From Joseph Obukata, Warri
The last has not been heard of the multi-billion naira land scandal rocking the Delta State Government, the Okumagba royal family of the Okere-Urhobo kingdom, and a prominent Warri traditional chief, Emmanuel Oritsejolomi Uduaghan, who is reportedly being accused of grabbing of over 30 hectares of land belonging to the Okumagba family in Warri, Delta State.
The land measuring over 70.40 acres, which was first acquired by the then Government of Bendel State in 1975 from the Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu families of Warri in the Okere – Urhobo kingdom of Delta State, has been the subject of controversy between the Okumagba royal family and Uduaghan, a top high-ranking chief in the Warri Kingdom.
In a letter dated back October 26th, 2016, one Louis Okumagba, one of the descendants of late Chief Edjebe Okumagba, who was head of the Olodi family, claimed that a portion of the said land within an area of 7023.820 square metres, which was gifted to him by his late father, was denied him by the said Warri chief, who had influenced his way through the ranks of the Delta state government to obtain a “fake” Certificate of Occupancy for the land.
Okumagba, in a petition dated October 18, 2021, which was addressed to the State Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Development, had informed the state government of the alleged illegal appropriation or sale of government-acquired land, but his petition was thrown in the dustbin by officials whom he claimed conspired with land grabbers.
He revealed that by virtue of the gifted deed, he applied for a portion of the land, to which he got a reply from the Ministry of Lands, Survey in a letter dated January 23, 2017, with reference No. DTW.64/116 that the land applied for was obtainable and had not been allotted to anyone, but was shocked that months later no approval was given to him.
Brandishing various documents about the application and petition made about the land, Okumagba who spoke to our correspondent, said that he was unlawfully arrested and persecuted after he exposed the dubious and fraudulent land grabbing by the said chief in connivance with some notable officials of the Delta State Government.
He claimed that his brothers, who are now raising a petition against him, have been fighting him since 2016 when he first petitioned the state government and opposed the alleged fraudulent acquisition of the controversial land.
“The said land is opposite Don Domingo College in the heart of Warri acquired from the Okumagba family by the then government of Bendel State before the creation of Delta State, and since a larger portion of the land has not been used for the purposes for which it was acquired, I applied for a part of it to be released to me, and it was then that the Alema of Warri kingdom, Emmanuel Oritsejolomi Uduaghan surfaced from nowhere to lay claim to the land.
“It was on a portion of land that the Delta State School of Nursing and Delta State Board of Internal Revenue headquarters are located, close to the College of Education, Warri. My application was already granted and the Certificate of Occupancy was about to be issued when Emmanuel Oritsejolomi Uduaghan stepped in to fraudulently lay claim to the land, bribing his way through to compromise some officials of the state ministry of land, survey, and urban development, who confirmed that Emmanuel Oritsejolomi Uduaghan has no valid C of O and title to the land and that their hands were tied.
“Emmanuel Oritsejolomi Uduaghan was parading four different C of Os with questionable numbers and particulars, and none of the C of Os in his possession has been confirmed to have originated from the state ministry of land and survey. I applied for the land in 2016 and everything was approved because what I applied for was just 10 acres of land. The commissioner’s office, through one Joshua Ekakitie wrote a letter to the zonal area planning officer and surveyor in the Ministry in Warri, directing them to carry out a joint inspection of the said land for due diligence checks and report back to the ministry. Their report was thereafter sent to Asaba and approval was given for the land to be allocated to me.
“But as soon these government officials in Okowa government, Okowa’s director of protocols, Ifeanyi Eboigbe, former commissioner for lands and survey and PDP candidate for Ndokwa East constituency in the forthcoming 2023 house of Assembly election, Chika Ossai, the Isoko North PDP chairman and chairman of the state land use Act, Godwin Ogorugba and some staff of the state ministry of land I had cried to and earlier promised to assist us to get our land back went behind us and got bribed with parcels, they turned against us and have covered up and ceded the land to Emmanuel Oritsejolomi Uduaghan. “These are officials who know that the land belongs to us.”
