Recently, controversy erupted in Ebonyi State leading to a bloody clash between Mkpumaekwoku and Onweonweya, two neighbouring communities in Izzi Local Government Area of the state.
Sounds of the war resonated amid roars, screams and wails, as the once brotherly communities fell on each other over land. Before the state government and other authorities could be alerted about the crisis, the two communities were in ruins, leaving tears in every eye and sorrow in every heart.
Three persons were allegedly killed and more than 50 houses razed on both sides as the two communities tested their might in a bloody battle. Many believe that, but for the intervention of the state government, the Ezza-Ezillo war, which was waged in the state sometime ago, would have been child’s play in comparison to this fresh battle. In a macabre twist, the bodies of those who lost their lives in the fracas were reportedly dumped on the disputed land that has been in contention for 30 years.
Daily Sun gathered that whereas the natives of Mkpumaekeoku insist that they inherited the land from their forebears, their rivals, indigenes of Onweonweya, claim that the land was bequeathed to them by their ancestors. With both communities in fiercely claiming the parcel of land, it has been difficult to ascertain the real owners of the property. Even elders of both communities cannot tell for sure the real owner of the land in question.
The land is on the boundary of the two communities and adjudged the most fertile in the entire area. For 30 years, the contention for the land has raged unabated. Various attempts to resolve the dispute through various forms of adjudication have all failed, until both communities employed the option of war to settle scores recently, leaving sorrow and bloodshed.
A native of Mkpumaekweoku, John Ofoke, claimed that the land rightly belonged to his community. He said that his grandfather farmed on the land before the ownership crisis erupted.
“My late grandfather, Ofoke Nwachi, farmed on that land; I saw him doing that as a child. I remember that even my father, who was living in Nwofe Agbaja, every now and then used to come home and would go with my grandfather to farm on the same land. It is, therefore, very surprising that the people of Onweonweya community are laying claim to it when it has been in full possession of Mkpumaekweoku for ages,” he said.
But countering the claim, an elderly man from Onweonweya community, 78-year-old Nwifuru Alichi, maintained that the land had never been in contention until recently when some highly-placed individuals from the rival community who were appointed into positions of authority by successive administrations started to politicise with the traditional way of resolving land matters in the area.
His words: “For 30 years, we have been having the issue of this land dispute and we have been applying traditional ways of settling disputes, especially land matters. That was why we have been holding on, until some people felt they had been given political power. They came and bastardised the peace talks. They started buying arms for youths and with the tension mounting, it got to the level that no one could hold back the youths. The crisis erupted and in the process three of our men were killed while they were farming on the same disputed land.”
Since then, claims and counter-claims over the parcel of land as well as allegations and counter-allegations of who drew the first blood have raged. However, Governor David Umahi, during his visit to the area, expressed sadness that two brothers could be led by selfish desires and primordial sentiments to raise their swords against each other.
He declared that the Ebonyi State Government had taken over the hectares of land in contention, and warned that his administration would deal decisively with anybody found fomenting trouble in the area.
“Our position as government is that anywhere we have land dispute, government, which is naturally the owner of land, will take it over. So from today, November 14, 2016, the entire land that is in contention is hereby revoked and taken over by government. So, nobody will farm on the land again. It has become government land,” Umahi said.
The governor, having assessed the level of carnage in the affected communities, could not hide his emotions and announced a donation of N10 million for the rebuilding of the burnt houses and provision of relief materials for victims who were rendered homeless and were taking refuge at the market square, under tight security.
With rumours that the escalation of the crisis was caused by some political office holders in his government, Umahi warned that he would move against any one implicated in the crisis. He directed all his political appointees from Izzi Local Government Area to forfeit 50 per cent of their allowances for the rebuilding of the houses.
“We also condemn the act of burning houses. It is so barbaric and highly condemnable. We are very shocked that at this point of our development, people could do such a satanic act,” the governor said.
He also urged all the security chiefs in the state to fish out the perpetrators of the evil deed and ensure that peace returned to the area. Umahi commended the prompt intervention of the security agencies, whcih saved the state from being plunged into another capter of communal wars.
