The Niger Delta region seems to be constantly at war with itself. Whilst every region within the Nigerian space reinvent themselves to better their future, our people constantly throw brickbats at one another in order to score cheap political points. At the slightest opportunity, politicians use the youth of their domain to feather their political nests.
The latest season of anomie concerns the memo emanating from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami. In the controversial memo to the National Assembly, he is alleged to have urged them to situate the “correct location” of the proposed Nigerian Maritime University, in Okerenghigho rather than Okerenkoko. The former belongs to the Itsekiris while the latter belongs to Ijaws.
The issue at stake is where the University will be sited. According to the Itsekiris National Youth Council President, Agbateyiniro Weyinmi, the claim that the land is called Okerenghigho, citing a Supreme Court judgment, James Uluba & others vs Chief E. E. Sillo & others already reported in the Nigeria Weekly Law Report. They also claim that the National Assembly is statute-barred from ousting the position of the law/Supreme Court judgment which favours the parcel of land as Okerenghigho. They are, therefore, disposed to discuss peace and not territory with their Ijaw counterparts who also lay claim to the same parcel of land.
In a separate statement, some Ijaw leaders who spoke on the issue condemn in its entirety the memo sent to the NASS by the Justice minister. The claim that, historically, Okerenkoko, has always been an Ijaw community in Gbaramatu Kingdom, in Warri South West Local Government Area, Delta State. A former chairman of Kokodiagbene Community, Sheriff Mulade, has called on the NASS to dump the memo as it is capable of generating fresh crisis between the Itsekiris and the Ijaws.
The Ijaws claim that Okerenkoko has history and heritage behind it. The cite the Okerenkoko Primary School established in 1955, Okerenkoko Secondary School, Okerenkoko Cottage Hospital, electoral wards and other verifiable documents as testimony and claim that the name Okerenghigho being bandied by the minister of Justice is a figment of their imagination. They went on to aver that under the former Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, an Itsekiris son, the name Okerenkoko was not debunked.
In his reaction to the raging controversy, the Ibibenimowie of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Chief Godspower Gbenakama had this to say: “First of all, one thing the world should know is there is nobody with the name of James Uluba in all the history of Okerenkoko and Gbaramatu people and in Warri South West. James Uluba is a nonexistent name that the Itsekiris have used to get some frivolous judgment which could not hold water because it was frivolously achieved in the absence of the unsuspecting Ijaw people.”
By every stretch of the imagination, it is obvious that two things are playing themselves out in the current fiasco. One, since the Maritime University, Okerenkoko is about to take-off with its first set of students for the 2017/2018 academic session, mischief makers have introduced this red herring to scuttle the dreams of the new intakes and that of their parents.
Two, it is clearly a “divide and rule” tactic by the ruling class to keep the Ijaws and the Itsekiris permanently divided and at war with themselves so that meaningful development can continue to elude the much-abused and marginalised people of the Niger Delta.
It will be recalled that the issue of a Maritime University, Okerenkoko, has been on the cards for several years until the coming of the former Director-General of NIMASA, Mr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi. The process kicked off with the active support of the ex- militant, Chief Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo. It is remarkable that, at a time the Federal Government has allegedly given a take-off grant of two billion naira to the University, the AGF is sending a memo to the National Assembly to “correct the location of the Maritime University.” This us a calculated attempt to scuttle the “peace of the graveyard” currently being enjoyed in the region.
I will conclude by calling on all stakeholders, especially PANDEF, to step into the fray and calm frayed nerves while looking for an amicable settlement of this quagmire. The Maritime University, Okerenkoko is situated in a tangible space. It is the height of idiocy to want to use the legislative process or the courts to claim through the backdoor what ordinarily belongs to other people. A stitch in time saves nine!