Sources close to the communities revealed that it has become a way of life such that most border communities, during farming season, now make budgets for crises…
Judex Okoro, Calabar
For many decades now, Cross River has been enmeshed in land disputes with its neighbouring states of Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi and Benue. These disputes over farmlands have wreaked havoc on the warring communities in the affected states.
Hundreds of innocent lives have been lost and means of livelihood and property worth millions of naira have been destroyed in the communal clashes.
Investigations showed that Cross River has the highest number of communal clashes within and with neighbouring states. Almost all the border communities in Yakurr, Abi, Obubra, Ikom, Obudu, Ogoja, Yala, Boki and Obanliku have become so belligerent that the slightest provocation could spark endless violence.
Sources close to the communities revealed that it has become a way of life such that most border communities, during farming season, now make budgets for crises, in spite of efforts by the state government and the National Boundary Commission to nip it in the bud.
On the Akwa Ibom border axis, the Odukpani community of Cross River has been engaged in fratricidal war with the Okuiboku people, while in Benue, it has always been guerrilla-style war between the Tivs and their Obudu and Bekwarra neighbours.
On the Ebonyi flank, it has been a war of attrition between Adadama in Abi, Obubra and Yala in Cross River and Ikwo and Izzi in Ebonyi for decades. This conflict is one of the several existing clashes that have defied all peace moves initiated by previous administrations.
The age-long internecine war over parcels of land got to frightening dimensions in 2014, leading to the setting up of a 26-man joint committee to dialogue with the villages by the then governors of Cross River and Ebonyi, Liyel Imoke and Martins Elechi, respectively
The decision to set up the joint committee was contained in a communiqué signed by Governors Imoke and Elechi, Attah Ochinke and Dr. Ben Igwenyi of Cross River and Ebonyi.
According to the communiqué, the two sides decided to, among other things, look into the entire four contentious border areas and to dialogue with the communities concerned with a view to finding mutually acceptable and sustainable solutions to disputed areas. The committee, jointly headed by the deputy governors of the two states, was to submit its report to the two governors on November 30, 2014.
Recent outbreak of hostilities worrisome
However, four years after setting up the committee, there have been perennial clashes between border communities of the two states. The recent outbreak of hostilities between the Ukelle community in Yala Local Government Area of Cross River and Izzi in Ebonyi State has called for urgent attention. During the clash, which occurred between the last two weeks of June, more than 15 persons were reportedly killed just as houses were allegedly set ablaze in both communities.
Disturbed by the ugly development, the two state governments again set up a peace meeting comprising the warring parties. They also condemned the killings and the destruction of property.
Speaking at the expanded peace meeting held in Ukelle South in Yala, Cross River State, on July 3, the deputy governor of Cross River State, Prof. Ivara Ejemot Esu, and his counterpart from Ebonyi State, Hon. Eric Kelechi Igwe, called on both communities to sheathe their swords and allow peace to reign in their areas.
Condoling with them over the loss of lives, property and infrastructure during the boundary crisis, Esu said government would do everything within its power to protect the lives of the people of Cross Rivers and stop the recurrence of such wanton destruction.
According to Esu, both states had shared close filial affinity for centuries and should not engage in acts that could undermine unity between them.
He noted that peace in the areas would enhance development and other dividends of democracy, adding that the matter had gone beyond the two states. He called on the National Boundary Commission to demarcate the boundaries in order to forestall further bloodshed, urging the people not to have the stain of innocent blood on their hands.
On his part, Igwe noted that only lasting peace could guarantee development and social harmony in the communities in the two states.
He said, as chairmen of the boundary committees in their respective states, the two deputy governors would continue to work towards the amicable resolution of their boundary crisis.
While expressing worry over the killings and destruction, Col. Stanley Odionyenfe, Garrison Commander, 13 Brigade, Calabar, called for security measures to end the crisis. He noted that one of such measures would be for the warring parties to surrender their weapons to the security agencies.
Condemning the act of going to war because of land, the director-general of the National Boundary Commission, Dr. Mohammed Ahmad, disclosed that the initial boundary demarcation exercises carried out by the National Boundary Commission had not changed. He fixed a meeting for the signing of the peace treaty in Abuja for July 11.
And as a sign of total commitment to the peaceful resolution of the lingering crisis, the youth representatives, Clement Ebi, chairman, Peace and Security Committee, South Ukelle, and Richard Idike, special adviser to the Ebonyi State governor on Solid Minerals, embraced each other openly.
The traditional rulers of the two communities were not left out in the quest for peace, The paramount rulers of Yala and Izzi, Ogamode, Onah Ipuole, and Eze Ogbonna Ukwa, embraced each other warmly to signify the end of the communal rift.
Succour for displaced persons
Government has also embarked on a medical programme in which it donated food to individuals displaced by the crisis, especially children and the elderly.
The donations included over 50 bags of rice, 30 bags of beans, 50 bags of salt, blankets, toiletries and other essentials.
Speaking at the free medical outreach in Ukele, the director-general of the Cross River State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Dr. Betta Edu, educated the people of the communities on the need for peace.
Edu, who also inspected the warfront and burnt communities, brought out some victims of war to the main health outreach, where they could get care. He decried the destruction of the primary health care facilities and the threats to the frontline health workers.