Some indigenes of Odimodi in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State have cried out to the authorities over alleged move by some individuals in the community, in connivance with military operatives, to banish them from their native land.
In a save our soul (SOS) petition from their lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, to the Director General of the Department of Security Service (SOS) and the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), Mr Harry Angeyama, Mr Presly Iyalagha and Peter Iyalagha alleged that they had been chased out of Odimadi by some individuals for speaking out against alleged misappropriation and embezzlement of community funds running into hundreds of millions of Naira.
According to them, trouble began when they (petitioners) took steps to stop alleged recklessness and misappropriation of funds meant for the community by a former community leader as well as steps taken by Shell Petroleum Development Company’s, SPDC, memorandum of understanding, recognizing only four communities—Odimodi, Yeye, Forcadoes and Izon Burutu – leaving other oil producing communities in the area out of the deal.
They argued that in spite of the opposition of the communities not considered in the arrangement, the SPDC official in charge of the process and his counterpart on interface coordination executed the GmoU, in alleged connivance with the former community leader and another person.
However, when Iyalagha (one of the petitioners) assumed office as community Chairman, he stated that efforts to correct the wrongs did not go well with those who planned their banishment as well as executing plans to get rid of them.
To carry out their threats, it was alleged that several attempts were made on their lives, that of their relations and those sympathetic to their cause which included but not limited to the incident that happened on July 10, 2015, where one Chief Sapark Obaila and Ogun Ovie were physically assaulted by the assailants.
As if this was not enough, the community, according to the petitioners, was thrown into pandemonium due to other attacks with weapons by the same people on July 15 and 20 where they disrupted the Eluwei Congress (town hall meeting).
This, according to them, led to the intervention of the Commanding Officer, NNS Delta, who summoned a peace security meeting in his office, where he banned assembly meeting for a while, but the attempt was allegedly shunned by the attackers who were said to have boasted that they will resist the military.
These developments led to “much tension in Odimodi community.”
The petition further stated: “ Owing to their inability to assassinate our client and other members of our client’s community, the former community leader resorted to using his uncle to call for a meeting for the purpose of banishing those opposed to them from the community and to maim our clients and other members of our client’s community they have pencilled down if they attend the meeting.”
To achieve support from some ignorant members of the community and security operatives, it was said that bogus petitions were written to the authorities to label some of them (petitioners), especially Iyalagha, as a gun runner and a leader of a militant group.
Denying any link with militancy or having anything to do with arms, Iyalagha said he is a business man who had contributed to the development of Odimodi through road construction, rehabilitation and equipping the community hospital among others, in spite of the fact that he didn’t reside in the area.
He said, “I am not residing in the community. I was neither one of those paraded during amnesty period nor one of those granted amnesty. My name was never published by the JTF as one of the militants in Niger Delta.
“How come about it that I am being labelled a militant determined to wreak havoc in a community I used my personal resources to develop. This is an allegation to tarnish my name as well as a name calling to get me hanged.”
Denying several of the allegations in a telephone interview, a lawyer, accused of backing the accused persons to attack the petitioners, said that the crisis in the community is caused by a militant group sponsored by an oil contractor, who also is a native of the community to boost an illegal oil bunkering businesses.
According to him, the militancy group, known as ‘Red Beret’, has carried out several attacks on the community as well as causing arson and looting, while sponsoring meetings to remove community executive committees and impose stooges.
He said the group had acquired arms and weapons to wreak havoc on the community, apart from its previous exploits which he said led to the petition written to the authorities to get some of them arrested and detained.
The lawyer said: “How can a law firm interested in defending the community rights be responsible for burning the same community?
“I don’t know about the plan to banish or assassinate anybody from the community.”
Analysts believe only a timely intervention of the Federal Government in the brewing crisis in the community can save the multi-billion dollars oil investments in the area as well as making warring parties lay down their arms and embrace peace.