From Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki ([email protected])
In Ebonyi State, it’s war without end. Or so it seems. Over the years, the state has witnessed series of inter-communal and intra-communal crises. Most of the conflicts border on land disputes. The prevalence of bloody conflicts tends to scare away prospective investors from investing in the state.
To be sure, Ebonyi State is blessed with abundant mineral resources. It is home to large quantity of limestone, lead, crude oil and natural gas, among others. It is also known for producing rice in commercial quantity. In fact, Abakaliki rice is, unarguably, among the best in the country.
With the array of resources, which the state parades, one would expect it to attract investors in their numbers but that has not happened. Investors are instead scared and they avoid the state like a plague, no thanks to incessant communal clashes that have become the state’s inglorious identity.
Every now and then, one community or the other is locked in a bloody clash with its neighbour following disagreements over land matters. In some cases, they flex muscles with a neighbouring state.
Checks by Daily Sun showed that the situation has degenerated so much that the Government House, Abakaliki, has become a quasi-court, where these matters are often adjudicated with a view to finding lasting peace.
In one of such occasions, the state governor, Chief David Umahi, was reported to have expressed his frustration on the sad development. The governor had, during a peace parley and report presentation on Oferekpe-Enyigba and Enyibichiri in Izzi and Ikwo Local government areas, respectively, described the situation where several lives were lost and property worth millions of naira destroyed because of disagreement over a small piece of land as very shameful.
Umahi said: “It is very shameful. I was told that the land in question is only 20 plots. That was why houses were burnt. This is not enough to pitch brothers against themselves.
“I have been receiving reports on the crises on our borders. It is a shame that one local government will be accusing the other of allowing the people of Cross River State access to attack them. That is very shameful. How I wish that God would open the eyes of our people to understand the meaning of bloodshed.”
Ogiri and Okporojo land war
For several months, Ogiri and Okporojo quarters, which make up Idima community in Afikpo South LGA of the state, have been enmeshed in a land tussle. Both quarters lay claim to a piece of land alleged to be very fertile for rice farming. However, the matter took a dangerous dimension on June 10, 2017. In the wee hour of that ill-fated day, men from Okporojo allegedly invaded Ogiri and unleashed terror on them.
According to the residents, the midnight attack, which lasted for several hours, led to the death of 12 people. Over 50 persons were also alleged to be missing while more than 300 houses were equally razed.
Ogiri and Okporojo are large quarters that make up one community. Like brothers, they had shared things in common and lived peacefully before the disagreement over the ownership of a piece of land put a knife to the cord that had bound them together.
According to the people of Ogiri community, a certain man (names withheld) from Ifuesene-Owutu community had, sometime ago, laid claims to the ownership of a piece of farmland, which is known to be fertile and suitable for rice cultivation. Sensing that he might not be able to wrest the land from the Ogiri people, who are the original owners, he allegedly connived with another man from Okporojo who made arrangements to sell the contentious land to him.
This arrangement, according to Ogiri people, was to co-opt Okporojo people, who allegedly have a long-standing, frosty relationship with the former, into the land tussle so as to enable them ‘strike.’The tussle, which started as a mere verbal war, degerated to the usage of firearms. This, according to sources, continued until the people of Ogiri allegedly killed one Mr. Eme Agha from Okporojo.
Daily Sun learnt that the invasion of Ogiri community by the people of Okporojo was simply to avenge the death of their son, Agha. A community leader in Ogiri, Mr. Hyacinth Igwe Okoro, who spoke to the Daily Sun, said the contentious land case had been in the court.
“We went to court over the land tussle but Ogbaga family teamed up with Okporojo people to contest the land with us. Along the line, while the matter was still in court, we exchanged fire with the Okporojo people and one of their own was gunned down in the process.
“Following the incident, other neighbouring communities joined Okporojo to invade our community in the mid night of that fateful June 10. And they achieved their aim because we are in their middle,” Okoro explained.
Several attempts were made to contact the traditional ruler of the community who is from Okporojo quarter, Igwe Osuu Oduko, to comment on the situation but they were unsuccessful. Even as at the time of filing this report, his telephone was not reachable.
But, in a telephone conversation, the chairman of Afikpo South LGA, Eni Uduma Chima, told Daily Sun that he had already brought the situation under control.
He said:“I ensured that the police were stationed in the area. I am the one sustaining them there too. I offset the hospital bills and also the mortuary bills for the dead. I have also written to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), State Emergency Management Commission Agency, National Refugee Commission, and I have liaised with our representative in the House of Representatives to follow it up from there.”
Oferekpe Enyigba and Enyibichiri land war
In a related development, the two communities of Oferekpe Enyigba and Enyibichiri in Izzi and Ikwo LGAs of the state have been locked in deadly clashes since March 2017, over land dispute. At the end of the renewed battle between the two communities, it was reported that no fewer than 2,000 people, especially from Izzi council area were displaced.
According to reports, the people of Enyibichiri in Ikwo had launched an attack against neighbouring Oferekpe Enyigba in Izzi following long standing disagreement over land. Daily Sun gathered that at the end of the attack, properties as well as food crops and other valuables worth millions of naira were destroyed.
In an interview with newsmen, the Ebonyi State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Jude Madu, and the chairman of Abakaliki local government area, Mr. Peter Nwogba, confirmed the incident. The duo told journalists that security personnel had already been stationed at the troubled area to maintain peace and forestall further break down of law and order. They revealed that investigations had commenced to find out the remote and immediate causes of the clash.
