NNPC invites Itsekiri, Ijaw leaders for talks over EPZ controversy

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The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, has invited Itsekiri and Ijaw leaders in Delta State to a meeting in Abuja tomorrow over the contentious ownership of the $16 billion Export Processing Zone, EPZ, project site.

President Goodluck Jonathan abruptly cancelled his visit to Delta State to perform the ground breaking ceremony of the project, renamed Delta Gas City by the Federal Government, on Friday, following a threat by the Ijaw of Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South-West Local Government Area to unleash violence if he came without first resolving their grievances.

It was the second time Jonathan cancelled the ground breaking ceremony, having done so in June, based on the same reasons advanced by the Ijaw.

An Ijaw leader, who confirmed that he was already in Abuja for the meeting, said, “The meeting is summoned by the Group Managing Director, GMD, of NNPC. They are saying they did not know that Ijaw actually own part of the land acquired by the Delta State government for the project and they did not even know that there is crisis of this dimension over the project site until we protested, last Wednesday.”

The Federal Government, in a statement, last Thursday, formally announcing the postponement of the ground breaking ceremony of the Gas Revolution Industrial Park, GRIP, said the decision was taken by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, after consultations with Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State.

Sources said that Uduaghan, who had stated 24 hours earlier that nobody could stop Jonathan from coming to Delta to perform the ground breaking ceremony, was taken aback at the postponement contrary to the claim that the decision was taken after consultations with him.

In fact, the Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, ILT, an influential Itsekiri group, led by Pa J.O.S Ayomike, never knew the President had cancelled the trip to the state until the day of the ceremony.

The Friday’s failure of Jonathan to perform the ground breaking ceremony of the project had sparked controversy with many asking why the President would suspend a ceremony because of a threat by his kinsmen.

“President Jonathan’s refusal to perform the ground breaking ceremony of the project as fixed for Friday was a show of cowardice unexpected of his office which should stand for the rule of law.

“He has shown that he has joined the Ijaw militants in building fences among the ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta and Nigeria”, the ILT said.

An Ijaw leader said that “We are not against the EPZ project, what we are saying is that the project is on Ijaw land as well as it is on Itsekiri land. So it should not be named after Ogidigben, an Itsekiri community alone.”

The Ajuwaoyiboyami of Warri Kingdom, Chief Ayiri Emami, alias Akulagba, lambasted Jonathan for abandoning the ground breaking ceremony because of threat by some Ijaw ex-militants.

He said, “The truth must be told that Itsekiri people can no longer fold our arms and watch Government Ekpemupolo in collaboration with some of his Ijaw brothers and a few Itsekiri dissidents continue to take what God has given to us.”

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