Boundary dispute: Onimeri of Imeri reacts to Olokpe of Okpe’s claims
Before the publication, we reached out to Onimeri of Imeri, who told us then that he was in a meeting and as such could not respond.
On Monday, March 26, 2018, His Royal Highness Oba Babatunde Adeniran got in touch with Palace Watch.
He said: “Before 1921, Imeri people were in the old Ondo Province of Western Nigeria. And when we were grouped with the Kukuruku Division in 1931, my grandfather refused to go there.
In order to appease him, the then administrative authority gave my grandfather 16 towns and villages to be serving him, whereby he was made the District Head.
Among these towns and villages, were Ibillo, Ikiran-Ile, Ikiran-Oke, Makeke, Ekpedo, Egele, Ayegunle, Eeko and Aziga camp. All these towns and villages were in the north.
During this same period, the Olokpe was given the other area. They were not in the same axis. By 1934, my own father, who was then the heir apparent to the throne of Imeri, as it’s forbidden in our culture for a heir apparent to live in the same town with his father, had to move somewhere not too far from Imere town, four kilometre to Imeri to establish a camp where he lived. That camp was then known as “Ago Omoba.”
While he was there, people had cause to go and do business and other things there. People going to Ibillo Market always passed the night in this camp. It was these traders that named my father’s camp “Ago Omoba.”
When he was enthroned after the demise of his father, he had to return to this camp in 1945 to make some sacrifices and renamed the place “Ayetoju Bolorunduro.” Ever since, we have had control of the place. During the 1979 local government elections, we had our polling booths there.
Surprisingly, before Imeri was made to join Ondo State in 1991, the Okpe people began to make trouble, claiming that this particular camp belonged to them.
The Imeri people were given two classroom blocks to build there, and at this particular time, the Okpe people had several officers at the then Ministry of Education, who were indigenes. So, they seized the place and built the schools instead of allowing us to build our schools.
Before this, we had a church, which is still there known as St Mathew Anglican Church. An indigene of Okpe known as Reverend Canon Ajomo, who was the Archdeacon of Afemai Division willed that church to Okpe.
While all these injustices were being perpetrated by Okpe people, we had nobody except God. Today, however, the place in question has been declared a disputed area.
So, common sense dictates that the place be left alone until the dispute is resolved. But not for Okpe people.
They kept going there to do all manner of work. Once an area is declared a disputed area, the two sides to the conflict must leave the place until it is resolved. The Okpe people will not take any of this.
This is the position. Imeri owns that place. Besides, there is the old Western Region map demarcating the place in question. All the chains of rocks in that map are on our side.
Another clear evidence that we own the disputed place is that from Ago Omoba to Imeri is just a stone throw, while from Okpe to Ago Omoba is a long and tortuous journey, as one has to first go through Igarra before getting to the place. Sadly, this is the place they are claiming.
Why all this unnecessary disagreement, when Imeri and Okpe people have lived together and intermarried for several centuries?
You are right. As we speak, the Olokpe is marrying one of my nieces. Even with this close affinity and relationship, Okpe people have not seen why they should stop the wrongs they have been doing to my people for several years now.
The Olokpe told Palace Watch that he has made several peace overtures to you and your people so that this matter can be resolved amicably. Why are you not accepting the peace move?
Honestly, all his peace moves are nothing but smokescreen to do more harm to my people. In all this, I have done all within my powers to restrain my people. If I had wanted to pay them back, there would have been heavy bloodshed, which I honestly do not want to be party to. Hence, we resolved to remain calm in the face of all these provocations.
I have repeatedly told him that he should exercise some restraint. He knows in his heart of hearts that the place in dispute belongs to Imeri and that he should do all within his powers to make sure we resolve this matter amicably. This he has not done. He is still insisting that the disputed areas with all the evidences on ground belong to Okpe, which is not true.
What evidences do you have on ground?
We have all the receipts of all the tax being paid by people from that area to us. Besides, we still have all our structures there, even though our people are no longer staying there because of Okpe aggression. They left because nobody wants to die.
The tax receipts you are referring to, I was told people in the disputed areas are being forced by your people to pay this tax…
On the contrary, it is Okpe people that have been threatening to set our people living in the place ablaze. They want to set the houses ablaze, if they fail to pay tax to them. They have to comply because nobody would want to lose his life and properties.
What is the exact name of the place in dispute?
Ago Omoba was the original name of the camp, but my father renamed it Ayeteju Bolorunduro.
But the Okpe people don’t call this place these names…
Yes, Okpe people call the camp Ayeteju.
Do Okpe people speak Yoruba?
I would not say no. But when they claim and speak Yoruba, you will just know that they are not Yorubas. It is not all of them that understand Yoruba, while on my side we all speak and live Yoruba.
Which Yoruba dialect do you speak in your areas?
We are the AO Yorubas and one of the food baskets in Ondo State. We produce cassava in very large quantities, as well as cocoa, palm oil, yam and cashew, just to mention a few.
We also have large deposits of untapped natural mineral resources in this place. This, I presume, is why they are all out to seize the place from us.
What are these natural mineral resources?
We have kaolin, bitumen, gold, crude oil and marble. We also have gas and kerosene, but they are yet to be tapped.
Are you satisfied with the move the Nigerian Boundary Commission and the Surveyor-General have made in resolving the matter?
Initially, the Boundary Commission was dragging its foot. The officials did not wade promptly into the matter. They came into the matter rather too late. I would not want to blame the commission for all the wrongs so far, because during the time the military moved us to join Ondo State, the boundary should have been appropriately demarcated. If that were done, all these crises would not have arisen. But this was not done; hence the present crisis.
Now that efforts are being made, would you say Imeri people have enough facts on ground that will enable them win?
Yes. We are working and will not relent until we win this case.
What is your advice to your people?
I would want to appeal to youths on both sides to allow sleeping dogs lie for now, until a final pronouncement is made on the matter, even though Okpe people are claiming the place in our backyard.
They should allow peace to reign supreme because for many reasons, we can never wish ourselves away. We intermarry and do so many things together. I do not see any reason(s) why we should be fighting ourselves over God-given land.
Our fathers lived in these areas, and they were never known to quarrel. And when they died, they did not take the land along with them. Fighting does not make any sense to me.
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