Nteje: Anambra Community at the Mercy of Brigands

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Nteje community, the headquarters of Oyi Local Government Area in Anambra State, a once peaceful community, is today being threatened to its very soul of existence by lawless youths who have seized the communal land and unleashed mayhem on her people, reports David-Chyddy Eleke

Nteje was once a peaceful community with a sizeable number of its people excelling in every field of human endeavour. What the community lacks in terms of riches it makes up in human capital endowment and the manner of its politics. To its credit, out of the five communities of Awkuzu, Ogbunike, Nkwelle Ezunaka, Umunya and Nteje that make up the Oyi Local Council Area, only Nteje has five political wards and hosts the council headquarters. All the other communities have two wards each with the exception of Awkuzu which has four.

The community also has top personalities including; Professor Philip Ozuah, formerly University Chair at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and now CEO of Montefiore Medicine, Bronx, New York and whose father Philip Ozuah Snr. brought electricity to Nteje. Other prominent sons of the community include; Pete Edochie, Bar. Johnnie Egwuonwu SAN, Sir Jerry Nwakobi of Jerico Holdings, Ezigbo Obiligbo, Chief Peter Orakwue Odegbo, chairman of the Nigerian People’s Party in the old Omambala division. But the community today has been robbed of peace and serenity as most of its sons have fled home because of the rampaging youths.

But now, things that once held Nteje community together – time honoured ethos that bound its people are now violated with impunity, and to the violators, nothing again matters except land acquisition and meting violence on the people. A band of reckless youths have taken up arms against the community in an attempt to subjugate it and silence every voice of reason. The escalation of lawlessness has been so hard and fast that if not sufficiently restrained will stop not just the progress of the community but will foist on it a leadership that is inured to the reign of impunity.

About two weeks ago, the said youths unleashed mayhem on the community, sacking the villagers from their homes. The youths, said to be sponsored by some rich individuals in the community, beat up persons opposed to their indiscriminate sale of the communal land, burning down their homes and injuring so many others along the line.

In 2017, three youths in the community; Udoka Obi, Chinweze Ibefuna and Sunday Obika, were on March 11 killed by armed hoodlums comprising the same group of youth from the community. Three years on, the community is yet to experience peace as violence has continued in the community because of disagreement over communal land. Two weeks ago, houses and properties were burnt down in the community by the same band of reckless youths for no obvious reasons.

When THISDAY visited Nteje, leaders and members of the community lamented that the crises in the community has brought hunger and famine as they no longer have land for farming. They lamented that those who have land dared not go to their farms anymore for fear of being maimed, while the women among them were raped.

A poor widow, Mrs Janet Okonkwo said, “Because of them, we no longer have land to farm on. I am a farmer, and my husband is late, so I have to cater for my children, so I joined other women to go to Aguleri, where we hire a plot of land for N5,000 just to farm and feed our families. This is very bad. Our once peaceful community has now been taken over by violence, and anyone who dares to speak is attacked. We want government to come to our aid.”

The former President General (PG) of the community, Barr. David Enuah speaking with THISDAY decried the level of menace unleashed on his people by a few persons from the community because of the influence of their sponsor. He narrated how as the PG in 2017, he had to shuttle between Port Harcourt to Nteje to ensure that peace was restored but all were to no avail. He said that despite his efforts, the condition has persisted till date.

One of the victims of the recent incident whose house was razed by the hoodlums, Mr. Uche Oraegbunam while speaking with THISDAY said, “What currently obtains in the town is most worrisome. I am not a member of any of the groups that is at war in the community, but I wonder why I have to be a victim of what I am not a part of”.

A source in the community told THISDAY during a visit that since the announcement of the construction of the Anambra Cargo Airport located in Umueri, Anambra East Council Area of Anambra State by the Willie Obiano government, communities around the area have been enmeshed in protracted land crisis, just as the demand for properties in the area has increased in demand and cost.

“The price of land has increased in all the communities around the airport project, and since that 2017, we have had problem. We are a co-host of the airport project and its ancillary services like camps, the dual carriageway and others. Since the last two years, owing to the appreciation in the cost of properties around the airport project that massive land grabbing in Ifite Nteje by some youths suspected to be sponsored by powerful individuals from the community has intensified, often degenerating into bloodletting.

“We are appealing to the state governor to come to our aid and help us to overcome this violence that has taken over our land because we cannot continue to live in fear of hoodlums who have taken up arms against the community”, the source added.

However, reprieve may be coming the way of the community as Anambra State government has recently set up a panel of inquiry headed by Rtd AVM Ben Chiobi. The committee also has three traditional rulers and others as members. It is hoped that the panel would help unravel the trouble in the community and also punish those behind the violence in the community.

The traditional ruler of the community, Igwe Rowland Odegbo as well as the President General, Chief B U Chinweze though could not speak to THISDAY, but it was gathered that they have done all in their power to restore peace in the community and also rein in the hoodlums and return peace to Nteje, but their efforts have not yielded much.

Meanwhile, leaders of the community have expressed happiness at the interest of the state Governor, Chief Willie Obiano to resolve the crisis in the community by setting up the panel. Former president general of the community, Chief David Enuah thanked Governor Obiano for setting up the panel to look into the matter, pointing out that its report will go a long way in unraveling individuals behind the brigandage that reigns in the community.