From Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki
Efforts to return peace to warring Effium community in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State have proved herculean since January 22, 2021, when bloody crisis erupted in the heterogeneous community. The crisis emanated from leadership tussle at the Effium Motor Park and spread to the community.
The Effium community is inhabited by two sets of people who are clearly different both in origin, language and culture, namely, the Effium people who speak Korri language and the Ezza-Effium people who speak Ezza dialect.
It was gathered that the area known today as Effium was forcefully acquired by Effium people from their Ngbo neighbours after a protracted war aided by warlords from Ezza.
History says the aboriginal Effium people were the first to settle in the area, having migrated from somewhere in the northern part of the country. But not long after settling there, they became victims of incessant attacks from Ngbo people who wanted them to vacate the land. Faced with imminent extermination, the Effium reportedly sent emissaries to Onueke in present-day Ezza South LGA of Ebonyi State appealing for assistance to ward off the Ngbo people. It was gathered that the Ezza entered an agreement of joint ownership of the land with the Effium before accepting to help them in the fight against the Ngbo. When the war ended and the Effium won, the Ezza settled in the land and both sides started living together.
Daily Sun gathered that the two peoples were living happily in the community without any form of discrimination or skirmishes until late 1970s when politics of number and grouping entered the community and gave rise to what could be called identity politics. It was, in fact, the struggle for political positions in the community that caused division between them. Since that time till January 2021, the community has been experiencing intermittent clashes along clans for supremacy and dominance.
However, despite frequent unrest in the community, which subsequent administrations in the state battled to settle, Ebonyians and indeed the world were shocked by the level of mindless destruction and killings witnessed in the community since January this year when there were renewed hostilities as the two people went for each other’s jugular.
At the last count, more than 50 persons had been killed, with over 300 buildings razed, while more than 4,000 persons were displaced. The heavily populated community now looks desolate as residents have fled the area for fear of being killed.
The supremacy battle worsened from 2015 immediately Governor David Umahi assumed the mantle of leadership and decided to give the community notable opportunities in his administration. Umahi started by appointing a son of the community from the Effium clan as the caretaker chairman of Ohaukwu LGA, a position they had never held since the creation of the council. The beneficiary, Clement Odah, was later elected and is now in his second term in office as chairman of the council.
The supremacy battle between the two clans further worsened in 2019 when another politician, Chinedu Awo, of Ezza-Effium extraction, clinched the Ohaukwu North State Constituency seat in the House of Assembly, which created a kind of balance of power for the two sides.
Then the power tussle was taken to Effium Motor Park, where the two clans battled for the control of the park. It was at that point that a full-blown war broke out.
Umahi blames loyalists for crisis
Narrating how the crisis started, Governor Umahi blamed Odah, Awo and Commissioner for local government, Samuel Okoronkwo, for the crisis.
The governor said the trio and his Special Assistant on Parks, Emmanuel Igwe, disobeyed his directive on the Effium Motor Park leadership tussle, which led to the crisis.
Governor Umahi, who was livid over the escalation of the crisis, alleged that some powerful individuals from the two warring clans fuelled the crisis by secretly contributing funds for weapons. He, therefore, vowed to expose and prosecute any individual or group of persons found to be buying arms or contributing money to promote the crisis.
“Let’s not forget that this crisis was caused by the council chairman, Clement Odah, and Chinedu Awo, the House of Assembly member. When the problem was still looming, I called two of them, and we sat together and I pleaded with them, but they did not listen to me. In fact, at a time, one of them walked out on me.
“So, let it be known that I did everything to stop the crisis. I set up a committee but the committee failed me. The committee members are culpable. The commissioner for local government did not do his work; the SA on Parks did not do his work. If two of them had done their work, the crisis would not have started because I directed that NURTW at the Effium Park should be dissolved, but they went ahead to set up a caretaker leadership, against my directive. And that was how the crisis started.
“Officially, we have recorded about 25 deaths, recovered 26 arms and about 125 houses, fuel and gas stations burnt. I have written to the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs to come to our aid’,’ Umahi lamented.
Investigations showed that there is actually humanitarian crisis in the area, and killings have not abated. As a farming community noted for garri and other food stuff, the people have abandoned their farms to safety. The popular Effium market has become a ghost town.
In the wake of renewed skirmishes in the community, the governor had visited the area in company with heads of security agencies in the state, where they were received at Effium Central School by a motley crowd of grief-stricken stakeholders, youths, women and children.
A member of Eze’s cabinet from Effium indigenes of Kori, Chief Vincent Egbe, had told the governor that Ezza-Effium people had always intimidated them in the community because of their number. Egbe alleged that the Ezza-Effium were always looking for an opportunity to attack them with or without provocation, saying the latest attack was unwarranted.
Accentuating the severity of the situation, Egbe said: “Your Excellency, even the civil war was not as bad as what we have witnessed in this community since Saturday. Even as I am talking to you now, they are burning people’s houses in the villages. A lot of people have died. If we should keep the figure together, we are arriving at over 100 persons.”
He appealed to the governor to do everything within the law and his powers to return peace in the community.
On the other hand, Rev. Ogwale Ogwale, who spoke on behalf of Ezza-Effium, accused their Effium counterparts of breaching the age-long agreement between their forefathers.
Ogwale alleged that the Effium had always referred to them as ‘strangers’ in the community, in contravention of the ‘covenant’ of joint ownership, which their forefathers entered at the formation of Effium community after their Ezza forefathers helped to ward off their warring neigbours.
