Sagir Musa, who visited warring communities in Ebonyi and Cross River States recently, writes on the need for periodic intra and inter community engagement and dialogue between the warring communities to guarantee peaceful coexistence
In line with the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai’s disposition to have a professionally responsive Nigerian Army in the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 82 Division Nigerian Army, Major General Adamu Baba Abubakar had in the early hours of Monday, 15th of May 2017, led some security chiefs comprising the Commissioner of Police (COMPOL) Ebonyi State, Mr. Titus Lamorde, Commander 44 Engineer Brigade, Brigadier General Mark Mamman, Assistant Commissioner of Police Operations Ebonyi State, Mr. Enyinnaya Adiagu, representative of Ebonyi State’s Director of State Security Services (SDS), Mr. Joseph Oleseni, Commandant Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps Ebonyi Srate Command, Mrs. Chinwe Kannu, Commanding Officer 24 Engineer Support Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Kulawe, Commander Mobile Police Squadron Ebonyi State Command, Superintendent Yusuf Bala, Commander 82 Division Provost Group, Colonel Ahmadu Abubakar and the representative of the Commander Military Intelligence Brigade, Major Titus Oladejo, on a visit to the conflicted villages of Cross River and Ebonyi States with the aim of resolving the crisis.
Journalistic temperament pushed me to look at the trip not so much from a public relations perspective but more from a journalistic enterprise. Thus, the five hours journey on a bad road took us to Okputimo – Okwerike communities in Abakaliki Local Government Area (LGA) of Ebonyi State, Ijitum and Idoro neighbourhoods in Obubra LGA of Cross River State. Contagious villages like Offia Orji, Osofong and Enyebichiri, and other neighbouring but scattered communities close to Ogurunde and Ogamanya located at the fringe of Cross River and Ebonyi States were also visited to determine the extent of damage and their involvement in the perennial conflicts.
Some of these communities seem actively involved in the skirmishes, while a few are passive – supporting one community against another. Although agrarian, dispersed or fragmented, some of the villages appear to be divided, tensed and obviously at war with each other.
The only major common market was barricaded, the dilapidated primary and secondary schools are no go areas, and the only bad road linking the communities to the two states has been blocked by the ’merchants of war’. Instructively, socio – economic, educational and religious activities are virtually paralysed and peoples’ suffering seems to be increasing.
What is intriguing, – is not just the realities of conflict and pervasive neglect, but the sheer poverty and underdevelopment in the communities. Although, most of the localities look deserted, the remnants of women, children and men look downhearted and melancholic. Hope and an aura of relief came when the people in Okpuitimo – Okwerike community saw the convoy of security agencies.
Majority came forward, welcomed and ushered the GOC and his team to a natural shade provided by a cluster of mangrove trees for a meeting. It was the first community engagement, dialogue or consultative meeting of the day. At first, the submissions by the village head, a few elders and youth leader appeared conflicting, evasive or outright falsehood. But, the GOC, COMPOL and the SDS and other security chiefs on the mission were determine to ensure total and everlasting peace in the village and its environs. So, General Abubakar, – looking calm and unemotional, warned the chiefs and youths of the consequences of their actions.
Consequently, the Village Head, Chief Luke Obu and the Youth Leader Mr. Augustine Nwoyo passionately opened up and voiced their community’s anger against their neighbours – ‘their Ijitum brothers and sisters’…. ‘the problem is about our land,… our farm lands laying at the border between Cross River and Ebonyi States which have been severally encroached by the Ijitums, and there will never be peace if they do not vacate our land’ – Chief Luke stated.
At this point, General Abubakar interrupted, urged them to calm down. “I want you all to know that by your actions and utterances, you are sowing the seed of animosity between your community and its neighbours, and the result will be nothing but vicious circle of violence which will do no one any good… having been together for many years, no village will relocate to anywhere. No community has the mandate to order for the relocation of any community, whatever the grievances, we must today amicably discuss and resolve them for the common good.
“I would like to make it clear to you that government is aware of the recurrent boundary skirmishes between and among your localities and a lot is being done to address the problem…I will table this issue once again to appropriate authority with the view to resolving the issue once and for all…whatever we agree on here, I will pass it on to the other warring communities,” General Abubakar posited.
The day was going fast; we were only able to reach out to three volatile communities of Okpuitimo – Okwerike, Ijitum and Idoro. In all the communities, the messages were straight forward – that of peaceful coexistence and the need for periodic intra and inter community engagement/dialogue between and among the warring societies. The major achievements of the visit included restoration of peace, reopening of the major road, the common market and the schools.
Above all, mechanism/processes for the establishment and activation of inter community vigilante groups would be established by the civil power in Ebonyi State to help to de-escalate tension and address emerging security challenges across the communities and its environs.
Colonel Musa, is the Deputy Director Army Public Relations 82 Division Nigerian Army