By Ifeanyi Olannye
Asaba – Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta on Thursday inaugurated a seven-member Judicial Panel of Enquiry to establish the ownership of Okpe-Urhobo forest reserve, particularly the purported de-reserved area.
Okowa, who performed the ceremony at Government House, Asaba, charged the panel to determine the status of the forest reserve which had created tension between the Itsekiri and Urhobo host communities.
He charged the panel chaired by Justice Tessy Diai, to identify and locate boundaries of the Okpe-Urhobo (Ukpe-Sobo) Forest Reserve and determine whether or not the size of the reserve was at any time altered by any existing or defunct instrument of government.
He also mandated it to establish the existence or otherwise of any instrument of the state that de-reserved portion(s) of the forest reserve in favour of any beneficiary(s) and the size and extent of such de-reserved portion(s).
Okowa further charbed the panel to identify the immediate and remote causes leading to encroachment(s) on any portions of the forest reserve and the extent of such encroachment(s); and make appropriate recommendations to the state.
He said that the panel of enquiry had become necessary to prevent the situation from escalating into a full blown conflict.
He said that the panel would receive presentations from all parties involved and conduct dispassionate investigation into the existing legal instruments; Gazettes, survey maps and documents relating to the real estate.
Okowa said that his administration had in its first term established a track record to promote peace building among the various communities in the state.
“This administration established a track record for peace-building, and we intend to keep it that way.
“This is because peace-building as a concept, seeks to prevent the occurrence and recurrence of violence by addressing root causes and effects of conflict through dialogue, engagement, and reconciliation.
“It was a major pillar of our S.M.A.R.T agenda, which morphed into the Stronger Delta mantra, standing on the tripod of prosperity, peace and progress,” he said.
He said that the panel had four weeks to submit its report, adding that the body was made of persons with unblemished character, unassailable integrity, vast knowledge and experience in public service and without vested interests in the dispute.
Other members of the panel are Prof. Abednego Ekoko, Sir Okey Ofili, Mr Okeoghene Osiawa and ACP Dashuwar Abuja (representing the Commissioner of Police).
Also included are Mr Weng Chollom (representing the Director, State Security Services) and Mr Jerome Morka who will serve as Secretary.
Th governor said that the members met the criteria to be on the panel and were able to adjudicate the matter with fairness, equity, and justice.
Responding on behalf of members, the Chairman, Justice Diai, thanked the governor for the confidence reposed in them by entrusting them with the assignment.
“In discharging our duties, we will do so diligently and with utmost sense of respectability and fairness, and without any fear or favour,” she said.
The Deputy Governor, Mr Burutu Otuaro, and some members of the state Executive Council witnessed the ceremony.