The Okpe Union National Headquarters was relocated from Lagos in November, 2016 in very pressing circumstances. There was pressure of duration because it was desired that it be done before the tenth Anniversary of the Coronation of HRM Orhue I, the Orodje of Okpe that had been scheduled to hold between the 21st and the 27th of November, 2016. Despite the shortcomings, all stakeholders accepted the outcome of the November 17th, 2016 elections for the Okpe Union to move forward.
To my astonishment, the first directive given to me as General Secretary by the then newly elected President General, Chief Robert Onome was for me to write to the Lagos former headquarters that they should find somewhere else to hold their meetings and vacate the Okpe House Lagos as the property belongs to the National Headquarters of the Okpe Union. I tried to ask him about how that house was acquired but he only replied that he would tell me the story and show me documents. That he would take his time to bring out the documents. When he gave me that directive, two NEC members were present. They were Mr. James Itebu, the National Spokesman and Mr. John Esedafe, the National Financial Secretary. I did not carry out the directive because firstly it was manifestly contrary to the provisions of Article 20 of the Okpe Union Constitution and secondly, such decision requires the resolution of the National Executive Council of the Okpe Union.
At the first NEC meeting in February 2017, I brought the matter up and the PG denied ever giving such directive. I told the house that it was in the presence of the two witnesses who were in the meeting with us. They never denied it.
As General Secretary who knew that the matter of the Lagos Okpe House was capable of tearing the Union apart, I visited Chief Dick Gberevbie at his country home in Osubi regarding this matter since he was President General of the Okpe Union headquarters in Lagos for several years before coming back home. At his place I presented the issue of the Lagos Okpe House to him as well as the directive of the current President General, Chief Robert Onome for Lagos to hand over the house to the new headquarters. I first asked him to tell me how the house was built. He responded by saying the house was built by contributions from the “four permanent ruling house Okpe Union Branches in the Lagos Headquarters”. Those were his exact words. I followed up with the question if other branches of the Okpe Union from outside Lagos then, contributed. He answered by saying that time, most of the prominent and active people in the Okpe Union were in Lagos and that there was an Okpe man in Lagos then who gave a huge donation of N3000. 00(three thousand naira) which really took the building far before they completed the down floor. From there they gave it out to a Lebanese man who operated his company there for several years and it was he who completed the top before later leaving Nigeria. Lastly, I asked Chief Gberevbie his advice on how to resolve the potential dispute. He said both Lagos and the new national headquarters of the Okpe Union have some points. That since the four permanent ruling house branches of the Okpe Union who own the house are still in Lagos, they cannot be told to hand it over. But that since the National Headquarters has moved to Orerokpe, there should be discussions so that Lagos will be remitting a percentage to the new headquarters.
After getting this story, I called Mr. Patrick Akpotor, the current Deputy President General 1 who, by the current constitution of the Okpe Union, heads the current Lagos Regional Headquarters. He confirmed the story and promised that Lagos would compile the story of how the Okpe House Lagos was built so that all Okpe would know about the falsehood being spread.
On the 29th of January, 2020, the Orodje invited a select number of the Okpe Union NEC members to resolve some disagreement in the National Executive Council. Four members of the NEC had gone to the High Court alleging that the PG called a meeting of some members and non members of the Okpe Union in December 2019 at Orerokpe, unknown to many members and Branches of the Okpe Union describing it as “Special AGA” and issued an indefinite suspension letter to the General Secretary of union signed by the PG, DPG3 and one Patrick Apiamu the candidate who lost the last election to the General Secretary who signed as “Acting Secretary”. The PG also claimed that his special AGA had set up a constitutional review Committee to amend the Okpe Union Constitution. Neither was the NEC of the Okpe Union aware of the so called special AGA meeting nor was the General Secretary who is constitutionally empowered to send notices of Annual General Assembly meetings or his assistant aware of the PG’s so-called special AGA. It was this dispute which DPG 1, DPG 2, DPG 4 and the General Secretary as plaintiffs/claimants took to the High Court which the Orodje invited us to resolve.
At the meeting, the Orodje asked the Secretary of the Udogun-Okpe to read out the Claimants’ Address from the Originating Summons which was the case in Court. It was these issues that formed the agenda of the settlement meeting and nothing more. The Orodje resolved the matter and asked that the case be withdrawn from the court and that the status quo ante prior to the so called Special AGA which led to the court case be reverted to. But before the meeting ended, Chief Tom Anirah asked to be permitted to say something. He remarked that the National Headquarters lacked funding and that a region, Lagos Regional Headquarters was now more powerful than the National Headquarters because they have refused to hand over the Lagos Okpe House to the new headquarters. Chief Onome, the PG also rose and said that house was built by all Okpes. That he was Secretary General in Lagos for six years and he can prove that the house belongs to all Okpes. Mr. Akpotor on the other hand said the house was built with contributions from the Lagos Ruling House branch but that Lagos had never said that they are not willing to give concessions but that the way the PG is going about it is causing disaffection among members and the branches in Lagos.
The Orodje then responded that if it is all Okpes that contributed the money to build that house, then it should be handed over.
This is a statement about a matter that was not one of the issues in the agenda read at the meeting. We were therefore surprised that it was included in the resolutions at the meeting in the minutes written by the Assistant Secretary of the Udogun. The statement by the Orodje was a statement in passing and not part of the resolutions as it was outside the issues brought for settlement.
The President General, Chief Onome, immediately duplicated the minutes of the meeting and circulated round branches of the Okpe Union to demand for the immediate handing over of the Okpe House Lagos to him as President General. It is reported from Lagos that this issue is being used by the PG to distabilise the Union in that region as he has reportedly promised to set up a Lagos Okpe House Management Committee made up of three current NEC members from Lagos and two others there to be in charge of the house. If true, then it would be another clear case of divide and rule taken too far.
In conclusion, I expect that an Okakuro of Okpe as experienced as Chief Gberevbie, being a former President General of the Okpe Union for nearly a decade in Lagos should step in an give the correct information to the Orodje whose statement in passing is now being employed by the current PG to distabilise the Union. From all I have gathered about the Okpe House, Lagos, the four Ruling House branches of Lagos Sapele Branch(for Orhoro), Lagos Mereje Branch(Orhue), Lagos Ugolo Branch(Evwreke) and Lagos Esezi Branch(Esezi) were largely responsible for the building of that house.
It is instructive to note that no branch of the Okpe Union has claimed to have contributed to that property nor ever laid claims to the house. Jos Okpe Union used to have its own house in Jos. However, considering the special status of Lagos being the national headquarters when the house was built, the new Okpe Union headquarters in Delta State clearly also has some legitimate claim for some interest. Is it not better for stakeholders to sit down and discuss what concessions the Lagos Okpe Union can give to the new headquarters instead of this flexing of muscles? Okpes clearly have the capacity to handle this amicably. As I end my tenure in a few weeks time, this is the path I suggest, influenced by the information at my disposal.
Dated this 15th Day of September, 2020.
Akpederin Kingsley Ehensiri Esq., General Secretary, the Okpe Union.