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Tuesday, September 25, 2012
THE FACTS ABOUT THE OPL915 OIL WELL IN DISPUTE BETWEEN ANAMBRA STATE AND KOGI
BEING EXCERPTS OF THE PRESS BRIEFING BY HRH EZE C.N. IDIGO IV, (OGALAGIDI, EZE AGULERI), WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 19, 2010,@ ISABANKA (THE ROYAL PALACE), AMAEZE, AGULERI.
The historical Commissioning of the Orient Petroleum Resources Plc / Anambra River Oil Wells at Aguleri-Otu, Aguleri, on August 30, 2012 by the President and the proclamation of Anambra State as an Oil-Producing State in Nigeria, has unexpectedly awakened the ‘Oil Producing appetite’ of Anambra neighbouring States of Kogi and Enugu. Both states are now separately jostling and laying claims to the ownership of these Oil Wells which are indisputably located in Aguleri land. As if the spurious claims by the governments of Kogi and Enugu States were not enough, a few days ago, some youths of Kogi State embarked on a protest march, just as some youths of Enugu State had earlier threatened to stop the Orient Petroleum project, all in their effort to buttress their claims.
Ordinarily, Aguleri Community would have allowed the State Governments to sort out themselves believing, that the extant boundaries between the three States, namely: Anambra and Kogi States on one part; and Anambra and Enugu States on the other hand, are properly delineated. As a people known for always standing on the path of truth, honour and justice, Aguleri would always fight back whenever our liberty is threatened or our land is encroached upon. More importantly, we acknowledge the need to straighten the records and allay further misinformation on the matter, for the Nigerian public, and the world at large. We therefore present the historical as well as legal facts on this matter with the view to settling this contest on the rightful ownership of the Anambra River Oil Wells (OPL 915). Having said as much, the fact remains that the Orient Petroleum Resources Plc’s Anambra River Oil Wells – Anambra River 1, 2 and 3 in OPL 915 are located in Aguleri land precisely, Aguleri-Otu, the north-eastermost riverine settlement of Aguleri.
It is a historical fact that Aguleri occupies the longest stretch of settlement along Anambra River – starting from Otuocha Aguleri to Inalo River at the border of Kogi State. Aguleri People live on both sides of Anambra River from Otuocha Aguleri up to Igbakwu Town in Ayamelum LGA on the east bank of Anambra River. Igbakwu Town itself is opposite Enugu-Otu Aguleri on the west bank of Anambra River. From Igbakwu Town northwards is Ifite-Ogwari, followed by Umueje, all in Ayamelum LGA and thereafter Igga and Ojor towns , then to Ogurugu, all in Enugu State. Clearly from Igbakwu, Anambra River has been the natural boundary between Aguleri and all the other towns on the east bank of Anambra River up to Ogurugu in Enugu State. It is also a historical fact that none of the communities on the east bank of Anambra River from Igbakwu to Ogurugu has farm lands on the west bank of Anambra River, and this is as expected, as Aguleri occupies the entire west bank of Anambra River up to Inalo River at the border of Kogi State. Aguleri people have been living in the locations of the Oil Wells known as Agu-Igbili, Agu-Ovo/Okpalia, Ngene-Ejo, Okpa-Nkwocha and Nnobi Aguleri right from time immemorial and have engaged in farming and fishing in these locations from historical times to date.
Historically, Odeke, the Headquarters of Ibaji Clan in Igala land of Kogi State trace their origin to Aguleri and because of this ancestral connection, they lived very close to Aguleri and shared common boundaries with Aguleri. At cultural fiestas, where successful men usually have the opportunity to display their bravado or prowess for instance, it was commonplace to hear popular slogans and shouts of Odeke Agulu..ue! Odeke Agulu kwenu!! Settlements such as Uchuchu Anocha, Uchuchu Anapiti, Echonwa, Obale, etc are all farm settlements of Odeke people. Before the advent of Colonial Administration, we lived together as a people of common stock. However, with the regionalisation of Nigeria by the Colonial Government, Odeke, together with its farm settlements were placed in Northern Nigeria as part of Idah Division.
