In this concluding part of the story on the boundary wars in Ebonyi State, regarded as ‘Salt of the Nation’ because of its peaceful nature and abundance of natural resources, UCHENNA INYA reports that people spurn cultural affinity and embrace violence
The youth leader of Igbeagu, Pascal Nwenyi, also noted that the footprints of the people of Izzi were still traceable to some areas in Cross River years after their departure.
Nwenyi said the departure from the area was occasioned by the Nigerian Civil War.
He said: “Before the 60s our people were living at where they called Ellocke. If you go to Ellocke today, we still have Nwaku-Ellocke, that market was established by Izzi people and till today we still have some Izzi compounds there.
“Example is the Nworokokpo which has a compound there. Onyeowubere has a compound there and the market sells the same day Nwaikpeagu sells.
“The meaning is that we have been living together for a long time at the other side of the river and it was during the Civil War that brought back our people.
“The first man they killed in 2005 when they first attacked us was the oldest man in the village by name Aloh Nweagu.”
AIG Kelvin Opoke (rtd), who hails from the area and a member of peace initiative in the crisis, said demarcation of the boundary by the NBC “remains the only solution”.
He said: “When the crisis started in 2005, I was still in service in Abuja. So, when we heard about it, I had to move with Eze Nwenyi.
“That night we went round to sensitise our people at the National Assembly. I think that time Ucha and Nshi were there for the state. The following day, they had to move a motion in the House. And Ucha did it on behalf of Nshi.
“And until I came back, the crisis was still on until the most recent one. I was involved in advocacy to Abuja and the National Boundary Commission. I went with Eze Nwenyi and our chairman then, Dustan.
“Up till now, I think our problem is ‘show us our boundary’ as far as this zone is concerned.”
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Igbeagu community have continued to lament the crisis.
One of them, Mrs. Nnaji Felicia, who is from Ngujiola village in Igbeagu, said “this war started in 2005 and since then, Ukele people have not allowed us to rest; they have been killing us. They have seized our farmlands and chased us away. See the crowd that is here, we have been displaced; we have no place to live again because they have burnt our houses.
“We are appealing to the Federal Government to demarcate the land so that we can know the place that is our own because we don’t even know whether we are in Cross River State or Ebonyi State.”
On her part, an SS1 student of Bright Destiny International Secondary School, Ndiakparata, in the area, Edegbe Josephine Chioma, said “some teachers teaching us are no longer coming to school for fear of attack because they are not residing here. More than 10 schools in this place, both public and private, have been shut down because of this crisis.
“I feel so sad. I was in school when this war resurfaced; then we hurriedly closed school. I was five years when this war started in 2005. I am sad because many innocent people are dying as a result of this war. We are not happy seeing children, parents and people killed because of this war. We want to be free from this war.”
But Cross River State people have been accusing their Ebonyi State neighbours of instigating the crisis.
A resident of the area, Patrick Ege, said the perennial land conflict between the people of Ukele and Igbeagu started following a gun attack on an Ukele villager.
Ege alleged that the shooting occurred at Ijibolo village when the villagers were returning from a meeting on Wednesday evening, leaving many people with gunshot wounds.
He said: “There was a serious attack on my village, Ijibolo, when the Izzi people waylaid villagers who were returning from a meeting and many people sustained gunshot wounds.”
Indigenes of Ebonyi and Benue states also inter-marry, they also live together as one people and do some other things in common. The two neighbours even share similar culture and speak almost the same language that one finds it difficult to differentiate between them.
But they are also threatened by a serious boundary crisis which has lasted for many decades with many lives lost and property worth billions of naira destroyed.
Ngbo community in Ohaukwu Local Government Aarea of Ebonyi State shares a common boundary with Agila in Ardo Local Government Area of Benue State and have since 1922 been fighting over the boundary.
The crisis has assumed a guerrilla war while several efforts put in place by the government of both states have proved abortive as killings and destruction of property have continued unabated.
The killings usually affect the people of Umuoguduakpu and Ekwashi Ngbo in Ohuukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State that share common boundary with the Agila people.
The war has assumed another dimension since last year as many people have been killed, forcing the two states to set up three committees to end the age-long crisis.
The Deputy Governor of Benue State, Chief Benson Abonu, and his Ebonyi State-counterpart, Dr. Kelechi Igwe, held meetings at Government House, Abakaliki, over the dispute.
The acting Director-General (DG), National Boundary Commission (NBC), Malam Adamu Adaji, and other government officials attended the meeting.
The three inaugurated committees were Cyril Obazi/Otse Otakpa Inter-Community Peace Committee, Ohaukwu/Ado Inter-Local Governments Peace Committee and a Technical Committee with members drawn from the NBC, Office of Surveyor General of the Federation and Surveyors-General of Ebonyi and Benue states.
Benue Deputy Governor, Abonu, noted that the aim of setting up the committees was to restore peace between the two communities and to provide the NBC with clues to establish a buffer zone and demarcate the disputed area.
Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State, Igwe, condemned a recent attack on the people of Ekwashi Ngbo and Umuogodakpu in Ohaukwu Local Government Area by people suspected to have operated from Agila and charged the committees to do thorough consultation to achieve the desired results.
