By Dr Ogaga Ifowodo
The drums of war between the two main towns of Isokoland, Oleh and Ozoro, are beating feverishly as I write and I call on President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to act swiftly to prevent a needless bloodbath, an unmanageable refugee situation and the general horrors associated with wars and civil unrest. Nigeria, as the world, is currently reeling from the global coronavirus pandemic; we cannot afford to add to our troubles here at home by inaction.
Yesterday, Friday, 16 October 2020, the town of Oleh, headquarters of the old Isoko Division and now of Isoko South LGA, was thrown into deep mourning by the news of the murder of 9 of its inhabitants (among them a child) by persons reasonably suspected to be from Ozoro. A full 24 hours after, there has been no denial that the murderers are from Ozoro.
For some years now, Ozoro has been disputing ownership of lands at its border with Oleh. The Delta State government is very much aware of the dispute and had set up a conflict resolution committee headed, as I’m informed, by one Chief Edwin Uzor, a Special Assistant to Governor Okowa.
The Oleh family that owns the land in dispute lost confidence in Chief Uzor’s patently biased efforts at dispute resolution and took their case to an objective tribunal: the High Court of Justice. I don’t know if it is true, but I’m informed that his wife is from Ozoro, making him partial to his in-laws.
An understandable disposition but then he should have recused himself from adjudicating in the matter. The next hearing of the matter is less than a week away, 21 October to be precise. Rather than establish their claim before an objective arbiter in a superior court of justice, the claimants have resorted to self-help through arms, murder and mayhem.
They have also ignored the findings of the leaders of Isoko Development Union (IDU) who waded into the matter, heard the parties from Ozoro and Oleh, and visited the land in dispute for direct testimony as to boundaries.
As inevitably happens in instances such as this, there would be reprisal or vengeance killings by the aggrieved party if nothing is done quickly to ensure justice, assuage wounded feelings and cool down inflamed passions. At which point tensions escalate into full-blown warfare. And in a war, there are no victors. All victories are pyrrhic, as costly to the “winner” as to the “loser” in actual human costs.
Prof J. P. Clark-Bekederemo, elder statesman of Nigerian letters who just last week joined the ancestors and whom we are still mourning, memorably captured this truism in his poem on the Nigerian Civil War: in a war, “we are all casualties.”
I hereby call on President Buhari and Governor Okowa to take immediate steps to prevent war between Ozoro and Oleh by swiftly arresting and prosecuting the murderers and their abettors. They must face the full wrath of the law for not only their complete disregard for human life but also for scorning the courts of law where the dispute over which they have committed multiple murders is already being litigated.
Oleh is well-known as a peace-loving community, home to all Isokos ever since it was the original headquarters of the old Isoko Division of Mid-West State. Oleh does not have land disputes with her other neighbours — Olomoro, Emede and Irri, with whom she shares virtually merged boundaries.
I also call on the leaders of Ozoro community to make peace and good neighbourliness their watchword. Above all, to prove their bona fides and love of justice by fishing out those among them who committed cold-blooded murders and surrendering them to justice. There can be no amount of land worth the lives of the 9 human beings brutally murdered nor the bloodbath and unmitigated human suffering that result from war.
Nigeria is currently numbed by the unrelenting bloodshed and violence in the land — from herdsmen’s land-grabbing atrocities, Boko Haram’s crimes against humanity in the name of fighting for God, kidnappings, etc. We must, however, not be rendered so insensate as to ignore this clear flashpoint of bloody warfare in a strategic, oil-rich swath of the Niger Delta. A stitch in time saves nine, so goes the adage. Nine are already dead. I call on President Buhari and Governor Okowa to ensure that a stitch in time saves ninety, nine hundred or more.