…Protesting groups clash at Government House
From Obinna Odogwu, Ekwulobia
Before the discovery of oil in the riverine Umunzarabia, Ogwu-Aniocha community in Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State, the people of the area were living in peace and harmony.
The love and friendship among them could be said to be one sealed in heaven.
The natives, who wre predominantly farmers and fishermen, had hitherto done most of their things together.
However, the discovery of oil in the community recently has put a knife in the cord binding them together.
At the moment, the people of the area are beating drums of war. And if something is not done quickly by the Anambra State government and other concerned authorities, the mounting tension in the community might burst into a full-scale intra-communal war.
Genesis of the problem
According to a six-page petition addressed to the Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano and signed by the leaders of the community seeking the government intervention, trouble statrted shortly after an international oil firm, Sterling Oil Exploration and Energy Production Company Ltd (SEEPCO), a marginal field operating company, sometime in 2014, discovered oil in a piece of land belonging to the Umunzarabia family.
Those who signed the petition included Mr. Dominic Uzoalor, chairman, Umunzarabia Committee on Oil Operations, Mr. Osita Onyedi, chairman of Umunzarabia Family Youth, and Mr. Udom Osita, secretary-general, among others.
For occupation and usage of the land, the oil firm, it was gathered, gave the owners of the land N20 million as compensation.
But the sharing of the largesse became a contentious issue as some members of the family protested and, gradually, the protest became widespread in the community.
It was at this point that Mr. Awogu Arinze, one of the political advisers to the state governor, waded in with a view to calming the situation.
Awogu, who hails from Atani community in the same council area, was, however, alleged by the people to be fuelling the misunderstanding to pave way for him to have a stake in the oil project.
“It is our wish to bring to the attention of Your Excellency the unruly activities of Comrade Awogu Arinze in Umunzarabia family, Ogwu-Aniocha, that is characterised by intrigues, exploitation, divisive policies, rascality, cheating and unfairness, which presently is heating up and breaking the likely manageable unity and peace in the community,” the petition, dated January 11, 2017, read in part.
They also accused Awogu of conniving with other members of the community who hitherto had no business in the matter to start seeking their own share of the largesse as a means of satisfying his personal interest.
Determined to draw the attention of the state government to the looming conflict in the community, a group of protesters from Umunzarabia family, numbering over 300, on January 23, 2017, converged on Government House, Awka, to register their displeasure over the developments in their town.
They alleged that while N10 million was taken by some agents who facilitated the release of the largesse, the remaining N10 million was hijacked by some hoodlums allegedly sponsored by Awogu, who is a native of Atani.
The protesters, who carried placards with various inscriptions, also accused the governor’s aide of sowing seeds of discord in their town.
Leader of the aggrieved villagers, Mr. Udom Casmir Osita, who doubles as the secretary of Umunzarabia, and the kindred head, Mr. Boniface Uzoalo, in their separate speeches, also alleged that the accused distributed pump-action rifles to their opponents.
“We never knew that Arinze Awogu was sponsoring them secretly. It was when SARS, on our invitation, arrested them that Arinze came out and bailed those people. He claimed that the governor had sent him to come and make peace.
“But, instead of making peace, he turned our community into a place of hatred and mockery, where everybody is against each other. He sponsored the other faction and bought them pump-action rifles, which they’re using to fight us.
“He went to the Shell Oil Company office in Owerri, Imo State, and changed the names of the real owners of the land and replaced them with his own list. He now attends meeting on behalf of the family even when he is not an indigene of the community. He hails from Atani community,” Osita said.
However, barely 24 hours after the protest, another group loyal to Awogu picketed the Government House, disassociating themselves from the claims of the other protesters.
The new set of protesters also carried placards with inscriptions saying that the Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Political Matters did not embezzle any money through his cronies nor instigate communal crisis. They insisted that he was innocent of all the allegations levelled against him by the first group.
The new group, led by Mr. Ben Nwasike, said that although Awogu hails from another community, he waded into the intra-communal feud to restore peace in the land.
When contacted, Awogu refuted all the allegations, saying that he was only trying to make peace for the people.
He dismissed all the claims as spurious, just as he denied distributing firearms to some villagers loyal to him.
“The petitions and the allegations have no bearing whatsoever. The point (where) I came in to help them find peace was the time they laid a similar allegation against their own people and called the SARS to effect arrests,” he said.
When contacted on telephone to find out the veracity of the allegationon the use of firearms in the community, the Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Sam Okaula, said the allegation might not be true.
He, however, said that he would investigate it, saying that the command would keep an eagle eye open on the community, to ensure that there is no breakdown of law and order.