The people, men, women, old and young of the Echeno/Odeke communities in Ibaji Local Government Area of Kogi State and Aguleri-Otu in Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State wake-up one morning in March 2013 to face the confrontation of a serious border dispute that has lasted intermittently for more than two years. Prior to this time, the communities had been living harmoniously together and engaged themselves in inter-marriages as well as in other socio-cultural and economic interfaces until the land dispute broke out. Since then, things have fallen apart and the centre can no longer hold. Anarchy and hostility have become the order of the day in the communities till now.
The communities are fighting for the ownership of the land that stretches over the borders of the two states. This disputed land happens to cover where Orient Petroleum Company is currently drilling oil well that was commissioned by President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in Anambra State, which consequently has made the state to become one of the oil producing states in the country. Noticing what seemed to be misnomer and unfair development, the communities of Kogi state took to the agitation for the reclamation of the disputed land, along with the oil wells, leveraging on the historical and archeological relics of the past people on the land as an authentic prove and confirmation that the said land belongs to them. There never has National Boundary Commission come up with any record of evidence that could prove the contrary till this time to bring the matter to rest. This uncertainty has degenerated into unwholesome hostility in the communities with each claiming the right of ownership over the disputed land, thereby causing unwarranted situation, resulting in severe famine and malnutrition of the people in the area.
At the moment, the communities, which are one of the major food producers in the states, are under serious threat of attacking one another, a situation that has negatively affected their farming and fishing occupation for fear of reprisal. The lingering dispute has virtually affected the socio-economic wellbeing of the communities, and none of the state governments nor the federal government have taken any pro-active step to intervene in the increasing mayhem that has been going on there for years, and is gradually getting out of hands. Now, the battle line seems to have been drawn for the survival of the fittest with each community using all the available means within their powers to defend their territories.
Apparently, some of the resultant effects of communal conflicts to the youths in the communities are manifold loss of lives and property, hunger and starvation, open violence, deprivation of education, family neglect, loss of moral and cultural values, other forms of socio-economic disorders, oppression, exploitation, victimization, discrimination, marginalization, nepotism, intolerance and demands for artificial and arbitrary boundary adjustments that will continue to aggravate split of the ethnic groups among different local government areas and states in Nigeria.
Following all these happenings, it is pertinent that the government should do something to tackle the problem from escalating into a more dangerous communal crisis in the affected states. It is the government that can put an end to the malingering crisis so that it does not metamorphose into full scale militancy on both sides of the states concerned.
President Muhammad Buhari should impress on the National Boundary Commission to take concrete step and enjoin the two state governments to tackle this longstanding boundary crisis head-on and in a timely manner in order to prevent the idle and unemployed youths of the communities from hijacking the situation and perpetuate evil acts in the guise of wading into the lingering boundary dispute. It is most painful to note that sometimes in June this year, there were yet again reports of another crash where several properties were destroyed, and even lives were lost on both sides, which forced some others into refugee camps within their own country. It’s unfortunate that the political class, the state assemblies and governors of the two states are being slow and appears to be adamant in proffering solutions and the communities are suffering in abject poverty that may remain endless as long as the crises last.
The insensitivity of the government to the plight of the affected communities has continued to worsen the condition, all the more. This persistent security negligence, which have many times accounted for the most endless communal crises and increased insurgency across the country, could have been prevented, if appropriate action was taken at the initial stage. The communities in question cannot continue to fold their arms and remain in such long anguish and danger of annihilation and dispossession of their valuables without proper protection and guarantees from their government. After all, it is their constitutional responsibility to maintain law and order among its citizens. It is important to tell the world that there is hunger, disease and sickness in the land.
The people are abandoned, the young and aged are dying of hunger and malnutrition in the mist of plenteous resources that abound. The communities are at the moment seeking for government’s intervention in this increasing crisis to enable them settles down in their homes. The farming and commercial activities of both communities have been paralyzed, inspite of the measures of the local stakeholders to settle the dispute that always ended a deadlock. This is why there are concerns and calls to the government to mediate in this matter. In fairness however, to the previous government under President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, some attempts were made to resolve the dispute through the National Boundary Commission with the two state governments, but not much could be achieved due to lack of commitment and the political will to resolve the crisis to its logical conclusion.
Be that as it may, we are resolutely waiting and hoping on the government of PMB as a matter of public interest to wade into this crisis and proffer a lasting solution. For the conflict to have lasted for two years and some months unresolved, suggests government’s chronic irresponsiveness to the plights of its people in settling boundary disputes whenever then occur. It has always been “land disputes” that has been the major cause of the many communal crises that spread across states like Kogi State, Anambra State, Plateau State, Bornu State, Benue State, Imo State, Abia State and Taraba State. Because farming and fishing are the major occupation and livelihood of the people in the communities. It then behooves the Federal Government as a matter of security importance to intervene and bring the warring parties in Kogi and Anambra State to an amicable settlement.
Gladly, we acknowledge the recent security summit organized by the Sun Daily Newspaper, in partnership with the Nigeria Police Force held at Abuja, which attracted the cream of security experts to discuss the twin problems of communal crises, insurgency, militancy, robbery, knapping amongst others. It was at that event that the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase delivered a thought provoking paper on security challenges that borders on community policing, as a solution in tackling security challenges that is endlessly staring at our faces in Nigeria. Also, it is interesting to note that Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State equally organized a similar security summit, in partnership with the Delta State government aimed at sensitizing stakeholders, on the importance of community policing as sine-qua-non to maintaining law and order for the sustainable development in both states and the entire country. Since then, other states of the federation have followed suit to evolve peace to reign in their domains.
Hopefully, these security summits should be able to drive all the suggestions and recommendations at the conferences into a blue print action plan for addressing all the various security challenges of the country. Although, there are growing concerns that the summits may be lacking in proper planning and implementation as was the case of the many past summits, which hardly see the light of the day, but ended up on the office book shelves, packing dust. We solemnly urge this administration to “rise to the occasion in order to salvage the harrowing and suffering communities of Kogi and Anambra States from the quagmire of the over lingered boundary dispute as soon as possible.
NWUCHIOLA, A. Vincent
08051802723 / 07037596180
From Echeno-Ibaji LG of Kogi State