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Land war in Ondo : Okitipupa communities at daggers drawn

Communal dispute is now brewing between the two neighbouring communities of Iwada and Okerisa-Aruwayo in Okitipupa Local Government
Area of Ondo State over the ownership of a parcel of land located in Okerisa-Aruwayo. While Okerisa-Aruwayo claimed to be the original owner of the land, Iwada also claimed that the land belongs to the town but gave it out to Okerisa-Aruwayo in the time past and now ready to take it back.
The tensed situation is heightened as neighbouring communities are taking sides. Some of them have queued behind Iwada threatening to foment trouble should Okerisa-Aruwayo continue to lay claim to the disputed land. Many residents of Okerisa-Aruwayo including the head of the community and traditional chiefs have vacated the community and moved to Okitipupa, headquarters of the council for fear of being attacked again.
They appealed to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Idris Abubakar, and the state government to rescue them incessant attacks from neighbouring towns, especially Iwada. The community was attacked last month during which properties including houses and farms were razed.
The traditional head of Okerisa-Aruwayo, Chief Albert Epebinu, alleged that the community was deserted as a result of attacks on them by people from neighbouring communities.
He said many of the residents were hospitalised because of the injuries sustained during attacks. He urged that government should not wait until a reprisal would lead to causalities on both sides. He called Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and the IGP to provide security for them and prevent the total annihilation of the community by their aggressors.
The community head claimed that several petitions were written to government and security agencies without positive response: “Nobody should be allowed to take laws into their hands.” The octogenarian leader said their means of livelihood were being destroyed by the invaders while food items stored in the farms were carted away: “Not only that, cash, cutlasses and working implements were taken away by the invaders who have attacked us more than two times.
“We appeal to the IGP and President Muhammadu Buhari to please save our souls as we cannot go back to our village. We cannot access our farms and we cannot access our means of livelihood.
“Those arrested by the police at Igbotako were released despite the complaint of armed robbery and other heinous crimes committed by the attackers. We the people of Okerisa-Aruwajo have deserted our village taking refuge in neihbouring towns and villages. The attackers have also entered into our farms and started to harvest our economic crops.
“Our people are peace loving. But if nothing is done about our complaint in the next few days, we may be forced to resort to self-help by mobilizing our people for reprisal, as they cannot claim monopoly of violence.
“Some men from Iwada village numbering about 70 invaded our village armed with guns, cutlasses, axes, charms and other dangerous weapons. They started to shoot sporadically, attacked, wounded and chased away all the people living in our village of Okeria-Aruwayo and robbed us of our properties.
“This unfortunate incident was reported at Divisional Police headquarters, Igbotako. The police saw the colossal damages done to our properties by these heartless attackers. The police also recovered some gun pellets used by these heartless attackers.”
Epebinu alleged that it was the day some of their men went to report the incident to the police in Akure that another round of attack occurred. He said the activities of the law enforcement agents in not arresting their aggressors despite being identified by the villagers made them to lose confidence in the state Police Command in handling the clashes.
But, a resident of Iwada, Mr. Epebule Isaac, who spoke on behalf of the community, said the people of the town are peace-loving individuals. He added that the residents of Okerisa-Ariwayo were those behind the trouble in the area.
He insisted that the disputed land belongs to Iwada community but they were chased away by the people of Okerisa-Aruwayo in a manner, which made the people of Iwada suspected that they were prepared for war against them.
He explained that the state government was already aware of the situation and the Okitipupa LG sent officials to inspect the two towns: “We are not ready for war or crisis of any kind. We want peace and harmony in this area. That is why we have not fought with anybody since the issue began last year. We are ready to take what belongs to us through peaceful and legal means.”
Another community leader in Iwada, Mr. Solomon Okpobo, said government needed to caution the people of Okerisa-Aruwayo against violence. He alleged that the people of Iwada were the ones terrorising his people. He said the matter was reported to the police, saying the Commissioner of police, Mrs. Hilda Harrison, once sent a detachment of police officers to the disputed area.
Mrs. Elizabeth Reka said the people of the two communities know the truth about the original owner of the land but they are being economical with the truth. She said government should prevail on the people of Okerisa-Aruwayo to allow peace reign in the area, stressing that no individual or community has the monopoly of violence.
The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Femi Joseph, said police are aware of the situation and already doing everything to ensure peaceful coexistence among the people of the two neighbouring communities.
He said the Police would ensure that peace prevailed, adding, that the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in Okitipupa would be given the needed support to curtail any untoward activity in the area.

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