He said: “Your Excellency, the truth is that we don’t have the love and peace we used to have before. Some Effium people always refer to us as strangers in this community and that we should go back to Onueke, where our forefathers came from. As a result, Ezza people started telling them too that they are not even Igbo people. But if I tell you how the story of this place started, you will know that all of us are just being foolish. But I am sure that there was a covenant made by Ezza and the Effium before all of them decided to coexist as one here. If you go around the community today, you will still see some of the covenant trees made by our forefathers.”
He too appealed to the governor to help them restore peace in the community, saying they had no other place to go.
Others speakers blamed political leaders from the community for the crisis and appealed to Umahi to take decisive action against them.
The state government had summoned stakeholders of the community to an emergency security meeting at the Old Government House, Abakaliki, presided over by Deputy Governor Kelechi Igwe, shortly after the crisis started.
More than 30 stakeholders of the community were arrested at the meeting and detained at the state police command on the orders of the deputy governor over their alleged roles in the crisis. Some of those arrested were chairman of the LGA, Odah, House of Assembly member, Awo, coordinator of Effium Development Centre, Sunday Agbo, and his Effium South counterpart, Eucharia Ogwale.
Others were Special Assistant to the Governor on Vegetable Market, Emmanuel Uzor, and his Parks Development counterpart, Emmanuel Igwe.
Government had also imposed a curfew on the community, as part of measures to restore calm and peace.
After listening patiently to the people in Effium, Umahi condemned the killings and violence that occurred in the community, describing them as unjustifiable, no matter the provocation. He declared his commitment to restoring peace in the community, saying that he would have divided them into two autonomous communities if they had a physical boundary.
Search for peace
It would be misleading for anyone, be it government or natives, to say that the crisis in Effium has ended, as reports of more killings and destruction were still coming from the community last weekend. However, what is undeniable is the fact that leaders of the two warring clans seem very committed to the return of peace in the troubled community.
That notwithstanding, a peace meeting recently convened by the governor between the two clans ended in a deadlock as the warring parties disagreed on modalities for returning peace there.
While the Effium people recommended boundary demarcation to separate them permanently from their Ezza brothers, the Ezza people in the community rejected the proposal, saying they preferred to continue to live together with the Effium people.
Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Uchenna Orji, who briefed journalists on the outcome of the meeting, said while the Effium asked the state government to create a land boundary between them and their Ezza counterparts, the Ezza-Effium said they preferred to continue to live with Effium people as they had done from time immemorial.
Orji said the governor, in his determination to ensure that permanent peace returned in the warring community as soon as possible, further set up a committee made up of a representative apiece from Effium and Ezza Effium, with two Christian Association of Nigeria representatives to supervise their consultation processes.
According to Orji, members of the committee are Bishop Matthew Nkwoegu as chairman and Rev. (Dr.) Scamb Nwokolo as secretary. The committee was told to submit its report in two weeks.
“The governor, who presided over the meeting, appealed to the stakeholders of Effium and Ezza-Effium to do everything possible to ensure that there is no reprisal attack from any part of the community, noting that government would hold the stakeholders responsible, if there is any further breakdown of law and order in that community.
“The governor directed them to go into a closed-door meeting by themselves with a view to having a common ground in their recommendations and which they did with the supervision of representatives of Christian Association of Nigeria.
“As part of the outcome of their meeting, the stakeholders of Effium requested the state government to carry out land demarcation between them and Ezza Effium people as a last resort in the attainment of a lasting peace in that community, while the stakeholders of Ezza-Effium requested that they be allowed to live together with the people of Effium as they had lived before the misunderstanding that reared its ugly head. They, however, renewed their commitment towards stopping all forms of reprisal attacks forthwith, and were bonded to keep the peace pending the final resolution of the matter,” the commissioner said.
Daily Sun’s learnt that the feud was far from over as a stakeholder from Effium who begged not to be named said his people would not accept any resolution that would lump them together again with the Ezza people. He appealed to government to create a permanent land boundary between them and the Ezza, saying only that could bring lasting peace in the area.
He said: “We, the Effiumites, have agreed that we don’t want to continue to live together with them (the Ezza).We want to live on our own; no more living together with them. That is the only way to end this, if not, this crisis will continue to recur. Remember this is not the first time we are fighting each other.”
In his reaction, another major stakeholder from the Ezza extraction of the community who also asked not to be named said his people were opposed to the suggestion of a boundary demarcation because, according to them, it was against the agreement their forefathers entered with the Effium people.
“We are opposed to boundary demarcation because it was against the spirit of the covenant that brought Ezza and Effium together. Our forefathers agreed that we should live together and that is what we want. There is no problem that cannot be solved; and this one will surely be resolved and we will come together again as brothers and as one people the way we were before,” the community leader enthused.
Meanwhile, stakeholders of the community have reportedly undertaken to be held responsible for any further killings or destruction of property in the community.
They signed the undertaking after their meeting with Deputy Governor Igwe at the Executive Council Chambers, Old Government House.
According to a statement by chief press secretary to the deputy governor, Dr. Monday Uzor, the parties agreed that, “From today, the 10th day of March, 2021, we the undersigned are to be held responsible and liable for prosecution for any further killing of person(s) or destruction of property in the community comprising Effium and Ezza clans.”
The stakeholders also undertook to work and cooperate with security agencies deployed to the area to maintain peace and forestall further loss of lives and damage to property as well as collectively work to bring lasting peace to the community.
Those who signed the accord by the presence of the deputy governor, the Commissioner of police, State Director of Department of State Service and representative of the commander, Nigerian Army Cantonment, Nkwegu, Anglican Bishop of Abakaliki, Rt. Rev. Monday Nkwagu and the state Vice Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Scamb Nwokolo as well as Commissioner for Internal Security, Chief Stanley Okoro Emegha.