Governor Uduaghan, who spoke at a stakeholders’ conference with leaders and representatives of Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic groups to proffer solutions to the crisis that broke out, July 2, described the Egbema Radical Group, ERG, the militia responsible for the crisis as hooligans.
Meanwhile, the state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Chike Ogeah, has denied reports that the Secretary to State Government, SSG, Mr. Ovuozorie Macaulay, castigated journalists in Warri for allegedly writing irresponsibly and escalating the crisis. Ogeah, who spoke on the crisis said: “I was there at the meeting. The SSG did not castigate the press that they are reporting irresponsibly. SSG will not do that. He did not do that.
Strategy to stop the fight
Meantime, Ijaw and Itsekiri leaders, who were at the stakeholders’ conference, corroborated the claim of the governor that the militia members were oil thieves and sea pirates.
Uduaghan said: “I am doing the best I can, but nobody, I repeat, nobody should put a gun on my head to negotiate for anybody. You will not blackmail me to negotiate, nobody has two heads. We all have one head each and you can decide to use your head positively or negatively.
In this case, what happened is that some people decided to use their heads negatively. I do not want to hear about ERG. I plead with the media to stop giving them attention. People who go to the internet to send statements should not be given publicity for whatever they say. That is what is emboldening them.
“When the crisis started, our first strategy was to stop the fight, it was not to run to the venue of the fight. First thing was to see how to calm things down. I am an Itsekiri. If I run to the creek first, it will send a wrong signal, I had to be above board in managing the situation and I did not want to do anything that will aggravate the situation on ground.”
He said since the crisis had simmered down, government would do a thorough assessment of the situation and in collaboration with the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC, to ascertain the assistance to offer those whose property were damaged.
On the issue that led to the crisis, which the governor and leaders from both ethnic groups agreed was not political, but criminal, Uduaghan said he met with leaders of both groups sometime before the current crisis, where matters of elective offices and appointments in Warri North was raised.
He said: “I said the issue of appointment as a governor, I am deeply involved in it, both at the state and federal levels and I said I can help in that area. But for elective offices, I do not have power over elective offices, so the Ijaws and Itsekiris in the three Warri local governments should meet because if that is not done, it could happen that Itskekiri might not even have a council chairman in any of the three Warri councils.” Uduaghan said as governor, it was not his duty to convene such a meeting and urged leaders of the ethnic groups in Warri to address the matter.
Attack by Ijaw boys on July 2
Chairman of Warri North, Mr. David Edun, who gave a brief account of what happened at the meeting, said: “Before this very incident, there was a related incident in which three persons were kidnapped, but on July 2, at 7 am, some Ijaw boys came to Gbokoda with speedboats, 12 of them. They told the three boys they met at the jetty to lie down, went into the community and started shooting. They killed five persons, moved from there to another place, burnt other houses, killed three more persons.”
Edun said a man, his wife and son were also killed, while the rampaging boys burnt down Ebohimi. At Eghoro they killed three persons and burnt houses. The council chairman said he contacted the Commanding Officer, Army, in the area and other security chiefs, but while Itsekiri victims of the attack fled the communities, the hoodlums invaded one of the communities, Ureju, and looted their property. Asked by the governor what was the present situation in the area, he said normalcy had returned.
Ijaw leader, Chief E. Ebimami, said the crisis was orchestrated by some youths who had been advised not to take the issue of political positions as an opportunity to cause violence in the state, but they refused to listen to good counsel. He said that the Egbema-Ijaw leaders were not in support of the havoc wreaked on the Itsekiri people and commended them for their understanding.
Chief Ebimami said he was surprised that while Egbema-Ijaw leaders told the boys not to do anything that would cause trouble in the state, they went into the creek to form camp and from there, launched attack on Itsekiri communities on July 2.
Former chairman of Warri North, Mr. Michael Diden, who also spoke blamed the crisis on oil thieves and sea pirates, saying the crisis had nothing to do with political marginalization of Ijaws in the the area as alleged by the attackers. He said some Ijaw and Itsekiri leaders had met before the present debacle and told the boys clearly that they were criminals.
Diden said government, police, army, navy and DSS should assist the Ijaw and Itsekiri leaders to fish out the criminals, and not direct some selected leaders, who are not law enforcement agents to bring them out. His words: “It is not a political struggle, it is about oil bunkerers. They started with kidnapping, we called them, they left it and went into political struggle, they now burnt Sunny Jero Zion. If we really mean to stop this action, everybody must be involved.”
Itsekiri youth leader, Mr Ayiri Emami, who stressed the need to differentiate criminality from political struggle, said before the incident, security agencies were alerted, but they did not do much to stop the crisis. He said some of the security chiefs assured that they would take care of the situation and did nothing, until the boys struck.
Egbema Ijaw youth leader, Ezekiel Akpasubowei, agreed with his Itsekiri colleagues that the Ijaw boys that carried out the action were criminals, who were fighting for selfish ends. He said the criminals were threatening him and other Egbema-Ijaw leaders for saying that they were hooligans.
Commissioner of Police, Delta State, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba and Brigadier General Patrick Ake, in charge of 4 Brigade, Benin City, Edo State said they were taken aback by the allegation by the leaders that security agencies did not live up to expectation. Brigadier-General Ake said the army confronted the militia and destroyed a militant camp they set up in the creek sometime ago, and was on a hot trail for them, even at the time of the meeting.
Mr. Aduba also said the police had obtained information on identities of the gunmen, which he read out openly, and called for concerted efforts to track them down. He said no group of gunmen should be allowed to hold people ransom in the state and security agencies need cooperation of the people to fish them out.