For over two months now, oil rich Uzere kingdom, Isoko South Local Government Area of Delta state has not known peace following a peaceful protest embarked upon by the kingdom against Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) which resulted to the alleged killing of some youths by security personnel and the burning of the palace of the kingdom’s ovie, HRM Isaac Udogri 1, his wife’s provision store and other property worth millions of naira. This citizen reporter, who has been following the event reports the current situation in the kingdom.
It’s a known fact that Uzere kingdom is the second place oil was found in Nigeria in 1958 after Olobiri in Bayelsa state and like Olobiri, its story in the past 53 years has been that of lamentation.
Facts revealed that Uzere the once peaceful kingdom, at the peak of production, produced 56,000 barrels of oil per day from 39 oil wells in two fields, Uzere East and West and has nothing tangible so show for it, even with continued gas flaring and pollution of its environment.
Tuesday, November, 29, 2011 will forever linger in the minds of the kingdom as the people decided to take their destiny in their hands by leading a peaceful protest to the Uzere Flow Station, operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC. Their mission was to demand for the signing of a Global Memorandum of Understanding, GMOU, with the host communities in the kingdom, as the oil company had done with other communities.
The peaceful protest by about 5,000 persons snowballed to a bloody combat between the military and mobile policemen, who fought on the side of the oil company and the villagers, including men, women, youths and children and at the end of the day, three youths were shot dead by the security agents and scores were injured while the palace of the monarch of the kingdom HRM Isaac Udogri 1 and his wife’s provision store and other property worth millions of naira were razed by the kingdom’s irate youths.
About 100 persons were injured in a stampede when security agents fired indiscriminately into the air to scare away the protesters, a development that prompted the villagers to invade the flow station and burn down two Hilux vehicles and also, shut down the flow station.
Reacting to the development, President General of the kingdom, Chief Dr. Emeakpo Owhe (JP) noted that “It is a known fact that Uzere kingdom/land has been blessed with oil and gas in it land. It is also a known fact that Shell took the advantage to exploit this natural resources on our fatherland for the past 52 years (1958 to date) and the company did not enter into any agreement with the people since then. Consequent upon the above, we wrote Shell since February 2011 to come to Uzere to discus and firm up and GMOU (Global Memorandum of Understanding) with Uzere Communities. In the month of October, we reminded Shell on the imperative of putting a frame work in place of the (GMOU) so that we can legally know the basics of our relationship partnering and cooperation with SPDC.”
According to the community leader, “We have often wondered why Shell has refused to come and sign GMoU with Uzere kingdom when they have written GMoU with other host communities in Rivers and Bayelsa states. We cannot understand the offense these communities have committed that made SPDC continue to evade the signing of GMoU. The only hospital Shell managed to build in Uzere is not functional because it refused to fund the health insurance scheme that will enable the hospital to take off and function properly. SPDC funded a similar Obio Cottage hospital in Rivers State at N24, 000000 million naira to take off, why have they refused to fund the Uzere Cottage Hospital for a proper take off?” he asked.
Owhe who lamented the gross marginalization in the past years stated that “The ultimatum given to Shell on the issue of GMoU with Uzere kingdom expired months ago, but up till now, Shell has not shown any interest to have a GMoU with Uzere kingdom, its host community. We have also written to Delta State Government on refusal for Shell for GMoU. The Uzere community has therefore decided that if SPDC still wants to operate in Uzere land, it should come and sign this agreement with Uzere before carrying out further oil activities with effect from today 29th day of November 2011.”
While enumerating catalogue of failed promises made to the kingdom by Shell, the PG noted that “In 1981, the company agreed to supply pipe-borne water to Uzere, but reneged; failed to employ any of the 35 graduates the community negotiated with it in 1992 and whose names were sent on request; and turned down the community’s request for power supply from its flow station in 1995 adding that over the years, “There have been entreaties to Shell from the communities’ leadership for it to provide buses to the communities in Uzere kingdom but to no avail, while requests for construction of streets/roads, employment of our people and contract for the local content policy to our indigenes fell on deaf ears”.
Confiding in our correspondent, a community leader who pleaded for anonymity alleged that “The Ovie is our problems in the community and what has happened should be blamed on the exiled monarch and the Odiologbo of the kingdom, Chief Obegba because if we should tell you all the atrocities committed against the community you will weep for us. They don’t see anything bad about SHELL on our community because they are gaining a lot from SHELL against the community. They handle all contracts from SHELL to the detriment of our community.”
At the wake of the crisis, the kingdom’s monarch, Udogri 1, who is on exile had fingered some illustrious sons of the kingdom and petitioned the police high command in Abuja where one Chief Iduh Amadhe, Delta state house of Assembly candidate of the Labour Party for Isoko South constituency 11 in the 2011 elections, Chief Emeakpor Owhe, President General, Uzere, the community chairman and others were arrested to the police headquarters in Abuja and again transferring to zone 5, Benin city where they were incarcerated in December, last year for over fifteen days. The monarch however alleged that there is political undertone to the whole crisis that has rocked the kingdom adding that the labour party candidate was holding him responsible for his failure to win election into the state House of Assembly during the April 2011 elections.
