The long battle between the people of Kogi and Anambra states over the ownership of an oil field on Ibaji land had claimed lives and property before the former was recently declared an oil-producing state, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.
It was a dream come true for the people of Kogi State, particularly Ibaji land, when Governor Yahaya Bello announced that the state had received the first tranche of 13 per cent derivation allocation as an oil producing zone in the country.
Ibaji Local Government Area is located along the coast of River Niger, bordered by Edo, Enugu and Anambra states. It occupies 1,377km² land with a population of almost 180,000 people, according to the National Population Commission’s data.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that by this feat, Kogi has become the first state in northern Nigeria to join the league of oil-producing states like Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River and Imo.
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“I am elated to announce to the good people of Kogi State that my administration has received our first derivation allocation as an oil-producing state, the governor announced on October 20, 2022.
Governor Bello said the derivation allocation would make him do more for the people, adding, “Let me reiterate this to the people of Kogi State, that my promise to make their resources work for them is iron cast.
“We will build more schools, hospitals and construct more roads. We will empower our youths and women. Under my watch, we will ensure security.”
The journey to oil-producing status
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the route leading to Kogi’s oil-producing status was difficult as the state and various interest groups engaged in a long drawn battle with Anambra and Enugu states over the ownership of the oil well.
Governor Bello said, “We worked hard to make this history. But we wouldn’t have achieved it without the support of our people, who stood resolutely with us to make this see the light of the day.
“We also wish to express our gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari for his leadership roles, as well as the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) for making this a reality.”
Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s declaration of Anambra as an oil- producing state in 2014 sparked off crisis between Ibaji and the state.
The declaration particularly pitched the people of Ibaji land of Kogi against Aguleri-Otu community in Anambra over the ownership of an oil well said to be located in Ibaji.
Stakeholders deployed all kinds of tactics, including the use local militants, leading to bloodbath and destruction of properties for almost three years until voice of reason was allowed to prevail.
Subsequently, the Kogi State Government, particularly indigenes of Ibaji, where the oil was allegedly drilled, felt shortchanged over the declaration of Anambra as an oil-producing state. It was also reported that the oil well at Igah, which feeds Orient Petroleum Refinery in Anambra, is said to be on Ibaji land in Kogi.
Disquiet over government’s ‘silence’
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that barely a month after the declaration of Kogi as an oil-producing state, some stakeholders and youth groups from Ibaji, the host community, are becoming apprehensive over what they described as “obvious quietness” of the state government on the way forward for Ibaji people. They described Ibaji as the geese that laid the golden egg.
The president of Ibaji Progressive Youth Foundation, Comrade Apeh Kelvin, said the patience of the community was running out over the silent posture of the present administration on its programmes for development.
Comrade Kelvin berated the political leaders and other stakeholders, especially the present Ibaji Council chairman, Ikojo Williams and others for allegedly playing “politics of loyalty” by not making case for what is due to host communities.
He said that beside the announcement of the receipt of derivation allocation by the governor, he had not disclosed anything to the stakeholders, political leaders or traditional rulers from the Ibaji land.
“We wrote to Governor Bello via the Ibaji Local Government chairman to meet him over this matter. Until now, we have not gotten any feedback from him or the council chairman.
“We are running out of patience. The governor should know that many lives were lost in the struggle for the derivation fund. By November ending, if nothing is heard from the government over the plan for Ibaji people, we may be forced to do things in our way,” he said.
He said the state government should do something for the families that lost their loved ones in the battle of ownership, stressing that the first focus should be for the people of Odeke, Enchenwo and Aniocha, who lost many of their family members in the struggle.
The youth president, who commended Governor Bello for the feat, added that he had been calming his members to be patient, with the assurance that the state government will soon do something on the way forward.”
The youth group said the communities would not forget in a hurry how they lost four people on July 4, 2014 during a clash with the people of Aguleri from Anambra State and Echeno/Odeke in Kogi.
He said that since the battle had been won and Kogi declared an oil-producing state, the youth group would want the state government to first pay tribute to the fallen heroes in Odeke/Echeno communities for not giving up the oil well to Anambra people.
“Without them, Kogi wouldn’t have been accorded an oil-producing status. Several people were killed and properties worth millions of naira destroyed,|”Ojodomo Unekwu, a youth spokesperson said.
David Ogwu, a former local government chairman of Ibaji who claimed to have worked with Elf Petroleum Plc and Shell Petroleum Limited in the 1950s, said the people of Ibaji had paid for 13 per cent derivation fund coming to the state with their blood during the struggle of ownership with Aguleri-Otu in Anambra State.
“Ibaji people are peace-loving. They are the geese that have laid the golden egg for the state and the country in general. We expect the voice of reason to prevail and the right thing to be done.
“The blood of our people was shed in the struggle of ownership. Humanity will cry to high heaven if what is due to the people of Ibaji from derivation fund is not given,” he warned.
According to him, by law, 3 per cent of the derivation fund is meant for the host oil field communities to address their immediate needs.
