• ’No issue with Umuleri’
Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka
Sixteen years after the end of the infamous Aguleri, Umuleri inter-communal war that claimed many lives and almost sent the two communities of Anambra East Local Government of Anambra State extinction, signs of a possible renewal of hostilities are emerging.
Consequently, one of the communities, Umueri which seems to be the one in dire need of peace has again called on the state government and the police authorities to act quickly and avert an imminent clash between the two neighbouring communities.
The Aguleri-Umueri land dispute dates back to the pre-Independence era as the matter was said to have been heard at the Privy Council, United Kingdom during the colonial period.
Notwithstanding the Supreme Court ruling in 1984, a full blown war broke up between the two communities in 1999, which claimed many lives and property and drew the attention of the international communities, with the then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo visiting the communities.
The Supreme Court had held that neither Aguleri nor Umueri could provide enough evidence to prove she had exclusive ownership of Otu-Ocha land which had been the main bone of contention and directed each community to hold on to the part of Otu-Ocha and adjoining areas where she had traditionally and originally held sway.
But in the last three years, the communities have been having issues mostly bordering on ownership of land in which the Police authority has intervened severally.
In July last year at a resumed hostilities where about 18 houses were destroyed and people wounded, the Umueri community raised the alarm over what she called “serial and illegal acquisition and invasion of Umueri land by our esteemed neighbour, Aguleri,” and made it clear that Umueri did not want to fight again because “wars as anathema-ill winds blow no one any good” in an address read by the Assistant Secretary, Edwin Obigwe, on behalf of the President-General, Umueri General Assembly (UGA), Chief Pius Okonkwo.
He added: “Specifically, Umueri wants enduring and genuine peace with Aguleri. This is because we have built relationships (personal as well as business and even religious) with Aguleri people over several decades, if not centuries. We cherish these relationships and want to protect them.
“We appeal to the Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano who hails from Aguleri, to use this opportunity of being at the helms of affairs to put in place the machinery for achieving genuine peace between Aguleri and Umueri.
“This appeal is made even as we hear from some quarters that he is actually the person who is instigating his people of Aguleri to cash in upon this ‘golden opportunity’ provided by his stint to acquire as much Umueri land as possible. We do not want to believe this story…
“We call on the Anambra State Government to quickly implement the recommendations contained in the white paper issued by government after the infamous 1999 hostility between our two communities. The said recommendations are quite sound and their implementation, will no doubt, bring total peace to our beleaguered area.”
The Police intervened then and there was calm but the ugly situation reared its head again and became serious a fortnight ago when Umueri claimed that some people from Aguleri were trespassing on their land with impunity and removing sign posts hoisted on the said land and erecting structures in breach of the Commissioner of Police’s directive that all should stay away from the said land.
Worried by the mounting tension, the Umueri General Assembly (UGA) through its President General, Chief Pius Okonkwo and Secretary General, Mr. Samuel Mbukwesili wrote a petition to the Police Commissioner asking for immediate action to avert trouble.
According to Chief Okonkwo, “the latest development on the petition in your hand is that instead of Police going to arrest those two guys, they turned around to begin to arrest our people and as I am speaking to you, one Chief Mike was arrested.”
The Umueri people in their petition to the state Police boss which was signed by Okonkwo and Mbukwesili, said: “May it be recalled that we were invited to your office on the 23rd of March, 2018 over the trespass on Aguakor Umueri Land by Aguleri people of Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State. And in submission and respect to your office, we honoured the invitation. At the meeting, which was attended by representatives of both communities, you directed all the newly erected sign posts on the said land be removed.
“Contrary to your directives, the Aguleri people reluctantly removed the sign posts on 25th day of March, 2018. In defiance to your directives and prior to their removal of the sign posts, the Aguleri people through Mr. Godwin Nwajekwu (Chairman Umuriabo Eziagulu Aguleri) and Mr. Chukwudi Nwakasi with their armed thugs commenced the erection of two permanent structures on the land and the structures are being erected in the night and they are heavily armed in other to instigate and provoke inter-communal crises between the two communities.
“Attached for your perusal are copies of photographs of the buildings erected by the Aguleri people through Mr. Godwin Nwajekwu (Chairman Umuriabo Eziagulu Aguleri) and Mr. Chukwudi Nwakasi with their armed thugs on the said land in the night on the 24th and 25th days of March, 2018.
“Suffice it to bring to your notice that these illegal activities by the Aguleri people through Mr. Godwin Nwajekwu (Chairman Umuriabo Eziagulu Aguleri) and Mr. Chukwudi Nwakasi with their armed thugs pose serious threat to the lives of Umueri indigenes and, if not stopped, may breach public peace and cause inter-communal crises between the two communities. We shall, at your request, make all the necessary documents including government letters and court judgments available for your perusal.
“We, therefore, on behalf of ourselves and the peace loving Umueri indigenes, implore you to use your good office to ensure that; (i) They remove the two structures erected by them in defiance to your instructions; (ii) To desist from embarking on further activities on the said land; (iii) To checkmate Mr. Godwin Nwajekwu (Chairman Umuriabo Eziagulu Aguleri) and Mr. Chukwudi Nwakasi with their armed thugs and bring them to book; (iv) That those Umueri sign posts removed and seized by the Aguleri through Mr. Godwin Nwajekwu (Chairman Umuriabo Eziagulu Aguleri) and Mr. Chukwudi Nwakasi with their armed thugs be returned to us and (v) To assign a police patrol team to the area for maintenance of law and order.”
But in a swift reaction, the President General of Aguleri Town Union, Mr. Mike Ejoor said his community has no issue with Umueri, as what might be happening in the area could be land dispute between families.
“Since the end of the 1999 communal crisis, we have not had any crisis with Umueri. Aguleri, as a community, has no common land, but it is not unusual for families that have common boundary to have misunderstanding over land.
“For instance, my family has a boundary with Umueri and if there is any land dispute in the area, it is between the two families.”
Also speaking on the issue, the traditional ruler of Umueri, Igwe Dan Emeka called for a permanent solution to the crisis between his community and Aguleri.
Igwe Emeka said though peace has returned, there were fears in the minds of the people due to the failure of past administrations to implement the peace resolution white paper in 2001 by the judicial panel of inquiry that investigated the 1999 Umueri, Aguleri war.
“The problem that Igbo people used to have is land; there was this piece of land called Aguago which has been in contention between Umueri and Aguleri. It has been a court matter that got to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Umueri, but you know court decision does not actually bring permanent peace to a community but it only helps to tell the people who the owner of the place is. So in spite of the judgment, the Aguleri people are still laying claims over the land and Umueri people are saying the land belong to them, that judgment had been given and the judgment was correctly given.
“Since then they have been in contention, but there was a time after the 1999 devastating communal war, we the elite decided to do away with this issue of land matter, we set up a peace committee for Umueri, Aguleri and Umu Oba Anam which waded into the matter. Government actually came in, set up panel of inquiry which came out with a white paper, but you know government in their own way have not been able to implement that white paper which was given in 2001 or 2002.”
The monarch, however, urged Governor Obiano to write his name in gold by implementing the white paper which his predecessors could not implement, stressing that its implementation was the solution to the crisis.