Hundreds of residents of Oton, an Okpe community in Sapele Local Government Area of Delta State have fled their homes following an alleged presence of unknown armed security forces in the area. They are fleeing for fear of retaliation from the security forces besieging the community.
A military personnel and a police officer were allegedly killed in the community last weekend by unknown gunmen suspected to be kidnappers. As a result, security forces have trooping into Sapele town and heading to Oton community.
Sapele Is under the traditional jurisdiction of the Orodje Of Okpe Kingdom, retired Major General Felix Mujakperuo, the Orhue I. He is the fourth and current king of Okpe.
Okpe is one of the plural kingdoms that make up Urhobo nation. Its headquarters is Orerokpe. The kingdom plays host to the Warri Airport, which is actually located at Osubi and the Delta State Trade Fair Complex.
By the mid-19th century, Sapele was established as a trading centte, occasionally visited by Europeans. In 1891, the British government established a vice-consulate at Sapele. The population grew to 33,638 by 1952, because of the cosmopolitan nature of the city, people from many Nigerian ethnic groups have settled there, alongside the many Okpe people, these also include the Itsekiris and ijaws, as well as the Urhobo people from surrounding towns and villages.
Today, the town has one of Nigeria’s major ports and also non-salty. Its industries include the processing of timber, rubber, and palm oil, as well as furniture, tamarind balm and footwear manufacturing.
Sapele also, is hub to oil and gas exploration, with flow stations situated in Shell Road and Oton. It has various oil wells in neighbouring towns and villages like Ugborhen, Ugbukurusu, Amukpe, Okirigwe and Oton under Sapele’s local government. Its population was 135,800 as of 1995, growing to 242,652 as of 2005/06.
The surrounding forest is predominantly made up of Entandrophragma cylindricum or Sapele, which is the kind of tree the city lends its name from. Sapele was one of Africa’s largest timber producers.
The African Timber and Plywood (AT&P), a factory from a division of the United Africa Company, once reputed to be the largest timber manufacturing complex in the world, in its prime, it was the city’s largest employer with an estimated 6000 employees
The Ogorode district of the city houses two of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria power generation plants, one of six majors in the country and the nation’s second-largest with an installed capacity of 1000 MW as well as an NIPP power plant.
It was however, gathered that the gunmen came for a kidnapping operation and deemed it fit to dislodged the army checkpoint at Oton before carrying out their operation. But a strong resistance from security personnel forced them back, after killing the military personnel and a police officer.
Local sources say, the community was sealed up by security operatives and nobody was allowed to come in or go out, to the end that residents had to make use of an old route that had long been abandoned to escape in their numbers from the community.
Eye-witnesses say Chairman of Oton youths, and the Chairman of the community’s vigilante have been apprehended and were undergoing interrogation. It is being alleged that they did not mobilise youths and vigilantes to assist the security forces during the attack at the checkpoint.
In another development, former Chairman of Ugbori, an Itsekiri community in Warri South Local Government Area was shot dead by unknown gun men in Merogun area of Warri on Monday January 25, 2021.
The shooting occurred at a party at about 8.00 p.m. It was further gathered that the assailants of the fallen former Chairman of Ugbori community ensured that he gave up the ghost before departing the scene of the incident unchallenged.
Similarly, a young man was said to have been killed by yet to be identified gun men near a church at Ekurede Itsekiri community in Warri also on Monday.
Spokesman for the Nigeria Police, Delta State Command, Onome Onovwakpoyeya, a Deputy Superintendent of Police was not readily available for comments. But, some police officers in Sapele and Warri say the incidents are being investigated.