Agbarho: Proceeds of land deals tear community
Agbarho community in Ughelli North local council, Delta State, is in the news again, but for the wrong reasons this time. Peace is eluding the area, as the two most powerful individuals in the community– the Osuvie of Agbaro and the president general of the Agbarho Urhobo Improvement Union– lock horns over land deals gone sour.
The Osuivie of Agbarho, HRM Samson Owhe Ogugu 1, who was installed on May 12, 2017 is peeved and in a war of attrition with the president general, Chief John Gbenedio, for allegedly misappropriating monies realised from sale of several hundreds of plots of community land.
The monarch is particularly angry that he has not been able to move into his palace since his installation because the palace, according to him, is in a state of disrepair, as it was never maintained and with virtually all facilities within the palace broken down.
According to the Osuivie, it is the duty of the president general to ensure that the palace is regularly maintained with funds accruing to the Agbarho Urhobo Improvement Union (AUIU), which the president general and his executive members oversee.
So, perturbed by the alleged fraudulent land sales, the Osuivie called a mass meeting, where it was agreed that due to the massive looting and reckless sales of land without proof of payment into the union’s account, the president general and the entire AUIU executive be suspended, pending the outcome of an investigative committee that was set up, known as the Agbarho Land Verification Committee, so that the land transactions can be verified and the extent of sales ascertained.
Chief Olori Magege, a respected leader in the community, even suggested that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should be invited to investigate the matter, so that all the money stolen can be recovered, as it is huge.
It was learnt that as soon as Chief Gbenedio and his executive were suspended, he went to court and brought thugs to invade some sections of Agbarho inhabited by his alleged traducers.
“The next thing we saw was that he went to court. On the night of August 12, when he was removed, nobody slept in Agbarho. He brought in thugs to attack and beat up several persons. Chief Okuma’s roof was removed with bullets, because he was one of the committee chairmen, who verified the land sales. One Obayedo Lucky and Chief Lucky Erele were also attacked. They were traumatised, and their phones and other valuable items stolen,” said Chief Joseph Awala Inone, Chairman of the traditional council of chiefs.
Also attacked were the community’s public announcer, Jude Ogbarie and a driver. Both were stabbed severally with broken bottles. His vehicle was taken away, but later discovered in another part of the community.
He told The Guardian that the suspended president general’s thugs who attacked him queried his effrontery at moving round Agbarho to announce the suspension.
The thugs equally visited terror on the houses of two of the committee chairmen and shot into their bedrooms in the night, thinking they were around. They deflated all the tyres of operational vehicles of the Agbarho vigilante and the task force.
The Osuivie told The Guardian that his emergence as king sent shivers down the spines of the suspended president general and his executive, because the previous monarch, now late, was old and bedridden. So, the president general usurped his powers, but when he was installed, the community was happy, as he is educated and dynamic and would confront the illicit land sales in Agbarho, which had been going on in the community for long.
He narrated: “I mounted this throne on January 20, 2017. On May 12, I was crowned as king. The moment I came on board, there was so much joy because for the first time in two and half centuries, an educated man, a Christian is mounting the throne. They know that definitely things will change.
“The king is the custodian of all lands in the two miles radius and the acquired land, according to our constitution. The king is the custodian, who holds the land in trust for the community. The president general is only an agent for day-to-day administration. So, by virtue of his tenure, which is usually four years, the king is the supreme trustee and owner of all Agbarho land. There are other things in the constitution that say that, until the king’s permission and approval is sought and retained, no action of national and central executive, even national conference is valid, as the king can annul it, by simply saying no. We are in a monarchy, and Agbarho’s monarchy is a copyright of the United Kingdom, where the king is the owner of all lands and the Prime Minister is his agent.
“In the UK, the king can dissolve the parliament, and is the owner of the armed forces. But because the kings were illiterates in Agbarho and didn’t know their rights, they were being marginalised and sidelined due to certain factors: They were old, bedridden, sickly and above all, uneducated. When you combine all those reasons, they become a bundle of irrelevant human beings. So, the President generals were having a field day, selling all the lands.
“This palace was built by president generals. We’ve had such president generals as Orido, Brig. Gen. Oneya (rtd) and Gen. Obada (rtd) before it got to the turn of the current president general, Chief John Gbenedio.
“On coming on board, this man started misbehaving. He abandoned the palace and allowed it to rot. As I speak with you, it is a lady that I prayed for and who was given appointment somewhere, I won’t mention her name, that is using her money to refurbish and rehabilitate the palace. She rebranded the chairs and made new ones. Yesterday, one of of my boys brought foams.
“It is the duty of the president general to take care of the king. I have spent more than N2.5m buying diesel, repairing infrastructure – electrical gadgets, water system, etc. I’m the only one among 19 kings without an official car. I don’t even have a bed in the palace, and that’s why I don’t sleep there.
