The Otuocha Market in Anambra East Local Government Area, cuts the picture of a recluse of itself when this reporter visited the area.
Also, the usual hustle and bustle of farmers in Fisher men and women who frequent the market to display their wares, were not as it used to be. No thanks to the curfew the Anambra State government imposed on the two communities of Umuleri and Aguleri recently.
The two towns last week returned to the trenches after 21 years of communal war which the visit of former president Olusegun Obasanjo stopped on the insurance of the then lawmaker representing Anambra East and West Federal Constituency, Chief Emmanuel Anosike and former governor Chinweoke Mbadinuju.
The Otuocha Market, located between Aguleri and Umuleri communities, has been the bone of contention and in last week’s clash two persons were confirmed dead while buildings were also destroyed. Reports have it that it is not only the land located at the market that is the problem but also lands situated close to the Cargo Airport under construction by the state government, which has also appreciated in value.
The two communities are so close to each other that a visitor to the area cannot differentiate which one is Umuleri and which is Aguleri land. Up till now the two communities intermarry, they have similar culture, tradition and ancestral route. Reports also have it that the land in contention was given to the defunct Royal Niger Company Ltd, to build a factory which never came to be and the issue is between Umuleri and Aguleri towns which of them settled there first?
Furthermore, the dispute started in the year 1933 when Umuleri instituted the first litigation asked the court to rule that the land belong to them.
But the court ruled that the land do not belong to Umuleri and even the Colonial Privy Council also ruled that the land do not belong to Umuleri people. Before the outbreak of the Civil War, Otuocha was gazetted as Aguleri and the Aguleri people decided to assert themselves as the owners of the land while Umuleri kicked. Former National President, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ),
Chief Igwa said: “Umuleri people went to court to challenge the gazette in 19 75 but the Onitsha High Court, also ruled that the land did not belong to Umuleri and that led to an appeal at the Enugu Appeal Court which ruled that the land belongs to Aguleri.
“However the Supreme Court ruled on the appeal filed by Umuleri people that the land do not belong to Umuleri people and the Supreme Court did not say it belongs to Aguleri people.”
The Supreme Court upheld the judgement of the Onitsha High Court which also ruled that the land does not belong to Umuleri people neither did it rule that the land belong to Aguleri people.” Igwa further recalled that the Onitsha High Court also ruled that if the two communities go out to jubilate that they own the land, they and their leaders would take full responsibility for whatever happens.
This full responsibility is what the two communities are taking in the last 21 years, which has claimed several lives and property destroyed in the course of executing the war.
At a point in 2018 the then Police Commissioner had set up a Peace and Reconciliation Committee which was as a result of the petition filed by Umuleri President – General and Secretary – General, Chief Pius Okonkwo and Mr Samuel Mbukwasili respectively who alleges that the Chairman of Umuriabo village in Eziagulu Aguleri, Mr Chukwudi Nwakasi and Godwin Nwajekwu have been constructing buildings at night with thugs heavily armed insisting that those structures should be pulled down.
The Peace Committee suffered similar fate like its predecessors and the two communities went back to war with intermittent flexing of muscles, allegations and counter allegations.
The recent crisis led to the setting up of a 15- man Panel of Enquiry by the State government. It is headed by Air Vice Marshall Chiobi as chairman, permanent secretary in the office of the Secretary to the State Government(SSG), the two monarchs, the two President – Generals among others.
The panel which has three weeks to complete it’s assignment has the following terms of reference: To establish the immediate cause of the dispute between the two communities, which occurred on Saturday, 16th January, 2021, between Aguleri and Umuleri. Invite and interview the families that own the lands in dispute.
Establish the boundaries between Aguleri and Umuleri as a whole. Recommend other possible solutions that will guarantee lasting peace in the area. Shortly after the Deputy Governor, Dr Nkem Okeke inaugurated the panel, the Traditional Ruler of Umuleri, Igwe Bennett Emeka, expressed hope that the panel would bring lasting peace among the two communities adding that they have been living as brothers and sisters in the time past. Igwe Michael Idigo, told reporters that the panel is well constituted.
He noted that he and his fellow monarch would ensure that the dispute would be resolved amicably. However, there are fears that since the Governor is from Aguleri, the panel may be bias in it’s positions, but government officials have dismissed those claims insisting that the panel will be fair and just.
Meanwhile the member representing Anambra East and West Federal Constituency, Chief Chinedu Obidigwe, has called for calm, adding that as a lawmaker representing the area, his position is to restore peace in the two communities.
He said: “You cannot have meaningful development without peace and I have projects and programs that would benefit all and sundry irrespective of which community the projects would be located.
“We are a people that share similar culture, tradition , beliefs and practices and it would be so unfortunate for us to burn our energy in crisis, when it can be put to optimal use for the good of the people.”
However the Federal Government’s Boundary Adjustment Committee, headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) and the Deputy Governors, should be put on notice on the duties of the panel in order not to work at cross proposes before the kits and kins of the two communities engage one another in yet another macabre dance.