Dissecting Umahi’s approaches in resolving Effium, Ezza-Effium communal crisis

[From CHINEDU NWAFOR, Abakaliki]

Tuesday, 22nd day of February, 2021, marks one month the communal crisis between the people of Effium and Ezza Effium ensued. What started as a mere misunderstanding between two factions of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in a motor park surprisingly escalated to a full blown communal war between the two major tribes resident in Effium community in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.

Displaced persons in the Effium and Ezza Effium communal clash

While Governor Umahi put the figure of deaths in the crisis at 25, with over 125 houses burnt including fuel and gas stations, Natives of the community, on the other hand, said over a thousand person have been killed and more than 5,000 houses destroyed.

Umahi had convened an enlarged security council meeting held in Effium market square precisely on Monday, 25th January 2021 at the wake of the crisis where he interacted with the natives and thereafter called for a ceasefire, which they regrettably never hearkened to.

The Governor during the security meeting made other policy statements aimed at quelling the crisis, among which was the suspension of all his political appointees from the waring Community. The Governor said he was going to approach the State House of Assembly for it to take actions on the elected political office holders from the area.

“All political appointments in these five wards are hereby suspended. I have no power to suspend elected people, but the House of Assembly does have, and I’m going to report to them and they are going to take decision on that,”Umahi had said, during the meeting.

Prior to the State security council meeting held in Effium, the police Commissioner had arrested major stakeholders of the community the previous day (Sunday) at a meeting convened by the state government at the Old State Executive chambers Abakaliki on orders of the Governor who vowed never to allow the Police release the stakeholders until peace returned in the area. The Governor also directed the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barr Cletus Ofoke to secure a Court order to detain the stakeholders as long the crisis lasts.

He further vowed that any of them found to have hand in the crisis would be prosecuted for murder and arson. The Natives who spoke during the security meeting identified the Council Chairman of Ohaukwu LGA and the Member representing Ohaukwu North State Constituency, Hon Chinedu Awo as the masterminds of the crisis. Governor Umahi also corroborated their claims in his speech. The duo were alleged to be fighting for supremacy in the area and were the sponsors of the two factions of NURTW who clashed at the motor park.

“The political appointees will remain in the detention whether they are directly involved or not, until absolute peace returns and anybody connected will be charged for murder and arson; so you will not see them quickly,” Umahi told the natives.

But, one week after Governor Umahi made the aforementioned policy statements concerning the crisis, he made a sudden u-turn, and went ahead to order for the release of the stakeholders from detention including Messrs Odah and Awo, to the chagrin of observers.

The Governor was reported to have mandated the stakeholders to go home and ensure that absolute peace returned. An order which the stakeholders complied with, but their efforts unfortunately, yielded no result, as killings and destruction of properties continued unabated.

Umahi, in another gathering also pointedly and openly accused Messrs Odah and  Awo, of being the masterminds of the lingering communal crisis. He also blamed the state Commissioner for local government, Barr Samuel Okoronkwo and his Special Assistant on Parks Development, Mr Emmanuel Igwe for compromising on the assignment given to them by him, hitherto aimed at ensuring peace and order in the area, before the crisis broke-out.

The Governor said the crisis wouldn’t have occurred if Odah, Awo, Okoronkwo and Igwe obeyed his instructions on how to solve the little problems that was occurring in the community before it escalated to an uncontrollable situation.

The Governor spoke at separate meetings with the stakeholders of the two waring tribes, on Monday alleged that money was being contributed by the waring parties to promote the crisis.

Umahi said: “Let us not forget that  this problem started by the Council Chairman, Clement Odah and Hon. Chinedu Awo the House of Assembly member.  When the problem started between them, I called them severally, one on one, three of us. We sat and I pleaded with them. In fact, at a time, one of them walked away on me. It took my begging of the Speaker for the House not to sack the person on this same issue. I just took it that there is nothing a father will not see, there is nothing leadership will not see. Two of them fighting for supremacy ahead of 2023 that they do not know whether they will see.

 “So, let it be known that I did everything to stop it. I set up a committee and of course the committee failed me, they are culpable. The Commissioner for local government did not do his works, and the SA Parks did not do his works. If two of them did their works, the crisis wouldn’t have been because I directed that NURTW should be dissolved but they went and encouraged caretaker even when I expressly said it should not be and that’s how the crisis started.

