…6 monarchs, 177 PGs hold talks
From Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
About 22 years ago, a bloody battle broke out between neighbouring Aguleri and Umueri communities in Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State over a piece of land.
According to reports, many lives and property worth several millions of naira were destroyed.
When the war eventually ended, peace-lovers heaved a sigh of relief and prayed fervently that it should not happen again.
But their prayers could not last long as four years after, precisely in 1999, a fresh war broke out between the two communities.
Like the previous one, lives and property were equally destroyed. Observers believed that the war of 1995 originated from a 1964 conflict.
According to them, the disaffection was poorly handled by the relevant authorities then hence the renewed battle over which side of the divide was to occupy the fertile land in contention.
But there are other reports that claimed the battle dated as far back as 1910. These reports claimed that it was a fratricidal war, which also involved Umuoba Anam community.
They pointed out that the land in contention was formerly occupied by the Royal Niger Company (RNC). When the white men vacated an agricultural settlement in the area called Otuocha in 1910, the communities began a battle to take over the land.
But 22 years after the last war between Aguleri and Umueri communities, old wounds were reopened again on June 9, 2017.
On that day, no fewer than two persons were injured while a good number of property were destroyed in the clash, which reportedly lasted for several hours. It was not clear which of the two communities began the renewed conflict.
However, the new drum of war raised great concern, as it was election period in the state and a key contender in the governorship race, Governor Willie Obiano incidentally hails from Aguleri.
Therefore, to nip the impending inter-communal war in the bud, six traditional rulers from the council area convoked a meeting at the council’s headquarters in Otuocha to chart ways to perpetually end the echo of war in the area.
Also in attendance were 177 presidents-generals from all the communities in the state under the umbrella of Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU). They were represented by their National President, Chief Alex Onukwue.
The six traditional rulers were Igwe Benneth Izuchukwu Emeka (Umueri), Igwe Christopher Nwabunwanne Idigo (Aguleri), Igwe Victor Ntoka (Nsugbe), Igwe George Ekwealor (Umuoba-Anam), Igwe Peter Ikegbunam (Eziagulu-Otu Aguleri), and Igwe Alex Edozieuno (Nkpunanando Aguleri-Otu).
The peace meeting was convened by Igwe Christopher Nwabunwanne Idigo and Igwe Benneth Izuchukwu Emeka, who are the traditional rulers of the warring Aguleri and Umueri communities.
Igwe Idigo said contrary to reports in the media, the clash was between two families not the communities.
“It is a clash between one Aguleri family and one Umueri family, but we cannot stay out just because it has to do with families.
“This is because it can spread to the entire communities. That is why we want to nip the issue in the bud. And why we are taking the bold step is that as their elders and leaders, we can’t afford to stay aloof and watch things go the wrong way.”
He said, “the problem has persisted because we are human beings.
“As we are progressing, we will eventually come to finality. If it were before, you won’t see us talking like this. It would be gunshots. But today, you can see the Igwes all together discussing on the way forward. And once our subjects see us like this talking like brothers, they will stop messing up.
“The majority of us are for peace, and we have shown it by attending this peace meeting. All these Igwes are from Anambra East council area. This peace meeting is total.”
Igwe Emeka pointed out that the crisis could have escalated if it were to be before.
He said they had been able to appeal to their people, especially the youths to sheathe their swords so there can be roundtable discussion on the matter.
“The land belongs to family A and family B. They are both contesting the boundary. So, we have resolved to go there and resolve whatever disparity exists between the two families so that it won’t spiral into communal crisis.
“At this meeting, we agreed to use town criers to pass strong message to both Aguleri and Umueri that everybody in these areas should calm down; that the Igwes and the presidents-general are handling the matter.
“Remember that in 1995, there was a communal war between Umueri and Aguleri. It repeated in 1999. After that, the two communities sat and agreed that there won’t be war again.
“During those wars, there were no intermarriage, but now they are intermarrying. That means that love is being restored,” he said.
In his speech, Chief Onukwue, vowed to do everything within his powers to ensure that lasting peace was restored to the two communities.
Chief Onukwue, who is also the president-general, Eziagulu-Otu Aguleri community, pointed out that it was one of his duties to see that all the communities in the state were living in peace, hence, the effort to resolve the dispute.
“This meeting was convened to broker peace between Aguleri and Umueri communities.
“We are meeting to ensure that it does not go beyond that. Aguleri and Umueri are people that must live in peace because they have a history that shows that they must live in peace. And that’s what we are trying to ensure.
“I’ll try to see that we employ fairness because the very first thing to do in trying to solve a problem is to find out the causes of the problem. And we have seen the causes of this problem. We are still going to see more.
“As the national president of ASATU, I am going to ensure that we face the facts on ground. It’s been on and on, but everything has its time. This is time for this crisis to come to an end. I can assure you that we are going to bring this crisis to an end by ensuring that there is fairness in tackling this problem,” he said.
He said the problem has persisted because the ownership of land was a difficult thing to define even as he promised that his team would work closely with the monarchs to achieve the desired target.