BY PETER OKUTU ABAKALIKI
THE people of Ezza-Ezillo communities in Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State woke on Saturday, December 31, 2011 without the slightest premonition that death was lurking at different locations in the area.
They woke with the high expectations that the New Year would offer them better prospects than the outgoing year. But they were wrong as unknown gun men sent by yet-to- be -known individuals, unleashed such a mayhem on the community that many waters may not be able to quench till natural justice takes its rightful course.
Vanguard Metro VM learnt that in the morning of the penultimate day, hoodlums numbering about 20, went into Ezillo community with guns, machetes and other dangerous weapons and started killing innocent and defenceless members of the community. They also destroyed livestock before disappearing and leaving those alive to count their losses.
The hoodlums allegedly went from door to door to kill their victims. As if not satisfied with this, they were said to have gone on rampage, killing everyone on sight as the people got to know about their heinous and deadly activities.
It could be recalled that the communities of Ezza-Ezillo have been at loggerheads over who gets the largest proportion of a parcel of land in the area. This disagreement led to the crisis in 2008 in which several members of the community also died.
The incident of December 31, 2011 came as a huge shock to the entire state. VM gathered that over 66 members of the community, including pregnant women, men and children whose ages range between 5-14 years, were killed in the dastardly incident.
Apart from the lives lost in the orgy of violence, VM learnt that properties worth millions of naira were also lost as the hoodlums blocked the Enugu-Abakaliki expressway for two days. This forced commuters to ply the deplorable Afikpo-Abakaliki expressway.
Governor Martin Elechi in his broadcast to the people on January 1, 2012 expressed shock at the mass killing of Ebonyi people at Ezza-Ezillo communities. He said the people of the area had deceived him into believing that the palliative measures put in place by his government since 2008 had laid to rest the immediate and remote causes of the previous crisis.
He said: “We woke up on Saturday the 31st December 2011 to the shocking and brutal reality of the mass murder of scores of fellow citizens at Ezillo in Ishielu Local government area of the state. It was the resurgence of the Ezza-Ezillo communal crisis.
Reports at my disposal indicate that enemies of peace invaded Ezillo in the early hours of the morning and proceeded to murder men, women and children who had no inkling about the tragedy that befell them. That was not all. The Ezillo market was burnt down, shops were razed, vehicles burnt and other properties destroyed.
“The episode was a new phase in the cycle of destruction and bloodletting which have been the lot of Ezillo since Saturday 10th May, 2008 when the crisis started. The shock waves sent by the latest incident are not only because of the wantonness of the destruction, but also because it came at a time when Ebonyi people and other Nigerians thought that peace had returned to Ezillo.
“Since the inception of the crisis in May 2008, Ebonyi state has never been the same. Innocent lives have been lost. Social relations have been injured and socio-economic activities disrupted. The state government had never rested in its efforts to enthrone peace in the area. We have adopted a combination of measures including dialogue among the warring parties and peace keeping as well as peace enforcement in the disputed area”.
Governor Elechi who said his government is working on a comprehensive action plan on the Ezillo crisis, said “ the security agencies have been given firm orders to take all necessary steps to clear the Abakaliki-Enugu expressway of any kind of blockade to ensure the normal flow of traffic on that road”. He directed the State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA,
to undertake an urgent assessment of the conditions at the crisis area for immediate state intervention VM learnt that more dead bodies were identified and recovered from different
locations in the area. The dead bodies which were found inside remote areas of the communities were said to be those of innocent members of the communities who met their waterloo as the hoodlums were trying to escape through some unidentified routes linking other parts of the state.
The remains of some of those who lost their lives have been deposited at the Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki, FETHA, while mass burial was conducted for others in the area. Elechi who the hospital to commiserate with the victims expressed confidence that those in the hospital would survive. He stated that his administration would not allow the victims brought to the hospital to die as the death toll recorded so far is on the high side.
Those Governor Elechi visited in the hospital were about 14 persons made up of mainly women and children. Some of them would require surgery to remove bullets from their battered bodies.
He declared that the crisis in the area will not derail his developmental plans for the salt state. “My general impression is not as bad as what I saw two days ago in Ezilo proper, when I personally counted 26 corpses and within 10 minutes more were brought in. It is a disturbing situation no doubt.
The ones we saw are the lucky ones; the ones in the hospital here will survive after treatment but the ones we saw in Ezillo were already dead bodies. You need to go there and see things for yourself.
“I doubt whether the people can again live together with this type of destruction that leaves permanent bad feelings. When you talk of reconciliation which we started in 2008, things were not as bad as we see them today and so, only God can heal the wounds not human beings, “ the Governor said..
He accused traditional rulers and politicians from Ezza clan of complicity following their inability to tell the citizens of the state the truth about those behind the brutal killing that took place on the last day of 2011.
Inspecting the area last week, Assistant Inspector-General of Police, in charge of zone 9 Calabar, AIG Saidu Daya assured the people of adequate security adding that mobile policemen from Rivers, Cross Rivers and Akwa Ibom states have already been deployed to the affected communities to ensure that the perpetrators were brought to book”.
He warned the people of both communities not to carry out reprisal attacks on each other as any action in that direction might lead to permanent break down of law and order, which would not be in their interest and that of Ebony state.
Daya expressed optimism that in no distant time, peace and stability would return to the affected area adding that men of the Criminal Investigation Department, CIDs, have been deployed in the area to ensure full investigation into the matter.