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Warri North Crisis: Uduaghan Reconciles Ijaw/Itsekiri Leaders

Source: thewillnigeria.com
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SAN FRANCISCO, July 17, (THEWILL) – Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State has reconciled the Ijaw and Itsekiri leaders in Warri North Local Government of the state following the crisis which rocked the area recently.

At a peace meeting organised by the governor to reconcile the feuding leaders, stakeholders in the area resolved to give peace a chance.

The governor, who described the peace parley as part of President Goodluck Jonathan's intervention to end the growing crisis, said the President was aware of what is going on and had directed the security agents to be on top of the situation.

“ If the Federal and State Government are not doing anything, I bet you that the area would still be on fire by now,” the governor said.

“This is not the first time we are having ethnic crisis but this one is very unfortunate. This one has nothing to do with ethnic issues, it is sheer criminality."

Uduaghan, who coordinated the meeting, asked the leaders to bear their mind on the efforts exerted to forestall the violence and the various assistance rendered by the army and other security agents to nip the crisis in the bud.

The governor recalled how the Ijaw Egbema people met with him sometime ago about the issues of marginalisation in respect to political and elective offices and how he told them that he had no control over elective and political offices in the State, adding that he told them he was limited to only appointive positions.

"When we held a meeting earlier with the Egbema people, the issues raised were issues of political appointment and elective offices and I told them as a governor, I have no control over elective offices and I suggested that a meeting should be called between the three Warri councils. And I told them that the discussion wouldn't be initiated by me (governor) because I was not a governor for Ijaw or Itsekiri alone.

"But for appointment, I have just suggested an Ijaw man into a federal position from Warri North. I have no control over elective positions but for appointment within the State, I can appoint anybody and we have so many positions lined up, including boards that are pending," he said.

Lamenting how situation could be allowed to develop into the carnage that had just been witnessed in the area, Uduaghan said nobody can force him under gunpoint to do things arbitrarily in the State.

"Nobody can put a gun on my head to negotiate under duress. Nobody has two heads; all of us have one but how we use the head matters and what has happened is that some people have decided to use their head negatively," he said.

The governor, who also proscribed the Egbema Radical Group, a group which has been championing agitation over marginalisation and "political imbalance" in Warri North Local Government, expressed appreciation for the efforts of the security agents, who were allegedly being blamed for not responding on time to quell the crisis.

The governor said logistics can never be enough when there are so much issues at hand to handle in the State.

He also thanked leaders of Itsekiri communities who tried to curtail the youths not to retaliate the offensive as well as security agents for enhancing security and stability in the troubled council.

Assuring that the State government was on top of the situation, Uduaghan said; "Now that the waterways are passable, we would do a thorough assessment of things and the State Government as well as DESOPADEC would assist the people affected. What we have achieved is that we have agreed that the crisis was an aftermath of criminality."

At the meeting, representatives of the various communities took their turn to express their opinions and views on ways to achieve lasting peace in the area as they maintained that the crisis was not ethnic-related but the sheer criminality by some miscreants.

Blaming the carnage on some suspected miscreants who were into illegal oil bunkering activities in the area, the stakeholders said these criminals were the ones fomenting trouble in the area to pave way for their continuous criminal activities as they insisted that the carnage had nothing to do with political struggle as being insinuated by some groups.

They also expressed their determination to boost cooperation between both ethnic nationalities and to help the State Government overcome the challenges posed by the miscreants who usually foment trouble in the area.

The chairman of Warri North Local Government Transition Committee, Evang David Edun, had narrated how the crisis started, saying about 15 persons were killed by the youths who also looted the communities.

This came as an Ijaw leader, Chief Emmanuel Ebimami, condemned vehemently the actions of the Ijaw youths, saying it was unacceptable to use the barrel of guns to agitate for council chairmanship position.

"No reasonable Ijaw man will say what has happened is good. So, I stand firm to say that we condemn it. We are making sure that this problem doesn't escalate further,” he said.

An Itsekiri youth leader, Chief Ayiri Emami, complained of security lapses by the army during the crisis, saying if the army had heeded intelligence report made available to them, the perpetrators would have been caught before the crisis.

"We have to differentiate criminal activities from political struggle. That's how we were able to resolve the seven years Warri crisis. We identified the problem during Warri crisis and we used the security agents to deal with it. We told security agents before today of the intelligent report but the army didn't act on time. So the lapses came from the army and our people," he said.

Another Itsekiri leader, Chief Michael Diden, said the problem in Warri North is a very critical one , warning that if it is not tackled holistically, the crisis will reoccur.

He reiterated that the Warri North crisis was not as result of political issues in the area but issues relating to oil theft and hooliganism.

"It is not a political struggle but a ploy to continue their criminality- that's oil bunkering. It is about criminal tendency to steal oil," he said.

An Ijaw youth leader, Ezekiel Akpasebowei, who was a militant leader in Egbema Warri North before the amnesty days, ruled out the political agitation by the Egbema people as the cause of the crisis, saying the group of 'boys' who perpetrated the crime in the Council area had been terrorising the area before now and they had since been reported to law enforcement agencies.

He therefore absolved the Egbema people of Warri North Council area from the killings and burning down of houses in the Itsekiri communities, saying the perpetrators of the crisis had been a threat to the area even before last week’s fracas.

"These 'boys' have been a threat to us. These are the 'boys' involved in oil bunkering, sea piracy and all sorts of criminalities in the waterways. They were the ones called to threaten me that I should run for my life that I betrayed them. They seized some of my oil surveillance workers, detained them for three days.

"They are out to make the council ungovernable. The Egbema people don't support any of them. They are criminals. They (security agents) should fish them out; if not, our lives are in danger. They have been threatening us and our families,” Akpasebowei said.

The State Commissioner of Police, Ikechukwu Aduba, in his reponse, assured that the security agents were committed to ensuring the security of lives and properties in the state, saying logistics has been the constraints in the efforts of the police.

He therefore called for the establishment of a Navy base in the waterways in Warri North as well as strengthening of both the Police, Army, Air Force and Navy in the State with functional working apparatus.

"We cannot allow criminality to thrive. We know the creek is a difficult terrain and we know it. We want boats that are functional. We need to establish a Navy base around that area. Some of the Navy gunboats are not functional and all these retard security," he added.

The Commanding Officer, 4th Brigade, Benin, Brig-Gen Patrick Ake, in his contribution, commended the efforts of the Commanding Officer of 19 Brigade of Sector 1 of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Koko, Lit-Col Frank Etim, in nipping the crisis in the bud, first with the capturing of a militant camp some few months ago in the area and series of arrest made.

Ake said the violence would have been more fatal if the militant camp had not been destroyed, saying "soldiers make a lot of sacrifices,” as he dismissed the allegation that the soldiers did not respond early enough to control the rampaging Ijaw boys.