Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
The age-long inter-communal war between Enyibichiri community in Ikwo Local Government Area and Enyigba in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State over a piece of land took a more dangerous dimension recently.
On that fateful day, heavy gunfire broke out at the boundary between Ikwo and Izzi clans along the road leading to Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike (AE-FUNAI), Ikwo.
It was not clear which side initiated the sporadic shooting which left no fewer than eight persons dead and some others injured.
According to the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Loveth Odah, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), a mini-bus from Abakaliki, the state capital, was on its way to Ikwo when it ran into the attackers.
She explained that the driver made a swift turn to return to Abakaliki, but his bus fell into a ditch. The attackers, according to her, seized the opportunity to open fire on the passengers. They riddled the vehicle with bullets and in the process perforated the fuel tank, which burst into flames. The eight occupants, except the driver, were burnt to death by the inferno.
The driver who sustained gunshot injuries before escaping, later died in the hospital. Odah disclosed that one of the victims was the wife of a policeman.
Odah said: “The victims were coming from Abakaliki where they had attended the matriculation of their son. Five of them were from the same family, including a baby and one was a neighbour who joined them. They were burnt to death.”
Before then, clashes occasionally erupted in the hinterland between the two communities in Ikwo and Izzi clans; and at the end of each bout, scores were usually killed and property worth millions of naira destroyed on both sides. The recent development was not only shocking, but least expected as the communities at the boundary had been living peacefully. This latest eruption took place at the boundary between Ndiagu Alike community in Ikwo and Enyibichiri community in Abakaliki. Both communities are less than 35 minutes from Abakaliki, the state capital.
Sunday Sun learnt that the fighters in the hinterland might have come to town to spark the disaffection so that the fight would go round. But reliable sources in Abakaliki said that the attack was a spillover of the age-long fight between Enyigba and Enyibichiri, which all efforts by the state government to quell it had proved futile.
While Ikwo in Ikwo Local Government Area is said to be a clan of its own, Izzi clan which is one of the two largest clans in the state occupies three local government areas, namely Abakaliki, Izzi, and Ebonyi.
At a security meeting held recently in the Government House, Abakaliki, Governor David Umahi, said that information available to him had it that the eight persons that perished in the attack were of one family in Ikwo.
His words: “This ugly incident of roasting eight people, including a woman and a small child; I am told this afternoon that they were from the same family in Ikwo. I was told also that there were other three people that were killed on motorcycle which means that I don’t really have all the figures.”
However, the renewed hostilities have spread fear among the residents of the affected areas especially the Alex Ekwueme Federal University community domiciled in the area. At the moment, the major road leading to the citadel of learning has been deserted. Transporters conveying passengers, Sunday Sun gathered, now go through Onueke in Ezza South Local Government Area to access the university.
Again, many people who go to the university for different purposes from Abakaliki have suspended such movements over fear of possible attack.
There is also fear that the people of Ikwo whose kinsmen and women have been killed in a very horrible way might carry out a reprisal attack to avenge their deaths. Incidentally, the apprehension and atmosphere of anxiety pervading Abakaliki metropolis got worse when two students of Command Secondary School, Nkwoagu Military Cantonment, Abakaliki, caused stampede in Nkwoagu market.
The incident happened about 72 hours after the warlords struck in the aforesaid boundary community. Nkwoagu area of Abakaliki is not too far away from the scene of the killings.
Confirming the development, the police spokesperson, Odah, said that the students scaled through the fence which demarcated the school and the local market.
Odah said: “Two students of Army Day Secondary School (Command Secondary School) jumped over the fence that separates the school from Nkwoagu market to buy something. As soon as they jumped down into the market, some people started running. The people are already afraid of a possible reprisal attack from the neighbouring community they are already at war with. That was what happened in Nkwoagu.
“The students wanted to escape, maybe to buy something, as students movements are being restricted. Perhaps, they didn’t have gate pass, so they jumped over the fence.
“As soon as they landed, traders in the market scampered for safety, erroneously believing them to be warriors from either Ikwo or Izzi that came to kill them.”
Some students of AE-FUNAI, who spoke to Sunday Sun on the telephone on the condition of anonymity, lamented that the university community was living in fear. They said that some students missed some of their papers in the ongoing first semester exams.
One of them, in the Department of Mass Communication, said: “Some students that do come from town to write the exams, some of them missed their exams. I know of one that missed his paper. His exam was to hold by 1:00p.m. He left town by 12:00p.m, thinking it would be normal journey only for him to be in the bus for two and half hours.
“You know they follow one small route like that and it is very far unlike the normal route that is near. Some lecturers too are scared. The ones coming to school are those who have exams to conduct. But if it is to lecture, if you ask them they would ask if you are not aware that clash is going on,” she stated.
She said that the mood in the university was not really pleasant as everybody was scared, adding that many students living in the school hostel were afraid to go outside the gate unlike before.
A staff of the university who preferred anonymity told Sunday Sun that she has not been going to work before the crisis started as she took permission to attend to private concerns.
She, however, said that from the information she got from the social media group of the staff in her department, many members of staff were really living in fear. She said she was not sure of the level of impact the incident had caused, but only confirmed that many members of staff were afraid.
Some drivers who convey students, staff and other passengers to the area through the now deserted route painted a horrible picture of what they go through in a chat with our reporter.
One of the drivers, Ogbuefi Chukwu Ogbuu, who passed through the road before the attackers struck, gave an account of what happened.
Ogbuu said: “What actually happened that day was horrible. It happened in the evening. I had returned from Ikwo to Abakaliki before the story came. Since that Saturday, nobody has been passing through that road again.
“And we that convey the staff and students of federal university find it difficult. This is because we now go through Onueke in Ezza South LGA; go right round through Nwakpu before reaching the university.
“We found out on Monday that the transport fare of N150 per passenger was too small so we increased it to N250 because of the long journey. The staff and students are complaining. The policemen sent to guard that area simply stationed themselves in one place instead of spreading out and patrolling along the road”, he stated.
Meanwhile, Ikwo community is the hometown of both the former governor of the state, Chief Martin Elechi and current Dr Kelechi Igwe, the current deputy governor.