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
Also, Fidelis Onyeisi Ogala of the Effium extraction argued that the current crisis was a result of power tussle between Chairman of the local government, Clement Odah and Chinedu Awo. Ogala alleged that Odah and Awo’s power play has crept into the NURTW branch at the Effium park where the chairman of the park and the secretary have been having issues over who becomes what and who gets what.
He said: “The present killings started because the local government Chairman, Clement Odah, and the member representing Ohaukwu North Constituency, Chinedu Awo, want to control motor park and some of their loyalists who are mainly youths always ‘carpet-cross’. Emmanuel Nwankwo, popularly known as Nkwo Motors, was formerly an Odah loyalist. When he was made the caretaker chairman, he was an ‘Odah boy’ but when he discovered that those people that will protect his job are more with Chinedu Awo, he left Odah and became ‘Chinedu’s boy’.
When he did that, Odah’s loyalists were not happy because as at that time, Odah lost two persons. So, for Nkwo motors to retain his position, he needed people who would guide him properly. So, he left Odah’s camp and joined Chinedu’s camp.
“Now, the secretary who was attacked is an Effium boy. He is still with Odah. They said government said that old people of NURTW should go back to work and that the caretaker committee should leave the work so that the old people should stay there and conduct an election for the new executive of that park. The secretary went there on Okwor day so that on Effium day, he will go and take over.
When he got there and Nkwo motor heard about it, he became infuriated and arranged some cult boys and they started pursuing him from the ‘garage’. They got him and attacked him with machetes. It was in the broad daylight. His people also organised some boys and started pursuing Nkwo motor and also attacked him with machetes.
That was how the killings started.” Ogala accused the Ezza extraction of dominating the Effium extraction and causing division in the community. He added: “The problem here is that some people came and started to see things in a wrong way, hence they say they have population and that whatever comes here, if they pick, the remnants will be given to Effium. That campaign stared in the 70s; around 1979 and 1980s.
A man called Hon. Peter Eze started that campaign. As at that time, Ezza speak Effium fluently, they mingled with us. The first campaign that Peter Eze started was that the Ezza were losing their identity because they were speaking our language fluently and mingling with us. He started his campaign with some secondary school students and they started listen to him because he happened to be one of the first to be educated in this area.
They got that orientation and started growing with it. They formed what is called Effium patriotic in Abakaliki and they first started planning to correct is ward delineation in Effium because we have five wards and they said since they had the population, what they wanted to do was when government came come for registration, they would go and register in everywhere in Effium here so that by the time we would have any election, including councillorship, they would use their population and win elections in those five wards.
But we said no, since we had an agreement since 1976, these wards were meant for Ezza and Effium let us leave them like that. “But that campaign became so serious until in 2002 when they started this move. In 2002, they moved in to Benue State because as at that time, they had the money and they were very coordinated.
They took lorries to Benue State where they are so pre-dominant and brought many of them who settled there to come and register in these Effium wards. There was a crisis that time. During the crisis at Akparata, there was an old man from Ezza who came out with a Dane gun because they were threatening to burn his house.
He shot the Dane gun but unfor-tunately, it was an old gun which he had been keeping in his house for a long time which he used for hunting. The gun did not fire when he shot it. They collected the gun and hit it on his head. The man died.
When they heard that the man died, what the Ezza did was to start blocking all the roads and started killing people. In 2002, we recorded 32 deaths and that 33rd one was the Ezza man who was killed. Most of the victims were from one side, Wigbeke.”
But according to Prince Ben Ogwale, the crisis is as result of political leaders who are busy building political empires for themselves. Ogwale alleged that the traditional institution, which should be handling matters affecting the community, has been destroyed in Effium by the leaders while youths are given power to take decisions for the people.
He said: “Effium and Ezza people co-existed. But right now, because they are busy building political empires for themselves, they find it difficult to continue to co-exist. They have killed traditional institution in Effium; both in Ezza and in Effium clans where some youths sometime take over the community in terms of what concerns traditional rights; settling matters. If a man and his wife fight, they will take over the matter and ask the man to lie down and start flogging him. The person holding the man down is a boy of 10 or 20 years.”
Effium, Ezza leaders’ arrest
Following the crisis, all the elected and appointed leaders of the Effium and Ezza Effium were arrested by the police. The arrest was at the instance of the state Deputy Governor, Kelechi Igwe, who presided over a peace meeting at the Old Government House, Abakaliki, two days after the crisis started.
The state Commissioner of Police, Aliyu Garba, arrested the leaders who included the Chairman of Ohaukwu Local Government Area, Clement Odah and the lawmaker representing Ohaukwu North Constituency in the state House of Assembly, Chinedu Awo.