GOVERNMENT ADIMINISTRATIVE ACTIONS Given the topography of the entire West Bank of Anambra River basin, which presently consists of Anambra West LGA and Aguleri-Otu in Anambra East LGA, the lands were acquired by the Government to establish the Anambra Forest Reserve in 1931. Consequent upon this Government action, an Agreement dated 28th April 1931, made in that behalf, and in accordance with the provisions of Section 5 (ii) of Cap. 95 of the Forestry Ordinance 1931. The communities that entered into the Agreement with the Government were eight (8) – namely: Nzam, Inoma, Nnani, Obodolu, Mmiata, Umuoba, Enugu-Otu and Oroma-Otu (now Eziagulu-Otu) Aguleri – all in the present day Anambra State. Another Agreement was made in that behalf on 12th Day of February 1932, also by the same eight (8) communities aforesaid. The Forestry Ordinance was published in Nigeria Gazette N0. 20 Vol. 20; notice N0.316, dated 30th March 1933. An ADO of the then Onitsha Division was appointed the Reserve Settlement Officer, to supervise the Forest Reserve, on behalf of the Government of Eastern Nigeria.
It is also important to note that the Oil Wells under discussion i.e. Anambra River 1,2&3 inside OPL 915 is located within the Anambra Forest Reserve, which is in Aguleri.
BOUNDARIES The boundary of Anambra Forest Reserve is very clear and unambiguous. Whereas Enugu State communities of Igga, Ojor and Ogurugu are on the Eastern Bank of Anambra River, the Anambra Forest Reserve is on the Western Bank of the river (Anambra River) up to opposite Ogurugu community. So, Anambra River has always been and is still the natural boundary between Enugu State communities and Anambra Forest Reserve.
Earlier in 1927, the boundary between Aguleri and Kogi State was settled through an Arbitration jointly chaired by Captain Joel and Mr Macabe, both Assistant Divisional Officers representing the then Onitsha Division and the then Idah Division respectively. HRH Eze R. A. Idigo II represented Aguleri, while Chief Ocholo of Olu Ibaji represented the Ibaji Clan. At the end of the sittings, the Arbitrators adopted the boundary lines as represented in the Map of Nigeria in 1927 as the boundary between Aguleri and Ibaji land in the present Kogi State. It is instructive to note that far back in 1927, the official Map of Nigeria recognized the Anambra Forest Reserve as part of Eastern Nigeria. And so, as the Chairman of the Orient Petroleum Resources Plc, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, said, the “misconception that the Oil Well was not entirely in Anambra State has been resolved through the Map of Nigeria”
The boundaries are also contained in Anambra Forestry Reserve (Amendment) Order, 1950, and Legal Notice N0. 126 of 1954; the Northern Region, Western Region and Eastern Region (Definition of Boundaries), 1954 Appendix ’B’ and ‘E’. It is also pertinent to mention here that the Tripartite Point of intersection at the mouth of Inalo River which is the boundary between Kogi and Anambra State is quite far away and clearly long after the Anambra Oil Wells location.
ACTS OF OWNERSHIP AND POSSESSION All the settlements and people in possession before the establishment of Anambra Forest Reserve were named after the Aguleri people who were in possession, which explains why till date what you have are such enclaves as Oguejiofor’s Enclave, Chizua’s Enclave, Menkiti’s Enclave, etc; reflecting the founders of these settlements. Also, the fishing ponds scattered all over the entire land are owned by Aguleri people and they fish in them till date.
Other acts of ownership include the establishment of Migrant School at Okpeze which is well beyond the location of the Oil Wells by the Anambra State Government, to serve the primary education needs of the people. For long, a number of church groups have been established in the area. They include St. Philip’s Anglican Church of Anambra/Niger West Diocese, the Catholic Church of Onitsha Archdiocese Outstation Parish, just as a number of Pentecostal Churches are also located in the area. For the pagan community, their ‘Aro’ deity is prominently located there. Above all, the Forest Quarters built for the Forest Reserve Staff by the Eastern Nigeria Government, now maintained by the Anambra State Government is at the heart of the Settlement.
