Niger Delta activist and prominent Ijaw leader, Chief Godspower Gbenekama has said that Nigeria is sitting on keg of gunpowder, following what he called attempt to frustrate the takeoff of the Nigerian Maritime University over frivolous claims by Itsekiri people of Delta state.
Gbenekama spoke with BigPen Online on Friday on the backdrop of the controversial memo by the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami to the National Assembly on correction of name of the Nigerian Maritime University situated at Okerenkoko, Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta state.
According to Ibe-Benemowei of Gbaramatu Kingdom, the Niger Delta region, particularly Delta state would be on fire if the report credited to the Attorney General of the federation was anything to go by, warning that if the memo which ironically was issued after the National Assembly public hearing on the Nigerian Maritime University bill was actually genuine and not planted in the media in the reverse form, then another round of crisis is imminent in Warri.
BigPen Online recalls that Malami had in October wrote a memo to the National Assembly advising it not to change the name of Maritime University, Okerenghigho to Okerenkoko, as proposed in a bill to the National Assembly.
In the memo from the office of the Attorney General, signed by H.A. Tahir, on behalf of the AGF, dated October 17, 2017, to the Clerk of the National Assembly, the AGF urged the National Assembly not to alter the name and location of the University from Okerenghigho, based on the fact that the name Okerenkoko was corrupted by the Ijaw, who were tenants in the community.
The memo titled : Re- A Bill to Establish Maritime University Which Seeks to Change the Name of the University Community from Okerenghigho to Okerenkoko, stated in part : “I am directed to draw your attention to the issues raised by the counsel for the youth wing of the Itsekiri community, Lawrence E. Erewele & Co, on the above subject matter
“In his appeal for change of the name of the university from “Maritime University, Okerenkoko” to “Maritime University, Okerenghigho,” the counsel attached: —a letter by the Itsekiri National youths Council, NYC, to the National Assembly protesting the Bill bearing incorrect name of the community where the university is to be situated; and — a Supreme Court decision in the matter of James Uluba & Others vs Chief E.E. Sillo & Others, which is fundamental to the cause of changing the name of the community on the Bill.
But reacting in an exclusive interview, Gbenekama said that the memo credited to H. A. Tahir, an officer in the office of the Attorney General and Minister for Justice which purport to say the correct name of the community hosting the Nigerian Maritime University should be Okerenghigho and not Okerenkoko is a misnomer.
Below is the chronological details of the explosive interview;
“First of all, that in itself is a misnomer. The name of the Nigerian Maritime University has never been Okerenghigho; it has always been Okerenkoko. The bill that was submitted to the National Assembly carried the caption: “Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko”; it has never been ‘‘Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenghigho”. So when somebody says do not change the name, the person is just reinforcing the fact that the Nigerian Maritime University Okerenkoko should remain the way it is. But, there is another honour to it; there is a mistake that seems to have gained ground.
“The man in one way is saying don’t change the name from Okerenghigho to Okerenkoko is also saying the name should be Okerenkoko. So I am putting it on record, that the name before the National Assembly and before every other documentation carries Okerenkoko. So I go with him that the name should not be changed because Okerenghigho is non-existent. Okerenghigho is a non-existing community.
“In Okerenkoko, we have other institutions like the Okerenkoko Secondary School, the Okerenkoko Cottage Hospital, the Okerenkoko Cherubim and Seraphim Church, the Okerenkoko Anglican Church, the Okerenkoko Primary School which was established in 1955. All these institutions carries Okerenkoko name. What of the delineation of wards? It is Gbaramatu Federal Ward with headquarters in Okerenkoko. It is Gbaramatu Kindgom and all over Warri South West, there is no place that is called Okerenghigho. So Okerenghigho is the imagination of evil forces to cause problem in Warri South West and Niger Delta at large.
“And in Okerenkoko, there is no single Itsekiri soul. Not one. Did the Ijaws capture the Itsekiris and kill all of them? When did that happen? Is there a historical fact to the effect that the Ijaws captured the Itsekiris and kill all of them in Okerenkoko and change the name, whatever it was, to Okerenghigho? There is no historical fact; there is nothing like that. The Ijaws are homogenous in that place. They are the aborigines of Okerenkoko; they are the aborigines of Gbaramatu. So one begins to wonder when this name Okerenghigho is coming in.
