•Ebonyi,C-River governments sue for peace
By Emmanuel Unah
Trouble erupted on Friday, June 22 between the Ukele people in Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State and their neighbours in Igbeagu in Izzi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State after months of cat and mouse game over land dispute.
At the weekend, both communities were counting their losses in human and material terms. At the last count, over 30 people were said to have been killed, 1,500 houses razed, 8,000 displaced and peace in the area in tatters.
In retrospect, the two communities had a longstanding relationship in terms of operating on the same land peacefully until 2005 when claims and counter claims of mistrust, land grabbing and oppressive tendencies crept in and clashes then left many people dead, houses razed, and scores of livestock, economic trees and farmlands destroyed.
To maintain the peace after the clash, soldiers and mobile policemen were deployed to the border between the two communities along the Abakaliki- Ogoja Trans Sahara Highway. Meanwhile, the security agents were accused of extortion by mounting roadblocks to collect money from motorists while looking the other way as youths from both communities engaged in squabbles and acts inimical to the peace.
When Sunday Vanguard visited the area on Thursday morning, one could hardly see any building that was in good shape as virtually all structures there had been torched.
Sources said several incidents that broke the terms of the agreement on the 2005 truce brokered by then Governors Donald Duke and Sam Egwu of Cross River and Ebonyi states respectively gradually snowballed to the conflict of last week.
Ukele natives reeled out a litany of actions by youths from Izzi community which culminated in the conflict. According to Obazi Dan, a community leader in Ukele, in March 2017, yams, which were sprouting in the farm of a chief in the area, Stephen Odom, were destroyed by some youths from Izzi and nothing was done about it by the security agents stationed there. In January this year (2018) also, some farmlands, according to him, were destroyed in Okpodon Ntrigom along with the house of one James Obo while another building belonging to Malachy Odom was riddled with allegedly bullets fired by some Izzi youths.
Corroborating the two accounts, Mr Isaac Ikpokpo, a former Secretary of Yala Local Government Council, who is from the area, said the provocations were quite numerous lasting several months.
“The Izzi people were living on our land and we took them as brothers until they decided to start grabbing our land and trying to lord it over us and, when we tried to correct them, they engaged us in war in 2005”, Ikokpo stated.
“After that incident and peace had returned, they went back to their area but kept making incursions into our land. Meanwhile, we never took their acts of provocations seriously. Later, they resorted to attacking our people and destroying our houses, yet we refused to be provoked until it became too much for us to bear”.
According to him, the crisis of last week was precipitated by an attack on a lady and the Okada rider conveying her on the Monday of the Eid. Fitri public holiday and the waylaying of the youths that went to a meeting the next day by some Izzzi youths.
“The woman was shot on Monday and, on Tuesday, there was a meeting at Ipuolo Primary School. After the meeting, our people were returning to the village when they came under attack and many of them sustained gunshot wounds,” he stated
The former LGA chief said his people lodged a complaint to the police and a meeting was scheduled between the people of Izzi and their Ukele counterparts on Thursday to resolve the matter, saying that while Ukele people assembled at the venue and waiting for the Izzi people to show up, what came next was an attack on those gathered and some people had their legs chopped off by the invading men.
“There is a video online (which went viral) posted by someone who was at the meeting showing how people were running helter-skelter as they came under gun fire from the Izzi people and so our people could not stomach it anymore”, Ikpokpo said.
Chief Ofoke Idike of Ndiakpara, Izzi, on his part, narrated to our reporter how the Ukelle people had taken all their farmlands, leaving them with nothing to farm on.
“Does it not surprise you that the conflict always occurs during planting season? Virtually all the lands our parents were farming on have been taken over by the Ukelle people and every effort to let them vacate the land has failed and our youths see the action of Ukelle as provocation”, Idike lamented.
“Our parents and their parents lived together peacefully and never had any issues but these ones keep taunting us and making us to feel that our existence depends on their goodwill”.
Cross River Police Command spokesperson, Ms Irene Ugbo, said 36 persons had been arrested in connection with the alleged attack while efforts were being made to keep the trans Sahara Abakaliki- Ogoja road open to traffic.
To restore peace, Professor Ivara Esu, the Deputy Governor of Cross River State, and his Ebonyi State counterpart, Dr Kelechi Igwe, on Tuesday, met with the warring communities and sued for peace.
The two deputies, along with the Chairman of the National Boundaries Commission, Mohammad Ahmad, met both communities at Mfuma in South Ukele, Yala Local Government Area to discuss peace.
“It has been established that the Ukele man has no problem having an Izzi man living side-by-side with him and they have lived in peace but what I have seen in various reports is that the boundary between the two is in dispute and the National Boundaries Commission has not done the needful by establishing the boundaries. Now we have educated people who want to take advantage of the situation to cause trouble”, Esu said.
“Not that it matters much but it will give clear lines of demarcation between the two states and anyone who crosses from one state to the other to live will know he is to pay taxes to the host state while the government has the responsibility of providing amenities for such person and other benefits that accrue to people in the host state.”
He said many villages were sacked during the crisis and lives lost, saying however that he had cautioned his people against retaliation”.
His Ebonyi counterpart, Igwe, said dialogue should have been used to resolve any differences rather than resort to violence which does not do anybody any good.
Ahmad, who read the resolutions made at the meeting, said the boundary lines established between Ukele and Uzzi by the colonial master had not changed
“The two communities have given their commitment to laying down their arms, re-open markets and schools in the disputed areas, set up a joint peace committee while governments of the two states will work on providing security and other amenities needed there.”