Unless a lasting peace is brokered soon by the government, the ongoing intercommunal crisis might degenerate into a full scale war.
Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Since May 27 this year, Urugbam and Abanwan villages in Biase Local Government Area of Cross River State have been at daggers drawn over a piece of land. They are two of the ten villages that make up Erei community.
Although there are a number of other issues believed to be at the centre of the face-off between both communities, residents said the real cause is a lingering feud over some contentious parcels of land being claimed by both communities.
Unless a lasting peace is brokered soon by the government, the ongoing intercommunal crisis reportedly involving neighbouring Urugbam, Abanwan, and Egbor, all in Biase Local Government Area of Cross River State might degenerate into a full scale war.
Already, residents of Urugbam have deserted their abode following an attack allegedly launched by their opponents. Three persons were killed in the attack, with two of them beheaded.
Several houses were also razed, even as farmlands, household items, economic trees and other property were destroyed.
Daily Sun gathered that trouble started when the youths of Urugbam allegedly attacked their counterparts from Abanwan when the latter went to Urugbam to paste posters of a planned funeral.
The Abanwan youths alleged that they were first attacked by people from Urugbam, although the latter have since dismissed the allegation.
It was reported that in order to avert the looming crisis, people of Abanwan were said to have quickly buried their dead. It was gathered that they launched a reprisal two days later on December 4. Two persons in Urugbam were reportedly killed.
Daily Sun further gathered that the following day, Urugbam folks launched another attack to avenge the death of their people. Five persons fighting on the side of Urugbam were reported dead in the attack. The dead fighters were described as mercenaries.
The suspected mercenaries, according to reports, were said to have been beheaded by the fully armed youths of Abanwan.
Suspecting that the said mercenaries were hired from Ekoli Edda, a community in Afikpo South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State which has a common boundary with the warring communities, angry residents of Abanwan reportedly moved in and burnt down houses, farms and economic trees in Ekoli Edda.
But the people of Ekoli Edda said the allegations that their youths supported one of the communities were false and unfounded.
A statement from the President, Ekoli Band of Hope Union, Dr Uka Mba Uka, alleged that the publication in the media was sponsored by Egbor people to shift attention from facts.
Egbor is one of the ten communities in Biase Local Government Area which allegedly joined forces with Abanwan people in their struggle over the contentious piece of land.
The Public Relations Officer of Afikpo South, Mr Ude Kalu Uka, while briefing Daily Sun in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital alleged that angry youths suspected to have operated from Egbor village attacked Ekoli Edda and killed a young man.
The invaders, according to him, also burnt down over 25 houses, destroyed palm plantations and already harvested palm fruits, farm crops, stocked farm produce, economic trees and other valuables during the melee that lasted for several hours.
Ude said: “That very day, the people invaded our palm plantation and burnt them down. They scattered our palm fruits and shot dead one of our youths.
“He was known as Dogo because he was very tall but his name is Olughu. The palm plantation that was burnt down is called Emezie-Ebiri Farm Settlement and it’s a village in Ekoli Edda. More than 25 houses were burnt down and the displaced persons are camped at Ugwuama Primary School,” he said.
Following the outbreak of the crises, the people of Urugbam have deserted their homes and fled to nearby communities in Ebonyi and Abia States.
When Daily Sun visited one of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Ekoli Edda recently, the physically traumatised people of Urugbam said that life had become miserable for them ever since the incident started.
Nursing mothers, little children and the aged among them were becoming restive as a result of the uncomfortable conditions in the camp.
They expressed gratitude to the chairman, Afikpo South Local Government Area, Dr Eni Uduma Chima, who they said had been feeding and providing security for them every day. But for his help, they said, they would have suffered immense hunger and starvation.
They also protested what they termed the neglect by the Cross River State government. The protesters, who carried placards with various inscriptions, accused the Cross Rivers State authorities of turning a deaf ear to the crisis, even as the people languished in penury.
Chairman of Orugban community in the Diaspora, Elder Moses Eghong, accused the state government as well as Biase Local Government authorities of handling the matter with kid gloves while the people and their means of livelihood were being destroyed.
He pleaded with the federal government to come to their rescue, noting that their people had lost hope in the ability and willingness of the state government to protect their lives and property.
Afikpo South council boss, Chima, appealed to the Cross River State government to wade into the matter with a view to restoring calm in the area. He stated that had been spending a huge amount of money and other resources feeding and catering to the needs of the displaced persons every day.
Recounting her ordeal, Ada Uwen Ukan, one of the displaced persons, said she was at her farm when the crisis erupted. She said she missed death by the whiskers as guns were shot sporadically everywhere.
Ukan, who is nursing a set of twins, said: “I was on my farm when it started. I rushed home quickly and gathered my children who were playing and we escaped through the bush.
“I didn’t carry anything; no clothes, no food, just nothing. Bullets were flying everywhere. We ran to this town, Ekoli Edda in Afikpo South Local Government of Ebonyi State. Since we came here, their Chairman, Eni Uduma Chima, has been giving us food every day,” she added. When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer in Cross River State, Irene Ugbo, dismissed some of the allegations as baseless. She said only two persons were killed. She also informed that policemen have long been drafted to the area to maintain security and forestall further breakdown of law and order.