He added that it may not be late yet. He, however, said the delay by the government in speaking up on the issue may give rise to suspicion and apprehension in the host communities.
He claimed that the oil well being drilled presently by Orient Petroleum Plc is from Igah, stressing that the company connected a pipe to the oil well, 10 kilometres away from its site at Aguleri-Otu in Anambra to Igah in Kogi, which has its source from Imabolo river at Ankpa.
He further said this had given credence to the agitators of derivation fund, which led to its approval by the presidency, and as such, the decision has come to stay and Ibaji communities should be given what is theirs from derivation allocation without delay.
Recounting the oil prospecting period in the region, he said the oil companies dug and capped oil wells at Alade, Okobo, Odeke and Igah communities in the 1950s, stressing that it would have been unfair on the part of the federal government not to have declared Kogi as an oil-producing state instead of Anambra, which is an oil-manufacturing state.
“Our grouse was not that Anambra is refining oil from our land. We have no business with the state involving in oil business, we were saying that the oil being drilled is from our land, and as such, we should be declared an as oil-producing state. We thank God that it has been achieved through the sacrifice of the blood, finance and time of our people,” he said.
In the same vein, Emmanuel Egwu, the then federal lawmaker that represented Ibaji, Idah, IgalaMela/Odolu and Ofu constituency, who moved the motion for Kogi State to be declared as an oil-producing state in 2017, said the state and the people of Igala ethnic nationality were full of joy over the declaration.
He commended the efforts of all, particularly the lawmakers from the East senatorial district, Senator Atai Aidoko, Senator Isaac Alfa, Ismaila Inah, as well as former Governor Idris Wada and Governor Yahaya Bello for their statesmanship, which made things to work out.
Egwu, who said about 20 oil wells were dug and confirmed in commercial quantity between 1952 and early 1980s by the oil companies in the region during the prospecting days, stated that because of the interest of a power block, the drilling was put on hold till now.
He commended his colleagues in the House of Representatives for passing the bill on oil-producing status into law. He also commended the RMAFC, presidency and the National Boundary Commission and other interest groups for their cooperation, which led to the declaration of Kogi as an oil-producing state.
Egwu, however, said the victory was not for Kogi alone but the whole northern region.
He, therefore, called on the state government to, without delay, establish a commission to address issues associated to oil-producing communities as it is done in Rivers and Bayelsa states, as well as other host communities.
Egwu added that the state should not allow sentiment to becloud its sense of judgement by trying to delay the setting up of such commission to quickly address the needs of Ibaji land that was challenged by environmental issues because of their natural setting for centuries.
Equally, the paramount ruler of Ibaji and chairman of the Ibaji Traditional Council, Ajofe John Odiche Egwemi, said the Ibaji community was living peacefully with their neighbours before the discovery of crude oil in the region.
He added that it would have been a glaring injustice if Kogi had not been declared an oil-producing state.
The monarch said his people were looking forward to seeing solutions to many challenges bedeviling the communities.
Also, the president of Uja Ache Igala, Comrade Goodman Akwu, who was at the forefront to see that Kogi was recognised as an oil-producing state, said the credit should be given to all who stood to the end of the struggle.
Comrade Akwu claimed to have carried his own battle to Anambra stakeholders in Awka, including the traditional rulers and youths during the struggle to redress the injustice done to the state, particularly the people of Ibaji land.
He urged the Kogi State Government to, as a matter of urgency, disclose what was paid in as derivation fund and the development plan for the Ibaji communities and Kogi State in general.
He argued that since it is a public fund for a special purpose, the communities where the oil drilling is being done have been empowered by the law of the land to know what actually comes in and what is to be done on their land.
“Don’t forget that the battle that brought the derivation fund was funded by the blood of Ibaji sons and daughters, as well as the efforts of stakeholders from that region.
“The state government should not be carried away by the euphoria of the fund. It should not be treated as just mere public fund and wasted on projects that have no desirable impact on the oil communities of Ibaji land,” he said.
A peasant farmer in Onyedega, Johnson Omachonu, said the state government should give priority towards addressing the challenge of perennial flooding being experienced by the people.
The chairman of Ibaji Council, Williams Ikojo, commended Governor Bello for taking the bull by its horns, which led the federal government to include Kogi among oil-producing states.
“He has done excellently well. Some governors, particularly of Igala extraction who administered the state before him failed to actualise this dream in the oil ownership battle which runs for years in the region, but he came in with his magic wand and got it actualised. He needs to be praised,” he said.
He added that Ibaji community was about to constitute an oil-host committee that would package the challenges of the areas and advance the way the expected fund should be utilised to the benefit of the people.
“We are expecting the state government to give Ibaji land the acclaimed three per cent from the derivation fund for the development of host communities of oil field,” he said.
Ikojo added that with the fund, infrastructure such as water, roads and electricity would be provided for the people.
He said many families who lost their loved ones during the battle over the oil well ownership needed to be compensated.
“Our men were killed. If not because of them, Anambra people would have taken the oil well from us,” he said.