By: Emmanuel Ikhenebome
Egbokor – Discovery of crude oil suppose to be a blessing to Evbuo’Ivbiorhon and Egbo’Okor communities, in Orhionmwon local government area of Edo State, but the natural resources is now threatening peace in the area as the people lay claim to ownership of the lands where oil wells are located having lived together for centuries without acrimony.
Evbuo’Ivbiorhon and Egbokor which are autonomous communities with a common boundary usually come together towards the end of every year to worship a traditional deity known as ‘Olokun’Nadesevbuo’ at Evbuo’Ivbiorhon, during the celebration of a festival called ‘Ekaba’. Whenever the annual celebration approaches, both communities seat together, plan, and contributes equally to provide things needed for a successful traditional feast.
Investigations by The Daily Vendor Newspaper revealed that the peaceful coexistence has been on for past 400 years until 1990s, when the first oil was drilled by Summit Oil International Limited, from a land that belongs to a family in Evbuo’Ivbiorhon community. The development prompted the people of Evbuo’Ivbiorhon to meet with their neighbours from Egbokor to chat a way forward, on how best to manage whatever benefits from the oil exploration.
According to the (Head) Odionwere of Evbuo’Ivbiorhon community, Pa Amenaghawon Osayuwu, their neighbours, Egbokor then invited their kinsmen who wrote to the oil company on behalf of both communities. The Odionwere said, instead they wrote that the oil well was located at Egbokor instead of Evbuo’Ivbiorhon community close to Egbokor.
It was gathered, in 1993 Summit operations was put on hold at Evbuo’Ivbiorhon for political reasons, and recommenced in 2007. The oil company then decided to abandon the first well at Evbuo’Ivbiorhon, and conducted fresh seismic survey in the area, only to discover crude oil deposit in a location at Egbokor.
The people of Evbuo’Ivbiorhon, it was further gathered approached Egbokor community for a joint committee that would liaise with Summit on their behalf. Egbokor then claimed it was their land, that they would not share with Evbuo’Ivbiorhon anything that accrue from the oil company, a vow they have held on to as at the time of this report.
However, after close to 10-years of crude oil drilling from the well at Egbokor, it reportedly ‘dried up’, and the company stopped operations. They returned in 2017, this time, to the first well at Evbuo’Ivbiorhon community which they reactivated.
“Eventually when they (oil company) now came in 2017 they invited Evbuo’Ivbiorhon, they invited Egbo’Okor, they invited Ugbo’Ugo and they invited Ugo; so we were all meeting together. Evbuo’Ivbiorhon has their oil and gas committee that relates with them (oil company), Egbo’Okor was also having their energy committee that relates with them, Ugo was having their own energy committee that relates with them, and Ugbo’Ugo was also having their energy committee that represents their community that also liaise with the oil company.
“So, with the four communities surrounding the Otien 1 oil well location at Evbuo’Ivbiorhon. the company now thought it wise to form a joint MoU committee instead of relating with Egbo’Okor separately, relating with Evbuo’Ivbiorhon separately, relating with Ugo separately and Ugbo’Ugo, let them put them all together, so that they can now sign a global MoU together with these communities. This is what they did and we all came together and the four communities now made a resolution on the 1st of July 2017 that this is our stand, that we stand to write the MOU”, the Odionwere, pa Osayuwu who spoke in Benin dialect narrated through an interpreter
After signing the MoU, the Evbuo’Ivbiorhon Odionwere maintained that the oil company asked the four oil-bearing communities to provide ten persons each from their area for employment.
Consequently, problem started when the people of Evbo’Ivbiohon met with Egbokor to discuss how best they can come together (like they have always done during the Ekaba festival) to pay royalty to the palace of Oba of Benin from whatever they get from the oil company since they have finally reached an understanding with the company.
According to Pa Osayuwu, Egbokor community then disagree on the royalty to the Oba, with the excuse that they do not want to involve the palace in their dealings with the oil company and that Evbo’Ivbiohon is not an autonomous community but a quarter under Egbokor hence they can not ‘dictate’ to them.
