By Jonathan Ugbal
Mr. Raphael Ushie, a Chief Inspector of the Nigerian Immigrations Service whose death was allegedly caused by the drama surrounding the construction of the Obudu international cargo and passenger airport was Saturday, laid to rest in his native Okambi community of that local government area amidst tears.
Ushie, 57, was a sibling to Dr. Vincent Ushie who is the Personal Physician to Governor Ben Ayade and had served as an immigration officer for 32 years.
This is even as more drama and intrigues have trailed the construction of the airport which according to the Governor, will aid the exportation of ornamentals.
As at Monday morning, CrossRiverWatch gathered that armed youths sponsored by the project manager had invaded the site and fired shots into the air to scare those who may attempt to prevent the bulldozers from working.
Some locals who spoke to CrossRiverWatch claim this has been a recurring scenario.
And, while the immediate past Special Adviser on Technical Affairs to Governor Ben Ayade, Architect Eric Akpo had told CrossRiverWatch in an interview that some youths apologetic to the airport cause had approached some government officials to aid in security, their requests fell on deaf ears as the administration was not interested in arming youths even as he accused saboteurs of the project of sponsoring gangstars to attack valuers and workers.
These, according to Mr. Akpo was the reason why Soldiers and other law enforcement officials were drafted in to aid prevent a breakdown of law and order.
“Somebody was using cultists, they were bearing arms and entering the bush to stop work. For a project that the community has accepted, the community chiefs have blessed it and given a go ahead from the village playground where they sat and accepted that the project should go ahead. But, someone carries cultists to destroy machines, beat and chase estate valuers who are inside the bush,” Akpo said, adding that: “Why there are soldiers in Obudu is because of the gangstars; sometimes they overwhelm the police and it is the army that contains them.”
CrossRiverWatch gathered that one of the site managers had used members of the Vikings confraternity as security which forced members of the Klans confraternity to meet other government officials, requesting for finances to chase the viking members.
But, some members of the communities claim they had not given assent for their lands to be taken.
In Okambi community, there are five villages, each with a head. These five are expected to discuss all issues affecting the land and currently only three are alive as the other two villages which have their lands directly affected by the airport construction yet to have certificates. These, members of those villages say has affected their chances of defending their ancestral lands.
“We are not against the airport per se, we are only saying that the right thing be done. It is unfortunate that the chiefs whom the State Government is saying gave their blessings never really consulted us because their lands are not directly affected,” said a member of the Ushaka family (names withheld as part of our editorial policy to prevent victimization).
These, including the death of Mr. Ushie, CrossRiverWatch gathered, led Mr. Ayade to invite the four communities to a meeting at the Peregrino Lodge in Calabar on the night of June 1, 2019 at the instance of his personal physician. The meeting which began at about 10PM and lasted till almost 2:30AM on June 2 is said to have been filled with bullying tactics by those apologetic to the airport cause especially from Chief Spokesman Agogo from Igwo who is said to have questioned the rationale of those even asking for due process to be followed.
The former Special Assistant to Mr. Ayade on Technical Affairs, Mr. Paul Obi whom allegedly allowed the gangstars operate as he serves as site manager is said to have accused the Ushaka’s family directly for being against the project.
“When we were called for the meeting, we were told it was only the Okambi community. But, upon getting there, it became like a case called before a court as Igwo, Atiekpe and Ikwomikwu communities were all present and they kept saying it is Okambi people that do not want the airport,” an attendee of the meeting told CrossRiverWatch on condition of anonymity.
Furthermore, one Chief Emma Ugbong from Atiekpe community is said to have declared that his community had already given its consent hence the government should proceed and destroy farmlands contrary to opinions that the community is yet to agree.
This reporter gathered that the Atiekpe community had masterminded the initial resistance which led to them being fined about 37 goats and two cows for protesting and destroying some properties of Chiefs with several of their people arrested and detained by the Police division in Obudu.
CrossRiverWatch could not independently confirm the arrest as the Divisional Police Officer, Mr. Eyo Lifu, a Deputy Superintendent of Police did not take several calls to his phone.
At that meeting, the Governor also promised to draw up a new compensation plan as well as financially aid those whose residences were destroyed by thugs suspected to be loyal to the site manager. He also donated a token of two million and five hundred thousand Naira (NGN2,500,000) to ease transportation of those who attended the meeting.
Findings also revealed that the major problem has always being compensation as the Bette tradition forbids harvesting crops especially yams which the people hold as sacred. Some residents who agreed that some compensation has been paid, said it was grossly inadequate as a full plot of cassava and yams could be valued at only NGN15,000 which is less than the minimum wage.
But, Mr. Akpo said the communities were involved in the valuing of these crops and lands.
He said the land was not considered but what crops or trees were in it and even when he was summoned by the Okambi people to their village square, he addressed their concerns which they agreed to.
“They raised their concerns and I answered all their questions. Before they themselves as a community from each family, nominated people to work with me,” Akpo said and explained that there was a rate for each crop valued which CrossRiverWatch gathered was as low as NGN500 for a mature one gmelina tree
A source in the team said the Governor had used a similar compensation plan in other local government areas and so could not have used a different for his local government of origin.
Now, one of the Chiefs who attended the meeting, Ukaba from Okambi community told CrossRiverWatch on phone that the meeting was aimed at finding out why his community was against the airport project.
Chief Ukaba who kept telling this reporter that he was on a sick bed, however directed his son to call back. And the son said; “On the issue of compensation, they have just entered Okambi. They were at Ikwomikwu before now. When they reached the boundary between Ikwomikwu and Okambi that this issue came up that the Okambi people said they should not work or enter Okambi because they won’t give their land. That is when trouble started.”
He added that: “There have not began paying compensation. There are just about to start.”
A section of the community had written the Governor threatening to sue and despite Chief Ukaba and his son initially denying knowledge of any court proceedings in a telephone interview on June 5, 2019; the son later said: “The Chiefs are not aware, it is the community and the Ushaka’s that took Ayade to court and not the entire community.” This reporter asked for clarification on the statement but was not given.
On the allegations that not all families were carried along and the compromise of three family heads in Okambi, Chief Ukaba’s son averred that: “There are five families in Okambi; from two families, the Chiefs have died, they are not living again. So, for them to crown a Chief, they have not (sic). From there, the other (three) Chiefs who put their heads together and said that the airport should go on, those are the people (the other two families) that started (sic) fighting them and they are the people that are fighting up till today.”