Paul Osuyi, Asaba
A clash was averted on Wednesday at the Government House gate, Asaba, Delta State, where two factional groups of protesters from Idumuje-Ugboko town in Aniocha North Local Government Area of the State met, seeking Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s intervention in resolving the protracted crisis in the once peaceful agrarian community.
The protesting groups arrived at the Government House in different buses almost at the same time, pointing accusing fingers at various actors in the town as causes of the lingering crisis.
Armed with placards of various inscriptions to drive home their message, the factional groups were unanimous in calling for the governor’s intervention to restore to the town.
One of the groups, made up women under the umbrella of Concerned Women of Idumuje-Ugboko, blamed a former member of the House of Representatives, Ned Nwoko, for allegedly foisting insecurity on the town, alleging that most of their men in the town had been incarcerated in Abuja.
In an open letter to the Governor entitled: ‘The Disintegration of Idumuje-Ugboko is of no Benefit to Your Excellency’ the protesting women alleged that Ned Nwoko forcefully dispossessed farmers of their ancestral land for a private commercial venture.
‘We consider it in the worst interest of the state and humanity to destroy food and cash crop farms and replace them with a golf course while leaving the owners with no alternative but a transition from being landlords to at best, tenants,’ the letter read.
They accused the Local Government council of “legitimising illegality through issuance of Customary Rights of Occupancy on lands under customary dispute and legal litigation,” and urged the State Government to sanction the council chairman.
The protesting women also wondered why the State Government was yet to present staff of office to the traditional ruler, Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko, three years after he was traditionally installed, insisting that there were no encumbrance on the statutory action.
Those who signed the protest letter to the governor include Awolo Henrietta, Uzo Nwoko, Uchenna Nwoko Dibia, Uche Aligbe, Joy Oweazin, Benice Obei, Esther Aniemeka, Sandra Nwoko Kate Megai, Chinyere Bamah and Eunice Okolie.
However, the other group of pro-Ned Nwoko protesters said the women were against development in the town, hence they were being engaged by Prince Chukwunomso Nwoko to frustrate the initiatives of Ned Nwoko.
One of the pro-Ned protesters mainly made up of youths, Friday Omesete said the land in question was legitimately acquired by Ned during the reign of Obi Albert Nwoko, with the purpose of building a university and golf course.
Omesete said a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed to cede the expansive land to Ned, with a caveat that the area must be developed within five years, failure which the land would be revoked.
He said it was unfortunate that Obi Albert Nwoko who was party to the MoU passed on, alleging that his supposed successor, Prince Chukwunomso Nwoko was now claiming that the MoU is null and void.
‘As we speak now, the MoU is over three years old, and there is massive project on going at the site of the university, where over N5 billion has been sunk. But some natives who supported Ned are being ex-communicated, some are being killed. Even most of the farmers who were affected by action have received compensation from Ned,’ he claimed.
Also, the youth president of the town, Kogwuonye Chukwuka, said those against Ned were anti-development, and added that Ned was not involved in the incarceration of any suspect, but that those who were picked up by the police had questions to answer after they allegedly destroyed properties in the town.
Addressing the groups of protesters separately, the state Commissioner for Women Affairs, Social and Community Development, Florence Alatan thanked them for their peaceful disposition, and assured that their grievances would be looked into by the Government with a view to ensuring lasting peace.