By Sunday Agbo, Abakaliki
Residents of Igbeagu communities in Izzi local government area of Ebonyi state have allegedly suffered heavy casualties in terms of human lives and property in the recent escalation of violence over disputed border land with Ukele community in Yala local government area of Cross River.
Orient Weekend’s investigations revealed that Igbeagu and Ukele residents had lived in peace and enjoyed inter marriages until dispute over land on the border area of Ebonyi and Cross River states set them on a warring path. And the land tussle had so far led to loss of over 1000 human lives and properties estimated to worth hundreds of millions of naira.
The zonal leader of Ndubia in Igbeagu community, Chief Nweze Peter, told this paper that, in the past two weeks, the community had witnessed seven attacks from Ukele residents which left about eight persons dead. According to him, all efforts by the people of Ebonyi state to ensure amicable resolution of the land dispute was resisted by their neighbouring Cross River, adding that the people rather have continued to attack and kill them.
“The attack from the Cross River people against us started when Chief Idike was the chairman of Izzi local government area. The people of Cross River came over to our side to fish and after that our people asked them to go, Idike resisted saying they were our guests. That we are hospitable and we are expected to be friendly to our guests. He said we should allow them to continue fishing.
“Along the line, they grew in their number. Their relatives from elsewhere started joining them and they continued to increase. They were living with our people in a place called Nfuma. They resided at Nfuma; the place we gave to them to settle and which they are now claiming belongs to them.
“When they said so, we objected to it because we had been living together but they said they were the owners of the land. They started leasing the land to us. At a time, the leasing of land generated crisis between the two parties which was resolved. But they eventually resisted all efforts to settle with us. They rather attacked our people living at Nfuma. They were sent packing from that place.
“When they succeeded in chasing our people away, they said they were from Cross River state. We reminded them that they were living on our land, that there was no place they were living from Inyimagu to Igbeagu. We made them to understand that the boundary is Enyim, the river. But they succeeded in chasing our people and killing most of us in 2005.
“They attacked us again last year in March and chased another section of people. They kept attacking us until we invited the army to intervene. The army was with us at Onunwakpu, but the Cross River people eventually lobbied and took them away to their side. And they joined them to attack our people.
“For the past two weeks, we have suffered seven attacks from them. We reported to the army, but they said they were not coming again. Last week, they attacked Nkaliki and injured one of our relatives.
“We have been appealing to the government to demarcate the land. Because the only solution we have now is the boundary adjustment. If the boundary is adjusted, we would know if they are Cross River or not.
“At Okwerike, half of the village was sacked and houses destroyed. The same thing happened at a place known as Nwankwu. There is nobody residing there again. Last week, they set barns ablaze and destroyed tubers of yam in it. They killed four persons at Ochafu. At Achacha, one person was killed, at Oferekpe one person was killed, Igwedeloha, one person was killed, and at Nduozoke two persons were killed.
“When security agents come, they end up telling us that they had written reports of the incident. Even when they attacked yesterday, the army came and said they had dispelled our attackers. What we are saying is that the Enyim River is the natural boundary, but they are saying our own side of the river should be the boundary. We are living in fear because we do not know when they will attack us next”, he said.
A former assistant inspector general of police, Chief Kelvin Opoke, complained that since the festering boundary dispute displaced persons had never received any relief materials from government. “When the crisis started in 2005, I was still in service in Abuja. So, when we heard about it, I had to move with Eze Nwenyi. That night we went round to sensitise our people at the national assembly. The following day, they had to move a motion in the house.
“And until I came back, the crisis was still on until the most recent one. I was involved in advocacy to Abuja and the National Boundary Commission. I went with Eze Nwenyi and our chairman then Dustan. Up till now, I think our problem is to know our boundary as far as this zone is concerned.
“When this current one started, we went to Nfuma. We talked to the people over there, the deputy governor and some others. We thought it would have stemmed the situation, but each time we relax, they will come. I was with the team that went to Port Harcourt with our governor and their own governor to discuss issues. But up till now, nothing seems to be happening.
“It got up to a point that we all agreed on the boundary, because we are saying the river is the natural boundary. The river ordinary should have been the boundary because our people lived up to Nfuma before until they came and drove the people that were living with them. Because of it, we have been advocating please federal government, please boundary commission, and please national assembly, they should give us the boundary between Ebonyi and Cross River as far as Izzi local government area is concerned.
We are still waiting and they have been promising. They are people who went round to trace the boundary.
“We have not received any relief from anywhere. The first time we went to Abu, they promised, even boundary commission man, including the minister for internal affairs came, but up till now, we have not received any relief from them. So many villages running into thousands were destroyed”, he disclosed.