From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Otulu, a farm settlement in Aniocha South Local Government Area of Delta State, has become a bone of contention, even as one young man has been killed over control of the area.
The contending forces include Ogwashi-Uku, the headquarters of the council, and it’s Issele neighbours, comprising Issele-Uku, Issele-Azagba and Issele-Mkpetime, all in Aniocha North LGA.
While the inhabitants of the farm settlement with vast land for economic prospects are agitating for autonomy and freedom from the overlords, the bigger communities are in a battle royale to consolidate their hold on the subdued settlers at the camp.
A community leader in Otulu, Christopher Isikekpe, alleged that they had suffered unquantifiable intimidation, harassment and economic subjugation by the overlords.
“Other communities decided to give us leaders and all the leaders are people embezzling things in our community without assisting us.
“That is why we have cried to government to give us freedom. We need autonomy so that our people can be managing our affairs,” Iskekpe said during a protest.
In an attempt to quell a perceived uprising following the protest, the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku, Ifechukwude Okonjo II, led a palace delegation to Otulu to perform some rituals targeted at restoring peace to the troubled camp.
Although the spiritual cleansing was said to have been successful, residents, mostly youths of Otulu, were said to have gone wild when some persons in the royal delegation allegedly destroyed a fence for the land proposed for an electricity project.
They stopped the royal entourage from exiting the area, and in the ensuing melee, one of the Otulu youths was killed by a stray bullet following alleged ‘accidental discharge’ from a security detail.
Reacting to the attack on his convoy, the Obi, younger brother to the director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said those who stopped his entourage were hired, insisting that Otulu remained a satellite town of Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom.
“Most of them (attackers) are not from our state (Delta); they are not from Ogwashi-Uku.
“Some of them are from neighboring villages, others are from across the Niger who have come to reside there (Otulu). They actually came in as tenant farmers and, over the years, have become part and parcel of the community.
“However, some of them have turned to crime, part of which includes land racketeering, the selling off of communal land without the consent of Obi of Ogwashi-Uku, that is, myself,” he said.
Obi Okonjo’s claim that Otulu belonged to Ogwashi-Uku was countered by the Obi of Issele-Azagba Kingdom, Francis Jideowa, Agbogidi I, who insisted that the camp was under his community, arguing that they extended electricity to Otulu, attracted schools and market to the camp.
Jideowa disclosed that the school in Otulu was named after one of the sons of Azagba, Gabriel Nwanne.
“When the Otulu market was to be commissioned in 1990, I was the person invited for the ceremony and I went with my subjects to welcome the military governor then. And the Otulu market was commissioned same day with the Issele-Azagba market.
“We are the people who extended electricity to Otulu, which they are enjoying today, because Otulu belongs to Issele-Azagba.
“If Ogwashi-Uku people were the owners of Otulu, they would have challenged us, but they did not challenge us.
“The secondary and primary schools in Otulu were also influenced by us. In fact, the primary school in Otulu is named after one of our sons, Gabriel Nwanne.
“And when people were coming to cut timber in Otulu then, I was the one signing permit for them,” he said.
On why Otulu was not in the same Aniocha North LGA as Azagba, the monarch said Otulu was ceded to Aniocha South on political grounds: “Isaac Okonjo, whose mother is from Issele-Azagba, was given over 20 hectares of land. Isaac Okonjo was former secretary to the defunct Midwest State government.
“In order to protect the land given to him by his mother’s people, he moved Otulu from Aniocha North to Aniocha South and that was the beginning of the crisis.
“The ownership of Otulu is not in doubt. We are, therefore, calling on government to return Otulu to Aniocha North. Otulu remains our property, our land, and we will not cede an inch of our land to anybody or community.
“From 1963 till date, we have won a number of cases and there are two still pending in court.”
Issele-Azagba is joined by Issele-Uku and Issele-Mkpetime in the battle to have Otulu farm settlement within Issele.
Prince Victor Egbune, who spoke after a tripartite meeting of the Issele communities, said a committee made up of presidents-general, lawyers and other stakeholders was constituted to review all court cases regarding Otulu, and advise on further steps to be taken to challenge any trespassers in Otulu.
“We considered and reviewed the cases under litigation in court, the ones pending and those that judgment has been given that are in our favour.
“At the end, a committee, comprising the three presidents-general of the three communities, lawyers among them in the communities, and three other persons, was constituted.
“Their term of reference is to critically gather and analyze facts relevant, pursuant to any form of litigation,” Egbune stated.
While the Issele communities are forming alliances, the Agidiase family of Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom accused Obi Okonjo of selling their lands, including those in Otulu, insisting that Otulu land belonged to them under the headship of Iyase of Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom.
In a protest, the family insisted that there was a subsisting and uncontested high court judgement in their favour over the ownership of Otulu camp.
Speaking during the protest, Augustine Ebegbue also warned the people of Issele-Azagba to steer clear of Otulu, quoting the suit number as: “0/38/90 between Chief C.N. Anumonwo, the Iyase of Ogwashi-Uku as he then was, for the Agidiase family and Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom in general against His Highness, Obi Esemene, the Obi of Issele-Uku.
“That judgment stopped the Obi of Issele-Uku from granting chieftaincy title with the suffix ‘… of Otulu’. Only Ogwashi-Uku therefore can grant a title and collect rent and tributes from Otulu.
“We challenge anybody still making claims on Otulu to publish their documents (including the Supreme Court judgment being claimed by Issele-Azagba) and public them or wait for us in court.
“Meanwhile, the 1983 Delta State Gazette of chieftaincy titles has the ‘Okwabani of Otulu-Ogwashi’ under Ogwashi-Uku clan and not Issele-Azagba or Issele-Uku or any other community.
“May we use this medium to warn Issele-Azagba or whosoever that claims to have built market or electricity project at Otulu-Ogwashi to desist from such claims as the construction of markets are electrification project at Otulu-Ogwashi was done by the Delta State government,” Esegbue said.