$16BN EPZ PROJECT: STALEMATE IN UGBORODO AS RIVAL FACTIONS STICK TO THEIR GUNS
The adage that says 'to have a negotiating position, you must have something to give up' may not be apt in the case of the factions in the Ugborodo crisis in Delta State.
There are indications that the two factions in the month-long Ugborodo crisis in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State, which predated the proposed $16billion EPZ Project to be sited in Ogidigben, may have nothing to give up at all.
The two rival factions are sticking to their guns over the setting up of an interface committee expected to dialogue with the Federal Government/NNPC and Ugborodo people despite efforts by the Delta State Government to end the rivalry.
An attempt earlier by the Delta State Government to foist a committee that would liaise between the Federal Government/NNPC and the people had triggered unrest in the community with the locals accusing both Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan and authorities of Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS Delta) of meddlesomeness and undue interference in their community affairs.
But the governor has since denied the allegations, saying he had no personal interest in the crisis except the effort he is making to ensure that the project is sited in Delta State.
Governor Uduaghan was actually quoted as saying : 'My interest is to ensure that there is peace in the community and that the project succeeds because this project is beneficial not only to Ugborodo Community, Itsekiri Land, Delta State but Nigeria as a whole.
'I have no personal interest in this matter, all the factions are known and close to me and they have worked with me even before I became governor.
' There is no doubt that the end of the rivalry would only bring peace to the community and ensure a smooth take-off of the multibillion dollar Export Processing Zone project.
Although some initial works have already commenced on the project which promises to engage over 10,000 workers of which 75 percent are expected to be indigenes of the host community, the continuous rivalry by the two contending factions is already affecting the proper take-off of the project.
Thomas Ereyitomi, one of the key players in the crisis, and a former chairman of the Ugborodo Community Trust, has reportedly said he will never accept anything other than the compromise committee proposed by the Delta State Government which had mandated both factions to nominate ten persons each to the interface committee.
Whereas, David Tonwe's, a former council chairman and Itsekiri Youth President, maintained that he would only abide by the decision recently reached by the Ugborodo community elders and leaders including the spiritual head of Ugborodo (the Olaja-Orori), Mr.
Benson Dube Omadeli, Eghare-Aja, Pa Wellington Ojogho and Registered Trust of Ugborodo, (traditional prime minister of Ugborodo), Pa Anderson Ebiecutan, among others.
For Tonwe, anything short of what has been agreed in the Saturday, February 1 meeting would be unacceptable because, according to him, he has conceded his factional leadership role to the elders and leaders.
He is therefore of the view that no other person should ascribe factional leadership role to himself since they have all been asked to step aside.
But the Ereyitomi group wouldn't take this.
They believe Ugborodo is still a divided community since those who were 'banished' from the community some years back have not been allowed to return home.
There is no doubt that Ugborodo is divided between those who benefit from Ereyitomi's leadership and those who benefit from Tonwe's leadership.
Although Ereyitomi's leadership has been accused of alleged financial malpractices, nobody has been able to prove this against the group in a court of law.
The Ereyitomi faction has its own Olaja-Orori, Eghare-Aja and other officers who have been signing documents on behalf of the group.
So also is Tonwe who is also being backed by majority of the elites including Dr.
Alex Ideh and a former Director General of Nigerian Maritime and Security Agency (NIMASA), Yemi Omatseye, as well as Pa JOS Ayomike, a historian and chairman of Itsekiri Leaders of Thought.
The nailing of some of the community leaders who were arrested and prosecuted following allegations written allegedly with forged letter headed papers of the community was evident of the intrigues and scheming.
Both factions have been making various allegations and counter allegations involving fraud, killing, maiming and destruction against one another for years.
One of the allegations recently landed the (spiritual head of Ugborodo), Mr.
Benson Dube Omadeli, and two others who have been critical about the issues in prison custody.
They were charged with trumped-up charges of illegal oil bunkering and killing before they were recently released after a legal battle.
The recent renewed attempts by Governor Uduaghan who is allegedly being accused of backing the Ereyitomi faction, to ensure both parties sheathe their sword, has been resisted vehemently by the Tonwe's faction which alleged that the governor was only trying to plant his ally in the committee to the detriment of the community.
The community had insisted on a neutral person to head the committee but when the state government again made Austin Oborogbeyi, a lawyer, the chairman of the yet-to-be constituted committee, the community rejected him, insisting on constituting the 21- man committee without the influence of the governor.
