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Theatres of war

Govt, leaders battle to restore peace

In Ebonyi, it has been series of communal crises in the past few weeks, forcing the governor to wield the big stick against political appointees in the troubled areas. UCHENNA INYA reports

 

Ebonyi State in the past few weeks has been confronted with communal crisis in some communities which has claimed many lives with properties worth millions of naira destroyed.

The communities involved in the mayhem include Alike-Ikwo in Ikwo local government area of the state and their neighbouring Enyigba in Abakaliki Local Government, Inyimagu and Ekpaomaka communities all in Ikwo Local Government area of the state.

It was the people of Enyigba and their neighbouring Echi-Alike that first clashed which resulted in the loss of six lives with Houses and other properties worth millions of naira destroyed.

The two communities have been at war since thirty years. In the renewed hostilities, a market jointly owned by the people was completely razed. After razing the market, the war militia proceeded to a popular market in the Echi-Alike Ikwo and burnt down a popular market in the area identified as Nwelem market.

The Nwaelem market is opposite the home of the immediate past governor of the state, Chief Martin Elechi. Policemen on duty at the Alike Ikwo station, reportedly fled into the forest owing the sophisticated weapons the militia paraded during the attack.

Policemen on duty at the Alike Ikwo station, reportedly fled into the forest owing the sophisticated weapons the militia paraded during the attack.

The militia carted away goods in the markets before burning them. Farm produce brought to the markets by women for sales were destroyed.

Enyigba people allegedly took the Alike Ikwo people unawares and attacked them. Three communities including Noyo, Echi-Alike and Enyibichiri were affected by the invasion. A woman, wife of one popular man called Enyi kwonwa and her two-year-old boy were shot dead in the melee. Members of the three communities have relocated to distant communities for safety.

Ikwo local government chairman, Hon. John Nnabo, confirmed that six persons died as a result of the renewed crisis and described it as ugly scenario.

He explained that he has addressed his people to remain calm and law abiding and avoid reprisal attack as security agents have been deployed to the area.

“One woman has been shot with the baby but only the woman and the baby were killed. One old man was trying to run and fell down and died,” he said.

When contacted, the state police public relations officer, ASP Loveth Odah explained that Nwedda Market was burnt down and that it was jointly owned by the two warring communities.

She explained that while the state government was working hard with the security agents to end the crisis between the people of Cross River and the Ikwo, the two neigbouring communities engage themselves in fight. She appealed to the warring communities to sheath their sword and embrace peace.

Chief Press Secretary to Governor Umahi, Emmanuel Uzor confirmed the renewed crisis but refused to talk about the casualties, saying it is the duty of security agents to do so.

While briefing journalists in Abakaliki on the outcome of the state Executive council meeting, Uzor said the state government had directed Secretary to the State Government, Prof Bernard Odoh to set up a nine-man committee to look into and resolve the crisis within seven days.

Umahi directed all the warring communities to cease hostilities with immediate effect and directed security agencies to arrest anybody fomenting trouble in any of the communities immediately.

He disclosed that the government has ordered local councils to make by-laws to prohibit the sale or lease of land for the purposes of cattle grazing, ranching, animal movement exploration/prospecting, among others to proceed without first obtaining the permission from the Council chairman who in turn must obtain the authorization power from the Governor of the State as according to him, failure will attract severe punishment.

“Anybody who encroaches into the land acquired by the state government for purposes of development shall be committed to prison and such lands shall remain irrevocable.

“EXCO also directed that from henceforth, building of hotels, private schools, community sponsored schools, restaurants, hospitals, pharmacies and filling stations without EXCO approval are highly prohibited.

“All private schools in Ebonyi State must be reviewed and approved by the Ministry of Education, and all such schools not approved by the ministry must be closed down within one week from the date of this briefing”, he said.

As the state was battling to control the Enyigba/Echi-Alike crisis, it was confronted with the Inyimagu and Ekpa-omaka. The two communities are all in Ikwo local government area. From available records, Ikwo has the following war records ongoing, Ndiagu Amagu Ikwo/ Abi in Cross River state, Inyimagu Ikwo/ another community in Cross River State, Amagu Ikwo/ Amagu Ikwo, Azuoffia Idda Alike Ikwo/ Azuoffia in Abakaliki local government, Inyimagu Ikwo/ Igbudu Ikwo among others.

In the Ekpaomaka/Inyimagu’s renewed crisis, there were contradicting reports on the cause of the fight. Reports had it that, a prominent man from Inyimagu recently died and two human heads were needed for his funeral. It was alleged that two men were kidnapped from Ekpaomaka, a neighbouring community and were later beheaded to meet up with the sacrificial demand for the burial ceremony of the said man. On getting wind of the act, the people of Ekpaomaka decided to reprise the offensive.

Another report has it that an immigrant who had lived in Ekpaomaka for quite a long time and had become a native of the community was reportedly kidnapped by men suspected to be coming from Inyimagu for a reason best known to them.

