By Mike Odiegwu, Port Harcourt
The Rivers State Government and the Isaac Ogbobula-led All Progressives Congress (APC) have traded words over the decision of Governor Nyesom Wike to dole out N400m for the resettlement of the war-ravaged Ekporo community in Eleme Local Government Area of the state.
The governor insisted that the money would help to develop the area and bring back the people, who had suffered as refugees in other communities after the conflict.
The governor made the offer to the elders and stakeholders of Eleme community during a meeting in Port Harcourt.
The meeting was also attended by the State House of Assembly member representing Eleme Constituency, Igwe Aforji; a former Commissioner of Culture, Mr. Marcus Nle-Ejii; a former Eleme LGA Chairman Chief Ejoor N. Ejoor and the Paramount Ruler of Ekporo, His Royal Highness, Emere Samuel Obe among others.
Wike, who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Tammy Danagogo said it was the desire of his administration to ensure that communities remained peaceful and enjoy the infrastructural prosperity of the state.
He said that government would continue to foster inter-communal coexistence and peace in order to build a safe and secure state for all.
He said: “It is unfortunate that members of the Ekporo community were sacked from their community for about eight years now as a result of the inter-communal wars”.
“We expect you to work with government on beneficial plans to utilize this funds in terms of primary infrastructure and resettlement of the people back into their community.”
He urged indigenes of the state to continue to toe the line of peace as conflict and war will only brew devastation and under-development.
But the Isaac Ogbobula-led APC lampooned the state government for releasing only N400million for the resettlement.
Spokesperson for the APC, Chief Ogbonna Nwuke said in a statement in Port Harcourt that it was disheartening that a community, which deserved to be resettled, following the loss of property, could only merit N400million while a mere market in Sokoto State got much more from the state government.
He said: “We are shocked by the move made by the State Government to release the sum of N400 million for the resettlement of the Ekporo people.
“The same Government recently released the sum of N500million to the Sokoto State Government for the reconstruction of a market. We have learnt that only 16 stalls were burnt in the Sokoto market in which the Rivers State Government doled away N500million.
“Similarly, the popular Mile 3 Market in the State capital was recently engulfed in flames. Yesterday night, the ‘Plank Shed’ in Marine Base was completely raised to the ground by fire. Strangely, these incidents which have left many people in pain have not warranted the visit of the Governor or any positive reaction from his government.
“Our thinking is that the action of the Rivers State Government which should have prevented the present suffering of the Ekporo people which has made some of them homeless has justified our principled position that Rivers money is not good enough for the use of Rivers people.
“We acknowledge the effort of the Government in trying to find a solution to the problem facing Ekporo but in doing so, Government must show commitment to the complete rehabilitation of the people who are under serious stress.
“We call on Governor Wike who is busy building and commissioning flyovers in Port Harcourt to address the needs of the people. We do not want to believe that the fate of traders in Sokoto State appears weightier and more significant than the wellbeing of Rivers communities whose people pay tax.
“Finally, we wish to say that we find it amazing that our governor pays reverence to traditional rulers outside Rivers State, he addresses Royal Fathers of Rivers State without according them the respect that is due them”.
The affected people, however, poured encomiums on Wike and his government for supporting their resettlement plan with such huge amount of money.
A former Senator representing Rivers South-East, Senator Olaka Nwogu, thanked the governor for remembering to resettle the people of Ekporo back into their community after eight years.
He said: “It is with profound gratitude we are here to thank His Excellency for what he has done. It is historic and important because it touches each and every one of us that it is in our time, we lost one of our most vibrant communities and also in our time that this community is being recovered. The entire people of Eleme are grateful”.
Also, the King of Eleme, His Majesty King Philip Osaro Obele, Oneh-eh Eleme XI, described Wike’s action as historic.
He said: “We lost one of our communities for over seven years and today we are bringing back that community. Members of the Ekporo community have been refugees in other areas despite the situation that there is no war now. What has happened today is very historic.
“I use the opportunity to congratulate the Eleme political class that you have added another cap to your feathers as you did not allow one of your communities to be extinct for life”.
Also the Commissioner for Information, Paulinus Nsirim in a statement signed by his Special Assistant, Media, Amieyeofori Ibim, described Nwuke’s remarks as puerile and juvenile and wondered why he was still wallowing in the psychological hangover of a brotherly donation by Rivers to Sokoto.
Ibim said: “First of all, there’s absolutely no basis for comparison between what the Rivers government did for the government of Sokoto state and what it has done for the people of Ekporo community.
“The communal conflict that displaced Ekporo people predates the Governor Nyesom Wike’s administration and while the major clash that sacked the people from their homestead occured about eight years ago, Ekporo people are still bonafide Rivers people and have been living and operating in different parts of Rivers State.
“We are quite surprised that a man like Ogbonna Nwuke, who has been in government before and even held the sensitive position of Information Commissioner, is well aware of the fact that government does not just wake up and pronounce a donation or the release of funds for a major initiative like the resettlement of an integral community whose indigenes have been dislocated and dispersed by a communal conflict.
“Unfortunately, Ogbonna Nwuke is feigning pathetic ignorance that he is not privy to the kind of comprehensive discussion and the steadfast negotiations, commitments and agreements which has now culminated to this first step of resettling the Ekporo community and is ultimately structured to achieve the desired objective of the Governor Nyesom Wike administration which is entrenching a more sustainable and harmonious coexistence of the communities involved and ensuring a satisfactory, mutually agreeable closure to the conflict that has reoccured sporadically in that area for over 60 years.
“Of course we will not take issues with the brazen lie that: ‘only 16 stalls were burnt in the Sokoto market in which the Rivers State Government doled away N500million’. But suffice it to state categorical that the tour of the burnt makert which Governor Nyesom Wike, his host, Governor Aminu Tambuwal and many distinguished and responsible individuals and the collosal damage and destruction caused by the carnage, was beamed on national television networks for Nigerians to see.
“We are rather disappointed by the fact that Chief Ogbonna Nwuke would opt to mortgage and diminish whatever modicum of the last vestiges of his hitherto respectable reputation on the altar of partisan propaganda by spewing such hogwash, in order to score cheap political points over a matter as weighty as a clear threat to the existence of a proud Rivers community. Pity.
“As for the N400million released by the Rivers State Government for the Ekporo ressetlment programme, we are at a loss to understand how, according to Ogbonna Nwuke, Governor Wike could have “goofed” by releasing money to facilitate the speedy resettlement of Rivers people in Rivers State, who had been displaced from their traditional homestead for so many year.”