The once peaceful town of Ayetoro in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State is one of the historically remarkable settlements along the coastal stretch of the state known as the Holy Apostles Community or the Happy People. But the town seems to be in crisis over the oil-spillage compensation paid by an oil company.spring News reports the positions of the two opposing groups involved
Tension is brewing in the oil community of Ayetoro, in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State, as the residents of the community are at loggerheads with the leadership of the community following the oil-spillage compensation paid to the community by a leading oil company, Mobil.
The oil spillage compensation paid by the oil giant has torn the people of the community apart with two groups within the community laying claim to the money paid for the destruction and pollution of their waters that has served as source of their livelihood.
Some community members, during a protest to the palace of the Ogeloyinbo of Ayetoro, demanded a fair share of the compensation paid by the oil giant into the monarch’s account since 2021, or he should be ready to incur the wrath of the people. The monarch was said to have fled and vacated the palace to avoid being attacked by the angry mob.
The protesters were armed with placards with various inscriptions such as “Pay our money for peace to reign”, “Release our Mobil Oil spillage fund with you since 2021,” “Ayetoro demands payment of oil-spillage compensation,” among others.
However, the monarch, Oba Ajijo, has raised the alarm over the invasion of his palace by some hoodlums alleging that the protesters destroyed property worth millions of naira in an attempt to kidnap, kill him and forcefully remove him from the throne.
The monarch in a letter to the state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, identified a ‘prophet’ in the community (name witheld) as the brain behind his travail, recalling that his predicament started shortly after he ascended the throne.
According to the monarch, despite thke ruling of the court declaring him as the traditional ruler and spiritual head of the community, the said ‘prophet’ and his agents have been engaging in numerous actions in violation of the court, breaching the peace and security in the community.
Ajijo, in the letter said, “The ‘prophet’ and his gangsters held a meeting at his residence in the community where he expressed his determination to forcefully remove me from the throne.
“To organise and liaise with some criminals and kidnappers within an outside the community to invade the palace at night during the founder’s day anniversary of the community and the church and kidnap Oba Ajijo to enable the ‘prophet’ to take over the leadership of the community and the church”
According to Oba Ajijo, the plan to kidnap him was hatched on March 3, 2023, when some persons invaded the palace with dangerous weapons and threatened to kill him and destroy property worth millions of naira.
He said, “The gangsters destroyed two houses built very close to the palace belonging to Mr Tokunbo Olasile and Rev Iwasanmi Ajijo, and they reported the cruel acts of destruction to the police authorities in Igbokoda. The DPO expressed his helplessness in effecting the arrest of suspects because of the riverside terrain of the community.”
He said the letter to the governor became necessary because “looting of properties and threats to lives and properties and other criminal activities allegedly being perpetrated by the ‘prophet’ has continued unabated and there is no end at sight.
So far, Ogeloyinbo of Ayetoro has lost properties worth N200million to the criminal activities. It is important to note that the police have expressed their helplessness in arresting the situation or any of the suspects so far.”
The monarch, however, demanded “urgent mobilisation of a Joint Task Force to Ayetoro community to maintain law and order. A directive to the Commissioner of Police, Ondo State to urgently commence a thorough and decisive investigation of all the incidents and that culprits to face the wrath of the law.”
He also demanded “urgent and effective security apparatus for the Ogeloyinbo of Ayetoro both in his palace and in and around Ayetoro community to be able to bring back an enduring peace and sustainable development in the community even in the face of the ongoing ravaging sea incursion which has claimed more than half of the community’s land and properties.”
But the aggrieved members of the community have faulted Oba Ajijo’s claims, and said it was an indication that the traditional ruler was up to some mischief over the payment of the oil spill compensation.
Speaking on their behalf, chairman, Association of Fishermen, Pa Lawrence Lemamu, said that the monarch voluntarily vacated the palace when the residents of the town, who are mainly fishermen, demanded the money paid as compensation by Mobil Producing Nigeria.
Lemamu disclosed that the sum of N150 million was paid by the oil giant as out-of-court settlement for the action instituted against the company over the oil spillage that happened in the community in 1998. He explained that the oil spillage destroyed the source of livelihood of farmers and fishermen, while poultry and other domestic animals reared for commercial purpose in the community died as a result of water contamination caused by oil spillage.
He explained that the community took the oil company to court, with some leaders of the community representing the community. He listed the community representatives to include Dele Kudehinbu, Jimmy Obakpolor and Jackson Hommane, but said they nominated Oba Ajijo to superintendent over the disbursement of the compensation.
Lemamu, however alleged that the traditional ruler after taking delivery of the funds from Mobil resorted to using the police to intimidate and harass members of the communities
He said, “The community unanimously agreed upon an account to be submitted for the payment of this money, but Micah Ajijo clandestinely and surreptitiously presented another account for payment of the compensation, while the fishermen waited endlessly.
“Since 2021 that the compensation was paid, attempts and frantic efforts have been made to prevail on and call Micah Ajijo to order so that over 2000 people affected by the spillage who are predominantly fishermen would be paid their entitlement, but all these efforts proved abortive.
“The beneficiaries having waited for two good years for their money without positive results decided to embark on a peaceful protest to ensure the payment of the compensation.”
Lemamu said the protest was peaceful, adding that the monarch sneaked out of the community to escape, and twisted the story that he was attacked by hoodlums.
