No fewer than fifteen leaders of Ogbole-Ogume Community in Ndokwa West Local Government of Delta State are currently languishing in Kuje prison, Abuja over their refusal to allow Austin Atimo Odili to take over their oil-rich land forcefully.
SaharaReporters gathered that they were transferred to Abuja on the order of Inspector General of Police ( IGP ), Mohammed Adamu from the state in August 2020.
The land dispute, which began in 2013, took a new dimension last August when some community leaders were allegedly arrested by the IGP Intelligence Response Team ( IRT ) and Force Intelligence Bureau ( FIB ) on trumped-up charges of kidnapping, armed robbery, and culpable homicide.
The community leaders and family heads were allegedly framed up by Odili who had on several occasions unleashed terror on the community in his bid to take the control and ownership of their land.
The police had claimed that their arrest was as a result of a petition they received from Captain Simeon Agbajem and Felix Ojema who were in cahoots with Odili to terrorise the community.
Agbajem and Ojema had alleged in the petition that the arrested community leaders killed two persons in the community, but the investigation had revealed the killing occurred after the police had apprehended the leaders.
Sources in the community said that the petitioners, Agbajem and Ojema, orchestrated the attack to implicate the arrested community leaders.
Findings by SaharaReporters showed that the oil-rich land in the community belonged to the five families, which include Umuagburo, Ezulu, Umuti Umuegeto, and Umuezegbe.
The land was said to have been graciously given to the community to manage through the oil and gas committee set up by the community.
Ogbole-Ogume was one of the host communities recognised by Energia Ltd, an oil company that carries out oil and gas exploration in the area.
The Delta state government is also expected to pay some millions to the community with respect to the Kwale Industrial Park alongside some works to be carried out by Energia Ltd Oil company on the same land.
Having observed how much money was about to be generated from the land, Odili was allegedly hell-bent on possessing the land.
Odili, a wealthy and influential personality in the area, allegedly mobilised thugs who intimidated, humiliated, and threatened to kill those who opposed his plan to take over the land from them.
He was said to have launched and carried out a series of attacks on the community leading to the death of many people, particularly those who refused to support his selfish mission.
In his desperation to silence and suppress the community and achieve his aim, he had used his influence at the corridor of power with the office of the Inspector General of Police who ordered the team to arrest the perceived dissenting voices in the community.
The 15 community leaders were arrested in a commando-style from different locations when the police stormed the community to carry out the script of Odili.
Those arrested include H.R.H Ochade Mmor, Chief George Oshiogu, High Chief Johnson Ekpetor, Chief Peter Abunum, Chief Moses Onowu, Chief Kingsley Opone, and Alex Ofo.
Others are Romeo Ugboh , Chief Francis Eseh, Duke Akpati, Benson Nwachukwu, Kustice Chukwuma, Darlington Okunesene, Chief Edwin Oshile and Chief Sunday Ochade.
SaharaReporters gathered that one of the detainees, Alex Ofo, had died on October 30 in a police cell after a protracted illness while another suspect was said to be critically ill with little or no medical attention in the detention.
The conflict over the ownership, administration, and control of the land has been pending before Ndokwa West Area Customary Court, Kwale with suit No. HCK/33/2020: Chief Vincent Ugboh vs H.R.H Tom Obi and other related lawsuits.
One of the community leaders, Pastor Anthony Onowu, was arrested when one of the villagers Mr Chibeze, had requested to see him help reconcile the dispute his family had with the Ogbole community.
In the process, a young man told Onowu that they had been trying to track him for over a week, adding that they were from the SARS office in Abuja with instruction to arrest him and his brother, Moses Onowu, and some others on the count that they had gone to Maitama with some other persons to kidnap Felix Ojumah who was on his way to see his family.
Onowu had sensed that it was a frame-up and told the police team leader, Ayeni Lawrence, that Odili had sent them.
He said Odilii had wanted him and his brother dead since 2015 because they were the most enlightened in the family to secure their family’s oil-rich land.
Findings revealed that Odili used Ojumah to carry out the arrest, as well as used him to cause troubles in the community.
By August 8, the pressure was on the police to transfer those arrested to Abuja for interrogation where they were later charged for offences bordering on kidnapping, armed robbery, and culpable homicide.
They were later arraigned on Monday before Justice A.R Mohammed of the Federal High Court where they all pleaded not guilty to the four-count charge against them.
The suspects were also accused of attacking those clamouring for peace with dangerous weapons in the community, leading to the death of two persons, inflicting serious bodily harm and destroying properties in the village, an offence punishable under the Terrorism Prevention Act 2013.
The presiding judge, after he had listened to the submissions made by the prosecution and defence counsels, adjourned the matter till January 26, to hear the bail application of the defendants.
He also ordered the defendants to be remanded at Kuje Correctional Centre.
SaharaReporters, New York