“Since we started our crusade, they now know that they cannot do what they like with the money that is meant for the development of the Itsekiri people.”
Rights activist, Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor has said she would not back down in the fight to protect the funds owned by the Itsekiri Regional Development Council (IRDC) which she says must be used for the development of Itsekiri communities in Delta State. She also responded to recent reports of her demise, saying such rumours have only made her bolder.
There were recent speculations on social media of your demise, what was your initial reaction when you read the stories that you were dead?
I am speaking to you and had to raise the alarm because some people have declared me dead. These people were so daring that they put my name on the internet saying that I had died. It was such a gruesome time for me, my family and friends but I thank God that they have been put to shame. When the news that I had died got to my family, it was a shock to them. It is the wish of those evil people for me to be harmed because of my struggle to drag Warri kingdom out of the mud and precipice which they want us to descend, but the struggle for the liberation of my people must continue.
What I am doing is neither for me nor my children but for my people who do not have a voice. No one is giving me a dime to do anything. So, for someone to go as far as publishing on the internet that I was dead is too much for me, my friends and family to bear. My family was so much in shock that one of my aunties who was desperate to get information about my welfare entered into a leaking boat on her way to Warri, but luckily, she is a good swimmer and was able to save herself.
What was your immediate reaction when you read the story that you were dead?
I was shocked and could not believe it. I asked myself if people hated me so much that they wished me dead. As people kept calling me, I became sad that anyone should wish me dead while I am still alive. Eventually, the feeling wore off and I became more determined than ever to continue my crusade to save my people. I became more strengthened because now people know that things are changing. You cannot just walk into any government agency and say you are representing the Itsekiris, then you take away their money and no one would care. But since we started our crusade, they now know that they cannot do what they like with the money that is meant for the development of the Itsekiri people. Our youths are now speaking out for themselves and they do not want to be political thugs anymore. We have been able to convince them that being political thugs does not pay as it is not a career that can help you. How much will a politician give a thug that can help sustain his family?
Recently, a group appealed to you to backpedal and allow the Itsekiri Regional Development Council (IRDC) which was created by Chevron to operate. It said that the freezing of seven accounts belonging to the IRDC by the court over your allegations of fraud and non-accountability has kept the IRDC dormant for a long time. Do you plan on softening your stance?
I will not end my crusade for the welfare of my people. We are in court with those who have embezzled our money and by the grace of God; the law will catch up with them. Even after the courts froze the IRDC accounts, these men went and opened other accounts for reasons best known to them. Sons and daughters of our land cannot continue to suffer as we are doing now. We cannot allow people who ruled us for the past 16 years and brought us nothing but shame and degradation to continue to do so.
I am still in court and I have four cases with different people especially the IRDC. The Court had already frozen the accounts that have N2.2 billion and they don’t have access to it. They went again and secretly opened two other bank accounts but we found out about it and we have gone to court and those accounts have been frozen. We also filed a case against them for contempt and violating the court order and the case would soon come up. Another four years of any kind of representation by these people who have ruled us for the past 16 years would be nothing short of slavery. They will have the opportunity to steal our money if they are in government. We know these people who are doing this and we are not going to vote for them again. They would have to come forward at the meeting to be conveyed by the Warri Women Consultative Assembly and talk to us and tell us what legacies they have left for us that will make us vote them again.
Are you referring to the people whom you took to court? Are they contesting elections?
Yes, they are the ones I am referring to. All of them are contesting elections and I am urging the Itsekiri people not to vote for them. We know them and they know that we know them because they have been there for such a long time. We know them and we are not going to vote for them.
You say you won’t vote for them, then why are you inviting them for a meeting with Warri women?
Maybe they have done something that we do not know about that is making them want us to vote for them, so we want to hear why they want us to give them our votes.
Going forward, what do you expect to happen to the funds if the court unfreezes the seven accounts?
The money in the accounts frozen by the court is meant for the development of Itsekiri people and it can be used to create jobs. The structure that we have at the moment that enabled these people to just dip their hands into the account and use funds without appropriation has to be scrapped. A new structure has to be built which would be of benefit to everybody where accountability would have to be the watchword. It is because those who have been managing the finances were not giving account of their stewardship and no one challenged them, that is why we are where we are. But that has to end, because you cannot just walk into a government agency and take money belonging to the Itsekiri people without giving account. There was this chief who walked into one of the agencies during the Christmas period and collected N190 million and just left. I don’t know how he was able to access that kind of money. When I heard about it, I reported him to the EFCC. The money is meant for the welfare of the people and the development of our land and we are already working towards setting up a new structure that will be properly managed.