The monarch who was alleged to be playing some prepared script by some members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the area had denied all allegations leveled against him even as he accused the mentioned illustrious sons of been behind the crisis that led to the burning of his palace, his wife’s store and other property adding that “One Chief Iduh, since I was installed in 1984, has been fighting me. I struggled on my own. I am not denying that I am a contractor. I am a contractor in NDDC, I am contractor in DESOPADEC, I am a contractor with the state government and I am a contractor with Shell. I am a contractor with Agrip and I am a contractor with Chevron. I make my money that way. I don’t touch the community’s money.” He stated.
Debunking the ovie’s allegations against him, Chief Iduh Amadhe however contends that it has nothing to do with politics stating that he was disappointed and ashamed that “The Ovie has degenerated to telling lies against his subjects.” He insists that if it was true the Ovie said he has been fighting him since his installation as the traditional ruler, “something is very wrong with him because I contributed to making him.”
Amadhe wonders how he could have masterminded the burning of the Ovie’s palace, recalling that, “I supervised the building of the palace. I was the chairman of the building committee. And if I actually sponsored the burning down of the palace, then I must be insane and I need to have my head examined.” Saying he was not at Uzere when the incident occurred. “I was in Akure. If I was around, the palace would not have been burnt and those two souls would not have been lost.”
The onetime Isoko South council boss stated that he was deliberately being targeted and framed up by the Ovie and his cohorts over a matter he knew nothing about. While recalling that about two months ago they allegedly framed him up for kidnapping, the former IDU president says “since they failed in the kidnap issue, they now want to rope me into the burning of the palace so that it will be a case of arson whereas I was nowhere near Uzere on that day.”
This the kingdom also distanced itself from the insinuation that the recent crisis that led to the killing of three indigenes by security men as well as the razing down of the ovie’s palace and other property has political undertone sponsored by any individual.
In a press statement signed by the kingdom’s President General, Chief Emiakpor Owhe and its Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mr. Samuel Osolobri and made available to Journalists in Asaba, the kingdom called on the state government, security agencies and the entire general public to ignore a recent advertorial in the Vanguard Newspaper by a faceless group which it said tried to disparage some highly placed persons in the kingdom and twist the facts of the matter at stake to project their inordinate objective.
Though, Lt. Col. Timothy Antigha, spokesman of the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger-Delta, had denied the killing of the youths by his men as according to him that it was some youths from the community that opened fire on soldiers.
On his part while reacting to the feud between SPDC and the oil rich community, Shell Media Officer in Warri, Mr. Joseph Obari stated “We have confirmed that a group of youths from Uzere community this morning (Tuesday morning) invaded SPDC’s Uzere Flow Station and shut it down. They attacked workers and burnt two security vehicles.”
According to SPDC image maker, “The youths were reportedly demanding the signing of a GMoU agreement with the community. SPDC has phased the implementation of its highly successful GMoU model for sustainable development. Apart from two GMoUs tied to specific projects, the programme is already being implemented in three clusters in Delta State.” he stressed.
Worried by the development, the state governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan inaugurated a three-man judicial commission of inquiry into the remote and immediate causes of the Uzere community clash and proffer solutions.
According to the governor, the state government was disturbed by the incident and would not compromise on its peace and security agenda, describing the crisis as a desecration of the traditional institution, explaining that the palace is a traditional and public property, which should be revered and warned against a repeat of such incident in the state.
The commission would submit its report within 30 days of its first public sitting and its members are Justice Sylvester Eliwario as Chairman, Rev.Fr. Chris Ekaba and Mr. Sheddy Agbagbara, while Mr. Sunday Monye is the counsel and Mr. Felix Okobi serves as the secretary.
But following what the kingdom described suspicious the way and manner the state government was going about the issue at hand in which looks like taking sides with the exile monarch for some political interest, it seems they don’t have confidence in the state government committee.
As a sign of respect for it’s laid down traditional norms and customs, the kingdom in a well attended emergency conference held at the community’s town hall, dethroned its exiled monarch for staying outside the kingdom more than 21 days which they said it’s sacrilegious for their king to be away for more than 21 days and among other sins allegedly committed by the ovie.
Moving the motion of deposition which was unanimous adopted, Prince Israel Akiri hinged it on alleged high handedness, pride, greed autocracy, falsehood and frivolous petition which subsequently led to the arrest of some of kingdom’s leaders who spent the last Christmas in police custody. In addition the people also alleged that since the embattled monarch has abandoned the throne for more than twenty-one days, he is no longer fit to be king as the community laws and customs has been breached beyond bounds. The conference which was well attended by a cross section of Uzere indigenes both from home and Diaspora, x-rayed the happenings in the community since November 29, 2011, when a peaceful protest against SPDC turned violent leading to killings and burning of property including the monarch’s palace.
In an interview, President General of the kingdom, Chief Emeakpo Owhe, who presided over the meeting, stated that he had no option on the matter since the people have spoken their minds on the issue at hand adding that the wish of the people is always supreme and that the Uzere tradition must be respected as there are laid down rules and guide lines regulating the kingship.
In what seems like the kingdom may have lost confidence in the state government’s committee, with the sacking its monarch without regards to the committee, the question in the lips of the people is how far can the committee go in restoring an everlasting peace to the grossly neglected kingdom by SPDC and the PDP led government? Its only time that will tell.