CHIEF Christian Ighodaro Wiliki is the first Vice President General of Aladja Community and former member of the late President Musa Yar’Adua/Goodluck Jonathan Campaign Organization. He is an elder and leader of the PDP in Delta State. In this interview with Emmanuel Ogoigbe, he spoke on the recent crisis, involving his community, (Aladja) and the neighbouring Ogbe-Ijoh community.
Can you recall the cause of the crisis between Aladja and Ogbe-Ijaw communities?
The problem between Aladja and Ogbe-Ijaw communities is political and as I’ve always told successive governments in Delta State, from the administration of Chief James Ibori to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan’s administration, government had been the cause of the problem. The immediate cause of this crisis was making Ogbe-Ijoh a local government headquarter. Ogbe Ijoh people were people our fathers accommodated when the Itsekiris used the whitemen to evacuate them from Warri, which was their original place of abode. Their presence is still felt there till date through the Ogbe-Ijoh market. Our forefathers later accommodated them after they were rejected by Ovwian people. They pleaded with our fathers because some of them were maternally related to us so they were shown that present location called Okrotomu. I insist that government was the cause of this problem and I told Chief Benjamin S.C Elue, the then Deputy Governor of Delta State.
The Warri Central Local Government was created 1996 by the late Gen. Sani Abacha with headquarters in Warri GRA. The Ijaws did not question it, but because of political interest, the headquarters was moved to Ogidigben for no reason and the Ijaws kicked. If I were in their shoes too, I would resent it because there is Warri South Local Government with headquarters in Warri, Warri North Local Government with headquarters in Koko, then you want another one called Warri Central Local Government Area with headquarters in Ogidigben. So, nobody would take that. The Ijaws did not agree to it and in order to please them, they now brought it to Ogbe-Ijoh instead of taking it to other Ijaw communities where there are available lands. If government had approached Aladja community earlier, I am very sure the leadership of Aladja community then would have listened to them because it would have brought about development to Ogbe-Ijoh and Aladja. Instead, government felt that the best way to approach the issue was to annihilate Aladja and take their land, which I know is impossible. That is the cause of this lingering crisis. Before 1996 Aladja and Ogbe-Ijoh have not quarreled.
What do you think is the solution to the crisis between the two communities then?
We’re not comfortable with this incessant fighting, hence we want government to look into the issue critically, rather than sit down in their offices and give imaginary boundaries. First, government should ascertain who owns the land because the evidences of plantations, crops and others are there. Every Ijaw man knows that an Ijaw man does not plant rubber, what they do is fishing. If government says Ijaw people have lived with us for over a hundred years, certainly, we cannot ask them to leave; we can concede a good amount of hectares of land for them to develop their local government headquarters, we will not say no. It depends on the approach. Even if a cripple holds a bottle of groundnut and you want to take part of it by talking to him politely, he will give you, but if you want to take it by force because you think he is a cripple, he may stand up to defend the groundnut bottle.
What is the detail about the committee setup by former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan to proffer solution to the lingering crises?
Before the committee was set up, the immediate past governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan called a meeting of both communities, Chief Tunde Smooth was also present at the meeting. The governor, after hearing from both parties, promised to set up a committee. Right there in that Security Council meeting in the governor’s annex, in Warri, Chief Tunde Smooth requested the governor to give him permission to step into the matter and the governor graciously granted it. Chief Smooth, in his wisdom picked Chief B. J Egbetamah as member of the committee, Barr. Austin Kudimeh, as secretary and late Jacob Ebah as member. It was a four-man committee, and the committee did a very good job. They denied themselves safety, went into the bush with Aladja and Ogbe-Ijaw representatives, identified all land-mass and came out with a final report. Aladja, in the spirit of peace, decided to accept that report so that peace could reign once and for all, but Chief Smooth, who is an Ijaw man got threat messages from his fellow Ijaw brothers from Ogbe- Ijoh. He called to tell me that he had been receiving threat messages, and he called Chief Egbetamah that he would back out because his kinsmen accused him of accepting to take part of the land identified by the committee members, from Aladja. We thought that the government would implement the report but up till now, we have not seen government do anything about it.
How did the 1996 crisis and the current one started?
