Delta Governor, Sen. (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa on Wednesday, inaugurated a seven-man Judicial Panel of Inquiry into the land dispute between Oleh and Ozoro communities in the state leading to the death of over 12 persons in the past one month.
Okowa while inaugurating the panel at the Government House, Asaba, said the panel would determine the remote and immediate causes of the conflict between the parties in Oleh and Ozoro communities.
The governor, who described the lingering dispute between Oleh and Ozoro as disheartening, noted that after all the country and State went through this year as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, Delta state is now confronted with what is obviously an avoidable conflict arising from a land dispute.
He stressed that the over a decade dispute between Oleh and Ozoro has differed all efforts made by Isoko Development Union (IDU) in resolving the dispute, hence the government intervention to prevent the situation from escalating into full-blown communal conflict.
He stated that following claims and counterclaims from all the parties involved, there was a clear and present danger that the situation might spiral out of control and lead to a breakdown of law and order in Ozoro and Oleh, with the possibility of other communities being caught in the crossfire. “As an administration, we cannot allow that to happen.”
He pointed out that peacebuilding remained one of the cardinal programmes of his administration because it is an incontrovertible fact that real development cannot take place in the absence of peace.
“On Monday, October 12, 2020, residents of the State woke up to the horrific news that as much as eleven persons were killed at a farm in Oleh while one person is missing. The news was as numbing as it was inexplicable.
“The government quickly waded in to douse the tension and prevent the situation from degenerating into a full-blown inter-communal crisis. Through the local government administration, relevant security agencies, and the traditional institutions, working with the Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution, we have been striving to ensure that there are no reprisal attacks while appealing to those who lost their loved ones to the gruesome act to restrain themselves and keep the peace.
“I am aware that this dispute between Ozoro and Oleh has lingered for decades. I am also aware that the Isoko Development Union has been mediating in the matter. As an administration that believes in the bottom-up approach, we gave our full backing to all the efforts of the IDU to resolve the matter amicably, but to no avail.
“Regrettably, the faceoff took a frightening dimension with the October 12 tragedy, ostensibly over the disputed land. While we commiserate with the bereaved, it is incumbent on us all that we do not play politics with the lives of the dead. Justice must be done and seen to be done in this matter as their cold-blooded murder is purely a criminal act, separate from the boundary dispute.
“Insecurity and violence are not only needless distractions; they also drain the public purse. Whenever there is a breakdown of law and order, funds that could have been deployed to building infrastructure and similar development projects have to be channelled towards procuring peace, even as ongoing projects within the affected communities are stalled.
“In view of the foregoing, the administration considers it exigent to set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to properly investigate/examine the boundary dispute between Ozoro and Oleh, and proffer solutions that would meet the expectations of all the parties involved,” he said.
The Panel which has Justice Marcel Okoh as its Chairman has the following terms of reference: “to identify the parties and/or interest groups in the conflict and the extent of the claim of each party or group to the land in dispute; determine the remote and immediate cause(s) of the conflict between the parties in Ozoro and Oleh Communities.
“To consider any previous effort(s) at settling the dispute between the Ozoro and Oleh Communities and establish the reason(s) for the failure of such efforts.
“To investigate any other matter incidental or related to the foregoing terms of reference which could assist in the resolving the dispute, and to make appropriate recommendations to Government with a view to resolving the dispute.”
Okowa announced that the panel had eight weeks to submit its report and urged the Panel to be mindful that further delay may cause a further crisis.
He appealed to all Deltans to remain law-abiding, embrace dialogue and peaceful coexistence, and shun all acts inimical to the prosperity, peace, and progress of the State.
The members of the panel are; Surv. Dickson Akpoghene, Rtd. Surveyor-General; Mr. William Riebele, Rtd. Permanent Secretary/Town Planner; ACP Dashuwar Abuja; (Representing the Commissioner of Police), Esan Jayeola Damilare; (Representing the Director, State Security Services); Christopher Diai, Esq. Counsel to the Panel and Mrs Angalare Prest-Umukoro who will serve as Member/Secretary.
Responding on behalf of members, the Chairman, Justice Okoh, thanked the governor for the confidence reposed in them by entrusting them with the assignment. “In discharging our duties, we will do so diligently and with the utmost sense of responsibility and fairness, and without any fear or favour,” he said.