Oborogbeyi was reportedly nominated by the Olu of Warri, Ogiamwe Atuwatse II, but this is one move the Ugborodo people had kicked against.
During the meeting at Ode-Ugborodo presided over by Olaja-Orori (Spiritual Head), Benson Omadeli and Eghare-Aja, the community unanimously rejected the state government's choice of Oborogbeyi as the new committee chairman, describing him as an imposition.
'The Olu and Governor Uduaghan cannot decide for the Ugborodo people.
Even under military dispensation, government never meddled in Ugborodo affairs.
We reject the imposition of Oborogbeyi on us.
Ugborodo has no factional leadership.
The fifth columnist created it.
"You can see the traditional authority including myself, the Eghare-Aja, Wellington Ojoghor and the Registered Trustee, Pa Eworitsemogha Shebi, are in charge of our affairs.
The community will choose its EPZ committee and deal with the Federal Government on this laudable EPZ project.
'Our meeting today has nothing to do with factions.
There is no faction in Ugborodo.
We are the community leaders and we are saying we are the ones that have the right to constitute a committee to interface with the federal and state government.
There must be no imposition of persons.
We are not here to project any faction, we are projecting Ugborodo's interest, nothing more,' one of the leaders, Moses, was quoted as saying at the meeting.
Prior to the stance of the community elders and leaders to constitute the entire 21-man committee, the faction led by Ereyitomi had raised the alarm that Tonwe's faction was trying to scuttle the agreement reached with the Delta State Government for the two factions to nominate 10 persons each to the committee.
The Ereyitomi group had alleged that the Tonwe's group was allegedly planning to constitute the entire committee against the agreement earlier reached by both factions to sheathe their swords and allow each faction nominate persons into the committee.
This was contained in a statement issued by Pa Wynne Wawe Agba, Macaulay Eyoyibo, Mr.
Samuel Iyonsi, Sandys Omadeli-Uvwoh, Prince Perry Atete amn Pa.
Others include, Pa.
John Edah, Pa.
Martins Metseaghanrun, Mr.
Gabriel Mabaghanje and Elder Pullen Esimimajemite, on behalf of the faction controlled by Ereyitomi.
They said whatever decision reached by the Tonwe's faction on Saturday, February 1, was not biding on them as it was a 'factional decision'.
According to them, "Suffice to say by way of conclusion that once faction have been identified in a crisis situation, the global best practices is that the peace and reconciliatory meetings by a third-party with a view to resolving the crisis, are normally held at a neutral venue until the issues are resolved amicably, and not at a stronghold of one of the factions.
' Jolomi Metseagharun, one of the persons already nominated as members of the faction largely controlled by Ereyitomi and Chief Ayeri Emami, one of the key players in the Ugborodo crisis, had accused Tonwe of fanning the embers of discord in the community.
"With the recent development, everyone now know those who are fomenting trouble in Ugborodo.
They can't say there are no factions in Ugborodo when they are the only people who have access to the community.
They denied people perceived to be loyal to Thomas access to their own community for years and they come to tell the people all is now well and that there are no faction? "If you are watching the events as they unfold, you would notice they are already fighting themselves over leadership crisis.
Today it is Tonwe, tomorrow it is Dr.
Alex Ideh or Ayomike.
They are even wrangling over those they will nominate among them to fill the 10 slots in their side.
So you can see the problem is coming from their camp," Jolomi said.
He said that they remain committed to the peace they agreed upon in Abuja which necessitated the setting up of the Comrade Ovouzorie Macaulay-led committee by the Delta State Government to reconcile the factions in the Ugborodo crisis.
The State Government had mandated the committee to ensure that both Chief Thomas Ereyitomi and Hon.
David Tonwe factions nominate 10 persons each to make up the two persons from government side that would constitute the committee.
Even as the factions continue to tango, none has expressed displeasure about the proposed project.
They all seem to have fallen in love with it as it promises to engage their people and attract development to the land .
However the setting up of a committee that would liaise between the people, the state and federal government appears to have torn the community apart ostensibly because of claims that the earlier Escravos Gas to Liquid, (EGTL) project didn't benefit the entire community .
They claim that those who benefitted from the project were the few persons holding leadership roles when the projected was executed.
Many people in the community appear to have agreed that this is the problem that has taken away the peace in Ugborodo.
And only time will set things right again.
Written By Joe Ogbodu