Insight

Ebonyi: Killing, arson, looting as brothers go to war (1)

The covenant between the two dominant clans to continue to co-exist as brothers and sisters at Effium community in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State has been broken by carnage wrought by gladiators in the once peaceful community, writes UCHENNA INYA

For its rich nature in agriculture and business, Effium, a popular community in the South-East, is a heterogeneous society. Different people from different tribes are found there but Effium indigenes of Korri extraction and Ezza Ezekuna people are the major tribes in the community.

Food is relatively cheap in Effium. The people of the community produce garri, yam, rice and other crops in large quantities. As a result of this, people from Kogi, Benue, Enugu, Abia, and Cross River states, among others, usually come there to buy goods like food in large quantities at the Effium Market.

The market, which has remained the most popular in the South-East, is always busy. But the market and the entire community are now deserted following the crisis between the people of Effium and Ezza Effium which has claimed many lives with valuables such as houses, vehicles, shops burnt while schools, churches, and hospitals have remained closed. How Effium, Ezza came to Effium community According to history, Effium people migrated from Benue State and some parts of Cross River State as hunters and settled in the community called Effium.

They speak a language known as Kori and are called Effium indigenes of Korri extraction. They were allegedly confronted by Ngbo people in the Ohaukwu Local Government Area of the state who are said to be the original owners of the land.

The Ngbo people reportedly opposed their settlement in the Effium community. It was said that when the Ngbo people engaged them in a war, Effium people invited the Ezza people from their ancestral home at Onueke in Ezza South Local Government Area of the state and some parts of Ezze North Local Government Area also in the state to help them secure the Effium land for them. The Ezza agreed to assist the Ef-fium people and started migrating to the community.

While they were coming, they met stiff opposition from the Ngbo people who laid ambush for them and killed many of them. It was learnt that some stubborn Ezza summoned the courage and went to Effium, helped the Effium people and secured the land. After securing the Effium land, the Ezza and Effium agreed that they would jointly own Effium land and share everything 50-50. They reportedly entered into a covenant to coexist as brothers in the community. The two clans planted covenant trees round the community to cement the agreement to live in peace.

The trees are still found in the community. The two clans continued to live in peace until in 2002 when the covenant was broken. Many lives were lost when the two clans took up arms against each other over who controls what politically in the community. After the 2002 crisis when Dr. Sam Egwu, the senator representing Ebonyi North in the National Assembly who hails from Ohaukwu, was the governor of the state, peace returned to the community though with some skirmishes.

The 2021 crisis Penultimate Friday, the community was engulfed in another crisis with many lives lost. Houses and other valuables were burnt. This crisis has many undertones. Some analysts said it was as a result of power tussle between the local government Chairman, Hon. Clement Odah, and the member representing Ohaukwu North Constituency in the state House of Assembly, Hon. Chinedu Awo. Both Odah and Awo are from Effium community. While Odah is from Effium of Korri extraction, Awo is from Ezza extraction.

The analysts are of the opinion that Odah and Awo are battling for supremacy in the community and the park of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Effium branch. The two leaders have their loyalists and some of their loyalists who are mainly youths always change their loyalty.

For instance, Emmanuel Nwankwo popularly known as ‘Nkwo motors,’ was formerly an Odah loyalist. When he was made the Caretaker Chairman of the Effium NURTW park; he was an ‘Odah boy’ but when he discovered that the people who would protect his job are more of Chinedu Awo boys, he left Odah and became an Awo boy. Odah loyalists were said to be angry having lost two people – Monday Onele and Monday Nwankwo. The latter was killed with a machete.

Following this, Emmanuel Nwankwo reportedly left the Odah camp and joined Awo’s group. The annexation connection The people of Ezza had complained of arbitrary annexation of parts of Effium Ward 2 and Wigbeke Ward 2 which are wards of Effium of Ezza extraction to Effium Ward 1, Wigbeke Ward 3 which are wards of Effium indigenes of Korri extraction in the ongoing enumeration area demarcation exercise of the National Population Commission (NPC) and petitioned the NPC to correct the anomaly.

In a petition by the Forum of Stakeholders of Effium Indigenes of Ezza-Ezekuna Extraction, dated 8th January, 2021 and addressed to the Chairman, NPC, Chief Darlington Okereke, signed by Hon. Chinedu Awo, Dr. Ignatius Unah, Chief Emmanuel Uzor, Mrs. Eucharia Ogwale, Chief Titus Nworie, Alo Amechi, and others, the Ezza Effium stakeholders said “we the undersigned, write on behalf of Effium Indigenes of Ezza- Ezekuna extraction otherwise known as Ezza-Effium people in Effium Ward 2 and Wigbeke Ward 2 all in Effium community in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State to complain of the unlawful annexation of Effium Over-bridge settlement, Okpoduma Road, Ekendiagu Road, Idoma Road, Enwe-mini/Isuochi Street, Iziogo Road, Uwhumba Akpa area of Ibenda village and other parts of Effium Ward 2; and Maternity Road and other parts of Wigbeke Ward 2, all of which are electoral wards of Ezza- Effium people to wards of Effium indigenes of Korri extraction (Effium Ward 1, Wigbeke Ward 1 and Wigbeke Ward 3) in the ongoing Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD) exercise by NPC officials who were misguided by agents of Ohaukwu Council Chairman, Barr. Clement Omekannaya Odah, and other stakeholders of Effium indigenes of Korri extraction.

