Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Tension is brewing in Ukwuagba and Effium communities in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State following the alleged invasion and gruesome killing of 10 persons in Ukwuagba in Ngbo.
The invasion and massacre came on the heels of the reported missing of four persons of Ezza extraction who were headed for a burial rite in their community, Effium.
Following this development, the brewing tension has spread fear and anxiety to the neighbouring villages and communities in that area and many of the residents have reportedly fled their homes for fear of the unknown.
As at the time of filing this report, many residents of Azadeene, a neighbouring village to Ukwuagba community have reportedly fled their homes for fear of being attacked by yet to be identified attackers of Ukwuagba.
Azadeene is said to be populated by people of Ezza clan while Ukwuagba is said to be occupied by people of Ngbo clan.
Genesis of the matter
During a meeting held last Sunday at the Local Government headquarters of Ohaukwu LGA in Ezzamgbo which was attended by the state Governor, Chief David Umahi, who was represented by his deputy, Dr Kelechi Igwe, stories were told of how the trouble started.
It was gathered that 30 persons who were on their way from Enugu State to Effium to attend the burial event were involved in an accident and the injured person was taken to Ezzamgbo General Hospital for treatment.
Four, out of the 30, it was gathered, proceeded to the funeral while 26 stayed back in the hospital. The 26 later proceeded to the burial event but reportedly did not meet their colleagues upon arrival.
Chairman of the LGA, Clement Odah, a lawyer, who was the host of the meeting, gave an account of how the matter started as was made available to him.
He narrated that the last Saturday’s invasion and killing of 10 persons in Ukwuagba came at a time when he and the security agencies were making efforts to unravel the mystery behind the missing of four persons on 27th August.
Odah narrated thus: “Before the Saturday’s event, we have a situation we are trying to manage. On the 27th of August which was Tuesday, four persons were on their way to Effium for a burial from Enugu State, they were 30 in number.
“On getting to Rest House which is part of Ishielu Local Government Area (of Ebonyi State), one of them was involved in an accident. They took him to Ezzamgbo General Hospital; the next junction before the council headquarters for treatment.
“While they were there, four persons who seemed to be in haste to meet up with other activities in Effium, moved ahead of the 30, leaving 26 behind.
“When the other 26 were done with the medication of the person who had an accident and were on their way to Effium, from the report we received, they were intercepted on their way around Apeshia axis about 7 kilometres to Effium by some persons who were blocking the road.
“They pushed through and got to Effium; 26 of them attended the burial but they could not find the first four who left before them. The matter was reported at two police divisions: Effium and Ohaukwu Divisions.
“The police acted immediately and the report also got to me and in swift response I convened a meeting for the two parties; invited the leaders, town union presidents, the stakeholders from our Ezza speaking brothers, members of the families of the victims, the two Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) and the Area Commander.
“We met in my office and we agreed on the way forward. At the end of the meeting it was resolved that the person that blocked the road must be produced because that should be the beginning of the investigation.
“Community leaders requested for three days. After three days, I was following up the matter with the police. They were not able to produce the person that blocked the road. In line with their line of duty, they went to the community and effected arrests.
“The persons that were arrested are still in the police custody. The family of the victims, our brothers from Ezza side, naturally emotional, were demanding for justice.
“So, yesterday (referring to last Saturday), we called for a meeting in Effium. We invited all the leaders, stakeholders from that place; the two DPOs and the Area Commander for us to brief the victims’ families of the efforts of the police and reassure them that efforts are being made and that nobody should take laws into their hand.
“On our way to the meeting in Effium, we were called again and informed that Ukwuagba community was being attacked. We quickly rounded up the meeting and rushed back to 135.
“The DPO of Ohaukwu Division was excused from that Effium meeting to enable him to intervene at the place where the attack was going on. Eventually, the Commissioner of Police joined us.
“And together with the Area Commander we visited the scene and saw for ourselves that not less than 9 persons were butchered; mostly in their residential houses. It was a very gory sight. It was unfortunate incident. The victims are now 10 from the latest information”, he narrated.
Reprisal or no reprisal: The suspicions
Before this latest development, the boundary area between Agila in Ado council area of Benue State and that area of Ohaukwu LGA has been a theatre of war as some communities in Ngbo, Ohaukwu and Agila have been entangled in an age-long land dispute in which many lives and properties have been lost.
And given that development, it was not clear if the families of the four missing persons carried out a reprisal or whether it was yet another attack from the other side of the divide.
Again, there was a road block reportedly mounted on the road leading to Effium which was said to have been mounted by people from that area of Ebonyi where the 26 persons were said to have “bulldozed” their way through while heading to the funeral. That was the same day the four persons got missing.
This concern, according to the council Chairman, Odah, was also expressed by the security agents operating in the area when the news of the invasion broke out.
Odah said: “The first instinct from the security agents was that Agila people attacked. Along the line we got other intelligence that the attack may be connected to the four missing persons; that is, the four missing Ezza persons; that they have retaliated.
“These versions are before the security agencies. Investigation is ongoing and we believe that with the commitment shown by the Area Commander and the two DPOs who I commend enormously including the Commissioner of Police who came personally, we will get to the root of the matter.
“Whether the attack was carried out by Agila people or Ezza people, it is for the security agents to find out. What is worrisome is that precious lives were cut short; people were massacred in a fashion we have seen only in movies. We are in a very sad mood”, he stated.
Speaking at the venue of the meeting, the state Governor, Chief David Umahi, represented by his deputy, Dr Kelechi Igwe, described the state of insecurity in that area of the state as unfortunate.
“I am embittered in my spirit that this type of thing is happening in Ohaukwu Local Government”, he said.
He, however, ordered stakeholders from Ohaukwu LGA especially the ones from the affected communities to produce both the four missing persons and the killers of the 10 persons. He not only gave the stakeholders 24 hours from the time of the aforesaid meeting to furnish him with the details of what actually transpired, but also to produce the attackers of Ukwuagba community.
Meanwhile, the council Chairman, Odah, said that he was working closely with the security agencies in the state to unmask the perpetrators of the dastardly act.
When contacted to confirm the veracity or otherwise of the report that residents of Azadeene village have fled their homes for fear of attack, the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Loveth Odah, a Deputy Superintendent Police, said that she was not aware of the development.