Comrade Anslem Oyibo, the current Chairman of the Community Development Committee of Obodo-Ugwa Ogume, made the remarks in an exclusive interview in Abuja, Nigeria.
“Let listen to the voice of reason. The people of Obodo-Ugwa-Ogume want peace but if someone attempts to take away our land, our freedom, we will resist it,” he said, calling on all on authorities to prevail on Emu Ebendo community to refrain from activities directed at depriving the community it host rights of oil facility.
A protracted conflict over two parcels of farm land known as Oluji and Iyiechi between the two communities which was resolved in favor Emu Ebendo by the country’s Supreme Court, is gradually accelerating high intensity hostilities; a horrendous conflict; the use of intimidation, absolute contravention of several court orders and governments directives to coerce Obodo-Ugwa-Ogume to surrender their territorial integrity – could unleash a major communal clash.
Comrade Oyibo accused Emu Ebendo community of wrecking peace efforts and ruled out making any territorial concessions after the Federal government through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation has formally approved the attribution of Obodo-Ugwa Ogume as independent oil host community with all the rights and privileges as captured in the Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Act(PIA) 2021.
Months into the Attorney General of the Federation’s letter, copied to the Ministry of Petroleum, the Obodo-Ugwa community has not yet been fully named an oil-producing community.
The interview was edited for clarity. Excerpts
There is a dispute between your community, Obodo-Ugwa and Emu Ebendo. Can you give us an overview of the situation?
It is true that there is a dispute between Obodo-Ugwa and Emu Ebendo on two parcels of land known as Oluji and Iyiechi. This issue has been for over 40 years and has led us to Court. The case was instituted in High Court at Kwale in 1985 and it took seven (7) years before the Court gave verdict in 1992 in favour of Emu Ebendo. Obodo-Ugwa Ogume appealed the High Court judgment at the Appeal Court in Benin and the verdict of the Appeal Court in our favour came in 1996. Emu Ebendo also appealed the judgment at the Supreme Court in 1997 and the Supreme Court gave the final verdict in 2003 in their favour. As law abiding, we surrendered the area call Oluji and Iyiechi fully as well-described by the Survey Plan used by the High Court to the Supreme Court as granted by the Court. We approached other of our farm lands; as a community we do not own only one farmland or two. We practice rotational system of farming. We have existed for the past 400 years with the record of 14AD during the Ogiso era in Benin Empire; that was when we migrated from Benin to where we are today. We have our brothers whom we migrated together. The man who founded Ugwa community had an elder brother who founded Ozoro, Aboh, and Uzoma the founder of Ashaka; Orerokpe from Okpe and Etim the founder of Obetim in Afor clan.
After losing the land, we were lucky that in 2008 Energia/Oando came into other part of our land that was not disputed to establish oil facility. Surprisingly, Emu Ebendo approached the company with a judgment claiming they owned the land of Obodo-Ugwa; claiming that we are tenants; that we have no right to own any other lands. This has been on since 2008 from leadership to leadership. But sometimes we don’t need to blame the leaders because they cannot do more than what they know. Not until some of us who are young had to join the leadership by adding knowledge to what they’re doing.
We started to research. We discovered they are laying claims of the entire lands that are completely outside the areas adjudicated by the the Supreme Court. The former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan instituted a committee chaired by his Deputy Governor, Prof Emos Utuama but couldn’t concluded it final report before the end of their tenure. His Excellency, Governor Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa in his infinite wisdom took up the matter and invited us at the Government House Annex Warri and told us that the issue before him was a simple one. He directed that based on the courts judgements and several other government reports before him, the enforcement should be limited to the area disputed in the court. At the meeting, the Governor directed both communities to nominate independent surveyors. Obodo-Ugwa nominated one Surveyor Onome Dafe and Ebendo nominated one Surveyor Njedeh as theirs. Governor Okowa set up a meeting and directed the Attorney General to head proceeding while the State Surveyor General led the technical team. In our meeting with the former Attorney General of the State, Mr. Peter Mrakpor, he addressed us and asked Emu Ebendo if there was another map as regards to the area they are claiming. He repeated that statement three times saying ‘if you have another map, please give to me because the area adjudicated by the Supreme Court does not cover the current area you are claiming to be yours, except you are telling me this is a forged map.” The Ebendo community affirmed that the area in contention was actually contained in the court judgement. Mrakpor then asked, ‘how do we use the map?” They suggested the use of Geo-reference – by looking at the features related to the area to ascertain if they were in line with the judgement. We all agreed because there must be an end to litigation. Both parties went to the bush for delineation. Ebendo was to show the items they claimed that exist the judgement while we only follow to observe. It was discovered that the areas they were currently laying claims are outside adjudicated area. Immediately we left the bush, the Surveyor General told the independent surveyors of the two communities to prepare their independent reports.
