Ijaw National Congress (INC) on Friday appealed to the Federal Government to wade into the boundary crisis occasioned by the ongoing move by the Akwa Ibom Government to adjust the boundaries of Ijaw communities in the state.
The group appealed to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to check the ongoing invasion of Easter Obollo communities by troops of the Nigerian Army and Nigerian Navy at the instance of the Akwa Ibom Government.
It urged the CDS to also ensure their operations confirmed to the military’s rule of engagement.
INC, the pan-Ijaw socio-cultural pressure group, noted that the call followed reports of massive deployment of armed security operatives to intimidate defenceless Ijaw communities who were opposed to the redrawing of the map of Akwa Ibom.
Prof. Benjamin Okaba, President of INC, who spoke in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Yenagoa, said that mapping and boundary adjustment were on the exclusive legislative list and, therefore, not the responsibility of the Akwa Ibom Government.
He said that there were already reports of avoidable communal clashes due to the operations of Sterling Oil, a firm in which the state governor had interest in.
He said the clashes were meant to justify the use of crude force to readjust the boundaries of Ijaw communities, pointing out that the prompt intervention of the Federal Government would nip the crisis in the bud.
Okaba said that Ijaw leadership frowned at the usurpation of the roles of the Surveyor-General of the Federation and National Boundary Commission, saddled with mapping and boundary adjournments respectively, by the Akwa Ibom Government.
He said that the plan to redraw the map to make Onna Local Government, where the governor hailed from, an oil host community under the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), would fail.
“It beats our imagination that the government of Akwa Ibom will act in breach of the decision of a State High Court which halted the mapping exercise, to go on this unconstitutional and illegal project which is against the economic interests of Ijaws in Akwa Ibom.
“The Ijaw community leaders in the state as recently as last week at a meeting with Gov. Udom Emmanuel made it clear that they would not cede any part of their ancestral land and urged the government to drop the idea.
“The desperate move to include his (governor’s) own local government to benefit as host community under the PIA as a parting gift at the expense of Obollo communities cannot stand because there is no oil facility at Onna to confer the status on them in the PIA.
“The INC, therefore, calls on the Federal Government and the Chief of Defence Staff to step in, call Akwa Ibom Government to order and protect the rights of Ijaw who are minorities in their ancestral lands,” Okaba said.
He described the Ijaws in Eastern Obollo, Ibeno and Oron communities as peaceful and law abiding citizens and had sought and got legal redress in their favour.
He expressed regrets that the Ijaws were being provoked to violence to pave way for the occupation of their settlements in Akwa Ibom.
Mr Ini Ememobong, the Commissioner for Information in Akwa Ibom, told NAN in a telephone chat that he was not aware of the court judgment on the re-mapping.
“We are aware that the matter in question is surrounded by a lot of sentiments, but when sentiments are put aside, the issues become a lot simpler.
“The matter was passed through the State Assembly where representatives of the communities passed a bill to back the mapping and anyone who feels aggrieved can approach the court to seek redress.
“The state has powers to do what it is doing and please take note that we are talking about internal boundaries within the state, we are not tampering with interstate boundaries here,” Ememobong pointed out.