Oil tears two Delta communities apart

A heated row has broken out between Sapele-Okpe and Otonyasere communities, both in Sapele Local Government Area, Delta State, over the ownership of oil-rich Otonyasere village.

Youths of Otonyasere allegedly assaulted their counterparts from Sapele-Okpe, led by the Public Relations Officer, Prince Orhomunokpai, when they stopped over recently to issue a 72-hour quit notice to settlers.

NDV learned that some persons erected a structure close to an oil rig in the territory for commercial purpose and the matter was already a subject of litigation. But Orhomunokpai, who claimed that Otonyaswere, Ogodo, Etamua and Egborode were sub-communities under Sapele-Okpe community retorted, “we won in court and they took us to Court of Appeal.”

Chair and Secretary of Sapele-Okpe community, Chief Onoriode and Otugwoh Andrew, respectively, in a petition to the Police, 19 Battalion of the Nigerian Army and Department of State Services, DSS, accused Otonyasere youths of attacking Sapele Okpe community youths and destroying the community’s bus.

They alleged that they built the contentious structure on Sapele-Okpe land, pointing fingers at Otonyasere chair, Dr. Austin Arieja, for violating an agreement signed between both communities at Government House Annex, Warri, not to disrupt Seplat activities until court gives judgment.

In a sharp reaction, Otonyasere community leader, Dr. Austin Arieja, debunked the allegations that his community was a settlement in Sapele-Okpe and that Otonyasere youths harassed Sapele-Okpe community youths.

According to him, “Sapele Okpe community and Otonyasere community are two distinct communities. Otonyasere is not part of Okpe community, just like we have other communities in Sapele Local Government Area.”

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He accused Sapele-Okpe community of trying to annex Otonyasere, saying “because of the presence of oil here, Sapele Okpe community is trying to take over this community.

“Oton is a separate community; there is no link with Sapele-Okpe. At the entrance of Oton community, there is a creek, which separates the two communities and a gazette of colonial times of 1927. When it comes to record presentation, I will show you, as everything is documented: it is called the Forestry Ordinance.”

Arieja cautioned Sapele-Okpe community not to take laws into their hands but to rather seek redress in court, explaining that the action of the community members was a breach of law and order as it amounts to terrorism.

The community leader explained that a gazette was raised identifying the owner of the land by 13 families.

His wordS: “The Arieja family, the Ofala family, Biokoro family and others in Oton community. You can quote me anywhere, Oton community since that time has been described as two distinct villages linked by a footpath between Sapele and Oton community.

“There is a footpath described in the gazette that I am talking about. That is to establish that there are two communities, but because of the present discovery of oil, Sapele is trying to subsume the Oton community and they want people to believe that we are one community. We speak the same language, but we are not the same people.

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“The Sapele people, who claim they own this place, bought this land from us. Even the wife of the Sapele-Okpe community chair, Chief Onoriode Temiagi bought land from us and we have document to that effect. The past chair, Mr. Patrick Akamovba, bought land from us.

“It was his father that brought him to buy land from us. If the land belongs to Sapele community, he will not bring his son to buy land from us. I am not Abeke, I am not Ogodo, I am Arieja. Abeke did not begot Arieja, Ogodo did not begot Omughele. We have everything on record; not just verbal saying.”

He also debunked the claim by Orhomunokpai that Sapele Okpe community won the case in court, saying “the judge dismissed the case and we have all the documents that we are entitled to this land, so we went to appeal.

“Since 2017, we have been in Appeal Court. We have filed in papers to show our evidence but as I speak, Sapele community has not been able to respond.”

Sources said the Orodje of Okpe, His Majesty, Major General Felix Mujakperuo (retd.), Orhue I, has intervened in the raging dispute, directing the warring parties to maintain peace.

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