From Mokwugwo Solomon, Nnewi
There is palpable tension in Ogbunka and Owerre-Ezukala, Orumba South Local Government, Anambra State, following disagreement over land. The dispute started over 45 years ago.
Though no life has been lost, but properties worth several millions of Naira were lost. People from both communities now live in fear, as they neither go to their farms nor sleep with two eyes closed.
The present scenario was precipitated by renewed hostilities in the area on January 29 and 30, 2021, leaving many people injured and several houses torched.
President-General of Ogbunka Development Union (ODU), Josiah Okoli, told Daily Sun that the dispute place is called Ikpaebu as “Ikpa” in their dialect means farmland; while Owerre-Ezukala people call it Ozu.
His narration: “As far back as 1910, the Church Missionary Society (CMS), came to Ogbunka. They were given the evil forest, where they built what is known today as St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Ogbunka. After that, the CMS demanded for expanse of land from Ogbunka, where they could build school.
“Ogbunka, the owners of the land called Ikpaebu, took them to that land to build the school. The CMS developed the land and built the Ikpaebu Central School in 1937. They also planted cashew and palm trees within the school premises. The church named the school after the forest called Ikpaebu.
“Most of the elders of Owerre-Ezukala and Ogbunka had their primary education in that school called Ikpaebu Central School, Ogbunka. Before the land dispute erupted, both towns were living peacefully, because, we are neighbours.
“In 1976, when Ogbunka people wanted to build a secondary school, they went to the same Ikpaebu land. The people gathered all the materials they wanted to use for the building. When the building of the Boys Secondary School, Ogbunka was about to start, Owerre-Ezukala people invaded the site and took away all the materials meant for the construction.
“But Ogbunka people refused to engage them in a fight; as they saw it as a distraction. Ogbunka people left the site and went to another place where they built the school. The secondary school is today called Premier Secondary School, Ogbunka. It was in 1976 that Owerre-Ezukala people started laying claims to that piece of land called Ikpaebu, which belongs to Awuka village, Ogbunka.
“Since then, whenever our people go to farm there, Owerre-Ezukala people would be throwing stones at them, and our people would also reply them with stones. This thing continued until August 22, 2003, when the dispute took dangerous dimension. That fateful day, our elders went to farm, and our children were at the Ikpaebu Central School when Owerre-Ezukala people invaded the area with guns.
“But because our people did not envisage the attack, they could not stand the fire power of Owerre-Ezukala people. Our people ran away from their farms. That was how Owerre-Ezukala people made their way into the Ikpaebu Central School built by the Church Missionary Society in 1937, and demolished it completely.
“Our people had treated the issue with kid gloves because the two communities are brothers. In our tradition, it is a taboo for us to fight or kill our own blood.” He alleged that Ogbunka people have instead been making efforts to find amicable solution to the matter while their rivals took the “matter much farther than Ogbunka people could imagine.
“At the height of the dispute, one of the eminent traditional rulers in Orumba, Igwe Benson Ofu, mediated and there was an agreement to settle the dispute. Then, a day was fixed for the determination of the boundary. But before that date, Owerre-Ezukala dragged Igwe Ofu to court and stopped him from going to the disputed land.
“Another son of the council area, Dr Anene, from Ndiowu community, obtained authority from government to mediate in the matter There was an agreement to administer oath both in the traditional and Christian ways. It was done.
“After the oath-taking, a day was fixed for the determination of the boundary. But before that date, Owerre-Ezukala went to court and, again, stopped Anene and his panel from going on with the planned exercise.
“Sometime in 2011, during the time of Peter Obi as governor, because of the increasing problem, the then deputy governor, Emeka Sibeudu, came in to settle the matter. He set up what he called joint committee made up of persons from both communities. It was agreed that what is called buffer zone would be made in the disputed land.
“The buffer zone is a demarcation within the disputed land, where no member of the warring communities would trespass, until the dispute is settled. Sibeudu wrote to both communities and fixed a date for the creation of the buffer zone.
“While we were waiting to be told the date for the creation of the buffer zone, what we saw surprised us. One day, we saw a truck load of soldiers and mobile policemen with bulldozer, who went inside Ikpaebu land and put a demarcation; but they left without creating another demarcation on the side of Owerre-Ezukala. This means that they failed to create the buffer zone, but a straight boundary-cutting very deep into Ogbunka land.
“Today, what Owerre-Ezukala people do is that they go into the field of the Ikpaebu Central School quarrying stones there. They had continued to encroach into the Ikpaebu land, which rightfully belongs to Ogbunka, and had continued to quarry stones in the field.
“They are claiming that the former deputy governor gazetted it, and that it is now their own land. But Ogbunka people see the gazette as an illegal document, and we are not going to abide by it.”
In a swift reaction, his Owerre-Ezukala counterpart, Chief Anayo Emejue, who did not challenge what Okoli said concerning the disputed land, added that Ogbunka people also attacked his community, set houses on ablaze and injured many people, because of the land issue:
“On May 7, 2011, Ogbunka people invaded Boys Secondary School, Owerre-Ezukala, and set one of the buildings on fire. Again, on June 11, 2011, they also set Corpers’ Lodge in Owerre-Ezukala on fire. Again, on January 29 and 30, 2021, Ogbunka people also went berserk and attacked Owerre-Ezukalla people, injuring many people and setting houses on fire.”
He stated that Sibeudu intervened in the matter and made permanent boundary between the two communities. He wondered why Ogbunka would continue to foment trouble, “when government had demarcated the boundary and gazetted it for the sake of peace.”