Also arrested were about 30 other major stakeholders from the community, including the Coordinator of Effium Development Centre, Sunday Agbo, and his Effium South DC counterpart, Eucharia Ogwale. Also arrested were Emmanuel Uzor, a former Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the governor and currently the Special Assistant to the Governor on Market Development and his counterpart in charge of Parks Development, Emmanuel Igwe. The former lawmaker representing Ohaukwu North State Constituency and Governor Dave Umahi’s Special Assistant on Youth Development, Frank Onwe, was also among those arrested.
The Deputy Governor, Igwe, had, through a statement on that fateful Sunday when the leaders were arrested, invited the stakeholders and appointees to an emergency security meeting following the violence in the community. The meeting was held at the Exco Chambers of the Old Government House, Abakaliki. Also in attendance were the Chief Judge (CJ) of the state, Justice Anselm, who is also from the community, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Kenneth Ugba, and the Commissioner for International Security and Conflict Resolution, Stanley Okoro Emegha.
The invitees arrived at the Executive Chambers of the Old Government House venue of the meeting at 9am. The meeting started with the deputy governor and the commissioner of police in attendance. About 10am, about 10 police vans drove into the compound from the Police Headquarters across the road. The police officers in the vans surrounded the building where the meeting was being held and moments later, the commissioner of police opened the door and ordered the policemen to take the invitees away except the CJ.
They were immediately taken to two waiting buses belonging to the Ministry of Internal Security from where they were driven to the State Police Headquarters building opposite the Old Government House, Abakaliki. After their arrest, the CP, the deputy governor, security chiefs, heavily armed security agents and other attendees entered their cars and left the venue for Effium community. Igwe later addressed hundreds of internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at Effium Police Station where they were taking refuge. He said: “We will put all those whose hands are in this crisis into prison.
We will make sure they are behind bars no matter how highly placed.” The team visited hideouts of the warlords and arrested over 60 people from the community in connection with the crisis. Arms, ammunition, charms and substances suspected to be hard drugs were recovered from the suspects who were taken to the police headquarters were they were paraded. The state Commissioner of Police, Aliyu, vowed that police would deal decisively with trouble-makers in the community. He said all the stakeholders from the community arrested over the incident will remain in custody until peace returns to the community.
They killed our fathers, mothers, siblings, burnt our houses -Victims
Some victims of the crisis narrated how they lost their loved ones, including their mothers, fathers and siblings with their properties burnt. Some of them said they have not seen their loved ones since the outbreak of violence. Mrs. Nnenna Okorie, a nursing mother whose baby still have bullets lodged in one of her hands, explained that her mother and two brothers were killed in the crisis. The woman broke down in tears while speaking with New Telegraph at Effium Police Division where she was taking refuge with thousands of other displaced persons.
She said: “My baby has bullets in her hand. She was shot on the hand. I need help to remove the bullets from my baby’s hand. I don’t have money; I don’t have anything. They have destroyed all our things; they have burnt our properties.” Another victim, Nwanneamaka Uguru, said “they met me inside the room and shot at me. They thought that I was dead and left immediately, but I stood up and escaped through the bush. They burnt our house and I have not seen my father, mother and siblings”.
Egwu condemns carnage, demands
investigation Meanwhile, the senator representing Ebonyi North Senatorial District, Sam Egwu, has condemned the crisis in the community. Egwu described the violence which led to wanton destruction of lives and property and other means of livelihood in the area as unfortunate. He recalled that the two communities have been living in relative peace over the years and argued that whatever led to the crisis would have been resolved at a roundtable. Egwu, a former governor of Ebonyi State, called on the warring parties to sheathe their swords and embrace peace to avoid further loss of lives and property. The senator condoled with the families of those who lost their lives and property and urged them to hand everything over to God.
Egwu thanked the state government for its prompt action on the crisis and called for a full investigation into the remote and immediate causes of the violence, after which those found culpable should be brought to book. He advised stakeholders from the two blocs to be at the vanguard of peace and see each other as brothers rather than taking sides on the matter.
Umahi wields the big stick
The crisis, which has persisted, forced Governor Dave Umahi to personally visit the community. Addressing the people at Effium Central School, Umahi sealed off the Effium NURTW park. He extended the curfew he imposed on the community to 14 days from 4pm each day.
The governor also declared the state Chairman of NURTW wanted over the crisis. Umahi, who was visibly angry over the killings, announced the suspension of all the elected and appointed Effium and Ezza Effium leaders in his administration. The governor blamed politicians in the area for the mayhem and vowed to jail anyone whose hand is in the crisis.
