In this interview with Emmanuel Obe, Anambra East Local Government Chairman, Chinedu Obidigwe, accuses Kogi State government of encouraging violence in the dispute
Some communities in your local government area are involved in clashes with their neighbours from Ibaji Local Government Area of Kogi State. What is the situation now?
Initially, it started as a quarrel when people from Kogi communities crossed the boundary and entered into Aguleri-Otu land. After several warnings, they persisted. There was a day I and some security agents went to see the people of these Kogi communities and pleaded with them not to enter our land again. But they were adamant and said I should go and talk with the chairman of their local government.
During the visit, we saw some of the men from Echonwa in Kogi in army uniforms. I have the video clips. Whenever they want to threaten Aguleri-Otu people, they will wear the uniform and when those villagers see them, there will be commotion everywhere. During my visit to the area, one of the soldiers with me grabbed one of them and forcibly removed his uniform. We pleaded with them again to leave the area but they refused. We asked them to allow the National Boundary Commission to trace the boundary and determine the ownership of the land in dispute. There is nothing to show that the Kogi State government has been talking to its people concerning the dispute. But at our end, we address our people from time to time to eschew violence. We even told our people not to disturb them if they want to fish on our waterway. Sometime in February, I received a phone call that Echoma people had invaded Aguleri-Otu. I learnt that they invaded the community around 3am and burnt down houses. I have a video and photographs to show the level of devastation they carried out when they raided our village.
From what you have said, does it mean that the dispute in not about ownership of oil fields at the boundary?
It is about the boundary. I want to tell you that these communities have been living in peace before the oil fields. Although the communities had fought in the past, it had been resolved and we have been living in peace. They know their boundary. Our people cannot cross to Echonwa land, and we expect them not to cross to ours. The dispute is being caused by Abuja-based politicians who feel that certain things belong to them. So many of them do not even know where the oil is located. If Kogi people have oil in their own land, they should call the appropriate company to survey it and explore it. The one that is ongoing now in Anambra State is located in Aguleri-Otu and it belongs to us.
But the Ibaji people are saying that Aguleri-Otu people are the aggressors…
As I am speaking to you, there is an ongoing communal war. And in a situation where there is a gun battle, you can’t rule out death, you can’t rule out casualties. A few days ago, Echonwa people invaded our area again and there was gun battle among three communities in the area. Eight of our people sustained gunshot wounds and three of them are still in hospital now.
Does it then mean that the people of Aguleri-Otu do not carry out reprisals?
If somebody invades your place and starts burning your houses, what will you do? Of course, you will defend yourself. When they invaded our villages, they also burnt some schools. One of such schools is Okpaeze Migrant Fishermen’s School. That school has been there for almost 15 years now. They also burnt Okpuoka Migrant Fishermen School, one of the finest schools in that area. What can they point to that our people burnt in their area? When they started shooting our people, the bullets hit some people while some people escaped. But when you have exhausted all your bullets, the people you have been shooting will start pursuing you. They may even pursue you beyond where you took off from. That is what happened a few days ago. When they started attacking Aguleri-Otu and Enugu-Otu, at a point, their bullets finished and Enugu-Otu people from my investigations started pursuing them back to the place where they came from. You cannot fold your arms and allow people to cut your throat. I am not in any way encouraging this war. If I am encouraging it, I would not have been calling for a dialogue. The federal and state governments should encourage dialogue. There is no need of wasting innocent lives.
What are the intentions of these invaders from Echonwa?
They want to colonise the area and take over the oil by force.
I know that the governors of both states have called for peace. Why has the fighting resumed?
Has the Kogi State government addressed the traditional rulers and the president-generals of their communities on the need for peace to reign in the area? Have they advised parents to talk to their children not to foment trouble? These are the issues. I think if an order is given that any community found to be shooting would be attacked by the security agents, I think no community will dare attack the other. But that will not end what I call lion war.
What do you mean by lion war?
What I mean by lion war is a situation where someone from Echonwa will see someone from Aguleri-Otu in the farm and kill the person.
So what is the way out of the crisis?
Let the right thing be done. Let the traditional rulers of Echonwa, Aguleri-Otu, Odeke, Eziagulu-Otu as well as their president-generals meet on a round table. A neutral ground should be chosen for such meeting. There are traditional things that can be done and these two communities will start living together; and the war will end. Two, the National Boundary Commission should step up its work. The petition written by the Kogi State government to the National Boundary Commission was deliberate. The NBC called a meeting at Lokoja over this boundary issues and we all attended. At the meeting, NBC put on a projector and showed the map of the area. We are confident that this boundary issue will be resolved easily.
Has that process been initiated?
Who can initiate it?
It should be jointly handled by the two states because this is a matter that traverses two states.
Has Anambra State done anything in that direction?
Our governor (Peter Obi) has called for a ceasefire. He has spoken with our traditional rulers, the president-general as well as me. But I doubt if Kogi State governor has done a similar thing. If he has done it, what happened a few days ago would not have happened when they used another route not being manned by security agents to attack Aguleri-Otu people.
In other words, you are accusing Kogi State of being responsible for the ongoing conflicts…
Kogi State and Ibaji local government are not doing the right thing as far as this dispute is concerned. When this matter was still at the tender stage, they did not do anything until it got to this level. When our houses were burnt, they did not condemn the act. Punch