Okon Bassey in Uyo
Heavy security personnel comprising of soldiers, police and civil defence have been drafted to contain the invasion of the coastal villages of Oku Iboku in Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State by mercenaries alleged to be from neighbouring Ikot-Offiong in Odukpani Local Government Area of Cross River State.
Sources said the armed mercenaries numbering more than 50 allegedly released by Ikot-Offiong village have in the past three days terrorised the riverine villages of Oku Iboku with 10 people feared killed, many kidnapped and more than 100 houses burnt.
While the Transition Local Government Chairman of Itu, Mrs. Elsie Asara, confirmed seeing a corpse during an on-the-spot assessment of the damage, a member representing the Itu state constituency in the state House of Assembly, Mr. Idongesit Ituen, said four persons died while unconfirmed reports alleged that more than 10 persons were feared murdered and many others wounded in the invasion.
It was gathered that one of the mercenaries was arrested when the larger clan of Oku Ibom mobilised themselves to put the invasion under check.
Besides the razing of buildings along the coastal villages from the Oku Ibom bridge head linking Cross River State, about 16 engine boats and canoes were reportedly stolen from the fishermen, farmers and traders.
The names of villages badly destroyed, were given as Obot Oku, Ikot Etim Ama, Ufak Oku Iboku, Esen Ikot Esia, Esik Essien, Nta Ikan, Oku Iboku and Bokondo among other 11 coastal villages in the area.
Eyewitnesses said only churches were spared in the massive destruction, stressing that the strike culminated into an extensive looting of farm products, goods commodities while the villagers that escaped ran to primary schools, churches and civil centre in a neighbouring community of Isiolduku
The council chairman of Itu told THISDAY that the situation was pathetic and worrisome describing it as inter-state invasion with the Akwa Ibom state government adequately briefed on the development.
According to her, the state government, the political leader of the Itu LGA, Senator Anietie Okon, the army, police and other para-military outfits were working hard to restore peace in the area.
A stakeholder in Oku Iboku , Chief Akpapan Etukudo who spoke with THISDAY over the development, called on Akwa Ibom and Cross River State governments to find a lasting solution to lingering communal clash between the neighbouring villages.
“We cannot continue to suffer like this and live in fear. From what I have gathered, about 10 people have been killed in the renewed attack. We are yet to ascertain the actual number of deaths many people were taken across the river”, he lamented.
A member representing Itu state constituency while speaking on a motion brought on the floor of the House under matters of urgent public importance said the recent attack was a surprise as the people had been living together since 2005 when a peace accord was reached between Ikot Offiong villages in Cross River and Ayadehe, Oko Iboku and Mbiabo in Akwa Ibom.
He said the latest attack was criminally motivated because it occurred when the people of Oku Iboku and adjoining villages were about to harvest their crops, hence the opportunity the attackers had to steal all their farm produce and outboard engines anchored at the riverside.
Ituen said: “It was actually a surprise attack and life has been lost. About four people have allegedly been reported dead and all outboard engines by the riverside have been carted away.
“When the people ran away they use the opportunity to harvest their crops. So there is criminal intent apart from the issue of communal conflict within these two sides.”
Reacting, the state House of Assembly passed a resolution calling on the state Governor, Udom Emmanuel, to direct all security agencies including the Navy to step in and restore normalcy to the area.
Also, the state Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) was directed to send relief materials to the displaced persons who have been rendered homeless and their means of livelihood taken away.