By TOM MOSES
IKOT AKPAN UDO—WHY is the Akwa-Ibom State Government observably indifferent in bringing to book the armed youths, who in August 2008, invaded the peaceful Ikot-Akpan Udo community, Ukpum Ette clan, Ikot –Abasi Local Government Area of the state, killing 13 persons and razing over 500 houses despite the cries of the people for justice in the last eight years? The lethargy of state government, which in November 2008, set up a Commission of Inquiry that did not submit its Report on the incident until 2014 because of sharp disagreements among the members, also emboldened the attackers, July 12, 2015, to storm the village again, and abduct and murder 32-year-old Joel Sunday.
Only last Tuesday, more than a year after the submission of the Commission of Inquiry report without a white paper from government, gunmen suspected to be from Amazaba community in Eastern Obolo Local Government Area of the state struck yet again, razing over 20 houses and rendering hundreds of persons injured. As at yesterday, the village head, Ete-Idung Oscar Abel is still missing seven days after the attack. The invaders burnt about 15 motorcycles and a Jetta Saloon car during the surprise attack at about 2.00 am.
The Peace/Reconciliation and Boundary Delineation Committees, headed by Chief Effiong Eneyo and Surveyor Okokon Esien respectively, also set up by the state government did not make headway. On its part, the police since 2008 usually arrive at the scene of incident only after the attackers had perpetrated havoc and disappeared. The same scenario repeated itself, last Tuesday.
Investigations by Niger Delta Voice shows that the dispute between the two communities is essentially over land ownership. The boundary demarcation committee raised by the state government apparently found it difficult to do its work before of the claims and counter-claims and leaving the matter unresolved for several years has worsened the crisis. Some government officials have perceived interests in the matter and this has made it difficult to get an enduring solution to the crisis.
Our ordeal — Akpan Udo youth leader
Youth leader of Ikot Akpan Udo, Mr. Abasi-Okon Etukudoh Etukudoh, who spoke on behalf of the community, said with tears rolling down his cheeks that the invasion of his community by the Amazaba people was becoming a recurrent thing without counter attacks by his people. “One of the first houses attacked and burnt is that of the village head, Ete-Iding Oscar Abel. They burnt all his property, clothes, certificates and other valuable documents of the community and domestic animals as you can see.
“Although he escaped with only the loin cloth he tied on his waist to go to bed, his whereabouts are still unknown till this moment,” Etukudoh narrated. He lamented that the latest attack came after they managed to erect new structures to shelter their families in place of the houses razed in previous incidents by Amazaba youths.
The youth leader blamed the Akwa-Ibom state government for the various attacks and the refugee situation they have been subjected to, saying it has not done anything tangible to bring their assailants to book or to ameliorate their plight. “The delay or refusal by the government to act swiftly and bring the perpetrators of these injurious attacks to book is what has given them the impetus to keep coming around to attack us.
“If the Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the Akwa-Ibom State government in 2008 had done a thorough job, the culprits arrested and made to face the wrath of the law, the people would not have continued to take the laws into their hands,” he said. He further said: “Aside from the Commission of Inquiry, government had in 2012, set up a Peace and Reconciliatory Committee to reconcile us only for the committee to compromise its assignment and government was also afraid to query those members.”
Also speaking, a widow, Mrs. Obot Titus, who attackers also burnt her house, lamented that since her husband’s demise a few years ago, she had to shoulder the responsibility of the family alone, including erecting the burnt structure. She wondered where she would raise funds again to provide shelter for her children, especially as they burnt her motor cycle, used to provide income for the family.
Our case, by Amazaba elder
A leader of Amazaba community, who gave his name simply as Elder Francis, also blamed the Akwa-Ibom State government for the crisis, adding that if government had demarcated the boundary between Amazaba and Ikot-Akpan Udo, the problem would not have escalated. He also accused government of failing to check alleged trespassing and erroneous claims of Ikot Akpan Udo of being the owners of the land occupied by the Amazaba people.
“What government still needs to do is to demarcate the boundary between us so that Ikot Akpan Udo will not continue to claim that they own everywhere. “We are the original owners of the land having migrated from Andoni to occupy where we are now up to Ukpum Ete since in the 13th century. This was before the people of Ikot-Ikot Akpan Udo came but because we are mostly fishermen, we do not care much about land, they kept trespassing into our land and making claims of them,” he said.
Continuing: Elder Francis said: “That is why we are revolting and we will continue to do it until government takes appropriate action, not by using military force but by demarcating our boundaries. “Once that is done, there will be peace, but if government does any mistake of bringing soldiers to come and confront us, government would be wasting its time and resources because our people will capture the soldiers and make mincemeat of them.”
Ikot Akpan Udo community, which maintained its ownership of the land, however, said some officials of the state government were forcing it to accept a politically induced peace. The community said it would not accept a contrived deal for Amazaba Andonis who slaughtered over 14 of her citizens and burnt their homestead.The people demanded that government should relocate Amazaba Andonis from Ikot Akpan Udo mainland to Otunene and Ememen, which lie opposite their kith and kin at Emereoke islands.
The community said that any boundary delineation between Ikot Abasi and Eastern Obolo local government areas not based on the Akpan Udo River, which rises at Ikot Ekpang in Mkpat Enin local government area of the state and empties into the Atlantic Ocean would never be acceptable to the people.
Govt meets community leaders on Monday
Efforts by Niger Delta Voice to get the state government to react to the allegation of nonchalance against it by both communities were not successful, but it proposed a meeting with the elders and chieftains of the two towns, last Friday, January 15, which was later shifted to Monday, January 18. At the weekend when our reporter visited Ikot Akpan Udo, there was a heavy security presence at all the police divisions from Ikot-Abasi, Mkpat Enin, Eket, Esit Eket, Onna and Ibeno areas.
We’ve taken charge — Police
The squad leader from the Ikot-Abasi Police Division, ASP Omini Mathias, who spoke to NDV, said they alerted the police at about 2.00 am, last Tuesday, and they responded, but before they could get to Ikot-Akpan Udo, the hoodlums had completed their heinous acts and disappeared. He said the police and other security outfits were currently on top of the matter to bring the perpetrators to book and possibly end the age-long skirmish.
Akwa-Ibom State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Delia Nwawe, corroborated ASP Mathias, saying, “the Nigeria Police is for safety of lives and property of citizens. We give priority to these obligations, which is why the Nigeria Police, Akwa-Ibom State Command, under CP Murtala Mani, has deployed SAS, Anti-Robbery Squad and as a matter of fact Police Mobile Force, PMF, to that community. “If you go back to Ikot Akpan Udo now, you will see that normalcy has returned there; people are going about with their lawful and legitimate businesses.
According to the PPRO, the command has reached out to the Akwa-Ibom State government on the need for the two warring communities to come together and dialogue in order for them to have peace. “Peace is of utmost importance for us if we must make reasonable progress. Interestingly, nobody has died in the crisis, which is why it is possible for us to tell the people to sheath the sword, come together, have dialogue and live together. And tomorrow, we are going to have a meeting with the two warring communities for possible dialogue between them,” she assured.
On the arrests so far made by the police in connection with the latest invasion, she said: “For now, I will not be able to tell you the number of arrests that have been made, but all I can say is that we have taken charge. We want these two warring communities to go back and live as a family because they have actually been living as a family. Right now, we have taking charge of that particular environment and I like to state clearly that people must learn to live together.”