“Now, I also want to state that H. A. Tahir relied on a memo sent to him and the Attorney General, either packaged with some substance, we don’t want to understand. The National Assembly and the House of Representatives sent representatives and committee members to the university site and saw things for themselves. If there is anybody to advise anybody, it is the National Assembly that is supposed to advise the Presidency and the Ministry of Justice on what they have seen and not the other way round.
“Let me say, before the Nigerian Maritime University was sited at Okerenkoko, the sitting governor was an Itsekiri man, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, who published in the Nigerian dailies of the acquisition of Okerenkoko land, not Okerenghigho land.
“For 14 days and for months, Itsekiri people never came out to say ‘this name you are publishing is Okerenghigho, and not Okerenkoko,’ until the land was acquired by the government, damages paid to Okerenkoko people.
“Then because of the urgency of the Federal Government trying to start the university, they went and purchased the diving school at Kurutie for the take-off’; so rather the take-off campus is at Kurutie.
“All these things were done when a sitting Itsekiri governor was the governor of Delta State. Where were these elements that are writing memo? Where were they when the governor published that they are acquiring land with the name of Okerenkoko? Malami and his co-travellers should know better that the so-called memo is capable of causing real problems in Niger Delta.
“In the newspaper publication, H. A. Tahir alluded to the fact that he does not want crises. Let it be known that changing this name from the known and existing name of Okerenkoko to any other name is capable of causing more crises than any other action.
“So, Malami, H. A. Tahir and everybody that is signing that memo to the National Assembly are blowing the embers of crises in the Niger Delta. Let it be known, the Ijaw people of Gbaramatu Kingdom, the Ijaw people of Warri South West will not, cannot, shall not, allow their community name to be bastardised by a group of persons who are always looking from trouble.
“From the publication I understood that Malami and H. A. Tahir relied on a Supreme Court judgment. The Supreme Court judgment was between one James Uluba and others versus E. E. Sillo and others. This is not the first time this is happening. The Itsekiris have always referred to this judgment.
“First of all, one thing the world should know is that 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 non-existent name that the Itsekiris have used to get some frivolous judgment. That is their style. They have always instituted their own Itsekiri people for Ijaw people and frivolously gotten some frivolous judgment.
“The Itsekiris relying on the judgment in suit No SC/294/70 between the said James Uluba and others between E. E. Sillo and others. This appeal rose from the judgment of Hon. Justice Obaseki of the High Court, Warri,Midwestern State of Nigeria in Suit No W/29/1951. However, the Supreme Court judgment could not hold water because it was frivolously achieved in the absence of the unsuspecting Ijaw people.
“The Itsekiri people in a bid to make their judgment hold water re-litigated the case in the High Court of Warri in Suit No W/143/84 between Mr. Thomas E. Ugbameta for and on behalf of Omadino community and James Uluba and two others for and on behalf of Okerenkoko community.
“Now if a case is won in the Supreme Court, it is supposed to end there. If someone is now bringing the case to a lower court, what does it mean? It means that Supreme Court judgment does not hold water. The outcome of the suit was that the trial High Court presided by Onurhorho J. dismissed the claim of the Omadino people. This legal outcome leaves the condemning parties in the status quo. Since the case was thrown out, this old case has no effect whatever. The original people that stayed there are the original owners.
“I am bringing this out because I am pained. I struggled for peace in the Niger Delta and in the process of that I was almost killed. Now today this is the New Year message the government is issuing to the people of the Niger Delta. These are verifiable facts; these are things you can verify; that the case that they re-litigated was thrown out. Does that mean they own the land?
“The APC government and indeed Buhari should call Malami and Tahir to order. They should clean up their house. The utterances of the people around them are capable of throwing the people of the Niger Delta into serious crises that can also throw the nation into a recession that they will struggle to come out of.
“Just last week, somebody from the Presidency made a very stupid statement claiming the Itsekiris are more than the Ijaws of Delta State. Are these people talking from their heads or from their minds? Have these people taken some elixirs to change their heads?
“Itsekiris are in three local government areas and none of them is homogenous. One of them is occupied by the Ijaws and Itsekiris; the other one is occupied by both Ijaws and the Itsekiris; one is also occupied by both the Ijaws, Urhobos and Itsekiris. In all the three local governments they have, the Ijaws are there. In some, the Ijaws have 50 per cent of the population.
