By Our Correspondents – Enugu
Land disputes are very common in Igbo land. It is difficult to see a typical Igbo community without one form of land dispute or the other. Indeed, it is an age-long issue. It is either intracommunity or interstate disputes. In some cases, it is between communities and governments.
Some of the land disputes are so serious that lives are lost. The communal dispute is always common during the farming season with parties claiming ownership of the farmlands. This has spread across the five states of the South East zone with the attendant losses in both human lives and materials, including houses, properties and crops.
In Abia State, no less than 5,000 persons in about 20 communities in the 17 local councils areas of Abia State have been rendered Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, in their villages as a result of the incessant land disputes between them and their neighbouring communities.
From Ukwa East to Ohafia; Ikwuano to Bende council areas, it has been tales of woes of loss of lives and property as 100 houses have been burnt and farmlands seized.
In Umunneochi council area, the Lekwesi Obiagu community was recently sacked from their farmlands and homes by their neighbours in Ivo council area of Ebonyi State.
In Isu community of Arochukwu council, over 3,500 persons have been rendered homeless since a land dispute broke between them and their Utuma neighbours in Biase council area of Cross River State.
South East Voice learnt that the lingering and recurring dispute started in 1989 following the discovery of limestone deposits in Isu land. The dispute is said to have consumed over 60 people and 50 houses in Isu community.
Just a few days ago, Acting Governor of Abia State, Sir Ude Oko Chukwu, visited the Usaka-Ukwu Community in Ariam Usaka to commiserate with them on the recent attacks on their community. The community has been embroiled in a bitter conflict with their neigbhouring Nkari people in Ini council area of Akwa Ibom state.
The Acting governor pledged government’s resolve to restore peace to the area. Five persons were alleged to have lost their lives in the conflict.
The Akirika-Obu community in Ukwa East has also had its share of the land disputes where many people have been killed, houses burnt in what appears to be an incessant dispute over the actual boundary with their Akwa Ibom State neighbours. An indigene of
Akirika–Obu community who pleaded anonymity, said the conflict appears to be soaring because some natives of the community were being enticed to deny their origin and claim indigeneship of the neighouring state for political gains.
In an interview with SEV, President General, Isu Progressive Union, Elder Felix Okoro, lamented that over 3,500 indigenes in Amachi, Ugbu, Aba, Iheosu and other communities in Isu clan have been displaced and now IDPs in their community due to alleged attacks from their Utuma neighbours.
In his words: “Over 60 persons had been killed. Many houses were burnt; the people can no longer access their farms. Isu people are now IDPs in their own land. Anybody who goes to farm at the disputed area is killed. The IDPs have been living under difficult conditions at the Ohabuike Primary School.
“The IDPs are faced with challenges ranging from accommodation, food and medical supplies to security, which had placed a burden on the community. Isu people are worried at the situation; we are being slaughtered like chicken.
The Deputy Governors of Abia and Cross Rivers States have visited Isu and Utuma and appealed for peace, yet our Utuma neighbours won’t allow us live in peace. We no longer go to the disputed area which is our land, but they have continued to attack us.”
Okoro called for the return of the former Police Post at Iheosu village, stressing that the area was peaceful until the relocation of the station.
South East Voice gathered that the Deputy Governor, who is the chairman of the state boundary committee, had continued to visit communities involved in land disputes to restore peace.
Abia State Government through the commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu, said the state government has continued to engage its counterparts to resolve the dispute.
In Anambra,the same communal land disputes abound. The dispute between Urum and Achalla communities in Awka North is raging. In fact, Urum community said they recently lost one of them to the dispute.
In a recent petition to Governor Willy Obiano, they complained of alleged murder, attempted murder, threat to life, malicious damage to properties and inhuman treatment meted out on the members of the community allegedly by members of Achalla community.
Written by their lawyer, Gerald Ezeuko, SAN, Urum community raised complaint of “murder, attempted murder, threat to life, malicious damage to properties and inhuman treatment” allegedly meted out on them by their neighbours, Achalla community.
They alleged some members of Achalla community had in 2018 invaded their land with the aid of thugs armed with assorted riffles and other dangerous weapons and demolished their economic crops in the land but “as law-abiding citizens, instead of resorting to self help and violence which may lead to further destruction of property and loss of lives, they decided to involve the police. It is painful that our client has recorded one death and 22 casualties”.
In Enugu, there are many land disputes currently raging: Anekeode and Obangene of Ibagwa Nike community in Enugu East council of Enugu State, the Iggah/Ojjor communal land dispute, which the traditional ruler of Igga Community, Igwe Hebert Ukuta, said is rooted on an alleged farm land encroachment by the Ojjor community and the Ikem-Neke land dispute in Isi-Uzo local government area pending at Obollo High court in Suit No. OB/5/2012, among others. Files of land disputes abound in the courts in the State.
In Ebonyi State, the story is the same. The issue of land dispute has become an annual occurrence in the state. It usually erupts after a land dispute had been resolved and some parties involved were not in absolute agreement with the mode of settlement or entirely a fresh one erupting somewhere, pitching communities against each other.
There are both interstate and intra-state land disputes in Ebonyi, which are still lingering.
Many of them have been resolved through the interventions of the present administration of Governor David Umahi.
The land dispute between Ezza/Ezilo communities of Ishielu Local Government Area had existed over 100 years and it has claimed lives and properties worth millions of naira. The dispute did not only lead to the establishment of a military barrack at Ezilo but also the creation of autonomous communities in order to speedily resolve the impasse.
Just this month, a land dispute between the people of Abaomege and Isinkwo communities of Onicha Local Government Area of the state erupted and it was said to have claimed one life while 10 persons from Abaomege Community sustained injuries. Three persons reported to have been abducted during the attack are still missing.
A source gave the names of the victim, who was killed during the crisis as Nwata Ibe Ezigbo. The two communities, Abaomege and Ishinkwo have been embroiled in protracted land dispute.
Intervening in the land dispute matter, Governor David Umahi has ordered security agencies in the state to wade into the two affected communities and put a stop to the clashes and also ordered the State Ministry of Lands to take over the disputed land.
There is also the Ebonyi/ Benue land dispute which has been a reoccurring episode as there have been reports of attacks from both sides of the divide. It is often described as a Gorilla Warfare between the people of Agila in Benue and Ngbo in Ohaukwu council area.
There was a recent alleged invasion of Ngbo Community by the military allegedly procured to support the Agila people to cause havoc in the Ebonyi Community. This dispute has led to loss of lives and destruction of properties worth millions of naira.
The recent developments in Ngbo Community have been unpalatable as the Police in Ebonyi State also confirmed the killing of seven persons from Ndiagu Orie, Umuguduakpu Ngbo community in Ohaukwu local government area of Ebonyi State.
Some of these land disputes, particularly the interstate disputes has lingered because of delays by the National Boundary Commission in resolving them.