How Edo’s new city plan sparked bloody communal war

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The road linking Irhirhi, Aruogba, Okhoromi, Obazagbon, Obagie N’evbosa, Ogheghe and Ogbekpen communities in Oredo Local Government Area of Edo State used to be in very bad shape. The same road also linked the Airport and Sapele roads.

From the Airport Road axis, vehicles could only get as far as Obazagbon, as there was no bridge on River Oroma. Immediately after Oroma River is located a community known as Oke-Oroma in Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area. Smiles came the way of the residents of the communities when Governor Godwin Obaseki ordered the release of funds for the construction of the road.

Before the road was constructed, residents of Oke-Oroma had opted to build houses in neighbouring Obazagbon or Obagie N’Evbuosa village because of access road. But with the road’s construction, they could now build their houses in the community.

But like the bean with a black eye, whatever good things the new road brought has also brought tears and sorrow to Oke-Oroma residents.

Oke-Oroma community otherwise known as Ago-Emokpae is now a ghost town with wreckage of more than 20 burnt cars, scores of expended ammunition and other unseemly sights.

In one of the houses that were burnt, corpses of dogs littered the building. A foul smell believed to that of dead bodies in the bush filled the air. Residents of the village had fled into the bush or sought refuge in the neighbouring villages. Several buildings in the village were razed down by gunmen who invaded the community penultimate Tuesday.

The shops in the community were vandalized while many animals, including dogs, were shot dead. The Oguedion (Elders’ Hall) was razed down. Many ancestral trees were felled.

Several persons were killed while others were injured. Houses belonging to some indigenes of Oke-Oroma at neighbouring Obazagbon village were also razed.

Last month, Governor Godwin Obaseki during an inspection tour of the new road said his administration was planning to expand the state capital, Benin City, by developing a new city along that road.

The governor had said: “We have acquired 720 hectares of land off this road. We want to build a new city here. But if you sell all the land in this area without proper layout, we will not have where to build more infrastructure. If we plan this community, for years to come, your children will benefit from it.

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“All those building on our right of way should be given notice because in the nearest future, we will expand this road.”

How Edo's new city plan sparked bloody communal war

In an apparent show of ownership, gunmen invaded Oke-Oroma a few days after the governor’s visit, shooting sporadically. They set almost all the houses ablaze.

Those killed included a woman, two youths and 95-year old Monday Okhuelegbe. Their bodies were yet to be found at press time. The killings made the residents to flee the village while some youths opted to remain in the bush to ward off any invader.

The attack coincided with the time residents of Oke-Oroma wanted to install a new Odionwere. It was gathered that trouble began with the insistence of the people of Oke-Oroma that they were not under authority of the Amagba but the Obagie N’Evbuosa. Talks of payment of compensation for the 720 hectares of land also led to the invasion.

Some members of the community however protested to the palace of the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II and the Edo NUJ Centre, carrying placards with inscriptions such as “Oba of Benin, come to our rescue,”  “Joshua leave us alone,” and “We are under mass killings.”

Edes Emokpae said he narrowly escaped being killed by the attackers, some of whom he said wore Nigerian Army uniforms.

He said: “The invaders were more than 400, armed with assorted weapons. I have spent four days in the bush. They came to rob and kill us.

We are begging the state government to investigate the atrocities done to us. We had to take our women and children into hiding. Look at all these shops. We want the government to jail them.”

The Secretary of the community’s development union, Mr. Monday Eghaghe, said some elders of the community were at the police Zone 5 office when they heard about the attacks.  He said River Oroma is the boundary they have with Amagba.

He said: “What they did here is man’s inhumanity to man. The law must take its course. They burnt down our houses. They killed animals and have rendered us homeless. The world should come and see what Amagba did to us.

“After selling all their landed assets, they want to come and drive us away so that that can feast on our land.

“They came to attack us because they have told the government this place is empty. They want to create the impression that nobody is living here. We are looking onto the government to help us.”

Mr. Osasu Monday, whose father was among those that were killed, said the family was still looking for the corpse.

Osasu said the invaders beat his father severely before they shot him dead. He said the attackers cut down ancestral trees in the community to ensure that there was no trace previous human existence in the area.

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Oke-Oroma or Ago-Emokpae is located in Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area while Amagba is in Oredo Local Government Area. Amagba, however, insists that its boundary extends to Obagie N’Evbuosa and not Oke-Aroma.

Abel Emokpae, whose great grandfather founded the village, said it does not matter if you call the place Ago-Emokpae or Oke-Aroma, but the place does not belong to Amagba.

He said: “Three weeks ago, we heard rumours that Amagba people wanted to come and attack us. My brother Gaius, who is to be installed as Odionwere, wrote letters to security agencies but they didn’t take any action.

“They came, killed many people and destroyed our buildings. They burnt down our houses, including the ones our people built in Obazagbon. They segregated our houses and burnt them down.

“Can you imagine somebody living in that area over 200 years ago. Our forefather was a great man; a hunter and herbalist. That was why he was able to inhabit where animals stay. There are other families in the community.

“They accused us of burning our own houses. Would any normal human being destroy his house? It is totally false to say we are recruiting thugs or non-natives to come and fight here. They came to destroy our village. It is Amagba people that are fighting us.

