Obinna Odogwu, Awka
Hell was let loose upon Umuife, Urum, in Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State, recently. It was the day armed persons suspected to have operated from Achalla, also in the local government area, invaded the community. The two communities have been fighting over a parcel of land for about two years, it was learnt.
Shortly after midday on June 22, several persons armed with guns and other weapons reportedly stormed Umuife village, shooting at random, forcing the perplexed residents to take to their heels.
When the pandemonium settled, the villagers said two persons were killed, four houses razed, while windows and doors of many houses in the community had been shattered.
Many domestic animals, especially goats and sheep, were reportedly slaughtered while several economic trees were felled.
One of the persons killed was 30-year-old Ikechukwu. According to the deceased’s kinsmen, his corpse was taken away by the attackers.
There was also a three-year-old girl, Favour Ogara, who was sleeping in one of the houses set ablaze and was subsequently burnt to death.
Three weeks before the latest clash, there had been another clash between the people of Achalla and Urum. One person was reported killed while many others were injured.
Before then, the Commissioner of Police in the state, John Abang, was said to have engaged the leaders of the two communities at the Police Command Headquarters, Amawbia, near Awka, the state capital.
Following the invasion of Urum, many residents of the community have deserted their homes, with some taking refuge in neighbouring communities.
Father of the three-year-old child that was burnt to death, Mr. Cyprian Ogara, who hails from Izzi in Ebonyi State, fought back tears as he narrated the tragic death of his daughter.
“I went to work that day and when I returned, the house where we lived had been burnt down. Sadly, my three-year-old daughter, Favour, was sleeping in the house when the attackers set the house ablaze. She was burnt to death.
“That day, I didn’t even see her body. It was the indigenes that helped to look for her body and they were able to find her the next day. That day, my wife had gone to the stream and left the children at home,” he said.
A resident whose house was also burnt, Nonye Udekwe, told Daily Sun that he was in his farm with his family when he learnt that the community was under attack.
“We got the news about the invasion of our place while we were on the farm. My mother, my father’s wife and myself were all working on the farm. We ran from there to safety. When we came back, we saw that our house had been razed. The only things we have are the clothes we wore to the farm. The fire razed everything,” she lamented.
Another resident, Chikezie Anakwe Arize, said he was in Kano State when he got calls that his house had been razed.
In spite of the restriction on interstate movement, he had to travel from Kano to his village the following day to see things for himself.
His words: “I got a call yesterday that Achalla people invaded our community and set houses ablaze. Ours was one of the houses affected. As you can see, I just came back from Kano.
“I find it difficult to believe what I am seeing. It pains me more because I can’t give account of the things burnt in this house. All my documents were razed. The first fruit of my labour in business was burnt.
“My mother is the treasurer of a meeting and the money she kept was burnt. They carted away some of our food items and made away with our domestic animals.
“I am particularly pained because my grandmother is from Achalla and Achalla people had the guts to burn down their daughter’s house. And she is still alive. For now, I am short of words. But if their daughter joins her ancestors, will they attend her burial?”
Another villager, Onwura Chinwuko, said that he had attended a meeting somewhere in the town and upon return, met his house on fire.
“Nothing was brought out of the house except these clothes that I am wearing,” he lamented.
A community leader, Nwufo Tabansi, told the reporter that he lost a child to the attackers. “They killed my son. His name is Ikechukwu. Some persons sustained gunshot injuries,” he lamented.
Another villager, Gilbert Nwora, said the attackers stormed the village shortly after he had returned from the farm. He cheated death by the whiskers, recalling that the attackers had attempted to capture him before he ran away.
“I came back from the farm and was about going to the bathroom to take my shower when two motorcycles stopped in front of my house. I heard one of them telling the rest to hold me.
“I had to run away through the back. I couldn’t lock my door. While I was running, I also saw others running too. They went inside my house and damaged all my property.
“They broke my television and the sound system, my fans and other items. They went to my brother’s house and broke all the louvers,” he narrated.
Meanwhile, the people of Achalla community have absolved themselves of any wrongdoing. They claimed that the people of Urum were the first to launch an attack on Achalla, adding that someone from their community was killed.
They said that four other persons from Achalla on their way home from Awka were abducted by Urum people.
In a statement endorsed by the president-general of Achalla, Boniface Chigbo, the community said that while they were exploring peace and reconciliation initiated by the caretaker committee chairman of the local government, gunmen suspected to be from Urum waylaid some people from Achalla, killed one and abducted four.
Two of the four persons abducted, according to the statement, later returned home with gunshot injuries while the remaining two have remained missing.
The statement partly read: “By Monday, the 22nd of June, the Urum community blocked the expressway from Awka to Achalla and in the process apprehended an Achalla indigene on his way to Achalla from Awka in company of three others.
“A struggle ensued and he was summarily shot and killed. His name is Udeme Udobi. The others escaped with gunshot wounds to Achalla, and relayed the incident to the community. This clearly incensed the community.”
The people of Achalla also denied keeping Urum indigenes as hostages. On the contrary, they claimed that four of their kinsmen were abducted by Urum warlords.
“To the best of my knowledge, no Urum person is being held hostage in Achalla. However, four Achalla indigenes were kidnapped. They are Ezeoba Ejike, Chukwuma Egbeigwe, Obinna Okafor and Uchenna Okeke. The first two have returned with machete cuts while the last two haven’t been seen till date,” the statement read.
Achalla people insisted also that the disputed land belonged to them, saying they only allowed a family in Urum to cultivate on some portions of the land in 1920. They said that part of it was also donated for the purpose of building a native court called Mbaitete Court.
“Achalla’s well known historical boundaries are the Ezu River along Ukwulu, Nawgu and Enugwu-Agidi to the East, Amanuke and our brothers Isuaniocha to the West, and then in the old Onitsha division to the North.
“There was absolutely no autonomous settlement in that part of the disputed land presently known as Urum. Urum’s use of that portion of land came into being around 1920 as a result of Achalla magnanimously offering the Anakwe family of Umu Onyukwu of Ifiteora Urum the land to farm on terms of payment of dues.
“To further enhance Achalla’s claim to the disputed land, when land was sought for a native court building in the old Awka Province, Achalla donated land in the disputed area, which was called the “Achalla Native Court” and also known as the Mbaitete Court,” the statement added.
Commissioner of Police Abang told the reporter that efforts were being made to restore lasting peace to the warring communities. He said policemen had already secured the area to forestall more attacks.