By Etete Enideneze
* How Truce Was Brokered
* Moving Forward And What Should Be Done Next
For a long time, conflict brewed between the Nigerian Navy at the Agudama-Epie administrative base, NNS Soroh, former Camp Porbeni in Yenagoa City, and its closest neighbours.
The civilan populace raised alarms over unpalatable consequences for the neighbours, if a truce was not brokered by Bayelsa State Government and the Federal Government.
Good heavens! Alas, the peace deal was struck by the Bayelsa State Government, through a committee led by the government’s scribe, Dr. Friday Kombowei Benson, in line with Governor Douye Diri’s peace policy.
Governor Diri in a press statement, issued April 12, 2021 through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Daniel Alabrah, announced summary of the committee’s report. The statement affirmed the Nigerian Navy’s claim of ownership of the said lands, while the individual civilian occupants were said to have bought or inherited the lands from unlawful owners, after Rear Admiral Porbeni who was the initial buyer had bought and sold same to the Nigerian Navy.
The civilian neighbours have however, not made any public statements about the resolution, as at the time of the press.
But, it is expected that they would abide by the resolutions, being that they also influenced the alarms that called for Governments’ intervention. This is irrespective of their rights to litigations, which though could linger and take huge resources from their austere pockets.
Meanwhile, the real story of the entire strife and how Camp Porbeni came about, and changed to an unacceptable Porbeni Ama and now NNS Soroh; corporate citizenship of the Navy and cooperation from the host Community are worth ruminating. These gists are told in the subheadings that follow:
GENESIS OF CAMP PORBENI
Whenever Admiral Festus Porbeni, visited his friend, Late Engr. Obed Benson Walson, a former Captain in the Nigerian Army, he was often treated to rousing wrestling ogele (celebration) by men, and cultural dance by women. Beer, gin and other items, used to be taken by jubilant indigenes of the community.
The celebration heightened with feelers that the never-to-be Abayelsa State, which would have included Ahoada West and Ahoada East Local Government Areas of Rivers State, would be created by the General Ibrahim Badamosi Babanginda (IBB) junta.
It was also speculated that Agudama-Epie was in the center of the map, and could be the Capital. This stance, was to halt argument about where to site the capital, so as not to miss the creation of Abayelsa.
Following the moves for the creation of Abayelsa, Rear Admiral Porbeni who was then in the IBB Government, speculatively bought a large expanse of land from Ogbobiri Compound in Agudama-Epie Community, Yenagoa City, to take economic advantage of the awaited new state.
That transaction and the monies paid, sent the entire community agog. The development led to more hospitable treatments for Rear Admiral Porbeni.
On the day IBB was to make Independence Day Broadcast in which important announcements like state and local government area creation were expected, Agudama-Epie had set the town square and Mbiama/Yenagoa Road for celebration. Canon and gunpowder was also set for joyous booming shots.
But, IBB, the Maradona, skilful in militrick and politrick dribblings, didn’t create or announce Abayelsa. Agudama-Epie Community was shocked, so were others.
Yet, the relationship between Porbeni and the Community, went on well.
THE PORBENI AMA FEUD
Indeed, the relationship went on well, except for Rear Admiral Porbeni naming the estate he built on the land as Porbeni Ama. The name was boldly written on a big sign board at the gate of the estate.
The leadership of the Community didn’t immediately frown. But other Epie Communities and some Izons wagged their tongues against the name. Agudama-Epie youths then decided to act against the naming. But Agudama-Epie Council of Chiefs, advised the youths not to adopt violent means.
The Community wrote to Rear Admiral Porbeni, that Ama, means community, and he cannot found a Community within an existing community, even if he bought the lands. Otherwise, every land buyer would have founded new communities in Agudama-Epie and Yenagoa, to eclipse the aborigines.
As a gentle elder statesman, Rear Admiral Porbeni, cooperated and changed the name to Camp Porbeni, one of the most cozy and popular places, then in town.
Before then, the land sellers had a feeling that, in their normal senses, they would not have sold such a vast land which sprawled wider and inwards, for the amount they recieved.
But it was reasoned by some persons that there was no state capital in Yenagoa at the time the sale was done. Hence the value of the monies paid, may have also been okay at that time, despite the small price per plot. Thus, the sentiments held by the land sellers, didn’t lead to open conflict or litigations, at that time.
CREATION OF BAYELSA AND JULIUS BERGER AT CAMP PORBENI
The idea changed to agitation for creation of Bayelsa State, excluding Ahoada and other places in the old Rivers State. And Bayelsa was created by Late General Sani Abacha in 1996, with Yenagoa graciously made capital. Porbeni also weilded influence in the Abacha regime, was said to have influenced the creation of the state.
Julius Berger, took the estate on lease, when it first came to Bayelsa State to construct Sani Abacha Way and Isaac Boro Way. The company harmoniously related with the community, untill it relocated to Azikoro.
NGERIAN NAVY TAKES OVER
Years after, Rear Admiral Porbeni leased, and later sold the Camp Porbeni to the Nigerian Navy, which later named it NNS Soroh, its administrative base, with main marine operations in the rivers and creeks.
The take-over was welcomed by the host Community, as another form of development, especially, in terms of employment and security.
Since its take over, the Nigerian Navy in its characteristic discipline, responsible and organisational prowess of its leaders, as well as neatness and maintenance culture, has kept the estate delightful, even with improved and additional facilities.
The Nigerian Navy, some of whose men, live in the community, have co-existed peacefully with the host Community. Host in the sense of, where it is located, not land owner- community as the land was bought from a first buyer, who had bought from the bonafide owner.
