Tony John, Port Harcourt
Reported quest for the control of oil benefits has divided Okoroagu community in Etche Local Government Area of Rivers State, into splinter groups. The community has five villages namely Umuochiogu, Achara, Dike-Nkpaka, Umuokechi and Ukpala.
Community sources claimed that in 2000, Ukpala secured autonomy as Okoroagu II, leaving the four remaining as Okoroagu I. The move was allegedly aimed at controlling the oil revenues that come into the community.
But the chiefs and elders of Umuota and Umuonyele Okoroagu II stated that the essence of the break-up was to avoid conflict, noting that they were being marginalised by the other villages. Secretary of the Traditional Supreme Council of Elders and Chiefs of Okoroagu I, Mr Gift Oshilem, claimed that the Chief of Okoroagu II, pulled his community out on his own decision:
“When he declared it autonomous, he announced his community Okoroagu 2. He has consistently said our own chief is not being a native of Okoroagu. Such claim is laughable. Our chief is from Okoroagu.”
Oshilem claimed that one Amadi has no right coming to the land of Okoroagu II to talk of land and other issues: “After declaring his own community autonomous, he has no right to come and claim any part of Okoroagu 1.
“The elders remain the ones who hold the history of this community. And they know that Nwosu is from Okoroagu. Amadi is not a royal highness. If he does not retract describing himself as a royal highness everybody in this community will begin to bear royal highness.
“I urge our people to be law abiding while this matter is being handled. We have always been law-abiding and civil. We were one till earlier in year 2000, when there was a spill in Okoroagu. The well originally is in the land, which we are saying belongs to the people of Umuokechi.
“When Amadi felt that the area was in his village, he announced himself autonomy. He did not know that Ukpala is different from Umuokechi. There is a document to that fact.
“Our stand is that since he declared autonomy because of the revenue that is in the land, he should remain in his community. He should leave the other four communities to remain in Okoroagu I.”
Oshilem claimed that the split of the community was a result of revenue that comes into the community: “We are also calling on the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), to stop doing business with Marcus for now until justice is done. The split is as a result of greed of the oil revenue.
“He wants to control the resource that Okoroagu manages alone. He wants Umuokechi because of their God-given natural resources. He should remain in Ukpala and should not extend his leadership to Okoroagu 1. I am from Achala and I don’t have control of anything in Umuokechi or Ukpala.
“Ukpala has been declared autonomous. So, the other communities should be a way from his control. The remaining communities are indivisible and we are not ready to separate to join Ukpala.”
Onyegoro Amadi, chairman, Elders Council, Okoroagu I, said elders of the community were not happy with the development. He added that past leaders of the community did not divide it:
“This thing that is happening now, we are not happy, because Okoroagu was five villages. But Chief Marcus separated Ukpala and called it an autonomous community. He named his own council of chiefs.
“Now, he is looking into the other four communities that are together and we have refused because we cannot separate. Okoroagu, since this community came to existence, we have not heard of that before. Our former ruler, Chief Daniel Nwuwa, did not divide this community.
“Umuokechi and Ukpala have boundary and traditionally they intermarry. They are not related. Amadi should remove his hand from Okoroagu I, because we have stood as a community. We are warning him to remove his hand from Umuokechi property.
However, in a letter signed by Chief I.O.D Amadi, Akajiaku I of Okoroagu 2, Chief M.O Amadi, Eze Omenma I of Okoroagu 2, Chief Godspower Nwanikwe, Chief Eric Otamiri, they insisted that the reason for seeking autonomy was marginalisation. The letter, addressed to the leaders of Etche, read in part:
“We gave land to Okoroagu Community, which was used for building Technical Secondary School. But, the committee for the school, none of our sons was taken as committee member. Rather, the chairman of the committee is from Umudike, Vice Chairman and secretary were from Umunkpaka and Umuchiogu respectively.
“We also applied for messenger, cleaner and matron, which was supposed to be the employment opportunity for landlords. But, the Okoroagu community refused us these employments.
“Since May 18, 1928, Okoroagu had one market called Eketa Okerealauche. Now, as a result of development, the market was moved from the former position to a new site known as Ekenta Okoroagu community and it sells every Thursday.
“Since 1999-2001, Okoroagu community had two markets, one situated in the hamlet of Umunkpaka and sells on Wednesday. Because of this act, the women of Okoroagu abandoned their market and this market stopped operation.”