On the 22nd of October 2021 we were called to the Office of the Surveyor General to take a copy of the delineation report. If you look carefully into the document from the Delta State Office of the Surveyor General, he made a clear finding “that the coordinates as stated on the map do not fall on the location of enforcement. The coordinate found to be existing is about 6km away from the Origin Point (PEGI).” It did not only say it does not exist, it showed where the land is. Dwelling on Geo-references issue in Paragraph 2 he said that “the said plan did not only fall 6km away from the location of enforcement, but the distances or features on the plan and of the features on the ground are not related.”
The letter reads:
“That the plan therefore, is a total misrepresentation of what the features are on ground.
“That the plan is not scalable when using the scale on the plan and the distances measured from Points to Points do not conform to the scale presented.
“That the plan is more of a picture than a plan as regards to the area of enforcement.
“That the plan presented is lacking in the four quality that make up the nucleus upon which a survey plan is authenticated which are (i) Position (ii) Scale (iii) Orientation (iv) Shape.
“That we are therefore unable to deploy the said Litigation Plan No.MWC/168/88 for the purpose of deciding the boundary between these two communities.”
As a community we opened discussion with Energia but surprisingly, Energia held that Ebendo claimed that the entire area of the facilities belongs to them knowing fully well that the area is outside the disputed area. We had no other choice than to institute a case for a declaration of enforcement limited to area adjudicated by the Supreme Court in 2018.
If you look at the foreground in our Writ of summon, we prayed for “a declaration that the Judgment of the Supreme Court in Appeal No.SC/80/1997 Chief D.M. Okochi and 2 others Vs Chief Amukali Aninkwaoi and 2 others is limited to the piece of land in dispute to wit: Oluji and Iyiechi land as contained in the reliefs claimed in the Writ of Summons and further statement of claim in Suit No.HCK/20/85 Chief D.M. Okochi and 2 others Vs Chief Amukali Aninkwoi and 2 others.
“A declaration that the Judgment of the Supreme Court in Appeal No.SC/80/1997 Chief D.M. Okochi and 2 others Vs Chief Amukali Aninkwoi and 2 others did not specifically make Obodo-Ugwa Ogume Community and integral part of Emu-Ebendo community.”
What they are claiming now is that the entire Obodo-Ugwa Ogume people are tenants. But we have cross-checked the judgments of the High Court and the Supreme Court, there was never a place, clause and/or pronouncement that said or suggested that were mere tenants in Obodo-Ugwa Ogume land. However, we went back to the court, if by any reason, maybe we don’t understand the judgement of the Supreme Court, to seek for clearer and simpler interpretation of the judgement. We were told that the judgments never pronounced us tenants, therefore we have a right to our ancestral lands outside the area adjudged by the Supreme court as clearly shown in the map presented to the Court.
In Paragraph 3, we seek the enforcement of the judgment; “a declaration that the enforcement of the judgment in Suit No.HCK/20/85 Chief Amukali and 2 others is limited to only Oluji and Iyiechi land as specified in the reliefs in the further statements of claim as granted by the High Court of Delta State and affirmed by the Supreme Court.”
Emu-Ebendo community is claiming to have a writ of possession, a writ of execution that gave them the entire Obodo-Ugwa Ogume land. We had to challenge the writ of execution. In the Paragraph 4 it says, “An order setting aside the writ of execution dated 21st April, 2016 for being issued in respect of area of land outside the Oluji and Iyiechi land as stated in the reliefs granted by the High Court in Suit No. HCK/20/85 Chief D.M. Okochi and 2 others and affirmed by the Supreme Court in Appeal No. SC/80/1997 Chief D.M. Okochi and 2 others Vs Chief Amukali Aninkwoi and 2 others.”
And the court in its wisdom agreed with us. The presiding Judge did a very thorough work, which, if you read through the Judgment or study the analysis, he said, “having thoroughly studied the originating summons and the various affidavits and written addresses, including the judgments of the High Court, Kwale and Supreme Court, I have come to the conclusion that only one issue calls for determination, that is, whether the area of land referred to in the Judgment of the High Court Kwale and the Supreme Court in Suit No.HCK/20/85 and No.SC/80/1997 respectively as Oluji and Iyiechi farmlands include the Obodo-Ugwa Community. I find as a fact that both pieces of land, Oluji and Iyiechi are part of the land of the plaintiffs.”
The declaration made by the Court is as follows (1) a declaration that the plaintiff are entitled to the statutory/customary right of occupancy to the land in dispute as shown verged green in the survey plan of the plaintiffs, Exhibit ‘A’ subject to the provision of Section 40 of the Land Use Decree of 1978”.
