For the past few days, the peace some communities in Ebonyi State have been enjoying has eluded them following skirmishes with their neighbours over land. The situation has brought sorrow on them with lives lost, many injured and properties razed writes UCHENNA INYA in Abakaliki
Abaomege community, Onicha Local Government Area of Ebonyi State had remained very peaceful until last week when it had issues bothering on land with its neighbouring Isinkwo in the same local government.
One person in the community identified as Nwata Ibe Ezigbo was shot dead with over 10 persons wounded when repeated attacks were launched on the community by Isinkwo .
Three persons were allegedly abducted from the community in the melee and were still missing.
The two communities have been having a land dispute at their borders which degenerated that last week.
A resident of Abaomege, Ineke Igwe, accused the people of Isinkwo of repeatedly attacking them despite the apology the traditional ruler of Isinkwo community tendered before Abaomege.
“On Monday, the Traditional Ruler of Isinkwo Autonomous community apologized on behalf of his people and pleaded for peace. But 24 hours after that, an Abaomege man who went to spray pesticide on his farm was kidnapped and nothing has been heard of him since then.
“As if that was not enough, at about 5:30pm on the evening of Tuesday, Isinkwo attacked some Abaomege residents in the comfort of their homes and shot one person dead on the spot while about five persons were left with various degrees of bullet injuries”, he said.
He noted that three persons were still missing since the clashes began last week.
“Only one woman out of about four missing persons was brought back by the police.
“We are suspecting the rest might have been killed since nothing has been heard about them”.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Loveth Odah, said she was not aware of the incident when our correspondent called her.
“Let me call the Divisional Police Officer of the area to find out. I will get back to you”, she said.
But the Commissioner for Border Peace and Internal Security in the state, Stanley Okoro Emegha, confirmed the incident.
“Yes, I am aware of the incident and we are on top of the situation”, he explained.
He said government has sent a reinforcement of Soldiers, Policemen and other security agencies to support the ones deployed to the area initially.
Governor Dave Umahi had directed the Nigerian Army and Police to take over the Isinkwo-Ukawu and Abaomege communities of Onicha Local Government Area of the state and immediately restore law and order in both communities.
Umahi, in a statement signed by the state Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Uchenna Orji, stated that he was saddened by developments in both communities.
The statement said that the governor expressed dismay over the activities of the youth in both communities who resorted to taking ‘laws into their hands’ and inflicting injuries on the people because of land dispute.
“The state government has henceforth taken over the disputed land effective from June 6, 2020, in line with the laws of the state.
“The governor has directed the state Commissioner for Lands and Survey to immediately acquire the disputed land for the government, in overriding public interest,” the statement read.
The statement added that Umahi further warned both communities to ‘pull out’ completely from the disputed land. All concerned are to take this matter seriously,” the statement read in part.
While the people of Abaomege and Isinkwo were slugging it out, many houses were burnt with properties worth millions of naira destroyed in Amuzu Igbeagu Community in Izzi Local Government Area over a disagreement arising from leadership and land tussle in the area.
One of the victims, Jacinta Onyiyechi, lamented that all her certificates and other vital documents were destroyed when miscreants hired by one of the factions set her father’s house ablaze.
Another victim of the incident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of more reprisals accused one Maurice Nkwuda, husband of the Coordinator of Igbeagu Development Centre of masterminding the crisis.
The source traced the genesis of the whole incident to 2016 when some members of the community led by Nkwuda plotted to hand over a mineral rich land in the community to a prospective miner and that the community resisted his attempts to take over the land.
The source further revealed that around that period, the Community’s Executives’ tenure ended and backed by Nkwuda, they refused to hand over or conduct another election.
“They wanted to remain in power and use their power to force the community to hand over the land to them and their preferred mining company.
“This led to a court case which lingered till March this year when the court gave judgment against them and ordered them to hand over to a new elected leadership but they still refused to hand over”, the source said.
The source said the villagers wrote to the state government and the state government ordered them to hand over the newly elected leadership.
The source noted that having lost the leadership of the village which is the only way for the ousted group to gain control of the land, the group resorted to importation of gunmen to attack and intimidate the villagers.
“They hired gunmen who are at the border with Cross River State to attack us and burn down our houses”, the source said.
“They first came two days ago(Wednesday) and started shooting into the air. People ran away and they packed people’s properties and destroyed damaged some buildings.
“The Community complained to Commissioner for Border Peace and Internal Security who called for a meeting and sent Police there.
But on Thursday night after the Police left, they came back and burnt down many houses and properties”.
Nkwuda however refused to speak on the issue when contacted by our reporter.
“I am very busy. I will call you later when I am done”, he said on the telephone to our reporter after which he cut the call.
Afterwards, he refused to pick several calls placed to his telephone. He also did not respond to text messages sent to him.
Also, his wife and Coordinator of Igbeagu Development Centre, Mrs. Roseline Nkwuda, did not take calls placed to her phone line.
But Police Spokesman, Loveth Odah, confirmed the incident, adding that Mrs. Nkwuda denied the involvement of her husband in the attacks.
She said the information available to the Police is that the crisis was as a result of a tussle for village head of the community.
“Yesterday (Thursday), I had to contact the Coordinator of the Development Centre. It was alleged that her husband was working with the former village head of the community.”
“She denied that her husband is involved in the attack. She also promised to come to the station on Monday”, Odah said.
Odah noted that the Police have sent a patrol team to the area to restore calm and normalcy.
“The matter has been transferred to the State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Abakaliki and we have commenced investigation”, Odah added.
Meanwhile, Maurice Nkwuda was later arrested by the Police over the mayhem.
Also arrested with Nkwuda was the Traditional Ruler of the Community and ally to Nkwuda, Ogbonnaya Ukwa.
Odah confirmed the arrest. “Yes they were arrested on Friday following the allegations by the community that they were behind the crisis in the area. They were later released after interrogation because of the police IGP’s policy of not congesting the cell to avoid Covid-19 infection”, Odah said.
She disclosed that they were told to report back to the Police Headquarters Abakaliki on a Monday with the Coordinator.
“We are still investigating the matter. The matter has been transferred to the State Criminal Investigation Department (CID)”, she added.
Members of the community in their numbers later staged a peaceful protest in Abakaliki last Saturday to protest the attack and destruction of their houses and properties by unknown gunmen.
The villagers, bearing placards with various inscriptions, accused some members of the community of masterminding the attacks on them for their selfish interest.
The protesters marched through various streets in the capital city on their way to the Old Government House Abakaliki but were intercepted at Union Bank Junction by Policeman, who ordered them to end the protest.
After discussions with the Police Officers, the villagers peacefully ended the protest at the location with a briefing to Journalists.