The governor also called on the security chiefs to provide security for those who planted rice on the disputed land to harvest their crops. “I want to ask the commissioner of police that those who planted the rice must (be alowwed) to come and harvest it. Whether somebody is dead or not, this rice must be harvested. So the policemen should be posted here and the owners of the rice must be encouraged to come and harvest it,” he said, pledging his administration’s committment to return the land seized from the communities to them when peace returned: “If there is lasting peace, we will give back the land to them but, until that is achieved, the land belongs to government.”
Earlier, the Speaker of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Francis Nwifuru, who hails from Izzi Local Government Area, told the governor that the recent incident might be linked to those he described as political foes of the state government.
He blamed the crisis on politics and urged the governor to bring lasting peace to the area. He asserted that since all traditional ways of settling dispute failed, the state government should use its constitutional power to ensure that the matter was resolved once and for all.
“The incident couldn’t have (just)happened; it was politically motivated. But we are trying to resolve it among ourselves. We apologise for what happened and we promise that such will not happen again,” the Speaker said.
On his part, the Caretaker Committee Chairman, Izzi Local Government Area, Richard Idike, lauded the prompt intervention of the state government in the crisis, otherwise the conflict w ould have escalated beyond control.
Anguish in Lagos suburb over bad roads
•Residents beg Ambode to fulfill campaign promises
By Moshood Adebayo
Residents of Tedi Community in Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos State have appealed to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to come to their aid as they are wallowing under pains inlicted on them by poor infrastructure abd absence of basic amenities. They lamented that roads within the community had collapsed and the immediate repair of the roads would improve economic and social activities in the area.
Traditional ruler of the town, Alhaji Mukaila Kareem, in an interview with Daily Sun rued the situation, saying that his community had been neglected for too long.
Kareem said, “I am not really happy with the unfulfilled promises by individuals, state and local governments in the past, particularly during campaigns, to our community. We appeal to Governor Ambode, who has been doing a lot since he came to power, to rescue us.”
According to him, many car owners within the community have abandoned their vehicles since the roads were no longer passable.
“Even motorcyclists, who exploit the situation to charge exorbitant fares, ride in pitiable conditions. Majority of residents do not pray for rain, as each rainfall compounds our problems,” he said.
Chief Muka Bajulaiye, chairman of the Community Development Association in the area, also lamented the situation, which he said had brought hardship to the people.
“For us as a community, we never wish for rain here, as its effects are usually unbearable. The road is key to the economic development of our area, so I want to appeal to Governor Ambode to urgently come to our aid. It is quite unfortunate what we are experiencing. People are passing through a lot of hardship. Our roads are an eyesore,” he submitted.
Another resident, Mr. Okoye Boniface, said: “We have more than 100,000 people in this area, but we lack accessible roads. There are no maternity centres. We are crying out through this medium to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to come to our aid and let us be part of his inclusive government.
“We are not a riverine community. We are on dry land, situated not too far from the Ojo Barracks. We are appealing to government to rescue us.”
Mr. Onikoyi Olayinka, who also spoke with Daily Sun, said since he moved to the community in 1994, it has been a story of pain and gnashing of teeth: “It has not been easy living in this community, not because of the people that live here, but because of the road, which is in a deplorable condition. The community also lacks government presence.
“As law-abiding citizens, we have been paying our taxes, tenement rates and other necessary dues, but we are not getting anything good in return.
“Also, we voted massively for the ruling party in the state during the last general election during which promises were made that there would be changes in our area. But up till now, we have not noticed that. On a regular basis, we attend community development meetings in our area, but, alas, we have nothing to show for it.”
A trader in the area, Mrs. Josephine Akujori, pointed out that she had to close down her shops as a result of low patronage that could be traced to the bad roads. “Our condition here is pathetic. Sometimes, I wonder if our area is actually part of Lagos State. We are seriously neglected here. We learnt that the contract for one of the roads was awarded in 1999 and was re-awarded during the tenure of the current Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, as governor of the state.
“We are not happy that most people who have made promises of repairing the roads during their campaign to our area are yet to fulfil such promises. We appeal to them, especially Governor Ambode, to come to our rescue. We are really suffering,” she said.