On Tuesday, 23rd  February,2021, Governor Umahi held another peace meeting. This time, a combined meeting of both parties with representatives of the state government, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Founding Fathers, Elders’ Council and leaders of Ezza nation who were observers in the meeting which held at the State Ecumenical Centre .

The Governor who presided over the meeting appealed to the stakeholders of Effium and Ezza Effium to do everything possible to ensure that there is no more reprisal attack from any part of the community noting that government shall hold the stakeholders responsible if there is any further break down of law and order in the community.

According to a statement from the State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Barr Uchenna Orji on Wednesday, the two waring tribes presented their positions on the immediate and remote causes of the crisis and their recommendations for immediate interventions and lasting peace.

As part of the outcome of the meeting, the stakeholders of Effium were said to have requested the state government to carry out land demarcation between them and Ezza Effium people as a last resort in the attainment of a lasting peace in that community, while the  stakeholders of Ezza Effium requested that they be allowed to live together with the people of Effium as they had lived before the misunderstanding that reared its ugly head.

Mr Orji further disclosed that the duo renewed their commitment towards stopping all forms of reprisal attacks forthwith, and were  bonded to keep the peace pending the final resolution of the matter.

He said the Governor gave the two parties two weeks to consult with their people, including, the youths and women, both those within and outside the state so they could have a common ground that will enable the state government take a decision that would bring lasting peace and stronger harmony among the people of Effium and Ezza Effium.

The Governor, according to Orji, further set up a committee made up of one representative from Effium and one from Ezza Effium with two CAN representatives to supervise their consultation processes, namely, Bishop  Matthew  Nkwoegu as Chairman and Rev  Dr. Scamb Nwokolo as Secretary. The Committee is to bring its report within 14 days.

The reconciliation meeting convened by the Governor, to say the least, is an after thought, having waited for more than a month before deeming it necessary. Because, the lives of scores of people that have been killed in the last one month the crisis started not to talk about the properties destroyed can no longer be replaced. Had the Governor convened this reconciliation meeting early enough, who knows it would have helped in dousing the tension in the area.

Now, the crisis has been allowed to fester for weeks and until this present point where it has gone out of control, and has even overwhelmed both the stakeholders of the community and the government. This is why the clashes have continued in the area, despite the on-going reconciliation efforts of the state government. While the reconciliation meeting was on-going on Monday and Tuesday money, reports of attacks on people and burning of houses in the area were filtering in.

While the Governor’s decision to release the stakeholders and mandating them to go home and make peace was not bad at all, even though it was in contrast with his earlier policy statement on the crisis. However, it was incomprehensive why Governor Umahi allowed Messrs Odah and Awo to also be released from detention. This is even more so, because the natives and the Governor himself, have publicly identified them as the mastermind of the carnage. The question on the lips of the people is, why did the Governor jettison his promise to report Messrs Odah and Awo to the state Assembly for necessary decision and action? Why did he also lift the suspension of his appointees from the community who he is now alleging to be contributing money to promote the crisis? Why did he allow his Aides who he claimed compromised in the crisis to remain in their respective offices?

The Governor should have matched his words with action by ensuring that Messrs Odah and Awo who have been identified as major players in the crisis are suspended or completely removed from their current political offices and charged to court. His declaration to arrest and prosecute anybody culpable in the crisis for murder and arson should have been given the urgent implementation it deserves. This, no doubt, would have not only doused the raging tension in the area, but would also serve as a deterrent to others.

The bitter truth is that the continual stay in offices by Messrs Odah, Awo including other Aides of the Governor already indicted in the crisis creates the impression that the Governor and government of Ebonyi state are not just condoning the crimes against humanity currently being perpetrated against the poor masses of the community, but are also not ready to find a lasting solution to the crisis.

The constitution of a judicial panel of inquiry into the Effium crisis by Governor Umahi is laudable, but very hasty and untimely. Constitution of a panel of inquiry into the crisis is good, but shouldn’t be the first or second measure to be deployed by government towards ending the crisis. One had expected that the Governor would have deployed more security measures first, at best, in form of carrot and stick approach, to return normalcy in the area before setting up any investigative panel into the crisis.

In other words, the area still requires more urgent and drastic security measures among which is deploying enough security agents including soldiers to all the villages that make up Effium to quell the daily killings and arson going-on in the area. The security agents should be strategically stationed at the nooks and crannies of the community temporarily to tame and fish out the warlords causing havoc in the area.

