, where the Head of the Iuleha Traditional Council of Chiefs, commented.

According to him, “the Uzebba clan has no sufficient land to farm and not the one to cede to investors. My people have no inch of land to give anybody”. Like the other community heads, he also asserted that there is no chief of the forest community, who in the right frame of mind that would join government to give out the land for upward of 99 years, thereby dousing the rumour that some unguarded indigenes of the clan were assisting government to wrest the land.

Tony Ehra is a seasoned journalist and a conservationist

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Interview

2023: Ex-Governor Urges South-West Leaders To Streamline Presidential Aspirants

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Former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, has urged leaders and traditional rulers in the South-West geo-political zone to consult, consider and streamline those eyeing the coveted seat of the nation’s president in the region, ahead of the 2023 general elections.

 

Daniel said this in an interview with newsmen shortly after the 17th Annual Thanksgiving and 10th Year Remembrance Service of his father, Most Reverend Abraham Adebola Daniel, held on Sunday, at Abraham’s Tabernacle, (Baptist International Worship Centre), Sagamu, Ogun State, on Sunday.

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The former governor’s position was supported by a three-time governorship candidate in the state, Prince Gboyega Nasir Isiaka and a member of the House of Representatives, Hon Abdulmajeed Adekoya

 

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Daniel noted that his view became imperative in view of the clamour that the South-West zone be allowed to produce the next president after the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s two-term of eight years in office.

 

He said: “You know that we have entered the election season and there are loads and loads of speculation that the Western state or what we can call the South West, is being strongly considered to take over the mantle of leadership from the President.

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“And as usual, you know how it goes that there are many of our people who are qualified, who are strong, who are willing, who are able. But if we really want to retain that opportunity, it is incumbent upon all our elders and leaders to come together and streamline. If they come together and say okay, it’s either one or two people, there are chances that Nigerians may respect that wish.

 

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READ ALSO: Jonathan’s Planned Defection To APC, Presidential Ambition Mere Rumours –Aide

 

“That’s why I was appealing to all our Obas and leaders not to rest on their oars. Power is never served a la carte. We, therefore, have the duty and the responsibility to come together so that we can present a common front.”

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The duo of Isiaka and Adekoya posited that the South West region has array of competent and capable politicians that could administer the country well.

 

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The called on leaders to work together in the overall interest of the region by presenting a formidable and credible candidate.

 

Adekoya said “I subscribe totally to that same call that a Yoruba man should ascend that very throne (president) because we have serious economy challenge. We have security challenges but I am persuaded that if we solve the economic challenge, the security challenge will automatically fix itself.

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“People are hungry. People are dying of hunger.”

 

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In his exhortation during the service, Archbishop David Faburoso described Pa Daniel as a ” man of vision, tireless and relentless worker in the vineyard of God.”

 

Dignitaries at the service include former military administrators in the state, Colonel Daniel Akintonde and Navy Captain Kayode Olofinmoyin (retd); Acting National leader, Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo; Senator Musiliu Obanikoro; Dr Sunny Kuku; representatives of Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi; traditional rulers from across Ogun State.

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[INTERVIEW] Oluship: Most Senior Chief, Not Ologbotsere, Crowns Olu Of Warri – Egogo Of Warri

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Chief Robinson Ariyo is an Itsekiri chief and the Egogo of Warri kingdom. In this interview with our correspondent, the respected Legal Practitioner and Activist made clarifications on some traditional intrigues over the emergence of the Olu-designate, Prince Tsola Emike. The legal practitioner specifically cleared the air on the popular 1979 edict as it relates to the Oluship.

Excerpts:

We now have a new Olu of Warri as announced by the Iyatsere of Warri Kingdom. What is your take on the issue of the 1979 edict and the constitution?

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There is a huge gap of understanding in terms of what you have mentioned in terms of the edict. Actually, it is not an edict, it is a declaration made pursuant to section 8 of an edict. We were colonized by the British and because of that we inherited so much of their system into our legal system but that was not without retaining our custom and tradition. Now, a lot of us did elementary government, you had the pre-colonial Nigeria where we were organized in our different communities. We have our custom and tradition, which up to till date still form part of our legal system and that is one of the sources of our law in Nigeria and characteristically the custom and tradition is not codify or written anywhere, it is essentially oral tradition passed from one generation to generation and one of the medium through which it was passed those days were moon light stories, so, by nature, the customary laws were not written down anywhere.

Now, we are talking about a custom and tradition that began in 1480, we are not talking about an edict that was made in 1979 about 500 years after. So, what the edict was was intended to do was for all the tribes in old Bendel State, not an edict made specifically for the Warri kingdom but including Edo, Agbor and all rest to help the people codify their custom and tradition as regards the crowning of their kings.

READ ALSO: Olu Of Warri Not Dead – Palace

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(Cut in) So the popular 1979 edict wasn’t meant for the Itshekiri’s alone?

