Several communities in Anambra State are currently engaged in land disputes with their neighbours, but this is happening at a time when Ogidi and Umunachi communities have amicably resolved a 100-year-old land feud, writesÂ David-Chyddy ElekeÂ Â
From Ogbunka to Owerre Ezukala, Aguleri to Umuleri, Ogbunike to Ogidi, through Umuoba Anam and several other communities in Anambra State, stories of communal conflicts among communities as a result of land ownership is not new. This is growing to become a major concern to the state government after repeated attempts to resolve the feud between communities.
The story of the communal war between Aguleri and Umuleri which took place in 1999 and 2000, defying every means of settlement, and causing the then President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to come to Anambra to mediate between the two communities is still very fresh in the minds of those who experienced it. Not minding the devastating effects of the war, other communities who are still having feud about ownership of land are yet to learn from them.
The same had been the case of Owerre Ezukala and Ogbunka, where both communities engaged each other a few years ago, defying the mediation of the former deputy governor of the state, Mr. Emeka Sibeudu, who on the day of his visit was said to have escaped death in the hands of a visibly aggrieved community warriors who had laid siege for people of the other community.
It is for this reason that the current state deputy governor who doubles as the Chairman of the State Boundary Commission, Dr. Nkem Okeke, has lamented that one of the most tasking jobs in his position is settling land disputes among communities. A visibly happy Okeke who spoke during a reconciliation meeting organised by Ogidi and Umunachi communities after an amicable settlement of a 100-year-old land dispute, said it would be the first time communities with land dispute would be having amicable settlement.
Okeke said, “Each time I am to preside over a land issue, I develop headache. The most difficult job I have to deal with as a deputy governor is land dispute. I just came back from Abuja yesterday where we went to visit the National Boundary Commission over our land dispute with Enugu and Kogi states.
“What I do not understand is why every community has land dispute in Anambra. It still surprises me that people fight and kill themselves for land that was existing before they were born, and which would continue to exist even when they have long died. Most people who I consider as my friends have left me just because they think I should have sided them when I presided over land dispute for their communities. I am happy because this is the first time I am being called that two communities accepted on their own to make peace and shun killings. I am very happy.”
Considering the difficulty which the state was facing settling disputes among communities over land, a development that is fast threatening the peace which the state government has repeatedly boasted of as its achievement in the area of security, government may have found a lasting solution to the problem as the deputy governor whileÂ commending the Ogidi and Umunachi communities for embracing peace read out a riot act to other communities who were still involved in misunderstanding over land.
It was a historical event for the two communities as it would be the first time they would sit together in a function in an atmosphere of peace. THISDAY gathered that the communities who ordinarily are neighbours ceased to intermarry or even cohabit since 100 years ago when the tussle for land between them started.
Chief Sam Anyanwutaku, a business man and indigene of Ogidi community who facilitated the truce said he was moved to push for peace after having experienced the strained relationship between his community Ogidi and their neighbours, Umunachi. He recalled that he was born, knowing of the feud between his community and their neighbours, Umunachi and decided that what the previous generation could not do, he would do.
He said he set about inviting the leaders of both communities to a round table discussion in his house, and was surprised that Umunachi leaders heeded the call. “They (Umunachi leaders) were in my house eating and drinking after we had finished discussing that day, when their people started calling them, thinking that they have over stayed, and that Ogidi people may have killed them, but they did not know that they were enjoying themselves.
“That first meeting was what showed me that God has finally answered our prayers and was ready to reconcile us. We used to intermarry, but because of this land issue, we no longer do so. Today, we are happy that we have come together and accepted to resolve our differences.”
He explained that henceforth, there would be no rancour resulting from the land as beacons have been erected to demarcate it. He said the road created at the centre of the land would serve as boundary, and while the land to the left automatically belonged to Umunachi, the one to the right was Ogidi’s. The reconciliation meeting was attended by the traditional rulers of both communities, their presidents general and the Catholic and Anglican Bishops of Onitsha Arch Dioceses, who took time to pray over the land and also bless it.
A highly elated deputy governor who presented a survey plan to the leadership of both communities said, “I am calling on other communities to emulate you. Iâ€™m saying this because the headache coming from land ownership in the state is much. Let me use this opportunity to tell you that in cases where communities cannot come to terms about the ownership of land, government has the right to acquire such landed property for the overriding interest of peace. When we do so, the feuding communities will lose.”
He warned that soon, Anambra State Government would start revocation of all contentious landed properties to save the state the embarrassment of communities having to engage each other over ownership of land.
The happiness that engulfed the announcement of a ceasefire further shown the suffering both communities have passed as a result of the prolonged tussle. While the leadership of both communities were asked to openly embrace themselves, indigenes of the community freely mingled and exchanged banters while freely drinking from each other’s cup. Women’s dance group which consisted of women from both communities entertained the crowd leaving smiles on the faces of the members of the community.
The Presidents General of the two communities who spoke afterwards gave strong assurances that they will abide by the agreement, while also promising to tame their youths, who they accused of being the major cause of every disagreement that has rocked both communities. The Anglican Bishop of Onitsha diocese, Bishop Owen Nwokolo who prayed over the land could not help but wonder how sweet peace could be, after watching the happiness that was radiating on the faces of all present.