From Tony Osauzo, Benin
A newly floated socio-cultural group, Esan Okpa Initiative (EOI), yesterday, raised the alarm that famine is imminent in the five Local Government Areas of Edo Central, as farmers have abandoned their farms, following bandits that have laid siege to all farmlands and major roads in the area.
Addressing a maiden press conference in Benin City to announce its birth, the group’s President and ex- Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly, Hon. Mathew Egbadon, demanded for armed herdsmen ravaging Edo forests and farmlands to be given a timeline to exit or be forced out.
The group also called on the State Government to as a matter of exigency, enact the State Anti-Open Grazing Law, in line with the decision of the Governors of the Southern States of Nigeria that such laws should be in place by the Southern States by September 2021.
It expressed concerned about insecurity on the highway between Benin City and Ekpoma; and particularly within Esanland, saying “Our people can no longer travel to Benin City, the state capital, to transact business without the risk of falling into the hands of kidnappers and bandits.
“We wonder whether the security forces have given up and allow these criminal gangs to operate freely without inhibitions day and night, on this road .
“In addition, the entire Esanland has been seized by the jugular by these marauders and kidnappers, who have killed scores, maimed, raped our women, destroyed farmlands and property, and induced payment of ransoms by their hapless victims.
“No day has passed in recent times, without reports of these bandits wreaking havoc on innocent and law-abiding Esan people, many of whom have been forced to abandon their farmlands and trades for fear of being raped, maimed, killed or kidnapped and made an object of ransom negotiations and payments.
“The situation has become dire, as our people, who are subsistent farmers, are now faced with scarcity of farm produce and high prices of the few available goods”, Esan Okpa Initiative lamented.
It noted that “A major issue that should be addressed, as a matter of priority, by the security agencies, is the allegation making the rounds, that when some of these marauders and kidnappers are caught and handed over to them, they are not made to face the wrath of the law by taking them to court, but instead are released together with their weapons”.
The group strongly decried the spate of marginalization of Esan people in federal and state appointments, demanding that Edo State which was founded on a tripod 30 years ago, should be run on the basis of equity, fairness and justice to all its component parts.
Besides, it lamented the waning of Esan language and called on the Edo State Government to reintroduce the teaching of the language in primary and secondary schools in Esanland as a way of promoting the speaking and writing of the language, while revealing plans to set up mini Esan language clinics in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and in the Diaspora,
It also called on the authorities of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma to include Esan and other Edo languages amongst courses in its Department of Languages.
On industrialization, the group implored the state government to revive some of the now moribund industrial plants started by former governor Lucky Igbinedion, in Esanland and also considers establishing new ones.
On the State government’s recent direct intervention in the running of the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, the group appeals to the stakeholders of the University, that they must not, by acts of commissions or omissions, fritter away the solid achievements which the University has made since its inception, and which have brought glory and honour to Edo State.