Absolutely, each tribe was then supposed to help the government codify or write down the process of enthronement of their King, and now, what they were required to do was to simply document their history the way the custom and tradition used to be in oral form so the edict was what empowers the declaration. What we are talking about is the declaration that was made pursuant to the edict. You see, a declaration is a subsidiary legislation and not legislation itself. Remember we are all elementary students of government, those who made laws do not include the ordinary people, it is the houses of assembly, states, the national and those who made by-laws in the case of the government. That declaration was put together by the people themselves, they told their story which is supposed to reflect their oral tradition and whether or not is another thing and so the edict of 1979 enabled the declaration 1979.

A lot of us are not patience and many people are calling for edict but because of impatience, we just say now is edict and that mistake now dovetails into what you now call the paragraphs in edicts. In edict, you have section and in declaration you have paragraphs but in all the publications you seem to have heard people will say section this of this edict. It is very important for us to understand the edict was for the entire state but the declaration made pursuant is specifically for the Warri Kingdom.

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That declaration is what is being now termed faulty?

Thank you very much. The declarations many people say is faulty, let us even take the declaration the way it is. Before the edict was made, the Federal Government had already made a law. The National Assembly has made a law on how custom and tradition is to be established and recognized, and that law is the evidence act and in section 16, 17 and 18 tells you clearly how you are to prove custom and tradition including the way you crown your king. Now pursuant to that position you still have section 73. The fact that you call a thing custom and tradition does not mean it will recognized or upheld whether or not it is written in a declaration, it must pass through certain test which are public policy, repugnancy to equity, fairness, and good conscience, in order words. If you have a custom and tradition that is barbaric in the sense that is unfair. For example, for over 70 years women in the Eastern part of the Country of Nigeria were prohibited from benefiting from the Estate of their deceased father, that is a custom and tradition but for the fact that it is a custom and tradition does not necessarily translate into law if it does not pass the test of equity, fairness and good conscience, and two years ago the supreme court pronounced that this thing you call custom does not pass this test you call custom and therefore it set it aside.

READ ALSO: Prince Jella Refutes Media Reports, Pledges Loyalty To Olu-designate

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Today, women from the Eastern part of Nigeria can now inherit from their father’s wealth. A custom and tradition does not translate into law. The declaration falls short of the demand of the evidence act. The constitution also states that where there is a conflict between federal legislation and a state legislation, the edict is a state legislation.

During the military, what state government does in terms of law is called edict, what federal do in terms of law is called decree, so during the civilian era, what the Federal Government legislative arms does is called acts, what states legislative arms do is called Law. For instance, you can have the administration of criminal justice act you will know that is an act of criminal Justice Act and the constitution comes in to resolve that wherever there is an inconsistency in between the two, the one made by the Federal will supersede that of the state.

In this situation, the declaration was made in pursuant to an edict and then there was a pronouncement made by blessed memory Atuwase the II, in the respect to the subject matter but pursuant to the evidence Act, that the Atuwase did contradict the declaration to the extent that it allow a person who was born of a Yoruba mother to be king but the declaration made pursuant to the state edict say unless you are born of an Edo or Itsekiri that is when you can be king, so to the extent of the two inconsistency the constitution comes in to say the federal one stand.

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Another interesting thing is that our oral tradition shows that the history of the Ishekiri people has a root in Yoruba. As a matter of fact, if you go to Wikipedia and google Itsekiri, it tells you that the language of the people is ‘Yorubuouy , it is an adjective coined from Yoruba. For example, my name is Ariyo and it means the same thing in Itsekiri and Yoruba. So there is a deeper connection with the Yoruba than the Binis. The quarrel with this tradition is that it is trying to sever the Itsekiri from the Yoruba. But it has been made cleared that if any candidate mother is Yoruba he can be king.

READ ALSO: Palace Announces Demise Of Olu Of Warri, Declares Mourning Period

History has shown that only one of the four Ologbostere has crowned the king. Why is it like that?

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The first Olu of Warri, Prince Ginuwa was the son of Olua, the Oba of Benin. When he left Benin kingdom in 1480 with 70 chiefs. The Ologbosere was not part of that. The most senior chief in the Warri kingdom originally was the Iyatsere and if you like the model in Benin, the most senior chief is the Iyatsere. Now, we have had 18 Iyatsere in Warri kingdom, whereas we have had 20 kings and 4 Ologbosere. Ologbosere was only a recent development. Let us not interpret our custom and tradition to the extent that Ologbosere is indispensable.

Now we have an Olu-designate. Can he remove Ologbosere?

When there is a new king, each chief before that king will have to go back and surrender their beads before the king in the form of symbolic handover. The king will now decide who and who is forming his cabinet. As a matter of fact none of the chiefs is sure of going back and that is why it was possible for Atuwase, the II to have lived and reigned without an Ologbosere.

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Is it possible this whole process can be dragged to court?

There is an adage in Itsekiri that whenever a king is about to be crowned the society is usually divided into two; there is the class of Yes and No and that has always been the trend over the years. The moment King emerges people collapse their differences

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