“It is pertinent to recall that the peculiarities of Effium community where Effium people of Ezza Ezekuna extraction or Ezza-Effium people constituted about 80 per cent of the entire population of the community warranted the demarcation of the five electoral wards in the community with family/kindred labels or names instead of the normal physical or geographical boundaries by the government of old Anambra State through her Edict No. 4 of 1990.

The essence of this unconstitutional arrangement was to circumvent and diminish the impacts of the population of Effium indigenes of Ezza-Ezekuna extraction. “The implication of that arrangement, which still subsists, is that compounds, homes or settlements of Effium indigenes of Ezza-Ezekuna extraction or Ezza-Effium people and those of Effium indigenes of Korri extraction exist side-by-side but do not belong to same wards; hence, people are distinguished and distinguishable by respective family/kindred names as well as their respective languages.

This peculiar situation has regrettably been gazetted in 2004 by Ebonyi State government; and it is well-known to all authorities in Ebonyi State as well as to all inhabitants of Effium community including Barr. Clement Omekannaya Odah and the guides he appointed to mislead the EAD field officers of NPC in Effium community.

“The act of unlawfully annexing parts of the wards of Effium indigenes of Ezza-Ezekuna extraction or Ezza- Effium people, including Hon. Chinedu Awo of Wigbeke Ward 2 – member representing Ohaukwu North state constituency in Ebonyi State House of Assembly – whose home is marked as NPC/EAD2021/110; Mr. Alfred Onuoha of Effium Ward 2 – a renowned academic – whose home is marked as NPC/EAD2021/150; the home of a late popular politician, Chief Obaji Ogwale, father-in-law of Effium South Development Centre Coordinator, Mrs. Eucharia Ogwale, and the cluster of Ezza-Effium people’s homes in Uwhumba Akpa area of Ibenda village among others to the wards of Effium indigenes of Korri extraction is an open invitation to chaos.

“Above all, it is an unwarranted provocation which may force Effium indigenes of Ezza-Ezekuna extraction or Ezza-Effium people to seek judicial nullification of the unconstitutional provisions of Edict No. 4 of 1990 of old Anambra State as well as an order of mandamus compelling INEC and other relevant authorities to delineate wards and polling units in Effium community geographically and demarcate them physically with tangible landmarks and natural boundaries.

“We wish to state that our grouse over the unlawful annexation is not against the NPC officials since we have realised that they were mischievously and intentionally misled. Rather, we are complaining against Barr. Clement Omekannaya Odah, his co-conspirators and the guides who, knowingly, misled the NPC into these unconscionable and inflammable annexations. “In the light of the foregoing, we pray for the prompt and proper reversal of all parts of the wards of Effium indigenes of Ezza-Ezekuna extraction or Ezza-Effium people unlawfully and mischievously annexed to Effium indigenous people’s wards in the ongoing EAD exercise.

“That Barr. Clement Omekannaya Odah, Chairman of Ohaukwu Local Government Area be called to order. A public officer who should be interested in the peace of his community and other parts of his council area, who unfortunately is trying to cause crises by masterminding these unlawful and provocative annexations is not fair to his people and his state government, a proper Enumeration Area Demarcation exercise in all the wards in Effium community especially the now threatened Effium Ward 2 and Wigbeke Ward 2 all of which are wards of Effium indigenes of Ezza-Ezekuna extraction.

“The petition was written on 8th January and delivered on 14th January, 2021. On 18th January, NPC State Director promptly visited Effium community, met with stakeholders on all sides and visited the areas involved in the unlawful annexation. The commission reportedly agreed that the complaints of the Ezza extraction were genuine and accepted to do a repeat EAD exercise to correct the anomaly”.

Effium, Ezza extractions trade blames A few days later, the crisis, which led to the killings in the community, erupted and the Ezza said it was aimed at preventing the NPC, which has a limited time schedule, from correcting the alleged unlawful annexation complained of by Effium indigenes of the Ezza-Ezekuna extraction.

A stakeholder of the Effium indigenes of Korri extraction, Chief Egbe Ochinanwata, disagreed with Ezza, saying that the crisis was a mere power tussle in Effium NURTW. He said: “What is happening now, I do not understand. On Friday 22nd of this month (January), members of the Eze’s cabinet were at Ogbodo village to inspect a land in dispute.

About 10am, we started receiving calls that there was problem and when we asked, they said one of appointees of the state government, Emmanuel Nwankwo popularly known as Nkwo motors, organised some boys and attacked Comrade Paul Elom.

Then the brothers of Paul Elom organised themselves and went to attack Emmanuel Nwankwo. “We said okay, let’s hurry up and go back home to know the cause of the matter. On my arrival, I proceeded to the police station to know the cause.

