The traditional ruler (Ovie) of Uvwie, an Urhobo Kingdom in Delta State, His Majesty, Emmanuel Sideso, Abe I, has called on the Federal Government to direct the Nigerian Army to stop retailing unused land acquired from the community for 3 Battalion, Nigerian Army Effurun, to outsiders through the Nigerian Army Properties Limited when they (the owners) have no place to farm and build homes.
His Majesty, Sideso, who spoke to NDV at his palace in Effurun, pleaded with President Muhammadu Buhari to order the Nigerian Army to surrender to Uvwie Kingdom the fallow lands, which the military took possession of in 1975 without payment of compensation to the people, and currently vending to people to build homes and shops.
His words: "The community gave out land for public purpose, not for private or commercial purpose to the Nigerian Army. I had approached the Army, written to the President, telling him about our plight. The army is not using most parts of the land and we do not have a place to farm. They should give us the area, which they are not using. There was no response."
He further bemoaned: "I wrote in 2009, no response, sent reminders, no response. The next thing, some houses in the village (in the area unoccupied by them) were marked for demolition because we asked that part of our land not in use to be given back to us."
Army floats company to sell our land
"Can you imagine that the Army floated a property company and started selling the land? We are not a violent people; I promised myself that no blood will be spilled. Even the areas that were not part of the land, they included in the alleged Certificate of Occupancy.
"We have had a peaceful demonstration, I know how strategic Uvwie is to the nation with the national economic institutions here, so any act of violence will affect the nation's economy and that of Delta State," the monarch said.
According to him, "On August 28, last year, we drew the attention of the world to our plight again, our lawyers wrote another petition to them. The Chief of Army Staff sent the military intelligence to come and see things. We have not heard anything from that undertaking.
"But they sent a letter to us to say that we should reach out to the state government. If compensation was paid for the land, I would have seen the documents, even not all, at least some of them. The state government did not take land from us. So we took our matter to the National Assembly. The third hearing came up Tuesday, last week, before the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions.
"We are appealing to the Army to release to us our unused land. There is evidence of our land being sold by the army to people," he stated.
Oil firms contaminating our environment
On environmental degradation being suffered by the community because of the activities of oil companies, especially the Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company, WRPC, located in the kingdom, he asserted: "You are talking of environmental pollution. The fact that we do not have oil well in Uvwie, we still suffer the worst hazard in terms of environmental pollution. Place a bucket of clean water outside at night and in the morning, you see soot covering it.
"It is affecting my people; some have cancer. Though I cannot talk on the medical implications generally, there was a time we had oil spill, we shouted, see the Ogoni case, the government should do more to resolve the plight of the Niger-Delta people. The government should properly address our problems," he said.
Asked if the kingdom had complained formally to WRPC, he said, "I gave you an instance of oil spill. The media should help us and let the government know what is happening. The refinery has been here since 1974 and we have been seeing pollution. Help us draw attention to the problem."
How peace returned to Uvwie
On how he brought peace to Uvwie Kingdom formerly known as the most volatile area in the state, the monarch said: "I do not see any place where you do not have some level of problems. However, when I ascended the throne, approximately 10 years ago, there were some political problems here and there.
"On February 19, 2008 precisely, I had meetings with the former chairman of the local government on the way forward. I also had a broad- based meeting at the end of which I set up a Palace Security Committee. There are other ethnic groups in the committee. The committee has been working in collaboration with security agencies. I also constituted different committees; we have the womenfolk, the men folk in the kingdom. We all discuss issues affecting the kingdom.
"The state government helped a lot. Former governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan also helped a lot when he was governor of the state; he helped to bring down tension in the area," he added.
The Uvwie monarch noted: "When there is security, development follows. So you have been seeing development in Uvwie, more investors have been coming in because of the newfound peace."
Uvwie not unruly people
Describing his almost one decade on the throne and what kind of subjects are Uwvie people, the respected monarch asserted: "They are not violent. Most of the problems you saw in the area were caused by non- indigenes. Though we cannot have a perfect situation, but the Uvwie people are not the violent type. They are friendly. I have stayed outside this kingdom and I know what the people were like. Good things are happening in Uvwie."
On his most difficult challenge, the monarch adjusted his seat, saying: "Managing people comes with its challenge, but I cannot pinpoint any major difficulty. There has been no violent clash between communities, there could have been pockets of small disagreements, but in all, there has been peace."
On the strangest thing that has happened to him in life, the royal father said: "You cannot predict how tomorrow will be. I found myself here today; it is not really what I wanted to be. You cannot say I will be this or that. Wherever I find myself is my destiny. I rose to the position of a director in the federal system and retired. I served the nation meritoriously."
What did you plan to be before?
"Our stool is rotational, not hereditary so you cannot say I want to be king, that is what I mean," he explained.
He told NDV: "We are Urhobos. Every kingdom has its peculiar area, we are a small population, we love ourselves, and our hospitality is unique. If you take the percentage of non-indigenes here, it is about 60 per cent. Because of our hospitable nature, you cannot differentiate our people from the non-indigenes. I gave scholarship to a non-indigene recently. So, you see our hospitality."
Sues for patience
Regarding his 10th coronation anniversary, he stated: "I thank all for their support. The last local government election was peaceful in Uvwie, we did not experience any violence and it went on smoothly. I want peace sustained so that more investors can come. The more investors come, the more empowerment for the youths and the people. When the youths are empowered, everywhere will be peaceful.
"I am appealing to my people to be patient; we will get there if the security is guaranteed. I also appeal to security agencies; we will work together as a team to sustain peace. The government should equip the Nigeria Police Force to properly police the place.
"Uvwie is one of the most industrialised kingdoms in the state, a commercial nerve centre. I commend my friend, Olorogun (Barrister) Kenneth Gbagi for investing here to take our youths off the streets.
My coronation anniversary will be wonderful. My people have supported me, I am grateful to them," he surmised.