We Are Ready For War Says Tomplo's Men

Kinsmen of the former Niger Delta warlord, Government Ekpumopolo, popularly known as "Tompolo" in Gbramatu Kingdom of Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State, on Tuesday yesterday staged a protest march against the planned flag-off of the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) project in the state.

Their message was that they were ready for war against their Itsekiri neighbours over allegations of exclusion and land grabbing. Tife Owolabi

The protesters, who comprised hundreds of Youths, Women and members of the Gbaramatu Traditional Council of Chiefs, accused their Itsekiri neigbours, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Delta State government, of deliberate exclusion of the Ijaw communities of Gbaramatu kingdom from the project with the naming of the project as Ogidigben and the setting up of an interface committee made up only of Itsekiri leaders.

The women carried placards with such inscriptions such "We are ready to die for our land;" "Jonathan should avert bloodshed, call Uduaghan to order;" and "We own the land, we are ready to defend it."

Some agitated youths, who led by a known former militia youth, Patrick Allah, popularly known as Epelepele, and who were dressed in strange masks and white-and-red battle-style outfits, warned that they were ready to go up in arms against their Itsekiri neigbours if the as and youths vowed to engage in violent clash with its neigbour's if the proposed flag-off is not put on hold and such issues as the naming of the project and the composition of the interface committee did not change.

Addressing the crowd of protesters at the Oporoza Civic Centre, a member of the EPZ Stakeholders Communities of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, said that although the Gbaramatu Communities are not opposed to the setting up of the Export Processing Zone, they are opposed to the grand design by the NNPC and the Federal and State governments to oppress and marginalize the Gbaramatu Kingdom in the project.

According to Gbenekama, the EPZ project cuts across more than 13 Gbaramatu communities and should have been named with consideration to the contributions by all stakeholder communities.

Why then should the project be named after an Itsekiri community and interest?” he asked. “The decision of Ugborodo community and Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan to name the project after Ogidigben, an Itsekiri enclave, even though a bigger portion of the project lies in Ijaw land and Gbaramatu in particular, a kingdom with its own monarch that stretches back hundred years, is not only an insult but an invitation to crises and chaos."

He warned that the lessons of the Warri crisis are still fresh in the minds of all peace-loving Nigerians and that care must be taken to avoid actions similar to those that caused that unfortunate war.

“The Federal Government, Delta State government and the NNPC cannot take the lands of Gbaramatu Community without giving us our dues. It is unacceptable and Gbaramatu children would resist and fight with the last drop of their blood. We are peace loving people but our peaceful disposition must not be taken for weakness."

In a statement supporting the protesters, the Youth Presidents of the Sokobolou and Yokories communities of Ogulagha community of Bururtu Local Government Area of the State, Comrades Adowei Binaebi and Daniel Comboye, asked President Goodluck Jonathan to take a closer look at the setting up of the EPZ project. They also cautioned the NNPC and Governor Uduaghan not to throw the region into bloodshed.

The youth leaders noted that as part of President Jonathan’s promise to create employment for the youths, reliable sources had told them he plans to flag-off the EPZ project next Friday, but warned that unless the name of their communities is attached to the project, the event should not take place as the Sokobolou/Yokori are a prominent host of the EPZ project.

"Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan who was supposed to handle the issue is [biased] in his judgment because he is an Itsekiri man,” the statement said. It regretted that instead of settling the issues at stake, the governor chose to lobby the President to flag-off the EPZ project for the benefit of his Itsekiri kinsmen.”

They therefore strongly appealed appeal to the President not to come to the project site to perform the flag-off ceremony because the project has not been properly named after the communities proposed to host it, and that issues of how award of contracts would be of benefit to those communities have not been touched.

According to the statement, "There are many federal government projects we had in the time past, for example, the FTI project in Forcados and the Forcados/Yokiri Integrated project, Escravos Gas To Liguid, EGTL and among others, were all named after the host communities but for the Itsekiri people to first and foremost want to deprive us of the name by calling it Ugborodo EPZ project, is out-rightly wrong and unacceptable to us. If the President want to create another tension in addition to the ongoing one in the north east, he can go ahead but we don’t want that kind of tension here. If at all it must be flag-off, the name must be an acceptable one by the host communities because projects are named after the major stakeholders, and in this case, Sokobolou and Yokiri are major stakeholders to the EPZ project.”
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