The judgement further declared: “in the execution of the said judgment therefore the writ of possession must be confined to the portion of land verged green in Exhibit ‘A’ at the trial Court”, which is our prayer that it should be limited. And in final declaration the court settled that the Obodo-Ugwa Ogume land was not in dispute. For the avoidance of doubt, the court referenced all page 100 of the record of proceedings and line 4 which said: “this portion shown yellow on the survey plan is the permanent site of the Defendants allowed their ancestors to settle and farm. It is not in dispute in the suit”. It was Ebendo that said so in their words. It is therefore preposterous for anybody to claim that Obodo-Ugwa Ogume land belongs to Emu-Ebendo. Having made it clear, the Judge made three declarations limiting the enforcement.
Now, we approached the company that we have the court judgment limiting the enforcement. We told them that the entire area hosting their facility is not inclusive in the area being contested by Ebendo community. They agreed wit us but said they need the State government to advice. The next thing we saw was conspiracy plan by Ebendo community saying they want to do boundary adjustment. We refused and said this is not a case of boundary adjustment. It is about ascertaining a judgment. We all farm together for centuries. We know our boundaries. No parties have exceeded were they farm. What are you then adjusting? What they are trying to do? To make caricature of courts judgments?
If we had decided to disturb oil operations it will affect the Federal Government, the State and every one of us. So took swift decision by writing to the Federal Government because the Oil Extractive Industries is under the exclusive right of the Federal Government. We explained the entire trajectory; the Court pronouncement and the map which is delineated but our neighbour community is abating.
After thorough investigation, the Federal Government through office of the Attorney General of the Federation in a letter dated 10th day of June 2022 and titled: An Appeal for Direct Enforcement of the Supreme Court Judgment”, directed Energia to treat Obodo-Ugwa as host community and Ebedo as impacted community.
Part of the letter reads: “In the interest of peace, however, I wish to advise that the oil companies abide by these judgements and honour their social contract obligations to Obodougwa-Ogume community as their host community, and extend same to Emu-Ebendo which is obviously a contiguous and impacted community.”
Instead of Energia obeying, they are insisting on seeking advice from the State Oil and Gas Ministry in a dispute resolved by the Surveyor General of the State, the Commissioner for Lands and the Attorney General of the Federation as well as Peace Building and Conflict Resolution of the State.
As Oil Corporation, if somebody brings a judgment, they ought to have interpreted it on their own to ascertain if truly the writ of judgment takes away our right. Ebendo never claimed ownership of the land before Energia arrived Obodo-Ugwa land. Why depriving us? Obodo-Ugwa should be treated as host community not the other way.
Something else could be prompting them not to obey Courts’ Orders?
Ebendo community has other ulterior motives that we cannot easily point at. Maybe they are afraid that our community may in future request for what have been wrongly taken away from them.
I see this as a fight of vested interest of the elites. What do you think?
Vested interest in spite of the law? The judgments have already set aside and made a limitation. It is mere oppression of Obodo-Ugwa kingdom. That is what is going on.
Since your community is still deprived right of host community, despite the directive of the Federal Government, have you re-approached the government again?
I think we don’t need to write to the State or the Federal Government again. The Federal Government has given a directive on how this can be settled. Energia has been notified. The State Government was the one that interpreted the Survey Plan. It was the State Government that informed the general public of the status of the land. I told you earlier that the Governor invested N18 million on this matter. The State has concluded their work with certified copy of the report from the Surveyor General. I don’t think going back to the Federal Government is necessary because it has given a directive. The High Court of the State has given judgement and the Attorney General of the Federation has also advised. We appeal for compliance by the oil company and our neigbour community.
Is there any threat to the existence of Obodo-Ugwa?
I don’t believe that there is any threat to our existence and nobody can threaten our existence. We have our right to exist. Normally when truth unveils you won’t stop a party from being angry but I know with time things will normalize. It behooves on the security operatives to beam their satellite to these communities in dispute and ensure things are done properly and according to the laws of the land. As a chairman, I don’t think any community can be of threat to my community. The institution of the government should sit up. It is left for the law enforcement agencies to invite the parties in line with the directives of the Federal Government and warn them against obeying the law. If any community feels not comfortable with the Governments’ directive they should go through the normal channel. Like I said, Obodo-Ugwa started this processes since 2010. We didn’t go through war. These documents I presented didn’t come at the same time. It was one after the other. Fighting communal wars doesn’t solve problems. It’s all about due process.
What is your position on this matter?
My position is that the law should take its course. These documents should be implemented fully. My position is the direct enforcement of the Supreme Court Judgment. Anything outside these directives of the Attorney General of the Federation; the Surveyor General of the Delta State and the Supreme Court my community will resist it.