By Vincent Ujumadu
HE renewed tension in Aguleri and Umueri, both in Anambra East local government area of Anambra State has brought back the sad memories of the infamous war between the two neighbouring communities, which lasted from 1999 to 2002. In that unfortunate war, hundreds of lives were lost and properties worth millions of naira were destroyed. Scares of that war are still very visible in the communities as many building destroyed then were yet to be rebuilt.
However, peace was made in the area following an agreement reached between them, which was why the latest clash came as a surprise.
In the latest clash, no fewer than 18 houses were torched, while some people sustained injuries. And with the mounting tension, security has been beefed up in the area.
Only last month, three buildings were torched and one person was wounded in a similar clash, with Umuleri people blaming their brothers from Aguleri of igniting the latest faceoff by allegedly trespassing on their land. They claimed that when they were resisted, Aguleri people allegedly sent youths who destroyed some of their buildings.
President General of Umueri community, Chief Pius Okonkwo said their people were being pushed to the wall, even as he insisted that his people do not want another war in the area.
Okonkwo said: “Umueri and Isiokwe –Aguleri have an existing boundary dispute for which we were supposed to meet with the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, on how to resolve the matter. Surprisingly, Aguleri people did not show up on the day the meeting was scheduled and when I enquired from the DPO why the meeting could no longer hold, he said he would reschedule it. Surprisingly before the meeting could hold, some youths from Isiokwe swooped on Umueri and destroyed two buildings.
“When I called the DPO to report the destruction, I was surprised the way he sounded and I had to go to his office to know what to do, only for him to tell me that he was going to another community, Igbariam to quell a riot there. It took the intervention of the anti-cult group from Enugwu Ukwu to quell the matter.”
Okonkwo said his people had tolerated the Aguleri people for so long, adding that the youths who attacked his community came from across the Anambra River to lay claim to the land in the upland area of Umueri.
He observed that the dispute in the area would have been permanently been resolved if the state government had implement the recommendations contained in the white paper issued after the three –year Aguleri-Umueri war of 1999-2002, noting that the latest clash was against the spirit of the agreement reached between the two communities after the war.
Reacting on the clash, the deputy president general of Aguleri, Chief Emma Ikem said the situation had been brought under control by security operatives, adding however that but for the intervention of the military and the police, another war would have broken out in the area.
It was gathered that the renewed fight was as a result of the land acquired by a business man from the Aguleri, adding that when he tried to start developing the land, some Umueri youths refused him because, according to them, the property encroached on their land. The action, it was learnt, angered Aguleri youths, who allegedly mobilized for battle with their neighbours.
While appealing to the state governor, Chief Willie Obiano to quickly intervene in the matter before the matter got out of hand, Okonkwo said: “Umueri people want peace. We do not want to fight wars with our neigbours because we believe that wars are anathema and an ill wind which blows no one any good.
“Specifically Umueri wants enduring and genuine peace with Aguleri because we have built relationships (personal as well as business and even religious) with Aguleri people over several decades, if not centuries. We cherish these relationships and want to protect them.
“We appeal to the governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano who hails from Aguleri, to use this opportunity of being at the helm of affairs in our state, to put in place the machinery for achieving genuine peace between Aguleri community and Umueri.
“We are also worried that his people are spoiling for war at a time he is facing re-election challenges.
“We call on the Anambra State government to quickly implement the recommendations contained in the white paper issued by government after the infamous 1999 hostility between our two communities. The said recommendations are quite sound and their implementation, will no doubt, bring total peace to our beleaguered area.
“It is our prayer that Aguleri and Umueri should be at peace so that our people responding to the Arewa Quit Notice and other sad developments in contemporary Nigeria can run home to take refuge therein if they can no longer put up with the unbearable situation elsewhere.”
The Anambra State police command has however assured that the situation was under control, even as it appealed to the two communities to give peace a chance.s