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Trouble at C/River, Abia Boundary: 3,500 risk starvation as war over limestone deposits rages

BY UGOCHUKWU ALARIBE, Umuahia

The boundary clash between Isu community in Arochukwu Council Area of Abia State and Utuma in Biase Council of Cross River State has taken a huge toll on the Isu clan as 3,500 indigenes risk starvation.

Abia boundary

They are currently displaced and reside at an Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camp.

A fresh crisis began in the area following the discovery of limestone deposits in Isu community but Utuma clan is laying claim to the site.

The IDPs, who are quartered at the Ohabuike Primary School, depend on relief materials from Abia State government and few villages in Isu community, who are yet to be attacked.

The displaced persons live in squalid conditions as they cannot farm or return to their homes.

Food, clothing, and medicine are rare commodities in the IDP camp.

President General of Isu Progressive Union, IPU, Felix Okoro, who explained that the community spends about N2million monthly to cater for the IDPs, alleged that the people of Utuma attacked the Iheosu village in Isu clan on April 18, 2018, burning down their houses and rendering them homeless.

Okoro stated that as a result of the attack, Amachi, Ugbu and other communities in Isu clan were displaced.

He added that over 60 persons had died in the attacks.

The IDPs, the President General said, had been living under poor conditions at the primary school, adding that government should come to their aid.

Okoro called on the Federal Government to return a police post, which was formerly sited at Iheosu village, stressing that there was relative peace in the area when the police were there.

Earlier resolution

Following the protracted crisis, the Isu clan accused Cross River State Deputy Governor, Prof. Ivara Esu, of foot-dragging over an earlier resolution on the disputed area.

But the community commended the Abia State Deputy Governor, Ude Chukwu, for his efforts to broker peace.

They, however, insisted that Esu, who hails from Biase Council in Cross River State, was yet to show commitment towards ending the conflict.

People are being attacked’

Expatiating, Okoro said: “The two Deputy Governors have visited Isu and Utuma communities and pledged to ensure peace, but our people are still being attacked.

“Anyone who visits his farm is often killed. In the past, Cross River State government showed interest to end the crisis, but it  now cares less.

“Today, the Cross Deputy Governor is still saying that what they have in their gazette is Iheosu-Utuma, Amachi-Utuma, and that the Igbo speaking communities are in Cross River.

Abia Assembly’s intervention over border clashes: NEMA visits warring community(Opens in a new browser tab)

“He knows that his position is not correct. This cannot be the attitude of a government official, who wants to end the crisis.

“The Cross River Deputy Governor’s attitude appears to be encouraging the Utuma people to continue to lay claim to Isu lands, especially because of the limestone deposits.

“The Federal Government should delineate the boundary between the two communities. We don’t have any other home than Isu where our ancestors lived.

‘Utuma people are settlers’

“Before the civil war, we lived in peace with our Utuma neighbours. They were part of the Aro/Ibo County Council. They paid their taxes through our tax agents. Utuma people were our fishermen.

“They migrated from Biakpa. During the civil war, they crossed the river to stay with their kith and kin in Biakpa. At the end of the war, they returned and we accepted them because we value their fishing occupation.

“But when it was confirmed that limestone deposits were found in commercial quantity in our area, the Ukwa and Utuma people started to lay claim to the land. This prompted their first attack on Isu in 1989 in which they killed many people. There was another attack in 1995.’’

Okoro further explained that the attack on Isu by the Utuma people in 1995 was prompted by an announcement by the Abia State government that it would establish a cement factory in Isu community.

Failure to delineate boundary

Many companies were said to have visited the Isu community for negotiations over the proposed cement factory.

“In 2018, Ibeto Cement Company came to commence work on the project. They told us that they had the license to begin exploration. Trouble started when they got to the area where the Utuma people settled. The Utuma attacked them and they were forced to stop work.’’

A resident of Isu community told Sunday Vanguard that the river in the area serves as the boundary between Abia and Cross River states. He blamed theFederal Government for what he termed the failure to properly delineate the boundary between the two states.

“All the communities before the river should belong to Abia, Utuma was in Imo State. Naturally, the river should have been the boundary. This is what is obtainable everywhere.”

However, Sunday Vanguard learned that the current controversy began on August 18, 2019, when the Utuma clan allegedly removed the signboard of Iheosu and Aba villages, burnt their houses and killed over 36 people.

Isu IDPs lament

In separate chats, some of the IDPs, Mrs. Rose Uzoh, OzoemelamKalu, Eze Sunday and Mrs. Felicia Kalu Nwankwo, urged government to intervene in the crisis, stressing that since 2018, they have been facing food crisis.

They lamented that they could no longer gain access to their farmlands for fear of attack by their Utuma neighbours.

“We want Abia State government, NEMA and SEMA to provide food and shelter and adequate security for us. We are now suffering from malnutrition and diseases because of the condition in the camp,” Nwankwo said.

NEMA, NBC, state govt

The Coordinator of National Emergency Agency, NEMA, in charge of Abia/Imo Operations, Owerri Zonal Office, Mr. Evans Ignatius, who paid an assessment visit to the community, promised to provide relief materials and urged the National Boundary Commission, NBC, to delineate the boundary between the Isu community and the Utuma clan to avoid further bloodletting in the area.

Abia State Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, had also approved additional relief materials for Isu community.

Commissioner for Information, Chief John Kalu, who assured that the items would be  delivered to the Isu IDPs before the end of next week, added that the governor is committed to the timely resolution of the crisis.

Describing the situation in the community as a ‘humanitarian emergency’ due to the number of lives lost, Executive Secretary of Abia State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, Mr. Sunday Jackson, called on the Federal Government to come to the aid of Isu people to save lives and property.

The traditional ruler of Obieze Isu Autonomous Community in Isu, Eze Mortimor Ogbonnaya and the lawmaker representing Arochukwu Constituency in the state House of Assembly, Dr. Mike Ukoha, expressed gratitude to Ikpeazu, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ene Okon and SEMA, for their efforts in maintaining peace in the area.

The monarch, however, lamented that their earlier visit to NEMA headquarters in Abuja as well as the office of the Inspector General of Police was fruitless.

 

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