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Brothers AT war ! The story of the Ezza/Ezillo communal strife

Some of the vehicles damaged along Abakaliki-Enugu Road.

By DENNIS AGBO, Abakaliki

It is the case of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth as land tears two communities in Ebonyi apart.
Sometime between 1928 and 1930, the Ezillo community, now  the headquarters of Ishielu Local Government Area of  Ebonyi State, had a communal dispute with the  neighboring community of Ngbo in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of the state.

According to Ezillo people, because the community would not shed the blood of  Ngbo people, they  decided to lay a  complaint before Ezza which is generally agreed to be the eldest  of all Abakaliki clans. The Ezillo said the Ezza came to make peace with Ngbo by accepting to live at the boundary  with the Ngbo, which Ezillo said  is in the present day Eguechara.

But the Ezza version of the story is that they  were invited to fight and drive the Ngbo backwards and live  in the land which is now claimed the present day disputed areas of Ishimkpume, Amalinze, Umuezikoha, among other hamlets.

The two communities had lived together peacefully even inter-marrying. Ezza people are nomadic and can be found in Wawa land in  Enugu and Ebonyi States. The Ezza are also found  in some parts of Benue, Kogi and Cross River State.

Wherever the Ezza occupied, they would name after themselves  hence there are places like Ezza-Ezillo, Ezza-Effium, Ezza-Akpoga, etc.

Governor Elechi being conducted round Ezillo Water scheme which the militants attacked.

The Ezillo community narrates that only 22 Ezza men were invited to come and live in Ezillo originally  but that, as time went on, they  started inviting their kin  from Onueke, in Ezza-South Local Government Area and began to occupy the extra portions of land that made both the Ezillo and Ezza to live  without clearly defined boundary.  Problems ensued leading to the Ezillo asking  for Ezza relocation to Eguechara, the place Ezillo maintained  was the original place it agreed to give the Ezza. The matter was taken to an Abakaliki colonial customary court in 1955 when the court ruled in favour of Ezillo, mandating the Ezza to move to Eguechara.

The Ezza appealed the matter before an Abakaliki colonial district master called Mr. Gunning who affirmed the judgment of the customary court. The Ezillo claim that both judgments are still in their possession till date. Yet the Ezza remained in the land till May 10, 2008, when the dispute that led to February 19, 2010 mass killings in the area started.

The latest war actually started  after a  misunderstanding on  where to erect a commercial pay phone booth. One Chukwuman Agbo, an Ezillo, was said to have insisted on erecting the booth on a portion he claimed was given  to him by his uncle identified as Sunday Ideinyi. But an Ezza-Ezillo man reportedly disagreed on the siting of the booth, arguing that  the land belonged  to the Ezza. The disagreement led to the  pulling down of  the booth and consequent  burning of motorcycles that belonged to both parties.

By the following day,  the problem  escalated to a  full blown war with both sides burning houses that belonged to one another.

The military was deployed  to the place to maintain the  peace but the  crisis degenerated  with each side trading blames of  guerrilla attack.

Ebonyi State government set up a panel to recommend appropriate solution to the matter. Government White Paper of October 2, 2008 on the panel report directed the Ezza to vacate a substantial portion of the disputed land  to Eguecharra. The Ezzas protested that they had  been shortchanged and swore never to relocate to the new land leaving their houses and cash crops. The Ezza  also contended that there were other  people occupying  the place allocated to them.

In addition, the Ezza claimed  that government  made no effort at compensation or provide any amenity such as roads,  water or electricity that could attract them to the new place. The Ezillo on their part maintained  that they could  no longer live  with the Ezza who they (Ezillo) described as cantankerous, war mongers and land acquirers.

Part of Ezillo Water Scheme showing bullet marks on the wall.

February 19, 2010 was bloody  along the Enugu-Abakaliki highway known as Ezza-Ezillo. On that day, the minister of  works and urban development, Alhaji Hassan Lawal, was scheduled for a working visit to Ebonyi  State. He had already landed in Enugu airport en route  Abakaliki but little did he know he would not get into Abakaliki,  the Ebonyi capital city. Suspected hired militants fighting in the disputed land had taken over the area.

Three police  vehicles that went to Enugu and were coming back to Abakaliki were  caught in the crossfire. Five other  police vans were set ablaze. While the police gave the  number of dead policemen as two, many believe  more cops  would have lost their lives  at the spot. A good number of  commuters traveling along the road were also felled by the gunmen. Unconfirmed reports said 12  corpses  were recovered from the scene after the gun battle.

An NTA reporter, who courageously went to get pictures of the scene shortly after the mayhem, narrated that he saw a woman carrying a baby that was trapped in between two lorries that collided during  the crossfire. He also said he saw no less than three charred bodies whereas another man, believed to be a lorry driver, was  trapped in between the collided lorries.  The corpses of the  woman, her child  and  the driver  were left on the scene till three days after when the Ebonyi authorities came to clear the decomposed bodies.

As the battle raged, police armoured  tanks deployed to quell the battle  retreated.
The road became  deserted while  commuters were stranded at both Nkalagu and Ntezi, two neighbouring communities. Only courageous drivers still  ply  Enugu-Abakaliki road passing through Ezillo.

Ebonyi State government, last week, accused politicians from the state  resident in Abuja of masterminding  the renewed battle  but Senator Julius Ucha, together with two other members of the House of Representatives from the state and  of Ezza origin,  in a press conference in Abuja, said the  allegation amounted  to one whose house is on fire but decides to cash rats.

Even though  mobile police have been drafted to the war zone, the  place remains a hot spot for commuters travelling from Enugu to Abakaliki.

Caught  in the web of the crisis is Ebonyi State government that issued the White Paper, ordering the Ezza to relocate to Eguecharra.

Whereas the government may have acted based on the report of the  panel it set up on  the crisis, the Ezza accused Governor Martin Elechi of composing a panel headed by an Ngbo man, who they (Ezza people)  alleged may have carried over the grudge of the olden days war against the Ngbo for Ezillo to produce a report  against the Ezza.

The Ezillo, also speaking on the panel, said that whereas seven Ezza men were members, no single Ezillo man was there.

driver, was  trapped in between the collided lorries.  The corpses of the  woman, her child  and  the driver  were left on the scene till three days after when the Ebonyi authorities came to clear the decomposed bodies.
As the battle raged, police armoured  tanks deployed to quell the battle  retreated.

The road became  deserted while  commuters were stranded at both Nkalagu and Ntezi, two neighbouring communities. Only courageous drivers still  ply  Enugu-Abakaliki road passing through Ezillo.

Wall of Ezillo Water Scheme riddled with bullets.

Ebonyi State government, last week, accused politicians from the state  resident in Abuja of masterminding  the renewed battle  but Senator Julius Ucha, together with two other members of the House of Representatives from the state and  of Ezza origin,  in a press conference in Abuja, said the  allegation amounted  to one whose house is on fire but decides to cash rats.

Even though  mobile police have been drafted to the war zone, the  place remains a hot spot for commuters travelling from Enugu to Abakaliki.

Caught  in the web of the crisis is Ebonyi State government that issued the White Paper, ordering the Ezza to relocate to Eguecharra.

Whereas the government may have acted based on the report of the  panel it set up on  the crisis, the Ezza accused Governor Martin Elechi of composing a panel headed by an Ngbo man, who they (Ezza people)  alleged may have carried over the grudge of the olden days war against the Ngbo for Ezillo to produce a report  against the Ezza.
The Ezillo, also speaking on the panel, said that whereas seven Ezza men were members, no single Ezillo man was there.


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