In the beginning, Abavo kingdom in Ika South Local Government Area of Delta State was a peaceful community with a rich history. In 1897, British imperialists invaded the place and deported its king, Obi Osaigbovo. He was banished to Calabar over his insistence that foreign timber merchants must pay tax for exploiting their resources.
The monarch was said to have been executed by his captors and his heir apparent (Edaiken), Prince Jegbefume, was crowned as Obi as tradition demanded. Obi Jegbefume ruled over a peaceful kingdom until his death in 1959 and his eldest son, Prince Ekhator, ascended the throne.
In 1978, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) discovered 16 oil wells in the community but didn’t start exploration, claiming it was waiting for the oil to mature. But the company, it was learnt, started carrying out corporate social responsibilities like scholarship awards to deserving Abavo natives.
However, about two years ago, SPDC was said to have sold the oil wells to Pan Ocean Oil Company, which later signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the community. The implementation of the Local Content Law was part of the terms of the MoU. As expected, before Pan Ocean Oil started drilling the oil, the company paid royalty, running into millions of naira to the community under the leadership of the present monarch, Obi Uche Irenuma II. That, however, seems to have divided the royal family.
Things were no longer at ease for the occupant of the throne as some members of the royal family dug into the archives and later claimed that the present Obi’s father, Irenuma I, was installed in error in 1991, following the death of Obi Ekhator. Irenuma I spent eight years on the throne before he died allegedly of kidney disease.
On June 23, this year, the bubble finally burst when the community was thrown into confusion. The fragile peace was shattered as youths, including some members of the royal family, went wild in protest against Obi Uche Irenuma II, claiming that he was imposed on them as king. They reportedly carried two coffins and burnt them during the protest.
The swift intervention of anti-riot policemen saved the situation from escalating. The community is still very volatile, although the police invited both sides for a peace deal. Uneasy calm continues to pervade the area as clusters of youths are seen, apparently waiting in the wings to unleash an orgy of violence at the slightest provocation or when the security is relaxed. The police have, however, warned that anyone who fomented trouble would be incurring the wrath of the law.
The youths, under the aegis of Reformed Abavo Youth, alleged that Obi Irenuma II is an illegitimate king even as they accused him of high handedness. The protesting youths also accused the monarch of extorting the people as well as embezzling and misappropriating community funds as well as using the local vigilance group to oppress innocent persons.
Also, in a petition addressed to the state commissioner of police and signed by Prince Fidelis Jegbefume and Prince Paul Jegbefume, the duo alleged that the processes that brought Obi Irenuma II was flawed, stating that “since this anomaly started, 30 persons have died, including the person that crowned Obi Irenuma I in 1991, while others have fled to avoid the wrath of the gods.” They insisted that their agitation had nothing to do with the disbursement of royalties from Pan Ocean Oil Company.
According to a royal family source, the crisis has been on for long but finally came to the open when one Francis Jegbefume died after suffering some mysterious ailment. Before his death, he was said to have confessed to his brother, Prince Andrew Jegbefume about the role he played in the installation of James Okubor (Irenuma I) as king in 1991 after the rightful heir, one Prince Sunday Ekhator was allegedly chased out of the community.
Francis Jegbefume, it was further alleged, collaborated with some other persons, including one late Patrick Jegbefume, a very influential personality in the then Bendel State Ministry of Agriculture to circumvent the tradition of the people by allegedly installing James Okubor who was said not to be a member of the royal family.
The source added that when strange deaths became so rampant within the royal family, they consulted the gods who revealed to the elders that a wrong person was installed. According to the source, it was the desire of the royal family to redress the error by giving Sunday Ekhator a posthumous coronation while the corpse of James Okubor should be exhumed from where it was buried at the royal cemetery.
But Obi Uche Irenuma II said he remains the authentic monarch, saying he is of direct lineage in the royal family. He said those against him were being incited by one of his United States-based uncles over his failure to get a contract to import oil rig for Pan Ocean Oil Company. He insisted that their grievances had nothing to do with the traditional stool but of economic motive as it relates to the discovery and drilling of the oil wells.
“Since I have been on the throne 15 years ago, nobody has said to me that the stool was not rightfully mine or that my father was wrongfully installed. Hence I always pray that oil should be a blessing to the community and not a curse,” he stated.
According to him, “Pan Ocean said the first rig that they are going to bring here is in Texas in the USA and in Abavo there is no contractor that can go overseas and bring the rig. We were told that to move the rig from Texas and put it on the high sea is about N900 million, and the insurance for the rig on the high sea is N9 million. Then when it gets to Abavo, insurance for the rig on a daily basis is N7.5 million. The rig has been in Abavo for about five months now and the company that brought it has been paying N7.5 million daily as insurance in case anything happens.”
The monarch explained that his USA-based uncle had indicated interest in the oil rig importation but lacked the financial base, adding that he (monarch) was not comfortable with the Nigerian partners his uncle presented.
“We discovered that my uncle had a debit of about $200 in his account. He said he had a relationship with some Nigerian friends and when he brought them I was not comfortable. But he said no, that if he does not get it there would be trouble and I thought he was going to go to court to obtain an injunction restraining Pan Ocean from operating. I never knew that he was ready for violence.
He was spreading falsehood that the company gave me N900 million, and that I bought streets in London and America. He took pictures of people’s houses in USA and London and came here to be showing people that they were my properties. He was doing that to incite the people.
“Then the next thing he did was to write me, saying that he was asked to come and be the king when my grandfather died. But Abavo traditional institution is from father to son and that is what the eleven clans in Ika nation are practising. I told him that there was no way he could be king because my father who was his elder brother had an heir.
And as a matter of fact, he is not the eldest after my father. He said if that was the case he was going to cause trouble for the royal family. He started inciting some members of the family, saying that members of the traditional council of chiefs have been empowered while they were being neglected as members of the royal family.
“He went ahead to recruit about eight young men to help him make Abavo ungovernable, saying I am not supposed to be on the throne and that my father was installed wrongly. Then I went in to bring out the video clip and pictures of the installation where my uncle and the people he recruited were rejoicing with my father. Then I asked if he was not supposed to be king why did you people install him? That is not all, his installation was gazetted and given government recognition. I will advise them to go to court if the traditional stool is the bone of contention,” he said.
The monarch, who admitted that royalty was paid, said any money meant for the community was usually paid into the Community Relations Committee (CRC) account with Zenith Bank in Agbor, adding that the royalty paid Pan Ocean Oil was no exception.
According to him, the protest of June 23 was orchestrated to force him out of the throne, adding that “they have tried to penetrate the palace but we thank God it has not escalated. All these things are happening because of the discovery of oil. Otherwise, why would they wait for 15 years after I have been on the throne which my father occupied for eight years to raise this alarm?”