From Wilson Okereke, Afikpo
The festering bloody clash between the people of Amachi Autonomous Community in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State and their Osopong neighbours of Obubra in Cross River State has brought woes on the people of Amachi.
Mrs Veronica Nwoba, a victim of the war caused by land dispute between the boundary communities, said her community had lost a great number of men, women and children. According to her, several residents of Amachi had been turned to widows, widowers and orphans.
“The attack has subjected us to untold hardship; you can see that we have unconsciously taken over some market squares, school premises and even under trees as our homes due to the fact that our individual buildings had been damaged by Osopong people.
“Even after the people had harvested all our crops, they also denied us having access to the farms as they do lay siege with their weapons within the areas”, she lamented.
She however, commended the Ebonyi State Government under Chief David Umahi for providing them with some form of security through the police. She appealed for the construction of an Army barracks there, to complement the police.
She further appealed to the government to ameliorate their hardship with relief materials from the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Though skirmishes began in the border communities in 2018, a stakeholder in Amachi, Chief Clement Ebekpo told Saturday Sun that since the outbreak of the war two years ago, over 60 indigenes of the community had been gruesomely killed by their neighbours.
He also requested for relief materials for the survivors and mediation from the government.
Village head of Ndiegu Amachi, Jeremiah Iyeji told the newspaper that his people had never encountered such a problem either from Osopong people or other neighbouring communities since time immemorial until two years ago when the crisis broke out.
“From the period of my forefather down to my grandfather and father, we had not heard of a similar incident until recently that I assumed the position of the village head.
“I have also tried my utmost best, alongside other stakeholders, but all to no avail. The warriors have destroyed our schools, other amenities and subjected us to severe suffering. Our children do not go to schools any longer and even their feeding is at the mercy of God,” he said.
The community leader said that his people were disposed to peaceful resolution of the issue, hence, are for dialogue.
Another indigene of Amachi, Chief Sylvanus Ebekpo, whose uncle, Chief Simeon Azi’s building was reportedly destroyed during the crisis, said besides the destruction of the house, a member of the man’s family also suffered gunshot injuries.
He added that the attackers burnt Azi’s vehicles and carted away all the livestock in the compound after harvesting his crops.
Ebekpo said: “On the fateful day, our people did not envisage any calamity from any corner. But suddenly Osopong people invaded the community and began to shoot sporadically. And based on that, everyone began to scamper for safety.
“Even as I am talking now, we have not been able to ascertain the reason behind the attackers’ annoyance.”
He named two persons mostly hit by the attack as Ugochukwu Patrick and John Nwojiji-Agbaeze, disclosing that their mansions were set ablaze, and the walls allegedly pulled down with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Ebekpo said that it only took divine intervention before he, alongside his wife, mother and children, escaped the attack.
“Apart from the clothes which we were wearing during the attack, we did not move out of the home with any other thing. Presently, the same warriors have harvested all our crops, evacuated our animals and other belongings.
“To be candid, we are confused over this situation. That is why we are calling on the government for assistance”.
Another victim, Friday Igboke said he never anticipated any form of attack until the particular day that he received a distress call that his building had been damaged, allegedly by their Cross River neighbours.
The Akwa Ibom State-based businessman said he did not return home because of fear of being attacked as well as the shock associated with the misfortune until recently, when members of their association, Ndiegu Amachi Youth for Peace (NAYFP), came back in a group.
Their pains and search for peace
Meanwhile, a large number of young men comprising those at home and the ones in Diaspora formed the NAYFP as a vehicle for engendering peace with their Osopong neighbours of Cross River State.
The group had a mass return during which period they organised an on-the-spot-visit of the war-ravaged area.
At the time of the visit, the entire nine most-hit villages of the community Obegu-Ibom, Ndiofutu-Ibom, Ijaga-Ibom, Ndiobvu, Onyikwa, Ohabele and others still remained deserted.
It was also learnt that the victims had not been provided with any relief materials or other similar assistance from government and good-spirited individuals.
At Ohabele Ijaga, the hometown of Chief Clement Abong who is also a member of NAYFP, it was gathered that several buildings and other valuables worth millions of naira were destroyed.
Addressing the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at the Obegu-Ibom Achi market square, one of the victims and stakeholder in the community, Dennis Agbaeze described the situation as terrible, noting that over 80 per cent of the inhabitants were chased away from their respective homes by persons suspected to be warlords of Osopong Community of Cross River State.
He narrated their gory experience: “Before now, we were living peacefully without being apprehensive of any misfortune. But suddenly, around September 2020, some warriors from Osopong Community in Cross River State who were fully armed with many sophisticated weapons, stormed our homes and began to slaughter our people like animals.
“The same people, who seemed to have prepared for the attack for decades, did not only stop at the killings but also went further and destroyed our houses and crops and thereby rendered us homeless”.
The stakeholder, in a tearful voice, lamented that the warriors worsened his people’s woes by harvesting their crops after chasing them away from the community. He stated that this had subjected the displaced people to untold hardship with hunger and starvation already ravaging the community.
“This is the situation that we have found ourselves in since last year and I am calling on both government and good-spirited individuals to assist us.
“I can recall that in time past, our dear governor, David Umahi, out of magnanimity, had taken a great quantity of relief materials to some northerners who had encountered a similar situation following the Boko Haram insurgency. Presently, we are in dire need of help from any quarters,” he said.
Coordinator of NAYFP, Okpebe Ibom, urged the two states to establish a bilateral agreement through which lasting peace would be made between the warring communities.
“Before now, the entire Amachi Community was known for peace across the state, but surprisingly fate brought this situation upon us.
“Thus, we are expecting the government at all levels to carry out their primary responsibility by cushioning the effect of the crisis on the lives of the victims,” he said.
Okpebe Ibom further appealed that the government adopted the same measure used in quelling the Ezillo and Ezza Ezillo crisis in Ishielu LGA of Ebonyi State by establishing a mini military barrack between the warring communities, noting that it would likely serve as eternal solution to the problem.
He also commended Governor Umahi on his ability to carefully manage the many internal crises bedevilling various parts of the state.
One of the victims, Solomon Nwogbaga, a legal practitioner insisted that his people were attacked, massacred and rendered homeless without any justification, adding that the problem which started since 2018 had been running intermittently and has claimed many lives.
Nwogbaga, who also voted for peace, said: “We want peace to be restored because before now, we were living harmoniously. There was no problem until the people began to attack us. We’re also calling for government intervention to enable us come back to our homes.
“And I believe strongly that with the establishment of a military barracks in the area, the problem will be quelled permanently. We also want government to calm the people down so that we can have a roundtable discussion instead of war.
“We were born and brought up in this place and based on this reason, we have no other place to call home except Amachi. So, we are appealing for government intervention through the deployment of more military personnel who will complement the effort of policemen who are already present in the area.”
In the same vein, Rev. Fr. Anselm Oyon, priest of St. Dominic Catholic Church, Onyikwa, Amachi, also appealed for assistance to the victims.
His words: “Both my parishioners and other members of the community have exhaustively contributed towards the upkeep of the security personnel who are being deployed to the community. Therefore, I am calling on government for assistance so that the officers will not grow weary.”