Ogwuzeru-Onweya and Mkpuma-Ekwoku land tussle
Also in November 2016, Ogwuzeru-Onweya and Mkpuma Ekweoku communities in Izzi LGA of the state were at each other’s throat over land. After the clash, which lasted for several hours, no fewer than three persons were confirmed dead while property and farm crops worth millions of naira were equally destroyed.
Madu confirmed the incident, saying: “We are aware of the misunderstanding in Izzi land. We now have an official report that there was a communal clash at the two neighbouring villages both in Ndieze, Inyimagu community in Ominyi Development Centre, Izzi LGA. And the dispute is over a parcel of rice farmland.
“As a result, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and his men moved in quickly to save the situation. The Commissioner of Police (CP) also mobilized from the state headquarters and by the time our team got there, we discovered that some houses had been set ablaze by the rampaging Ogwuzeru-Onweya people. Also, part of the said farmland was razed but we were able to recover three bodies, out of which two have been confirmed dead.”
Angered by the development, Umahi ordered the warring communities to hands off the disputed land, saying that the state government would henceforth assume ownership of it. The governor said the measure was to forestall future bloodshed between the two feuding communities.
Ebonyi vs Cross River
While many communities in Ebonyi State were still engaged in bloody battles, communities that have boundaries with their neighbouring states are not left out. Frequently, many of which are not reported in the media, bloody clashes between communities in the two states have left some dead and properties worth millions of naira destroyed.
This sad development was condemned by the deputy governor of the state, Dr. Kelechi Igwe, recently during the distribution of relief materials to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Ogiri-Idima community.“In all our border communities, there are crisis. But, I want to assure you that Governor Dave Umahi and the government of Ebonyi State have provided security in all these flashpoints,” he stated.
On July 14, 2017, blood was shed freely in Ofioji community, Izzi LGA of the state following an alleged invasion of the community by the neighbouring Ijutun-Idoru community in Obubura LGA of Cross River State. It was a renewed hostility over boundary dispute between the two communities. According to report, at least nine persons, including a pregnant woman, were killed and about 56 houses burnt.
It was gathered that the people of Ijutun-Odoru allegedly invaded Ofioji Izzi community in the late hours of the fateful day, shooting sporadically, leading to the death of about nine persons and burning of over 56 houses.
Addressing journalists at the place where they took refuge after the attack, the head of Ofioji community, Chief Nwobegu Mbam, painted a gory picture of how they were slaughtered by the militia from Cross River state.
Mbam said that during the attack, a pregnant woman he identified as Ukamaka Nwifuru lost her life while houses belonging to natives of the community were set ablaze even as property were looted by the invaders.
His words: “It was very late on Friday night. We had all gone to bed and, suddenly, we heard a very terrifying sound. In the ensuing confusion, we ran out only to see many houses on fire and that was when we knew that the people of Cross River have invaded us again. They were shooting our people without mercy. They burnt our houses and
carted away our property.”
Daily Sun gathered that over 58 lives have been lost while more than 1,000 houses have been destroyed since the crisis started.
Briefing newsmen on the development, Umahi accused his counterpart in Cross River State, Prof. Ben Ayade, of frustrating peace moves initiated by him to bring lasting solution to the age-long boundary dispute between the warring communities in the two neighbouring states.
Umahi lamented that he had on several occasions initiated peace moves to resolve the lingering land dispute between the two communities but his brother governor failed to support the move.
Umahi, who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Mr Emmanuel Uzor, further lamented that the state had been a scene of carnage. Consider what the media aide said: “Before this last attack, the state governor has made frantic effort to speak with his counterpart from Cross River State, Gov. Ayade, but all his efforts were rebuffed. His Excellency as a peace-loving governor had also initiated various moves, including setting up a peace committee, chaired by his deputy, Dr. Igwe, which has met severally with their Cross River State counterpart but it just appears that peace is very far away from the community.
“It is disturbing the way Ebonyi people were being killed. It is disheartening the way lives and properties of our people are being wasted by the Cross River people without respect to the sanctity of human life.”
He regretted that Umahi was being blackmailed by a former lawmaker from Cross River State, who he said had accused the governor of masterminding the ongoing crisis between the two communities simply because of the passionate appeal he made to the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Tukur Buratai.
“I want to put the record straight. Governor Umahi brought the attention of the COAS to the carnage going on in those areas. He told him that the only way to restore peace to the area was to increase the number of soldiers there. Unfortunately, two days after he made the statement, some elements in Cross River State invaded our people in Ofioji, Abakaliki LGA, killed some of them, raped women, burnt houses and did all sorts of evil to my people.
“The governor made the statement based on his conviction in the ability of the military to secure the lives and property of the people and as well as restore peace in the area.
“It is disturbing that a former Minority Leader in the Cross River State House of Assembly decided, for political reasons, to accuse Gov. Umahi of sponsoring the crisis by saying that it was barely two days after the governor made the statement that the crisis broke out. All the man was trying to do was to blackmail Gov. Umahi,” he stated.
When contact on telephone to react to the accusation against Ayade, his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Christian Ita, denied the allegations, describing it as unfounded. He said that Ayade had been committed to peace efforts being made in the area.
“How can Gov. Ben Ayade be frustrating the peace moves when our people are also victims? Several times, the deputy governors of the two states have met to reach peace deal,” said Ita.
When contacted, Madu confirmed to Daily Sun that he was aware of the age-long crisis.
The lists of communal tussles over land are numerous in Ebonyi State. The inevitable question, therefore, is: would there ever be lasting peace in Ebonyi? The answer is in the womb of time.