How Edo's new city plan sparked bloody communal war

“We have not seen the corpses of those killed. We could not go back to our homes. They blocked everywhere and we have no access to our home. It was the military that escorted us to get video clips.

“In 2012, Oba Erediauwa set up a panel and Chief Eduwu Ekhator reported that River Oroma is the boundary. If we want to install Odionwere, it is not Amagba that will approve it; it is the Oba.

“An Enogie has many villages under him. We are one of the villages under the Enogie of Obagie N’Evbuosa dukedom, based on the ruling of Oba Erediauwa. The River is separating us. It is a perpetual boundary there.”

On the planned new city in the area, Abel said Governor Obaseki had not approached the owners of the land.

“We expect Obaseki to talk to Oke-Aroma people and not other groups. We are expecting him to do the needful and not to pay our compensation to the wrong people.

“The way forward is to recognise us as the rightful owners of that place.

“We were in the village and had to run into the bush when the attackers came. Some ran into the bush and others who could not run were killed.

“We are appealing to Oba Ewuare to dispatch the case and give the rightful owner. He is the only person that can solve this problem. Let him give judgment as soon as possible so that everybody will be at rest.”

The youth leader of Amagba community, who was accused of leading the attack, Mr. Peter Owens, said there was nothing like Oke-Aroma community in that area. Owens said there was peace in the area until Gaius Emokpae retired from the Central Bank of Nigeria and wanted to make it an autonomous community.

“The place is a camp under Amagba community. They have been living in peace until one Gaius Emokpae who retired from the Central Bank of Nigeria and returned to the village. He is trying to change it to an autonomous community.

“I grew up to know that place as a camp known as Ago-Emokpae.

His father never dragged the place with Amagba. He was an Okao acting under our Odionwere. We got judgment that we have boundary with Obagie N’Evbuosa.

“Gaius has money to do whatever he wants to do. They provoked us. We have our right to protect our property. The place they are calling Oke-Aroma is not a community. It is a camp. He is supposed to be punished by the Binis because he refused to adhere to the Oba’s ruling.

“They provoked people to what happened there. I don’t think we have done anything wrong in dragging our property. The father never quarreled with Amagba. I was on my way from Lagos when I was called that an attack was taking place. I was never there during the attack.

“The way to peace is for them to obey the rules and regulations of the Oba of Bénin. There was no quarrel when the father was alive. We cannot fold our arms and see one man take our property. If he wants to make money from land sales, he should tell us. There were only two houses in that camp.”

A former governorship aspirant under the Peoples Democratic Party, Hon Matthew Iduoriyekemwen, said Gaius is striving to be “a traditional head of a non- existent village.”

He said: “What happened there was seriously blown out of proportion. Amagba people only took physical possession of their traditional rights without any injury to any of the parties then.

“Dislodging illegal occupants who indulge in illegal sales of our lands to me is no crime. For your information, I am not involved in the crusade. But by the virtue of the fact that my father is the traditional head of Amagba village,  my name may be a recurring decimal.

“I can state categorically that I am a peace loving citizen of Edo State who would not do anything to alter existing peaceful co-existence on people within my area of influence.

“Gaius Emokpae and his people in Ago Emokpae only intend to drag my name into matters, considering my political stand and status in the state.”

Enogie of Obagie N’Evbuosa, HRH Stephen Imadonwinyi, said there was no Oba’s judgment in favour of Amagba as, according to him, Oke Aroma, also known as Emokpae Camp, has always been a part of Obagie N’ Evbosa.

HRH Imadonwinyi challenged Amagba to show any document wherein judgment was passed that Oke-Aroma belonged to them.

However, Obazagbon village is caught in the middle of the tussle for Oke-Aroma. The community was deserted when our reporter visited. Only some youths and a few elders were seen.

Barricades were mounted at the entrance of the community and road users were properly screened before they were allowed to proceed.

The Odionwere of the community, Mr. Vincent Edoigiawerie, said the village, which he said was surrounded by three rivers, was being used as a battle ground for neighbouring warring communities.

Edogiawerie said seven indigenes of the community had been kidnapped and their whereabouts unknown.

He said the village has no business with the ongoing war but it has been under attack from armed youths.

He said: “From the bank of the River to the entrance gate, you can see the tense atmosphere in the community. It is unfortunate because we in Obazagbon are neutral in what is happening here.

“We are not aiding or abetting because we are not Amagba and we are not Ago-Emokpae. We are surrounded by water. We have no dispute with any community.

“For the past one year, when they are fighting, people will come here to terrorise our people. Last year, they destroyed our town hall and killed our people.

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“The crisis connects Ago-Emokpae, Obagie N’Evbuosa and Amagba. They were fighting and trooped to our village. We didn’t know they harbour militants in our community.

“They shot some of our people. They were using Urhobo, Ijaw, Kwale and they passed through the river. They kidnapped seven persons.

“Last night, they came and attacked us. The Enogie of Obagie N’Ebvuosa, said the Ago-Emokpae are his subjects. We are begging the government to tell them to leave us alone.

“Some of our young boys were injured. What connects them is not our business. They are using non-natives to fight us. We are appealing to the Oba to resolve the crisis.”

When both communities appeared before Oba Ewuare II last week, the Oba said he would petition the Inspector General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, to properly investigate the killings and bring the perpetrators to book.

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