BY VINCENT UJUMADU
For over two weeks now, the two neighbouring communities of Nkputu in Owerri Ezukala and Awuka in Ogbunka in Orumba South local government area of Anambra State have been on each other’ s neck. Before this time, they were known to be living in peace until the recent communal clash that led to the killing of two persons and destruction of property worth millions of naira.
Reports revealed that the various communities in Orumba local government area, Ogbunka and Owerri Ezukala communities enjoyed the best of relationship as they enjoyed inter- communal marriages such that more than 60% of Owerri Ezukala women were married to Ogbunka men.
Over the years, the two communities had jointly excavated the precious stones lying on a large piece of land separating them and reaped the economic benefits without rancour until the emergence of few rich men in the area whose intention was to acquire the quarry sites and convert the villagers into mere labourers. In fact, the build –up to the recent clash started in 1987 when each of them started claiming ownership of the land.
The fight climaxed last week when the two communities faced each other, using dangerous weapons that led to the killing of persons and destruction of about 11 houses. Many people also sustained various degrees of injuries.
During the clash, all the buildings in Owerre Ezukala Boy’s Secondary School were burnt down and looted, while members of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, serving in the school were chased out of their rooms and their property either looted or destroyed. Among items carted away by the invaders suspected to be Ogbunka people were computers and laboratory equipment recently supplied to the school by the Anambra State government.
Many villagers have abandoned their homes and ran into the bush from where they sneak into their houses at nights to collect their needs. There is presently a large presence of fierce -looking mobile policemen drafted to the area to maintain peace.
Twenty four persons suspected to be the brains behind the alleged murder of the two persons have been arraigned before an Awka chief magistrate court. The suspects were taken to court by the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the presiding Chief Magistrate, Mr. M.I. Igolo remanded them in prison custody.
Those arraigned were Alex Nweke, Nwankwo Ilodigwe, Celestine Nwadike, Augustine Okoro, Emma Umejeri, Azubuike Elias, Philip Uwa, Nwokedi Gad, Emeka Okeke, Joe Uchegwu, Amechi Umeh, Egwuonwu Chukwumere and Onyebuchi Chukwunenye. Others included Izu Onwudiwe, Amechi Dim, Anyachor Paul, Obinna ike, Ray Nwafor, Alloy Okoro, Uche Nwosu, Nchele Osunkwo, Onyebuchi, Emeka Okafor and Peter Ike.
Vice Principal of Boys Secondary School, Owerri Ezukala, Mr. Hilary Ukomadu told Saturday Vanguard that despite the presence of the police who mounted road blocks in the area, the people attacked the secondary school at 3.00 pm on June 23, 2011 and set fire on some of the buildings in the schools.
He also said that they came back the following day and burnt the principal’s office and the Corpers’ lodge and some houses in the village, one of which belongs to a police inspector based in Jos, Plateau State , Mr. Patrick Ikwuagwu and on their third visit, they razed down the entire buildings in the college and looted everything. According to Ukomadu, students of the school have been relocated to a primary school in the area where they are presently taking their examinations, while the Principal has been operating from his private vehicle.
An elder sister of Inspector Patrick Ikwuagwu who was in the house when it was set on fire also said: “We were in the kitchen and suddenly were heard voices of youths. They first removed all the property in the house, including refrigerators, television sets, chairs, mattresses and other items before pouring fuel on the roof of the building and set fire on it. We had to run away to avoid being killed.
Another member of the community, Mr. Ehpraim Ezeka said that after setting fire on some buildings in the community, the invaders confronted one young man who was riding a motorcycle and despite his plea that he was not from Owerri Ezukala, they shot him to death. He said that many people had to run to the neighbouring Abia State for fear of being killed and wondered why they had to burn houses which were not located in the parcel of land in dispute.
Caretaker Committee Chairman of Owerre Ezukala Town Union, Mr Alphonsus Ikegwu who came out hiding to grant an interview said his people have been at the receiving end since the crisis began because of their location in the local government area.
He said: “We have been intimidated, harassed and killed by the people of Ogbunka because we must pass through their town before we get to our town, unless we have to go home through Imo State or Abia State . Most of our people cannot visit our village for the past three months since the people of Ogunka renewed attack on our people. They went as far as digging illegal bumps where they stay and stop our people, harass and intimidate us.
“What is happening has gone beyond normal boundary dispute. It is now sheer hatred that is being sponsored by some people. We want the police to investigate the matter to find out who supplies the arms they are using against our people. The annoying part of the whole crisis was the arrest of our people who were running for their dear lives and were accosted by the police who came to make peace. We are entitled to our lives and property, but as it stands we are not sure of our lives any longer.
“Our people are law abiding citizens. We have grown above this level of criminality and we cannot descend to the level of marching force with force. We have resorted to tactical diplomacy because we know that we must pass through their town and so it is not to our own benefit to retaliate.”
He further claimed that when his administration was inaugurated by the state government, the caretaker committee was mandated to settle the problem between the two communities and prepare the ground for election in his town, regretting that the people of Ogbunka have been a stumbling block to peaceful resolution of the crisis.
He said that following the frequent attacks by their neighbours, the Owerri Ezukala community petitioned the State Commissioner of Police, the Area Command and the Divisional Police officer for the area, adding “unfortunately nothing was done until the clash that led to the recent mayhem.”
The member representing Orumba North and South in the House of Representatives, Chief Ben Nwankwo who visited the troubled area said he would table the matter before his colleagues at the national assembly with a view to attracting the attention of the federal government through the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, to come to the aid of those whose property were destroyed.
The federal lawmaker, after touring the area with security operatives said: “I am worried. Our people are worried and sad. What I have seen is not the kind of thing we expect to be seeing in Orumba.
“The destruction is too much and I will bring up the issue as a matter of urgent national importance when I get back to the national assembly.”
Also, the five – member peace committee set up by the Anambra State has swung into action. Chairman of the committee, His Royal Highness, Igwe Peter Ezeamama, the traditional ruler of Enugwu Umuonyia and other members of the committee have held discussions with the head of service of Orumba South local government area, Mr. George Arinze who gave them terms of reference.
The state deputy governor, Mr. Emeka Sibeudu had also gone to the troubled communities to get first hand information on the crisis. The visit of the deputy governor was indeed timely as he was able to rescue two women who were almost being lynched by youths from one of the communities at the time of his visit. He has directed that both parties should keep away from the disputed land and reminded the two warring communities on the need to maintain peace. The deputy governor appealed to the law enforcement agents drafted to the scene to ensure the protection of lives and property.