For all Federal Elections in Nigeria, INEC Polling Booth located at Ngene Ejo which is part of the Anambra Forerst Reserve, administered by Anambra Office of the Commission, supervised the conduct of such elections for Aguleri people living in the area.
It is also pertinent to mention briefly that Royalties accruing from the products of the Anambra Forest Reserve have continued to be paid as agreed by the people of Aguleri and the then Governor of Nigeria, Sir Thompson, in 1932. Till date, Aguleri Community have been collecting the said Royalties from the Forestry Department.
COURT RULING In 1967, the Igga Community of Enugu State brought an action against SAFRAP Nigeria Limited – an Oil Company & 2 others; and Chief A.E.Idigo & 3 Others (For and on behalf of the people of Aguleri), claiming, among other things, a declaration of title to the land and an injunction restraining the aforesaid company and the people of Aguleri from committing further acts of trespass and waste of economic trees and crops on the land in question. The Igga Community, being Plaintiffs in the suit filed a Motion of Discontinuance, after they had finished their evidence and Aguleri Community opened their defence. In the Court’s Ruling, their application was refused. The case dragged on from 1967 to 1973 and all subsequent appeals made by the same community were similarly refused. This means, as per the Court Order, that the Igga Community cannot bring any action on this matter again in any Court of competent jurisdiction – per res judicata. The implication of that Ruling is that the Igga community has been estopped and cannot go to Court over the radical title or ownership to Anambra Forest Reserve. See the case of Chief Fabian Ukuta v. SAFRAP (Nigeria) Limited & 2 Ors and Chief A.E.Idigo & 3 Ors – Suit No. E/50/67.
It is also instructive to note that some Odeke indigenes of Kogi State testified as witnesses in this suit in favour of Igga Community, supporting the claim that the disputed land belonged to Igga Community. Is not a contradiction that today, same Kogi people are claiming ownership of the said land? Also, Kogi people never came against SAFRAP Nigeria Ltd or Elf when the two companies were prospecting for Oil in the area.
CONCLUSION The Igga Community of Enugu State knows that they have no title to the Anambra Forest Reserve, and so have no claim to make on the land. They came in 1967 and demanded compensation from SAFRAP (Nigeria) Limited, which ended in Court, and they lost out. Similarly, in 1984, when Elf Nigeria Limited came for the Oil wells, they quickly demanded compensation, but could not succeed. Now that Orient Petroleum Resources has taken a bold step to commence operations, Igga Community has come again, but, as in the past, they are bound to fail, as they neither have any title to the aforementioned Anambra Oil Wells nor any further claim to make, having been estopped by a Court of competent jurisdiction. In fact, their case was at best considered not only as misconceived or mala fide. For the people of Kogi State, the combined effect of the Arbitration of 1927, the Legal Notice N0. 126 of 1954 - the Northern Region, Western Region and Eastern Region (Definition of Boundaries), 1954; the Forestry Reserve (Amendment) Order, 1950, which clearly defined the Anambra Forest Reserve as part of Eastern Nigeria (now Anambra State) and the various unchallenged acts of ownership by the Governments of Eastern Nigeria/Anambra State; and the fact that the people of Aguleri have remained in possession of the said land from time immemorial unchallenged, have effectively estopped the people of Kogi State from any claim to the land. From all indication, Kogi people, like the Igga people of Enugu State, will also fail in their claim of Anambra Oil Wells at Aguleri-Otu.
Finally, from the foregoing, it is true and clearly established beyond any reasonable doubt that the Anambra Forest Reserve has the usufractuary title over the land in question, and can use the land at its pleasure and can permit whosoever it pleases to fish, farm, and hunt or even cut produce of the forest. This is in accordance with the principle of alienation of land; but the position of the true owners enures, remains untouchable, indispensable and superior to any other title.
In conclusion, the people of Aguleri are the true owners of the land in question – that is – the Orient Petroleum Resources Oil Wells, otherwise known as Anambra River Oil Wells.