The bury the hatchet over an age-long drum cannot be overemphasised amid a drum of war that was re-echoed again among the Ijaws of Edo State and the majority Benin tribes over claims to a riverine portion of land in the state, PATRICK OCHOGA writes.
The seemingly unending crisis between the predominantly fishing communities of Ijaw in Edo State and Benin’s penultimate week has broken the fragile peace among the inhabitants of Ikoro, a community and the Benin of Obazuwa in Ovia North East Local Government Area of the state as both parties are threatening each other war over claims to the ownership of land in the community.
The Ijaw people also known as “Ijo or “Izon” are people of the Niger Delta Delta in Nigeria inhabited regions of the states of Bayelsa, (their original Homeland), Delta, Edo, Ondo Lagos state, and River state.
Many are found as migrant fishermen in camps as far as West and lived in locations near many sea trade routes and well connected to other areas by trade as early as the 15th century.
The need for concerted efforts to end the crises can not be overemphasised as the faceoff between the Ijaws and Benin dated back to many decades has led to calls on many fora by the Ijaws and demanded that the recipe for peace and to douse the rising tension is for the creation of an autonomous local council for the Ijaw people in Edo state.
But Benin’s had challenged such demand describing the Ijaws as settlers and thereby should not take advantage of their hospitable nature by laying claims to the ownership of any portion of Benin land in Edo South senatorial districts.
Even though the relationship between the Ijaws and Benin’s can best be described as fragile, tension again risen when an umbrella body of the Ijaws, Ijaw Youth Councils (IYC) in Olodiama accused some persons of Benin extraction from Obazuwa community of destruction of their properties, intimidation, and harassment.
They noted that the recent attack by the Benin people was another attempt to display them from the Ikoro community, one of the 5 clans occupied by the Ijaws in Ovia North-East local government area of the state, adding that their people had lived in peace in the said community for many years.
Speaking on behalf of the Ijaw at Olodiama clan, Comrade Sam Ebiwana at a briefing chronicled some of the alleged acts of aggression and intimidation as followed.
Ebiwana alleged; “First, On 1st January, 2021 Obazuwa community people stopped a heavy-duty truck of a construction company handling a six kilometre Ekenwa, Obazuwa /Ikoro community by federal government assisted road project.
“Secondly, On the 31st of March, 2021, Obazuwa community people stopped 6 Ikoro youths, they were not only attacked but also framed up on trumped-up charges.
“Thirdly, on the 14th of July 2012, Obazuwa community people attacked top Engineering Company’s property in Ikoro, destroying properties worth millions of naira claiming ownership of that particular land. It is now time for concerned authorities to intervene to avoid further attacks on Ikoro people to avoid break down of law and other.
Another Ijaw leader, Godwin Ewanta, stated, “We have settled in the Ikoro community for centuries before the people came in. Why are they now calling us settlers? Not that we are weak, if we decide not to react, we just decide to stay calm because we are law-abiding citizens. So we are begging the government to look into it. Those causing the problem between two communities should invite them.
However, a Benin social-cultural group, Benin Solidarity Movement in a reaction to the recent uproar among the Ijaws and Benin’s warned that Benin will not fold its hands and allows the Ijaws to continue to lay claims to any inch of Benin land and noted that Ijaws are not the only ‘settler’ tribes in the area.
Apparently speaking for Benin’s, President of the BSM, Comrade Curtis Ugbo insisted that the Ijaws from history are tenants to the Oba of Benin Kingdom.
“Benin Solidarity Movement (BSM) worldwide viewed with disdain the television broadcast of ITV news on the 21st July, 2021 by a self-acclaimed Ijaw group, IYC Chairman in the locality.
“It is an obvious fact that the Ijaws living in Iko community (which they corrupted to Ikoro), a community controlled by the Enogie of Obazuwa in Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo state are lost and do not know their history.
“Let us make it very loud and clear to the settler Ijaws who vis-a-vis are customary tenants to the Oba of Benin Kingdom that there is no town or community in the Benin Kingdom called Ikoro in Ovia North Local Government Area of Edo State.
“And they should know also that they are not the only tribes that are settlers in that locality and for all we care, the IYC may be talking of a community that is situated in Bayelsa State acclaimed as a homogenous Ijaw State.
“The brains behind the pseudo IYC should be called to order immediately before they drag their kinsmen into an unwarranted circumstance, as far as the Iko Community issue is concerned.
“Ijaws should let it be known that they are settlers in the Benin Kingdom and our Great Oba of Benin Kingdom is the Overlord of all the lands in the Kingdom. And the fact that the Benin’s are accommodating should not be misconstrued as a sign of weakness by these miscreants who hide under different aliases and groups to trigger crises that will end up consuming them.
“We have been stretched to the limit and it will be a matter of good judgment if they call themselves to order now before it is too late.
“They should also be informed that we are not contesting anything with them as regards their Ikoro. Our area of interest lies within our territory, Iko Community in Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo State where we have over the years accommodated them and other tribes as it is our nature to be good hosts.
The IYC should be reasonable enough now to change their steps in this macabre dance that they have inadvertently forced themselves into; for nobody has a monopoly of violence”.
In solidarity with its Ijaw brothers, an Ijaw group under the aegis of Izon-Ibe Dragnet has tackled the Benin Solidarity Movement (BSM) over their comment on the Ikoro community recently alleging that there is nothing like the Ikoro Community in Edo State.
The Izon-Ibe Dragnet particularly warned the BSM not to see the peaceful disposition of the Ijaws of Edo, particularly the people of Ikoro and the entire Olodiama Kingdom as a sign of weakness, stressing that no one has the monopoly of violence.
This was contained in a rejoinder signed and issued to newsmen in Benin, the capital of Edo State by Bandua Itebete, Spokesman, Izon-Ibe Dragnet, a copy of which was sent made available to LEADERSHIP Weekend noted that Ikoro community as it were predates Obazuwa community.
“It is worthy to note that the Ijaw nation has never been conquered and hence our resolve to live in peace with our neigbours should not be seen as an act of weakness.
“However, we have keenly observed the activities of a group with the name” Benin Solidarity movement (BSM) ” and still wonder why such a group becomes the mouthpiece of the Benin speaking tribe which to us it’s not only unfortunate, it is very sardonic.
“It seems the said Benin Solidarity Movement (BSM) is grossly deficient of history, if not they would have known that Ikoro Community predates Obazuwa Community and such cannot be called settlers.
“A little research on what transpired in the early ’80s between Ikoro Community and a now non -existent Ikoloke Community which shared boundary with Ikoro Community would certainly give the BSM a clearer picture of what they are about to plunge the people of Obazuwa Community into and hence get a little wisdom from it and apply brakes before it’s too late.
Efforts to get the Public Relation Officer of the Edo State Police Command SP Kontongs Bello to react on efforts to restore peace amidst the threat to peace were unsuccessful as calls placed to him were unanswered.
However, a source within the command confided to LEADERSHIP Weekend that the police authorities are monitoring the situation there and will ensure that law and order prevail in the affected communities.