BY CHINENYEH OZOR
Ette community in Igbo Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State is currently a shadow of its old self following the violent dimension the agitation by a section of Igalla speaking people of the community to be merged with Kogi State, has assumed.
The community which used to be a beehive of activities, particularly on its market days,where traders from the three major tribes ; Igbo, Igalla and Idoma and others from neighboring villages bring their farm produce to sell and at the same time exchange banters, is no longer at ease, as most of the Igbo speaking tribe have abandoned their homes for neighboring villages, for fear of being maimed by the rampaging group.
The rampaging group known as Pro -Kogi youths, have allegedly unleashed mayhem on innocent citizens, particularly on the Igbo, Igalla and idoma speaking community , destroying property worth several million of naira.
Precisely on August 13, 2012, the group’s target was the home of a member of the Enugu State House of Assembly, Hon. Tony Ogidi, who represents Igbo Eze North II Constituency, where they destroyed property worth hundreds of thousands.
The youths , extended their brutality to Ogidi’s filling station and supermarket. They were also alleged to have taken over the collection of market tolls and further stopped contractors handling MCC-Ette road which was awarded by the Enugu state government. Following this worrisome development, public schools and health centres were forcefully closed down since March this year.
The clamour by the youths to be merged with Kogi State as gathered, dates back to 1980, when Chief Jim Nwobodo was governor of the old Anambra State. But it was reportedly rejected by the Igbo and Idoma speaking people of the community.
When Crime Guard visited the community, the expressions of the faces of the helpless villagers depicted that of fear. Reports said that the agitation had defiled all political and domestic solutions. It was also gathared that the case was charged to the Supreme Court for adjudication but was thrown out on February 8, 2007 for lack of jurisdiction.
The court in its ruling read by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Kastina-Alu stated that it was the duty of the National Boundary Commission to delineate boundary between Enugu and Kofgi states, thereby prompting the Commission to visit the disputed areas about two years ago.
Members of the panel who handled the matter at the Supreme Court included Justice Umaru Kalgo, Justice Mahmood Mohammed, Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, Justice Francis Talba and Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed. It was however not ascertained whether the boundary commission had made the demarcation.
Signs of impending trouble reared its ugly head during the last National Population Census (NPC) and Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) exercise when some of the youths reportedly prevented officials of the National Population Census (NPC) and Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) from carrying out their statutory duty in the area throughout the two exercises.
During the visit,the worrisome development was attributed to the inability of the state Police Command to curb the youths excesses. For instance, two police stations exist in Ette. Surprisingly, one of the stations is said to belong to Enugu State while Kogi State lays claim to the other. But it was observed that while that of the Kogi State had policemen working there, those posted to the acclaimed Enugu station have long been withdrawn over an unknown reason
Causes of the crisis:
If the findings of Crime Guard is anything to go by, then, solution to the crisis-torn community may not be far fetched. First, investigation revealed that the hallmark of the Pro-Kogi youths’ demand was the request for the immidiate release of one of them who had been in detention for long.
The detained youth whose identity could not be immediately ascertained was alleged to have been arrested over an undisclosed criminal offenses,with accusing fingers pointed to Hon. Tony Ogidi for allegedly having hand in the continued detention of their member.
Another possible reason was discovered to be the magnanimity of Enugu state government car gift “Hyundai Elentra” to some recognized traditional rulers in the state. But some disgruntled traditional rulers who did not benefit from the state government gesture, were alleged to be fueling the crisis. About 15 of the traditional rulers(names withheld) were fingered as sponsors of the Pro-Kogi group.
When contacted on the on-going crisis in his constituency, Hon. Tony Ogidi expressed worry over the development and lamented that it had stalled the on -going Ogugu road project awarded by the Enugu State Government, following the invasion of the place by the Pro-Kogi group.