“They (Egbokor) now started writing false petition against us; the oil company now said since Evbo’Ivbiohon is a quarter under Egbokor, the ten employment we gave you people, we stop it, your CLO we stop it and all the projects we wanted to do at Evbo’Ivbiohon we will stop it. We will rather do the projects in Egbokor, so that Evbo’Ivbiohon and Egbokor can share from the projects.
“They now stopped our ten employment plus our CLO, making it eleven, so along the line the oil company still gave Egbokor ten, to increase their own to twenty. Our youths wanted to start picking up anger, so we told them we can not solve the problem with anger”, Evbo’Ivbiohon Odionwere further narrated
As a result, it was learnt that leadership of Iyoba Ward where both communities are located set up a peace and conflict resolution committee to look into the matter, and their findings revealed that Evbo’Ivbiohon is an autonomous community that created ‘Ogbe’Noghogbon’ (a new quarter) nicknamed Egbokor (forest with Okor trees) before it finally became an autonomous community with their own Odionwere, councils of elders, and youths group.
It was further learnt, the committee advised Egbokor community to stick to their common boundary with Evbo’Ivbiohon and allow them work with the oil company, an advise they refused to heed. They then reported Evbo’Ivbiohon to the Oba’s palace which later summoned both communities to appear before it on 9th September 2017.
Having earlier heard from both parties, the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II asked them to appear on 8th October 2019, were he admonished that Evbo’Ivbiohon is a community on its own and never a quarter under Ogbe’Noghogbon known as Egbokor, that an Odionwere can never be surbordinate to another. The Oba enjoined the two communities to coexist and continue to live in peace.
In defiance to the palace resolution, Egbokor community sued Evbo’Ivbiohon community to court the following year (in 2020). Evbo’Ivbiohon refused to respond as they maintained it was the palace that decided on the matter and not them. The revered monarch on 18th March 2021 then summoned Evbo’Ivbiohon, Ugo, Egbo’Okor and Ugbo’Ugo ommunities (that earlier signed MoU with the oil company).
The Oba then reiterated that, Evbo’Ivbiohon remains an autonomous community and never a quarter; that also, Egbokor is a community of its own and not a quarter, adding the four communities would stand to sign an MoU with the oil company like they earlier did before the issue of quarter arose. The Oba informed the communities that as the custodian of lands in Edo south, some percentage of every benefit from the company should be sent as royalty to the palace.
Egbokor decided to approach the court to challenge the palace’s right to demand certain percentage as royalty. Again, they served Evbo’Ivbiohon community who refused to respond, on the grounds that it was the palace that is incharge of the matter hence should be served the court papers.
For Evbo’Ivbiohon community, they maintained that they stand by the resolutions of the Oba’s palace, as well as the MoU with the oil company, earlier signed alongside the three other communities in the interest of peace.
When our correspondent visited Egbokor community on the 12th of December 2021 to hear from the Odionwere, Pa Sunday Izekor and elders of the community, who were expecting him after his visit days before, to inform them of his mission to the area, he met an hostile gathering.
The people then asked the journalist to leave the community or he will be assaulted for daring to visit and ask questions on the crisis between them and Evbo’Ivbiohon.
“No look back, just dey go; you get luck, you for sit down for ground, collect better beating”, one of the community member was overheard threatening, while the reporter fastly walked away from the dionwere’s place.
However, when The Daily Vendor Newspaper contacted Edo State Oil and Gas Producing Areas Development Commission (EDSOGPADEC), representative of the local government in the board of the commission, Charles Aideyan said the state government has set machinery in place to nip the communal dispute in the bud.
According to Aideyan, governor Godwin Obaseki has already set up “a fact finding committee” to look at their various claims, which he said “comprises some commissioners from EDSOGPADEC and other reps from the state”.
Recall in March, youths from the oil-bearing communities sealed off the company premises at Evbohenoba in protest over the refusal of the oil company to sign MoU, which disrupted work at the company’s modular refinery at Egbokor already at an advance stage.
Summit could not be reached, as enquiries sent by our correspondent to the company’s email was yet to be responded to as at the time of filing this report.