“Then we also have exclusively Burutu local government area that is bigger than two of those local governments. We also have Patani local government area that is as big as any of those local government areas. We have Bomadi local government area that is homogenously Ijaw. Then somebody sit in Abuja to say the Itsekiris are more than the Ijaws. Is the Buhari government becoming anti-Ijaw people? Is the Buhari government telling us that anything Ijaw is bad?
“Before we woke up from that slumber (we allowed things to die down because we don’t want to heat up the polity and pretended we didn’t hear). But before we woke up from that slumber, another appointee of the Buhari government has said whatever belongs to the Ijaws belong to the Itsekiris.
“This is shameful; it is not something we can contain. We are at our whims end; we cannot accept this any longer. If there is anybody to show the direction, it is the National Assembly because these people have visited the site; they have visited the two royal majesties and they know who is where.
“Let me say, in the whole of Gbaramatu where Okerenkoko is part of, there is no single Itsekiri community; in the whole of Okerenkoko there is no single Itsekiri man. So how come they have these lands? Were they driven away? Let the history books tell us. When did it happen?
“The APC government prides itself in doing the right thing. Even when courts make pronouncements, the APC government is slow to act. Because I know that court judgments have set many people free and have given them freedom and opportunity to be bailed, yet the Buhari government says because of national security they cannot allow those people to go.
“How come Malami and H. A. Tahir didn’t think of national security while looking at the memo presented by the Itsekiri youths? This is unfortunate. It means it is Esau’s hand but the voice of Jacob. It means these people are not making an independent judgment; these people are coerced either through overtaking of doses of alcohol this festive period or somebody somewhere may have enhanced their fortunes; or else nobody in his right thinking will not thought of national security before making those kind of pronouncement.
“It is the first time I have also heard that the Office of the Attorney General will not wait till litigations come to his office before he starts advicing the Federal Government. How many advice did the Office of the Attorney General gave when the Gbaramatu people were killed, maimed and destroyed in 2009.
“Till today, the Federal Government is owing the Gbaramatu people N99.99 billion. The Attorney General that relies on court judgments, has he advised the Federal Government to pay the N99.9 billion that is owed the Gbaramatu people from the court judgment that was given in the High Court, Asaba. Malami should concern himself with issues that concern him; he should advice the Federal Government to pay the Gbaramatu people the N99.9billion owed them from the judgment they got.
“I want to call on the National Assembly. They have visited the site and they have seen for themselves. Let them not be suede with this memo written by a ‘drunken man’ in his beer parlour because he has nothing to advice.
“He has never been to Gbaramatu and Okerenkoko. The first matter about this maritime school was that there are no existing facilities. Today the Vice President has come to see that the facilities can compete with other facilities of any university all over the world. The game and song has changed. It is no more facility on ground; it is now an issue of name.
“Let it be said that Gbaramatu people and indeed Ijaw people of the Niger Delta will not and cannot allow their community name to be bastardised by the appointees of Buhari. Let Buhari and his appointees tell us one institution that is named after Okerenghigho. Let them go the river or anywhere in Delta state and show us the sign board of Okerenghigho. If there is any sign board like that, let them go and place the university they want to place there and let them leave our university for us.
“To my Itsekiri brothers, let them know that the game is up. If you are achieving results with one style and people start knowing your style and pursue and follow you bumper by bumber why not change your style? Causing enmity, crises and killing have been the game of the Itsekiri people. We have known their style so we are not going to follow that path.
He however advised their Itsekiri neighbours to sheathe their sword over the intermittent contest of Okerenkoko land and allow sleeping dogs lie, warning that Malami, all those fanning ember of discord now should be reminded that Warri crisis started from the same pattern of contest over headquarters of Warri South West.
“Replacing Ijaws names with Itsekiri people have always been their style. These games are up as the Ijaw people are getting civilized. Those days where they used our fathers is over. They should change their style. Let us cooperate to make the Niger Delta a better place for everybody.
“All what I am saying is that the Itsekiris should allow the sleeping dogs to lie. It is this changing of name and citing of places that brought about Warri crises in the relocation of the local government from Ogbe-Ijoh to Ogidigben. Those who have not read about the Warri crises should know.
“We will not allow anybody to change the name of the Okerenkoko maritime university. If this is a style by the Federal Government to delay the take-off of the maritime university, if they don’t have the political will to develop the people of the Niger Delta, let them tell us. We have been enduring”.
Written by Joe Ogbodu