“They vandalised the contractors propriety and chased them out. Consequently, Primary and secondary schools in the area were forcefully closed, together with Igbo Eze North health centres and customary court, while government revenue officers at Ette were chased out with the youths taking over collection of market tolls”
Continuing, he decried : “I do not travel to my village any longer. My parents are old and are being threatened almost on daily basis. Where else will they run to? My property have been vandalized the second time in one year. Ette community where I hail from has an unbalanced security situation.
“Because of this, I traveled to Abuja with the governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime to meet with the governor of Kogi State over the border issue affecting the two states. We resolved at Abuja that a committee be set up to ensure that social institutions closed down since March this year be re-opened. The committee is also expected to prepare ground for the two governors to visit Ette and address the people to give peace a chance, pending the outcome of the report of national boundary commission.
“I was made a member of the committee with other members comprising the advisers to the two governors on security matters, chairman of the boarder local government areas, Igbo Eze North LGA and Olamaboro, the two state security services (SSS) and policemen from both states.
The committee had its inaugural meeting in Abuja and another meeting was held in Lokoja, while the third meeting was held in Enugu. At the Enugu meeting useful discussions were deliberated upon and we even issued a communique and passed resolutions. We resolved that each of the two local governments, Igbo Eze North and Olamaboro Councils should go and talk with the people so that peace will reign in the area, pending the boundary adjustment commission report.
We then scheduled another meeting to hold at Ette , my community on August 13, 2012 by 10 am,where we resolved that governors of Enugu and Kogi states should as a matter of urgency and necessity intimate commissioners of police in the two states to provide adequate security in Ette. Immediately we rose from the meeting, the traditional ruler of Efoda was attacked and his car vandalized, We called the chairman of Olamboro LGA, who arrived at the scene and offered to repair the vandalized car.
About 1.30 am on August 14, 2012 that is the next day after the meeting, I received a phone call from home that my filling station had been damaged again. After causing much damage to the filling station and my supermarket at the station,the hoodlums, pro-Kogi youths, proceeded to my house and wreaked serious damage to my property. They vandalized virtually every house hold item in my compound, smashed all the alumaco glasses, windows and doors, power generators, water plastics tanks and others.
They had before then burnt my Mercedes Benz which was parked at my house together with some items. They are now threatening to come back to set it ablaze. I am waiting for that evil day. Prominent citizens of Ette are behind all the atrocious acts in the community, they are known. Definitely one day the law will take its cause and catch up with them. As I speak with you, the police have not arrested anybody in connection with the incident.
No Police Arrest:
“ We have an unbalance security situation. Enugu state House of Assembly committee on security had met with the Commissioner of Police of the state thrice to post policemen to Ette but up till now, nothing has happened to that effect, no attention has so far been given.
In fact, I am surprised that as I speak with you, no arrest has been made. It is like Ette is a lawless community. No single arrest has been made since the incident. I reported the incident on August 14, 2012, at the divisional police station, Enugu-Ezike police station, Ogrute. The Divisional Police Officer (DPO) informed me that he had gone to Ette and saw the damages.
“I also learnt that the Area Commander, Nsukka Police command visited the scene to see the damages himself but yet, no arrest has been made. My constituency Igbo Eze-North II is made up of 10 wards, three in Ette my community and seven in Igbo Eze-North II. I am in harmony with the rest of my constituency and the wards. But my own people have no respect for me because they want to go to Kogi”
Asked what he knew about the detention of a member of the group, Ogidi bluntly stated that he was not responsible for the arrest.
Also contacted, was the Chairman Igbo Eze-North local government council, Mr. Bonaveture Onuh. He told Crime Guard that the Ette crisis had created problems for the counciland had also detracts developmental projects in the community. “We have executed a very good number of developmentalprojects in Ette, yet few people of the community are agitating for merger with Kogi states”.
Mr. Onuh told Crime Guard that the matter would have taken a terrible dimension but for the intervention of governor Sullivan Chime. “ But for the governor, the border war would have broken out between my people and Ette. The provocation is too much, but our governor has continued to caution us to avoid any reaction that could lead to blood shed”, expressing optimism that the Ette issue would soon be resolved .