We were made to understand that it was a mere misunderstanding that arose between the two persons at the park because Emmanuel Nwankwo was the caretaker chairman of that park while Paul Elom was the secretary.

I don’t know the argument between the two of them that resulted in attacking each other with machetes. “Within a few hours, Ezza youths organised themselves and blocked the road and began to kidnap Effium people. One Peter Egbe was returning to his house from Ndieze, he was kidnapped and up till now, we have not seen him. One Charles Nshiegbe was kidnapped at Umueze the same day.

Sunday Agbo was kidnapped at Elom here and up till now, we have not seen them. As if that was not enough, between 7pm and 8pm, we saw flames everywhere. They attacked Ogbodo village; killed four people there. They moved to Umueze and attacked the people there and killed two.

I begin to wonder; is it because of this park matter? Or is there any other matter that has occurred unknown to us? Up till now, I have not got myself because I am not a member of the motor park. Those kidnapped and those displaced are not members of the park.

“How can a park matter spark a crisis up to this level? Even as I am talking now, they are burning people’s houses inside the villages and a lot of people have died. If we should put the figure together, we will arrive at about 100 people (who have been killed).

We no longer sleep in our houses for a matter we don’t know anything about.” Chief Onwe Ogwale of the Ezza extraction disagreed with Egbe and alleged that Ezza have suffered marginalisation, intimidation and other forms of maltreatment in the hands of the Effium indigenes of Korri extraction. Ogwale alleged that the Effium of extraction have been doing everything possible to chase the Ezza out of the community, contrary to the covenant between them that they must live together in the community

He said: “What has been happening didn’t just start now; it has been an age-long problem. When I was a young boy, Ezza and Effium celebrate Okeaku (new yam festival) together. We hold all celebrations together, we visit homes, we never knew who was Ezza and who was Effium.

There was nothing like discrimination of any sort. All of a sudden, politics came into existence; NPN, LPN and NPP. When it started initially, after the first era during Jim Nwobodo, the second tenure, everybody became interested in politics because of the imbalance in some administrative issues in governance. Problem started here and there in Effium and since that time, Effium has never had peace.

I remember that in 2002 when Sam Egwu was in power as governor of the state, they came here because of the same problem; there was arson, there was killing, there was looting because when we begin to talk about all these things, we don’t talk about them in a way that the government in power will understand that we have actually being in purgatory. “The Sam Egwu administration ended and it came to a point again it looked as if that the government in power has always decided to assist the people they called minority; they see us as people who are no longer part and parcel of Effium when we have been one and we used to do things together.

We don’t have that love that we used to have before. Effium people have continued to say that all Ezza are strangers, they always tell Ezza to go to Onueke, their ancestral home, go to this, go that that.

As a result of this, Ezza people started telling them, you are not Igbo people; you and Igbo peopleare struggling over land, how come you are telling us to leave Effium? “If I should tell the story of how who and who came, you will now discover that we are just being pushed because we didn’t even know how this place came to be, how all of us came to be in this place because I am sure that my brother was one of those people who ruled this place.

So, I had the story of this place very well until they went and cooked one funny thing without knowing how this place started. But I am sure that there was a covenant for Ezza and Effium before all of them decided to co-exist here. This is why if you go to some places in Effium, you will see covenant trees because at a time, Ezza man can never use his razor blade to shave an Effium man to avoid blood coming out and the same thing with an Effium man, Effium man cannot shave an Ezza man’s head because of blood.

All of a sudden, those things were bastardised and they kept marginalising Ezzas anything that comes here, they will locate it in their areas, nothing like remembering anyone like an Ezza man here. The thing came to a point that we as Christians decided to start praying to God. No Ezza man has been a headmaster in this central school just.

We don’t know the offence we have committed. “The wrong thing we did was that we agreed with them so that they can be protected against external aggression, so that we can live and co-exist as one. After all, we remember how all of us came to this place. I don’t want to hide how all of us came to this place because it is becoming too much.

They came like hunters and there was trouble for them; even Ngbo people can testify. When Effium people came here as hunters from Benue, the Ngbo people resisted; the Izzi people resisted them.

One night, when there was no way of escape and that was the day they would have been annihilated; all of them ran away with guns to Okpoturu. If you go to Okporojo, they will show you. They invited Ezza. Ezza came and some of them lost their lives because they were killed on their way between Ngbo and Effium here.

As they were coming, the Ngbo people started killing them and burying them there. The thing is still there. They Ezza persisted and helped the Effium people to win the war and own the place that is today known as Effium. The Ezza and Effium agreed that they will own Effium together and share everything 50-50 and then entered into a covenant. But the Effium people have broken that covenant.

I don’t know what Ezza people have done, I don’t know because I am sure in education, Ezza helped; farming, Ezza helped; co-existence, Ezza helped; friendship, Ezza helped; everything, Ezza helped. Today, Ezza have the worst people on earth.”

TO BE CONTINUED

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