“He is antagonising me because he must have seen that there is no way I won’t see the massive theft of funds from land sales without putting a kobo into Agbarho Urhobo Union Improvement account. So, probably, he was apprehensive, which is why he is putting up this behaviour. Both of us are from the same sub-clan called Avwredjan, which is made up of seven communities. This is the eighth month after I was declared Ajuwe (king) designate, and he has not done anything in the palace to merit being the president general.
“As the owner and custodian of all lands, what I did was to call all the villages, and we now formed what we call a mini mass meeting, which is a legitimate meeting called by the king and presided over by the king to look at emergency matters before the annual conference. Every sub-clan brought four people, while the king brought eight. The president general brought eight people and the coastal branches also brought eight people.”
He explained that the president general’s inability to maintain the palace is due to the fact that he and his consorts had sold all the land and shared the money.
“The degree of theft was so enormous, that over N200m was stolen in one month, and there are still many others that have not been discovered. This prompted the setting up the Agbarho land verification committee, which went to town to investigate new foundations, buildings and reserved lands belonging to the clan and what they saw was unbelievable.
“So, we had to invite land owners and those that were developing their plots. They made confessions of how they bought the land and how the money was paid. It was mind boggling.”
The Delta State Commissioner of Police, Zanna Ibrahim, said: “Chief Gbenedio is claiming that he and his executive members have the right to sell Agbarho land, pay salaries of chiefs, including that of the king, as well as maintain the palace.”
It was also gathered that all attempts to resolve the land crisis have met brick wall, as the suspended president general remained uncooperative. According to Chief Inone, Chairman of the traditional council of chiefs, all efforts to convince the suspended president general to allow peace to reign in Agbarho kingdom were rebuffed.
He said: “We need peace in Agbarho. We have sent several persons to him to talk to his conscience, so that he can allow the verification committee to work and report, for the community to decide, but he is not yielding. Even when the former king was alive, he usurped his powers because he was an old man.”
Chief John Gbenedio, President General of the Agbarho Urhobo Improvement Union, who spoke with The Guardian at his country home, however, said almost all statements made by the Osuivie on the alleged land sales in Agbarho community are not true, but mere fabrication. He accused the Osuivie of using the throne to seek vengeance for wrongs done him in the past in the kingdom.
He said all land sales done in the community was with the late monarch’s consent, and that since the new king was installed, he has never been involved in any land deal. He wondered why the king was antagonising him, despite the role he played in organising his installation ceremony and expressed readiness to work with him.
He equally denied Osuivie’s claim that the palace was not maintained by the AUIU, as well as the accusation that the land verification committee uncovered N200 million land deals that were not accounted for in the kingdom.
He said: “It is a big lie, his claiming that the palace was not maintained. Was the former king not living in the palace? If the palace was not maintained, how could the former Osuivie have lived there? The Transcorp Power Station used to pay N300, 000 monthly for palace upkeep, but when Transcorp officials came to felicitate with him on his installation as the new king, he gave them his personal account number. And since then, Transcorp started paying the money directly into his personal account. So, how could he have said the palace was not maintained? If he said they uncovered a N200 million fraud, how is that possible? Did we sell the whole of Agbarho?”
Gbenedio explained that the AUIU was accountable to the kingdom and that every year, an audit committee investigates the union’s finances and transactions and that as president general, he also gives audit reports during annual conferences.
The president general accused the Osuivie of usurping the AUIU’s functions, by setting up parallel committees that clashed in the bushes during land verification duties.
He said when the AUIU saw the way the new king was running things in the kingdom, the members were compelled to write the king a letter, so that he would inform them on how he wanted the kingdom to be administered, but that the Osuivie considered the letter an affront to his position as king.
Gbenedio said: “Every year, every village brings the names of four persons to form committees, but before we knew it, the Osuivie had formed parallel committees in the palace. When they go to the bushes to do their jobs, the two groups would clash. I called chairmen of the sub-clans and asked them if they were happy with the way the Osuivie was dong things. They said no.
“One day, I was in Lagos for my NUPENG meeting, when I learnt the king was asking of me. When I returned, I went to see him and told him, if I had offended him in any way that he should forgive me, for peace to reign in the kingdom.
“The AUIU has 12 national exco members. We held a meeting and signed an agreement that what the king was doing was usurpation of the union’s powers; that he should call the committees he set up to order. He became angry, saying we called his agents thugs and touts.
“Then the Osuivie sent messages round that all the sub-clans should bring four persons for a meeting. I told my members not to attend because they could use the meeting to indict us unduly. On the day of the meeting, I attended a friend’s marriage ceremony. He dissolved the AUIU executive and appointed an interim body. I looked at AUIU’s constitution and discovered that the king does not have such powers. So, I went to court, and the court gave an order, restraining him from dissolving AUIU’s executive body. But he said he would not obey the court order; that the court does not control his kingdom.”
The president general also denied allegation that he hired thugs to disrupt the community on the AUIU was dissolved. He said he was not in town that day and that he returned very late to the community. He said he couldn’t have organised thugs to attack anybody, when he was not around.