By Jonathan Ugbal: Government House Correspondent
Cross River Governor, Senator Ben Ayade has approved the constitution of a judicial commission of enquiry into the Boki oil palm estate crisis which has led to loss of lives and properties.
This was contained in a statement signed by the Spokesperson to Mr. Ayade, Mr. Christian Ita issued on Tuesday which also disclosed that the Nigerian Army has been directed to take over and secure the estate.
The six man team will be chaired by Justice M. Eneji and has Justice Edem Ekefre, former Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Mr. Attah Ochinke, Pastor Sam Inyang, Dr. Mercy Akpama and the State Security Adviser, Mr. Jude Ngaji.
The statement also further announced, “the dissolution of the current management committee of the estate.”
However, neither a date for the inauguration of the judicial commission nor who will inaugurate it was announced.
This comes on the heels of a renewed crisis which left a vehicle, motorcycle and a part of the residence of the clan head of Okundi popularly referred to as Chief A.P.C razed by irate youths of Oku and Okundi communities last weekend.
The fight is said to have commenced earlier last week which left a member of the peace committee, Mark Otu injured while another is suspected to have been shot dead.
It is unclear what really led to the renewed hostilities. But CrossRiverWatch had reported that two aides of Cross River Governor, Senator Ben Ayade have been fingered as the remote cause of the crisis.
The conflict is said to have begun in mid-2016 when the Secretary to the State Government, Barrister Tina Agbor approached the communities in Kakwagom to express her desire to take over the estate which is owned by four villages; Kakwagom, Iruan, Osokom and Oku.
Mrs. Agbor is said to have dropped Mr. Ayade’s name and claimed that it was government’s policy to take over the estate and hand it over to another set of small holder beneficiaries since the lease of the last one had expired, a situation which the then landlord disagreed as they still had one year left in the agreement which was to elapse in July 2017.
She is said to have used, and is still using the Special Adviser to Mr. Ayade on Infrastructure, Mr. Mactomy Agam as her henchman.
Now, the estate was built in the early 60’s by the last and youngest premier of the Eastern region, Mr. Michael Okpara through the Eastern National Development Commission (ENDC) shortly after the establishment of the Obudu mountain resort whose profits were being used to pay the farm settlers in the area.
In 1999, following the advent of the fourth republic, the administration of Governor Donald Duke set up boards and shared the estates into plots to his political allies whom according to sources, he could not accommodate in his executive and other government parastatals.
The agreements were served to those allotted per tenure and the practice continued in the administration of Governor Liyel Imoke whom had made efforts to privatize similar estates in Oban, Akamkpa, Ibiae and Calaro but failed in Borum.
CrossRiverWatch gathered that the privatization council in the state shortened the tenureship in the palm estate to just six months in the hope that an investor will take over soon. But, Mrs. Agbor and the Special Adviser on Administration, Barrister Mark Obi are said to be jostling for who controls the estate this time around.
Both have been accused of raising and arming youths to protect their interests with CrossRiverWatch reporting that the ‘Iron Militants’ are loyal to Mr. Obi and the last landlords while the ‘Militia’ are loyal to Mrs. Agbor and Mr. Agam who is also a former secretary of the landlords association; who control the landlords attempting to take over.
A source had told CrossRiverWatch in an unpublished interview in July 2017 that Mr. Agam following the directive of Mrs. Agbor had gone ahead in 2016 to print and sell over 2,000 allocation forms for fresh small holder beneficiaries at the rate of NGN3,000 each despite the number of plots being just 400 plots.
He is said to have informed those who cared to listened that the Governor had in September 2016 issued him the mandate to take over the management of the estate from the then privatisation council headed by Mr. David Amiye.
He told vanguard Newspapers in an interview that the manager of the estate, Mr. Peter Ogar had employed thugs to prevent him access to the estate and maintained that the tenancy of the allottees had expired. He said the money paid was NGN1,000 and not NGN3,000 as alleged by the landlord’s association.
CrossRiverWatch findings revealed that the mandate was actually contained in a letter issued by Mrs. Agbor. And, in December 2016, a circular was sent that the landlords should renew their leases which led to almost all paying despite the fact that the required fees was to expire in July 2017.
The landlords are said to have paid hoping for a renewal only for Mrs. Agbor to turn around and set up a committee with herself as chairman to reallocate plots.
The committee, CrossRiverWatch gathered from sources loyal to Mrs. Agbor, had members drawn from the Ministries of Agriculture, Finance and Justice. There were representatives from the Office of the Chief of Staff, Office of the Deputy Governor and Office of the Secretary to Government.
Also, two representatives from each landlord communities were selected including Mr. Mark Obi and Chief Gregory Asu representing the Oku Bushuyu community; Former assembly man, Mr. Jake Otu Enyia and Honorable Tony Edako representing the Irruan community; Mr. Agam and State Lawmaker, Honorable Hillary Bisong representing the Osokom Community and Mr. Jonas Obi Otu and Mrs. Agbor representing the Borum community.
The commissioner for New Cities Development, Barrister George Ekpungu was also selected as a member because he is from constituency two (2).
But, Mr. Obi and Mr. Jake Ott Enyia are said to have turned down the offer citing the abrogation of the laws backing the existence of the privatization council as reasons. However, this committee is said to have sat and elected Mrs. Agbor as chairman while the representative from the Justice ministry was elected as secretary.
Meanwhile, the landlord’s association chairman, Mr. Pius Bisong is said to have suffered arrests several times as well as several others loyal to Mr. Obi due to their complains that the committee had collected money from some people and allocated the plots to another set of people.
The struggle is said to have continued and turned bloody on February 28, 2017 after continuous tension and led to the beating of several individuals.
A peace meeting is said to have been summoned on March 10 of the same year at the instance of the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Environmental and Conflict Resolution, Mr. Joseph Bisong at Kakwagom which some say was filled with invitees loyal to Mrs. Agbor.
24 hours later, the communities boiled again which led to properties been destroyed and sporadic shooting in the air from both the ‘Iron Militants’ and the ‘Militia’.
The destruction is said to have continued until March 17 when mobile policemen were deployed to the area but quickly got engaged in crossfire at Okubushuyu which left two policemen injured.
Arrests were made but two days later on March 19, another gun battle between the police and unknown gunmen whom CrossRiverWatch could not confirm their affiliation led to the death of one woman who was later identified as 37 year old Bukie Etta; two women sustaining bullet wounds and four other police officers.
And, the clan head’s house, as well as that of several others was destroyed a few days later. He was also left with machete cuts.
Weeks later, between July 12 and 13, 2017, a man referred to as Aboki whom allegedly belonged to the ‘Iron Militants’ was killed by rival gang, ‘Militia’. Aboki is said to have been protecting his master, Mr. Iron when he was attacked by the militia.
Meanwhile, the last attack is said to have drawn the attention of many who seek an end to the lingering crisis including the United Nations Ambassador for Human Rights in Africa and former UN commander of Peace Keeping mission in Sudan, Major General Moses Obi (rtd).
The Blueprint Newspapers reports that a Obi in a statement titled “Message of Peace and Love,” expressed displeasure over the “senseless anxiety that this unwarranted situation has created, particularly the compromise of the cherished peaceful co-existence and security of the people.”
“I feel pained; I remain committed to contributing, in whatever way I can, in helping our government and our institutions, to help us,” he said.
Furthermore, findings revealed that several letters have been written to the government and several trips to Calabar are yet to yield positive results.
Also, two meetings with the Deputy Governor, Professor Ivara Esu did not really breed results as he only assured that an investor has been found who would take over the estate and that negotiations are in progress.
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