The Acting NBC DG, Adaji, regretted that it took Ebonyi and Benue states four years to inaugurate the committees but emphasised that the Technical Committee would meet soon to finalise issues on the buffer zone.
On his part, the traditional ruler of Ekwashi Ngbo, Eze Michael Nwode, and his Agila-counterpart, Chief Samuel Otekpa, expressed commitment to ensuring that peace returns to the boundary areas.
Co-chairmen of one of the committees, Mr. Cyril Obazi and Otse Otakpa, promised to do everything within their reach to restore economic and social ties between their people.
The committee took off for the assignment. But members were attending a peace meeting in Benue State when they were waylaid and beheaded by warlords.
Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, who was visibly angry, summoned a stakeholders’ meeting of the area.
Briefing the governor at Exco Chambers, Government House, Abakaliki, where the meeting was held, the Chairman of Ohaukwu Local Government, Hon. Clement Odah, said the killings occurred barely one week after the deputy governor of Benue State and his contingent including the chairman of Ardo Local Government visited Ebonyi State and inaugurated three committees to find a lasting solution to the killings.
He said: “Each time we meet and agreed that peace should reign, the Agila people will always breach that peace. This one is one of the cases of breach and the effect is that it has left in our place, large number of Internally Displaced People (IDPs).”
Expressing anger over the killings, Umahi said it was not ordinary and accused the stakeholders of aiding and abetting the crisis.
He said: “I am not a fool; these things are done by you people. There is no any other person that did it; it is like you give somebody salt, you give him water. How can you say that these people killed were ambushed? I have asked them to audit all your resources from Ohaukwu Local Government.”
Umahi ordered police and the Department of State Services (DSS) to arrest 40 stakeholders from the area including the local government Chairman, Odah, and interrogate them over the crisis. He added that those arrested must be going to police and DSS everyday over the matter after their bail.
Odah and 39 other stakeholders from the area had signed undertaking before Umahi and members of the State Executive Council to be held responsible if the crisis resurfaced after the undertaking.
But shortly after signing the undertaking, four members of peace committees set up to end the lingering crisis were beheaded while two were injured. This forced the governor to order the arrest of stakeholders in the area.
“The police should arrest the 40 of them. They should bail them and they should continue to go to police on a daily basis until the killers are found.
“In the past, what has been happening in Ohukwu is in the interest of one group against the interest of the other. The killing is not ordinary and I am not a fool for you to be fooling me.
“The truth is that it is our people that are giving information to the Agila people that our people are in a place and they were ambushed. Who gave them the information that our people were coming there?
“One thing we do not know is that any time you get involved in the killing of anybody rightly or wrongly, your generation is doomed. You can never succeed in life again. There is what is called cancer; there is what is called liver problem; there is what is called kidney problem. If you are too strong, God will allow that one (to befall you) for taking the blood of his creation,” Umahi told the stakeholders.
Apart from the boundary disputes Ebonyi State is having with Benue and Cross River states and even the one between the people of Ishiagu in Ivo Local Government Area of the state and their neighbours in Lokpanta, Abia State, it is also confronted with some intra-boundary disputes including the Enyibichri Echi-Alike Ikwo/Enyigba crisis.
The people of Enyibichri Echi-Alike in Ikwo Local Government Area of the state and their neighbours in Enyigba, Abakaliki Local Government Area of the state have been at war for long over boundary matters.
The crisis has claimed many lives with property worth millions of naira destroyed while efforts by previous administrations in the state to put an end to it did not yield positive results.
Last year, the crisis took a dangerous dimension when the two communities engaged in bloodletting, brigandage and destruction of valuable property. About 15 persons were killed in the melee.
Umahi, who was embittered by the killings and maiming, declared that the land had been taken over by the state government and ordered security agents to shoot on sight anyone found trespassing the land as a way of ending the mayhem. But that was not to be. Ten children were roasted alive when the warlords blocked Alex Ekwueme Federal University on Ndufu Alike Road.
The children, six from that same family and their four neighbours, were roasted by warlords on their way home after attending the matriculation held by Ebonyi State University (EBSU) for newly admitted students. The warlords also shot and killed three people who were on motorcycle on that day.
One of those shot was a wife of a police officer servicing in the state but on secondment to Borno State to fight insurgency in the North-East.
About a week after the killings, the state Police Command arrested three hired mercenaries in the crisis, Odah told journalists last week during a press briefing.
The chairman listed the hired mercenaries as Obiajulu Emunam (40) from Anambra State, Peacemaker Nwadozie (33) from Enugu State and Lawrence Nwingbo (30) from Izzi Ishieke in Ebonyi State.
Odah said: “On 12th of April while policemen were on stop-and-search on Enugu-Abakaliki Expressway, they intercepted a bus with passengers. Upon search, three suspects were arrested. They are Obiajulu Emunama ‘M,’ 40, an indigene of Anambra State, Peacemaker Nwadozie ‘M,’ 33, an indigene of Enugu State and Lawrence Nwingbo ‘M,’ 30, of Izzi Ishieke in Ebonyi State.
“The suspects confessed to a crime and narrated how they were hired as war mercenaries to fight for Izzi and in return a cash of N2 million would be paid to them.
“The suspects stated further that a deposit of N80,000 was given to them and that the marks on their chest showed their readiness to prosecute the war.”
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