By Dennis Agbo, Abakaliki
Reprieve is still far from the families of victims of Ezza, Ezillo commu-Â Â Â Â Â Â nal strife where so manyÂ have lost their lives.Â Since May 10, 2008 when the crisis started, the number ofÂ casualtiesÂ is said to have risen to over 400Â andÂ this number keeps rising . Police menÂ and other innocent travelers are daily exposed to danger along theÂ Enugu-Abakaliki express road.
One of the conspicuous victims of the strife is Pastor Ayahanden Sunday Ntan, an architect attached to the office of the presidency at Dondan barracks in Lagos . Pastor Ntan along with his nephew, a driver and police orderly were murdered inside their Toyota Seina car at the war spot on the night ofÂ Friday March 12 when the four were traveling to their country home in Cross River state for a burial from Lagos.
They were probably not aware that passing through the 2 kilometre Ezza-Ezillo stretch during theÂ dayÂ isÂ dangerousÂ and worse at night. They were said to be in haste to meet up with the burial but got to Enugu at night and decided to sleep over in a hotel at Abakaliki, from where they could take off earlyÂ in the morning to Cross River .
They left Enugu for Abakaliki at about 8pm but that was the last communication they had with their relations who were anxiously waitingÂ for them to announce theirÂ arrival atÂ Cross River state.
In the morning of Saturday, passersby sawÂ a fresh burnt Toyata Seina bus with four unrecognized burnt corpses inside it. The police in Abakaliki confirmed the incident but stated that it was not sure of the identity of the charred bodies.
After pressure from Saturday Vanguard, the Ebonyi state police command through the state PPRO, ASP Chris Anyanwu confirmed the incident, stating however that the command is still investigating the death of the presidential aide and his co travelers. According to the PPRO, â€œWe woke that Saturday morning to confirm that some persons were attacked at the Ezillo war spot. A vehicle was burnt and we have committed the incident to thoroughÂ investigation.â€
Though the PPRO then said he could not confirm the identity of the victims, he added that their men are investigating everything about the incident.
â€œThat area is troublesome and we advise people not to travel that route by night. We have however beefed up security in that area but the problem is night time. We have Armoured Personnel Carriers, APC, that patrol the place at nights but we still advise people not to travel the area by night because those militants apply guerilla attack which is why we tookÂ away our men at night.â€
When Saturday Vanguard reporter went back two days agoÂ to ascertain the extent the investigation on the burnt four persons had gone, the PPRO was said to be very busy . The Commissioner ofÂ Police, Diipo AyeniÂ who patrols the area occasionally in the company ofÂ other deployed personnelÂ with helicopter said thatÂ investigation is still on with the CID.
But Pastor Ntan and his relations are justÂ some ofÂ the many victims of the communal war. The command is also battling to find two missing Youruba guys identified as Taye Oyewusi from Osun state and Murtala Adesua from Ogun state whoÂ their relations believe got missing at the war zoneÂ in their Passat Volkswagen car as they attempted to cross the spot. Neither their dead bodies nor the car have been traced since the incident took place on February 12, 2010.
Mr. Babatude Williams, the family spokesman gave the particulars of the car Registration numberÂ as ES 398 SMK with chassis number WVW222312PEL06003 and engine number ABS356083. According to Williams, â€œthey both communicated with us last in Enugu on their wayÂ to Abakaliki and since then till now, we havenâ€™t heardÂ from any of them and their phones are no longer going.
We tried as much as possible to check the entire road from Cross River to EnuguÂ to find out if there was any accident on the road or robbery but there was nothing like that. We found outÂ that between Enugu and Abakaliki,Â there isÂ a communal crisis in Ezza and Ezillo and that many cars and lives were burnt at the spot.
â€œFrom the information we got,many cars are in Ezza and Ezillo community and theyÂ are robbingÂ in the name of communal war. I have been to mortuaries in Ebonyi and saw many dead bodies killed in the crisis but many are difficult to identify because they killed and burnt them. I am calling on the Inspector General of Police and other Nigerians to intervene in the matter since the matter is beyond my personal power,â€ pleaded Williams.
The Mbaise Welfare Town Union in Abakaliki has also sent an SOS to Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi state over the killing of one of their member, Mr. Dominic Ekelaka by the warriors of Ezza/Ezillo on Tuesday March 23 2010 at the war spot.
The late trader was said to have previously avoided the use of the road since the war aggravated but allegedly used the road after a local radio announced that the road is now free for use as security has been beefed up in the area. The union therefore condemned the mindless killings of innocent souls in the area.
â€œFor the avoidance of doubt, Mr. Dominic Ekalaka from Mbaise in Imo state and indeed all other innocent citizens have no cause to be killed on a federal highway and for a war they have no stake in.
â€œWe therefore call on your (Governor Elechi) government to intensify efforts to get to the root cause of the Ezza/Ezillo crisis and be decisive in finding a lasting solution to the crisis to stop further wasting of innocent blood onÂ the Enugu-Abakaliki highway,â€ the Mbaise people charged Governor Elechi.
They also demanded for compensation for the families of the affected victims especially their own late son.
Cross River state governmentÂ has also sent a delegation to Ebonyi state government on the presidential aide and his relations that lost their lives on the road. The delegation was received by the speaker of Ebonyi state House of Assembly, Austin Nwankwoagu, on behalf of the governor. The speaker commiserated with the Cross River people over their loss and pleaded with the Ebonyi governmentÂ to makeÂ frantic efforts to resolve the crisis.
A social critic, Chimere Nwugu condemned the carnage which he described as worrisome. He said it has portrayed Ebonyi people and the Elechi government in a bad light. â€œIt has also done irreparable and incalculable damage to the name and image of the state and her citizenry,â€ said Nwugo. The critic advised that the Ebonyi government exploitsÂ the opportunity of Inspector Generalâ€™s intervention and arrest some suspects in the crisis to help fish out their alleged sponsors to face the music.
The Nigeria Police ForceÂ hasÂ however come alive to its responsibility of seriously confronting the communal crisis as a police helicopter, reportedly deployed by Inspector General, Ogbonna Onovo, started surveillance of the buffer zone on Wednesday with fears that more suspected militants would be caught at the war front.
Though the Ebonyi state Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Chris Anyanwu, refused to open up on the police activities, heÂ promises to do that at an appropriate time.
A victim of the militantsâ€™ attack early this week, Mrs. Lillian Onovo who works with the Federal Medical Centre Abakaliki narrated to our reporter that even though a police armoured tank was escorting them across the area on Monday, the militants attacked the convoy, killed one person while the rest ofÂ them escaped through the bush.
The police reportedly caught some of the militants last weekend in an area where the leader of the hired militants simply identified as Dada (because he wears dreadlock) was among the seven caught andÂ taken to Abuja . Dada, the leader of the gunmen was however said to have died on the route to Abuja from gunshot wounds sustained on his lower region.