The Nigerian Navy has also recruited few indigenes of the Community as naval recruits and auxiliary staff at the NNS Soroh Base in Agudama-Epie, and Forward Operations Base (FOB), Camp Formosa in Brass. But more recruitment, is still expected by the people.
Occasionally, the Nigerian Navy does philanthropy to the community. Donation of Covid-19 safety gears and palliatives is a case in point.
Though a police duty, it was however expected that, with the heavy presence of the Navy, Agudama-Epie Community, would be a safe haven. But that wish was dashed, as cultists, rapists and robbers nearly would have made Agudama-Epie their territory, in the face of the Nigerian Navy.
Notwithstanding, the Navy and the civilian populace in the community, were not in discord.
RELATIONSHIP BEGAN TO GET SOUR
Recently, misunderstanding brewed between the Nigerian Navy and some neighbours: indigenes and non-indigenes who claimed to have owned, and some who actually lawfully owned parts of the lands and houses on the outer left side of the fence of NNS Soroh base, along the Mbiama/Yenagoa Road.
One version asserted that, the organisation pleaded it would buy up lands and houses close to, and by its fence, for security reason. The Navy felt that it wasn’t proper to have the locales flank around the naval base.
But that, some owners of the lands and buildings were not interested in selling, hence the conflict and fear of planned forceful takeover.
Some of the indegenous occupants, argued that the lands and houses built near the fence, were lawfully inherited from their families. Non-indigenous occupants claimed to have genuinely bought from the native-owners. The neighbours also unanimously insisted that the Nigerian Navy’s land, was already fenced, hence had no rights to claim beyond the fence.
But the Nigerian Navy asserted ownership of the lands, which it said belonged to Porbeni the first buyer who in turn sold it. And that the civilian occupants of the lands were illegal users. It also argued that the fencing was done for security reasons.
The Navy therefore, severally asked the so-called illegal occupants, to vacate, else it will evict them and take over its lands. This position made the occupants jittery, knowing that the Navy could apply maximum force or muster financial muscle in case of litigations.
Hence, the strife began, and alarms were raised by some of the neighbours and others in online and offline media for Governments’ intervention. The alarms were to avert forced demolishion of houses and take over of the lands from neighbours.
The conflict was also inflamed by apprehensions over a more dangerous outcome for the civilan populace, if a clash had occurred.
For neighbours whose lands and houses are near the fence of NNS Soroh but not part of the entire portion sold by Rear Admiral Porbeni, the Nigerian Navy pleaded to buy them over.
Reports indicate that a few persons agreed and sold theirs, but others did not accept the Navy’s financial inducements. Their refusal to sell, may have also heightened the tension that had existed.
Yet, the alleged and speculated threat of eviction by the Navy, was not carried out after all. It was perhaps delayed, due to a sense of caution on the part of the Navy or the alarms raised. The neighbours too, did not litigate on the matter, while the conflict lasted.
The intervention of the Bayelsa State Government, in the conflict, is laudable. It is one of the instances in which the government has listened to public opinion on salient matters. The intervention is laudable, as a way of curbing the imminent disaster that would have occured and put the state in bad news.
This is more so considering the military might of the Navy, whose men are not quick to anger, yet are very strong in action when patience expires. A civilian population in a fight with the Navy, over property, was indeed unthinkable, except God and the Law Court, would have aided the civilians.
The neighbours who were in the dispute, are also worthy of commendation, for accepting the outcome of government’s intervention, even though they have not spoken about it.
The entire Agudama-Epie Community, formerly ruled by Late HRH Wisdom Caeser Franklin but now under the rulership of HRH Gospel Titus Akputakpu, also deserves commendation for toing the path of peace, and for its continuous hospitality to the Navy and others.
The top officers of the Nigerian Navy at the Agudama-Epie base, are equally due for commendation, for the steps it took to try to resolve the conflict through persuasion and financial inducements to lawful occupants, instead of adopting brute power to evict the affected neighbours, as it was allegedly threatened or speculated.
The resolution, would boost the democratic and psychological wellbeing of the neighbours and reputation of the Nigerian Navy, which has peacefully co-existed with Agudama-Epie residents.
Therefore, without prejudice to any further assertions of fundamental human rights, the matter might not need to be reopened in any guise.
Instead, the Nigerian Navy and its neighbours should fashion better ways of relating, through effective public relations; corporate social responsibilitiy (CSR) and community relations strategies and tactics.
Going forward, the Navy should thread with caution in asking lawful owners of lands in the neighborhood to sell their property to it.
The neighbours and Agudama-Epie Community, should equally continue to cooperate with the Nigerian Navy to discharge it’s official military and social obligations to the Bayelsa State and the primary neighbours in Agudama-Epie and Akenpai-Epie.
There might be need for Government and the Nigerian Navy, to tinker over ways of cushioning the psycological and economic impacts of the resolution of the matter on the affected neighbours. For instance, the affected property owners could be allowed time to carefully retrieve retrievable parts of their buildings. A consolatory material and cash support could also be extended to the evacuees.
Such humane post-resolution gestures, though a tall order, could indeed assuage the pains of the affected neighbours, even though they are said to have wrongfully or illegally acquired and built houses on the said lands.
The physical development master plan of Yenagoa should also be implemented and enforced to avoid haphazard location of public edifices within local dwellings, as well as guide land transactions.
In any case, a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye, as instructed by the Mosaic Law, will make all the human beings toothless and blind. Therefore, peace and order, should be allowed to reign, as the feud between the Nigerian Navy and its neighbours has been resolved, and lessons expected to be learnt by government and private property developers.
Etete Enideneze, a Journalist, Public Relations and Advertising Professional, wrote this article from Yenagoa.