Trouble as traditional rulers bicker over Ondo bitumen community

The Ondo State government has been working very hard to douse the tension between two communities in the state which have readied themselves for war over who should install the traditional head in Agbabu community known for its large bitumen deposit. HAKEEM GBADAMOSI after visits to the communities reports the various sides to the issue.

Crisis appears to be brewing between two communities: Odigbo in Odigbo Local Government Area and Ode Aye in Okitipupa Local Government Area of Ondo State, over who should install the traditional head of the bitumen rich community of Agbabu, the Oloja of Agbabu.

When the state government perceived danger over the friction between the two communities laying claims to Agbabu, which would threaten the peace being enjoyed by the people of the state, it immediately called an emergency meeting of the two community heads, issuing warning to the two traditional rulers to steer clear of Agbabu community.

Speaking on behalf of the state government, the deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi, during the meeting with leaders from Odigbo and Ode Aye warned those planning to cause unrest in Agbabu, to have a rethink as the state government would not hesitate to deal with such people, saying “the government would not fold its arms and watch some unscrupulous elements ignite violence in the peaceful communities.”

The deputy governor said the meeting became imperative so as to nip the crisis in the bud as security reports revealed that the situation had reached the level of getting into a full blown war, hence the need to  halt the two traditional heads, the Orunja of Odigbo, Oba Rufus Olugboyega Akinrinmade and Halu of Ode-Aye, Oba Akinmusayo Akinlade, from installing community head in Agbabu.

The two traditional rulers had been at loggerheads over who has the right and power to install the community head in Agbabu, though the community which is known for its vast bitumen deposits reputed to be the second largest deposit in the world next only to Venezuela had been attracting attention lately because of the decision of the state government to tap the resources. It became evident that should the crisis degenerate, the state would be the worse for it.

However, in separate interviews with the two traditional rulers, they laid claims to Agbabu community, with each supporting their claims with supposed historical and modern day facts.

Oba Rufus Akinrinmade, while speaking on the development, described the action of Halu of Ode Aye, Oba Akinmusayo Akinlade, as encroaching into another domain by installing a community head in Agbabu. Taking a trip down memory lane, Oba Akinrinmade said Agbabu was never an indigenous town and it was a no man’s land from the beginning. He described it as a settlement of people, mainly traders from various towns and villages in the south-west states, which included Ondo, Odigbo, Oyo, Osun, Arogbo and Ikale, transporting woods to Lagos.

He explained that most of the traders came to the place for business and sold items to the white men who used to rest at the settlement before proceeding on their journey. He however said the place gradually became a community where traders made a stopover. He added that it eventually became a town.

He however said there was no contention over the community since then as it was a community under Odigbo. According to him, the community heads had been paying homage to Odigbo’s traditional ruler ever since then, adding that the last head of the land was installed by his father, whom he succeeded.

He said the last community head, Patrick Akinmulero, who died in February 2019, was installed by his late father in 1998 and was upgraded to Oloja from community head in 1999. “As the custom of the people of the community, the people visited the palace to inform me about the demise of Akinmulero while I advised them to formally inform the Orunja palace and the local government authorities which they did by writing to the palace and the council. We informed the local council and we were told to exercise some patience for the approval of the state government before selecting another community head,” he said.

He said he was surprised to learn about the installation of a head for the community by Halu of Ode Aye, saying “I cannot imagine the claim of Oba Akinlade that Ode Aye had installed a community head in Agbabu. The claim is not only false but unfounded; he claimed 22 heads and 14 Olojas had been installed in Agbabu. This is not true and not possible because the settlement came into existence in the early 50s. Mr father ruled Odigbo for 31 years and all the baales from Odigbo paid homage to him.”

He however said the claim of Ode Aye traditional ruler was nothing but a distortion of history. He pointed out that the contentious area, is in the same local government with Odigbo while Ode Aye is in Okitipupa Local Government Area of the state.

Speaking on behalf of the Halu of Ode Aye, Oba Akinmusayo Akinlade, Chief Wole Omogorioye said the community was established by a daughter of Ode Aye known as Ojajo who was the daughter of Durowo but said the community started expanding from time to time.

