Obinna Odogwu, Awka
It was a riotous scene at Allah/Onugwa and Odekpe communities in Anambra West Local Government Area of Anambra State on Monday, April 20.
The two communities, which have been enmeshed in an age-long battle over a piece of land, returned to the warfront, inflicting more pain and sorrow on themselves.
In the wake of the battle, which spilled into Tuesday, April 21, at least seven persons were feared dead, while several others sustained different degrees of injuries.
Residents of Allah/Onugwa told Daily Sun that their community was invaded by troublemakers operating from Odekpe. They said the invasion had left them homeless, adding that virtually all their residential homes were razed by the invaders.
They noted that four of their kinsmen were killed, while about 150 houses including churches, hospital, schools, residential buildings, and others were razed in the bloody clash that lasted for several hours.
One of the residents of Allah/Onugwa, Mr. Uzor Paul, narrated what transpired: “Our people went for fishing that fateful day. The next thing we saw was that the people of Odekpe community invaded our community. The first thing they did was to shoot sporadically in the air.
“But before we could get home to prepare for defence, they had already got to our community. They were armed with dangerous weapons such as guns, machetes and they were many in number. We started fighting but they were able to defeat us because our village is very, very small. They gunned down four persons who died instantly.
“They set our houses ablaze with the fuel they came with. They also made use of the fuel our people sell on the streets. There were also some of the buildings that they pulled down while some others were burnt.
“We tried to return to the village when they left but the heat emanating from the fire burning in our houses was too much and we left. Our people sought refuge in our neighbouring communities, including the one in Kogi State.
“Before some of us could return to our community the next morning, they were already there shooting sporadically in the air. They also burnt the other buildings which they could not burn the previous day.
“They also carted away our food, including bags of rice. Our people are majorly rice farmers. We watched them helplessly from a distance. They used our motorcycles to convey our rice and other property to their village.
“We are small in number and could not challenge them. Some of us were able to return to the village as I speak now because policemen are around.”
He appealed to the state Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, to intervene and restore lasting peace in the area. He lamented that people could no longer feed well, having lost everything to the attackers.
Another indigene of the community, Matthew Uzor, lamented that life had become very unbearable for his people. He appealed to the relevant authorities to wade into the matter with a view to bringing lasting peace to the area.
“They burnt the whole houses in the community and our people have run away. There is no single person in Allah/Onugwa community as we speak now. When our people could not withstand their firepower, they had to retreat.
“They killed three persons and took one alive. The one they took alive works in the court. More than 20 persons sustained gunshot injuries. Some of them ran to Kogi State.
“My mother and other relatives crossed the River Niger and ran to a community in Edo State where they are taking refuge,” he said.
But contrary to claims by residents of Allah/Onugwa, people of Odekpe lamented that they were also victims. They even insisted that it was the people of Allah/Onugwa that brought war to the doorsteps of Odekpe community on the fateful day.
A youth leader in Odekpe, Ernest Udoba, dismissed the allegations. He maintained that Allah/Onugwa people fired the first shots into Odekpe.
He claimed that three persons were killed in Odekpe while about three houses were torched. He also accused Odekpe people of violating peace agreements reached between them.
Udoba said: “There is a lake called Abalumetah on the disputed land. We discovered in the last two weeks that Allah people have been going there to fish. And we told the peace committee about it.
“The committee said they would send a delegation to the community to find out. When they went to them, the Allah people denied it saying that it was their children that go there for fishing.
“What led to the latest fight was that they were shooting in the air and taunting our people to come out and confront them.
“We went there to confirm and when we got there, they started shooting our people and we had to retaliate. That was how it started. They were shooting and saying that the lake belongs to them. That was how we ended up clashing.”
He also claimed that three persons were killed with some others injured, while about three houses were torched. He said that some of the injured persons were taken to Asaba in Delta State for treatment.
He added that their community had to take the war to Allah/Onugwa people, noting that the latter started the fight.
“They killed people. I think they have killed three already. Some buildings at our farm settlement were razed. Our independent plant was razed. And a couple of our crops were also damaged. Three houses were badly affected,” he further noted.
Two days later, the communal war took another dimension as the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in the area and two of his men were reportedly abducted by suspects from Odekpe.
The DPO had led a team of police officers to the two warring communities to restore peace following the renewed hostilities that claimed seven lives from both sides.
A resident of Allah/Onugwa, Uzor David, told Daily Sun that the DPO first led his team to his community and after assessing the level of carnage in the area, also proceeded to Odekpe to also carryout similar assessment.
He said that stakeholders from the area, including the representative of Anambra East and West in the National Assembly, Hon. Chinedu Obidigwe; Commissioner for Lands, Bonaventure Enemali; and a traditional ruler from the area, Igwe Pius Omachonu had met and resolved that the police should embark on a fact-finding mission to the areas.
“After they deliberated on many issues, they resolved that mobile policemen should be sent to go and view the area and bring information back to them.
“Those mobile policemen that came were many. They passed through Allah/Onugwa, they saw what happened. They proceeded to Odekpe. Our place is not that motorable. When they got to Inoma community, they stopped.
“They parked their vehicles and picked motorcycles. They passed through our place and on getting to Odekpe; when the people sighted them, knowing that they are mobile policemen, they started shooting at them.
“The policemen had no option than to fire back. Two people fell down from Odekpe side based on the information we got. They captured three policemen now. The DPO representing all of us is in their custody. As I am talking to you now, he is unconscious. Somebody called me to tell me that the DPO may not survive it. The other two mobile policemen are still in their custody,” David said.
Efforts to get reactions from the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Superintendent of Police Haruna Mohammed, proved abortive as he did not pick calls to his phone and did not return the calls at the time of filing this report.
He had earlier confirmed that there were clashes between the two communities but said that he would not be able to give further information on the development as investigation was still on-going. He said the police had been able to restore normalcy to the areas.