All efforts to reach Emmanuel Oritsejolomi Uduaghan for reactions were rebuffed as he didn’t pick up his call or respond to a text message sent to him over the matter, but the governor’s director of protocols, Ifeanyi Eboigbe, the PDP candidate for Ndokwa East constituency in the forthcoming 2023 house of Assembly election, Chika Ossai and the chairman of the state land use Act, Godwin Ogorugba, had earlier all denied the allegations, describing it as baseless and unfounded.
In their response, the Royal families in Okere-Urhobo in a letter titled: “Attempt/efforts to cause communal war, fanning the embers of communal dispute, conduct likely to cause a breach of peace and criminal defamation of characters of our clients; Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu families of Warri in the Okere – Urhobo kingdom of Delta State” claimed that the said Chief Louis Okumagba who is laying claim to 30 plots released by the Delta State government to the Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu families of Warri in the Okere – Urhobo, was a “black sheep” of the family who goes about trying to foment trouble and cause crisis between Okere-Urhobo Kingdom and Itsekiri nation.
They called on the Inspector General of Police to investigate allegations against Louis Okumagba, so as to prevent a monumental communal war/crisis between Itsekiri and the Urhobo of Okere Urhobo Kingdom, saying ’God forbid a repetition of what happened in 1997/98 in the Okere-Urhobo Kingdom’’
Counsel to the Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu families of Warri in the Okere – Urhobo Kingdom, L O. Egboyi & CO said in 1974/76, the then government of Mid-Western Nigeria acquired a part or portion of our client’s land for public purposes.
“In 2017, the Delta State government gave part of this acquired land to Messrs. Seriviri Nig. Ltd. for the purpose of partnership (Leisure Park) with the state government, covered by a certificate of occupancy.” Considering the size of the land given to Seriviri Nig. Ltd. for the partnership, it could not utilize the entire land. So, it entered into an agreement with our client family, wherein, it released 30 plots thereof back to the family, our clients’’
The Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu families of Warri are made up of the popular Okumagba family of Warri, Okere- Urhobo kingdom.
‘’Our clients are the owners of all the land in the entire Okere-Urhobo kingdom of Warri. A certain Mr Louis Okumagba who is the black sheep of the family started to foment trouble, disturbing and threatening Seriviri Nig. Ltd. with thugs and dangerous weapons, which led to his arrest in 2019 at the Police Force Headquarters, Abuja. After being granted bail by the police, the suspect (Mr Louis Okumagba) rushed to file a fundamental human rights action against the police at the Delta State High Court, sitting in Warri. The action stalled the prosecution of the suspect (Mr Louis) by the police.
The families said the suit of the suspect against the police was dismissed by the Delta State High Court, sitting in Warri, with a specific order of the Court directing the police to arrest and prosecute the suspect (Mr Louis Okumagba).
‘’While the Police were looking for the suspect for arrest and prosecution as directed by the Court, the same suspect went to social media (Opera news) to declare that “there will be looming danger of war/crisis between the Itsekiri and Urhobos”, thereby inciting, promoting and instigating a communal war between the two peaceful co-existing communities of Itsekiri and Urhobo’’.
This incitement, according to the families, created several apprehensions in the minds of locals, which has affected the peace that has reigned and pervaded the two communities.
‘’Furthermore, the suspect posted on the same social media that some named members of our clients, namely, Chief Gideon Okumagba, Stanley Oki, Chief Victor Okumagba, Engr. Prince Ojuvwu Okumagba and others, sent assassins to his house to kill him, but he escaped by the whiskers. He confirmed that he had a one-on-one confrontation with the assassins, who confirmed the named members of our clients above, as the people who commissioned them to eliminate him.”
The legal practitioners described Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu as a bunch of responsible families
‘’Olodi, Oki and Ighogbadu families are known throughout Nigeria for their peaceful disposition. The named individuals are distinguished and respected members of the Okumagba family and Nigerian society. Our clients, therefore, take the allegation of hiring assassins by its members very seriously, especially in this era of security challenges in the country’’.
The families also deplored the actions of Louis Okumagba and urged the Inspector General of Police to use his good offices to investigate the allegations and bring anyone found culpable to book.
“So, if the investigation reveals the named individuals as assassins or connected to the attempted assassination of the suspect, as he alleged, they should be so indicted and prosecuted.”
“But otherwise, the law on criminal defamation as enshrined in the Criminal Code and its status in Nigeria are still very potent and alive. We assure you of our client’s co-operation with your men in the investigation of this petition.”