According to him, Odigbo indigenes flooded the Agbabu community on the invitation of one Lapoki who coordinated them as workers or labourers who worked on the farms then. He however said Ode Aye had installed many olojas in the community. He said Agbabu community falls under Odigbo Local Government Area for administrative convenience.

“Agbabu belongs to Ikale Aye from time immemorial and there is supportive document of the Western Region known as Ikale Assessment Report. The coming of Odigbo to Agbabu was on invitation of the Oloja of Ode Aye then known as Oloja Lapoki Akinsuroju. He invited the Odigbo people to come and partake in the market and this was on the advice of the white man then who observed that the place was a suitable place for a market,” he said.

Some Odigbo residents have called on the state government to ensure that it puts an end to the whole problem. In an interaction with Nigerian Tribune, Festus Durojaye, a resident of Odigbo, said that “we want peace and anything that would truncate the relative peace that has been in our various communities should be avoided. Should this problem escalate, we as residents will have ourselves to blame. We do not want to reduce ourselves to the crisis rocking some of the Niger Delta communities where things have gone awry.

“It is true that there is a large deposit of bitumen in the area under reference but we should know that this mineral resource should be used for the general good of all of us. Crisis has never done anyone good and we can rest assured that it will do us no good when the issues involved degenerate. We have nowhere else to run to when things go bad.”

Another resident of the community, who identified himself as Ajibola Atilayo, told Nigerian Tribune that he moved to the community in 1997. He confirmed that the last Oloja of the town was installed by the Odigbo traditional ruler.

According to him, “I came here to farm in 1997. I know that we have been living together here in peace since the installation of the last Oloja in Odigbo until the recent development. Why should we allow violence at this time? It is not in our interest in any way. Development is what we want and anything outside that should be thrown away. We want all those involved to give peace a chance.”

He however linked the discovery of bitumen and the determination of the state government to start exploration of the mineral as the cause of friction between the two communities.

“Attention shifted here since the present administration came on board in the state. Many people have visited here to show their interest in the bitumen discovered here. We appreciate the state government for taking the right steps at the right time so that these people will not turn our community to a theater of war,” he added.

Banji Ikuomenisan, an indigene of Odigbo, appealed to the traditional rulers to prioritise the well-being of their subjects. “Our traditional rulers are our fathers. It is incumbent on them to prioritise our well-being and see to it that they do the needful. It is only a madman that will see his house on fire and not run for cover. We need peace for our various communities to grow. We cannot afford crisis at this time. It is sad to note that there are some people who are bent on benefitting from the crisis. This is true because in every crisis, there are victims and beneficiaries. These beneficiaries will do all within their power to sabotage efforts that are meant to pursue peace. But as citizens that are intent on making our communities better, it is our responsibility to do all we can so that peace can reign,” he said.

A resident of Ode Aye, Idowu Ademidun, called on various stakeholders not to relent until all parties involved are brought to accept peace.

According to him, “we cannot afford any crisis at this stage where various communities are pushing for self-actualisation. I appeal to all stakeholders both at the community, state and federal levels not to relent in their efforts at ensuring that all warring parties are made to embrace peace. There are many communities at the moment that are in one crisis or the other. This is not what we want. We want peace, we want progress and we obviously want to advance in the various aspects of our lives. Natural resources are used in every sane society to advance the cause of humanity, why then should it be a reason to go to war in our own case? We must do all within our powers to push out those who only delight in crisis.”

However, during a meeting with the two traditional rulers, the deputy governor, Ajayi urged the communities to cease fire, just as he suspended the installation of the community head for Agbabu indefinitely.

He again instructed them to adhere to a circular sent by the state Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, which instructed traditional rulers to officially write and receive approval before installing heads in any community.

According to him, “the letter became necessary in order to forestall issues that could cause crisis in our communities.” He maintained that as long as the state government had not been informed officially on the choice of the community, no installation would take place, saying the action of installing a new head in Agbabu has run foul on the relevant rules.

He assured that the state government would make its stand known on who is eligible between the two traditional rulers to install the Oloja of Agbabu community. He enjoined communities in the state to avoid any act that could cause violence in their domain.