The two communities have been at war in the last two weeks. It has claimed several lives while many houses and other valuables believed to worth millions of naira were burnt.

There have also been pockets of hostage taking. Children were running from their schools in different directions. Settlers in the communities were also packing out their property from their houses.

In anger, the state Governor Dave Umahi wielded the big stick against all the political appointees from the warring Ekpaomaka/Inyimagu communities by ordering their immediate arrest.

Umahi had summoned enlarged emergency security meeting at the Exco chambers, government House Abakaliki with all the security chiefs in the state in attendance.

His Deputy Chief of Staff, Professor Fidelis Okpata and some other appointees were arrested by the Commissioner of Police, Titus Lamorde on the order of the Governor. Okpata and other government appointees were arrested for their inability to quell the crisis.

Umahi expressed dismay that despite government’s decision to set up a committee to look into the crisis, the two communities have refused to give peace a chance. He said: “I am sad that there is still crisis in these communities despite the fact that we set up a committee in this state to look into the matter.

“We pleaded with the communities to allow ceasefire and await the outcome of the committee report but it does appear that they do not want to give peace a chance. “I therefore order the commissioner of police to arrest all the stakeholders and political office holders from the communities. Without looking back, all of you in this Executive Council Chamber are under arrest.

“I want the commissioner of police to detain you people until peace returns to the communities.”

The governor also said that his administration would do everything possible to ensure safety of the people of the state and deal with anybody found fomenting trouble in the communities no matter how highly-placed.

He ordered that a joint task force comprising of men of the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigeria Army be sent to the troubled areas to ensure the return of normalcy to the areas.

Apart from arrest of the political appointees from the two warring communities, the Governor has also ordered that financial entitlements of the appointees for this month and upcoming months be withheld pending when complete ceasefire and peace pact are embraced by the warring communities.

The appointees arrested during the enlarged security meeting were mainly from Ekpaomaka community as the people of Inyimagu were not in attendance. They were said to be on their way to the meeting. But some of their prominent men(political appointees) have been submitting themselves to the police for interrogation over the crisis.

Umahi gave the directive in a statement through his Principal Secretary, Chief Clement Nweke after the enlarged security meeting. The Governor’s action on the crisis has generated mixed reactions in the state. While many persons are commending him for the decision, others urged him to extend the same action to the political appointees in the Enyigba/ Alike-Ikwo crisis.

A native of Ikwo and public Affairs Analyst, Nwoba Chika Nwoba said “I want to commend Ebonyi state governor for suspending all the government appointees from local government to state levels from the two warring communities in Ikwo local government area of the state, ordering their arrest and interrogation by the SSS and police over the unrest lingering in their communities resulting in high records of human and material losses”.

Another public Affairs Analyst, Itumo Ndubuisi said “one could vividly recall Governor Umahi’s leitmotif of taking this bold step in the eventuality of political holders in their usual lackadaisical attitude allow blood to flow and property damaged in the name of communal clash. Good it’s that Umahi has executed his stand not minding who is involved.

“Indeed, it’s a welcome development as our Politicians do relocate all their expensive belongings and nuclear family members to a ‘safe haven’ Abakaliki once they clinch a political position leaving the rural dwellers to sail grudgingly in the murky waters of squalor, starvation and deprivation.

“Unlike, His Excellency, the Governor who visits his home town often and virtually knows every Uburuians by their names, they only sneak themselves into their villages in the twilight only to steal themselves out in the wee hours of the morning.

“Point blank, most political office holders in Ebonyi State not just in this present administration are not grass rooted. Worrisome it is that Development Centre Coodinators and Local Government Chairmen whose jurisdictions fall within the rural areas are not in touch with the rural dwellers. They hardly feel the pulse of the rural dwellers.

“I could vividly recall a Centre Coordinator who converged elderly men from his centre, treated them to a weekend party, stuffed their boxes with enough snuff and afterwards gave them food and transport fare. Afterwards, those elderly men that numbered 100 went home smiling with the coordinator’s name etched in their hearts forever.

Without mincing words, the weekend party took the Coordinator less than N150,000 only.

“In view of the foregoing, I praise and appreciate the Governor’s bold action because with this all political office holders in Ebonyi state will live up to their primary responsibilities of caring for their populace which does not extricate maintenance of peace and order through regular and robust security meetings with them.”

Meanwhile, Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone 6, Usman Abubakar, has ordered the state police command to recover all arms illegally acquired by people in their localities. He said the order was in compliance with the directives of the Inspector-General of Police (IG), Ibrahim Idris. Abubakar spoke in Abakaliki during stakeholders meeting on his two-day working visit to the state.

He said: “There are rules and regulations guiding the possession of firearms. Those people who obtained their firearms illegally should surrender them to the police immediately, otherwise whatever happens to them they know the consequences. The IG has set up a committee to go round and recover all the illegal arms. This directive is for all Nigerians.”

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