From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
The peace in Umuseti community, Ndokwa West Local Government Area of Delta State has been jolted, following the action of some rampaging youths who allegedly unleash mayhem in the oil rich town.
The invaders were said to have brutalised innocent residents including a centenarian, Madam Beatrice Ofashi Akpe; minors among others, who escaped death by the whiskers.
However, when the dusts raised by the invasion settled, eight buildings were destroyed, a commercial bus belonging to Ndokwa West council was torched while some victims were robbed.
Local sources said a former president of the youth in the community, one Izah allegedly spearheaded the attack on community members and residents, after he was released from army custody.
At the moment, there is an uneasy calm in the community as a result of the partial curfew imposed by army authorities at the 222 Battalion.
Trouble started sometime ago when some youths also led by Izah, shut the Pilar Oil Company flow station, and were arrested subsequently by the army.
But minutes after he regained, Izah and his co-travelers allegedly unleashed terror on community dwellers
“Hell was soon let loose on their arrival in community as he led over 40 youths bearing dangerous weapons including gun, machete and clubs into the street.
“They went on to destroy buildings, manhandle their perceived enemies, robbed others and almost killed a 104 years old woman, two little children.
“A 75 years old pensioner who received the beating of his life, before they set his wife’s shade containing petrol and engine ol in fire. This continued all night before the army came in as they overpowered the police who was seen looking helpless in the face of superior fire.
“The youth president began the onslaught from Mrs. Ishioma Odili’s shop where he personally kicked out a table where some respected young professionals were cooling off after the day’s work.
“He used one of the chairs to smash them, destroying their phones. They have to scamper for life and drove away from Umuseti.
“They are not natives or indigenes of Umuseti and do not even reside there. Their offense was going to relax at a beer spot at Umuseti,” a source volunteered.
It was learnt that the breaching of the oil facility was in protest against the company after its management stopped dealing with the community youth executives led by Izah as a result of the expiration of their tenure of office.
Umuseti which is the host community to Pillar Oil and Gas, a marginal oil prospecting firm, has a relationship with company which is guided by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
The community had through a conference of all interest groups both at home and in the diaspora created an internal MoU, in order to relate robustly with the company.
The internal MoU serves as the constitution of the community in regulating their affairs with the company as well as other sundry issues in the community.
It established various committees which include Community Development Committee, Contact Men Committee and Community Surveillance Committee.
The same MoU further made the tenure of all the committees two years and provided for the sharing formula of all benefit from the company and all issues related thereto.
Membership and functions of the various committees and the rotational principle of the offices amongst the three quarters in the community are equally contained in the said MoU, according to investigation by our correspondent.
The measures, it was gathered, were deeply considered and adopted by all interest groups for administrative convenience and to meet the peculiar circumstances of the community, hence the relationship between the community and the company went on uninterrupted.
As such, in 2018, a new set of committees were elected by the three quarters in the community in accordance with the positions or offices available for the quarters in line with the rotational principle in the community as contained in the MoU.
The elected officers variously took oath of office on June 8, 2018 and certificate of office issued to them by agents of Ndokwa West Local Government Area.
Although their tenure was to expire on June 8, 2020, the executives of the three committees allegedly orchestrated moves to perpetuate themselves in office, as they were said to have refused all efforts for elections to be conducted.
The concerned community officials were said to have contended that the oldest man in the community (Okpalla Uku) extended their tenure, a move that was resisted by the traditional prime minister of the community and his council of chiefs who contended that tenure of committees as contained in the MoU is a constitutional issue.
Besides there was no meeting of Ikpalla in Council which comprises of the oldest age grade in the community and the chiefs usually presided by the community oldest man and the prime minister to deliberate on such matter by calling for conference where the MoU can be amended to meet with such demand.
The development led to tension in the community, prompting authorities of the local council to intervene in attempt to forestall it from degenerating into full blown crisis.
A meeting of all interest groups in the community was convened by the council, after which the council issued a white paper extending the tenure of the committees to August 31, 2020 to enable them put things in order for election.
But some aggrieved residents accused the council chairman of frustrating moves to sack the committees, and therefore generated a petition to the state governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa.
As a result, Okowa’s Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution, Edwin Uzor led a high powered delegation to Umuseti where they met with various interest groups which includes the Okpalla Uku and his members, the said committees, a peace committee in the community who equally produced their report and collected written information from the groups.
Although, the state government officials did not issue any formal report, they were very clear that the tenure of the committees had ended. As it were, the committees were not satisfied too with the clear view of the Office of Conflict Resolution, and therefore generated a petition to the Commissioner for Oil and Gas.
Stakeholders were again invited and the ministry directed them to vacate office and hand over to a new committee within two weeks.
Since there was an initial complaint against pillar oil company for dealing with committees whose tenure had elapsed, they were informed that they don’t have the right to interface with the company on behalf of the community since their tenure has ended.
“It was at this point that this group of committees and their armed members staged protest to Pillar oil company and stopped them from all manners of activities including production.
“The company was forced to enter an understanding with a group that does not have the legal right to represent the community.
“They took this aggressive step because they have been assisted by the security operatives in Kwale to force the company to pay them community stipends after the decision of commissioner for oil and gas whom they have also publicly announced in the community to have collected bribe to make decision against their interest.
“Worried by the moves of the committees from one office to another, the traditional prime minister and his Chiefs, the age grades, and some concerned youths approached the court of competent jurisdiction on the various issues.
“The court recently issued an injunction restraining the committees from parading themselves in such capacities and equally restrained the various companies in the community from interfacing with them.
“The result of this legal action is a clandestine plan by members of the committees to kill some other members of the community who they considered to be against their interest and burn their houses.
“Their plan is to force them and members of their families to flee the community in order for them to have uninterrupted elongation of office,” a source said.
Apart from the 104 years old Ofashi Beatrice Akpe, others who had their properties destroyed were Emmanuel Akpe, Nnamdi Odibi, Mr. Ogbe Eloke, as well as those of Tom Ossai, Tom Nkweshi, Charles Akpe, Mr. Joe Ogwu, Benard Oluku and Mrs. Victoria Oluku.