“This has been his style, all these allegations levelled against the people of the community are baseless and false. His house and properties are intact. Some of his workers have started moving his property out of the palace. But we are peaceful people and will not take the law into our own hands
“There was no assassination attempt or looting of his property. We cannot afford to lose him now. We have been praying for him so that the debts would be paid. No one will ever want to kill or pray for his debtor to die.
“We wish Micah Ajijo has valuables that we can hold in trust pending the time he can pay our money, but unfortunately he doesn’t. His allegations are baseless; we decided to record some of his men moving his property out of the house. We will produce the videos when necessary.”
He called on relevant authorities and state government to wade into the matter by calling the traditional ruler to order to halt the looming crisis in the community.
On his part, the prophet accused of being behind the crisis, said he was not involved in the protest against Ajijo, saying the protest was between the fishermen and the leadership of the town over the oil-spillage compensation paid by the oil company.
He warned that his name should not be dragged into the latest crisis but urged those involved to pay the compensation money to those affected by the oil spillage rather than apportioning blame or accusing those who knew nothing about the crisis.
“I want to state categorically that I am not involved and should not be dragged into the controversy. The state government has waded into the crisis and I am sure the committee put in place will come out with a report that will be acceptable to all sides involved in the crisis,” he said.
However, the leadership of the town has explained that the compensation paid by Mobil to the community was never diverted into personal purse or misappropriated by community leaders.
Speaking on behalf of the leadership, the Ogeloyinbo-in-Council and the Community Board of Trustees, the Asiwaju of Ayetoro, Gani Ojagbohunmi, said the traditional ruler of the town should be distanced from the disbursement of the compensation, saying the oil spillage predated his emergence as the monarch of the community.
He admitted that the first tranche of the compensation was paid into the community account by the oil giant after the lawyer representing the community had deducted his legal fee in line with the agreement with him.
He explained that the sum of N90 million was released and all relevant beneficiaries affected by the spillage organised themselves into groups and cooperatives; donors have been paid.
According to him, the compensation was disbursed to beneficiaries mainly through their bank accounts, but said a few people without bank accounts were paid cash and they signed accordingly.
He however, said that a particular leader in the community, Oluwambe Ojagbohunmi instructed people in his group not to collect their entitlements, unless the whole money released by Mobil is brought to him for administration, “by so doing, he was trying to struggle with the leadership on the issue of leadership legitimacy.
“Majority of the people entitled to the money in his group ignored his directive and went ahead to collect their money. We have records of people in his group who already collected their entitlements.
“It is pertinent to note that the allegation of wrong doing concerning the compensation money is nothing new. The matter was earlier reported to the Ondo State Police Command, Akure. After some investigations, the police command expressed satisfaction that the leadership of the community properly handled the administration of the compensation. And we have a document from the police to that effect.
“Similarly, Mr Oluwambe Ojagbohunmi and some of his supporters took their complaint to a magistrate’s court for redress. The court ruled in favour of the leadership of the community.
“Their lawyer knows very well that they can seek further redress in a higher court if they have a genuine case. Therefore, we cannot see any justification for resort to violence, threat to life and destruction of valuable properties of the leader of the community and other indigenes of the community.”
The Ogeloyinbo-in-Council, however, called on the state government to urgently mobilise the Mobile Police Force and other security agents to Ayetoro community to maintain law and order, noting that no fewer than 84 buildings have been destroyed over the leadership crisis in the coastal community from 2015 till date, following the Obaship tussle which had been settled in court.
But a member of the Ayetoro Youth Congress, Emmanuel Aralu, said most youths in the community believe that the oil spillage compensation should be diverted into the development of the town rather than sharing the money.
He noted that the community is educationally backward saying, “the only secondary school in this community, Happy City College which was established during the days of Obafemi Awolowo, is nothing to write home about.”
Aralu frowned on the neglect of the community by subsequent governments in the state. “We have cried to government for help on the frequent occurrence of ocean surge which usually damages our homes but successive governments have been insensitive to our plight.
“Some of the elite from this town are also not helping matters by using the embankment project of the government to siphon money into private pockets. We have not felt the impact of this embankment project.
“Our homes are daily flooded while some of them are interested in the oil deposit in the community and the compensation paid to the community by the oil companies,” Aralu said
Meanwhile, as part of efforts to restore peace in the community, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu has set up a reconciliation committee to look into the frequent crisis occasioned by leadership tussle and the oil spill compensation paid to Ayetoro community.
A statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Richard Olatunde, said the constitution of the committee by the governor is aimed at finding lasting peace to the ravaging crisis in Aiyetoro community.
He listed members of the committee: Dr Olawunmi Ilawole as chairman, Primate Afolabi Aboyewa as member and Mr Uguoji Justice Brasin as secretary of the committee.
He said, “The committee’s terms of reference include but not limited to investigating the remote and immediate cause of the disagreement. It is also to determine and work out amicable resolution on the oil spill compensation and to recommend appropriate strategies that will bring about lasting peace and development in the community and unite warring factions.
“Any other recommendations that the committee deems appropriate to ensure peace in the community.”
The committee has set the ball rolling, meeting with and inviting all stakeholders, and calling for a memorandum from members of the Ayetoro community and the general public.
Meanwhile, the people of the state are waiting patiently for the outcome of the recommendations to put an end to the lingering crisis rocking the coastal Ayetoro community.