He said: “When people struggle for land, I say they are very stupid. People existed, people own this land, the flood took them away. Why will you now boast of the second creation that the land belongs to you? Did you know who lived here and died? “You take oaths over a land you didn’t know how it came about.
Why should people begging to say you are a stranger; a stranger at where? Our leaders are the people sowing this seed of discord for their own selfish interest. “Look at the entire Ebonyi State, no leaders’ houses ever got burnt, their brothers never got killed. The Igbo man that wants Biafra, the Igbo man that wants to rule by himself, but in a small community, they can’t stay together. It’s a shame; nobody is a stranger in Igbo land. “I saw what was posted to our security agencies; men and women that are over 90 years stranded in a very thick forest.
Is that what we were elected and appointed to do? Sometime, people in government manipulate issues, Park! 90% of revenue of this state is in the hands of people. Some of them who are government officials will still go out to say government is wicked, they are taxing us so much but this money doesn’t come to us. It is a shame. What shall we tell Effium and Ezza Effium that came together before most of us were born; what do we tell you? Look at the mothers, look at the children. When these gladiators were starting this fire, I am sure they knew how far it will go. “I want to be quoted anywhere.
If security agencies see any person with gun exchanging with security agencies here or trying to kill our defenseless mothers or fathers or children, that person should not live, the person should not leave. The rule of engagement is that if a person is trying to commit an ordinary arson, you have to demobilise him. We have to send more security men to all the villages. “All the political appointments in the five wards of this place are hereby suspended. I have no powers to suspend elected people but the House of Assembly does that and I am going to report to them.
“The Attorney-General must procure a court order. For anybody to be released in whatever condition, security agencies have to authorise it. There will be no release of the people I have arrested, whether they are directly involved or not, until there is absolute peace and the women will report the peace to me. The women will come in their numbers; equal numbers from Effium and Ezza Effium, they will come and report to me and say there is peace. “But any political appointee or elected, I am screening their phones.
I have asked network providers for all their conversations. Any of them that is involved will go to prison. We will prosecute the person in court. This is murder and arson; it is like a combination of COVID and cancer. “The deputy governor will work with the Attorney-General, the Principal Secretary, and the Chief of Staff to set up judicial panel of inquiry into this crisis.
They need to report to me their recommendations to set up this within the next three days. I am appealing to our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters to return to their homes. We have a new Commissioner of Police and it is like we have the same DNA; he has passion for the people.
“The director of the Department State Services (DSS) and the Army are going to flood the entre place with security agencies from this night. Please return to your homes and my order is anybody with gun should be shot at sight. I can’t fold my hands and see mothers being killed and see innocent children and fathers being killed; I will not do that. It is better I am tried protecting my people than to allow this carnage to continue to happen. From today in Ebonyi State, if you are impersonating with guns and Army uniforms, you are a terrorist and security should note this. If you are blocking the road, you are a terrorist.
“The ‘garage’ is permanently sealed, transport (commercial vehicles) are allowed to come and go freely; no charge of Internally-Generated Revenue (IGR) for the main time. The Ebonyi State chairman of the transport union is declared wanted. Of course, all the people that started the crisis must be arrested.
The curfew must continue in Effium. For the next two weeks, we are going nowhere. Security must be saturated in this place. Within two weeks, I will come back but my deputy will lead security peace every day; he will be coming here for the next two weeks.” Umahi directed the immediate release of food items, clothing and cash to mothers and girls above 18 years and men above 60 years affected by the crisis. He also directed the enumeration of houses of all widows and fathers above 70 years old which were burnt for his immediate attention. The governor appealed to all those who ran away from their communities to return because adequate security has been put in place. He also approved the construction of a permanent Army checkpoint in Effium community to protect the people.
Police recover arms
Ever since the crisis started, security agents have been combing the flashpoints in the community, arresting suspected warlords and recovering arms from them. The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Loveth Odah, said 20 pump action guns and many other offensive weapons have been recovered from the warlords in connection with the crisis in Effium and Ezza Effium communities in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of the state. Odah said peace has returned to the affected communities and that the police have escorted some members of the community back to their homes.
She said: “They have embraced peace. They have agreed to drop their hostility against one another. Normalcy has returned to the affected communities. We escorted many of them back to their homes before we returned. The ones arrested are the warriors causing problems and destruction of properties. “Those arrested are up to 50 warriors and we recovered not less than 20 pump action guns and other offensive weapons. The commissioner of police has directed that they will be charged to court.”