Tuesday, 11 August 2015

How oil firm instigated crisis in Delta community – Goddey Igorigo, IDC chair

Commercial activities came to a halt in the town as soldiers and other security operatives patrolled with vehicles. There was no other vehicular movement in the once-peaceful community, which is the largest town in Isoko with 14 villages. By 8.30 am, villagers clad in dark attires have besieged the town hall.

Moments later, they broke into uncontrollable tears as five ambulances, bearing the remains of the Irri-5 in five caskets drove into the arena.
Besides a female victim interred in Oyede, a neighbouring community in Isoko North local government area, 12 casualties that spent 13 years in mortuaries at   government and private hospitals in the area were also buried.
Earlier on June 24, six were committed to mother earth. Chairman of the Irri Community Development Committee, IDC, Mr. Goddey Igorigo, said the number of persons killed during the crisis was countless, adding,    “Up till date, you cannot get a trace of so many people that were said to have travelled at that time.”
Ominous split
Blaming the crisis on   leadership tussle and the divide and rule tactics employed by a multinational oil company operating in the community, Igorigo told Niger Delta Voice,   “Before now, Irri was the most peaceful community in Isoko land,   Irri people love themselves, they love strangers, it was more or less a haven that was safe for everybody.”
“The place was developing gradually. At that time, the tussle for leadership was not there; we normally beg people to become president of the community.   As soon as the oil company entered, greed now came in and there was now tussle about who will be at the helm of affairs.
“Before we knew it, the community broke into factions. Issue of recommendation now came in as to who will do this or that job and problem started creeping into the community.   The company now brought a divide and rule tactics and there was tussle in the place. Even for us to hold conferences without security men was not possible. Soldiers will now surround the place,” he said.
Pointing out that there were silent killings until sometime around 2004 when it became very open, he said there a gang- up in the community with some youth being in possession of arms, adding, “Those youths broke into factions and those warring factions were the people that were now attacking themselves. It was then killing started over issue of who will become youth leader.”
Govt intervention
His words: “When the killings became very rapid, the state government intervened and stressed the need to set up a caretaker committee to pilot the affairs of the community pending when peace returns. The local government administration set up a caretaker committee as instructed by the state governor at that time.”
“ It was then I emerged as the chairman of the caretaker in 2012 and we were charged with the responsibility of restoring peace to Irri so that people can go about their normal businesses, conduct elections, then bury those that are in the mortuary,” he added.
Igorigo asserted, “When we started, we met with the warring factions, the landlords of the flow station, who were coming under the umbrella of resource control; that was when we started experiencing peace. We started meeting with every person concerned for reconciliation and we now went to the second agenda which was the burial of those that are in the mortuary.”
Challenges
“We had a lot of challenges because of financial constraint as at that time. Even the local government that promised to help us at that time found it difficult because of zero allocation. It was then we decided to meet with the oil company to assist us with money for the burial, but they refused on grounds that they had given money to some persons for that purpose in the past.
“We were not having money at that time and there was a court injunction that we cannot bury those people unless we had an order from the Inspector General of police. Even to secure that order was a problem and as a community we went to court to seek that order and it was granted,” he said.
The IDC chair said, “We are of the view that we are brothers and we cannot continue to be in crisis, to kill your fellow brother is against the law of nature, so we were looking at every means to put the crisis to an end and in doing that, we must bury the people that were killed. After we got the court order, to bury the people was a big problem and that was why we were appealing to the government to assist us.”
He said, “The money we have spent on the interment alone was over N20 million; we have not talked of taking care of family of the deceased persons; some left behind their wives and children of two to six years, who will cater for them, because the bread winners of the family were killed for no good reason. Some of them were just standing in front of their houses and they just shot at them. You can see that a big burden has been rested on the community.”
Loss
“Throughout the period that the crisis lasted, business activities were all grounded, people deserted their homes, and our old women started running.   If we take statistics of people that are still missing, it is uncountable.
“What we have lost in the community is unquantifiable; that is why we are begging the government to come to our aid. It came to an extent that they took jobs supposed to be executed here to other places. As I speak with you now, we do not have pipe borne water to drink, we are suffering, no electricity, and there is no government presence in the place.
We ve learnt our lesson
“We cannot really blame government because no one will site a project in a place where there is crisis. To be frank and sincere, Irri is the largest town in Isoko North and South as a whole. We have 14 villages but nobody from Irri town got appointment; nobody from Irri town has opportunity to serve in the House of Assembly. Nobody from Irri town has served as commissioner. That is why we are calling on our present governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa to consider Irri sons and daughters for appointment,” he asserted.
Also speaking with Niger Delta Voice, vice chairperson of the community, Mr. Pius Okogba, said, “It was because of the oil that came that made us to experience the crisis. Before now we beg people to take leadership positions. They started jostling for power when oil came.” “The crisis started in 2002 and it started escalating in 2004 and we lost a lot to the crisis. It was not an Irri man that killed these people; they brought in mercenaries to kill these people. Our brothers lost their lives. It also affected us economically.
“Our people have learned from this. We have seen what has happened for so many years, the place was deserted; so with what has happened, we all know that it is not good to fight ourselves; we are all brothers and sisters. We are happy that peace has returned to the community; sanity has now come.
Financial Secretary of the community, Mr. Simon Ezoh, also lamented the killings and the adverse socio-economic consequences of the crisis in the community. He, however, expressed happiness that some of the people,   who moved out of the community have now started returning home due to the restoration of peace to the community.

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