From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Attempts to usher in the New Year with new executives for the town union of Ekwulobia community, Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State, ended in a fiasco recently. Some angry youths disrupted the exercise, leaving some with broken heads and other injuries.
Ekwulobia community has been in crisis for almost 10 years, following the fractionalisation of the town union executive. The community is the fourth largest urban area in Anambra, after Awka, Onitsha and Nnewi. The community is blessed with enormous human and material resources from the nine villages, divided into two traditional divisions, Ezi and Ifite. The villages are Umuchiana, Agba, Umuchi, Ula, Okpo, Eziagulu, Nkono, Abogwume and Ihuokpala.
Villages under Ezi are Umuchiana, Umuchi, Okpo, Nkono, Abogwume and Ihuokpala, while Agba, Ula and Eziagu are under Ifite.
Unfortunately, instead of maximising the strength from their diverse villages and area, Ekwulobia has been experiencing the peace of the graveyard for some years now.
The town union is polarised into two factions that do not agree on common issues. They are the Ekwulobia Development Union (EDU), headed by Emeka Ezeike, and Ekwulobia Peoples Assembly (EPA), under the leadership of Emeka Maduabuchi.
The EDU, which enjoys the support of the traditional ruler of the community, Igwe Emmanuel Chukwukadibia Onyeneke, had planned an election that would have produced a fresh mandate for the executive members of the union. All seemed set for the election slated to take place at the Ekwulobia Town Hall, with a delegation from the office of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Chieftaincy and Town Union Matters, led by Mgbeike Ikechukwu already on ground.
Suddenly, an army of angry youths of the community, led by Chijioke Okoli, besieged the venue, chanting war songs and displaying placards with several inscriptions on them.
The environment immediately became charged, while every attempt to calm down the protesting youths for them to allow the government delegation conduct the town union election failed.
At a stage, the protest degenerated into a bloody brawl, where some people sustained injuries and some soldiers were drafted to the scene to help the police restore normalcy.
The youths kept on shouting that they did not want any form of election in the community until an enduring peace was restored and the factions united in Ekwulobia.
Some of the inscriptions on their placards read: We want unity in Ekwulobia; We don’t want election in Ekwulobia until peace is restored in the community; We want Ekwulobia Peoples Assembly and Ekwulobia Development Union to come together as one; Enough is enough to segregation in Ekwulobia community; Few people cannot be reaping from the division and crisis in Ekwulobia; Igwe Emmanuel Chukwukadibia Onyeneke should remove the hand of a monkey from the soup pot before it turns into the hand of a human being, and other such placards.
Some persons who spoke to Daily Sun at the scene of the protest alleged that the youths were provoked into staging the protest to disrupt the election when they discovered that the election was planned by a few people from the Ekwulobia Development Union in connivance with the traditional ruler of the community, to the exclusion of many others.
The leader of the protesting youths, Okoli, told the government delegation that came to conduct the election that all the youth wanted was the return of peace to Ekwulobia community. They noted that the crisis that divided the community into two factions had adversely affected the town and also retarded its growth and development.
He stated that the youth were calling on the state governor, Chief Willie Obiano, as a man of peace, to intervene and unite Ekwulobia people.
“For a very long time, the people of our community have been divided into two groups, with parallel executives and activities. Having two functional town unions is not in our best interest. The two groups have their different president-generals running their show in one town. This has created a situation where our people do not speak with one voice any longer.
“All we want is to let peace reign in our land and among the two warring factions. But we are seeing a flicker of hope now because the people of Ekwulobia that belong to the two factions are the ones leading the peace initiatives now. When that peace is restored, election into the town union executive can be conducted.
“Our governor, Chief Willie Obiano, is a man of peace. We know that he may not have been fully briefed on the developments in Ekwulobia. That is why we want him to intervene now so that these long years of dispute can be finally put to rest. If the demand of the protesting youth is granted, nobody will hear of the existence of two town union executives in Ekwulobia again,” he said.
In response to the youths’ demands, leader of the government delegation, Mgbeike Ikechukwu, asked for time to confer with the stakeholders and security agents at the venue of the election and give the youths their resolutions. After a short meeting, they yielded to the demands for peace to reign.
Addressing the youths, Mgbeike Ikechukwu said they had accepted not to conduct the election as earlier planned. He said the decision was taken since the youths confirmed that efforts were being made to reconcile the two warring factions.
He stated that government was not averse to any peace overtures, while they would allow them to continue in their efforts and come back to conduct the election when peace is actualized.
He also said that, for the fact that the youths said their reason for the protest was for peace to reign in Ekwulobia, government would continue to support peaceful initiatives in the overall interest of Ekwulobia people.
He assured them that the delegation would return to Awka and write the report of what happened, hoping to return to Ekwulobia for the election when peace and normalcy eventually took full shape.
The PG of Ekwulobia Development Union, Chukwuemeka Emeka Ezeike, expressed the readiness of the town union under his leadership to toe the line of peace and progress, especially since the youths have resolved to champion such moves. He said he would not constitute any obstacle to the genuine desires of the youths, if that would stop further protests and crisis in the community, noting that every reasonable mind would support any peace initiative.
“What is obvious is that we have to move forward towards having one, united town union. Both parties are now having a summit, a conference, and we hope that it will end well,” he said.
On his part, the PG of Ekwulobia Peoples Assembly, Emeka Mmaduabuchi, supported what the youth said, just as he pledged his support to any peaceful initiative that would bring the people of Ekwulobia together as one.
Okwuchukwu Ogbolu, who is currently receiving treatment for head woumd sustained during the protest, told the reporter that, despite the pain he was suffering presently, nothing was too much to bear for the progress of Ekwulobia.
“I see this as a sacrifice I have to endure and take for peace to reign in Ekwulobia. The youths are saying that enough is enough and they are ready to die for peace to return to our beloved Ekwulobia,” he said.
Another stakeholder, Prince Arinze Onebunne, in his summation, advised both parties to stop further litigation and long-drawn legal tussles that have not only consumed energy but time and resources. He said it was clear that government could not recognise parallel town unions in one community.
“We shouldn’t dissipate energy and resources forever. Every community in Anambra goes by the name ‘Development Union’. There is Nkpor Development Union, Awka Development Union and so on. Our own should not be different. When they collapse into one structure, those who are interested in contesting election can aspire and test their popularity in a free, fair and credible process. This is the time for Ekwulobia to move forward,” he said.