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$16bn EPZ: Protest Rocks Ugborodo As Army, Navy Embark On Final Mopping Up Exercise For Ammunition


SAN FRANCISCO, June 16, (THEWILL) - Protest has continued in Ugborodo, Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State as security forces comprising the Army, Navy and Police embarked on a house-to-house search for illegal arms used by rival groups in the communities.

The residents directed the security agencies to the houses of key actors in the crisis instead of the villages, alleging that the arms reportedly used in the infighting were only given to the 'boys' to fight while the main benefactors stayed away.

The mopping up operation came ahead of the official groundbreaking ceremony of the multi-billion dollar EPZ project following the infighting between rival groups in Ugborodo over the control of the community.

The rival groups which were recently reconciled at a peace parley were mandated to give peace a chance and allow thousands of those who fled the troubled communities to return to their homes in Ajudaigbo, Madagho, Ogidigben, Jala and Aruton.

A resident who spoke on condition of anonymity told THEWILL that they were overwhelmed with the presence of security agencies who deployed several gunboats to their communities as if a war was going on in the area.

He said though the mopping up exercise was a good idea, the security agencies were targeting the wrong people.

'We are peace loving people, we are peasant farmers and fishermen; we don't have arms here. Those who are sponsoring the crisis are in Warri and not here in the creeks. They are the ones whose mopping up exercise should target because they are the ones responsible for the arms build up,' he said.

A youth from Madagho and secretary of the community's Task Force, Mr. Edward Jeremi, said Madagho is a peace loving community, adding that they do not have arms in their possession.

”We do not have arms in our community, we are peace loving people, go to 911, the home of Ayiri that is where they have guns and are fighting,” he said.

There was uneasy calm in Ajudaigbo community when the troops arrived the town as the community was deserted following the March 2014 attack on the community.

Chairman of the community, Mr. Japheth Emami, said most of the indigenes were seeking refuge in nearby communities.

”You can see that there is no elderly person in this communities, they have all ran away to other communities for safety.

”Meanwhile, we don't have weapons in our possession. Go and de-brief the actors in the crisis, they live in Warri. Go to David Tonwe's house and his groups, they are the ones with arms and not us here in the village,' he said.

It was the same story in almost all the communities of Ugborodo. At Aruton (Ode-Ugborodo), some of the protesting youths carried different placards with inscriptions such as 'There is peace in Ugborodo”

”We the people of Ugborodo want positive development. Go and search houses of those arming the 'boys' to fight'.

The youths said they did not have problem with the citing of EPZ but the way their community leaders had shortchanged them over the years.

The Aruton Youths Public Relations Officer, Mr. Frank Akpeyi, alleged that the communities have been subjected to perpetual slavery by the leadership of Chief Thomas Ereyitomi and Ayiri Emami.

Akpeyi said the duo had ruled them for over 13 years without any meaningful development in the area, alleging that they still want to continue with the leadership.

“We are calling for freedom because we are tired of being in bondage, our leaders ruled us for over 13 years and there is nothing to show for it, we don't want them again; that is our fight .We are not against the EPZ project,' he said.

The detachment of troops which comprises of the Nigerian Navy, Police, Air force and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps had stormed the communities on Saturday in line with the Delta State Government's directive to mop up illegal arms from the warring communities.

The communities have been struggling over the control of the $16 billion Federal Government's Export Processing Zone (EPZ) project cited in Ogidigben.

The security agencies, led by Capt. Musa Gemu, the Commanding Office (CO) of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Delta, Warri Naval Base, addressed the five communities one after the other but the communities denied being in possession of any arms.

The exercise started at Madagho community where the CO addressed the youths on their mission and urged them to voluntarily surrender their weapon in the interest of peace.

'Our mission here is for peace, I want the youths to surrender their arms voluntarily, we will not victimise anybody, but if you refuse, we will go into the community and search.

'After the fighting in the communities, we believe that the weapons are still there with you, bring them out as today is the only opportunity to do that.

'Your people are part of the security committee and they have delivered our message to you before now. 'After this disarmament, any community that uses weapons to fight again will face the full weight of the law,” he said.

Gemu however urged all the displaced persons in the warring villages to return to their communities, assuring them of adequate security and protection.