Indigenes of Koko in Nigeria angry over EPZ project

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Hectares of land belonging to Koko indigenes reportedly acquired for the proposed Delta Gas City Project four years ago is now the bone of contention following Federal Government?s relocation of the $16 billion Export Processing Zone (EPZ) project to Ogidigben in Warri South Local Government. JOE OGBODU reports.

Indigenes of the ancient town of Koko in Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State are angry following the relocation of the $16 billion Export Processing Zone (EPZ) project from their land.

The people say that the large expanse of land which was allocated for the project has been denied themsince the project was moved, and vows to recover it from the Federal Government. It would be recalled that four years ago, the Federal Government had proposed Koko for the project, but later moved it to Ogidigben, inWarri South Local Government Area over some unclear reasons.

Daily Times observed that there has been some disquiet between the Ijaw and Itsekiriover who should be in charge of the project since the relocation to Ogidigben, The people of Koko had applauded President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan when news of the project was first broken to them.

The development prompted theOlu of Warri, OgiameAtuwatse II, to appoint 93-year old Chief Victor Nana, the grandson of the famous Nana dynasty as his representative in Koko. Alsothe monarchhad showed his appreciation by personally thanking GovernorUduaghan and President Goodluck Jonathan for siting the proposed project in his domain. But the joy of the monarch and his people was short lived following the relocation of the project without prior information.

Our correspondent in Warri reports that the people of Koko are angry that the project has been allegedly traded off by some people, and have put bulk of the blame on the Governor Uduaghan. ?We were taken aback when word reached us that the Federal Government has reneged in the agreement with us which made us to relinquish our land for the project?, Chief Nana told Daily Times.

According to the nonagenarian, the turn of events came two years after the community had relinquished more than 3,000 hectares of land for the proposed project. ?My people have spent so much to ascertain the essence of why the project should be moved out of the community, but the matter seems to be shrouded in utvilmost secrecy.

?Now we are saddened by the development, more so, as no one could fathom the truth of the matter except a claim by the Federal Government that the Koko River was too shallow for the project, a claim which was debunked by marine experts?. Daily Times gathered that one of the reports was the findings of a firm of private consultants which the community hired to verify the depth of the river, whilethe second came from experts attached to the Nigeria Ports Authority, (NPA).

Nana said further, ?Both reports debunked theFederal Government?s claim of the river?s shallowness, especially because one of the reports allegedly relied on what happened from 1972 to 1973, when the biggest cargo carrier ?African Carrier? sailed through the Koko River and berthed at the port.? Both reports left the people with no other conclusion than that the relocation could only be due to political reasons; but who to blame for the supposed trade off ?

?The governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan and the political class of Itsekiri ethnic extraction, who they alleged traded the project from Koko community to a highest bidder, theItsekiri community of Ogidigben. ?Ogidigben is fast developing already; they have many companies and our youths are not allowed to work there. This project should have been used to boost the socio-economic development of Koko.

?We are not happy that the project has been moved to Ogidigben. I hope the Federal Government will reverse its decision and move it back to Koko, more so, as communal crisis has already engulfed the proposed project site?. TheVice Chairman, Koko Community Management Authority (KCMA), Samuel Asorkpinimi and the Chairman of Education Committee of the Community, Mr Mike Eyide spoke on the removal of the project to another community.

They corroborated the allegation of Pa Nana, calling on the Federal Government to take steps to bring the project to Koko to assuage the poor condition of the people, most of who are peasant farmers and fishermen. ?Let the government learn from the Ogbe-Ijaw and Ogidigben crisis of 1994, which devastated several communities in Ijaw and Itsekiri land.

?They should not wait until a similar thing happens before they do the right thing: bring back the project to Koko now,? Eyide said. The two told our correspondent that youths of the area have been angry following the relocation of the project, and this is compounded by the fact that the community land has been taken away from them and nothing is being done to revoke the Certificate of Occupancy(C of O) already issued.

?We are a very peaceful community. We had to maintain peace when we heard of the movement of the project because we felt no need to yield to provocation,? Asorkpinimi said. ?It is our desire that the federal and state governments revoke the Certificates of Occupancy (C of O) which the state government issued to the contracting company that was to be in charge of the EPZ project in Koko becauseit was alleged that the company was using the certificate to obtain loans from banks.

?It is a big land of 3,000 hectares. We want it back; since we did not get the project, we can resell the land to develop our community. On the alternative, the Federal Government should bring back the project. It is bound to bring much economic development. It is not safe to where it was taken. In fact, the project is sitting on keg of gun powder?.

Eyide warned: ?Let no one play politics with the project, no single individual or group can be greater than a whole community or the Federal Government.? If the project is in Koko, the benefits will spread to neighbouring Ijaw and Itsekiri communities and even beyond, so why taking itto a crisis ridden area? Both lamented the underdevelopment of the area. Pointing out that the community still lacks good access roads, as well as government primary and tertiary institutions among other basic amenities.

?Let me add that our children have been trekking a distanceof seven kilometres to school,?Asorkpinimi pointed out. ?We need lower and higher institutions of learning in Koko. We are currently building a primary school from through our effort. Even the governor has praised our efforts when he came to see it.? The people however commended the state government for some road projects under construction in the area and implored Gov.Uduaghanto ensure their completion.

?The state government should try and complete the Koko/ OgheyeRoad, and expansion of the Koko/UgbenuRoad. We demand these infrastructures beOgheyeRoad, and expansion of the Koko/UgbenuRoad. We demand these infrastructures because the College of Education, Warri, has graciously granted a study centre in Koko and the community has sponsored 96 students, paying their tuition fees. A batch of the students graduated in November, last year.? They also appealed for job creation for their teeming youths who have been jobless since the Koko Port became moribund; adding that lack of electricity supply in the area is one of the major challenges confronting the people.

?Our youths need employment. Many of them are jobless, and to compound the situation, we have power supply challenges here. This has been hampering the businesses of our people, especially in the past two months.?

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