The crises in 1996 started when Ogbe- Ijoh people attacked the people of Aladja. We were in our houses sleeping, suddenly we had gunshots because they were armed to the teeth and they felt they could overpower Aladja. They were rolling ammunition with wheelbarrow because they have many of their brothers involved in bunkering and militancy. So, they felt they could do anything but their thinking was not the thinking of God. So, God did not allow it. In our last resolution with the state government, the then deputy governor, Prof. Amos Utuama said that any indigene of Aladja who had cassava, mangoes, rubber, oranges and pineapple farm there could continue with his or her farming until government would come out with a final decision. All the crops on that land were owned by Aladja people even in the heart of the area they called Ogbe-Ijoh. But this time around, some of our women went to harvest their cassava and they were attacked and beaten by Ogbe Ijoh youths for no reason. Our youths did not take it lightly, however, they could not march into Ogbe-Ijoh and began a fight. Hence, the youths decided that since their women could no longer farm on their own land, then no Ogbe- Ijoh indigene should pass through their community to Ogbe-Ijoh. That was what sparked off the recent crisis. They have always been the aggressors.
What about allegations that Aladja youths destroyed the property of Ogbe-Ijoh people resident in Aladja?
It is not true; we can take you round the community to ascertain that. There was nothing of such. After we left the Police Area Commander’s office on Friday last week, we summoned all Aladja youths on the directive of the ACP and told them that the fight is not between every Ijaw and Ogbe-Ijoh people living in Aladja. Naturally, they will like to leave the community and I’m very sure that the Urhobos and Aladja indigenes residing in Ogbe-Ijoh will, out of fear of the unknown also leave, without any Ogbe-Ijoh person attacking them. Even some indigenes of Aladja, for fear of the unknown also fled the community to other neighbouring Urhobo communities. So, the story that Aladja youths are destroying properties of Ijaws residing in Aladja is not true because we can always control our youths. In one of the security meetings we attended when the late prime minister of Ogbe- Ijoh, Papa Willie as he was fondly called then, came to me and appealed to me to talk to Aladja youths to end the crises. I also told him the same thing. So, I talked to my youths, and they listened to me but when his youth started an attack, and I called him, do you know what he told me, he said ‘Chief make we throw away our eye’, and I accused him in the next security meeting of his inability to control his youths. Whenever there is an attack, they will tell you that it was done by miscreants. Who are those miscreants then? Are they faceless. Miscreants attacked our women, miscreants came with war boats to attack us through the waterside, miscreants attacked Ogbe-Ijoh police station. Does it mean that Ogbe-Ijoh community is being occupied by miscreants? We don’t have miscreants here in Aladja, we have youths that we can control.
It was reported in one of the national dailies that Aladja youths destroyed houses and injured one at Ogbe-Ijoh during the crisis, how true is that story?
I wasn’t at the war front but in this type of thing, such possibility may not be ruled out. But again, who did it. At first, I thought it was warlords that destroyed the houses but further investigation had revealed that it was an Ogbe-Ijoh man who was building the house for his girlfriend and the housewife organised Ogbe-Ijoh miscreants and destroyed the house. If you did not investigate properly, you will think that the property was destroyed during the crisis.
What do you think government should do to put a final stop to the crisis?
If government wants peace, they should implement the Chief Tunde Smooth, committee’s report which we can concede. There is nowhere where two persons have one thing equally. Even if it was stolen, among the thieves, there must be a leader. There is no way we will share land with Ogbe-Ijoh, except when we are begged to give land to them because the land belongs to us. There is no Ogbe- Ijoh indigene or Ijaw man that does not know this truth. We can settle this matter without government, if the leadership of Ogbe-Ijoh, especially their present king, who is maternally from Aladja, agreed with the truth concerning the land. Then, the issue will die naturally. Can they call any Ijaw community as their neighbours here, apart from some fishing camps given to them by our forefathers because of their love for fishing? If they say they have lived there for over hundred years, and we should give them a portion for them to live, we will do that. Even one of their men was on that move before he died few years ago. We, definitely want peace but we must not be looked at as stupid people because we want peace. First, the owner of the land in dispute must be ascertained before thinking of ceding part of it to Ogbe-Ijoh.