Until this is done, the panel set up by the State government cannot effectively carryout the assignment. Or of what use is the inquiry into the crisis when the natives are still being killed in droves everyday and houses being set ablaze by the warlords, with no drastic measure yet from government to put it to a stop? How can the panel be walking on the corpses of the slain natives to carry out its assignment? Certainly, not possible.

Again, Government of Ebonyi state should take adequate care of the security agents posted to Effium on a peace mission. This is to avoid ear-tingling story coming from that area daily, alleging that security agents have resorted to using their patrol vehicles to do transport business in order due to the alleged inability of the state government to provide adequate logistics for them. Report had it that security agents posted in the area were withdrawn recently due to lack of logistics; though the report was vehemently denied by government.

Ebonyi State government should also investigate fully the alleged underhand dealings in the interest of Ibeto Group in a limestone deposit in Effium community that is alleged to have contributed in the on-going carnage in the community. If the allegation is true, the State government should prevail on the Company to do the right thing to calm the already fraying nerves.

The company, on her part, should trade with caution in dealing with the people of Ezza Effium and Effium as it concerns her interest in the limestone deposit, to avoid a repeat of such crisis in the area in the future. More so, the company should deploy dialogue and consultations with both parties in pursuing her business interest in the area, for peace to reign.

Government of Ebonyi State should as a matter of urgency intervene in the plights of the thousand of helpless mothers, children and the aged, who have been displaced and now refugees in different parts of the State and neighbouring States. Relief materials and IDP camps should be provided for them by the government to cushion the effects of these suffering escapees from the war torn zone. Presently, some of the escapees have no place to lay their heads and are wandering about, with no food or water to drink.

Also, it is still difficult to discern why Ebonyi State government is yet to send relief materials to the natives trapped in the crisis ridden Effium community, one month after Governor Umahi promise do do so. Though, the State Commissioner for information and State Orientation, Barr Uchenna Orji, while briefing Journalists on the outcome of the State Executive Council meeting recently, said the government was still profiling the people displaced by the crisis, hence, the delay in sending relief materials to them. A stitch in time saves nine.

Meanwhile, stakeholders of Effium and Ezza-Effium Community have agreed to embrace peace to ensure that the crisis in the community is put to an end.

This is even as the Effium stakeholders said the only way to put a permanent end to the hostility in the area was to create a boundary between them and the people of Ezza-Effium.

But the Ezza-Effium stakeholders said the two tribes could still live together in peace without needless delineation.

This was the outcome of separate peace meetings convened on Monday and Tuesday at the instance of  Governor Umahi in a bid to find a lasting peace in the area.

Umahi said over 25 persons have been killed and over 125 houses have been burnt in the crisis. But the natives said over a thousand persons have been killed and thousands of houses destroyed in Effium community that broke-out a month ago.

Orji said: “the Governor who presided over the meeting appealed to the stakeholders of Effium and Ezza Effium to do everything possible to  ensure that there is no more reprisal attack from any part of the community noting that government shall hold the stakeholders responsible if there is any further break down of law and order in that community.

“The two sides of the dispute presented their positions on the immediate and remote causes of the crisis and their recommendations for immediate interventions and lasting peace.

“The Governor directed them to go into a closed door meeting by themselves with a view to having a common ground in their recommendations and which they did with the supervision of representatives of Christian Association of Nigeria.

“As part of the outcome of their meeting, the stakeholders of Effium requested the state government to  carry out land demarcation between them and Ezza Effium people as a last resort in the attainment of a lasting peace in that community, while the   stakeholders of Ezza Effium requested that they be allowed to live together with the people of Effium as they had lived before the misunderstanding that reared its ugly head. They however renewed their commitment towards stopping all forms of reprisal attacks forthwith, and were  bonded to keep the peace pending the final resolution of the matter.

“His Excellency, the Governor in his wisdom gave them a period of two weeks to consult with their people, including, the youths and women, both those within and outside the state so they can have a common ground that will enable the state government take a decision that will bring lasting peace and stronger harmony among the people of Effium and Ezza Effium.

“The Governor further set up a committee made up  of one representative from Effium and one from Ezza Effium with two CAN representatives to supervise their consultation processes, namely, Bishop   Matthew  Nkwoegu as Chairman and Rev  Dr. Scamb Nwokolo as Secretary. The Committee is to bring its report within 14 days.”

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